Friday, April 27, 2018

Movie Review by Gayle Plummer

1hr. 39 min.

For any who enjoy old movies, this one is right up there with “It’s a Wonderful Life”.  In fact three of the lead characters from this one were in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” starting with Lionel Barrymore who played mean old Mr. Potter.  In this one he’s old endearing Gramps. Beaulah Bondi who plays Granny in “On Borrowed Time” was Jimmy Stewart’s mother in “It’s a Wonderful Life”; and Henry Traners who plays Dr. Evan in this one, was the angel in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” As you may guess, Lionel Barrymore was related to Drew Barrymore.  He was her great-uncle.

Welcome to the cozy, little home of Gramps and Granny and their grandson Pud. We venture along with them in their ordinary, lazy days of the time period and we are witness to the extremely close relationship Pud has with his grandfather. Pud was played by Bobs Watson, a child actor who was well known for his ability to cry on cue and be extremely convincing about whatever pain he was portraying at the moment. I can attest to this; his performance is beyond convincing. (Yes it is “Bobs” not “Bob.” Mr. Watson reportedly was always able to cry real tears at any given moment, from a very young age in real life.)

The premise of this comfortable old movie is that feisty old Gramps has devised a way to stop Death, who is referred to as Mr. Brink. The movie takes a nice, easy stroll before all the bizarre pieces fall into place. Before all erupts, we are treated to a relaxed, warm, fuzzy experience. And once this plot begins to thicken, you’ll find it is very well written, quite deep and rather intriguing. 

Poor old Gramps has to endure medical scrutiny to determine if he’s sane or not - once word gets out that he believes he has Death trapped. He uses drastic measures to prove he’s not insane. Gramps is deliriously happy to think that Death has been stopped dead in his tracks (excuse the pun). However, it’s about here that things get a little abstract. Gramps is carrying on conversations with Mr. Brink (Death); this does not help his cause at all. Then to prove he has trapped Death, he has to shoot someone and all the while, poor Pud is fretting about being taken away from Gramps. 

All this is unfolding while the doctor, an evil relative and Granny are all trying to figure out if this sweet, wise old man is truly cheating Death. However, amazingly enough, Gramps has indeed stopped Mr. Brink from having any power. Mr. Brink no longer can escort people off this planet at their appointed time. 

But now the hard questions begin, both for Gramps and the viewing audience.

This seemingly simple plot carries some extremely complex issues within it. Not only does Gramps have to prove he’s sane to keep his grandson out of the clutches of a money-grubbing relative; but there’s the whole Death issue to figure out. The question of all mankind, since the beginning of time is wrestled with here and we are completely entertained while it’s all being worked out.  

There are several plots going on here at once and while we are taken along for this ride back in time, these characters let us know that we are not alone in our search for a meaningful life – and death.  
Obviously, these old movies lack the razzle-dazzle of today’s special effects movies and their fast moving plots and dialogue. However, when we need to unplug from today’s lightning speed of everything; this one will refresh and recharge our batteries. Rent it or see it on Netflix.

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.