Wednesday, 30 November 2022

Arts & Life


How does a soccer team in a remote area of northeast Wales garner any interest from American sports fans?

“Welcome to Wrexham” on the FX cable channel provides the answer in a documentary series about two actors initiating a takeover of a team mired in low standing.

The Hollywood glamour, so to speak, comes from American and Canadian actors, respectively Rob McElhenny (“It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” fame) and Ryan Reynolds (“Deadpool”) who couldn’t even visit the Welsh town for a long time due to the pandemic.

This might be the perfect time to take a look at “Welcome to Wrexham” because over here across the pond from the United Kingdom we are in full swing in our own frenzied sports season.

Major League Baseball is in the throes of the playoffs where a thrilling series had the San Diego Padres slaying the dragon to the north, the mighty Los Angeles Dodgers who had the most wins during the season and finished twenty-two games ahead of their southern rival.

National League Football is in full swing and the Philadelphia Eagles are crushing opponents. The Eagles success is probably not lost on Rob McElhenney, a product of the City of Brotherly Love, who displays in the first episode his fervent support for his beloved NFL team.

This time of year also brings the start of the season for the National Hockey League and the National Basketball Association. What major sports are we missing? Horse racing at Santa Anita Park? Well, the ponies are running, and so all the bases are covered.

Reynolds and McElhenney have very little knowledge of the sport known as football practically everywhere else in the world except in the United States. Their enthusiasm for “the beautiful game” is either genuine or a Hollywood construct for a television series.

In the early going in this documentary series, the actors’ interaction with the Wrexham team is limited to Zoom meetings and phone calls, while British comedian and screenwriter Humphrey Ker takes on the role of “Rob and Ryan’s guy” at the football club.

The second episode finds Ker, now the team’s executive director, introducing himself to the players as a writer on TV shows who won’t have anything to do with what happens on the field. The look on the faces of the footballers is priceless.

Officially known as Wrexham Association Football Club, which turns out to be the third oldest professional team in existence with the home base of the oldest international football stadium in the world, is also referred to as “a diamond in the heart of Wales” in a song.

One can be forgiven for thinking that two actors buying a football club in a foreign country is a publicity stunt. That’s certainly on the minds of denizens of Wrexham, one of them asking the duo “Why Wrexham?”

The answer, as if coming from a politician, is not readily forthcoming, though McElhenney admits to being a sports fanatic from Philadelphia with a deep love for the Eagles. He musters up the opinion that Wrexham reminds him of Philadelphia.

The actor, who had yet to visit this Welsh town when making the comparison, offers the view that Wrexham is a working-class and blue-collar town. Indeed, the scenery of Wrexham lacks the beautiful mansions found in the elite neighborhoods of Los Angeles.

The documentary also explains the English Football League as a pyramid where the Premier League is at the pinnacle, followed by the Championship and then League One and League. Below these four tiers is the National League and that’s where we find the Wrexham AFC.

While the top players in the Premier League could pocket 3.5 million British pounds, the lowly National League players take in the minimum wage level pay of 39,000 pounds, which might be decent pay in the decaying industrial Wrexham.

Back to the question of “Why Wrexham?” Both Reynolds and McElhenney take pains, even as they can’t resist being jokers at times, to assure the doubters that they don’t undertake lightly the desire to build something.

When Reynolds and McElhenney participate in a news conference, a Welsh interpreter playfully notes that the actors “have never pleased their wives” and that they are doomed “to die alone in their mansions.”

A truer statement comes from team manager Dean Keates who notes that there are three guarantees for a football manager, namely “you’re born, you pay taxes and you get sacked.” One of these three do come to pass, and you get only one guess.

During the recent television press tour, John Landgraf, chairman of FX, acknowledged that the series follows not just the fate of the team but also the “fandom in general” and the history of the town.

“Welcome to Wrexham” tells the tale of a town of 65,000 residents, and from the patrons at a local pub to the home of a single father raising two sons in joint custody, it’s obvious that fans really do matter for any team.

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


A date night movie sounds like a great idea for a couple to enjoy an evening’s entertainment, and the romantic comedy of “Ticket to Paradise” starring George Clooney and Julia Roberts as exes on a mission to thwart their daughter’s matrimony is an interesting premise.

In recent years, romantic comedies from a major studio have become increasingly scarce. Dating as far back as the 1930s with the then-called “screwball comedy,” the genre continued to evolve and flourish through the start of the century.

It’s not like romantic comedies have disappeared altogether, considering how Netflix showcases more films than one can humanly consume or that the genre has veered away from the conventional approach.

Film director Ol Parker had a feeling that our global collective experience over the last couple of years during the pandemic had left audiences yearning for the rebirth of romantic comedy.

In the press notes for “Ticket to Paradise,” Parker realized that “romantic comedies bring a large audience together to collectively laugh with each other, and after a few tough years, that seemed like a beautiful thing to bring to the big screen.”

Clooney and Roberts have been a screen couple before as Danny and Tess Ocean in “Ocean’s Eleven” and “Ocean’s Twelve,” and though those films are not romantic, the stars did trade barbs and insults which look like practice for their reunion here.

With their cinematic history, Clooney and Roberts were obvious choices as the long-divorced couple of David and Georgia who despise each other because this premise is only going to work when the actors have the chemistry required to eventually break down the barrier of bitterness.

David and Georgia were married for only five years, but he says it felt more like nineteen, and the split was hardly amicable. They only come together in a most uncomfortable way to attend their daughter Lily’s graduation.

Fresh out of law school with a job waiting for her at a prestigious law firm, Lily (Kaitlyn Dever) takes off on a vacation to scenic Bali with her friend and college roommate Wren (Billie Lourd) as a last thrill before the daily grind of work.

Lily’s professional plans get derailed when she falls for handsome seaweed farmer Gede (Maxime Bouttier), and after a rather brief courtship becomes engaged with apparent little thought to her future.

News of the impending nuptials doesn’t sit well with David and Georgia, who then embark on a shared clandestine mission to show up as supportive parents with a hidden agenda of undermining the wedding while struggling to conceal their mutual distaste.

A romantic comedy always has plot contrivances that are usually easy to spot. What’s not so readily discerned is figuring out the history of a couple that would rather endure root canal or some other unpleasantry than be in the same room together.

We have to accept it on faith that Georgia, an art gallery owner, and David, an architect, are so filled with acrimony and blame that they will bicker like school kids during the graduation ceremony.

The backbiting continues for Georgia and David when they inadvertently become seatmates on the long flight and end up trading barbs that provide some of the humor one was hoping for from two charismatic characters.

An interesting twist to the international flight is the coincidence of Georgia’s younger boyfriend Paul (Lucas Bravo), a commercial airline pilot, just happening to be on duty. You can expect he will show up again at an unexpected moment.

An alcohol-fueled evening of overly exuberant dancing and beer pong competition by the parents leads to the inevitable waking up the next day to a situation that should surprise no one.

Filming the beautiful tropical lifestyle of Bali also captures and respects the Balinese people and culture, with Gede’s father (Agung Pindha) displaying a sense of humor that rivals that of the most practiced professional actor.

The script for “Ticket to Paradise” may be wafer-thin only because so much is predictable, and despite any drawbacks of serviceable tropes, the film benefits from the sunny, vibrant Indonesian location filled with glistening beaches and gorgeous sunsets.

More than the exquisite scenery of Bali is desired to turn this romantic vehicle into a winning film, unless you think Clooney and Roberts are all the backdrop necessary.

Punching a “Ticket to Paradise” is an overall enjoyable experience, if not completely memorable. This is a one-off romantic comedy that’s good enough in the moment but not likely worthy of a return engagement.

For now, “Ticket to Paradise” is a theatrical release but since this film is a Universal picture it’s set for release on Peacock in early December.

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

The James Bond film franchise celebrates its 60th anniversary this year. Hard to believe that it was so long ago when President Kennedy, an avid fan of Ian Fleming’s Bond novels, was in office for the debut in 1962 of “Dr. No,” starring Sean Connery.

“The Sound of 007” is an impressive feature documentary on Amazon Prime Video that pulls back the curtain on the remarkable history of six decades of James Bond music.

Viewers are taken on a journey from Sean Connery’s “Dr. No” through Daniel Craig’s final outing in “No Time to Die.” Billie Eilish, who performed the song in Craig’s last Bond film, opines that “Bond music is the most iconic thing on the planet.”

Over the course of the twenty-five Eon Productions franchise the range of singers has been quite remarkable, and though it is hard to argue that no one did it better than Shirley Bassey.

Dare to listen to Shirley Bassey belt out the theme songs for “Goldfinger” and “Diamonds are Forever” and then try to form a coherent case that she was not the absolutely greatest of them all.

Interestingly, while Bassey was the only person to sing three Bond theme songs, she claims the last one for “Moonraker” did not work, and that she hated it and would not sing it in any of her acts.

A strong runner-up would have to be Paul McCartney, who composed and sang the song “Live and Let Die.” McCartney recounts how he read the Ian Fleming novel and wrote the song in the same afternoon.

Sam Mendes, director of “Skyfall” and “Spectre,” observes most perfectly that “everyone goes into every Bond movie waiting for the most famous piece of music in film history.”

That reference, of course, is to John Barry, who composed the scores for eleven Bond films, as well as re-arranging and performing the iconic “James Bond Theme” in “Dr. No,” even though Monty Norman wrote the signature theme song.

Seemingly unrelated to the Bond films is the story about actors Terence Stamp and Michael Caine being roommates, and there was “a little too much female traffic going in and out of the flat, and Caine was tossed out,” except Caine had a brief stay at John Barry’s apartment.

“No Time to Die” composer Hans Zimmer summed up the appeal of the Bond music, noting that “there’s a seductive quality in all the songs.”


Lifetime continues on in late October with its “Ripped from the Headlines” movies that are thrillers inspired by true events that expose criminal stories or dive into current events.

“Swindler Seduction” features Colton Haynes (“Arrow” and “Teen Wolf”) in a dual role of crooked twin brothers who are romantic con artists earning their living off women who they fool and steal from.

When Louisa (Gabrielle Graham) meets handsome and sweet Steve (Colton Haynes) at a bar in Chicago, he seems like the perfect guy – an angel investor and entrepreneur who just sold a company for millions.

Forty-eight blissful, sexy hours and countless lies later, Steve disappears, and Louisa realizes she’s been swindled out of thousands of dollars. The police won’t help her but after Louisa finds out she’s pregnant, she sets out to track down the runaway lover.

She discovers that Steve has an identical twin in Mitch, who is also a con artist. As she digs deeper, Louisa uncovers how women have been hurt by the swindler twins and decides she must fight back.

Using her wits, courage and determination to not be fooled again, Louisa tries to outsmart the evil twins and serve justice for all their jilted and duped victims.

The short-form special “Beyond the Headlines: Swindler Seduction” explores the phenomenon of evil and criminal twins and the environmental and genetic circumstances that can lead twin siblings to a life of crime.

As part of this special, a forensic psychologist deconstructs and analyzes a true crime case of identical twin sisters who turned on each other.

“An Amish Sin” explores the Amish world that has always fascinated outsiders with its insular community and 18th century lifestyle that shuns the temptations of modernity.

But all is not as wholesome as it seems. Inspired by true stories, “An Amish Sin” follows Rachel (Dylan Ratzlaff), an Amish teen who refuses to obey her parents’ command that she marry the man who abused her as a child.

When she attempts to run away, Rachel is caught and sent to a “rehab” for Amish girls who don’t follow the rules. Managing to escape from the facility, she makes her way to a neighboring city where she has to learn to live and find her place in our world.

Kellie Martin also stars as Rachel’s mother Sara and Rukiya Bernard is in the role of Grace, who befriends Rachel when she leaves the Amish community.

“Beyond the Headlines: An Amish Sin” talks to real women who have left the Amish sect, how they got out and what their lives are like today.

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

Kwame Dawes. Courtesy photo.

This an elegant elegy to a father who has passed, captured in the rituals that families create as a way to remember, to honor and to even celebrate.

The extra place set at table before a feast of great sensual and emotional power reflects how mourning touches the deepest parts of our self.

NaBeela Washington’s poem asks the question: “Why Do We Set the Table?”

The poem is the answer.

Why Do We Set the Table?
By NaBeela Washington

At what temperature does blood
begin to boil? Thicken into a
roux, slip between bits of
basil, minced garlic,

Permeate chunks of spicy kielbasa,
bind a dash of salt, pepper, bubbles
roiling forth, then dissipating,
heat lowered to a hush;

Congeal from the shock of cool
clay dishes as a small mound
is delicately plated with a
large plastic spoon;

Spurt steam, burning both
nostrils, as we lean in to say
grace, my father’s seat empty,
placemat bare.

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 NaBeela Washington, “Why Do We Set the Table?” from crazyhorse, Number 101, Spring 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.

The mermaid, curiously, is one of those mythological figures that remind us of the occasional moments of genuine “universality” in human experience.

All around the world, she recurs in myths, folktales, poems, and legends, fully formed, always complex, and profoundly assertive of the feminine force in the world.

Jessica Lee Alton, in her poem, “Tipping the Scales,” gently guides us towards the unveiling of her version of the mermaid — petulant, dangerous, powerful, seductive, and defiantly mysterious.

Tipping the Scales
By Jessica Lee Alton

She smokes in your face just to be like that
Never wants to give you free advice
Asks for a dollar, a drink, a ride home
Twirls a wet lock around her thumb
Pulls out her fin just so she can trip you
Can’t hide that smell, razor blades, salt shakers
She wants your love, grants nothing in return
Can’t control her voracious appetite
ingesting friends like trinkets-baubles-spoons
Tries to pull you in with her siren song
Lips move-no sound-broken karaoke
You strain to listen, end up in her mouth
She swims you with the salmon south then north
Drops you at a gas station dumbfounded
Steals your car drunk splashes water at the moon
As you walk, you wonder how she drives
with that scaly turquoise mercurial tail

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 Jessica Lee Alton, “Tipping the Scales” from Ripe Literary Journal, Issue 01, October 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.

Kwame Dawes Courtesy photo.

In “Beachcomber Nocturne”, Lupita Eyde-Tucker beautifully wrestles with the complex relationship that we sometimes have with nature, by first acknowledging that there is a strange colonizing impulse behind the manner in which we apprehend and love the natural world, by seeing it in our own image.

Her awe, however, is also captured elegantly in her sense of helplessness as a witness and a creature of this grand design.

For some reason, I find myself coming back to the phrase, “the ocean’s purple evening,” so I consider the poem yet another of those “odd gifts” the world offers us.

Beachcomber Nocturne
By Lupita Eyde-Tucker
Pink seafoam leaves odd gifts for me to find:
a puffed-up man-o-war, a mermaid’s purse,

empty lady slippers, Sargasso weed,
as if these things could fill my human needs.

I push my toes beneath the cold, damp sand,
observe the ocean’s purple evening.

A loggerhead rides up and heaves her bulk
to dig a hole, deposit future in the dark.

Until she’s done and slips back out to sea
I sit and match her labored breath to mine.

This sea: a Chevy engine revving high
reminding me how everything’s design.

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 Lupita Eyde-Tucker, “Beachcomber Nocturne” from Jet Fuel Review, Issue #23, Spring 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.

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