Tuesday, 27 September 2022

Arts & Life


Action films are frequently constructed as thrill rides due to the surfeit of the non-stop clashes involving gunplay, explosions, wild car chases, and overall mayhem that often proves to be electrifyingly entertaining.

In the case of “Bullet Train,” where assassins battle on the world’s fastest train, almost the entirety of the action is, in fact, a wild, non-stop thrill ride on the Shinkansen through modern-day Japan.

With an overall disheveled appearance and wearing a bucket hat, Brad Pitt’s Ladybug looks more like a tourist than the intuitive and skilled assassin whose string of bad luck has taken a toll on him when his jobs went off the rails.

Boarding the high-speed train in Tokyo, Ladybug moves at the commands through an earpiece from his handler Maria (Sandra Bullock), an unseen presence who reassures him that he’s up to the task of retrieving a briefcase containing ransom money.

Even though killing targets has been a way of life for Ladybug, he’s going through an existential crisis of confidence, mostly due to his current desire of seeking a harmonious Zen-like state of mind and renouncing violence.

The newest assignment of a simple theft convinces Ladybug that he has no need of a weapon, even though his handler thinks otherwise, and her concern soon turns out to be prescient.

Unknown to Ladybug is that the sleek train has onboard several of the most elite lethal adversaries from around the globe, each with an agenda that is seemingly connected and yet with differing objectives.

The briefcase is in the possession of colorful British assassin brothers, Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), and Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry), who are ironically called twins even though one is white and the other black.

Next to Ladybug, Tangerine, a Savile Row-tailored killer with slicked back hair and flashy jewelry, and the unkempt Lemon, who possesses a guileless demeanor and moral compass honed mostly from the lessons of “Thomas the Tank Engine,” are the most interesting characters.

It’s hard to tell if Tangerine is a sociopath or just a psychotic nutcase, but along with Lemon, he’s an extremely dangerous trained assassin. The twins make an amusing pair as they bicker like a married couple while dispatching a foe.

Snatching the briefcase is an easy task when it’s left in the luggage compartment, and Ladybug is instructed to disembark at the next stop, but circumstances interfere with the plan.

Detailed in a flashback to a Mexican wedding gone horribly wrong, it becomes clear that the unhinged Wolf (rapper Bad Bunny), who lost his bride, is on the train to settle a score with Ladybug for his perceived involvement in her death.

Even when Wolf and Ladybug are beating on each other, Ladybug is confused and uncertain, and in his defensive moves, he’s trying to assess who this guy is and why this is happening, while Wolf has allowed an unbridled rage to overcome any sense of reason.

Meanwhile, a sweet-looking young woman known as The Prince (Joey King) uses her demure schoolgirl appearance to mask her true desire of fierce cruelty for the sheer pleasure of killing.

Family drama emerges when Kimura (Andrew Koji), a low-level Tokyo criminal in a perpetual alcoholic haze, boards the train to exact his revenge on the unknown culprit who tossed his young son from the rooftop of a department store.

Kimura’s stoic, unyielding father, known as the Elder (Hiroyuki Sanada) takes on the multi-layered character of the modest florist who is fiercely protective of his grandson, but remains a lethal assassin skilled in swordsmanship.

The Hornet (Zazie Beetz), involved in the theft of a deadly viper from the Tokyo Zoo, is a master of disguise who travels under the radar on every job she takes. Her intended victims seem to be everyone else.

Is it a matter of coincidence that so many assassins ended up on the same train, or are they being manipulated by an elaborate plan? The answer may come from the underworld boss known as the White Death (Michael Shannon) who shows up late in the game with his henchmen.

At a running time of roughly two hours, “Bullet Train” could have been better served with a little more judicious editing, but this is a minor quibble when there is so much carnage and craziness that jolt the senses with an energetic blast of delirious bedlam.

Brad Pitt’s nonchalant charisma turns the existential angst of his character into the familiar turf of roles played in films like “The Mexican,” the British crime caper “Snatch” and the “Ocean’s Eleven” franchise.

Part of the fun in “Bullet Train,” directed by David Leitch whose credits include “Atomic Blonde,” “Deadpool 2” and the original “John Wick,” is the obvious pedigree of high-octane action mixed with dark humor.

“Bullet Train” will have its share of detractors, but one must enter the multi-plex primed for the kind of action-fueled diversion that was once the province of directors like Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez.

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


Jason Statham’s action career may be on a brief hiatus because he would seem to be an ideal choice for a role in Netflix’s movie “The Gray Man” as a globe-trotting skilled operative taking out assorted bad guys.

This reminds me that Statham starred as a special agent on a secret mission to thwart weapons dealers in Guy Ritchie’s “Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre” which was slated for release earlier this year and I still haven’t found it on a major streaming service.

We’ll have to settle for Ryan Gosling as a CIA operative known only as Sierra Six, once an Agency-sanctioned merchant of death, but now the target of psychopath mercenary Lloyd Hansen (Chris Evans).

For fans of action films there is no need to wait for Jason Statham or Liam Neeson to pummel villains into the ground. “The Gray Man,” at the tune of an ostensible budget that could finance a war in a small country, delivers the thrills craved by action junkies.

Serving time in a federal penitentiary for killing his abusive father, Six is offered a get-out-jail-free card when recruited by CIA handler Donald Fitzroy (Billy Bob Thornton) to join the Agency as an assassin.

Much like operatives such as James Bond and Jason Bourne, Six works mostly on his own in dishing out mayhem and killing enemies, proving that he picked up some nice moves during internment, or so it would seem.

Under the tutelage of Fitzroy, things are working out nicely for Six, but then a change in management results in having to report to Denny Carmichael (Rege-Jean Page), a shadowy, unethical string-puller with a dubious agenda.

Six’s world is upended when he’s assigned to kill another agent who happens to be in possession of a flash drive that would reveal dark Agency secrets implicating Carmichael in treachery.

As a result of this assignment, Six now has a target on his back and becomes hunted by Lloyd Hansen, who is not only criminally insane but sports a mustache that makes him look like a Seventies porn star.

Since Fitzroy is retired, Six has few allies to watch his back, other than fellow Agent Dani Miranda (Ana de Armas), as well as retired CIA station chief Margaret Cahill (Alfre Woodard).

Meanwhile, though Fitzroy would want to assist his protégé, his young niece Claire (Julia Butters), beset by health problems with a pacemaker, has been kidnapped by the deranged Hansen who will kill anyone looking at him the wrong way.

The contrast between the principled Six, who would not hurt a kid, and the nutjob Hansen, who tortures Fitzroy in a cringeworthy, hard-to-watch manner, is brutally stark. Hansen is so evil that it’s a wonder his mustache is not bushy enough to twirl.

Unreservedly nasty and fearsome, Hansen can deliver funny insults like referring to Six as Ken Doll, but mostly he’s just a bloodthirsty killing machine without any remorse for random acts of brutality.

Interestingly enough, Six has a tattoo of Sisyphus, which is emblematic of his inability to escape his role as an assassin, given the alternative would be a return to prison.

Underused in his part is the appearance of Indian actor Dhanush as Lone Wolf, touted as the most competent and fearless killer to be unleashed in the hunt to kill Six.

The plot of “The Gray Man” is arguably standard to the action genre, and the inevitable showdown between Six and Hansen is as predictable as a sunny day in Phoenix during the month of August, and yet the movie is a lot of fun even if it is ultimately disposable.

Occasional breaks occur in the nonstop action, with the most notable one being the time that Six ends up babysitting Claire while Fitzroy is away, and even then it’s not long before another assassin invades the Fitzroy home.

Flashbacks to Six’s childhood and his tortured relationship with a sadistic father don’t make for an interesting back story to explain how he wound up in the joint.

The question that hangs over Netflix is whether the streaming service will turn “The Gray Man” into a spy caper franchise. News reports, if accurate, and Netflix willing to pony up the megabucks indicate the affirmative.

The James Bond franchise may eventually run its course, considering that 007 perished in “No Time to Die.” How will the British secret agent be revived? Will there be a female Bond? Meanwhile, the Gray Man, aka Six, could be the future.

What more can an action fan ask for other than a surfeit of explosions, wild chases, shootouts, fireworks, a runaway train demolishing everything in its path, and even a plane falling from the sky? “The Gray Man” has it all, and then some with thrills to entertain.

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

Kwame Dawes. Courtesy photo.

Florence Price and Marian Anderson were two great American artists whose collaborations — Price as pianist, arranger and composer, and Anderson as exemplary singer — represented the triumph of art over adversity.

Marlanda Dekine’s moving poem “I Am Bound for de Kingdom” is named after a negro spiritual for which these two black women are famous.

Dekine reminds us of the difficult world of racism experienced by their “ascendants” and shows how, with their art, they would take the risk and “leave the driveway.”

I Am Bound for de Kingdom
By Marlanda Dekine
—after Florence Price and Marian Anderson

My granddaddy Silas was born on the Nightingale plantation
in Plantersville, South Carolina, on riverbanks that loved
three generations of my kin, captured
in a green-tinted photograph, hanging in my daddy’s den.

Tonight, my eyes will take each old-world bird from the cropped space,
send them home with their songs and favorite foods.

Look out for me I’m a-coming too

with rice, okra, hard-boiled eggs, and Lord Calvert.

My daddy says if I get out of my car on Nightingale land,
the folks who own it might shoot. My daddy says,
“Never leave the driveway.”

Glory into my soul

I watch all of my ascendants. Their faces reflecting me
in that photograph. Their eyes are dead
black-eyed Susans.

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 ©2021 by Marlanda Dekine, “I Am Bound for de Kingdom” from Oxford American, Issue 115, Winter 2021. Poem reprinted by permission of the author and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2022 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.

There is, in English poetry, a long tradition of gardening poems.

Such poems find rich associations between the deliberate act of design, the organizing of nature, and the art of poetry.

While Jeremy Rock’s, “Tender” does not slavishly echo the poetry of gardening of the seventeenth century, (the hay-day of this tradition), one senses in his contemporary take, a recognition of the impulse of humans to see in gardening, something of the quest and delight in beauty that we find in poetry.

At the end of the poem, Rock’s description of caring for tender plants that he renders as dreamers allows him to celebrate the deeply humanizing power of the imagination, the power, in other words, of poetry.

By Jeremy Rock
“Soft dirt makes for light work.”
–Gisa Cecani

Not yet Spring, sunlight barely reaches
past the slider, so I array houseplants
like regents parading before the rabble

and lead with the blades. Just a few snips
before they' re done, cleaned of the veins and petals
that looked ready to come off. It must always

be pruning season, looking at these hands. Sometimes
I sit in the sun with them and drink dayglow slow
with ice water. In red clay I keep the cuttings, sisters

and daughters mudded for new roots, and these
wan stems finally learn to breathe. If not
for the starving of idyllic hamlets, where

would the flowers grow? At night I bring them in
so they can imagine what they're missing.

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 ©2021 by Jeremy Rock, “Tender” from Poet Lore Summer/ Fall 2021. Poem reprinted by permission of the author and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2022 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.

MIDDLETOWN, Calif. — The Middletown Area Merchants Association will host the last of the summer’s free movies in Middletown Square Park on Saturday, Aug. 13.

The movie will be shown beginning at dusk.

Come early to enjoy an evening in Middletown.

Bring chairs, blankets and a picnic to the park at the library and senior center at 21266 Calistoga Road.

All those attending must abide by California COVID-19 guidelines.

Long before anyone gives much thought to a new season of television programming, the major networks always pitch their slate for a coming season to the national advertising community.

In showcasing the new series, Charlie Collier, CEO of FOX Entertainment, claimed his network entered the unveiling of programs as “the only company, no matter the platform, with advertising at its core.”

With Collier telling advertisers that “building barriers between our best content and our brand-partners isn’t our business model,” it’s the bottom-line that FOX holds back nothing from being available for free to viewers.

In another sense, FOX is holding back most of its new series for the midseason, including dramas and animated comedies, and fans of “9-1-1: Lone Star” will also have to wait for later in the season.

Animation remains a cornerstone of programming as FOX arguably got a big boost in its early days to become a viable fourth network when it launched “The Simpsons,” which is now the longest-running American scripted primetime series.

All-new animated comedy “Grimsburg” will star the voice of Jon Hamm (“Mad Men”) as Marvin Flute, the greatest detective ever to catch a cannibal clown or correctly identify a mid-century modern armoire. But there’s one mystery he still can’t crack – his family.

Back in the town of Grimsburg where everyone has a secret or three, Flute will follow every lead he’s got to redeem himself with the ex-wife he never stopped loving, even if it means hanging out with the son he never bothered to get to know.

Set in mythical Ancient Greece, “Krapopolis” is an animated series that centers on a family of flawed humans, gods and monsters that tries to run one of the world’s first cities without killing each other.

Richard Ayoade voices Tyrannis, the benevolent King of Krapopolis, who tries to make do in a city that lives up to its name. Tyrannis’ mother, Deliria (Hannah Waddingham), is the goddess of self-destruction and questionable choices. Other members of the family are a hot mess.

Gordon Ramsay, the volatile British chef and restaurateur, finds his “Hell’s Kitchen” cooking competition still running on FOX, and coming at some point will be brand-new competition series “Gordon Ramsay’s Food Stars.”

Hunting for the most exciting and innovative new food and drink entrepreneurs, Ramsay is now prepared to put his money where his mouth is, by backing the winner in an investment to take their idea to the next level.

To win Ramsay’s support, it will take more than just a great idea. As he pushes contestants to their limits through a series of relentless challenges, they’ll have to prove they possess drive, dedication, creativity, passion and talent to succeed.

Being the last entrepreneur standing will earn the winner a life-changing reward. That person will just need to survive Gordon Ramsay, the only angel investor. All we can say is good luck.

An American musical soap opera television series is nothing new. Only in the last decade, ABC’s “Nashville” chronicled the lives of various fictitious country music singers, with Connie Britton as a legendary superstar whose stardom began to fade.

FOX’s first new series to start in September will be “Monarch,” a Texas-sized, multi-generational musical drama about America’s first family of country music, in which Susan Sarandon plays tough as nails Queen of Country Music Dottie Cantrell Roman.

Dottie and her beloved husband Albie Roman (country music star Trace Adkins) have created a country music dynasty, and even though the Roman name is synonymous with authenticity, the very foundation of their success is a lie.

And when their reign as country royalty is put in jeopardy, heir to the crown Nicky Roman (Anna Friel) will stop at nothing to protect her family’s legacy, while ensuring her own quest for stardom.

“Alert” is a character-driven police procedural about the Los Angeles Police Department’s Missing Persons Unit. When officer Nikki Parker’s son goes missing, she joins the Unit to help other people find their loved ones, even as she searches for her own.

Six years later, her world is turned upside-down when her ex-husband, Devon Zoellner, shows up with a proof-of-life photo of their missing boy. Or is it? A heart-pounding, life-or-death search for a missing person takes place in each episode.

It’s a case-of-the-week show with a case-of-a-lifetime story running through it – a story that alternately brings the two main characters gut-wrenching heartache and heart-pounding joy.

Based on a British crime anthology comes the provocative series of “Accused” that takes one on the journey of the defendant. Each episode opens in a courtroom of the accused, with viewers knowing nothing about their crime or how they ended up on trial.

Told from the defendant’s point of view through flashbacks, “Accused” holds a mirror up to the current times with evocative and emotional stories.

Michael Chiklis (“The Shield”) guest-stars in the premiere episode as Dr. Scott Corbett, a successful brain surgeon, who faces the limits of unconditional love upon discovering his teenage son may be planning a violent attack at school.

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

Upcoming Calendar

09.27.2022 6:00 pm - 7:00 pm
Clearlake Planning Commission 
09.28.2022 5:30 pm - 7:30 pm
Levee and flood risk workshop
09.29.2022 7:30 am - 8:30 am
Rotary Club of Middletown
09.29.2022 6:00 pm - 8:00 pm
Local Hazard Mitigation Plan update meeting
10.01.2022 7:00 am - 11:00 am
Sponsoring Survivorship annual walk and run
10.01.2022 8:00 am - 2:00 pm
Konocti Challenge
10.01.2022 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
Farmers' Market at the Mercantile
10.01.2022 10:00 am - 5:00 pm
20th annual Falling Leaves Quilt Show

Mini Calendar



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