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.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Quote of the week

Book Review: “Before you suffocate your own fool self” by author, Danielle Evans

Reviewed by Jennifer Dupree, Circulations Supervisor at the Windham Public Library

Perhaps it will show my privilege when I say that this book made me see the world in ways I hadn’t before. Evans’ stories center around young, smart black women. Every story revealed a little something I hadn’t thought about because I hadn’t had to. And yet, the stories are delivered gently, like chats between college friends. The voice in these stories is deeply engaging, personal, honest.

Two stories in particular moved me. In the first, Angel and Laura share an apartment and are friends until Laura, who is white, begins selling her eggs in order to finance her designer wardrobe. Angel, who is black, can’t. She says, “If they had wanted black babies…they would have just adopted.”

The second story that made me catch my breath was the last one, in which two high school cheerleaders, one white and one black, discuss playing a prank on the school. The white girl sees it as just a way to have fun, but the black girl objects. She says white kids play pranks, black kids get felonies.

If it sounds like this collection is too preachy, it isn’t. These are some of the best stories I’ve read in a long time. They are funny, poignant, open, and yes, provocative. These are stories of characters who get in over their heads, love fiercely, try hard and sometimes fail hard. Stories everyone can relate to, in other words.

Friday, April 5, 2019

Quote of the week

Movie Review: “Us”

By Matt Pascarella

Rated: R

The movie begins with a foreword. "There are thousands of miles of tunnels beneath the United States. Abandoned subway systems, unused service routes, and deserted mine shafts. Many have no known purpose at all."

“Us” centers around Adelaide Wilson (Lupita Nyong’o), who, as a child, wanders away from her parents during a carnival. She enters a hall of mirrors where she sees a girl that looks exactly like her. This experience is very traumatic for Adelaide and creates a fear of the ocean.

As an adult, Adelaide is headed to her family’s summer cabin with her husband, Gabe (Winston Duke), her daughter, Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph), and her son, Jason (Evan Alex). We see Adelaide having flashbacks to that day at the carnival and a therapist explaining she might have post-traumatic stress disorder.

One day her husband asks if she’d like to go to the beach. At first she refuses, then eventually agrees. On their way to the beach, they see a man being put into an ambulance. Jason, the youngest, later sees what appears to be this man standing on the beach.

Upon returning home from the beach, Adelaide tells Gabe about the hall of mirrors incident. Suddenly, the power goes out. A family appears at the top of their driveway, wearing red jumpsuits. Gabe confronts them, but they just stand there. The red jump-suited family begins approaching the house and you hear glass breaking and a loud banging as they try to enter the home.

When the two families meet each other, Jason announces, “it’s us.” The doppelganger of Adelaide tells the story of a girl with a shadow (seemingly the evil Adelaide) and how the one girl got everything, and the shadow got very little.

The evil doppelganger family attacks each respective member of Adelaide’s family who must fight for their lives. What follows are several tense and stressful scenes with various unsettling moments and a few surprises.

Adelaide and her family soon discover that it’s not just them who have evil doppelgangers. They see a news report where people wearing red jumpsuits holding scissors are attacking people. The camera pans over to red jump-suited members hand in hand, forming a wall.

“They think like us and they know where we are,” observes Adelaide and the family decides to keep moving. Who will survive? Who are these evil doppelgangers?

The actions of the characters coupled with ominous music is tense and gets your heart pumping. While large parts of this movie are upsetting, there is some humor sprinkled in, which helps undercut the seriousness of the plot. There are multiple metaphors and much symbolism throughout the movie. To mention a few, 11:11 is a theme, bunnies are seen throughout as well as the mention of tethered and untethered people.

This is a fantastic horror movie that leaves you wanting more in the final scenes. I saw this film multiple times and missed the great twist at the end the first time. I would highly recommend seeing this in the theater. A+++