Tuesday, 13 April 2021

Arts & Life


Don’t we have enough paranoia with the coronavirus pandemic that we need not start fretting about artificial intelligence thinking for itself in ways that may prove detrimental to our sanity, let alone existence?

Many rely on Alexa (doesn’t she sound condescending sometimes?) for useful information, like Derek Jeter’s career batting average or what is today’s weather in Istanbul.

FOX network’s new fall series “Next” postulates an advanced first true digital assistant that is actually interactive, and in the words of one techie “uses cognitive architecture” and “rewrites its own code.”

Interestingly, the series opens on a black screen with a warning from the Elon Musk quote: “With artificial intelligence, we are summoning the demon.” The billionaire industrial designer views A.I. as an existential threat to humanity.

“Next” has its own eccentric mega-rich tech inventor, John Slattery’s Paul LeBlanc, whose growing paranoia on top of a degenerative disease, has resulted in him being forced out of his Silicon Valley company by his scheming younger brother Ted (Jason Butler Harner).

Even though out in the cold from his own creation, Paul is sounding the alarm about a malevolent A.I. system, known as “neXt” that poses a threat to human existence.

The tech billionaire brings his concerns to FBI agent Shea Salazar (Fernanda Andrade), who heads up the agency’s Cybercrime Task Force in Portland, Oregon. At first, Salazar is unconvinced that LeBlanc’s worry should be taken seriously.

Suffering from a hereditary disease that causes paranoia and mental decline, LeBlanc remains brilliant about technology in extraordinary ways, but his brusque and often volatile behavior often undermines his credibility.

For her part, Salazar may well be coping with dark secrets that may emerge at some point. Her family life is also troubled because 8-year-old son Ethan (Evan Whitten) is being bullied at school.

The Salazar household, including the agent’s husband Ty (Gerardo Celasco), discovers that their home version of Alexa, known as “Iliza,” turns ominous with private talks with Ethan, prodding him to take violent action and how to access a handgun.

Salazar’s cyber team, including expert hacker and former white supremacist CM (Michael Mosley) whose presence is resented by co-worker Gina (Eve Harlow), is reeling from an attack wiping out critical case files.

For a thriller, there’s plenty happening in “Next” that is suspenseful, with murders needing to be solved and an invisible enemy that must be vanquished.


The ABC television network came late to the party in holding its own virtual press tour to tout some new fall programs and a return of certain series that adapt to the pandemic situation.

Visionary storyteller David E. Kelley has created the thriller series “Big Sky,” slated for a debut on November 17th, that is adapted from a series of books written by author C.J. Box.

“Big Sky” follows private detectives Cody Hoyt (Ryan Phillippe) and Cassie Dewell (Kyle Bunbury), who join forces with Cody’s estranged wife and ex-cop Jenny Hoyt (Katheryn Winnick), to search for two sisters who have been kidnapped by a truck driver on a remote Montana highway.

When they discover that these are not the only girls who have disappeared in the area, they must race against the clock to catch their captors before it’s too late.

While a preview of the series is not yet available, writer and showrunner David E. Kelley did not want to give away plot details, noting that “a big part of the series are the twists and story turns that we take.”

Kelley divulged a tantalizing morsel in observing that what the audience will “notice is we come out of the box as a thriller and as we proceed from episode to episode, we will cultivate a real investment in the characters.”

“The Conners” returns on October 21st in an all-new season that follows the family continuing to grapple with parenthood, dating, financial pressures and aging in working-class America.

John Goodman’s Dan, the family patriarch, is still trying to catch up on delinquent mortgage payments and avoid a potential eviction, while the Lunch Box is closed for everything but takeout and delivery.

Darlene (Sara Gilbert) and Becky (Lecy Goranson) are both forced to search for additional income at the newly reopened Wellman Plastics plant, the same place where George Clooney played a foreman in the first season of “Roseanne.”

As a production in progress during the pandemic, showrunner Bruce Helford told critics that while there are rigid protocols on the stage, “the family doesn’t wear masks or social distance amongst themselves” because they are in quarantine in the house.

The seventh season of “black-ish” takes us to the beginning of the global pandemic for the Johnson family with stories that address such topics as systemic racism and the movement for social justice.

As a first responder, Tracie Ellis Ross’ Rainbow Johnson gets praise for her work but soon discovers someone in her house is breaking the quarantine lockdown rules, while Anthony Anderson’s “Dre” Johnson tries to convince everyone that he too is an essential worker.

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

Ted Kooser. Photo credit: UNL Publications and Photography.

Edward Muir’s poem, “The Horses,” published many years ago, envisioned a future in which the work horse would return, and with them we’d have a new beginning.

Today, some of our fellow creatures aren’t to come back.

Here’s a poem by Robert Hedin, of Minnesota, that I found in the most recent Alaska Quarterly Review.

Hedin’s most recent book is “At the Great Door of Morning,” from Copper Canyon Press.

Monarchs, Viceroys, Swallowtails

For years they came tacking in, full sail,
Riding the light down through the trees,
Over the rooftops, and not just monarchs,
But viceroys, swallowtails, so many
They became unremarkable, showing up
As they did whether we noticed them or not,
Swooping and fanning out at the bright
Margins of the day. So how did we know
Until it was too late, until they quit coming,
That the flowers in the flower beds
Would close their shutters, and the birds
Grow so dull they’d lose the power to sing,
And how later, after the river died,
Others would follow, admirals, buckeyes,
All going off like some lavish parade
Into the great overcrowded silence.
And no one bothered to tell the trees
They wouldn’t be coming back any more,
The huge shade trees where they used
To gather, every last branch and leaf sagging
Under the bright freight of their wings.

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 ©2019 by Robert Hedin, “Monarchs, Viceroys, Swallowtails,” from the Alaska Quarterly Review (Vol. 36, No. 3 & 4). Poem reprinted by permission of Robert Hedin and the publisher. Introduction copyright @2020 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.

Ted Kooser. Photo credit: UNL Publications and Photography.

There will be many, many poems written about these days of great fear the world is enduring, just as there were after 9/11, and I like to think this one by Richard Levine, who lives in Brooklyn, will have long legs, one generation leading the next as they walk together into an uncertain future. His most recent book is Richard Levine: Selected Poems, (Future Cycle Press, 2019).

Sheltered in Place

You watch your boy struggle with giving
up the turtle, returning it to the pond
where he’d found it on a walk—
first time you’d all been out in days.

How thoughtful he thought he’d been,
making it a home in the home
where the family sheltered in place.
How he cared for his armored friend.

Having picked flowers, knowing they’d die,
you understand the urge to pluck
the exotic, the beautiful—any diversion
from fear, which is in itself a disease.

That morning, you helped your boy
give up the idea of living forever.

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 Richard Levine, “Sheltered in Place.” Poem reprinted by permission of Richard Levine. Introduction copyright @2020 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.

RESTORE: Restoring Community Post-Disaster Through Art. Cover image by Yelena Zhavoronkova.

MIDDLETOWN, Calif. – The Middletown Art Center invites the public to a reading of poetry and prose from its newly released chapbook “RESTORE: Restoring Community Post-Disaster Through Art.”

The reading will take place on Zoom this Saturday, Oct. 17, from 5 to 7 p.m. and is hosted by Lake County Poet Laureate 2020-2022, workshop facilitator and RESTORE chapbook editor, Georgina Marie.

As the people of Lake County, and so many others in California, grapple with the trauma and uncertainty of six consecutive years of devastating wildfires and loss, the value of the arts as a sanctuary for healing, transformation, and connection has become urgently clear.

The writings and images in the book convey a sacred negotiation with both the reality of ecological disaster and basic human needs of love, safety, connection, a sense of belonging and home.

The book is a poignant collection of works by 26 writers and 25 printmakers who participated in MAC’s RESTORE workshops July 2018 through May 2019.

RESTORE is a wildfire recovery project supported in part by the California Arts Council, and the generosity of local businesses, organizations and individuals.

The MAC has been involved in community recovery through the arts since the Valley fire of 2015 which devastated the area and 1,300 homes.

“The writing workshops of the RESTORE project inspired and supported poems of grief, trauma, vulnerability, and authenticity of the self,” explained Georgina Marie. “As an editor of the RESTORE book, I had the opportunity to read a variety of personal and creative original work; as a writer of the RESTORE book, I had the chance to write poems which explored my own grief and sensitivity. To write about loss, heartache, and even wildfire lead to a deeper sense of creativity and a realization of perseverance, of my own and of our community.”

Preregistration is required at www.middletownartcenter.org/chapbook. Participation is by donation $5 to $25, no one will be turned away for lack of funds. A Zoom link will be provided upon registration.

Proceeds from this event will support MAC’s Literary Arts programming.

The MAC Gallery is open Friday to Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. or by appointment; call 707-809-8118. You can also visit the show virtually at www.middletownartcenter.org/current.

Farmers Markets and Maker’s Faire are offered Fridays from 4 to 7 p.m. during fall months.

The MAC continues to adjust and adapt its programming during this time of COVID-19. Social distancing and masking are observed at MAC.

Find out more about 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.


While the summer is now over and gone and Hollywood held back almost all of its major film releases during the prime season, entertaining family fun at the movies dwindled down to streaming service offerings.

Turning to Netflix, the choices weren’t always that welcoming for families. Consider the controversy that erupted over eleven-year-old girls in a provocative dance crew twerking their moves in “Cuties.”

But now there is something for people of practically every age to enjoy on Netflix, and that would be “Enola Holmes,” starring the delightful Millie Bobby Brown as the titular character, the much younger sister of Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes.

Set in England’s Victorian era of 1884, “Enola Holmes” delights as much with its gorgeous scenery of the countryside that contrasts with the urban jungle of bustling London as it does with appealing characters, of which Enola is the most engaging and charming.

Living far from England’s capital city, Enola (who’s name she reminds us often spells “alone” backwards) is a free-spirited independent living with her mother Eudoria (Helena Bonham Carter), where she’s homeschooled on everything from great literature to self-defense.

She’s never really known her older brothers who live and work in London. Sherlock (Henry Cavill), the famous detective, and the even older Mycroft (Sam Claflin), a government functionary, only appear on the scene after Eudoria goes missing.

On the morning of her sixteenth birthday, Enola wakes to find that her mother has disappeared, leaving behind an odd assortment of gifts and no immediately apparent reason as to where she’s gone or why, and yet a few cryptic clues only a sleuth could figure are left behind.

Enola’s unconventional upbringing is now uprooted when her siblings decide she’ll be under the guardian care of the stiff, uncaring Mycroft, who decides what’s best is placement of his sister in a girls’ finishing school run by the austere Miss Harrison (Fiona Shaw).

Wanting to prove that she has innate detective skills and to express a thoroughly modern sentiment of feminism, Enola runs off to catch a train to London in search of her wayward mother.

Often breaking the fourth wall, Enola speaks directly to the audience in frequently comical self-aware declarations of her pursuits. After crashing her bicycle and landing in the dirt, she dryly explains that “cycling is not one of my core strengths.”

What is certainly one of her strengths is a fearless willingness to confront adventure and danger with enormous self-confidence, such as rescuing fellow teenage train passenger Viscount Tewksbury (Louis Partridge) escaping an assassin.

A bond is formed between the young lord and the runaway budding sleuth, but romance is not what is on the mind of Enola. In fact, she seems initially to regard her new companion as more of a hindrance until realizing they share common interests.

Disguising herself on occasion in boyish clothes, Enola has no problem expressing a defiance of the existing social order of the Victorian period, and this will serve her well to navigate the treacherous pitfalls of the big city.

While focused on her primary mission to locate her mother, Enola gets caught up in the political turmoil that surrounds an upcoming critical vote in the House of Lords that would consider the granting of suffrage to women.

The mystery of why the life of the young aristocrat is in danger could be related to actions pending in Parliament. At this point, any political issues are just another subplot that may prove important to the story, or it’s just another diversion.

Due to her uncanny ability to break codes and solve puzzles, Enola displays ingenuity by even going undercover as a widow and then later uncovering a secret underground group that might lead to the whereabouts of Eudoria.

Near the end, there is an element of violence that plays out at Tewksbury’s mansion when the young viscount is placed in mortal danger, which allows Enola to be as daring as she is resilient and adaptable to fierce challenges.

Courage is not the only virtue for the plucky Enola. Her wits and clever skills are particularly effective in outsmarting adults and the various bad guys. For that matter, her brain power poses a real threat to the more experienced Sherlock.

Since “Enola Holmes” is based on the Nancy Springer young adult novel “The Case of the Missing Marquess,” the first installment in a series of mysteries, sequels could be on the horizon.

Keep in mind that Arthur Conan Doyle’s original stories of literature’s most famous detective did not include a spirited younger sister, perhaps because it would not fit with the expected propriety of the times.

As long as Millie Bobby Brown remains in the picture to carry on the Holmes tradition, Netflix would do well to continue adapting the Springer books. Sherlock’s catchphrase “the game is afoot” should be the guide.

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

The opportunity to launch new series on network television was going to be a dicey proposition during a pandemic that has curtailed original television productions.

The FOX network has the good fortune of being able to fill the void by having had midseason shows in the can that never aired or picking up a series that ran on a platform that lacked wider distribution.

The latter is the case for “L.A.’s Finest,” a new series on FOX that had its season last year on Spectrum Originals’ subscriber service, which does not have the same reach as a network, sort of like community theatre not being on the same level as Broadway.

If you are familiar with the Jerry Bruckheimer “Bad Boys” films, you will quickly grasp the gender-flip of this spin-off in the “L.A.’s Finest” series, with one primary character, Syd Burnett (Gabrielle Union), relocated from Miami to the Los Angeles Police Department.

Robbery-Homicide LAPD detective Nancy McKenna (Jessica Alba) gets paired up with Syd, and the two of them make a formidable team that is hell-bent on taking down garden-variety criminals as well as drug cartels.

Nancy, usually called McKenna by her peers, and Syd have an unusual chemistry, where they work well together in policing but have conflicts over secrets they harbor, some of which would endanger their careers and home life.

The two women prove to be tough in takedowns of thugs, but they also lighten the mood at times, such as responding to a convenience store holdup while bantering amusingly about not missing family book club.

At home, working mother Nancy grapples with rebellious stepdaughter Isabel (Sophie Reynolds), while her husband Patrick (Ryan McPartlin), an assistant district attorney, is on a path to career advancement.

However, Nancy has a complicated past with some shady characters, including drug dealer Dante Sherman (Barry Sloane) who seeks to rekindle their relationship. Her complex history may well pose a threat to her husband’s political ambition.

As counterparts to their female colleagues, officers Ben Walker (Zach Gilford) and Ben Barnes (Duane Martin) sometimes work alongside them, often with the expected trash-talking as competitors to nab credit for arrests.

Another angle to Syd’s web of troubled relationships is the fact that her absentee father, Joseph Vaughn (Ernie Hudson), who had a dubious career in law enforcement, tries to engage in her life to warn against her worst impulses.

What worries Syd’s father, as well as her partner Nancy, is that she recklessly pursues the ghost of an elusive drug lord named Gabriel Knox, a criminal so vicious he strikes fear with his own cohorts.

“L.A.’s Finest” delivers plenty of nicely staged action sequences, from shootouts and fiery explosions to the obligatory car chases. That action and the chemistry of the bad girl duo might be enough to carry the day.

Netflix is still streaming the “Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich” documentary. Meanwhile, FOX has debuted its own “Filthy Rich,” which thankfully has nothing to do with the despicable sexual deviant and his unfortunate victims.

Based on a New Zealand series of the same name, which likely means nothing to just about everybody, “Filthy Rich” is portrayed by the network as a “Southern Gothic family soap in which wealth, power and religion collide.”

This description is as accurate as a publicist would wish, and then even more so. The mega-rich Monreaux family has built a Louisiana-based televangelist empire known as the Sunshine Network run by the patriarch Eugene (Gerald McRaney).

In the first episode, Eugene is presumably dead after his plane crashes somewhere in the swampy Bayou country. This leaves his widow Margaret (Kim Cattrall) to take over, even though the son Eric (Corey Cott) fancies himself able to take the reins.

Meanwhile, the family, including daughter Rose (Aubrey Dollar) along with trusted counselor Franklin Lee (Steve Harris), is thrown for a huge loop when the reading of Eugene’s will reveals dark secrets.

With the apparent morals of an alley cat, Eugene fathered three illegitimate children, each one with a different mother. Feeling possible pangs of guilt, Eugene’s will provides an inheritance for those kids.
Enter a motley crew of love children into the family. The most appreciative one is Antonio (Benjamin Levy Aguilar), a single dad aspiring to be an MMA fighter. The other two are weed dealer Jason (Mark L. Young) and online sex worker Ginger (Melia Kreiling).

Of course, Margaret frets that the scandal of the out-of-wedlock children would forever taint the television ministry, and with good reason. Hence, she proffers a tidy cash settlement to avert the shame and humiliation.

As you would expect, neatly tidying up a disgraceful situation is not in the cards. The savvy Ginger proves all too eager to press an advantage that might boost her own enterprise.

Would watching the dramatic conflicts play out on “Filthy Rich” prove entertaining? It might depend on one’s thirst to enjoy the kind of soap opera that has seemingly run its course.

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

Upcoming Calendar

04.13.2021 9:00 am - 12:00 pm
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04.13.2021 6:00 pm - 6:30 pm
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04.24.2021 10:00 am - 2:00 pm
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