Wednesday, 12 June 2024

Arts & Life



‘MAFIA MAMMA’ RATED R

Though not a marquee actor in the big box office sense, Toni Collette is nonetheless a phenomenal performer who deserves a film role that rises above the rather pedestrian assignment of suburban housewife thrust into a Mafia empire.

As so cheekily cast into the titular role of “Mafia Mamma,” Collette’s Kristin is first seen as the doting mother to a teenage son (Tommy Rodger) heading off to college and working in a marketing job that’s as exciting as finding a toy in a cereal box.

On top of perpetual worry about her son leaving home, Kristin is crushed to find that her immature husband Paul (Tim Daish), performing in a second-rate rock band, is cheating on her with a ditzy rock groupie.

News arrives that the Italian paternal grandfather she never knew has died, and that as the sole heir she needs to attend the funeral. The idea of taking a vacation in the ancestral homeland sounds like a good idea.

Good food and gelato await, but alas, she has no clue that grandpa Don Giuseppe Balbano (Alessandro Bressanello) has bequeathed to her the family business that is embroiled in a blood feud with the Romano family.

With the help of Balbano consigliere Bianca (Monica Bellucci), Kristin overcomes her understandable reluctance to step into the role of running a criminal enterprise that she’d rather make legit over the strenuous objections of hot-tempered cousin Fabrizio (Eduardo Scarpetta).

Fortuitous circumstances that seem unlikely allow Kristin to obtain some respect from other mafia figures but she’d prefer to have a fling with the handsome Lorenzo (Giulio Corso) that she met at the airport.

While Kristin would rather make wine and be seduced by an Italian hunk, the gangster film genre certainly won’t get a boost from limp references to “The Godfather.”

A Zoom meeting with her male colleagues planning a sexist ad campaign turns hilarious when the men are oblivious to Kristin fighting off an assassin. This just might be the highlight of the film.

Sad enough for an idea that sounded promising, “Mafia Mamma” turns flat like an extremely thin crust pizza.

The glimmer of actual jokes surface with the regularity of a Metro bus in Los Angeles, which is to say not often.

INSIGHT AT THE TCM CLASSIC FILM FESTIVAL

As Yogi Berra once said to Yankee players, “You can observe a lot by watching.” You can also learn a lot and gain insight into show business at the TCM Classic Film Festival by attending a special presentation.

One such event that proved fascinating was “You Gotta Have a Gimmick: The Warner Bros. Trailers Show,” hosted by Randy Haberkamp of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Anyone who goes to the local multiplex knows that the previews of upcoming attractions have an impact on whether a future film release holds potential interest.

“The Trailers Show” demonstrated how advertising wizards were clever enough to pack theaters. “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?,” starring sibling rivals Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, may have gotten a boost with the tagline: “Try to remember this is only a motion picture.”

Another gem for Joan Crawford was the film noir “Mildred Pierce,” in which her titular role as the femme fatale was noted in the clip of Zachary Scott saying she “had more to offer a man in a glance than most women give in a lifetime.”

More to the point of Crawford’s role of the seductive woman likely to cause distress to a man involved with her, the most instructive tagline was Jack Carson’s observation that “loving her was like shaking hands with the devil.”

Haberkamp remarked that “films reflect their times,” and one must wonder at the pitch made for the 1953 Vincent Price horror film “House of Wax,” which did not feature either a single scene or actor in the promotional trailer.

The “House of Wax” trailer was a two-minute drill of taglines, from “It is Like Nothing That Has Ever Happened to You Before…” to “Every Astounding Scene in the Story Comes as Close as the Person Next to You … and You are Part of the Living Drama.”

The prize for best trailer might go to “Casablanca,” in which Humphrey Bogart is described as “the most dangerous man in the most dangerous city.”

A screening of “The Jackie Robinson Story,” which coincided with the actual day that he broke the color barrier of Major League Baseball, was not only fun to see the Brooklyn Dodgers first baseman playing himself, but offered glimpses into his personal journey.

Better still was the participation of his granddaughter Ayo Robinson who noted that all that Jackie wanted was respect as a human being. She pointed out that “acting was not quite his forte,” even if a prominent newspaper said he was very authentic in the film.

Interestingly enough, “The Jackie Robinson Story” omits some of the more vitriolic and hateful words and acts that confronted Jackie on and off the playing field.

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

Curator Corine Pearce overseeing the installation of “Our Safety, Our Sovereignty.” Photo courtesy of the Middletown Art Center.

MIDDLETOWN, Calif. — The Middletown Art Center has opened its 49th exhibit, “Our Safety, Our Sovereignty & Dichotomies.”

The exhibit uses textile art as a medium for storytelling. The work in this evocative exhibit was inspired by the tradition of coming together to sew ceremonial regalia.

Co-created by Native people from 12 tribes across five counties and curated by Corine Pearce, the collection is not only stunning, but speaks in powerful symbolism.

“It was really hard,” said Pearce about the Missing and Murdered Indigenous People component, “because every single person in the room had to choose which one of their family members to represent. It was intense. But it is about hope. It is recognizing that we’re still here, recognizing our connection to the land and that sovereignty is an individual experience. Our culture is still alive.”

This exhibit will be on view until May 29.

“Dichotomies” is a group show featuring works by regional artists, both familiar and new, that speak to dualities, and conflicting, yet parallel truths. When we pause to reflect on the contrast between two things and experience a sense of polarity, yet embrace that tension.

Free to the public, “Dichotomies” will be on view from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thursdays through Mondays, or by appointment, through July 10.

The MAC is located at 21456 State Highway 175 at the junction of Highway 29 in Middletown.

To find out more about MAC’s programs, events, and ways to support their efforts to weave the arts and culture into the fabric of life in Lake County, visit www.middletownartcenter.org​ or call 707-809-8118.



‘LUTHER: THE FALLEN SUN’ ON NETFLIX

Idris Elba is a terrific actor, and anything on television or the movies in which he’s got a key role is almost always worth watching. Case in point would be his British detective in the TV series “Luther.”

I still feel strongly that he would make a great James Bond. Some say he may be getting too old, but he’s eight years younger than Keanu Reeves, who’s proving in the “John Wick” series that age is not determinative for action chops.

After five seasons as a series, now comes the feature film “Luther: The Fallen Sun” on Netflix, with Idris Elba in the role of DCI John Luther, now disgraced for having committed illegal acts as a London police officer.

“Luther: The Fallen Sun,” a psychological crime thriller, is a continuation of the TV series, albeit with some new characters, most notably with Andy Serkis, brilliantly creepy as wealthy serial killer David Robey.

Luther inhabits a world so dark and grim that in his pursuit of the scum of the earth he often bends or breaks the rules. This proves to be his Achilles heals when he’s assigned the kidnap case of young janitor Callum Aldrich (James Bamford).

As the kidnapper, Robey is a psychopath who collects individuals against their will that he either manipulates into self-destructive acts or imprisons at a remote mansion where they are tortured and brutally murdered.

Knowing that Luther has been assigned the case of Callum’s disappearance, Robey orchestrates the detective into being fired and jailed for breaking the law, but not before Luther promises Callum’s mother Corinne (Hattie Morahan) to find her son’s killer.

Once in prison, Luther is taunted by Robey delivering recordings of the murder of Callum. Now a pariah with the police force, Luther is unable to persuade DCI Odette Raine (Cynthia Erivo), now heading the investigation, that he could lend a hand.

Helped by a former associate and an inmate riot, Luther escapes prison, because he’ll let nothing stand in the way of taking down Robey, even if DCI Raine hunts down Luther with as much zeal as chasing the serial killer.

Making the deranged Robey even more despicable is that he operates the dark website “Red Bunker” for sick voyeurs who are drawn to the gore and brutality of watching murder online.

Steeped in violent action and psychological warfare, “Luther: The Fallen Sun” works for the most part as a standalone film. Idris Elba’s Luther is charismatic, and the other key players are equally good. Andy Serkis’ Robey is beyond chilling as the villain.

Apparently, Idris Elba has taken himself out of contention to be the next Agent 007. That’s our loss. But if he cranks out a franchise of “Luther” movies, this will be our compensation, an obvious win for dedicated fans.

TCM CLASSIC FILM FESTIVAL SCHEDULING

The TCM Classic Film Festival’s starting date of April 13 is fast approaching, and the scheduling of films for the four-day extravaganza looks to be fairly complete with only a few open slots.

Exclusively for passholders, Club TCM is a private locale in the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel where movie fans have the opportunity to attend special presentations and events with many of the celebrity guests.

Given the celebration on hand for Warner Bros. 100th anniversary, the “Warner Bros.: Hollywood’s Ultimate Backlot – A Trip Through the Iron Gates” will provide an insider’s look at the soundstages and outdoor sets where the studio produced its most famous films.

Presenters of this special event include the studio’s archivist and author Steven Bingen and filmmaker and author Cass Warner, the granddaughter of the studio’s co-founder and original president, Harry Warner. They will discuss anecdotes about filmmaking on the Warner Bros. lot.

Who doesn’t love movie trailers? “You Gotta Have a Gimmick: The Warner Bros. Trailers Show” will celebrate the studio’s advertising wizards who packed theaters with clever early glimpses of some favorite films.

Passholders at Club TCM will join Randy Haberkamp of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to experience “42nd Street” (1933), “Mildred Pierce” (1945), “House of Wax” (1953), “Bonnie and Clyde” (1967), and more as you’ve never seen them before.

Open to all in a theater will be “Bless This Mess: Laurel & Hardy Shorts,” a program of Stan and Ollie’s cherished short comedies. In “Going Bye-Bye!” (1934), the pair testify against a dangerous criminal, who breaks out of prison to seek revenge but becomes a victim of hijinks.

“Them Thar Hills” (1934) find Laurel and Hardy going to the mountains for a rest and accidentally get high on moonshine dumped into a well by locals trying to evade the law.

In “Tit for Tat” (1935), an Oscar nominee for Best Comedy Short, the duo known for their slapstick comedy run into trouble when opening an electrical repair shop next to a grocery run by their old nemesis from “Them Thar Hills.”

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

Turner Classic Movies is part of the Warner Bros. media empire, which includes HBO, Discovery, TNT, Cinemax and several other brands.

No wonder this year’s TCM Classic Film Festival celebrated the 100th anniversary of Warner Bros. movie production.

This year was more than just about classic Warner Bros. films. Eddie Muller, while he hosts “Noir Alley” on TCM and writes extensively about the genre, introduced “The Killers,” a 1946 Universal Pictures production that marked the debut of Burt Lancaster.

Told in flashbacks after 10 minutes, “The Killers” had one of its major characters shot dead in the early going. Muller called the film the “Citizen Kane” of Noir, which may be a compliment to the source material of a 1927 short story written by Ernest Hemingway.

Edmond O’Brien’s investigator tries to make sense of the murder, uncovering in the process the involvement of Ava Gardner as the femme fatale, who according to Muller had already been in the movies but this film was her breakout role.

An interesting sidebar is that “The Killers” was remade in 1964 and told from the point of view of the hitmen who wanted to figure out why the victim offered no resistance.

The 1964 version had a fine cast of Lee Marvin and Angie Dickinson, along with Ronald Reagan in his last film role, this time as the villain in contrast to his usual good guy roles.

Back to the 1946 version, “The Killers” turned out to be a colossal hit, according to Muller, because of a great cast.

The expert on Film Noir opined that the most perfectly cast films of the genre are “The Maltese Falcon,” “The Asphalt Jungle,” and “The Killers.”

The joy of the TCM festival is to discover gems that may have been forgotten, except by hardcore cinephiles. One such example is 1941’s “Ball of Fire,” weirdly inspired, it seems, by “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.”

Directed by Howard Hawks, “Ball of Fire” is one of the last screwball comedies released before the U.S. entered World War II. Nothing could be screwier than the odd notion of the “Snow White” character being a nightclub singer and a gangster’s moll (Barbara Stanwyck).

Stranger still, perhaps, is the role of Gary Cooper, a gunfighter in the old West, as a nerdy English professor and the Prince Charming to Stanwyck’s Sugarpuss O’Shea, who seeks refuge from police with Cooper’s Bertram Potts and a group of educators working on a new encyclopedia.

Not to discount the many gems that TCM brings to the festival, but 1942’s “Larceny, Inc.,” a caper film starring Edward G. Robinson spoofing the roles that made him a legend, is a comedic jewel.

The film was introduced by classic film distributor Michael Schlesinger, who observed that Robinson’s career was variations of his character from “Little Caesar,” and here he proves as adept at comedy as his usual heavy drama.

Robinson’s ‘Pressure’ Maxwell and Broderick Crawford’s Jug Martin, just released from prison, want to go straight but end up buying a luggage store next to a bank to tunnel into the vault. However, the store becomes a lucrative legitimate business.

Crawford is like you’ve never seen him before — a real lunkhead so clueless and dopey that he proves hilarious. At one point, when Maxwell wants to get a loan, Jug says he doesn’t “like the idea of going into a bank through the front door.”

If the plot of “Larceny, Inc.” seems familiar, Schlesinger said to look no further than to Woody Allen’s “Small Time Crooks,” which ripped off the concept of a botched bank job’s cover business becoming a spectacular success.

Film historian and archivist Randy Haberkamp hosted the “You Gotta Have a Gimmick: The Warner Bros. Trailers Show,” an inside look at how movie trailers are “windows into the time they are made.”

The purpose of trailers, as Haberkamp noted, are to “draw you into the theater.” As fascinating marketing tools, trailers are one of the very best reasons to see a movie in a theater.

A studio’s marketing team gets the blame when a film fails, and Haberkamp observed that the marketing department never gets the credit for success. Nobody ever said the movie business is fair.

The trailer for “Dodge City,” starring Errol Flynn, was unique in that, other than a couple of quick glimpses of scenes, it touted the rousing reception of its world premiere in Dodge City, Kansas, a city of 10,000 population that swelled to fifteen times in size.

The trailer for one of Humphrey Bogart’s most popular films was especially perceptive, with its tagline of “If you are looking for adventure, you will find it in ‘Casablanca.’”

The trailer also described Bogart’s cynical American café owner Rick Blaine as “the most dangerous man in the most dangerous city.” After all, the Vichy French and German Nazis had free rein in French Morocco.

While every year brings new treasures to the big screen, one constant of the TCM festival is the difficulty choosing from about eighty films in a four-day period.

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




‘AIR’ Rated R

There was a time when Adidas and Converse were all the rage for their sneakers, and Nike did not have the cachet of being cool or hip, given that athletes did not flock to the brand established by Nike founder and CEO Phil Knight.

Then along came 1984 and a rookie by the name of Michael Jordan, destined to become the greatest of all time star of the basketball court, became, albeit unknowingly, the catalyst for transforming sports marketing.

“Air,” based on the players behind the scenes from Jordan’s parents to the sports agent and the Nike executives, is a fable about capitalism, publicity, and marketing, with the rise of a superstar player more incidental to the overall picture.

Going into the movie theater, no surprise is in store for the outcome of determined Nike’s basketball expert Sonny Vaccaro (Matt Damon) putting his career and even the fortunes of his company on the line in a bold move to sign a deal with a player who was sold on Adidas.

How do you go about creating tension, let alone any suspense, in behind-the-scenes plotting and negotiations with the ultimate result already known? Leave it to Ben Affleck’s dual role as director and playing the Zen-like corporate honcho Phil Knight.

Early scenes depict Sonny as an inveterate gambler at the craps tables in Las Vegas, acting with reckless abandon in high-stakes play. Sonny takes the same rash attitude with his conviction that he can recruit an untested rookie into a lucrative deal.

Obstacles are in Sonny’s path as his colleagues, Rob Strasser (Jason Bateman), the VP of Marketing, and Howard White (Chris Tucker), a former college player and NBA draft pick, are somewhat dubious of securing Jordan, even though they recognize his potential greatness.

With absolute confidence, Sonny confronts his boss with a daring call to take a huge financial risk on Jordan. Phil Knight apparently needed some reminding of the 10 principles from a wild Nike memo, most of which get flashed at one point or another during the film.

Sonny also flagrantly ignores the protocol of dealing directly with a player’s agent when he jets off to North Caroline to make a direct pitch to Jordan’s mother Deloris (Viola Davis).

The upshot of that breach of professional decorum is when Sonny becomes the target of a barrage of profane abuse from fast-talking agent David Falk (Chris Messina). This scene alone earns an R rating, but it is brutally and outrageously hilarious.

Sonny is fully on his game when in a meeting with the Jordan family at the Nike offices he delivers an eloquent, if somewhat maudlin, extemporaneous pitch that seals the deal that results in a shoe designed around a single player.

Sports is mostly a backdrop for “Air” as most of the action takes place in boardrooms and meetings. It succeeds as a fascinating tale, which may “grow on you” as Phil Knight might say.

‘APPLES NEVER FALL’ COMING TO PEACOCK

Australian author Liane Moriarty has already seen two of her New York Times bestseller list books, “Big Little Lies” and “Nine Perfect Strangers” turned into limited drama series on streamers HBO and Hulu, respectively.

“Big Little Lies” was snapped up by Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon for the film and television rights, and they proceeded to star in a series that went on to win multiple Emmy Awards.

Nicole Kidman returned to a star-studded cast for the series adaptation of “Nine Perfect Strangers,” which included Melissa McCarthy, Bobby Cannavale, and Michael Shannon.

Her latest novel “Apples Never Fall,” another bestseller on the New York Times list, has been picked up by Peacock for a drama series now in the works.

Annette Bening and Sam Neill star as Joy and Stan Delaney, former tennis coaches that are still winning tournaments with an enviably contented family by all appearances.

Now that they have sold the family business, Joy and Stan have all the time in the world to relax, as their four adult children are busy living their own lives.

However, Joy Delaney has disappeared and her children are re-examining their parents’ marriage and their family history with fresh eyes.

Is her disappearance related to their mysterious house guest from last year? Or were things never as rosy as they seemed in the Delaney household.

Alison Brie (AMC’s “Mad Men”) plays the role of Amy, the oldest Delaney child and the black sheep of the family. Still renting a room in student housing and jumping from one career path to another, Amy is a mess.

Jake Lacy (HBO’s “The White Lotus”) plays the role of Troy, the second-oldest offspring whose competitive edge he developed as a young tennis player is now his greatest asset as a venture capitalist.

Set against the milieu of competitive tennis, “Apples Never Fall” takes us into a family’s darkest secrets and asks, “Can we ever really know the people closest to us?”

With the author’s track record, this adaptation could turn out to be interesting.

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

The deadline for a new grant program to fund artistic endeavors across the state has been extended.

The state of California is making an unprecedented investment in the arts. The “California Creative Corps” program will award 60 million dollars in grants statewide to implement media, outreach, and engagement campaigns.

The goal is to increase awareness related to issues such as public health, water and energy conservation, climate mitigation, and emergency preparedness, relief, and recovery.

The Nevada County Arts Council is the administering organization for the upstate region, which covers 19 counties in the northern part of the state. It will award more than $3 million in grants for artists, as well as for arts and social service organizations that will employ artists between Spring 2023 and Spring 2024.

Supporting local outreach with local knowledge, as well as technical assistance for artists, and program development and evaluation, are multiple county arts agencies serving what amounts to the largest, most diverse, geographic area in California.

“We are identifying issues that are specific to communities across our service region, and inviting artists to position themselves to create awareness around them and get paid for it,” says Eliza Tudor, executive director at Nevada County Arts Council. “We want our process to be as inclusive and accessible as possible and to draw upon creative processes that spur conversation around how to create lasting change that our diverse populations can take pride in.”

The launch of a statewide Creative Corps pilot program is the result of a recommendation from the governor’s economic and jobs recovery task force and is the first of its kind in the nation. Grant applications are now open and will run until 11:49 p.m. April 28, 2023.

There are multiple mechanisms in place for support in the grant application process, both regionally through Upstate Creative Corps, and locally, through county arts partners. These include informational webinars, grant writing workshops, training and panel discussions. To learn more visit www.upstatecreativecorps.org.

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