Friday, June 14, 2019

Movie Review: “Bad Times at the El Royale”

By Matt Pascarella

Rated: NC-17
Run time: 141 minutes

The El Royale is a hotel where, just like the title suggests, there isn’t much good that happens there, just a lot of bad. The movie centers around four individuals: Father Daniel Flynn (Jeff Bridges), Darlene Sweet (Cynthia Ervio), Emily Summerspring (Dakota Johnson) and Laramie Seymour Sullivan (Jon Hamm).

The movie opens with Felix O’Kelly (Nick Offerman) walking into a hotel room, setting down some bags, then tearing up the floorboards and putting his bags beneath the floor.  Suddenly, there is a knock at the door and he is immediately shot.

Ten years later, circa 1969, Darlene Sweet and Father Daniel Flynn arrive separately at the El Royale. They meet loudmouth Laramie Seymour Sullivan who claims to be a vacuum cleaner salesman and has been waiting for a room for a while; no front desk clerk seems to be around. Emily Summerspring enters also needing a room.

Once Laramie Seymour Sullivan has gotten his room, he begins ripping wire taps from all electrical devices around the room. He later goes snooping around the front desk and discovers an underground tunnel that enables one to see and hear into the different rooms. He sees each of the previous guests doing various activities, some questionable.

We get a flashback to Darlene Sweet in a recording studio where she is being somewhat criticized by a recording manager. Flash forward and there is a knock on her door where Father Danielle Flynn asks if she’d like to get something to eat. Over pie, she and Father Flynn talk. When Father Flynn offers to get her a drink, he slips something in it and just as he’s about to hand it to her, she hits him on the head with a bottle and he falls to the ground.

We later learn that Laramie Seymour Sullivan is not who he says he is; his name is actually Dwight Broadbeck.

Cut to Billy Lee (Chris Hemsworth) who is walking along the beach. He approaches a girl, Rose Summerspring (Caliee Spaeny) who, in a flashback we see Emily Summerspring saving her sister from an abusive parent. Emily and Rose are currently in the hotel room where Emily tells her sister she will “get her clear.” Broadbeck bursts into their room, knocking Emily to the ground. Emily later shoots Broadbeck and he falls through the mirror, revealing the underground tunnel used to spy on all the rooms.

Later, the front desk clerk, Miles, (Lewis Pullman) helps up Father Flynn and Flynn soon discovers the underground spying tunnel. There are flashbacks which intertwine the recent series of events. After Miles is injured, Emily Summerspring has tied him up.

When Darlene Sweet is trying to escape after discovering her neighboring guest’s actions, she is approached by Father Flynn who confesses who he really is. They make a plan and begin to execute it.  

What will become of the remaining guests? Are their more secrets and lies? Who else might we meet?

This movie is intense, to say the least, but it’s interesting. A stellar cast portray these fascinating characters well. It’s relatively violent in parts and a lot happens. It can be hard to follow at times but does all kind of come together in the end – it might help if you take notes, like I did. I’d recommend this, if you’re a fan of action thrillers.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Friday, June 7, 2019

Book Review: “All my Puny Sorrows”

By Jennifer Dupree, circulation supervisor at the Windham Public Library

How can a book about suicide be heartbreaking and funny at the same time? How can a book with the thinnest of plots be completely compelling? I don’t know, but “All My Puny Sorrows” by Miriam Toews is a beautiful, thoughtful, engaging story of two sisters, one who wants to die, the other who wants her to live.

Yoli is a forty-something-year-old woman who has made something of a mess of her life but who loves her bright, beautiful, talented, suicidal sister, Elfrieda. The bulk of this book is about Elf’s suicide attempt (not her first) and what happens as the family rallies around her hospital bed. Most of the tension in the book arises from the question of if Elf will attempt suicide again and if, as Elf begs her, Yoli will help her end her life.

There are scenes of Yoli and Elf’s childhood growing up in a rural Mennonite community sliced in between hospital conversations between Yoli and Elf. Outside the hospital room, life goes on. Yoli tries to manage her pending divorce (her second), her teenager daughter’s budding romance, her own disastrous romances, and her plucky, sweat-pant-wearing mother.  

This book made me cry, but it also made me laugh. Yoli is smart, funny, honest, self-deprecating. 
This is a story about the deep love between sisters, the pain of loss, the hilarity of everyday life, and mostly, the will to keep going.

Movie Review: “Aladdin”

By Kaila Mank

Rated: PG
Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes

The original Disney's “Aladdin” from 1992 directed by Ron Clements has always been an all-time favorite to many. So, when the word was out that the live-action version was coming, there were many doubts. However, if you have seen this latest movie directed by Guy Richie, you can put those doubts to rest. The film was very well put together with everything from the music to the characters matching the original animated version.

We all know the story of the street “rat” Aladdin (played by Mena Massoud), falling in love with the Salton daughter Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott). Aladdin doesn't think he's good enough, so he releases the genie (Will Smith) from his lamp to help him become the Prince of Jasmine’s dreams.

This love story gets interrupted by the villain in the story, Jafar (Marwan Kenzari) who wants to become Salton (Navid Negahban) and will do anything to get it. I thought this overall movie was amazing. The music matched the original, it was funny and must have been one of the most difficult things to do with live-action and the look-alike characters.

The elaborate character, Jafar, would have been one of the hardest to capture in this live-action film – looking much like the animated character in the original movie. The director and the actors did an amazing job with all of it.

So if you haven't seen it yet, I would highly recommend you see it, and it will put those doubts you may have about animated movies being turned into live-action movies to rest.

Friday, May 31, 2019

Quote of the week

Movie Review: “Welcome to Marwen”

By Matt Pascarella

Rated: PG-13
Running time: 1 hour and 56 minutes

Based on a true story, “Welcome to Marwen” is about Mark Hogancamp, also known as Cap’n Hogie, (Steve Carrell) who was assaulted by several Natzis for being different and wearing women’s shoes.

The movie opens in the sky above Belgium during World War II, where we meet Cap’n Hogie as his plane is about to crash. The plane goes down and his shoes are burned up. As Cap’n Hogie is walking along, he finds a suitcase that is filled with women’s clothing and a pair of high heels. He puts them on. As he’s walking through the grass, he comes upon a group of Nazis who push him to the ground and assault him. It is later revealed that this scene is being acted out by Mark Hogancamp; who uses his action figures who inhabit his town of Marwen, as a therapeutic outlet to deal with his assault.

Every action figure he has represents a person in his life (the woman at the hobby shop, his physical therapist who helped him learn to walk again, etc.). Mark suffers from anxiety, is really hurting and is abusing his medicine. Mark is contacted by his lawyer who heavily encourages him to attend the trial of his attackers and testify against them. Mark does not want to go, he’s too anxious. He meets Nicol (Leslie Mann), who moves in across the street. Nicol befriends Mark right away. When Nicol asks Mark about his past, he explains to her about the attack and that he lost most of his memories as a result of it.

A short time later, Mark’s lawyer tries to convince him to come to the trial and testify. He agrees to do so, but with the help of his friend Roberta (Merritt Wever), who works at the hobby shop. He has a panic attack during the sentencing, and it looks like he might not be able to go through with it. He needs the help of his friends, e.g. his action figures, which he never goes anywhere without.
Will Mark be able to face his attackers and testify in court?

To be honest, this movie was good, but not as good as I wanted it to be. Steve Carrell is a phenomenal actor and plays the part of this suffering man well. The movie drags in spots and I found other parts confusing. The end left me with several questions. It has a nice message about acceptance and it being okay to be different. This was a good story about a guy who went through a lot and found a way to cope. Although this wasn’t the best movie, it also wasn’t the worst. It’s probably worth the Redbox rental.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Movie Review: “John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum”

By Emily Maier

Rated: R
Run time: 130 mins

When the world’s top assassin breaks the rules of the criminal underworld, the leaders known as the High Table put a bounty on his head for $14 million. As a result, John Wick is now being hunted by every assassin that crosses his path – and in this movie, assassins are just around every corner.

“John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum” is the third installment of the John Wick franchise, starring Keanu Reeves as the titular assassin. The movie follows the fallout of John’s decision to murder a member of the High Table within the walls of the Continental Hotel – a place where “business” is not allowed to be conducted. The deadly gunman is once again forced to cut through a field of innumerable enemies if he ever wants to return to his peaceful life of retirement.

To anyone that likes action flicks, I really can’t recommend this movie enough– and the series in general. “John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum” is stylish and fun, without succumbing to tropes typically found in the action genre. John might be feared for his invincibility, but he still gets injured throughout the film, so each fight actually has consequences. Characters frequently run out of bullets and are forced to get creative when using the things around them as weapons. For example, a few interesting “weapons” John utilizes are a library book, a belt, and horses. What’s more, I’m always amazed by the clever worldbuilding in each “John Wick” film. The criminal underworld is intricate and full of lore, and each sequel makes sure to give the audience just enough details to keep them wondering.

Whether returning characters or new additions, the cast of “John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum” is as colorful as ever. A few familiar faces include hotel manager Winston (played by Ian McShane), concierge Charon (played by Lance Reddick), and the Bowery King (played by Laurence Fishburne). New characters include Halle Berry as a German-Shepherd-wielding assassin named Sofia, Asia Kate as a representative of the High Table known as The Adjudicator, and Mark Dacascos as a hitman sent to kill John Wick.

Though “John Wick” excels in many ways, the astounding fight choreography has always been what makes the series stand out in a sea of other action films. Each fight scene has the fluidity and grace of a dance, which is emphasized with the presence of ballet throughout this third installment. The action is also very easy to follow because the movie uses long shots instead of the choppy editing found in most action flicks. Skilled choreographers, actors, and cameramen combine to make scene after scene wonderful to watch. The movie’s trademark neon aesthetic only adds to the stunning visuals.

Each movie in the trilogy is rated R for violent content, but I found “Parabellum” to be the bloodiest installment yet. However, the gore in no way takes away from the levity of the movie, as this third sequel may also be the funniest. The comedic timing had my entire theater in stitches more than once.
I’ve been a fan of the series since the first movie came out in 2014, so it’s great to see the movies are still going strong five years later. Though most franchises tend to outlive their expiration dates, leaving audiences with contrived, purposeless plots, “John Wick” has never felt tired or worn out. Much like the protagonist, “John Wick” only seems to be getting better with age. 

Friday, May 17, 2019

Quote of the week

Movie Review: “Long Shot”

By Matt Pascarella

Rated: R
Running time: 125 minutes

Is the unlikely necessarily impossible? That is the underlying question in “Long Shot”, where two individuals with very different lifestyles fall for each other. The movie centers around journalist Fred Flarsky (Seth Rogen) and Secretary of State Charlotte Field (Charlize Theron). The two meet unexpectedly and it takes off from there.

The movie opens with Flarsky about to be inducted as the newest member of a white supremacist’s group. As initiation begins to progress a little quicker than Flarsky expected, it is discovered he is a journalist. He jumps out the window, falling several stories onto a car and then runs off.

Then we meet the Secretary of State, Charlotte Field, sitting with current United States President Chambers (Bob Odenkirk) who confides in her he will not be seeking reelection. Charlotte says it would mean a lot if President Chambers would endorse her; he agrees. Field expresses an interest in running in 2020 to her team, but the only thing that seems to matter to the people they polled are not Field’s policies, but how she looks doing her job.

Back at Fred’s office, his boss tells him the company has just been bought by a giant media conglomerate and things are going to change. Fred is so disgusted he quits right there on the spot. Fred goes over to his friend Lance’s (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) office and Lance takes Fred to a party that night. Charlotte happens to be at the same party.

Fred is nervous when he first sees Charlotte because she used to babysit him, and he used to have a crush on her. She remembers him and although Fred makes a big scene at the party, Charlotte asks if he would like to work for her, punching up her speeches. He agrees to do so.

Charlotte has embarked on a ‘save the planet’ initiative and will be travelling around the world to try to get countries to join the initiative. One of the first speeches Fred helps her write goes very well and she is impressed. As they spend more time together, Fred and Charlotte get to know each other more and eventually start to fall for one another.

Amidst things going well, President Chambers tells Charlotte she needs to ditch her environmental agenda if she wants his endorsement. Understandably, Charlotte isn’t happy and tells Fred "I don’t want to do this job anymore."

Meanwhile, Charlotte’s assistant, Maggie (June Diane Raphael), tells her that remaining involved with Fred will hurt her campaign. President Chambers and a big media conglomerate then blackmail Charlotte, threatening to expose footage taken from Fred’s webcam.

What will happen to Fred and Charlotte? What will Charlotte decide about her campaign?

Rogen and Theron have real on-screen chemistry. This motley pairing is a recipe for a good comedy. This movie is funny, with a great soundtrack and is, at times, heartwarming. I enjoyed it and would recommend it to any fan of Rogen, Theron or anyone just looking for a funny movie.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Quote of the week

Netflix’s ‘The Highwaymen’

By Matt Pascarella

Rated: NR
Runtime: 132 minutes

The year is 1934. Bonnie and Clyde are infamous and beloved by many in the country for their rebellion against the government and the banks. They are not loved by law enforcement who are seriously trying to catch and stop these unruly criminals before they cause more bloodshed.

Netflix’s ‘The Highwaymen’ tells the story of the most famous Texas Ranger, Frank Hamer (Kevin Costner) and his partner, Maney Gault (Woody Harrelson) as they come out of retirement to catch these dangerous lovers.

The movie opens at Eastham Prison Farm in Texas where we see several prisoners working in the fields. At another location, a car pulls up and a woman with a tommy gun gets out and stands waiting. Back at the prison farm, a prisoner pulls a gun on a guard and shoots him. Gunshots are heard in the distance, the woman with the tommy gun is firing rapidly. Prisoners scatter everywhere. Several prisoners make it to the location where the woman, later learned to be Bonnie Parker, is waiting and a few prisoners jump in her car as it speeds away.

The governor, Ma Ferguson (Katy Bates) is questioned by the media regarding the prison break. She vows to capture the Barrows Gang, along with Clyde Barrows and Bonnie Parker. The warden, Lee Simmons (John Carroll Lynch) recommends Frank Hamer (Costner) be put on the case. Simmons visits Hamer, who is unofficially retired, and asks for his help; Hamer agrees.

Gault (Harrelson) is unemployed and living on his daughter’s couch. When he gets wind of Hamer’s mission, he confronts him and asks to join; Hamer begrudgingly agrees. Although there is a lot of action and shootouts in this movie, there is a bit of humor, too. Hamer and Gault chase a boy who could lead to Bonnie and Clyde. When they fail to catch him, Hamer says, “I thought you had my back, I could have died!” Gault replies, “If he’d run one more block, we’d both be dead.”

Intermittently, you see Bonnie and Clyde travelling around, causing destruction.

Hamer and Gault get a tip at a gas station that Bonnie and Clyde came through there recently, driving a blue sedan with black tires. The Texas Rangers catch a glimpse of Bonnie and Clyde in the next town, when their car is swarmed by adoring fans. Hamer and Gault manage to follow Bonnie and Clyde and tail them out into the desert where, after a hot pursuit, the dangerous duo escape.

Frustrated, Gault wonders if maybe he and Hamer don’t have it in them anymore to catch the crime couple. Do they? Spoiler alert: The answer is in the tagline.

Although the story of Bonnie and Clyde is very well known, it was interesting to see it from the point of view of these crotchety Texas Rangers, who Costner and Harrelson portrayed very well. The two make a good team. ‘The Highwaymen’ has plenty of action, some comedy and is a little bloody in parts. While the film is over two hours long, it kept me interested. Although you probably know the ending, ‘The Highwaymen’ is worth the time.

Friday, May 3, 2019

Quote of the week

Movie Review: “Avengers: Endgame”

By Daniel Kilgallon

Rated: PG-13

Runtime: 181 mins

I have been able to witness some monumental movie releases in my lifetime, but “Avengers: Endgame” is an event that simply steamrolls the rest. This film did something which has never been achieved before in concluding a shared universe of 22 major motion pictures, now called “The Infinity Saga,” which began with 2008’s “Iron Man”. Needless to say, “Endgame” holds a tremendous amount of cultural weight as legions of fans have quite literally and figuratively invested in these characters over the course of the last 11 years.

Financially, the movie surpassed all expectations, earning an astounding $1.2 billion in its’ opening weekend at the global box office. This shatters a record of $640.5 million previously held by its’ 2018 predecessor, “Avengers: Infinity War” (BoxOfficeMojo). While this is an impressive accomplishment, I am happy to say that I was equally stunned by the unpredictable story at the heart of this film.

Following the downfall of the universe caused by Thanos (Josh Brolin) at the end of “Infinity War”, the remaining Avengers must figure out a way to reverse his catastrophic actions in “Endgame”. 

Keeping in mind that some people may have missed the opportunity to experience the movie on opening weekend due to sold out theaters, I have decided to provide no further plot details here; watch out for a spoiler review in the near future!

From the opening frames, “Endgame” did an outstanding job of creating a feeling of absolute hopelessness again and again throughout the lengthy run time. By bringing the beloved heroes to new lows in this grim manner, the climatic actions of the story were made that much more powerful as various plots reached long awaited conclusions. Somehow, the abundance of character building was just as riveting as the fight scenes here and there were several truly heartbreaking moments in the film.

“Endgame” is even more dramatic than its’ predecessor, but every bit of character building made the last act of the movie that much more rewarding. To no surprise, directors Anthony and Joe Russo delivered a grand finale battle sequence which redefined just how epic a film can be. “Endgame” did justice to our favorite heroes while providing plenty of visually stunning superhero smackdowns - we just can’t seem get enough of them. From my interpretation this movie’s greatest accomplishment is maintaining a constant sense of urgency while delivering a groundbreaking epic that is full of surprises; “Endgame” is a must see.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Book Review: Elsey Come Home by Susan Conley

Reviewed by Jennifer Dupree, Circulations Supervisor at Windham Public Library

Full disclosure: Susan Conley is one of my writing mentors, and I have a lot of respect and admiration for her. That said, I wouldn’t say I liked a book unless I truly liked it, and I loved “Elsey Come Home”.

This is a quiet, gently emotional book about a woman living in China with her family and struggling with how to be a wife, mother, and artist. As the novel opens, Elsey’s husband, Lukas, suggests she needs help for her excessive drinking, and he urges her to attend a retreat in the mountains of China. Elsey does, and there she meets others who are at the retreat for their own reasons. Elsey stops drinking and the story becomes even more reflective.

Conley weaves Elsey’s present with her past. We learn about her sister’s childhood death and Elsey’s early life as a painter. We feel the pressure she feels, the sadness when she doesn’t live up to her own expectations. Elsey returns home sober but unsettled from the retreat.

This is a novel about place, about how we define “home.” For Elsey, home is Maine where she was raised, and home is China where she has lived for several years. But, ultimately, home for Elsey is her husband and two daughters, which is I think what resonates the most with me. Home is more people than place.   

Friday, April 19, 2019

Movie Review: "Shazam!"

By Daniel Kilgallon

Rated: PG
Runtime: 132 mins

“Shazam!” follows 2018’s “Aquaman” as the seventh entry of the DC Extended Universe (DCEU). The movie is directed by David F. Sandberg and stars Asher Angel, Zachary Levi, and Mark Strong. 

While this comic book franchise has lacked true cohesion thus far, I think that writers are starting to effectively construct a lighthearted, goofier brand of what has become an overwhelmingly popular film genre. If these great characters continue being brought to life like this in upcoming installments, I believe that the cinematic universe has enormous potential. “Shazam!” will most certainly be overshadowed by the upcoming release of “Avengers: Endgame” in a few weeks, but I must say this movie was much more unique than the “Deadpool” ripoff I was somewhat expecting.

“Shazam!” has an interesting premise in which a fourteen-year-old foster child named Billy Batson (Asher Angel) is granted magical powers after encountering an ancient wizard named “Shazam!” (Djimon Hounsou). The wizard selects Billy as his new champion, so whenever Billy says the word “Shazam!” he turns into an adult superhero (Zachary Levi). While he possesses superpowers such as strength, speed, and flight, the “grown-up” superhero still has Billy’s teenage mind. Billy explores his abilities all while adapting to a new foster family, and soon discovers that an enemy named Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong), has also acquired magic capabilities and is after him.

While the “fish out of water” nature of this story could have made for a boring, familiar movie, “Shazam!” turned out to be a far fresher film than I anticipated. Billy finds himself caught up in several uncomfortable, hilarious scenarios which he handles as one may expect of a rebel adolescent. 

The comedy shines brightest when Billy is discovering his powers; Zachary Levi really did an excellent job of making the adult version of this character both amusing and relatable in these moments.

Needless to say, “Shazam!” is primarily a lighthearted movie, but the profound family element at the center of this story excludes this from strictly being a comedy. There are positive messages to be found in the film and I really liked the way the writers naturally worked this into a very hilarious movie. In addition to that, there were quite a few connections to other DCEU films and this may be the first time that this world building didn’t seem forced into the story. All things considered, I was genuinely surprised by how fresh “Shazam!” was and I would recommend the movie to superhero lovers and families alike.