Sunday, 25 February 2024

Arts & Life

Kwame Dawes. Courtesy photo.

“Mend” is a poem of great intimacy. L. Renee, remembers her mother as the mender of garments, and as someone who had a life of rich experiences before the poet was born.

This moment of separation described in this poem is a testing and revelatory rite of passage for mother and daughter.

Her mother’s gift of precise hand-sewing is also a gift that mends whatever may seek to separate mother and daughter.

By L. Renee

My Mama had the gift of hand sewing—one perfect stitch
after another perfect stitch, eyeballing the precise length

of thread needed to repair what had ripped a gaping
hole, unmaking the whole swath of cotton-polyester fabric

she draped across her delicate boney shoulders before
a night out with my father—painting the town red

she said of those early dates when he handed her his fat
quarters hoping they would be enough to make something

beautiful like the outfits she sewed: plaid culottes with matching
vests, paisley dresses, fringed halters—she tells me this while

I watch the needle bully a ruby rivulet from her thumb, sullying
the myth of cotton without the blood, when she tries to mend

my middle-school uniform skirt, a navy pleat I never noticed
had been stretched into splitting—

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 L. Renée, “Mend” from Poetry Northwest. 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.

War, impending war and exile forced by war, are increasing preoccupations in the work of Ladan Osman — not so much the wars, but the damage that they do to everyday people who are trying to live in this world.

In “Sun to God”, these walking children and their parents, these laughing children and their parents, will eventually start to run, and will eventually stop laughing. It is a vividly captured accounting of the wars that continue to be waged around us.

Sun to God
By Ladan Osman

The children walked.
Then they began to run.
Why are we running, one asked?
No one knew. They ran faster.
They began laughing.
Why are we laughing?
Not one knew. They laughed more.
It was the eve of war but they didn’t know.
The children walked.
The children’s parents walked.
The parents’ parents walked.
Their shadows spilled ahead.
Their shadows lagged behind.
Then, they began to run.
No one was laughing.

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 Ladan Osman, “Sun to God” from The Rumpus, April 26, 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.

There is, in English poetry, a long tradition of gardening poems.

Such poems find rich associations between the deliberate act of design, the organizing of nature, and the art of poetry.

While Jeremy Rock’s, “Tender” does not slavishly echo the poetry of gardening of the seventeenth century, (the hay-day of this tradition), one senses in his contemporary take, a recognition of the impulse of humans to see in gardening, something of the quest and delight in beauty that we find in poetry.

At the end of the poem, Rock’s description of caring for tender plants that he renders as dreamers allows him to celebrate the deeply humanizing power of the imagination, the power, in other words, of poetry.

By Jeremy Rock
“Soft dirt makes for light work.”
–Gisa Cecani

Not yet Spring, sunlight barely reaches
past the slider, so I array houseplants
like regents parading before the rabble

and lead with the blades. Just a few snips
before they' re done, cleaned of the veins and petals
that looked ready to come off. It must always

be pruning season, looking at these hands. Sometimes
I sit in the sun with them and drink dayglow slow
with ice water. In red clay I keep the cuttings, sisters

and daughters mudded for new roots, and these
wan stems finally learn to breathe. If not
for the starving of idyllic hamlets, where

would the flowers grow? At night I bring them in
so they can imagine what they're missing.

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 ©2021 by Jeremy Rock, “Tender” from Poet Lore Summer/ Fall 2021. 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.


It is often said that one should write about what they know, or at least a variation of that construct. For director and screenwriter John Patton Ford, he turned a personal story into a premise for “Emily the Criminal.”

On the surface, “Emily the Criminal” is about a woman who becomes a criminal to pay her student loans. While Ford is neither a criminal nor a woman, he graduated from school with ninety-thousand dollars of debt.

The housing crisis was still doing damage, and Ford ended up delivering food and struggling to pay the interest each month. Not the principal, just the interest.

Wanting to become a filmmaker appeared to be a daunting task, and personal experience sparked the idea of making a movie about a millennial who hits the breaking point and decides to make her own rules.

Aubrey Plaza’s Emily carries not only the burden of student debt but a record of drunk driving and felony assault. Her past indiscretions prove to be a major impediment in job interviews to advancing a career.

The only job open to her is being an independent contractor delivering food to office buildings. Not exactly a reliable position with benefits and job security.

Meanwhile, she remains pals with a fellow student from art school, who is now working at a prestigious ad agency. Emily and her friend Liz (Megalyn Echikunwoke) seem to occupy two different planets.

After doing a favor for a coworker, Emily gets introduced to the shady underworld of “dummy shopper” where she can make $200 in an hour buying goods with a stolen credit card and fake ID.

Desperate for income, Emily shows up at a warehouse where the seemingly empathetic middleman Youcef (Theo Rossi) plays it straight about the risks and rewards of the criminal enterprise.

Getting a taste for the quick buck, Emily volunteers for a bigger payday. Of course, the greater the reward, the even more dangerous risk, such as conning an auto dealer with a fraudulent purchase of a luxury vehicle.

As trust between Emily and Youcef grows, a natural attraction evolves into something more personal. Though Youcef comes across as a nice guy, he’s working with some bad people like his cousin Khalil (Jonathan Avigdori), and no good can come of it.

While Emily becomes even bolder in the fraud game, she’s not quite given up on her desire to put her artistic skills to use for a white-collar job, even if her criminal past proves to be an albatross.

A telling scene is when she finally gets an interview at Liz’s company, meeting with smug agency head Alice (Gina Gershon), who offers an unpaid six-month internship as if it were the golden ticket.

To say the least, the insult of toiling for no compensation leads to the inevitable conclusion that this is a turning point for Emily realizing she may be best suited to a life of crime.

Now that she’s drawn even closer to Youcef, will Emily get more reckless? The stakes get higher, and both of them could be placed in greater jeopardy when things get sideways with Khalil and his cohorts.

“Emily the Criminal” is an intense, gripping crime thriller, and Aubrey Plaza’s fearless Emily is something to behold. Her character is not admirable but the performance is ferocious and compelling.


Some familiar with the beloved 1992 film “A League of Their Own” may be taken aback by the modern approach to a story of women in baseball substituting for the men who have gone off to fight during World War II.

One of the most jarring aspects of Amazon Prime’s eight-episode series (which this reviewer has not devoured in its entirety) is contemporary jargon that is not in tune with the era.

This serialized “A League of Their Own” is also less invested in baseball than in the drama that seems driven by an agenda revealing the challenges of women competing in what was then an exclusively male sport.

Loosely based on the Geena Davis character, Abbi Jacobson’s married Carson Shaw, whose husband is in the Army, leaves her Idaho small town to the big city of Chicago for a tryout with the Rockford Peaches.

As catcher and eventually the interim coach, Carson deals with guilt as she finds herself attracted to another star player, wisecracking Greta Gill (D’Arcy Carden).

A parallel story develops with Maxine Chapman (Chante Adams), a talented Black pitcher, who is unable to overcome the overt racism that keeps her from joining the Peaches, a team with a Mexican pitcher (Roberta Colindrez) passed off as the Spanish Striker.

Carson is not the only person wrestling with guilt and same-sex attraction. Maxine’s closeted desire would surely cause a rift in her tightknit circle of family and friends.

The most compelling drama, or at least as it appears half-way through the series, is with Maxine’s family, where strong-willed matriarch Toni (Saidah Arrika Ekulona) is in a league of her own.

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


Action films are frequently constructed as thrill rides due to the surfeit of the non-stop clashes involving gunplay, explosions, wild car chases, and overall mayhem that often proves to be electrifyingly entertaining.

In the case of “Bullet Train,” where assassins battle on the world’s fastest train, almost the entirety of the action is, in fact, a wild, non-stop thrill ride on the Shinkansen through modern-day Japan.

With an overall disheveled appearance and wearing a bucket hat, Brad Pitt’s Ladybug looks more like a tourist than the intuitive and skilled assassin whose string of bad luck has taken a toll on him when his jobs went off the rails.

Boarding the high-speed train in Tokyo, Ladybug moves at the commands through an earpiece from his handler Maria (Sandra Bullock), an unseen presence who reassures him that he’s up to the task of retrieving a briefcase containing ransom money.

Even though killing targets has been a way of life for Ladybug, he’s going through an existential crisis of confidence, mostly due to his current desire of seeking a harmonious Zen-like state of mind and renouncing violence.

The newest assignment of a simple theft convinces Ladybug that he has no need of a weapon, even though his handler thinks otherwise, and her concern soon turns out to be prescient.

Unknown to Ladybug is that the sleek train has onboard several of the most elite lethal adversaries from around the globe, each with an agenda that is seemingly connected and yet with differing objectives.

The briefcase is in the possession of colorful British assassin brothers, Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), and Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry), who are ironically called twins even though one is white and the other black.

Next to Ladybug, Tangerine, a Savile Row-tailored killer with slicked back hair and flashy jewelry, and the unkempt Lemon, who possesses a guileless demeanor and moral compass honed mostly from the lessons of “Thomas the Tank Engine,” are the most interesting characters.

It’s hard to tell if Tangerine is a sociopath or just a psychotic nutcase, but along with Lemon, he’s an extremely dangerous trained assassin. The twins make an amusing pair as they bicker like a married couple while dispatching a foe.

Snatching the briefcase is an easy task when it’s left in the luggage compartment, and Ladybug is instructed to disembark at the next stop, but circumstances interfere with the plan.

Detailed in a flashback to a Mexican wedding gone horribly wrong, it becomes clear that the unhinged Wolf (rapper Bad Bunny), who lost his bride, is on the train to settle a score with Ladybug for his perceived involvement in her death.

Even when Wolf and Ladybug are beating on each other, Ladybug is confused and uncertain, and in his defensive moves, he’s trying to assess who this guy is and why this is happening, while Wolf has allowed an unbridled rage to overcome any sense of reason.

Meanwhile, a sweet-looking young woman known as The Prince (Joey King) uses her demure schoolgirl appearance to mask her true desire of fierce cruelty for the sheer pleasure of killing.

Family drama emerges when Kimura (Andrew Koji), a low-level Tokyo criminal in a perpetual alcoholic haze, boards the train to exact his revenge on the unknown culprit who tossed his young son from the rooftop of a department store.

Kimura’s stoic, unyielding father, known as the Elder (Hiroyuki Sanada) takes on the multi-layered character of the modest florist who is fiercely protective of his grandson, but remains a lethal assassin skilled in swordsmanship.

The Hornet (Zazie Beetz), involved in the theft of a deadly viper from the Tokyo Zoo, is a master of disguise who travels under the radar on every job she takes. Her intended victims seem to be everyone else.

Is it a matter of coincidence that so many assassins ended up on the same train, or are they being manipulated by an elaborate plan? The answer may come from the underworld boss known as the White Death (Michael Shannon) who shows up late in the game with his henchmen.

At a running time of roughly two hours, “Bullet Train” could have been better served with a little more judicious editing, but this is a minor quibble when there is so much carnage and craziness that jolt the senses with an energetic blast of delirious bedlam.

Brad Pitt’s nonchalant charisma turns the existential angst of his character into the familiar turf of roles played in films like “The Mexican,” the British crime caper “Snatch” and the “Ocean’s Eleven” franchise.

Part of the fun in “Bullet Train,” directed by David Leitch whose credits include “Atomic Blonde,” “Deadpool 2” and the original “John Wick,” is the obvious pedigree of high-octane action mixed with dark humor.

“Bullet Train” will have its share of detractors, but one must enter the multi-plex primed for the kind of action-fueled diversion that was once the province of directors like Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez.

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


Jason Statham’s action career may be on a brief hiatus because he would seem to be an ideal choice for a role in Netflix’s movie “The Gray Man” as a globe-trotting skilled operative taking out assorted bad guys.

This reminds me that Statham starred as a special agent on a secret mission to thwart weapons dealers in Guy Ritchie’s “Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre” which was slated for release earlier this year and I still haven’t found it on a major streaming service.

We’ll have to settle for Ryan Gosling as a CIA operative known only as Sierra Six, once an Agency-sanctioned merchant of death, but now the target of psychopath mercenary Lloyd Hansen (Chris Evans).

For fans of action films there is no need to wait for Jason Statham or Liam Neeson to pummel villains into the ground. “The Gray Man,” at the tune of an ostensible budget that could finance a war in a small country, delivers the thrills craved by action junkies.

Serving time in a federal penitentiary for killing his abusive father, Six is offered a get-out-jail-free card when recruited by CIA handler Donald Fitzroy (Billy Bob Thornton) to join the Agency as an assassin.

Much like operatives such as James Bond and Jason Bourne, Six works mostly on his own in dishing out mayhem and killing enemies, proving that he picked up some nice moves during internment, or so it would seem.

Under the tutelage of Fitzroy, things are working out nicely for Six, but then a change in management results in having to report to Denny Carmichael (Rege-Jean Page), a shadowy, unethical string-puller with a dubious agenda.

Six’s world is upended when he’s assigned to kill another agent who happens to be in possession of a flash drive that would reveal dark Agency secrets implicating Carmichael in treachery.

As a result of this assignment, Six now has a target on his back and becomes hunted by Lloyd Hansen, who is not only criminally insane but sports a mustache that makes him look like a Seventies porn star.

Since Fitzroy is retired, Six has few allies to watch his back, other than fellow Agent Dani Miranda (Ana de Armas), as well as retired CIA station chief Margaret Cahill (Alfre Woodard).

Meanwhile, though Fitzroy would want to assist his protégé, his young niece Claire (Julia Butters), beset by health problems with a pacemaker, has been kidnapped by the deranged Hansen who will kill anyone looking at him the wrong way.

The contrast between the principled Six, who would not hurt a kid, and the nutjob Hansen, who tortures Fitzroy in a cringeworthy, hard-to-watch manner, is brutally stark. Hansen is so evil that it’s a wonder his mustache is not bushy enough to twirl.

Unreservedly nasty and fearsome, Hansen can deliver funny insults like referring to Six as Ken Doll, but mostly he’s just a bloodthirsty killing machine without any remorse for random acts of brutality.

Interestingly enough, Six has a tattoo of Sisyphus, which is emblematic of his inability to escape his role as an assassin, given the alternative would be a return to prison.

Underused in his part is the appearance of Indian actor Dhanush as Lone Wolf, touted as the most competent and fearless killer to be unleashed in the hunt to kill Six.

The plot of “The Gray Man” is arguably standard to the action genre, and the inevitable showdown between Six and Hansen is as predictable as a sunny day in Phoenix during the month of August, and yet the movie is a lot of fun even if it is ultimately disposable.

Occasional breaks occur in the nonstop action, with the most notable one being the time that Six ends up babysitting Claire while Fitzroy is away, and even then it’s not long before another assassin invades the Fitzroy home.

Flashbacks to Six’s childhood and his tortured relationship with a sadistic father don’t make for an interesting back story to explain how he wound up in the joint.

The question that hangs over Netflix is whether the streaming service will turn “The Gray Man” into a spy caper franchise. News reports, if accurate, and Netflix willing to pony up the megabucks indicate the affirmative.

The James Bond franchise may eventually run its course, considering that 007 perished in “No Time to Die.” How will the British secret agent be revived? Will there be a female Bond? Meanwhile, the Gray Man, aka Six, could be the future.

What more can an action fan ask for other than a surfeit of explosions, wild chases, shootouts, fireworks, a runaway train demolishing everything in its path, and even a plane falling from the sky? “The Gray Man” has it all, and then some with thrills to entertain.

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

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