Tuesday, 07 February 2023

Arts & Life

Kwame Dawes. Courtesy photo.

It seems clear enough that Quincy Troupe wants his poem, “Picking a Dandelion,” to achieve the coveted status of “timelessness” while being rooted in a historical moment.

Here are Joe and Jill, two people with commonly available American names, enacting an ordinary gesture of affection.

Yet this instructive love is heightened by the context: love, in other words, in a time of hate (borrowing from Gabriela Garcia Marquez) is the theme and the optimism lacing this poem.

Picking a Dandelion
By Quincy Troupe
for Joe and Jill Biden, Cheryl and Charles Ward, and for Margaret

walking along together
in the nation’s capital
Joe stopped, stooped, picked a flower—
a dandelion to be exact—
then he handed it to Jill—
who smiled in her white summer,
dress full of pretty flowers,
and someone snapped a picture
of this sweet, simple gesture,
it revealed something deeper,
profound, beautiful about
their love for each other here,
that taught all of us watching,
how to reach across time, space,
with a tender touch, a kiss
for one another here, now
in this moment of hatred
before time on earth runs out


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 ©2022 by Quincy Troupe, “Picking a Dandelion” from Duende Poems, 1996-Now (Seven Stories Press, 2022.) Poem reprinted by permission of the author and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2022 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Kwame Dawes, is George W. Holmes Professor of English and Glenna Luschei Editor of Prairie Schooner at the University of Nebraska.

Kwame Dawes. Courtesy photo.

Allison C. Rollins manages, in this striking poem, to contain the anxiety of those facing sightlessness, and the urgency they feel to try to preserve in memory, that which is fleeting.

For her, the poem is a solace, for when spoken, it prolongs sight even for blind poets like Jorge Luis Borges.

If we think of sight as more than just physical, we may get a glimpse of what Rollins may be saying in “The Library of Babel,” about one of the peculiar purposes of art.

The Library of Babel
By Allison C. Rollins
for Jorge Luis Borges

While there is still some light
on the page, I am writing now
a history of snow, of everything
that has been and will be thought.
When a blind poet says I need you
to be my eyes, they are asking to see
through your mouth.


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 Alison C. Rollins, “The Library of Babel” from Library of Small Catastrophes (Copper Canyon Press, 2019.) Poem reprinted by permission of the author and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2022 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Kwame Dawes, is George W. Holmes Professor of English and Glenna Luschei Editor of Prairie Schooner at the University of Nebraska.

Kwame Dawes. Courtesy photo.

Joy Harjo’s ode to family, to ancestry, and to the woman’s body, truly makes sense if we understand that for Harjo, there is no line separating the natural world and her human body — that for her the evolutionary impulse is one of the imagination: “I was a thought, a dream, a fish a wing.”

In “Granddaughters,” she celebrates the body and the dynamic force of nature.

Granddaughters
By Joy Harjo

I was a thought, a dream, a fish, a wing
And then a human being
When I emerged from my mother's river
On my father's boat of potent fever
I carried a sack of dreams from a starlit dwelling
To be opened when I begin bleeding
There's a red dress, deerskin moccasins
The taste of berries made of promises
While the memories shift in their skins
At every moon, to do their ripening


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 Joy Harjo, “Granddaughters” from An American Sunrise (W.W. Norton & Company, 2019.) Poem reprinted by permission of the author and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2022 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Kwame Dawes, is George W. Holmes Professor of English and Glenna Luschei Editor of Prairie Schooner at the University of Nebraska.



‘VIOLENT NIGHT’ RATED R

Looking for a different type of Christmas movie that won’t be found on the Hallmark Channel? “Violent Night” is it, and knowing this film comes from the producers of “John Wick,” “Atomic Blonde” and “Deadpool 2” should inform that the action will be a bit extreme.

On Christmas Eve in a London pub, David Harbour’s jaded Santa Claus is having an existential crisis about keeping his appointed rounds and lamenting the greed and self-interest of spoiled kids ruining the holiday spirit.

Back on his sleigh ride through the night, he ends up at a Greenwich, Connecticut mansion where he takes a break to snack on cookies and sip brandy, unaware that all hell will soon break loose at the wealthy Lightstone family gathering.

Led by the foul-mouthed matriarch Gertrude (Beverly D’Angelo), the dysfunctional Lightstone family has gathered for tenuous Christmas Eve cheer that won’t overcome the bickering and recriminations of fairly obnoxious people.

Only Gertrude’s son Jason (Alex Hassell) and young daughter Trudy (Leah Brady), as well as Jason’s estranged wife Linda (Alexis Louder), seem to be relatively normal human beings.

The holiday festivities are soon interrupted by a vicious psychopath codenamed Mr. Scrooge (John Leguizamo) staging a home invasion with his crew of heavily armed mercenaries as they plan to heist a large sum of cash stored in the basement vault.

The world-weary Santa Claus may be centuries old, but at one time he was a Viking warrior, or so it seems from flashbacks as well as his amazing ability to wield a sledgehammer as if he were Thor.

Inspired by the Santa-believer Trudy who has managed to hide in the attic to set booby traps, Santa is motivated to save the faithful young girl and rescue the hostages by going to all-out war with Mr. Scrooge’s elite team of combatants.

The word “violent” is in the title for good reason, because not-so-jolly Saint Nick channels his inner medieval fighter to enact gruesome violence where bad guys get impaled on a bed of nails, beheaded or thrust into a wood chipper, among other acts of carnage.

Amidst the bloody gore and violent action, there’s a twisted sense of humor to “Violent Night” to elicit laughs, which may give one pause to think this bloody action-comedy is a warped combination of “Home Alone” and “Die Hard.”

This film won’t suit everyone, but the element of fun mixed in with the mayhem may well catch on with an audience open to the antithesis of the usual holiday fare.



‘MICKEY: THE STORY OF A MOUSE’ ON DISNEY+

Three simple circles are all it takes to create the image of an iconic cartoon character. Take one quarter and strategically place two dimes as ears, and presto, you’ve got the outline of Mickey Mouse.

There is an undeniable cultural significance to a cartoon mouse that’s been around for nearly a century, and “Mickey: The Story of a Mouse,” a documentary streaming on Disney+, is here to tell the back story of the animated lovable rodent and its creator Walt Disney.

One of the world’s most beloved icons, Mickey Mouse is recognized as a symbol of joy and childhood innocence in virtually every corner of the globe, even if there are controversies that surround the cartoon mouse.

As an ambitious young artist who moved to Hollywood from Kansas City, Missouri, Walt Disney found initial success with Oswald the Lucky Rabbit and then had it all taken away from him in a dispute over intellectual property rights with Universal Pictures.

In 1928, Disney created the character of Mickey Mouse with animator Ub Iwerks and provided Mickey’s distinctive high-pitched voice for decades, and it is inarguable that the mouse’s debut in “Steamboat Willie” launched a lucrative career and a global empire.

When producer Morgan Neville was approached by Disney+ about making a documentary on Mickey Mouse in 2018, he found the idea both exciting and daunting given that as a cultural documentarian the subject matter was fascinating.

According to Neville, “it’s hard to think of another symbol in our culture that has so many different sides. Mickey Mouse is a symbol of innocence and childhood as well as a symbol of America, a symbol of consumerism, a symbol of the counterculture.”

Not everything in the Disney kingdom is viewed favorably. The documentary examines some of the ways in which Disney animated shorts promulgated harmful ethnic, racial and gender stereotypes.

Notably problematic was the 1933 short “Mickey’s Mellerdrammer,” in which Mickey Mouse performed in blackface. Of course, judging a product nearly 90 years old on the basis of contemporary standards would inevitably result in flaws being revealed.

“Mickey: The Story of a Mouse” also follows the progress of master animators Eric Goldberg, Mark Henn and Randy Haycock, as they create the original animated short “Mickey in a Minute,” which traces Mickey’s adventures though the ages.

The hand-drawn process of animation is a highly specialized craft. This documentary sheds light on many aspects of the Mickey Mouse creation to interest animation buffs.

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



‘A CHRISTMAS STORY CHRISTMAS’ RATED PG

One look at Peter Billingsley as the now adult Ralphie Parker and he’s immediately recognizable as the kid wanting a Red Ryder BB gun in 1983’s “A Christmas Story.”

Streaming on HBO MAX, “A Christmas Story Christmas” is a sequel nearly forty years later, and Billingsley’s Ralphie has nearly the same hairstyle and horn-rimmed glasses. Based on imagery alone, this holiday film is definitely steeped in nostalgia.

A wall calendar informs that the setting is December 1973, and Ralphie has taken a year off to pen his first novel, a complex science-fiction tome that’s been rejected by almost every major publisher in Chicago.

Married to the supportive Sandy (Erinn Hayes), Ralphie is the father to two young children, Mark (River Drosche) and Julie (Julianna Layne), both of whom are excited for a Christmas filled with gifts and holiday joy.

Family plans for celebrating Christmas at home in Chicago get derailed when Ralphie gets a phone call about the passing of his father and the need to return to his hometown of Hohman, Indiana to help his mom (Julie Hagerty).

With the Old Man gone, the task of delivering a traditional Christmas falls upon Ralphie, who is also assigned the job of writing his father’s obituary, which is initially hindered by writer’s block.

Ralphie reconnects with some of his old childhood pals, notably Schwartz (R.D. Robb) and Flick (Scott Schwartz), the latter having inherited Flick’s Tavern, where Schwartz runs a tab with seemingly no plans to settle his account.

Now that these old chums are in their Forties, would one of them be so foolish as to take up a “triple dog dare” challenge? In the original, Flick got his tongue stuck on a frozen flagpole. The challenge this time turns out to be even more daunting.

An old nemesis turns up in Scut Farkas (Zack Ward), and some things never change with bullies terrorizing the neighborhood on a snowmobile. New adventures include a snowball fight staged like a Western shootout.

What better way to celebrate Christmas than a visit to Higbee’s department store with its dazzling displays and a Santa Claus in a scene reminiscent of the one where kids are dispatched down a chute after making their wishes.

Will “A Christmas Story Christmas” turn out to be a cherished Yuletide classic like its 1983 predecessor? After all, it’s a sweet-natured, family-friendly film but probably not as memorable. That could change if it ends up as a holiday staple on cable television.

A case can be made for “A Christmas Story Christmas,” giving a nod to sentimentality but coming up with new gags and silly moments, deserving to be in an annual rotation of holiday movies to be savored.



‘EAST NEW YORK’ ON CBS

The Brooklyn neighborhood of East New York is a community that might be ripe for gentrification, but that may not seem to be the case in the new CBS series “East New York,” at least when one of the storylines has a rookie cop volunteering to live in a risky housing project.

This new CBS police procedural may bring to mind the network’s long-running series “Blue Bloods,” with Tom Selleck as the New York Police Commissioner, and ABC’s “NYPD Blue,” which included Jimmy Smits, who’s now in the role of Chief John Suarez.

That the working-class neighborhood in “East New York” has a crime problem is evident on Deputy Inspector Regina Haywood’s (Amanda Warren) first day in her new job as commander of the NYPD’s 74th Precinct.

Witnessing a deadly attempted carjacking of a service van, Haywood takes off on a foot chase of a masked robber who has killed a German tourist and a security guard.

What looks like the beginning of a traditional police drama is a case of first impression being somewhat deceptive. Haywood’s notion of policing bumps up against the conventional approach of other cop shows.

It’s worth noting that in a precinct where even many of the officers are a diverse bunch, Haywood is perceived by some to be nothing more than a “diversity hire” to run a station where many residents are on the lower end of the socioeconomic scale.

On one of her first items of business, Haywood wants officers to deal less with traffic ticket quotas and strike a balance in policing a community where many appear to distrust law enforcement.

Haywood also wants some officers to live in public housing to connect with the neighborhood, and white Officer Brandy Quinlan (Olivia Luccardi) volunteers for an assignment that proves to be very challenging.

Standout performances come from Richard Kind’s Captain Yenko, Haywood’s eager assistant, and the effective detective team of Tommy Killian (Kevin Rankin) and Crystal Morales (Elizabeth Rodriguez).

Veteran cop Marvin Sandeford (Ruben Santiago-Hudson) is a great mentor to his rookie partner Andre Bentley (Lavel Schley), while the brilliant Jimmy Smits’ Chief is underused.

It will be interesting to see if “East New York” catches on with a CBS audience accustomed to conventional police dramas.

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



‘THE MENU’ RATED R

The foodie culture has been satirized in many ways for its pretentious stylish presentation of fine dining, from the artistry of the food on the plates to the modern chic of the restaurant itself.

“The Menu” is taking the concept of haute cuisine to an insane level over the period of a five course (or it is six or more?), where the farm-to-table meal looks more like modern art than an edible experience.

The setting is a temple of exquisite gastronomy called Hawthorn, where the wealthy, celebrities and affected fools fork over $1,250 per patron to savor the changing menu of Chef Julian Slowik (Ralph Fiennes) who runs the joint like a cult leader.

Save for one person, nobody has arrived at the island restaurant not on purpose. The arrogant Tyler (Nicholas Hoult) considers himself an aficionado of the culinary arts but he’s more the buffoon.

Tyler’s date is Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy), a last-minute substitute for this excursion. From the start, she’s skeptical about the whole evening, and it turns out for very good reason.

As an unnamed movie star, John Leguizamo finds his acting career is fading and hopes instead to host a travel food show, and his assistant Felicity (Aimee Carrero) is desperate to quit and get away from him.

A trio of obnoxious tech guys (Arturo Castro, Rob Yang and Mark St. Cyr) work for Doug Varick, owner of the Hawthorn, which gives them an added sense of dubious privilege.

Lillian Bloom (Janet McTeer), an arrogant food critic with an overly inflated ego, has a history with Chef Slowik, and she’s joined by her editor (Paul Adelstein), a spineless yes man.

Reed Birney and Judith Light play a wealthy older couple who have been regulars at Hawthorn but over the course of the meal unsettling secrets are revealed about the husband.

Chef Slowik may be at the top of his game, but he’s come to loathe his elite customers, and himself, for being corrupted by them, and his disgust and contempt are a toxic brew for an evening that turns deadly.

The actors are the best thing on “The Menu” as they deal with the shocking surprises that put them on edge. Oddly interesting, the whole affair is a mysterious thriller mixed
with satire and strong violence.



‘DOLLY PARTON’S MOUNTAIN MAGIC CHRISTMAS’ ON TV

Fans of Dolly Parton are almost certain to love NBC’s most highly anticipated television event of the holiday season in the new original movie “Dolly Parton’s Mountain Magic Christmas.”

The moniker GOAT usually applies to a sports superstar, someone like Tom Brady, but you could say the same goes for Dolly as the most honored and revered female country singer-songwriter with a multitude of awards and number one songs on the Billboard country charts.

Don’t worry about missing the premiere on the network because Dolly’s special will stream on Peacock, and apparently there will be an encore on NBC on Dec. 21 at 8 p.m.

While there are numerous songs that capture the spirit of Christmas and the importance of gathering with family during the holidays, Dolly gets to shine with her iconic songs “9 to 5” and “I Will Always Love You.”

There are a few things to be learned during this two-hour film. Such as, Jimmy Fallon may host his own eponymous late night talk show on NBC, but who knew that he was also a singer?

In a duet with Dolly for the song “It’s Almost Too Early for Christmas,” Fallon wears a black leather sequined jacket as the pair dance with backup singers in a scene that looks like a 1950’s diner.

Keep in mind that “Dolly Parton’s Mountain Magic Christmas,” which has opening scenes at Dollywood, is a movie musical about the making of a network TV special, with all of the frenetic backstage angst of a dress rehearsal.

Speaking of production anguish, Tom Everett Scott’s show producer Sam Haskell frets that they are behind schedule for their live performance, and things only gets worse when the choreographer leaves for a job with the Radio City Rockettes.

Throughout the movie’s production numbers and rehearsal chaos, Dolly finds herself taking a private journey into her past, guided by the mysterious appearances of her personal Wise Mountain Men.

Through the sparkle of magic dust, Willie Nelson tells Dolly to think of him as a wise old mountain man full of wisdom. Her response is to tell him that he is “full of it.”

When Dolly says that Willie Nelson taught her to remember that we’ll always be the kids we once were at Christmas, Billy Ray Cyrus shares his wisdom that who you are with in the present is what really makes it Christmas.

When the time comes for the special to air, a renewed and inspired Dolly goes rogue and shows the world that the real magic of Christmas lies in the hearts of the children and that Christmas is about the people we share it with.

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

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