Tuesday, 23 July 2024

Arts & Life




‘PUSS IN BOOTS: THE LAST WISH’ Rated PG

More than a decade has passed since Antonio Banderas’ animated swashbuckling cat Puss in Boots graduated from a character role in “Shrek 2” to star in his own film as a feline version of Douglas Fairbanks’ Zorro.

The last time we saw the fear-defying eponymous hero of 2011’s “Puss in Boots,” in his solo outing as a movie star, he was purring about his cunning ability to save the world and be celebrated for his bravery.

In “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish,” we find our furry daredevil arrogantly waking up after his eighth death and realizing he has only one life left. Suddenly, the fabulous orange tabby is wondering whether he’s lost his mojo and what’s he going to do about it.

As if it isn’t dire enough being down to one last life, Puss has a bounty on his head, with the big, bad bounty hunter Wolf (Wagner Moura) having the notorious cat in his direct sights.

Seeking refuge at the home of Mama Luna Cat Rescue, Puss must abide by the rules of the owner (Da’Vine Joy Randolph), which means he has to suffer the indignity of eating cat food, using a litter box and being renamed Pickles.

Amidst the dozens of mangy cats at the rescue home, a disheveled, chatty and relentlessly cheerful mutt named Perrito (Harvey Guillen) impersonating a cat joins Puss when he embarks on a journey into the Black Forest to find the mythical Wishing Star.

To discover the talisman that could restore some of his lost lives, Puss has to humble himself and ask for help from his old flame and sometimes nemesis Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek).

In their quest, the trio of Puss, Kitty and Perrito will have to stay one step ahead of Goldi (Florence Pugh) and her crime family of Papa Bear (Ray Winstone), Mama Bear (Olivia Colman) and Baby Bear (Samson Kayo) who are also searching for the Wishing Star.

Another rival is the massively huge adult Jack Horner (John Mulaney), an underworld kingpin who operates from the back of an ominous bakery. His ambition is to become the most powerful figure in the fairytale universe.

Though known fairy tale references abound, the filmmakers drew inspiration from Sergio Leone classic film “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.” All these different hardened criminals are going after the same pot of gold.

Yet, it’s Puss and his gang that are most adorable, charming and amusing when competing with the nefarious entities who want the Wishing Star for themselves.

“Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” should be fun for all age groups, and Antonio Banderas is in fine form voicing his Spanish feline with humorous gusto.

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

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.



CHRISTMAS MAGIC ON TCM AND LIFETIME

Turner Classic Movies’ Christmas marathon ends on Christmas day with 1949’s “Holiday Affair,” which may not be seen as truly in the Christmas spirit as what one may find on the Hallmark Channel.

Interestingly enough, TCM announced its holiday marathon by noting that “Christmas movie,” means different things to different people. After all, many argue that “Die Hard” is a Christmas movie, and throw in “Bad Santa” for good measure.

According to TCM, the Christmas movie label is subject to personal definition because Christmas films have not historically comprised a distinct genre. For some fans, the mere appearance of the season onscreen, no matter how brief, will suffice for the holiday spirit.

Growing in popularity over the years, “Holiday Affair” stars Robert Mitchum and Janet Leigh, who was just 22 at the time. The film was clearly an attempt by RKO Studios to capitalize on the success of “Miracle on 34th Street.”

Like that 1947 classic, “Holiday Affair” centers on a single working mother with a young child in Manhattan.

Both films prominently incorporate department stores and their owners, and devote much time to their child characters.

But while “Miracle” touches on fantasy and explores our inner-child, “Holiday Affair” is geared more toward adults, and adult relationship issues.

Leigh’s Connie Ennis, a young war widow, finds herself having to choose between two men: rugged, free-spirited Mitchum’s Steve Mason and more traditional, steady Wendell Corey’s Carl Davis.

Simmering under the surface is Connie’s continuing heartbreak over having lost her husband, and the Christmastime setting of “Holiday Affair” is key to emphasizing the importance of family.

The Lifetime Channel is another source of holiday programming. “The Holiday Dating Game” finds dating coach and aspiring book author Abigale Slater (Maria Menounos) close to making her lifelong dream come true, but with a catch that ties into Christmas.

Abigale has completed her first book, a how-to-guide for dating in today’s modern world, and is ready to become a published author. However, her publisher Jack (Steve Vinovich) won’t proceed with the deal without knowing that her advice actually works.

Before he has a chance to say no, Abigale proposes that she prove the rules work by using them herself and making a man fall for her by Christmas Eve in 12 days.

Although Abigale has never seen love as a priority for herself, she sets out to find someone who will tumble quickly enough into ardor to get this book in print.

Things change when Abigale meets Michael Ryan (Brent Bailey), and her single-minded mission takes an unexpected turn. While following her own advice, Abigale discovers the romance of her dreams. And just like that, “The Holiday Dating Game” becomes a Christmas movie.

If you have ever visited New Orleans, you know they like to celebrate everything, from a Saints victory to Mardi Gras to Halloween. They even have marching brass bands for funeral processions through the French Quarter.

Lifetime’s “A New Orleans Noel” weaves the Christmas theme into the lives of Grace Hill (Keshia Knight Pulliam) and Anthony Brown (Brad James), both of whom went to college to study architecture together.

But they could not be more different, and their lives took them on completely different paths. However, when they’re both hired for a job at the home of Loretta Brown (Patti LaBelle), a New Orleans praline icon, they end working together at Christmas.

When Anthony and his family discover that Grace will be celebrating Christmas alone, they invite her to take part in their traditions and celebrations.

Soon, fiercely independent Grace begins to learn the importance of family and community, while modern Anthony learns to embrace tradition and the magic of Christmas.

But when Grace is offered a new job far away from New Orleans, she’ll have to decide whether to go, or follow her heart. Well, does the heart believe the Crescent City is a romantic place?

New Orleans is often referred to as one of the most romantic cities in the nation, and according to the tourist bureau that’s no surprise given the beauty of the city’s architecture, gorgeous views, and candlelit bistros.

If New Orleans is a city for lovers, then tune into “A New Orleans Noel” to see if that notion, as well as some Christmas magic, holds true or not for Grace.

An essential part of holiday fun is indulging in the gastronomical pleasures of such staples as turkey and gravy, baked ham, mashed potatoes, and gingerbread. Some may like fruitcake, but I call those people lunatics.

In any event, Lifetime’s “A Recipe for Joy” brings food into the equation when ambitious culinary correspondent Carly Hayes (Erin Agostino) gets a shot at
her own TV show.

She’s sent to Angel Heights to help chef Grant Quinn (Dillon Casey) reopen his family’s beloved diner and film it as a holiday television special.

Thanks to Carly, Grant will not only reopen his restaurant, but most probably his heart too. And that’s how you get a recipe for romance during Christmas.

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



‘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.

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