Sunday, 28 February 2021

Arts & Life



‘RUN’ ON HULU

What could not have been a coincidence, “Run” was produced to be a theatrical release for Mother’s Day weekend.

That’s a bit of cruel irony once the dysfunctional dynamic of a mother-daughter relationship is fully revealed.

A few films come to mind that involve an abusive and manipulative mother, but none probably more prominent in the zeitgeist than Faye Dunaway’s Joan Crawford in “Mommie Dearest,” a disturbing look at the mistreatment of her adopted daughter in a movie almost four decades ago old.

Fresh in the public’s mind from her role in “Ratched,” Sarah Paulson’s Diane Sherman has entered into the sweepstakes for an equally cruel and controlling mother caring for her homebound teen daughter Chloe (Kiera Allen).

If the Nurse Ratched role in the Netflix series didn’t solidify Paulson’s adept performance of an unhinged caregiver, then “Run” should seal the deal for one depraved enough to win the Munchausen by proxy lottery.

In the opening scene, Diane is giving birth to a premature baby clinging to life in the hospital. The screen goes black to list definitions of asthma, diabetes, paralysis and even the rare disorder of hemochromatosis.

Jumping to the present day, Chloe is a high school senior being homeschooled by her mother, who has apparently spent the last 17 years in full-time care of a child who can only move about in a wheelchair.

Chloe’s daily routine never varies. Pulling herself out of bed in the morning into the wheelchair, Chloe gobbles more pills than a seriously ill senior citizen, tosses up phlegm in the toilet and rubs ointment on body rashes. Other treatments follow throughout the day.

Schoolwork may involve 90 minutes of physics, followed by less time with literature since Chloe has already read many chapters. She’s obviously smart and eagerly waiting to hear about college applications.

Living in rural Washington brings little interaction with the outside world. In fact, the sprawling two-story home, with a vegetable garden that Diane tends to every day, is so isolated that there are no neighbors within shouting distance.

The daily arrival of the mailman has Chloe rushing to the door to see if any acceptance letter has come from the University of Washington or another college. Somehow, Mom always reaches the mail first, assuring Chloe she’d be the one to open any letters from a school.

Odd happenings start to creep into the picture, such as Chloe finding a new prescription in her mother’s name but the mystery green and white pills turn out to be a new medication that she’s taking.

Growing suspicion that festers in Chloe’s mind leads to a cat-and-mouse game where her investigation into the pills is thwarted by the only computer in the house having no Internet connection.

As a matter of fact, Chloe may be the only teenager in the entire Pacific Northwest without a cell phone and access to social media, which obviously thwarts an inquiring mind to break free of a mental and physical prison.

When Chloe convinces her mom that they should go see a movie, she slips out of the theater on the pretext of a bathroom visit in order to go across the street to the pharmacy, hoping to determine what ailment is addressed by the mysterious new medication.

Meanwhile, later at night, Mom usually spends time in the basement with a bottle of wine watching old home movies of her child while secrets are stored in boxes and desk drawers that are inaccessible to Chloe.

As tension starts to build between a suspicious daughter and an overprotective, scheming mother, the madness of Diane turns ugly with incidents that would warrant the attention of the authorities.

There is no intention here to spoil any of the twists and turns of extreme behaviors that are threatening and dangerous or the secrets unearthed that cast a whole new perspective on the psychosis at hand.

Kiera Allen, a wheelchair user in real life, brings authenticity to the role as a disabled person. But more than that, Allen is genuine as a bright teenager ably coping with her own challenges.

On the occasion of being trapped in her bedroom, Chloe seeks escape by dragging her body across the roof of her house in a thrilling moment that demonstrates her resourcefulness and resolve.

Sarah Paulson’s Diane is a terrific character study of someone with a tenuous grasp on reality in spite of a seemingly caring façade that slowly boils into a frightful meltdown.

In the serviceable running time of approximately 90 minutes, “Run” is long enough to wholly establish the enormously villainous nature of an abusive parent and short enough not to wear out its welcome as a thriller.

Viewing “Run” on a theatrical big screen as originally intended would have been added bonus, but since the dreadful pandemic has limited our options, thankfully Hulu stepped into the breach to offer a rousing original film.

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



‘THE CHRISTMAS CHRONICLES 2’ ON NETFLIX

Considering the frustration felt by many during these challenging times, you may have noticed some leaders keep insisting that we cancel holiday celebrations with family because, after all, let’s end this awful year on a down note for everyone.

With apologies to Dr. Seuss, we could have a contest for the officeholder most qualified to be crowned the Grinch. But in the holiday spirit, why not skip the doom and gloom if only briefly. Since this column is about seeking enjoyment, let’s relish the Christmas spirit.

A good start would a family evening for a viewing of the Netflix movie “The Christmas Chronicles 2” starring a most appropriate and delightful Kurt Russell as the hip jolly resident of the North Pole.

While the original 2018 “The Christmas Chronicles” included Chris Columbus as one of the producers, the notable writer and director brings his family-themed creative talent this time to directing and being part of the writing team.

With Columbus at the head, a family amusement to cheer as welcome relief from our current malaise is to be expected from the talent behind the holiday film “Home Alone” and comedies that featured adolescents.

In the original film siblings Kate (Darby Camp) and Teddy Pierce (Judah Lewis) had a Christmas Eve plan to catch Santa Claus on camera which nearly derailed Christmas on a wild night before they joined with Santa and the Elves to save Christmas before it was too late.

Two years later, the siblings are spending Christmas in Cancun with their widowed mother Claire (Kimberly Williams-Paisley) and her boyfriend and maybe future husband Bob (Tyrese Gibson), who has a young son Jack (Jahzir Bruno).

Now a cynical teenager, Kate broods over the fact that Christmas is just not same in a tropical environment at a glorious beach, and she’s not quite enthused about her mom’s new relationship since she fears the memory of her deceased father is fading away.

Meanwhile, older sibling Teddy has settled down from his more rambunctious ways and enjoys sipping tropical fruit drinks while relaxing near the ocean’s edge. Unlike Kate, Teddy doesn’t miss the winter environment back home in Massachusetts.

The youngest child is possible future half-brother Jack, a nice kid apparently suffering anxiety over just about anything unfamiliar, but who will soon be tested on adapting to big surprises in store.

A former elf named Belsnickel (Julian Dennison), bitter that he felt ignored by Santa and Mrs. Claus (Goldie Hawn) and then unwillingly turned into human form, is ensconced at the South Pole plotting revenge.

Feeling alienated from her family, Kate decides to run away back to Boston at the earliest chance, which comes when Claire and Bob take advantage of an overnight trip to the Mayan ruins.

During the parental absence, Kate and Jack are signed up for Kids Club activities, but they both get duped into a golf cart ride supposedly to the airport by Belsnickel and end up instead thrust into a portal with a fast trip to the North Pole.

The kids are Belsnickel’s ticket back into Santa’s Village where his dastardly plans include theft of the Christmas star that powers the North Pole and launch of a chemical attack that turns the cheerful elves into destructive gremlin-like maniacs.

A magical troublemaker, Belsnickel is hell-bent on destroying the North Pole and bringing Christmas to a permanent end, even if it means unleashing bedlam with a fierce Yule Cat that brings harm to Dasher, one of Santa’s beloved reindeers.

Aside from the amusingly bad behavior of Santa’s wayward elves, Santa and Belsnickel compete in an aerial sleigh ride race with nice digital effects that also would please the youngsters.

Time travel takes Santa and the kids back several decades to Boston’s snowbound Logan Airport on Christmas Eve as holiday travelers wait for delayed flights and Kate ends up in a jam for what a sales clerk believes is her attempt to pass counterfeit money.

Keep an eye out for throwaway bits of humor like the village’s cinema featuring “Bad Santa” while the elves run rampant and Santa and Mrs. Claus dozing off while the elf language version of “It’s a Wonderful Life” plays on the television.

Cynics might think of “The Christmas Chronicles 2” as little more than Yuletide pablum, and while it may not be the most inspired holiday fare of all time, it does have heart and enough cuteness and humor to offer seasonal enjoyment.

Moreover, Kurt Russell brings playful gruffness to his St. Nick when confronting Belsnickel, charming banter with his real-life partner Goldie Hawn, and joyful rocking of a Christmas song in the Boston airport, all of which reflect being right for the part.

Will Christmas be saved once again? Here’s guessing that you may already know the answer, but that would likely be the case for any other similar holiday film.

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




‘THE HARDY BOYS’ ON HULU

This is not intended to be a history lesson, but it has to be noted that “The Hardy Boys” books have been around for almost a century, going back to prolific ghostwriters, under the pseudonym Franklin W. Dixon, churning out teen pulp fiction.

The series of mystery stories about two teenagers who are amateur sleuths solving cases that adults couldn’t handle were certainly popular in my youth. Following the adventures of Frank and Joe Hardy in print was always enjoyable.

In today’s culture of the Internet, Facebook, Instagram and all forms of social media that don’t tax anyone’s attention span, I have no idea if the books are still popular with the target audience.

Up until now, the most identifiable fulfilment of “The Hardy Boys” in the television medium was the 1970s series on ABC that starred Parker Stevenson and Shaun Cassidy as the sleuthing teens who were often joined by Pamela Sue Martin as Nancy Drew.

Hulu has rebooted “The Hardy Boys” for a 13-episode run that is now streaming, with the Hardy siblings at a younger age than the stars of the ABC series but no less resourceful in the business of investigation.

Frank Hardy (Rohan Campbell), a 16-year-old athletic star on the high school baseball team, and his brother Joe (Alexander Elliot), a 12-year-old prodigy with an uncanny ability to pick locks like a professional thief, enjoy a wonderful family life until tragedy strikes.

This may be a spoiler to inform you that their mother, Laura Hardy (Janet Porter), who had been an investigative reporter, suffers a fatal automobile accident only minutes into the first episode.

However, the mystery surrounding the demise of the Hardy siblings’ mother is the catalyst for the sleuthing adventures of the boys taking it upon themselves to launch their own investigation into her death.

After this family tragedy, Frank and Joe are forced to move from the big city located in a seemingly unspecified New England location to their parents’ hometown of Bridgeport for the summer.

Without much explanation to the boys, the patriarch Fenton Hardy (James Tupper), a veteran detective with the Dixon City police department, embarks on a secret overseas mission to search for answers that might be found with one of the last people to have seen his wife.

Meanwhile, the boys stay with their Aunt Trudy (Bea Santos) in the sleepy seaside small town where it seems time is frozen in the Fifties rather than the actual era of the 1980s, in part because the town kids hang out at an old-fashioned soda fountain joint.

In reality, Bridgeport is not a conventional small town. The Hardy boys’ grandmother, Gloria Estabrook (Linda Thorson), a woman of considerable wealth and power, is an enigma to her own family and a mysterious figure with considerable sway in the community.

For instance, what is Gloria’s connection to a fishing boat that is destroyed at sea and on which several crew members are killed by the nefarious Tall Man (Stephen R. Hart) anxious to get his hands on a mystical ancient relic?

What about J.B. Cox (Atticus Mitchell), a shady character who pulls a D.B. Cooper stunt by jumping out of an airplane with a mysterious package and is later found by Joe and his pal Biff (Riley O’Donnell) camping on the beach in a tent made from a parachute?

Intrigue lurks everywhere, even when Frank is encouraged by Gloria to take the entrance test to the elite Rosegrave Preparatory School and later finds out that the Dean (Frank Licari) had a close connection to his mother that he’s afraid to talk about on the school grounds.

After completing the Rosegrave exam, Frank partners with his friend Callie Shaw (Keana Lyn) to work together to solve the exam’s last puzzle to escape from Gloria’s study, only to discover another secret room with a connection to the relic being sought by the scary Tall Man.

Intrigue also comes to the Bridgeport Public School when Frank befriends the new girl in town, Stacy (Rachel Drance), who is deemed by Callie to be suspicious either due to jealousy or a reason more sinister.

Binge-watching “The Hardy Boys” over a series of nights is an option, and the early going may seem a bit sluggish at times, but I am more than half-way through and there are enough mysteries beyond the mother’s death to warrant attention.

While “The Hardy Boys” is an American creation, most of the actors in this Hulu Original series are Canadian as the filming occurred north of the border, and yet the setting is unmistakably as American as apple pie.

Potential viewers may assume that this production of “The Hardy Boys” is targeted to the demographic most likely to read the books. Au contraire, the mysteries and intrigues that abound cast a wider net of interest.

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

Ted Kooser. Photo credit: UNL Publications and Photography.

Language is a magic bowl that can hold all we imagine.

Here in five words, carefully chosen by Jennifer Hambrick of Ohio, are the front and back of the galaxy, acorns underfoot and stars high above, and, magically, everything else in between.

Her most recent book is “Unscathed” from NightBallet Press.

starry night
acorns popping
underfoot

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 Jennifer Hambrick "starry night," from Modern Haiku (2020). Poem reprinted by permission of Jennifer Hambrick and the 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.

James Crews, the author of this week’s poem, is the editor of a fine anthology from Green Writers Press called “Healing the Divide: Poems of Kindness and Connection,” much needed in our troubled world.

Here, as I see it, he graciously pays his respects to William Carlos Williams, our great poet of the local and ordinary, who once wrote about the pleasure of eating all the plums his wife had left in the refrigerator.

His newest book is “Bluebird.”

Clearly

To see clearly,
not needing a drink
or pill or puff
of any pipe
to know I’m alive.
To come home,
peel off sandals
and step onto
the cool tile floor
needing only
the rush of water
over strawberries
I picked myself
and then a knife
to trim the dusty
green heads
from each one,
to watch them
gleam cleanly
in a colander
in a patch of sun
near the sink.


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 James Crews, "Clearly," from Bluebird, (Green Writers Press, 2020). Poem reprinted by permission of James Crews and the 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.

The following poem by Susanna Brougham appeared in the Spring 2020 issue of Beloit Poetry Journal, one of our country’s successful older literary journals.

This is as fine a poem about “the staff of life” as I’ve ever seen. Is that a pun in the last line? I’ll leave that to you. Brougham lives in Massachusetts.

Translation

Months later, my father and I
discovered his mother’s last word—
deep in the downstairs freezer,
one loaf of dark rye.

Its thaw slowed the hours.

I could not bear
the thought of eating it.
Then the ice subsided. The bread
was firm, fragrant, forgiving.

My father got the knife,
the butter. The slices
held. Together we ate
that Finnish silence.


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 Susanna Brougham, "Translation," from Beloit Poetry Journal, (Vol. 70, No. 1, 2020). Poem reprinted by permission of Susanna Brougham and the 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.

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