Inside Llewyn Davis

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Inside Llewyn Davis follows one week in 1961 in the life of Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac). Davis is an out-of-luck folk singer who sleeps on friends’ couches, has a manager who doesn’t actually do much promoting, and struggles by with gigs at a local bar, where he can’t however step out of the shadow of his two friends Jim (Justin Timberlake) and Jean (Carey Mulligan). He is haunted by his past of being part of a double-act that enjoyed some success until his parter (Marcus Mumford) committed suicide by jumping off the George Washington bridge, and he has completely lost his way in life as well as creatively. Whether he has always been unsociable and easily irritated is never explained.

Llewyn Davis is, as Jean tells him in the film, “an asshole”. He doesn’t care for much apart from his music, and he doesn’t seem to believe much in that either, despite having a lot of talent. He takes a liking to a cat for a while, but eventually abandons her. He gets Jean pregnant and then asks her husband Jim for money so he can pay for the abortion, all while, of course, not telling him who the woman is. In short, Davis is not, by any measure, a good man, and yet you can’t help but empathise with him. That’s a tribute to the ingenuity of the Coen brothers who have written and directed a melancholic masterpiece with Inside Llewyn Davis.

The film is, surprisingly, devoid of a traditional soundtrack: the only time you hear music is when characters are actually singing. The soundtrack is beautiful, and to the credit of all the actors, they actually sing themselves – and, importantly, can sing. That’s less surprising for Justin Timberlake, but all the more surprising for Adam Driver, who plays wannabe cowboy Al Cody, and is probably best known for playing Adam on Girls. The underlying silence intensifies the claustrophobia that hangs over every dialogue: it is obvious throughout the entire film that all the characters are stuck and won’t be able to grow before the end. The tragedy and irony lies in Llewyn Davis being the only one to recognise his impuissance, with everyone around him blaming their own powerlessness on him.

Inside Llewyn Davis is a masterful black comedy that will make you sadder every time you laugh at one of the absurd moments Davis encounters. Indeed, the laughter is a release for the crushing reality of the film, and even the film’s funniest moment, Llewyn’s, Jim’s and Al’s recording of the incredibly silly “Please, Mr Kennedy” song, is overshadowed by the fact that Llewyn plans on using his commission to pay for Jim’s wife’s abortion.

Oscar Isaac plays Llewyn Davis wonderfully, and captures so much sorrow in his portrayal and voice he steals every scene, including the ones opposite John Goodman. To see Carey Mulligan play an angry, self-obsessed woman is truly refreshing and definitely an asset to her filmography. Justin Timberlake and Adam Driver remain, unfortunately, underused but portray their respective characters with ease. In the end, however, all the actors are almost secondary to the atmosphere Inside Llewyn Davis creates – underlined by the fact that the film is essentially plotless and rather a snapshot of these lives.

Although “Llewyn” is consistently, and irritatingly, pronounced incorrectly by everyone, you can forgive them because there’s an incredibly funny rant about Welsh rarebit between Llewyn and Roland Turner (John Goodman) to make up for it.

In summary, at every one of its 104 minutes, the film is a character study that breaks your heart and never tries to put the pieces back together. When you leave the cinema, you’ll carry with you a sense of unease and hopelessness that makes Inside Llewyn Davis one of those rare gems that won’t let go of you for a long time.

The Wolf of Wall Street

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Inspired by a true story (yes, another one), The Wolf of Wall Street shows the rise and fall of Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio). Arriving on Wall Street a naive but ambitious young man, Belfort joins an established company where his boss Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey) immediately advises him to jerk off at least twice a day and do cocaine. The goal is to not feel any stress and to stay focused on taking rich people’s money away. The company promptly fails on Black Monday shortly afterwards.

Unemployed, Belfort takes a job with a penny stock dealer and thanks to his unique, aggressive pitching style he quickly makes a small fortune that he uses to hire Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill), a salesman living in the same building as Belfort and his wife, and start his own company, Stratton Oakmont Inc. He hires his friends, most of them drug dealers, and trains them to pump and dump stock onto unsuspecting customers.

The scam is successful, and after Forbes features Belfort and Stratton Oakmont in an article that dubs him “the wolf of Wall Street” (you can read the original article here), hundreds of young hopeful stockbrokers are knocking on his door to get hired. Everything seems to be going well for the fraudsters, but behind the scenes FBI Agent Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler) has already started investigating the seemingly reputable company.

The Wolf of Wall Street is a tale of wonderfully disgusting debauchery, a highly cynical celebration of villainy and a black comedy that perverts every last vice into a virtue. The film lacks any subtlety and that’s what makes it work so well: it’s a freak show of depraved people that have tricked their way into so much money they lost all their morals and arrived at a stage where they literally don’t know what to do with all their wealth anymore. At one moment, Belfort just throws money into the bin, and another time he pays a female member of staff to have all her hair shaved off in front of everyone.

Scorsese is subversive in his portrayal of money’s corrupting effects on the people surrounding Jordan and Donnie. While we do get to see a woman smiling through her tears of humiliation as her hair is shaven off, she is drowned out visually and aurally by the half-naked men and women dancing around her and Jordan Belfort howling on stage (yes, he had a stage built in the office).

The true achievement of The Wolf of Wall Street lies in the way the humour makes you overlook most of the corruption, it makes you laugh at the midget-throwing, the gay orgy organised by Belfort’s butler, the arrogance of taping money to a woman’s breasts to smuggle it into Switzerland. And then, when you come out of the film it hits you all at once at how truly horrible you should really feel about yourself for laughing at all of those things. Above all, you’ll feel especially bad for vaguely hoping that the FBI won’t catch Belfort.

At three hours and a very accomplished script, The Wolf of Wall Street is undeniably Scorsese’s latest magnum opus, but it is also proof that DiCaprio’s greatest talent might be in comedy. When Jordan Belfort is pumped so full of drugs he cannot move his legs anymore and resorts to crawling downstairs and into his car by imitating the movements of his baby, you’ll find yourself with tears running down your face. To say that Jonah Hill is a revelation after what is mostly a string of mediocre comedies in his career would be an understatement, for he plays the greedy, drug-addicted best friend so exquisitely he almost steals the show from DiCaprio.

The Wolf of Wall Street flies by, especially for a three hour movie, and with one scene more outrageous than the last, it feels more like ninety minutes. The year is young, but this could well be the comedy of the year. It definitely is an instant classic either way.

The Railway Man

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Joining the avalanche of “based on a true story” films that have been hitting our screens lately, The Railway Man is a World War II movie with a difference: you don’t ever actually see any battles nor is it a love story as such. In fact, the love story that the film does contain is misleading, although that doesn’t diminish the performance of Nicole Kidman as the inquisitive, loving wife. Although the first third of the film largely concentrates on Lomax (Colin Firth) meeting Patti on a train he wasn’t planning to be on, then tracking her down by figuring out which train she would have needed to take to get to where her journey was continuing (he really loves trains and train schedules), their first date and the wedding, it quickly transpires that it is essentially just a plot device to drive the actual story.

Told from a 1980 framework, the movie shows both the experiences of a young Lieutenant Lomax (Jeremy Irvine) surrendering with his troop and being tortured as a slave in 1942 and the traumatic effects this experience has had on his life in the ‘present day’. The opening scene has us find an old Lomax (Colin Firth) on the floor, reciting a poem that turns into a touchstone over the course of the film as he recites it at various moments, sometimes more, sometimes less violent, but always emotionally tense.

As his wife pushes Lomax’s best friend Finlay (Stellan Skarsgård) into telling her what happened in 1942 – Lomax was caught using a radio and brutally tortured for weeks – Finlay eventually discovers that Nagase (Hiroyuki Sanada), the man responsible for the torture, is still alive and working as a guide on the old site now turned into a museum. Through dramatic action, Finlay convinces Lomax to travel to Burma and confront his past. What he finds there and how it changes both him and Nagase is so crushingly human you’ll wish more stories were like this.

Colin Firth may have won an Academy Award for his portrayal as King George VI in The King’s Speeech, but it is here, in The Railway Man as a soldier, where he truly shines and delivers a tour de force performance that will leave you with goosebumps throughout and quite a while after the film. Stellan Skarsgård plays the torn friend so convincingly you could be forgiven for forgetting he ever was other characters, and Tanroh Ishida is a revelation with his cold-blooded, calm yet sadistic portrayal of the young Nagase.

It is a slow film, based largely on dialogue and carefully designed scenery and while violence is shown, it is never one that the audience would be unfamiliar with from other war movies or news broadcasts. This is easily one of the film’s greatest merits as it could have so easily descended into gore. In fact, The Railway Man is technically flawless. Jumping in between present day and past continuously, it’s only the shots of Lomax and his wife that are medium close-ups — and often they are wide shots, too, much like the rest of the film. The director, Jonathan Teplitzky, does give us some multi-layer shots but they are only used to symbolize the emotional and rational chaos that is going inside of old Lomax’s mind. The largest part of the film is shot in wide-angle, which creates two important effects: for one, the audience always stays slightly removed from the events that are being told — it functions as a sign of respect rather than an emotional distance — and secondly, it intensifies the feeling that Lomax is being crushed by his surroundings as they tower over him and he only occupies a small part of the screen. If you have ever watched BBC’s noir crime drama Luther, you’ll be more than familiar with that technique.

Ultimately, The Railway Man is an epic tale of forgiveness. It might look like a tale of revenge in the trailer, and it might even feel that way for much of the film, but it is not. In fact, even though he comes close to getting revenge, it is always clear that he does not actually want it and is really seeking something else.

The Railway Man is a masterpiece, and one of the greatest war movies you will ever see. Clocking in at 116 minutes, it’ll keep you at the edge of your seat the entire way through.

American Hustle

Christian Bale and Amy Adams in American Hustle

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“Some of this actually happened” reads the titular card as the film opens, and while there is a kernel of truth to the story, there might as well not be: the characters and the setting are as over-the-top and unbelievable as any long-con. It is simultaneously the film’s merit and its problem.

Set in 1978, American Hustle follows the events surrounding the FBI’s real-life Abscam sting, which targeted corrupt officials. Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and Sydney Posser (Amy Adams) are running a short-con of tricking desperate people out of money by promising them to invest it with their London partners and making them ten times the money back. That is until they’re caught by FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) and forced to help him take down New Jersey mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner), Floridian mobster Victor Tellegio (Robert De Niro) and countless corrupt Congressmen who want to turn Atlantic City into a casino haven.

American Hustle takes a long time to get going, and during the initial setup of tricking the mayor severely struggles to hold attention. Despite an illustrious cast and an array of haircuts that are as impressive as the CGI in other films, Eric Singer and David O. Russell fail to create a plot that holds its own. This isn’t necessarily surprising, Russell has already shown his strength to be characters and not plot in Silver Linings Playbook, which even had much of the same cast and turned from two emotionally damaged people trying to become friends and saving each other from themselves to a bad love story in the last ten minutes.

Originally produced as American Bullshit, the film may just as well have been called American Dream. Russell yet again manages to present intriguing character studies. At its core it is a tale of reinvention and of climbing up the ladder, whether it’s Rosenfeld looking to find true love and get away from his depressed and manipulative wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence), Posser by calling herself Edith and taking on an English accent, or DiMaso by fighting his superior and mounting the Abscam sting to become a field officer. Rosenfeld constantly mentions the need to survive in his voice-over narration, and as the movie progresses it transpires that he means as much surviving within the world as surviving with his own self.

The film is silly, violent, steaming and fantastically ridiculous. As a pastiche of crime, political thriller, comedy and drama it defies genre definition. As such, it succeeds in encompassing everything great about contemporary American cinema by pretending to be American cinema of the late Seventies. It isn’t entertaining all the way through, much like the lives of its characters who struggle through and with the mundane, and in that regard the dragging moments actually work well. It isn’t entirely clear whether that is intentional or a happy coincidence.

It is ironic that the sanest character in the entire movie, DiMaso’s superior, is played, astonishingly well, by comedian Louis C.K., and it is disconcerting that the most honest character is a politician, mayor Polito, who takes the bribe but does it for the ‘right’ reasons. Everyone else is either mentally unstable, self-obsessed, has severe anger issues, is emotionally damaged or suffers from bipolar disorder – and most suffer from any combination of those.

The actual con is very formulaic with a final twist that is predictable and unsatisfying, but perhaps that, too, was intentional. The cast will certainly bring audiences to the cinemas, but despite Bale’s willingness to inflict radical diets on his body, it is doubtful whether there wasn’t someone who could have portrayed a Jew from the Bronx better. Cooper on the other hand dominates every scene he’s in. Amy Adams might be a great actress, but the dramatically unjustified and irritating decision to have her walk around essentially half-naked the entire film distracted too much from her performance. De Niro’s appearance is so short it goes uncredited, and yet it is, unsurprisingly, a powerful appearance. The true star of the film is Jennifer Lawrence, who plays the depressed wife and mother so well that one cannot help but wish she’d gotten more screen time.

At 138 minutes, American Hustle feels just a bit too long, but has enough intriguing bits and funny moments to keep your interest mostly sparked to get you all the way through. It’s certainly worth seeing for the hairdos and the careful attention to set detail alone: if nothing else it really puts you, combined with a carefully selected soundtrack, into the Seventies. In the end though, you can’t help but feel like you’ve just watched a perfectly average film, not bad, but not great either.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

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You could be forgiven for never having read James Thurber’s 1939 short story “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” for The New Yorker or for not having seen the eponymous 1947 movie adaptation, since neither tend to be as famous today as they would deserve to be. Indeed, on Empire Magazine’s list of Top 500 films, it only made it onto 479th place, even though it has been fundamental in inspiring the heroic daydreaming trope.

Thurber was dismayed with the 1947 adaptation, as he made clear in a letter to Life magazine at the time, and while we will never know what his opinions on Ben Stiller’s adaptation are – he died in 1961, and the movie has very little in common with his, largely plotless, short story or indeed the classic film – it has a lot of merits and is a fantastic feel-good comedy.

Produced by Samuel Goldwyn Jr., the son of the 1947’s movie producer, Ben Stiller plays the titular character of Walter Mitty who works, in a wonderfully ironic nod to Thurber, in the photolab of Life magazine. He is madly in love with the newly hired girl upstairs, Cheryl Melhoff (Kristen Wiig) and frequently zones out when he has one of his daydreams of leading a much more interesting, heroic life. Cheryl isn’t the only new face at the company however, as Ted Hendricks (Adam Scott) introduces himself to staff as the transition manager – the transition of shutting down Life as a print magazine and becoming online-only, all while laying off most of the staff. As the antagonist, Ted is a slick bully with a beard that makes him look like an arrogant, corporate idiot. As an actor, Adam Scott gets to show off his talent with a character infinitely nastier than his lovable geek on Parks & Recreation.

A love story about a daydreaming guy doesn’t offer many new creative challenges, and this is where Goldwyn Jr. and Stiller decided to make Walter’s life more complicated. Life’s go-to photographer Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn) with an anachronistic penchant for SLRs has sent Walter a wallet and some negatives, asking for frame twenty-five to be considered for the final cover. He calls it his most accomplished photograph ever, ‘The Quintessence of Life’, yet much to Walter’s and his assistant’s horror, that exact frame is missing and they can’t seem to find it anywhere in the lab.

In between discussing his eHarmony profile with a guy from customer support called Todd (Patton Oswalt), Walter manages to strike up a friendship with Cheryl, who convinces him to track down Sean and find the photograph. And so, Walter jumps on a plane to Greenland, and his real life slowly becomes a lot more interesting and heroic than his daydreams have ever been. Indeed, his travels lead him from Greenland to Iceland and even as far as the Himalayas. He jumps out of a helicopter, travels through a war-torn country and skateboards towards an erupting volcano (the infamous Eyjafjallajökull).

If you’ve seen the trailer, you might be surprised to learn that “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” isn’t a story about finding love. It is a story about a man finding himself. The breathtaking scenery of Iceland, where much of the first half of the film is set, definitely helps with creating a sense of awe, but it is in the details where the movie truly shines. Throughout the film, we see small glimpses of who Walter really is underneath his shell, most notably during a particularly powerful scene where he teaches Cheryl’s son how to skateboard and later on during the revelation of why he turned into such a socially awkward man.

You might think you know why Walter couldn’t find the negative. You might think you know what the photograph is. You’ll probably be wrong. The story is a blend of funny, sad and surreal moments and fantasies, and if you find the final scene anything but heartwarming, you might have to check if your heart is still functioning properly.

Ben Stiller has made funnier movies, but he has never made a more honest one. The transitions between real life and Walter’s fantasy worlds are seamless and frequently feature subtle, perfect blending of both worlds, sometimes when snow flies across the office, and sometimes with words that ingeniously appear in the scenery. Stiller’s held-back use of CGI is refreshing to see in an age when more is often considered better, and apart from a sarcastic reference to Fincher’s adaptation of “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”, the movie thankfully holds back on overly sweet imagery as much as it holds back on special effects.

Patton Oswalt and Sean Penn may have deserved more screen time, but they excel in their short appearances, and anything else would arguably have distracted from the aloneness that allows Walter to find his courage. Overall, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” is a beautiful piece of cinema, a poignant Bildungsroman-type drama as much as an uplifting comedy, with a brilliant performance by Stiller and cinematography that’ll take your breath away. It is one of the most memorable movies of the season and one that invites multiple viewings.

At 114 minutes, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” lacks any boring moments and isn’t one minute too long.

Heles & Heles: Déi éischt Episod

Zwou Saache si scho vill ze laang hier: éischtens, dass et hei neie Contenu gouf an zweetens, dass ech op Lëtzebuergesch gepodcast hunn. Béid Zoustänn ginn heimatter geännert, mat der Première vun engem neie Podcast, deen ech ab elo eemol de Mount – esou hu mer eis dat emol virgeholl – mat mengem Brudder ophuele wäert.
An onser éischter Episod diskutéieren mer iwwer d’Walen zu Lëtzebuerg, iwwer den 11. September a Relioun an der Schoul, iwwer dem JFK an der Kennedy Famill hieren Afloss op d’US Politik, an iwwer Journalismus zu Lëtzebuerg.
Keen huet Esch gär.


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Den Intro ass “There It Is” vum Kevin MacLeod a steet ënnert enger CC By Lizenz.

Any Day Now

Any Day Now

Baséierend op reelen Évenementer erzielt de Film d’Geschicht vum Rudy Donatello (Alan Cumming) a Paul Fleiger (Garret Dillahunt), déi sech 1979 an engem Café kenneléieren an op den éischte Bléck anenee verléiwen. D’Liewen beweegt sech direkt schnell fir déi zwee, wéi de Rudy de Bouf vu senger kokainsüchteger Nopesch bei sech ophëlt wéi déi am Prisong lant. Well weder de Rudy nach de Paul wëllen zouloossen, dass de Marco – deen um Down Syndrom leid – am System verschwënnt, iwwerzeegen se d’Mamm hinnen temporär Adoptivrechter ze ginn. Alles schéngt gutt – bis dem Paul säi Chef realiséiert, dass se eng homosexuell Koppel an net Kosenge sinn, an se beim Geriicht mellt.
De Film schwankt tëscht dem gléckleche Familieliewen, dat déi dräi sech opbauen, dem Rudy sengem Wonsch Sänger ze sinn, an der Geriichtsverhandlung – eng Mëschung déi aussergewéinlech gutt geléngt. Virun allem den Alan Cumming liwwert den Héichpunkt vu senger schauspillerescher Carrière of, mat engem tour de force déi engem dem Rudy seng Léiwt fir de Marco an seng Qual iwwer d’Onverständnis vun der Gesellschaft esou déif matspiere loossen dass et ferm wéi deet.
Obwuel dat Ganzt sech 1979 an 1980 ofspillt, huet d’Geschicht haut esou vill Wichtegkeet ewéi deemools – d’Rechter an d’Léift vun der homosexueller Koppel als Elteren ginn a Fro gestallt, si gi mat Pädophile gläichgestallt an ëmmer nees gëtt drop gepocht, dass et ee lifestyle choice an net eng sexuell Orientéierung ass. De Fait, dass d’Verhandlungen gréisstendeels vun enger Riichterin ofgehale ginn mécht d’Absurditéit nëmmen nach méi offensichtlech.
‘t ass déi Art Film, déi iech är Séil mat esouvill Traueregkeet futti schléit, dass der nom Film mol nach e puer Minutte sëtze bleift. ‘t ass déi Art Film, déi esou voller Léift ass, dass ee guer net anescht kann ewéi sech ze froen firwat mer haut nach ëmmer net weider sinn als Gesellschaft ewéi virun 40 Joer. ‘t ass déi Art Film, déi ee wierklech muss gesinn hunn.
De Film kritt 5/5 Stären, och well den Alan Cumming a Garret Dillahunt eng wierklech léif Koppel ofginn an ee kee Moment un hierer Léift zweifelt.

“Hermione just stole all of our shit.”

James Franco. Seth Rogen. Jonah Hill. Jay Baruchel. Danny McBride. Craig Robinson. Michael Cera. Emma Watson. Jason Segel. Mindy Kaling. Aziz Ansari. Channing Tatum. D’Lëscht vun de Staren am This is the End ass praktesch endlos. D’Prämiss ass séier erklärt: d’Schauspiller, déi all sech selwer spillen, treffen sech am James Franco sengem neien Haus fir eng gigantesch Party – a während se feieren, fänkt op eemol d’Apokalyps un an si stellen fest, dass kee vun hinnen an den Himmel gerett gouf an se elo op der Äerd festsëtzen an sech géint Dämonen wiere mussen.

De Film ass total iwwerdriwwen – de Michael Cera kritt ee Blowjob vun zwee Fraleit nodeems en dem Rihanna op den Hënner klappt, den David Krumholtz stierwt een absurd offensichtlechen Doud, d’Emma Watson zerschléit de Seth Rogen a klaut hinnen all d’Waasser an Iessen, si dréien aus Langeweil een horrend schlechten “Pineapple Express 2”, et gëtt een Exorzismus mat Kichenutensilien an si drénken, saufen a fëmmen sech duerch de Weltënnergang. Kuerz: weder d’Story nach d’Schauspiller huelen sech och nëmmen fir eng eenzeg Sekonn e bëssen eescht. An de Schluss, bei deem ech bal Tréine gekrasch hu vu Laachen, ass esou wonnerbar iwweraschend an absurd, dass e wierklech net virauszegesinn ass.

Kuerz: This is the End ass Comedy vum Allerfeinsten. An dem Danny McBride säi Kommentar, nodeems d’Emma Watson hinnen alles geklaut huet, ass wuel ee vun de groussartegste Säz, déi jemools op enger Leinwand gesot goufen. Woubäi d’Tatsaach, dass d’Watson net an den Himmel kënnt bal nach besser ass.

Muss een e gesinn hunn? Jo, et ass eng vun de groussartegsten, topege Komödien, déi der iech wäert eranzéien. 5/5

Bullet

The drowsy waves collapsing against the shore lull
me into forgetting the buckling bay behind
me, and its pallid noises coagulating against my skull:
a hopeful army of sunbeams marching in forever so inclined
to proclaim tomorrow against all my desires
to let this be my end, final, relentless and unkind.
With the wish to perish in darkness before tonight expires,
sand cuts through my soul like splinters through fingertips –
the truth disguised as freeing pain slowly transpires –
I raise the barrel to forge my own lunar eclipse.
An opaque world oscillates around me in hazes of auroral blue:
hovering, in the distance, washed out lights of ships.
What is this existence if not also the possibility to eschew
its own self: my soul into you, dear world, I imbue.

Glimpses

She swirls her finger around the chanting bottleneck:
I don’t know where we end.
She looks at the sunbeam crackling in her ring:
I don’t know where we begin.

It’s raining colours around us
through sunglasses, through tree leaves,
through the windows of the 58 bus.

She raises her head, slowly, and squints:
her eyes a dozen meadows of green.
She lifts her bottle, takes a sip of lemonade:
her sigh a dozen serenades.

It’s raining colours around us
through sunglasses, through tree leaves,
as she vanishes with the 58 bus.