Tuesday, 31 March 2020

Arts & Life

Ted Kooser. Photo credit: UNL Publications and Photography.

Karen Head lives in Georgia, and possums seem to live everywhere.

You may drive past a dead one on a roadside somewhere today.

Here's a poem in which the poet chooses to keep a safe distance from wildness.

Head's most recent book is Lost on Purpose, published by Iris Press in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

Proximity

The young possum foraging
outside my office window
seems unconcerned by my presence—
after all, I'm the one who's trapped.
I snack on almonds, watch
it nibble whatever it can find,
and though I am inclined to share,
I know that opening the window
will change the world.


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 Karen Head, "Proximity," from Lost on Purpose, (Iris Press, 2019). Poem reprinted by permission of Karen Head 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.

LAKEPORT, Calif. – Due to COVID-19 concerns, the Lake County Symphony Association has announced the cancellation of this year’s Mother’s Day Concert.

LCSA President Ed Bublitz said the action was necessary in order to comply with current health regulations in California.

The Soper Reese Theatre has recently canceled several events for the same reason.

Letters will be sent to LCSA members and others who purchased tickets to inform them about replacement options for the canceled concert, including a direct refund.

Remaining concerts scheduled for this year – August Baroque Concert, November Fall Concert and December Holiday Concert – are expected to take place as usual.

Planning for the LCSA Home Wine and Beer Makers’ Festival, scheduled for Saturday, June 20, at Library Park in Lakeport, is currently underway.

“This is our biggest yearly fundraiser for the Lake County Symphony, and we are hopeful things will be more back to normal by June,” said Bublitz.

Home wine and beer makers, crafters and food vendors are needed and are urged to contact Bublitz at 707-413-3798 to reserve a booth.

Ted Kooser. Photo credit: UNL Publications and Photography.

Lest we forget our vegetables, here's a poem by James Bertolino about one of our dearest and healthiest ones.

The poet lives in Bellingham, Washington, and this is from his book, “Every Wound Has A Rhythm,” from World Enough Writers, Kingston, Washington.

Carrot

The carrot says
don’t be confused

by appearances.
My lacy green

friendship with air
gives me the confidence

to make demands
of dirt. Consider me

a prospector probing
with my own gold.

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 ©2012 by James Bertolino, "Carrot," from Every Wound Has A Rhythm, (World Enough Writers, 2012). Poem reprinted by permission of James Bertolino 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.



‘REPUBLIC OF DOYLE’ ON NETFLIX

To say that we are living in crazy times gets even weirder when you ponder that the origin of the novel coronavirus pandemic has been identified by experts to have originated in bats sold at “wet markets” in Wuhan.

The coronavirus is a zoonotic disease that jumps from animals to humans. Some researchers say that bats may have passed the virus to pangolins, which then passed it to humans. Civets might also be involved. What are pangolins and civets anyway?

Whatever the case may be with this virus that is grinding our country, and especially California, to a virtual halt, movie theaters are closed and the studios have delayed their releases. James Bond won’t even show up in his new film until November.

Now that we have all become shut-ins, what to do for some entertainment besides reading and playing video games? It’s time to check out television and cable shows and subscribe to Netflix or other streaming services.

On the recommendation of a friend, I tuned into the Canadian crime series “Republic of Doyle” on Netflix. Granted it’s not new; the six-season series got its start a decade ago, but it’s not dated by any topical references to current events or the latest gossip from Hollywood.

To its credit, “Republic of Doyle,” more than a detective show procedural, thrives on the comedic undertones of a dysfunctional father-son team running a family private eye business.

As the patriarch of the enterprise, Sean McGinley’s Malachy Doyle is a former police officer in St. John’s, Newfoundland and his son Jake Doyle (Allan Hawco) has had an abbreviated law enforcement career for reasons not explained at least in the first season.

With a roving eye for every pretty woman that crosses his path, Jake is in the throes of a volatile dissolution from his soon-to-be ex-wife Nikki (Rachel Wilson), a doctor at the local hospital who often treats one of the Doyle family members for on-the-job injuries.

The relationship between Jake and his father is often fraught with comic tension, as they both express their emotions and personality quirks through a combination of disdain, annoyance and crankiness.

For the widower Malachy, his irascibility flows partially from the frustration of having the separated Jake bunking in at his house when he’s in a relationship with his live-in new love Rose (Lynda Boyd), a strong-willed partner who helps out the detective business.

Thinking of a similar father-son dynamic for a television series brings to mind the one-season Netflix series “The Good Cop” in which Tony Danza’s former rogue NYPD cop lives with his straight-laced NYPD detective son (Josh Groban) and offers him street-wise advice.

Luck often seems to elude Jake, whether he’s about to have a romantic fling or facing violent conflict with a criminal. At one point, Malachy exclaims “why is it every time we do anything you take a beating?”

In the very first episode, Jake is in hot pursuit of tagger Des (Mark O’Brien) who believes his graffiti is a work of art. Jake thinks otherwise when Des retaliates by spray painting his classic 1968 Pontiac GTO.

Before long, Des ends up working for the Doyle family business as an apprentice, showing aptitude for the work even though a lot of the time he’s as jumpy as a cat on a hot tin roof.

Another great dynamic in this series is Jake’s infatuation with the pretty Constable Leslie Bennett (Krystin Pellerin), soon to be a Sergeant, that turns into an on-again, off-again relationship that depends on how Jake flubs a rendezvous or trips up a police investigation.

Aside from the fact that Jake seems to get punched in the face or kicked in sensitive places about every five minutes, the best parts are the verbal lashings he endures from angry Nikki, exasperated Leslie and his annoyed father.

The verbal jabs from Malachy are often priceless. On one occasion, the father unleashes by telling Jake “you are an accident waiting to happen. You are an emotional train wreck with behavioral disorders.”

One of the fascinating aspects of “Republic of Doyle” is the setting of St. John’s, Newfoundland, where the eye-catching, multi-colored houses and the arresting visuals of the scenic seaside vistas are a gift to the city’s tourism bureau.

It’s not just the scenery of the remote eastern part of Canada that is terrific. Most of the talented primary actors, including show co-creator Allan Hawco, are from Newfoundland. That Sean McGinley is of Irish heritage makes him an outlier to all-Canadian cast.

The combination of clever plots, gifted actors, beautiful scenery and crisp, witty dialogue makes “Republic of Doyle” an enjoyable romp that offers plenty enough fun that alleviates the mind from thinking too much about the dire straits we are in at the moment.

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



‘THE HUNT’ Rated R

The premise of “The Hunt,” which has champagne-sipping liberal elites hunting “deplorables” for sport, garnered such a great deal of controversy last summer in the wake of mass shootings in Dayton and El Paso that Universal shelved the film’s release until now.

It is curious that in a presidential election year that exposes the left-right political divide between blue-state and red-state partisans should even be considered no less controversial at this very moment in time.

The one thing that might dampen any meaningful discussion about “The Hunt” would be our fixation on the coronavirus’ threat to our collective well-being. We’re in panic mode over a real menace and too busy trying to find a store with toilet paper on the shelves.

The “deplorables” in question turn out to be about a dozen citizens mostly from flyover-country who are drugged and dumped in a field near a crate filled with an assortment of weapons.

Despite the available arms, the majority of the hunted are quickly terminated by guns and arrows from a hilltop bunker as well as landmines and Viet Cong-style lethal spike traps.

A couple of them manage to escape from what is known in conspiracy theory circles as Manorgate, only to end up seeking refuge in what for all appearances is a mom-and-pop convenience store and gas station in rural Arkansas.

The ordinary-looking senior citizen proprietors turn out to be hunters as well, killing the survivors with shotguns while imparting the final words that “for the record, climate change is real.”

Unfortunately for the hunters, they didn’t count on a bleach blonde car rental clerk from Mississippi to be a cunning, lethal adversary. That would be Crystal (Betty Gilpin), a proficient Army veteran of the Afghanistan war.

In rather short order, Crystal proves to be a lot smarter than the elitists who seriously underestimate her combat skills, as she knows the fine art of evasion on the battlefield and the ability to dispatch enemies with hard-nosed competence.

For Crystal, the mission is to find the mastermind behind the jet-setting crowd’s fantasy of moral authority, and that turns out to be the well-heeled Athena (Hilary Swank), a corporate globalist with a warped sense of supremacy.

“The Hunt” is fraught with gruesome violence, but the real kicker is the climactic hand-to-hand smackdown between Crystal and Athena at the latter’s hideaway with plenty of broken glass and furniture.



‘SPENSER CONFIDENTIAL’ ON NETFLIX

With the dreaded coronavirus spreading and the assembly of crowds discouraged or outright banned, major film studios are delaying so many releases that it appears viewing choices at theaters are dwindling down to independent films.

The situation is not any better with TV networks and cable channels now halting or delaying production. For now, Netflix is a decent option for home entertainment and “Spenser Confidential” is worth a look for a bit of fun during a gloomy time.

Mark Wahlberg stars as Spenser, a former Boston police officer that is first seen on his last day of a five-year stint in Walpole prison for beating up police captain John Boylan (Michael Gaston), a crooked cop and wife-beater to boot.

After being picked up by his old friend Henry (Alan Arkin), Spenser is eager to get out of Boston by moving to Arizona, but first he wants to get his trucking license. To no one’s surprise, Spenser is unable to escape Beantown and the bunch of dirty cops that want his scalp.

Another good reason to skip down is that his on-again, off-again crazy girlfriend Cissy (Iliza Shlesinger) may or may not want him back in her life, but she hurls so many funny insults his way that one can’t be sure how this relationship will play out.

Captain Boylan gets murdered by a gang of machete-wielding thugs, and while Spenser would be the prime suspect, the blame falls on one of his old colleagues, a good guy and family man who’s found dead of an apparent suicide with a stash of drugs in his car.

Despite the fact he’s an ex-con, Spenser operates from a moral code that eludes many of the officers he once worked with, and with a decent cop falsely accused, he decides to investigate the case that the Boston police seem disinterested in solving.

Joining Spenser as his sidekick is wannabe MMA fighter Hawk (Winston Duke), a hulking figure who knows how to fight, but Spenser is the one ending up a punching bag when dealing with rogue cops and Irish mobsters, leading Hawk to observe “Man, you get beat up a lot.”

Before too long, Spenser is on the trail of a South Boston thug named Tracksuit Charlie (James DuMont) who was doing dirty work for Captain Boylan and is working with mobsters on a crooked land development deal involving an abandoned dog-racing track.

Proving to be one of the good guys, Spenser’s quest to root out police corruption and take down gangsters turns “Spenser Confidential” into an entertaining, watchable crime procedural that seems destined for sequels.

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



‘THE WAY BACK’ Rated R

The redemptive power of sports has played out in many ways in the course of cinematic history. No matter the sport, there’s always something uplifting about an underdog team that finds a way to win a championship.

Based on the true story of one of the greatest moments in sports history, “Miracle,” starring Kurt Russell as Team USA coach Herb Brooks, recounted the inspiring feat of mostly amateur players on the USA Hockey team defeating the seemingly invincible Soviet Union squad.

More to the point of “The Way Back,” about a losing high school basketball team, the “Hoosiers” story of a small-town Indiana team making an improbable run at a state high school championship that taps into the spirit of redemption ranks high on the list of great sports movies.

Whether “The Way Back” could be deemed to reach an exalted rank in the pantheon of underdog amateur sporting accomplishments may be an unsettled issue, but it does connect with a sports fan’s inclination to be moved by the salvation of woeful competitors.

And while watching the trailer gives off the idea that the experience of this film is focused solely on a motley crew of Catholic teenagers at the Bishop Hayes High School, the truth of the matter is something almost entirely different.

This is where Ben Affleck’s alcoholic Jack Cunningham comes into the picture. About a quarter-century earlier, Cunningham was the big basketball star on the high school team, leading it to a championship. A banner with his name hangs in the gymnasium’s rafters.

The players on the Bishop Hayes team, if not truly terrible, have certainly not been properly trained or coached to be competitive. After the coach has a heart attack, math teacher Dan (Al Madrigal) tries to hold the team together as the assistant coach.

The priest running the school reaches out to Cunningham to be the new coach, telling him that “You’re the first person I thought of.” More likely, he had nowhere else to turn, and he may have reconsidered if he had any idea about his star player’s troubled life.

By day, Cunningham is a construction worker, now separated from his wife Angela (Janina Gavankar), for reasons not immediately known if you overlook the fact that he can’t even take a shower without drinking several cans of beer.

What’s more, his daily routine also consists of pouring booze into a thermos for nips while on the job, followed by hanging out after work in a dive bar that ends the night most of the time with him being carried home by one of the patrons.

Eventually, the fact that Cunningham is a tortured soul becomes apparent from a tragedy that caused a huge rift in his marriage and an addiction to alcohol that takes him on an emotional rollercoaster ride of futility.

Tension is not only found in Cunningham’s relationship with his estranged spouse. A family Thanksgiving reunion turns uncivil as Cunningham squabbles with his sister Beth (Michaela Watkins) about his lack of interest in anything that can’t be poured into a glass.

After an initial rebuff of his alma mater’s entreaties to take over the team, Cunningham commits one could say, for the most part, to taking on the unenviable task of molding his players to function as real teammates.

One of his first orders of business is to bench the showboating Marcus (Melvin Gregg), who favors taking the 3-point shots instead of passing to a teammate open for a greater certainty of actually scoring.

Gruff, profane and pushing his kids to the limit, Cunningham instills a cohesive discipline on his modest talent pool, goading them to a truly competitive spirit that results in an appealing underdog story that gains traction with a string of victories.

If you guessed that the Bishop Hayes team would qualify for the playoffs only to find themselves against a team that had crushed them at the beginning of the season, you’ve already seen this part of the movie in countless other underdog stories.

“The Way Back” is much more than the predictable showdown with a fearsome rival that has much greater physical talent. Cunningham’s molding of his motley crew turns them into a viable squad that just might believe in their own abilities.

While the team becomes a winner, Cunningham’s inner demons are not so easily relegated to the past, and conflict with the school leadership over his inability to give up a fondness for adult beverages puts his own redemption into jeopardy.

Fittingly enough, Gavin O’Connor, the director, was the perfect fit for “The Way Back,” as he knows how to deliver a compelling story that overlaps between life and sports. That his behind-the-camera work delivered the acclaimed hit “Miracle” says it all.

Of course, with Ben Affleck’s Jack Cunningham, much like Kurt Russell’s coach Herb Brooks in “Miracle,” being the central focus of “The Way Back,” a robust and convincing performance from the star makes all the difference.

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

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