June 18, 2019

THIS WEEK’S POPCORN: “Gangster Squad” an offer you can refuse







By Michael S. Goldberger

Special to the Observer


A typical shoot em’ up, director Ruben Fleischer’s version of how a special police team was able to rid Los Angeles of gangster Mickey Cohen’s megalomaniacal control can’t help but dredge up current events. With each firefight, and following every vile spate of gratuitous brutality, the American appetite for bloodshed is affirmed. It boggles the mind.

So we ponder the same old argument, the bevy of rehashed rationalizations: Guns don’t kill people; Hollywood, by its example, kills people. Or, does it merely reflect and tacitly celebrate the social illness diagnosed in Michael Moore’s “Bowling for Columbine” (2002)? Case in point: Consciously or not, “Gangster Squad” fills the trough of savagery.

“Inspired by a true story,” which could be interpreted to mean anything, in and of itself this film is inconsequential. It is neither historically accurate nor elucidative. Yet, on its own terms, filling a segment of society’s strange demand, it is effective. That it’s about subduing a known pariah gives permission to spray the red dye #3 without compunction.

The formula is familiar. And sadly, so is the conveyor belt delivery of murder and mayhem… a veritable smorgasbord of barbarity, executed in Rube Goldberg style. You see, plain old fashioned killing isn’t enough for today’s jaded, sanguinary tastes. You have to mix it up, add some explosions, and shock us with something really disgusting.

However, for those who say they can separate alleged entertainment from any social castigation lodged by a bleeding heart film critic, this is rousing stuff. Featuring decent production standards and fairly capable direction, the neo-“Chinatown” (1974), “L.A. Confidential” (1997) genre offers a good excuse to excitingly recreate the postwar period.

Emulating those last breaths of the film noir era, the art direction splays its graphic interpretation across the screen in movie poster color, concerned more with artistic paean than period accuracy. But the costumes are great, as are the cars, the interior design and the appurtenances. And most of the actors know not to play their characters too seriously.

Unfortunately, Sean Penn, arguably the most talented of the crew, can’t quite find a comfortable spot between actual portrayal and cartoonish caricature. Banged up to appear like the former boxer Cohen was, he is a ranting psychopath reminiscent of Al Pacino’s Tony Montana (“Scarface”), but looking more like his Big Boy Caprice in “Dick Tracy.”

Less problematic is Josh Brolin as the handsomely square-jawed Sgt. John O’Mara, handpicked by the even more square-jawed Chief Parker (Nick Nolte) to lead the intrepid crew of stereotypical misfits. Of course this ultra dangerous mission is something the war hero just has to do if L.A. is to be a safe place for the baby he and his wife are expecting.

A tad less clichéd, but also written to characterize the plight of returning WWII veterans trying to reassimilate into society, Ryan Gosling is Sgt. Jerry Wooters. He drinks, but isn’t cynical to the point of ruling out the chance of true love. It only figures that he and Mickey Cohen’s main squeeze, Grace (Emma Stone), supply the film’s taboo romance.

All recruited/introduced in “Magnificent Seven” (1960) fashion, the eclectic bunch of crime fighters extraordinaire represent a type for every demography. Coleman Harris (Anthony Mackie) is the only law in the ghetto; Robert Patrick’s Max Kennard is a rootin’- tootin’, sharp shooting cowboy; and Giovanni Ribisi is the compulsory geek.

And, perhaps as homage to its filmic progenitor, there’s even the young, uninvited warrior, anxious to fight alongside the big boys. Portrayed by Horst Bucholz (Chico) in the aforesaid classic, here he is Navidad Ramirez, played by Michael Peña. No surprise, there is an infinite supply of Cohen henchmen, anxious to die in his iniquitous service.

However, while unabashedly derivative, and knowing full well it isn’t going to attract viewers with a serious historic interest, “Gangster Squad” is cautious to strut its carnage and butchery just a degree north of campiness. The opening scene, wherein Cohen means to send an ugly warning to his Chicago counterpart, unmistakably sets the sadistic tone.

All of which makes this formulaic, factory-made slab of fodder a cultural curiosity. Fact is, the blood and guts crowd could lap up much more hemoglobin spillage by feasting on any of several slice-and-dice horror films now playing at the Bijou. One wonders if clothing the slaughter in a gangster tale makes it more appetizing.

If I were smart enough, I’d teach the speculated link between movie gunplay and the epidemic assault on real-life Americans in a three-credit seminar at Harvard, especially if they threw in a dental plan. While only a footnote, “Gangster Squad” is symptomatic of a psychosocial disease that menaces us with no less virulence than any of history’s plagues.

“Gangster Squad,” rated R, is a Warner Bros. Pictures release directed by Ruben Fleischer and stars Sean Penn, Josh Brolin and Emma Stone. Running time: 113 minutes


PHOTOS: “The Fearsome Pirate Frank”

Williston Central School students from Full House performed, lit and directed a swashbuckling play, “The Fearsome Pirate Frank,” on Jan. 24 and 25. (Observer photo by Stephanie Choate)


PHOTOS: CVU Family Formal

Families got into the spirit of the Family Formal at Champlain Valley Union High School on Jan. 26. The event, hosted by CVU’s business ethics class, raised $1,370 for the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Vermont. (Observer photos by Jayson Argento, www.lakechamplainphotography.com) 







A&E: ‘Love, Loss and What I Wore’ comes to Burlington

‘Love, Loss and What I Wore”  is coming to Main Street Landing Performing Arts Center in Burlington on Feb. 7-10 and 13-17.  (Observer courtesy photo)

‘Love, Loss and What I Wore” is coming to Main Street Landing Performing Arts Center in Burlington on Feb. 7-10 and 13-17. (Observer courtesy photo)

By Phyl Newbeck

Observer correspondent

In 2010, despairing of finding high quality theatrical roles for women, Jennifer Warwick and Janet Stambolian decided to start a company to create those roles. The newly formed Girls Nite Out Productions (GNOP) featured “Steel Magnolias” as its inaugural play, followed by “The Hallelujah Girls” and then a female production of “The Odd Couple.” This February, they will bring Nora and Delia Ephron’s “Love, Loss and What I Wore” to Main Street Landing’s Black Box Theater. The show will have a two-week run, starting with Fashion Week and concluding with Valentine’s Day week. In conjunction with the show, the company will have an exhibit of vintage designer gowns, a photo exhibit of women ranging in age from 40 to 70 wearing those gowns and a Dress for Success clothing drive.

The mission of GNOP is to “produce high quality theater with a focus on providing great performance production and educational opportunities for women of all ages,” according to its website. The cast of five will include women in their 30s through 70s.

Warwick said the name of the company has the dual meaning of providing roles for women of all ages, as well as giving women the opportunity to enjoy a night out with their female friends. GNOP has recently branched out to develop educational programs, including a workshop held in a women’s correctional institution.

Kathryn Blume is the director of “Love, Loss and What I Wore.” The eclectic Blume is also an actress, writer, speaker and environmental activist who has performed in 60 cities across Europe, the United States and Canada. In Vermont, she is probably best known as the co-founder of the Lysistrata Project and the writer/performer of the environmental play, “The Boycott.” Blume has worn many hats in her theatrical career, but had never directed a play until GNOP asked her to work on “Steel Magnolias.” She went on to direct “The Odd Couple” and is enjoying the opportunity to work on “Love, Loss,” she said.

For Blume, directing the piece is meaningful on two levels. Given what she terms the “tragic” lack of great theatrical roles for women, particularly those over 40, she supports the mission of Girls Nite Out Productions.

“There’s not a lot out there for women of that age, and it’s when women are at their richest,” she said.

On a personal level, the company was the first to hire her in a director’s role and she discovered she enjoyed directing.

“There was an immediate moment of falling in love with it,” she said.

Known for her advocacy on issues like climate change, Blume doesn’t see “Love, Loss” as a departure from her activist work.

“What I care about are things that are relevant, things that matter to people,” she said. “I’ve been in theater all my life and what I love is great theater, great acting and great storytelling about things that are meaningful. It’s often said that the personal is political and ‘Love, Loss’ has great writing, great acting and incredibly relevant material.”

For those who think the play might not strike a chord with those Vermont women who spend most of their time in jeans, Blume insists that virtually all women have a deep relationship with at least some of their clothes. The relationship can be a bittersweet one toward the coat you wore to a funeral or a sentimental attachment to the blouse you wore on a first date.

“For most women, there is a least one garment you have an emotional attachment to and a story to tell about it and that’s the focus of this play,” she said.

Originally, the plan was for GNOP to produce one show a year in the fall but with “Love, Loss,” it is embarking on a plan to add a winter show, as well. Organizers hope to have a bigger production in the fall and a smaller one in the spring. Girls Nite Out Productions also partners with non-profit groups, raising money for local causes. For “Love, Loss,” the company will partner with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of Upstate New York/Vermont and Dress for Success. The first was chosen because Nora Ephron died of leukemia.

More than 30 women auditioned for “Love, Loss,” and for “The Hallelujah Girls,” women from as far away as Plattsburgh, Stowe and Lincoln tried out for roles.

“We’ve gotten great feedback,” Warwick said. “We’ve created a little niche and it’s very exciting.”

While Blume realizes men are not the target audience for the play, she believes both genders will find relevance in “Love, Loss and What I Wore.”

“It’s funny, engaging and entertaining,” she said. “If you like women or are one, the likelihood is that you’ll find something to connect. It will help men understand the women in their lives and many women will find themselves in one of the stories.”


“Love, Loss and What I Wore” show dates are set for Feb. 7-10 and Feb. 13-17 at Main Street Landing Performing Arts Center in Burlington. For more information, visit www.girlsniteoutvt.com.

It’s Friday Knights for 11-0 CVU hoop girls

By Mal Boright

Observer correspondent

Is there a new order in Division 1 high school girls basketball?

A partial answer could be coming Friday, when the defending champion Rice Memorial High Green Knights invade Champlain Valley Union High’s Bremner Gymnasium for a 7 p.m. clash, their first since the championship game last March.

With many players back from a year ago, the 10-0 Knights have been rolling once again, although they escaped Essex High recently with a two-point victory.

CVU took care of business at 9-2 Essex Tuesday night with a solid 45-37 victory to hike its season mark to 11-0, setting up the first of two showdowns with Rice.

Coach Ute Otley was pleased with the overall performance from her youthful squad Tuesday and had particular praise for junior do-it-all Emily Kinneston, who lit up the place for 23 points while hauling down nine rebounds and picking off seven steals from the Hornets, contributing to 22 turnovers that plagued the Essex offense.

The Redhawks never trailed after a Kinneston bucket gave them a 2-1 lead in the early going. That opened an eight–point run as the chilled Hornets missed their first eight shots before tall and active veteran junior center Kara Sheftic laid in a rebound shot with two minutes and 24 seconds remaining in the quarter.

Sheftic was a considerable force for Essex with 20 points and 15 rebounds.

But while Sheftic did the job inside, the Hornets struggled from outside with Kari Lavalette’s (eight points) pair of treys the big hitters as the Blue and Gold swished just 14 of 56 shots (25 percent). CVU bagged 17 of 48 for 35 percent.

While CVU maintained a game-long lead, the dangerous Hornets hung around. In the second period, they lapped up Redhawk turnovers and held CVU without a hoop until with 1:42 left, when freshman center Laurel Jaunich (eight points, six rebounds, two assists) laid in a twin bracer for a 16-12 lead.

Jaunich added another lay-in and Kinneston notched a basket and later free throw, so CVU escaped what had been a serious drought for a 21-16 halftime lead.

The Redhawks never let the lead get below three points in the second half, always producing an answer anytime Essex would threaten.

Kinneston, in an evening of remarkable plays, added to the Hornets’ frustrations at the end of the third quarter. With CVU up 35-29 and time running down, the junior had the ball at the top of the key but was closely guarded. She made a spin move, then did a slight step back to clear the shooting hand and let loose with a sweet, soft arching shot that swished through the strings as the quarter buzzer sounded. It gave CVU an eight-point advantage to carry to the final period. The Celtics’ aging Paul Pierce, who made a living getting shots off while closely guarded, would have been jealous.

Significant CVU minutes came from Kaelyn Kohlasch, who had seven points and four assists while hampered by fouls, Taylor Goldsborough with five rebounds and defense, and Amanda Lougee’s six rebounds.

Last Friday night, the Redhawks made it a happy trip to Newport with a 63-22 shelling of North Country Union (4-5). Sadie Otley cranked up the long-range bombs with four treys among her 16 points. Kinneston kept her hands in all facets of the game with six assists, six points and five steals.

Formidable foes to visit hot CVU boys hoop five

By Mal Boright

Observer correspondent

As the winter grows colder, coach Scott Bliss’ Champlain Valley Union High boys’ basketball team are heating up.

With 10-1 Rice Memorial High coming to CVU’s Bremner Gymnasium Thursday evening (7 p.m.), the Redhawks hold a four-game winning streak and have captured eight victories in their last 10 starts. In the meantime, Rice rolled on Monday, rapping North Country Union, 75-38.

The second of a two-game home stand will bring a big 8-5 Spaulding High Crimson Tide outfit to the Hawks’ nest on Monday. This past Monday night, Spaulding topped Burlington, 60-47.

CVU was also busy Monday, cranking up a 69-51 thumbs-upper at South Burlington High, its second win over the 1-12 Rebels.

The Redhawks zoomed out to a hefty 21-10 advantage in the initial eight minutes and ruled the remainder of the night. Veteran forward Brad Bissonette paced the CVU scorers with 17 points, while point guard Austin Busch, hampered by fouls in recent games, broke out with 12 points.

After last Thursday’s home 46-35 triumph over 4-7 Burlington High, Bliss had high praise for the CVU defense that held the Seahorses to 12 hoops in 39 flings at the basket.

“This was our best defensive game,” the coach said.

It was a grinder of a contest until the Redhawks snapped a 20-20 third period tie with a 12-3 run in the closing minutes of the period, fueled by reserves Big Ryan Beaudry (four points, three rebounds) and Zach Evans (five points, two steals), plus Scott Bissonette’s two buckets and steady floor work by brother Brad.

Brad Bissonette added eight points and three rebounds in the final reel to keep the Seahorses under water, so to speak.

With center Lucas Aube sitting out, the Bissonettes paired up for 14 vital rebounds, Brad grabbing eight. Brad Bissonette also led scorers with 12 points, while Scott had seven.

Forward Joe Chevalier hit double figures with 12 points. The senior authored a flurry of three hoops in the first quarter, including a trey to get CVU going after BHS broke to a 9-2 edge in the opening minutes.

Freshman guard Josh Hale led Burlington with 12 points, which included two of the Horses’ six triple pointers.

In the preliminary, coach Seth Emerson’s junior varsity team improved to 10-2 with a 38-33 win over the BHS juniors.


Boys basketball box scores (Jan. 24)

Burlington High (35)

Vachereau, 3 1-2 9; Montgomery, 0 0-0 0; Konjuhovac, 2 0-0 4; Hale, 4 2-2 12; Boera, 3 0-0 8; Wright, 0 1-2 1; Heimert, 0 0-0 0; Agorrea, 0 0-0 0; Parent, 0 1-2 1

Totals: 12 5-8 35


CVU (46)

B. Bissonette, 5 1-2 12; Chevalier, 5 0-1 11; Carroll, 0 1-2 1; S. Bissonette, 3 1-2 7; Busch, 1 0-0 2; Beaudry, 2 2-2 6; Evans, 2 0-0 5; O’Connell, 0 0-0 0; Lynn, 1 0-0 2; Myers, 0 0-0 0

Totals: 19 5-9 46


BHS 9 5 9 12 – 35

CVU 9 6 17 14- 46

CVU hockey girls at Essex Saturday

By Mal Boright

Observer correspondent

The quest for that elusive first victory had the 0-10-1 Champlain Valley Union High girls hockey team playing host to Rice Memorial High Wednesday night, after the Observer’s press deadline. A trip to Essex High (6-5-1) is slated for Saturday afternoon at 4:30.

Last Saturday, the Redhawks were home to the Burr and Burton Academy Bulldogs, a team they tied 1-1 earlier in the season in Manchester. But this time, the Pups had early bite, jumping to a 4-0 lead by the end of the first period and skating on to a 9-4 victory to hike their season mark to 5-6-1.

It was a case of Burr and Burton making the shots while Bulldogs’ goalie Meg Chandler kept the Redhawks at bay for much of the game, as shots on goal were even at 24 for each team.

Just 30 seconds had elapsed in the first stanza when Burr and Burton’s Erin Thompson knocked in a rebound to put the Bulldogs up 1-0. It was the beginning of a swell afternoon for the Green forward, who finished with three goals and a pair of assists.

A little more luck or less skill by Chandler in the B & B net and CVU’s Molly Dunphy might have had a similar day.

Dunphy had several opportunities stymied by Chandler before she broke away five seconds into the third period to fire in a short-handed score on a spectacular end-to-end rush.

That closed the gap to 6-2, but Burr and Burton scored on the power play 27 seconds later to restore command in the game.

Trailing 9-2, CVU got goals from Sylvie Shanks and Rachel Pitcher in the closing two minutes, Pitcher’s tally on an end-to-end charge.

Eva Dunphy pocketed the Redhawks’ initial score late in the second reel.

Chandler finished with 20 saves, while CVU netminder Laurel Hubbert-Severance had 15.

CVU nordic skiers rounding into top form

With an upcoming schedule that includes such options as a classic race Thursday at Morse Farm in East Montpelier and a night relay Wednesday at Colchester High, coach Sarah Strack’s Champlain Valley Union High Nordic skiers, varsity and junior varsity, are ready for all comers.

Last Friday, in what Strack called “a big race,” both boys and girls triumphed over nearly a dozen opposing teams at Jericho Center.

Taylor Spillane earned victory in the girls’ division, posting a time of 15 minutes and 29 seconds to edge second place teammate Autumn Eastman by 14 seconds.

CVU’s Cally Braun was fifth and Kayla Servin came in ninth.

The Redhawks posted a four-point win over runner-up Mount Mansfield Union in the girls’ team scorers as the Cougars’ Annavitte Rand and Molly Carson posted third and fourth place finishes. Some 11 teams competed.

The CVU boys rolled to a convincing triumph in the 13-team boys’ division with 18 points to second place Woodstock Union High’s 57.

Redhawks took six of the top 10 positions, led by Forest Hamilton in second. Behind Hamilton were fellow Redhawks Emmett Peterson (fourth), Sean Delaney (fifth), Cooper Willsey (seventh), Parker Francis (eighth) and Thomas Clayton (ninth).

That was a crowd of Birds up front. The boys JVs, however, topped that feat by sweeping all top 10 slots in their event.

—Mal Boright, Observer correspondent


CVU ice guys await Bobwhites invasion Saturday

It was a huge home game against 7-2-1 Essex High at Cairns Arena Wednesday night, after the Observer’s press deadline, but for the 8-2-1 Champlain Valley Union High boys hockey team, another important clash comes Saturday at 6:25 p.m., when the Redhawks play host to 4-6-1 Bellows Free Academy of St. Albans.

Coach Mike Murray’s combine nipped BFA 4-3 at St. Albans in mid-December.

CVU carried a four-game win streak into the Essex contest, the latest victory a 3-0 blanking of the Middlebury Union High Tigers on the road Saturday.

The combination of Jeremy Lerner (two goals) and Jack Hall (set-up passes on both scores) helped ruin Middlebury’s day. Kirk Fontana fired in CVU’s third tally and Brendan Gannon collected two assists.

Redhawks’ goalie Greg Talbert had nine stops to gain the Big Zip. CVU unloaded 32 shots on the Tigers’ keeper Edgar Sherman.

—Mal Boright, Observer correspondent


Sports Roundup

CVU gymnasts vault into busy part of season

The Champlain Valley Union High gymnastics team—the 2012 Vermont Interscholastic runners-up—is into the stretch run of their quest for the 2013 crown.

Coach Bob Abbott’s Redhawks will be in Middlebury for a meet with the Middlebury Union High Tigers at Middlebury Middle School on Friday. On Wednesday, they will play host to U-32 at Green Mountain Gymnastics in Williston.

Then will follow the annual regular season showdown with defending champion Essex, this year at the Hornet’s nest the following Wednesday (Feb. 13). The State Championship meet is Feb. 23 at Essex High.

In their latest meet on Jan. 23, the Redhawks dispatched South Burlington High, 134.80 to 119.85, with Megan Nick winning the bars and floor exercise.

CVU’s Sarah Kinsley won the beam and took second in floor exercise, while Jackie Casson was second on the bars and the beam. Grace Carey was third in floor exercise and also third in all-around, which was won by South Burlington’s Kelly O’Brien.


CVU soccer girls nationally ranked 

The Division 1 champion Champlain Valley Union High girls soccer team has been ranked 22nd in the country and fifth in Region One. The ranking were recently announced by the National Soccer Coaches Association at its annual meeting.


CVU wrestlers at Mount Anthony duals Saturday 

Following a four-team home contest Tuesday, coach Gunnar Olson’s Champlain Valley Union High wrestling team goes south on Saturday for the Mount Anthony Union High duals and then travels to Essex with Colchester and Milton Wednesday night.

Last Saturday, the Redhawks took fourth place in the Colchester High Laker Invitational, the top Vermont team in the competition.

Connor Brown won his weight class, while Liam Bowley took a runner-up slot.

Alex Craige and Kienan Kittredge were third place finishers in their weights.