Saturday, 04 February 2023

Arts & Life

From left, Alvon Johnson with Guitarist David Landon. Courtesy photo.

UPPER LAKE, Calif. — The dynamic blues and popular vocalist and guitarist Alvon Johnson will perform at the next Tallman “Concert with Conversation” on Sunday afternoon, Jan. 22.

Johnson will be backed by blues guitarist, vocalist and songwriter David Landon.

This intimate and informal series of “house” concerts takes place in the Meeting House next to the Tallman Hotel in Upper Lake.

“Alvon, backed by David’s band, starred at our outdoor Blue Wing Blues Festival last September,” said Tallman owner Bernie Butcher. “In the middle of their rollicking set, the band took a rest, with Alvon and David doing a captivating acoustic set. At that moment I knew they would be perfect to have back for our Tallman concert series. And fortunately they said yes!”

Formerly a vocalist with the rock and roll Hall of Fame group The Coasters (“Yakety Yak,” “Poison Ivy,” etc.), Alvon Johnson went out on his own and was voted 2005 Blues Guitarist of the Year.

A polished musician and engaging personality, Alvon travels the world singing and swinging blues and jazz standards with various big bands.

When he performs in Poland and other European countries, he’s referred to as the “King of the Blues.”

Singer, songwriter and guitarist David Landon brings over 20 years of experience from the stage and studio to every note he plays.

In the early days of Landon’s professional career, he lived and performed in Paris and was a fixture in the European club and festival circuit.

Since his return to the United States, Landon has formed his own band, released five solo CDs, and played in countless recording sessions.

The events run from 3 to 4:30 p.m., offering plenty of time for a late lunch or early dinner at the Blue Wing Restaurant.

Tickets, which cost $30 each plus tax, can be purchased online at www.eventbrite.com or by calling the Tallman Hotel at 707-275-2244, Extension 0.

Kwame Dawes. Courtesy photo.

This poem will be my statement for a rather abrupt and unexpected ending to my role as the editor of American Life in Poetry.

The poem is one of resilience — the resilience of my ancestors and those that carry the fact of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade as a defining moment in our making.

It is also a poem about resilience, about looking hopefully, even if with some caution, to the future, and I believe that Marguerite Harrold and Ber Anena who have been laboring with me to make American Life in Poetry a weekly occasion, share this spirit.

My great hope is that the legacy left by Ted Kooser will be continued into the future.

LAND HO
By Kwame Dawes

I cannot speak the languages
spoken in that vessel,
cannot read the beads
promising salvation.

I know this only,
that when the green of land
appeared like light
after the horror of this crossing,

we straightened our backs
and faced the simplicity
of new days with flame.
I know I have the blood of survivors

coursing through my veins;
I know the lament of our loss
must warm us again and again
down in the belly of the whale,

here in the belly of the whale
where we are still searching for homes.
We sing laments so old, so true,
then straighten our backs again.


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 ©1996 by Kwame Dawes, “Land Ho” from Requiem (Peepal Tree Press Ltd., 1996) 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.



CHRISTMAS MAGIC ON TCM AND LIFETIME

Turner Classic Movies’ Christmas marathon ends on Christmas day with 1949’s “Holiday Affair,” which may not be seen as truly in the Christmas spirit as what one may find on the Hallmark Channel.

Interestingly enough, TCM announced its holiday marathon by noting that “Christmas movie,” means different things to different people. After all, many argue that “Die Hard” is a Christmas movie, and throw in “Bad Santa” for good measure.

According to TCM, the Christmas movie label is subject to personal definition because Christmas films have not historically comprised a distinct genre. For some fans, the mere appearance of the season onscreen, no matter how brief, will suffice for the holiday spirit.

Growing in popularity over the years, “Holiday Affair” stars Robert Mitchum and Janet Leigh, who was just 22 at the time. The film was clearly an attempt by RKO Studios to capitalize on the success of “Miracle on 34th Street.”

Like that 1947 classic, “Holiday Affair” centers on a single working mother with a young child in Manhattan.

Both films prominently incorporate department stores and their owners, and devote much time to their child characters.

But while “Miracle” touches on fantasy and explores our inner-child, “Holiday Affair” is geared more toward adults, and adult relationship issues.

Leigh’s Connie Ennis, a young war widow, finds herself having to choose between two men: rugged, free-spirited Mitchum’s Steve Mason and more traditional, steady Wendell Corey’s Carl Davis.

Simmering under the surface is Connie’s continuing heartbreak over having lost her husband, and the Christmastime setting of “Holiday Affair” is key to emphasizing the importance of family.

The Lifetime Channel is another source of holiday programming. “The Holiday Dating Game” finds dating coach and aspiring book author Abigale Slater (Maria Menounos) close to making her lifelong dream come true, but with a catch that ties into Christmas.

Abigale has completed her first book, a how-to-guide for dating in today’s modern world, and is ready to become a published author. However, her publisher Jack (Steve Vinovich) won’t proceed with the deal without knowing that her advice actually works.

Before he has a chance to say no, Abigale proposes that she prove the rules work by using them herself and making a man fall for her by Christmas Eve in 12 days.

Although Abigale has never seen love as a priority for herself, she sets out to find someone who will tumble quickly enough into ardor to get this book in print.

Things change when Abigale meets Michael Ryan (Brent Bailey), and her single-minded mission takes an unexpected turn. While following her own advice, Abigale discovers the romance of her dreams. And just like that, “The Holiday Dating Game” becomes a Christmas movie.

If you have ever visited New Orleans, you know they like to celebrate everything, from a Saints victory to Mardi Gras to Halloween. They even have marching brass bands for funeral processions through the French Quarter.

Lifetime’s “A New Orleans Noel” weaves the Christmas theme into the lives of Grace Hill (Keshia Knight Pulliam) and Anthony Brown (Brad James), both of whom went to college to study architecture together.

But they could not be more different, and their lives took them on completely different paths. However, when they’re both hired for a job at the home of Loretta Brown (Patti LaBelle), a New Orleans praline icon, they end working together at Christmas.

When Anthony and his family discover that Grace will be celebrating Christmas alone, they invite her to take part in their traditions and celebrations.

Soon, fiercely independent Grace begins to learn the importance of family and community, while modern Anthony learns to embrace tradition and the magic of Christmas.

But when Grace is offered a new job far away from New Orleans, she’ll have to decide whether to go, or follow her heart. Well, does the heart believe the Crescent City is a romantic place?

New Orleans is often referred to as one of the most romantic cities in the nation, and according to the tourist bureau that’s no surprise given the beauty of the city’s architecture, gorgeous views, and candlelit bistros.

If New Orleans is a city for lovers, then tune into “A New Orleans Noel” to see if that notion, as well as some Christmas magic, holds true or not for Grace.

An essential part of holiday fun is indulging in the gastronomical pleasures of such staples as turkey and gravy, baked ham, mashed potatoes, and gingerbread. Some may like fruitcake, but I call those people lunatics.

In any event, Lifetime’s “A Recipe for Joy” brings food into the equation when ambitious culinary correspondent Carly Hayes (Erin Agostino) gets a shot at
her own TV show.

She’s sent to Angel Heights to help chef Grant Quinn (Dillon Casey) reopen his family’s beloved diner and film it as a holiday television special.

Thanks to Carly, Grant will not only reopen his restaurant, but most probably his heart too. And that’s how you get a recipe for romance during Christmas.

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



‘GLASS ONION: A KNIVES OUT MYSTERY’ on NETFLIX

The challenge of writing about a whodunit is to impart enough information about the characters and the basic setup without divulging too much about the twists and surprises.

A murder mystery should be peeled back like the layers on an onion. The title alone, “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery,” suggests the same, even though the onion in question is an architectural feature of an island estate.

“Glass Onion” may be considered a sequel to Rian Johnson’s 2019 “Knives Out” in the same way that the James Bond franchise was launched when “From Russia with Love” followed “Dr. No.”

Just as Sean Connery was the common thread of the 007 character in those early films, Daniel Craig is the Hercule Poirot-type detective Benoit Blanc holding together a budding new whodunit franchise.

The fun begins with longtime friends and associates of tech billionaire Miles Bron (Edward Norton) receiving puzzle boxes containing invitations to a weekend on his lavish private estate on a Greek island.

The guest list includes Miles’ former business partner Cassandra “Andi” Brand (Janelle Monae), Connecticut governor Claire Debella (Kathryn Hahn) who’s running for the senate, and cutting-edge scientist Lionel Toussaint (Leslie Odom Jr.).

Fashion designer and ditzy former model Birdie Jay (Kate Hudson) and her assistant Peg (Jessica Henwick), and Twitch influencer Duke Cody (Dave Bautista) and his sidekick girlfriend Whiskey (Madelyn Cline) round out the party.

Not in the circle of Miles’ group is world famous detective Benoit Blanc, but here he is on the dock with the other guests for the boat ride to Miles’ hideaway. Since the event is a game about the billionaire turning up “dead,” why not involve a real sleuth?

On our first glimpse of Benoit, he’s in his bathtub playing an online murder mystery game with friends Angela Lansbury, Stephen Sondheim, Natasha Lyonne and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Suffering from ennui and lack of a challenge from a great case, Benoit tells his gaming buddies that his “mind is a fueled-up racing car, and I got nowhere to drive it.” This is all the more reason for the famed sleuth to join the eclectic group for the murder mystery game.

Miles is fond of calling his guests “disruptors” and in a sense, some of them seem more so than others. Claire appears to be an idealistic candidate for higher office, but she’s being bankrolled by Miles.

Others have a connection to Miles’ bounty as well. Lionel actually works as a scientist for Miles. Former partner Andi has been estranged from Miles due to bad blood over their business breakup.

As in all the best murder mysteries, where writer-director Rian Johnson has crafted a really good one with thrills and humor, each character harbors their own secrets, lies and motivations.

Here’s hoping that Netflix will deliver another crowd-pleasing “Knives Out” installment, and that we will learn more about the enigmatic Benoit Blanc and how he came to be as resourceful as Hercule Poirot and Sherlock Holmes.



‘SPECIAL FORCES: THE ULTIMATE TEST’ ON FOX

Presented as the ultimate celebrity social experiment, “Special Forces: The Ultimate Test” is an all-new series on FOX television in which ostensible household names endure some of the harshest, most grueling challenges from the playbook of the actual Special Forces selection process.

Unlike other survivor reality shows, there are no votes and no eliminations in the expected sense. No one will be voted off the island. These celebrities, who are so used to being in the spotlight, quickly learn the meaning of “no guts, no glory.”

Selection for the Special Forces is a test unlike any other. Sixteen celebrities from all genres will take on, and try to survive, demanding training exercises led by Directing Staff (DS) agents, an elite team of ex-Special Forces operatives.

In this unique series, the only way for these recruits to leave is to give up on their own accord, through failure or potential injury, or by force from the DS agents.

Viewers will see the recruits face the harshest of environments that simulate the highly classified selection process.

The celebrities will push themselves in a way they never have been challenged before. They face the ultimate test of their physical, mental and emotional resilience, revealing their deepest and truest character.

Who are these celebrities? Who will quit, who will survive? Some of the celebrities are known better than others. Mike Piazza, a Hall of Fame catcher mostly with the Mets and Dodgers, played for 16 seasons in the MLB.

Dr. Drew Pinsky, known nationally as “Dr. Drew,” has been a ubiquitous figure both on television and radio for the entirety of his career. Kate Gosselin might be remembered for the reality series “Jon and Kate Plus 8.”

Anthony Scaramucci was the Communications Director in the Trump White House for a day or two. No, actually it was a full ten days before he was caught up in controversy.

He’s authored five books, so that should go a long way in making him fit, or not, for the Special Forces challenge.

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




‘PUSS IN BOOTS: THE LAST WISH’ Rated PG

More than a decade has passed since Antonio Banderas’ animated swashbuckling cat Puss in Boots graduated from a character role in “Shrek 2” to star in his own film as a feline version of Douglas Fairbanks’ Zorro.

The last time we saw the fear-defying eponymous hero of 2011’s “Puss in Boots,” in his solo outing as a movie star, he was purring about his cunning ability to save the world and be celebrated for his bravery.

In “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish,” we find our furry daredevil arrogantly waking up after his eighth death and realizing he has only one life left. Suddenly, the fabulous orange tabby is wondering whether he’s lost his mojo and what’s he going to do about it.

As if it isn’t dire enough being down to one last life, Puss has a bounty on his head, with the big, bad bounty hunter Wolf (Wagner Moura) having the notorious cat in his direct sights.

Seeking refuge at the home of Mama Luna Cat Rescue, Puss must abide by the rules of the owner (Da’Vine Joy Randolph), which means he has to suffer the indignity of eating cat food, using a litter box and being renamed Pickles.

Amidst the dozens of mangy cats at the rescue home, a disheveled, chatty and relentlessly cheerful mutt named Perrito (Harvey Guillen) impersonating a cat joins Puss when he embarks on a journey into the Black Forest to find the mythical Wishing Star.

To discover the talisman that could restore some of his lost lives, Puss has to humble himself and ask for help from his old flame and sometimes nemesis Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek).

In their quest, the trio of Puss, Kitty and Perrito will have to stay one step ahead of Goldi (Florence Pugh) and her crime family of Papa Bear (Ray Winstone), Mama Bear (Olivia Colman) and Baby Bear (Samson Kayo) who are also searching for the Wishing Star.

Another rival is the massively huge adult Jack Horner (John Mulaney), an underworld kingpin who operates from the back of an ominous bakery. His ambition is to become the most powerful figure in the fairytale universe.

Though known fairy tale references abound, the filmmakers drew inspiration from Sergio Leone classic film “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.” All these different hardened criminals are going after the same pot of gold.

Yet, it’s Puss and his gang that are most adorable, charming and amusing when competing with the nefarious entities who want the Wishing Star for themselves.

“Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” should be fun for all age groups, and Antonio Banderas is in fine form voicing his Spanish feline with humorous gusto.

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

Kwame Dawes. Courtesy photo.

It seems clear enough that Quincy Troupe wants his poem, “Picking a Dandelion,” to achieve the coveted status of “timelessness” while being rooted in a historical moment.

Here are Joe and Jill, two people with commonly available American names, enacting an ordinary gesture of affection.

Yet this instructive love is heightened by the context: love, in other words, in a time of hate (borrowing from Gabriela Garcia Marquez) is the theme and the optimism lacing this poem.

Picking a Dandelion
By Quincy Troupe
for Joe and Jill Biden, Cheryl and Charles Ward, and for Margaret

walking along together
in the nation’s capital
Joe stopped, stooped, picked a flower—
a dandelion to be exact—
then he handed it to Jill—
who smiled in her white summer,
dress full of pretty flowers,
and someone snapped a picture
of this sweet, simple gesture,
it revealed something deeper,
profound, beautiful about
their love for each other here,
that taught all of us watching,
how to reach across time, space,
with a tender touch, a kiss
for one another here, now
in this moment of hatred
before time on earth runs out


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 ©2022 by Quincy Troupe, “Picking a Dandelion” from Duende Poems, 1996-Now (Seven Stories Press, 2022.) 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.

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