Wednesday, 05 August 2020

Arts & Life

Ted Kooser. Photo credit: UNL Publications and Photography.

S.C. Hahn is an American poet now living in Stockholm where, as you’ll see, it can be every bit as hard to get out of bed after an operation as it is here.

You can hear the machinery creaking, can’t you?

Getting Out of Bed After Surgery

This site has no industrial crane that swings
an arm around and lowers it to receive
a load to raise—pallets of bricks for a wall
or rods of steel rebar that will arc
in a bridge high over a river: here is only
a bed, the low hill of a sheet, and an older
man whose gears, stiff with disuse, are leveraging
his body, first untucking the legs to lower
them down to the floor, then bracing the beam
of a left arm against the mattress, the right hand
gripping a bed rail, and then the engine of pain
turns the whole contraption of bone and flesh
into a slow motion, up in increments
like a demolition film that’s run in reverse
until a newer center of gravity is reached,
and the laws of physics require that whatever is down
must rise to meet a life that stands waiting.


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 S.C. Hahn, “Getting Out of Bed After Surgery,” (2020). Poem reprinted by permission of S.C. Hahn. 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.

Maine’s former poet laureate, Wesley McNair, is one of my favorite writers.

Godine has just published a touching book-length memoir, in verse, entitled “Dwellers in the House of the Lord.” Though it’s impossible to convey the sweep of a poem of 63 pages, here is a short excerpt to give you some idea of the poem’s open-handed style.

At this point McNair’s sister has separated from Mike, her abusive husband, and the poet’s feelings are mixed, just as many of yours might be, or have been, in such a situation.

I, too, am confused. I reach out
to the Mike who calls me
Buddy, the Navy name
for friend, and in every secret
phone call, I reach out also
to my sister, bereft and alone.


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. From Dwellers in the House of the Lord, (David R. Godine, 2020). Poem copyright ©2020 by Wesley McNair. Reprinted with the permission of David R. Godine, 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.

When I look in a mirror, I try to compose my face so that it is at its best, but it’s a face that beyond my bathroom gets supplanted by all the more homely faces I carry out into the world.

John Thornberg is a Minnesota poet, but here’s a poem of his that reflects upon all of us everywhere.

Stolen Glances

Every time I turn to peer
at my reflection in the mirror,

a cruel bargain comes in play:
the glass takes off another day

from my expected living span.
It’s vanity’s fair payment plan.

Each time I look I pay, alas.
I see already how the glass

has laced its silver in my hair,
my youth was stolen unaware.

The real me just fades away,
glance by glance, day by day,

until too late I’ll turn to see
the mirror has stolen off with me!


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 John Thornberg, “Stolen Glances.” Poem reprinted by permission of John Thornberg. 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.



‘THE OLD GUARD’ (RATED R) ON NETFLIX

Now that films with a MPAA rating are being released on television streaming services rather than in traditional theaters, it may be appropriate to note the premise for the ratings.

In the case of the superhero action thriller “The Old Guard” streaming on Netflix, the R rating has been designated for the “sequences of graphic violence and language.” Gore and language should also be added into the mix.

What kind of superheroes are performing good deeds here? For one thing, they are not characteristic of caped crusaders or enhanced physical specimens of someone, say, like the Hulk that are found in DC Comics or Marvel Cinematic Universe films.

The superheroes in “The Old Guard” are bound to the human experience, with frailties and even mental constraints attendant to regular humans, but they are immortals with regenerative healing faculties.

The quartet of centuries-old warriors are led by Andromache of Scythia (Charlize Theron), who favors being called Andy and is a powerful woman of indeterminate age, as she seems unable to recall the century of her birth.

However, Andy has been around long enough that two of her compatriots are Joe (Marwan Kenzari) and Nicky (Luca Marinelli), a couple that were on the opposite sides of the Crusades before being killed in battle and then falling in love.

The relative youngster in the group is Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts), who joined around the time of the Napoleonic Wars of the early 19th century after fighting on the side of the French Empire.

We first get a look at Andy in Morocco. For all of her ageless qualities and dressed in black and wearing dark glasses, Andy has the look of a very modern woman who might be sipping lattes at an outdoor café and shopping in trendy stores.

Andy and her colleagues might more aptly be described as mercenaries for the greater good. And yet any commitment to the cause of fighting evil seems to be wearing on Andy, as she laments that the world is not becoming a better place for their efforts.

The angst that grips Andy’s mental well-being is exacerbated by grieving over the loss of her old colleague Quynh (Van Veronica Ngo), whose fate was sealed by being placed in an iron maiden and dropped into the bottom of the ocean during medieval times.

While Andy grappled with her sorrow and despair over global conditions, the quartet had been on hiatus for some time until Andy is asked by former CIA spook James Copley (Chiwetel Ejiofor) to undertake a rescue mission of kidnapped Sudanese schoolgirls.

The mission goes badly as the quartet is ambushed in what obviously turned out to be a trap. The resulting bloody carnage, however, does allow us to have an understanding of how the superheroes are rather quickly restored to fighting shape.

Meanwhile, over in Afghanistan, young African-American Marine Nile Freeman (KiKi Layne) survives a fatal knife attack from a Taliban soldier with a miraculously speedy recovery that stuns her doctors and causes her to be ostracized by fellow soldiers that don’t understand her sudden immortality.

That Nile has the regenerative powers common to the other immortal warriors leads Andy to venture to the Afghan war zone to save Nile just in time before she’s shipped off by superiors presumably for medical experiments.

Though a brave soldier who had been unaware of her immortality, Nile is reluctant, to say the least, to become a recruit with the warriors. Understandably, her major concern is that she would never see her family again if pressed into service.

However, there is nothing like a truly noxious villain that would get one to change their mind about a mission. That baddie is Steve Merrick (Harry Melling), the nerdy head of a British pharmaceutical firm who is aware of the immortals and wants to subject them to genetic experiments.

To that end, Merrick’s goons abduct Joe and Nicky, resulting in the warriors being strapped to operating tables under the care of a scientist who may have been inspired by Josef Mengele for evil medical research.

Faced with the reality of Merrick’s wickedness, the once reluctant Nile comes to terms with a certain trepidation about her eternal earthly situation, and becomes a force in her own right for the supercharged battle to liberate her colleagues.

Even though the ageless warriors become fully restored after being killed in action, they feel pain when maimed or mortally wounded, which takes its toll on everyone’s psyche. This is becoming especially true for Andy, who’s expressing weariness and frustration.

“The Old Guard” is a different type of superhero action film in that the warriors may be adept at fighting with all kinds of weapons (Andy favors a medieval axe), but their power is primarily that of not dying and living to fight another day.

As one of the producers, Charlize Theron may have in mind developing “The Old Guard” into a franchise outside the orbit of the traditional comic book universe that dominates superhero films.

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



‘PALM SPRINGS’ (RATED R) ON HULU

The seemingly endless time loop of reliving each day, most memorably realized in “Groundhog Day” with Bill Murray’s weatherman Phil Connors trapped in an existential purgatory of arrested development, is the basic premise in play for the offbeat romantic comedy of “Palm Springs.”

The thematic genesis of “Palm Springs,” now streaming on Hulu with a MPAA rating as the film had been destined for wide theatrical release, is not just the Bill Murray opus but also a touch of the black comedy slasher film “Happy Death Day.”

Andy Samberg’s Nyles, by all appearances a slacker with a girlfriend he doesn’t seem to care about in any serious way, is a wedding guest doomed to repeat the same day over and over at a tony spot somewhere in the southern California desert.

Waking up each day next to his girlfriend Misty (Meredith Hagner), a self-absorbed party girl who consents to meaningless quickie sex, Nyles is constantly reliving November 9, the wedding day of Tala (Camila Mendes) and Abe (Tyler Hoechlin).

As the plus-one for bridesmaid Misty, Nyles feels no consequences for his actions, showing up at the wedding and reception wearing shorts and a bright Hawaiian shirt and delivering an impromptu toast to the newlyweds.

At the reception, Nyles meets Sarah (Cristin Milioti), the older sister of the bride and a pariah in her own family. An attraction develops between them, especially after Nyles discovers Misty cheating on him.

Things get weird when a seriously deranged older man named Roy (J.K. Simmons), starts shooting arrows from his bow in an attempt to kill Nyles, thereby interrupting a romantic moment with Sarah.

With an arrow stuck in his shoulder, Nyles crawls into a nearby cave that is glowing with a baffling light, and though he warns Sarah not to follow, she also gets sucked into the mysterious flaming whirlpool.

As a result, now both Sarah and Nyles are trapped in the time loop, and unlike the equivocal Nyles, Sarah wants so badly to escape that she resorts vainly to drastic measures such as driving back to Texas and running in front of a speeding truck.

When desperation fails, Sarah turns to tutorials in quantum physics to find the way out of the metaphysical limbo, sharing her plan with Nyles, who expresses love for her but seems to be okay staying in the loop.

With the repeats of the chaotic wedding day unveiling secrets of family members, the bantering and bickering Nyles and Sarah form a deeper bond that blossoms into love regardless of their shortcomings.

A whimsical romantic comedy, “Palm Springs” works because of the mismatched chemistry of the energetic, snarky Andy Samberg’s Nyles and the despairing, mordant Cristin Milioti’s Sarah, the unwilling maid of honor.

‘MR. LUCKY’ CLASSIC TV ON AMAZON PRIME VIDEO

From the same era of the late Fifties in which the private eye series “Peter Gunn” began its three-season run, “Mr. Lucky,” another half-hour crime show, shared similar traits in that the series was also created by Blake Edwards with music by Henry Mancini.

In the role of the titular character, John Vivyan owned a floating casino. With his sidekick Andamo (Ross Martin), Mr. Lucky would become enmeshed with the mischiefs of assorted gamblers, crooks, gangsters, fugitives and hit men cavorting on his yacht.

The first episode finds Mr. Lucky and Andamo operating the casino on a banana republic island ruled by the corrupt dictator El Presidente (Nehemiah Persoff). To curry favor and keep his enterprise open for business, Mr. Lucky would purposely lose money to the dictator in weekly poker games.

Fortune would run out for Mr. Lucky when Andamo was exposed as a revolutionary seeking the overthrow of the government by running guns and plotting an assassination of El Presidente.

The floating casino named Fortuna was sunk by government forces, forcing Mr. Lucky and his compatriot to flee with only the clothes on their backs and some pocket change.

Relocating to an American port city in the second episode, Mr. Lucky scored a big haul in a dice game and managed to buy the yacht of a swindler and turned it into a casino that was christened the Fortuna II.

Skirting the laws against gambling, the Fortuna II was anchored three miles offshore in international waters, and the floating casino became identified as “Lucky’s” with a pair of dice brightly illuminated to flash the numbers seven and eleven.

The “Mr. Lucky” series suffered misfortune midway into its one and only season when major sponsor Lever Brothers decided its product did not mix with gambling and insisted the casino be turned into a floating restaurant and nightclub.

The absence of the shady world of gambling took the edge off a series that delighted in having disreputable people mixing it up with conflicts that had to be resolved aboard a seabound casino.

Catch the early gritty black-and-white episodes of “Mr. Lucky” on Amazon Prime Video before the chance slips away.

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




‘HAMILTON’ ON DISNEY+

Notching just shy of 2,000 Broadway performances before coronavirus shut down the Richard Rodgers Theatre in mid-March, the musical “Hamilton” had become a cultural phenomenon that appeared destined to run forever.

Having captured the stage production of “Hamilton” on film, which is a rather infrequent exercise under any circumstances, the musical was immortalized for posterity in 2016 to capture the original Broadway cast.

“Hamilton” had been scheduled for a theatrical release in late 2021, but Disney made a seemingly wise business decision to launch the film on Disney Plus, thereby handing its streaming service a significant boost in the number of subscribers.

As a musical, “Hamilton” features an exciting, innovative score that blends rap, hip-hop, jazz, and rhythm and blues, with music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda, the show creator and actor who is also the titular character.

To capture the energy of the stage production, the filming took place during a couple of live performances along with a session in an empty house that allowed for close-ups and shots from the rear of the stage.

Beginning with Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Alexander Hamilton, one of America’s Founding Fathers and the first secretary of the treasury, the leading performers form an interesting color-blind cast, with the notable exception of Jonathan Groff’s King George.

Born out of wedlock on the Caribbean island of Nevis and orphaned as a child, Hamilton leaves his home at a young age to emigrate to New York at the precipice of the American Revolution.

When Hamilton arrives in America, among the first people he meets are eventual rival Aaron Burr (Leslie Odom Jr., Tony Award winner for Best Actor in a Musical) and the Marquis de Lafayette (Daveed Diggs), and as a group they avow a revolutionary fervor against the Crown.

An amusing interlude has the preening, imperious King George insisting on his authority for the colonies, realized in the song “You’ll Be Back,” a flippant counterpunch to the colonist’s rebellion.

A man of serious intellect and ambition who later co-authored “The Federalist Papers,” Hamilton becomes the right-hand man to General George Washington (Christopher Jackson), and later a pivotal figure at the Siege of Yorktown.

It’s not all war, politics and economics for Hamilton. His personal life is detailed in a romance with Phillipa Soo’s Eliza, one of the wealthy Schuyler sisters, that blossoms into marriage, which later turns rocky after his affair with a married woman.

As Aaron Burr resents Hamilton’s rise in the government and his sway with President Washington, the inevitable day of reckoning comes, leaving Burr with a tarnished legacy of a villain.

There is a school of thought so enthralled with “Hamilton” as to believe in its educational value for history. Sure, the musical is based on historical events and real people, but as with supposedly fact-based stories dramatic license is taken.

Whatever liberties appropriated by Lin-Manuel Miranda in creating a historical account, “Hamilton” is a masterpiece of theater that now comes alive for a wider audience that would find the price of Broadway ducats a little too steep.

‘THE SAINT’ CLASSIC TV ON AMAZON PRIME VIDEO

The ongoing lockdown of multiplexes is allowing me to have a greater appreciation of classic television shows, leading to a viewing habit that may not go away once liberated from the figurative basement.

At the moment on Amazon Prime Video, I am indulging in episodes of “The Saint,” a British show that starred the charismatic Roger Moore as the suave playboy and adventurer Simon Templar with enough free time on his hands to solve murders or help aggrieved parties.

“The Saint” is very much of its time during its six-season run during the Sixties, with its first four seasons in glorious black and white episodes set in plenty of daytime action, in contrast to the nighttime “Peter Gunn” series written about last week.

With his wit and charm and physical prowess in abundant slugfests with assorted villains, Roger Moore’s effortless, breezy performance of a rogue with a moral code underscores how easily he later slipped into the role of James Bond.

Templar may be a man of mystery, but he’s often introduced as “the famous Simon Templar” and a halo appears over his head as he speaks directly to the audience to clue them in on the plausibility of his newest adventure in some exotic locale.

From Rome to Monaco to Paris and beyond, Templar is recognized everywhere as if he might be a head of state. It’s a pretty good guess that British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan of that era lacked public recognition of that same magnitude.

More often than not, Templar is also known to the local authorities, and not always in a good way. The inevitable friction with the police adds to the excitement of Templar’s go-it-alone approach to solving a crime.

With each episode a standalone story, there’s little doubt that no matter how dire the circumstances for our sainted hero, Templar is unfailing in solving the mystery.

“The Saint” proves to be a heavenly entertainment in a fantasy world of criminal mischief.

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

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