Friday, December 22, 2023

Peacock’s ‘Genie’ will get you in the holiday spirit

By Matt Pascarella

Rated: PG
Runtime: 1 hour, 32 minutes

This is no “Aladdin” or “Kazaam,” but it will leave you feeling good with the spirit of the season. When Bernard misses his daughter’s birthday, his wife decides to take their daughter to her mother’s place through the holidays. Bernard happens upon a jewelry box that releases a genie who grants him unlimited wishes.

Bernard needs to decide if he can make time for his daughter and wife before it’s too late; maybe the genie, Flora, can help. With a great soundtrack featuring Otis Redding, Louie Armstrong, Stevie Wonder, Solomon Burke and Bubba Sparxx, this movie is an all-around winner.

‘Genie’ stars Melissa McCarthy, Paapa Essiedu, Denee Benton, Jordyn Mcintosh, Alan Cumming, Marc Maron, LaChanze and Ellen Cleghorne.

Bernard (Essiedu) misses his daughter, Eve’s (McIntosh) birthday and afterward his boss (Cumming) fires him.

Bernard’s wife Julie (Benton) decides they need some time apart through the holidays.

Alone in his apartment, Bernard rubs a jewelry box and releases Flora

(McCarthy), a genie who grants him unlimited wishes – as is the custom, that three wishes stuff is for fairytales.

Flora explains she was put in the box by an angry sorcerer many, many years ago and Bernard’s wish is her command.

Bernard explains his problems to Flora; she sweetly offers to kill his boss, but Bernard turns her down.

Flora said that wishes cannot change people’s feelings and you cannot time travel.

Flora and Bernard travel to see Julie at her mother’s house. It does not go well and ends up solving nothing.

Julie’s mother says that silence and solitude will make Bernard realize what’s important.

Back at the apartment, Bernard introduces Flora to pizza.

“It’s just a triangle of red bread,” she says.

After taking a bite she says, “This is Heaven.”

Flora then discovers Spot-iffy, as she calls it, in this funny scene.

When Bernard and Flora go shopping, Flora gets a new outfit and discovers hand sanitizer which she finds zesty.

Bernard explains Christmas to her. As it turns out, Flora knew Jesus and thought he was kidding about the whole Son of God thing.

“Christmas is also a time where kids learn all about disappointment,” says Bernard.

Bernard uses his wishes to do some good. Flora joins in.

When the two go to a movie, she falls in love with Tom Cruise. Then she strikes up a thing with Lenny the Doorman (Maron).

Bernard can be there for Eve and Julie. They have ice cream together, but Bernard is less-than-thrilled when they are joined by Julie’s childhood friend.

Later, a surprise visit from Bernard’s family only complicates matters.

Flora suggests “WWTCD – What Would Tom Cruise Do?” a Wishion Impossible mission to get Julie and Eve back. She suggests Bernard spruce up his apartment.

When the Louvre discovers the Mona Lisa is missing, (because it’s in Bernard’s apartment), it could be trouble for Bernard.

Eve gets to spend the night with her dad. Afterward, Julie and Eve have a nice dinner at Bernard’s apartment. Julie wants to talk about what their relationship might look like long-term.

A fire breaks out in the apartment, the Mona Lisa gets noticed and Bernard and Flora are taken to jail. Flora takes some excellent mug shots.

This is one of Melissa McCarthy’s best performances. Flora is such a fun

character. This is a feel-good movie the whole family can watch around the holidays. It’s definitely worth signing up for Peacock just to see this movie. As far as I’m concerned, it’s worth buying this movie and not signing up for Peacock, sorry NBC.

It’s a nice, happy story about the power of friendship and what’s really important in life. It gets a little emotional at times and shows that with effort – and a little magic – second chances are possible. I watched this twice and enjoyed it as much the second time as I did the first time.

Two Tom Cruise sweatshirts up.

Available to stream on Peacock or to buy.<

Friday, December 15, 2023

Collaboration between students ignites passion for reading

By Lorraine Glowczak

The Raymond Elementary School (RES) library was filled with intergenerational bibliomania on a Friday afternoon in late November as 10 Windham High School (WHS) students traveled to Raymond to read books to third grade students, eagerly waiting in anticipation. The 25-minute “read to me’ experience fostered a love for the written word and built a sense of community and mentorship between the two schools.

During a recent reading adventure, third-grade
students from Raymond Elementary School
were enthralled as Windham High School
students read to them. Beatriz De Sturdze,
a third grader, right, attentively listened
as WHS senior Lydia Wilson read
'Horton Hears a Who' to her class.
The 25 third graders, who were divided into groups of five and paired with a high school mentor, had the opportunity to listen to and then discuss books from popular childhood literature. This cooperative event was spearheaded by Valerie Carpentier, WHS Library Media Specialist.

“I initiated this collaboration between the high school and RES to empower all students in their reading,” she said. “I was building upon the Maine Department of Education’s (DOE) Read to ME Challenge that begins in February every year. I hope to increase the program to include more students within the district very soon.”

According to the DOE website, The Read to ME Challenge is a month-long public awareness campaign to promote childhood literacy in Maine. The Challenge is an opportunity to contribute to a child’s literacy growth by reading aloud in any language to one or more children for at least 15 minutes a day.

Carpentier also mentioned that countless research shows reading out loud to children helps develop their language skills, early literacy, as well as their social-emotional intelligence. 

"Pairing all that wonderful learning with being read to by a high schooler has such a positive impact on children,” she said.

A few students were willing to share their experience of the day including third grader Beatriz De Sturdze. The young bookworm said that her mentor made the afternoon of storytelling fun and interesting.

“She actually used a funny voice and spoke louder and raised her voice up and down while she told the story.”

De Sturdze said that her mother reads to her every day, but it was fun having another person to look up to.

“She made me want to read more because of her funny voice,” she said. “It made me giggle and laugh.”

An avid reader and third grader Kieran Allen shared a different experience.

“It was sort of like an adventure,” Allen said. “I read sometimes on my own but there are times it is nice to take a break and have someone I don’t know read to me. It’s nice to just listen to the story and relax.”

De Sturdze’s reading mentor, WHS senior Lydia Wilson, said her participation in this collaborative opportunity was two-fold.

“I decided to take part in reading to the RES students because I like kids,” Wilson said. “But not only that, I was a RES student and I wanted to go back to see the teachers and the spaces where I first learned to read myself.”

According to the Nationwide Children’s® pediatric organization, reading with young children can help them develop a skill they will use for the rest of their lives while fostering a love of an activity that also enhances brain development.

“Children who are exposed to reading before preschool tend to develop larger vocabularies and are more likely to succeed during their formal education. If a child is not proficient in reading by third grade, they are at a higher risk for not graduating from high school,” the organization’s pediatrics say.

Carpentier plans to increase the reading program to all elementary schools in the district and to become a regular occurrence throughout the school year. It’s her goal to spread the love of reading and connect the school communities on a greater level while building bridges between younger and older students, fostering a culture of mentorship, compassion, and a shared passion for the written word. <

Friday, December 8, 2023

‘The Holdovers’ tells a good, but somewhat flat story

By Matt Pascarella

Rated: R
Runtime: 2 hours, 13 minutes

Every year at Barton Academy, students, faculty and staff depart the campus for a two-week winter break; but there are always an unfortunate few who have nowhere to go for the holidays. They are known as the holdovers. Curmudgeonly professor Mr. Hunham draws the task of staying with this group over the break. 

When a chance skiing trip gives four out of the five students the ability to leave campus for the break, Hunham, Tully and cafeteria manager Mary are left by themselves. How will they pass the time? Can they maintain their cool and sanity and maybe learn from each other?

“The Holdovers” stars Paul Giamatti, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Dominic Sessa, Carrie Preston, Brady Hepner, Ian Dolley, Jim Kaplan, Michael Provost, Naheem Garcia, and Andrew Garman.

It’s 1970 and the students at Barton Academy are ready for their two-week winter break.

Cranky professor Paul Hunham (Giamatti) has pulled the duty of staying with four boys who are the holdovers and will not be leaving campus for the break.

Angus Tully (Sessa) is looking forward to going to Saint Kitts over the break when he receives an unexpected call from his mom that she and his stepfather will not be coming to pick him up. He is now one of the holdovers. Also staying is cafeteria manager Mary (Randolph) who recently lost her son in Vietnam.

One of the boy’s fathers arrives to take everyone skiing. Everyone is able to go except Tully, who is now stuck at the school with Hunham and Mary.

Tully is upset about this and attempts to run away. Hunham catches him, but in the process, Tully dislocates his shoulder. They go to the hospital.

Afterward, Hunham and Tully go to a diner where they run into Ms. Crane (Preston) who invites them to her Christmas party. Hunham is skeptical to go but he is talked into it.

On Christmas Eve, Hunham, Tully, Mary and Barton custodian, Danny (Garcia) attend the party. While there, Hunham and Ms. Crane have an interesting conversation.

“I used to think I could prepare them for the world, provide standards and grounding ... but the world doesn’t make sense anymore; it’s on fire” said Hunham.

Crane says if that’s true, now is when they most need someone like him.

Mary breaks down mourning the loss of her son and she, Tully and Hunham leave early.

On Christmas, Tully suggests a field trip to Boston. However, he has a secret ultimatum. He wants to visit his father who is in a psychiatric hospital. Hunham reluctantly agrees.

I don’t think you need to see this in the theater unless you are really interested in doing so. It’s long and didn’t have the holiday cheer I was looking for. It has moments of cheeriness and humor, but there are also more somber moments, like Mary mourning the loss of her son at Ms. Crane’s Christmas party, or when Tully meets his dad.

Paul Giamatti’s portrayal of this character is good; I found him to be incredibly obtuse and irritating at times; sometimes you just felt bad for him. There is a bit of language in this movie and very brief nudity. It has heartfelt moments, such as when Tully dislocates his shoulder and Hunham takes him to the hospital, or what happens at the end. Despite its length, it does tell a consistent story that doesn’t drag much. It did make me feel good at the end.

Three-and-a-quarter stars out of five.

Now playing in theaters and available to rent. <