Sunday, 01 August 2021

Arts & Life


Based on a true story that is ultimately more nuanced than what can be jammed into a film just shy of two hours, “The Courier” is an engrossing spy tale set in the early 1960s in the run-up to the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Following on last week’s column about the “Spy City” series also set in roughly the same era, there’s something terribly gratifying about a suspenseful and propulsive spy thriller that taps into dramatic tension in the John Le Carre tone rather than excessive action stunts.

Benedict Cumberbatch’s Greville Wynne is an ordinary British engineer and salesman representing manufacturers who travels frequently to Eastern European nations peddling his products and attending trade conferences.

Wynne’s globetrotting to the East comes to the attention of top operatives in MI6 and the CIA, respectively Dickie Franks (Angus Wright) and Emily Donovan (Rachel Brosnahan), who think his talent for wining and dining clients makes for the perfect cover.

What the spooks have in mind for Wynne, without the benefit of any training in spycraft, is to assume the role of a courier to connect with a Russian colonel in the GRU, the military intelligence service, who wants to pass along intel to avert a looming nuclear showdown.

The experienced Russian agent is Oleg Penkovsky (Merab Ninidze), a patriot who finds himself conflicted over the bellicose and erratic nature of Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev that has him worried the world is on the brink of annihilation.

On a first lunch meeting with Penkovsky, Wynne is asked if he can hold his alcohol, and the Brit replies “It’s my one true gift.” Wynne is a natural at boozing and losing golf games to clients on purpose.

A nice relationship develops between the two men, including frequent dinners, trips to the Bolshoi ballet and social gatherings that include their wives and children.

But not all is well for Wynne on the home front. Wynne’s wife Sheila (Jessie Buckley) grows suspicious of his repeated trips to Moscow, wary that he may be unfaithful. That he’s sworn to secrecy prevents him from reassuring his wife of his marital fidelity.

Even though Wynne is only assigned to bring back envelopes to London, a palpable sense of danger in Moscow is omnipresent and eventually the story takes a darker and more desperate turn.

We already know that Cumberbatch has the talent to capture the everyman quality of an unassuming salesman, but the real treat is Georgian actor Merab Ninidze, whose expressions and glances relay more powerful emotions than most actors convey through words and actions.

“The Courier” is a stylish period piece and a cerebral exercise of historical significance that’s worth watching to remember the terror and horrors of the tyrannical nature of communism.


There appears to be some interest in the lives of British royalty, or maybe it’s just the tabloid fodder of Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex, and his wife Meghan, Her Royal Highness, the Duchess of Sussex being in the news for ingratitude or whatever.

PBS is here to satiate your possible curiosity with its summer series of “Lucy Worsley’s Royal Myths & Secrets,” a travelogue across Britain and Europe visiting incredible locations where Royal history was made.

In beautiful palaces and castles and on dramatic battlefields, Worsley investigates how Royal history is a mixture of facts, exaggeration, manipulation and mythology. The first episode will explore how Queen Elizabeth I’s iconic warrior image shaped British national identity.

Put me down for the episode about the doomed Queen Marie Antoinette, who was notorious for her profligacy and love of fine clothes and parties. Worsley explores the famous myth of whether the last queen before the French Revolution uttered the phrase “Let them eat cake.”

Author of the hit debut novel “The Joy Luck Club,” Amy Tan’s seminal work was a commercial and critical success, and in honor of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month on May 3, American Masters presents “Amy Tan: Unintended Memoir.”

An intimate portrait of the groundbreaking author Amy Tan interweaves archival imagery, including home movies and personal photographs, animation, and original interviews to tell an inspiring story of the writer’s life and career.

Born to Chinese immigrant parents, Tan opens up with remarkable frankness about traumas she’s faced in her life and how writing helped her heal. The film traces her meteoric rise from the point she picked up fiction writing as a mental break from heavy freelance business writing.

During the winter press tour, Amy Tan, who appears to want to keep things private, noted that the documentary was a way to take what’s in “The Joy Luck Club,” which is “also very private, but putting it out there the way it was.”

Joking about seeing herself “age over 32 years,” Tan also said that the documentary was “uncomfortable at times, and yet it seems like the best way to make sense of my life.” One fun fact is that Tan performed in a rock band with humorist Dave Barry and other authors.

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

Kwame Dawes. Courtesy photo.

Missouri poet, Kitty Carpenter, could have chosen any number of titles for her poem, a moving and difficult accounting of how the roles of parent and child change as a result of the passing of time; but it is, in the end, a poem that locates its hope in memory—the memory that the farm represents for her when she thinks of her mother’s strength.

Farm Sonnet
By Kitty Carpenter

The barn roof sags like an ancient mare’s back.
The field, overgrown, parts of it a marsh
where the pond spills over. No hay or sacks
of grain are stacked for the cold. In the harsh
winters of my youth, Mama, with an axe,
trudged tirelessly each day through deep snow,
balanced on the steep bank, swung down to crack
the ice so horses could drink. With each blow
I feared she would fall, but she never slipped.
Now Mama’s bent and withered, vacant gray
eyes fixed on something I can’t see. I dip
my head when she calls me Mom. What’s to say?
The time we have’s still too short to master
love, and then, the hollow that comes after.

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 Kitty Carpenter, “Farm Sonnet” from Rattle, (Winter 2020). Poem reprinted by permission of Kitty Carpenter 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.

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.

Mildred Pickersgill. Courtesy photo.

LAKE COUNTY, Calif. – Lake County Symphony Association recently lost one of its most cherished members, Charter member Mildred Pickersgill.

She was a driving force in the history of the LCSA and was very active in the establishment and leadership of the organization from the very beginning.

Pickersgill served on the first LCSA Board of Directors in 1977 when it was known as Clear Lake Performing Arts and continued as a board member for many years, until very recently.

She served two terms as president of LCSA, and was also the official historian, compiling a unique collection of albums that were filled with pictures, news articles, programs and posters.

During her many years of service, Pickersgill planned concerts, served as membership chairman and ad sales coordinator, stored youth instruments in her home, and was the librarian who organized and cataloged the large inventory of orchestra music.

She also played her violin in the symphony for about 24 years – from the very first concert in 1978 to 2002.

As historian, Pickersgill wrote many historical highlights of LCSA for its anniversary programs.

It is interesting to read her own words regarding the beginnings of LCSA in 1977. “Our son, Bill, a music major at S.F. State, received a letter in 1977, telling of a plan to begin a classical music organization in Lake County. Jean and Lucien Mitchell, members of the S. F. Symphony and Opera Orchestras, had moved to Lake County, and with some Lake County friends, planned their first meeting. The local newspaper told of the gathering at the Mitchell home. I compared the picture in the paper with my high school yearbook of 1938, and Jean Mitchell surely looked like the Jean Marie Mattos whom I had known at Tamalpais High. She played cello in the advanced orchestra and was an inspiration to me as I played violin in the beginning orchestra. The Mitchells hosted an inspiring afternoon reception in October 1977, and we were encouraged to join the new Clear Lake Performing Arts as charter members.

“There were 75 members who became the first Board of Directors. There was also a list to sign if we wanted to play in the new orchestra. I hadn’t opened my case in 38 years but was encouraged to sign. Our first rehearsal was in March 1978 and the first concert was in December 1978.”

The LCSA has now been in existence for over 40 years and the symphony continues to play at what many say is an extraordinary level for an orchestra of its size. Mildred Pickersgill helped make it all possible.

She died peacefully in November 2020 at 96 years of age.

Charitable donations may be made in Mildred’s name to the LCSA by going to


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.


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.


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.


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.

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08.03.2021 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
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