Friday, April 20, 2018

Book Review: “Bird by Bird” Reviewed by Jennifer Dupree, Circulations Supervisor at the Windham Public Library

Anne Lamott’s “Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life” was first published in 1994. 

I don’t remember the exact year I got my copy, but I got it on cassette, so that tells you something. I still have it on cassette in fact, even though I have no way of listening to it anymore. No matter, I listened to it so many times that I can still hear Lamott’s voice doling out her pithy advice and honest disclosures: her reminder that you can eat your first draft, her advice to use a one-inch picture frame as a guide, her admission about calling her counselor after a friend’s writing success. 
In this little gem of a book, Lamott talks openly about her faith, her sobriety, boyfriends, her son, and so much more.  

Some criticize this book as a kind of regurgitation of tried and true writing advice, and maybe that’s valid to an extent. But, isn’t all advice mostly made up of things you’ve heard before? Lamott’s advice is doled out alongside personal stories and that makes it both unique and delightful. 

Take, for example, the book’s title story. In this anecdote, Lamott recalls how her brother procrastinated on a bird project he needed to do for school. Overwhelmed, he sat at the kitchen table and cried until Lamott’s father stepped in and advised his son to take the project “bird by bird.” One step at a time, one scene at a time, one word at a time, if necessary. This is not advice that any writer who has been writing for any amount of time hasn’t heard at least twice before. But, Lamott delivers it with empathy, perfect timing, and a dead-on sense of humor.  

If you’re a writer in need of inspiration, I’d highly recommend this book.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Movie Review of “3 Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri". Reviewed by Gayle Plummer

Drama/Crime 1hr. 55 min.  Rated: R

The fact that this movie won seven Oscars (including Best Picture), along with other Golden Globes, BAFTA and SAG awards, scares me a bit. If this movie represents good movie making, then I am fearful of what the future of movies will look like for us. 

In the interest of being as positive as possible, let me offer up the best three things about this movie: 1. It ended. 2. Woody Harrelson’s portrayal of Chief Willoughby was honest, and he was into his character. 3. The same can be said for Francis McDormand’s portrayal of Mildred Hayes.  

I found Sam Rockwell’s performance of Officer Dixon to be a resurrection of his character Wild Bill in “The Green Mile”. I guess if that’s what they wanted from him, he too delivered. And since we don’t like the person he was portraying (really, who could?) he did his job well. Maybe we can feel sorry for this guy, but he hasn’t earned the right to be liked yet.

I do want to be clear that any negative comments here about this movie, in no way diminish the respect I have for the pain suffered by the real family that this story is based on. I can only imagine their anger, frustration and pain; and in my book the real family can put up all the billboards they want to in order to work through their agony. 

This movie is dark. Not the kind of dark you can recognize right up front and choose as a dark movie; it sort of oozes in like black silt. It slowly encroaches and settles over you like heavy smog. 

You are unaware and then suddenly you find yourself unable to breathe…slouching in your seat…waiting desperately for something good to happen…anything at all, so you can breathe again. 

Somebody please say or do something that remotely resembles a happy word or thought - please! But no; there is not one person that we meet in this whole town that is not filled with despair, discouragement and/or various other types of emotional baggage, so debilitating that none of them seems able to function. 

This town is full of them. (This one easily could have been named “Walking Dead - The Movie”.) Not one person has an ounce of hope at any level. There is only a glimmer of gray in the last two minutes of the movie. I can’t even say there’s a glimmer of light in this last scene, because there isn’t a drop of light to be seen in this picture anywhere. Gray is the best I can offer and only at the end, and only for a couple minutes. 

The rest of this movie experience is dripping with hopelessness and I don’t get why. I don’t know what this widespread desperation adds to the story-telling of what the real family had to endure. I realize some call this black tone entertaining; I personally do not.  

The movie is unrealistic is so many ways. Seriously, in the modern world where would folks get away with so many, consistent and violent acts when everyone knows who did them? Police stations being torched, holes drilled into the local dentist’s thumb, a police officer tossing a man out a window in broad daylight (right on main street for all to see), and let’s not forget the racial verbalizations that are a constant throughout the movie; covering, among other things, people of color and dwarfs.

The entire town, from its residents to the police force, is so dysfunctional that no one seems to care. All these acts are completely ignored with no reactions from the townspeople; no one seems to have to account for their actions or words; and everyone just goes on being their usual hopeless, despondent, unreactive and disparaging selves. (“Walking Dead”?  Hmm . . . ?) All this happens in our society, when if folks even use a word that’s not politically correct we are judged harshly; complete with raised eyebrows and hushed tones. And if anyone commits an evil act, they are plastered all over the media streams within the hour; and have their spotlight on the six-o-clock news. 
Typically I’m very tuned in to the music in movies. Usually the music has the power to transport or be so powerful it almost seems like another character in the movie. However, I was not even aware there was music in this movie. I was so sucked into the mire of this town’s depressive fog, which permeated the very air; I never heard a note! I was too busy trying to breathe a normal breath to hear any music. I just wanted this thing to end. They truly could have done a much nicer job at paying respects to the family that has to live through their loss.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Movie review: "Pacific Rim: Uprising." Reviewed by Daniel Kilgallaon

Runtime: 111 mins

“Pacific Rim: Uprising” is a new science-fiction/action movie and a sequel to 2013’s “Pacific Rim”. While the original film was directed by Guillermo del Toro (“Hellboy”, “Pan’s Labyrinth”, and “The Shape of Water”), he only returned in the role of a producer this time around with Steven S. DeKnight helming the project.

I enjoyed the first “Pacific Rim” as a self-aware film very comfortable with its clear purpose to entertain with giant robots fighting giant monsters. These combat scenes at the center this story was perfectly paced and directed with a firm sense of scale, making for an extremely fun film experience. Following some promising trailers, I was hoping that “Uprising” would provide more colossal throw downs with a fresh story to supplement the action.

Like its predecessor, “Pacific Rim: Uprising” takes place during a future in which our planet has been invaded by giant ‘Kaiju’ monsters which emerge out of the Pacific Rim. Of course, they come to wreak absolute havoc on Earth and it is up to humanity to defend ourselves using giant ‘Jaeger’ suits.

Set in 2030, this film stars John Boyega as a young man named Jake Pentecost, son of Stacker Pentecost, the legendary war hero who helped defeat the Kaiju in the ‘Battle of the Breach’ from the original movie. Ten years later, the Kaiju have re-emerged, forcing Jake to lead a younger generation of Jaeger pilots to defend our world from the destructive monsters.

For an over-the-top action movie of this sort, “Uprising” certainly takes its time building up to the giant set pieces, for better or worse. While the original had fight scenes more or less sprinkled evenly throughout the run time, this movie saves a lot for the end in the form of a final act that is well constructed and absurdly entertaining. 

Unfortunately, there is some clunky storytelling present in the rest of the film and it simply didn’t flow as well as I had hoped. That being said, John Boyega delivered the same charisma he showed in the newer “Star Wars” episodes, proving that he has more than what it takes to be the lead man of a major action movie. Even though his storyline, leading a dystopian youth revolution, feels awfully familiar at times his relatable and humorous performance helped to compensate for clich├ęs. 

All in all, I wouldn’t say that “Pacific Rim: Uprising” is the next science fiction masterpiece by any means, but it has more than enough entertainment value; especially if you are a fan of robots fighting aliens.