Sunday, 28 February 2021

Arts & Life

Ted Kooser. Photo credit: UNL Publications and Photography.

There will be many, many poems written about these days of great fear the world is enduring, just as there were after 9/11, and I like to think this one by Richard Levine, who lives in Brooklyn, will have long legs, one generation leading the next as they walk together into an uncertain future. His most recent book is Richard Levine: Selected Poems, (Future Cycle Press, 2019).

Sheltered in Place

You watch your boy struggle with giving
up the turtle, returning it to the pond
where he’d found it on a walk—
first time you’d all been out in days.

How thoughtful he thought he’d been,
making it a home in the home
where the family sheltered in place.
How he cared for his armored friend.

Having picked flowers, knowing they’d die,
you understand the urge to pluck
the exotic, the beautiful—any diversion
from fear, which is in itself a disease.

That morning, you helped your boy
give up the idea of living forever.

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 Richard Levine, “Sheltered in Place.” Poem reprinted by permission of Richard Levine. 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.

It’s not at all unusual for a poet who’s been impressed by someone else’s poem to think, “I wish I’d written THAT!”

I’ve never read a poem by the late Lisel Mueller—and I’ve read nearly all of them—when I didn’t feel just that way.

Mueller died at age 96 this past February. Here’s the poem that stands as an epigraph to her Pulitzer Prize winning book, “Alive Together: New and Selected Poems,” published by Louisiana State University Press.

In Passing

How swiftly the strained honey
of afternoon light
flows into darkness

and the closed bud shrugs off
its special mystery
in order to break into blossom

as if what exists, exists
so that it can be lost
and become precious

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 Lisel Mueller, "In Passing," from Alive Together: New and Selected Poems, (Louisiana State University Press, 1996). Poem reprinted by permission of Louisiana State University Press. 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.

We’re entering a new kind of autumn. This one arrives after months and months when everything was new and strange, and offered very little but bad news for the future.

All spring and summer parents wondered, can a country have autumn without buses full of students laughing together?

Although the fortunes of people can’t be predicted, nature can be. Or some of it can.

Here’s a poem by Barbara Crooker of Pennsylvania to introduce September. It was first published in a recent issue of Spillway.

And Now It’s September,

and the garden diminishes: cucumber leaves rumpled
and rusty, zucchini felled by borers, tomatoes sparse
on the vines. But out in the perennial beds, there’s one last
blast of color: ignitions of goldenrod, flamboyant
asters, spiraling mums, all those flashy spikes waving
in the wind, conducting summer’s final notes.
The ornamental grasses have gone to seed, haloed
in the last light. Nights grow chilly, but the days
are still warm; I wear the sun like a shawl on my neck
and arms. Hundreds of blackbirds ribbon in, settle
in the trees, so many black leaves, then, just as suddenly,
they’re gone. This is autumn’s great Departure Gate,
and everyone, boarding passes in hand, waits
patiently in a long, long line.

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 Barbara Crooker, "And Now It’s September," (Spillway, No. 23, 2020). Poem reprinted by permission of Barbara Crooker 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.

The opportunity to launch new series on network television was going to be a dicey proposition during a pandemic that has curtailed original television productions.

The FOX network has the good fortune of being able to fill the void by having had midseason shows in the can that never aired or picking up a series that ran on a platform that lacked wider distribution.

The latter is the case for “L.A.’s Finest,” a new series on FOX that had its season last year on Spectrum Originals’ subscriber service, which does not have the same reach as a network, sort of like community theatre not being on the same level as Broadway.

If you are familiar with the Jerry Bruckheimer “Bad Boys” films, you will quickly grasp the gender-flip of this spin-off in the “L.A.’s Finest” series, with one primary character, Syd Burnett (Gabrielle Union), relocated from Miami to the Los Angeles Police Department.

Robbery-Homicide LAPD detective Nancy McKenna (Jessica Alba) gets paired up with Syd, and the two of them make a formidable team that is hell-bent on taking down garden-variety criminals as well as drug cartels.

Nancy, usually called McKenna by her peers, and Syd have an unusual chemistry, where they work well together in policing but have conflicts over secrets they harbor, some of which would endanger their careers and home life.

The two women prove to be tough in takedowns of thugs, but they also lighten the mood at times, such as responding to a convenience store holdup while bantering amusingly about not missing family book club.

At home, working mother Nancy grapples with rebellious stepdaughter Isabel (Sophie Reynolds), while her husband Patrick (Ryan McPartlin), an assistant district attorney, is on a path to career advancement.

However, Nancy has a complicated past with some shady characters, including drug dealer Dante Sherman (Barry Sloane) who seeks to rekindle their relationship. Her complex history may well pose a threat to her husband’s political ambition.

As counterparts to their female colleagues, officers Ben Walker (Zach Gilford) and Ben Barnes (Duane Martin) sometimes work alongside them, often with the expected trash-talking as competitors to nab credit for arrests.

Another angle to Syd’s web of troubled relationships is the fact that her absentee father, Joseph Vaughn (Ernie Hudson), who had a dubious career in law enforcement, tries to engage in her life to warn against her worst impulses.

What worries Syd’s father, as well as her partner Nancy, is that she recklessly pursues the ghost of an elusive drug lord named Gabriel Knox, a criminal so vicious he strikes fear with his own cohorts.

“L.A.’s Finest” delivers plenty of nicely staged action sequences, from shootouts and fiery explosions to the obligatory car chases. That action and the chemistry of the bad girl duo might be enough to carry the day.

Netflix is still streaming the “Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich” documentary. Meanwhile, FOX has debuted its own “Filthy Rich,” which thankfully has nothing to do with the despicable sexual deviant and his unfortunate victims.

Based on a New Zealand series of the same name, which likely means nothing to just about everybody, “Filthy Rich” is portrayed by the network as a “Southern Gothic family soap in which wealth, power and religion collide.”

This description is as accurate as a publicist would wish, and then even more so. The mega-rich Monreaux family has built a Louisiana-based televangelist empire known as the Sunshine Network run by the patriarch Eugene (Gerald McRaney).

In the first episode, Eugene is presumably dead after his plane crashes somewhere in the swampy Bayou country. This leaves his widow Margaret (Kim Cattrall) to take over, even though the son Eric (Corey Cott) fancies himself able to take the reins.

Meanwhile, the family, including daughter Rose (Aubrey Dollar) along with trusted counselor Franklin Lee (Steve Harris), is thrown for a huge loop when the reading of Eugene’s will reveals dark secrets.

With the apparent morals of an alley cat, Eugene fathered three illegitimate children, each one with a different mother. Feeling possible pangs of guilt, Eugene’s will provides an inheritance for those kids.
Enter a motley crew of love children into the family. The most appreciative one is Antonio (Benjamin Levy Aguilar), a single dad aspiring to be an MMA fighter. The other two are weed dealer Jason (Mark L. Young) and online sex worker Ginger (Melia Kreiling).

Of course, Margaret frets that the scandal of the out-of-wedlock children would forever taint the television ministry, and with good reason. Hence, she proffers a tidy cash settlement to avert the shame and humiliation.

As you would expect, neatly tidying up a disgraceful situation is not in the cards. The savvy Ginger proves all too eager to press an advantage that might boost her own enterprise.

Would watching the dramatic conflicts play out on “Filthy Rich” prove entertaining? It might depend on one’s thirst to enjoy the kind of soap opera that has seemingly run its course.

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


Television show creator, producer and writer Ryan Murphy seems to have a penchant for sex, violence and the macabre, if one were to judge his work by the series “American Horror Story.”

That particular FX series might as well have included a whole new season of “Ratched,” now streaming on Netflix, a series based on the character in the Ken Kesey novel “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and the movie of the same title.

The setting of “Ratched” is 1947 and Sarah Paulson’s Nurse Ratched may be intended to be an origin story for the character that Louise Fletcher delivered so brilliantly in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” in a cold and heartless manner.

Fans of Ryan Murphy’s work may care little about any comparisons to the 1975 movie. In “Ratched,” there’s no Jack Nicholson’s R.P. McMurphy to rally scared patients in a mental institution to rebel against Fletcher’s oppressive Nurse Ratched.

The eight-episode series may be binge-worthy to anyone curious enough to learn how Nurse Ratched evolves from a conflicted character who shows signs of being alternately empathetic to calculating to downright malicious.

The series opens with a disturbingly gruesome slaying of four Catholic priests in their parsonage by Edmund Tolleson (Finn Wittrock), who is then committed to Lucia State Hospital to determine whether he is sane enough to stand trial.

Six months later, Nurse Ratched arrives at the asylum located in a gorgeous coastal California area that looks close to Big Sur. She brashly talks her way into an interview with hospital director Dr. Hanover (Jon Jon Briones).

After scheming her way into a nurse position, Ratched discovers head nurse Betsy Bucket (Judy Davis) suspicious of her intentions and not thrilled to have her joining the staff, leading to obvious tension between the two.

Ratched takes a keen interest in Tolleson, who has become a political pawn for blustery Governor Wilburn (Vincent D’Onofrio) during his re-election campaign that possibly hinges on the death penalty for the killer.

Meanwhile, the Governor’s aide Gwendolyn Briggs (Cynthia Nixon) forms a pressing attention to Nurse Ratched. Then there’s Sharon Stone’s eccentric wealthy matron with a visceral hatred of Dr. Hanover, such that she plots against him.

Whether the characters are intriguing or not, “Ratched” has plenty of beautiful Art Deco style and gorgeous scenery, which does not alleviate the menace oozing with every torturous therapy of the inmates.


As far as the biannual television press tours were concerned, subscription cable giant HBO always operated independently even though it is part of WarnerMedia Entertainment.

The WarnerMedia umbrella includes TNT, TBS, and TruTV, but HBO remains the big elephant under the tent, and so it commands the most attention even though TNT’s “The Alienist: Angel of Darkness” also earned a spot on this summer’s virtual press tour.

Paul Rudnick’s comic satire “Coastal Elites” on HBO features Bette Midler, Issa Rae, Sarah Paulson, Kaitlyn Dever and Dan Levy as characters from New York to Los Angeles coping with politics and the pandemic.

“Coastal Elites” is produced entirely under quarantine guidelines, presenting contemporary stories of breaking down and breaking through that are intended to be funny, searing, and poignant, as far as we are told.

HBO’s “Lovecraft Country” got an early jump on the fall season when it was released last month. This ten-episode series follows Atticus Freeman (Jonathan Majors) as he journeys with his childhood friend Letitia (Jurnee Smollett) across 1950s Jim Crow America.

Joining these two is Atticus’ Uncle George (Courtney B. Vance) on the road trip from Chicago in search of Atticus’ missing father Montrose (Michael Kenneth Williams).

Their search-and-rescue turns into a struggle to survive and overcome both the racist terrors of segregated America and monstrous creatures that could be ripped from an H.P. Lovecraft paperback.

The six-part limited series “The Undoing” arrives on HBO in late October, starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant as Grace and Jonathan Fraser, who are living the only lives they ever wanted for themselves.

Overnight, a chasm opens their lives: a violent death and a chain of terrible revelations. Left behind in the wake of a very public disaster and horrified by the ways in which she failed to heed her own advice, Grace must dismantle one life and create another.

No specific premiere date on HBO Max has been set for the comedic thriller “The Flight Attendant,” but we know that Kelly Cuoco in the starring role finds her entire life can change in one night.

As the titular character, Cuoco wakes up in the wrong hotel hungover from the night before, in the wrong bed, with a dead man – and no idea what happened. The miniseries is based on the novel of the same name by best-selling author Chris Bohjalian.

Ridley Scott’s “Raised by Wolves” on HBO Max centers on two androids tasked with raising human children on a mysterious virgin planet. With more humans on the planet, the androids learn that controlling the beliefs of humans is a treacherous and difficult task.

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


With films like “Inception” and “Interstellar” in his portfolio, writer and director Christopher Nolan has established himself as an auteur of cerebral and existential thrillers that seemingly defy the typical time and space continuum.

Now along comes “Tenet,” an audacious journey through a twilight world of international espionage on a mission that will unfold in something beyond real-time. Nolan resorts to inversion, reversing the natural order of things to move his story in a new dimension.

Time is an unalterable dynamic in our existence, but in the hands of Christopher Nolan, time becomes a compellingly controllable strand that is able to be bent, twisted, juxtaposed, or most tellingly, inverted.

In his own words as reported in the press notes, the writer-director of “Tenet” claims, “The story takes on ideas of time and how we experience it – interacting a science fiction component with the classic elements of the spy genre.”

As a reputed aficionado of the James Bond films, Nolan’s ambitious scope is to produce a global action thriller with one man in a secret organization trying to save the world from the deadly plans of an egomaniacal villain.

That singular agent is only known as The Protagonist (John David Washington), apparently a CIA operative recruited by a mysterious intelligence group that puts him through a test for a promotion to a top-secret assignment that would be challenging even for Agent 007.

The action begins with a rather startling terrorist assault on an opera house in Kiev. The Protagonist has embedded himself as a double agent within the terror group with the objective of retrieving an unknown valuable property.

The details of the mission are elusive but the execution of the heist is a pulse-pounding introduction to thrilling action that is heightened by the thunderous musical score of Ludwig Goransson that is every bit as bombastic as what you might expect from Hans Zimmer.

Following this heist escapade, The Protagonist is teamed up with new British partner Neil (Robert Pattinson), an enigmatic figure about whom we learn so little that his background and previous affiliations remain undisclosed.

The audience may wonder about Neil’s relationship to The Protagonist. Is he a comrade or a foe? How do we decide if this is someone to trust or should we be skeptical? What is before the audience for consideration are complicated matters on many levels.

The one thing that is abundantly clear is that the malevolent antagonist in this espionage thriller is Andrei Sator (Kenneth Branagh), a vicious Russian oligarch dealing arms that expose the world to the threat of annihilation.

The quest to uncover sinister underground networks of international arms dealers and terrorists takes Neil and The Protagonist on journeys that may or may not be fruitful to the endgame.

One such venture has the duo traveling to Mumbai where they scale the exterior of a high-rise building to the penthouse lair of arms dealer Priya (Indian actress Dimple Kapadia) who holds vital information about the Russian villain Sator.

The Protagonist’s pathway to reaching Sator is through the oligarch’s estranged wife Kat (Elizabeth Debicki) who is residing in London and taking care of their young son who is attending a private school.

Now that we have arrived this deep into the plot, we must reflect that what has transpired seems confusing. Indeed, the story is convoluted on many levels, and it helps little that much of the dialogue is hard to hear due to poor sound.

The excitement is more visual than any conversation that takes place, with the possible exception of the chilling malice that oozes from the amoral, predatory Russian oligarch defined by his sadistic character.

When the action kicks in, it’s really great, even during the instances where the science-fiction is layered in. A jet airliner barreling along the runaway for a direct hit on a building is one of the more linear set-pieces.

However, when a scientist (Clemence Poesy) introduces The Protagonist to bullets that go back in time, she says, “Don’t try to understand it.” Well, we may not fully grasp the meaning of this inversion either.

Yet, the best part of non-linear action comes with an exciting car chase sequence on a highway with vehicles careening backwards and forwards, some of them flipping in the air and crashing spectacularly.

During these uncertain times when movie theaters remain closed in parts of the nation, the salient question is whether “Tenet” should be considered a fitting candidate for home viewing. Apparently not for Christopher Nolan, and there are valid reasons why.

In keeping with his asymmetrical technique of storytelling and to amplify the immersive moviegoing experience, Nolan once again relies on IMAX cameras and large-format film to pull the audience deep into the story.

“Tenet” is a sensory experience in visual and auditory terms that can only be gratified to the fullest extent on the big screen. Above all else, “Tenet” is a grand yet baffling spectacle that is incapable of being downsized to a living room flat screen.

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

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