Have You Met The Durrells?

You know how bookstores have ‘Staff Picks”?  Well I think we should have ‘WPL Customer Picks’.  Or maybe when customers return a popular DVD or book we could keep a tally of who is reporting that it is good/bad/worth the trouble and then post it at the returns desk with a little image of a thumbs up or thumbs down.  The opinions of our neighbours should be more important than the reviews we read in the Globe & Mail or the New York Times, and I would rather watch a DVD that a WPL customer recommends rather than one that gets a high rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  In fact, I find that material suggested to me by WPL customers is a guaranteed good read or good watch.  Thumbs up!

A favourite customer ‘gifted’ me with the television miniseries The Durrells in Corfu recently and I was as smitten with the series as she so confidently said I would be.  In fact, when I placed my hold on Season One she told me that I should place a hold on season two right away as I would be sure to want to watch Season Two as well.  She was right – it was that good (I have since thanked her for her sage advice, not to worry).  The miniseries originally aired on the British television network ITV and was picked up by PBS as part of their Masterpiece series.  We are fortunate to have both seasons at WPL and when the third season is encased in plastic on our shelves I will be faithfully waiting for it to arrive.  I will have a cup of tea ready to go and might even break out a festive meal in celebration.

The television show is an adaptation of the trilogy of books that Gerald Durrell wrote about the years his family spent on the island of Corfu.  He is at the centre of the books My Family and Other Animals, Birds, Beasts and Relatives and The Garden of the Gods but the screenwriters have chosen to make his mother, Louisa, the focus of their stories.  This was a great decision on their part – it gives the series a bit of snap that might be missing if the stories all centred on a young boy.  I’m sure that it would have been lovely but not quite the masterpiece we now have to enjoy.  It is fabulous.

After struggling to raise four willful children alone on a widow’s pension in gloomy England, Louisa decides to move them to a sunny Greek paradise.  Well, Louisa decides with the enthusiastic prompting of her eldest, Larry, who is determined to be a successful novelist (and becomes one – renowned author Lawrence Durrell ). The reaction of the other three is mixed at best. The chemistry between the family members is just magical.

When Louisa, Larry, next oldest son Leslie, only daughter Margo and young Gerald arrive on the island they are warmly welcomed by a taxi driver named Spiros who becomes their interpreter, protector and negotiator for everything – a villa, furniture, and the release of their funds from the bank.  While the family waits for their money to arrive they must ‘forage’ for something to eat and this is the first of many opportunities to see the different ways that the Durrells cope with adversity.  Larry flat out refuses to help, saying that he is busy writing.  Margo says that she is looking for a job and does so by sitting on their sundrenched patio in a bikini.  Leslie, always keen to help his mother, goes out with one of his many rifles and shoots some of the local wildlife while Gerald hunts for berries but ends up eating many, feeding some to their dog, and letting the remainder spoil while he is distracted by a neighbour who offers him a puppy.  Oh, the glorious little puppies.

Gerald Durrell’s passion for animals started when began keeping local wildlife as pets. They pile up so quickly that I can’t remember them all.  He had many species of birds, several types of mice, a number of insects, plus scorpions (!), turtles, otters, tortoises, snakes. In one lovely episode he wanted a goat so, so much.  The classic W. C. Fields quote about not working with children or animals does not apply in this series because actor Milo Parker, who plays Gerald, is top-notch and the furry and feathery supporting actors are sublime.  Animals and children are everywhere and make the show that much more enjoyable.  If you were to play this series without sound you would enjoy watching it for the visuals alone.

The three older children of the Durrell family also play their parts to perfection.  Larry is an aspiring novelist who spends every day wearing his underclothes and a polka-dotted robe while he types away in his room and when forced to provide encouragement or advice to his siblings he grudgingly does so but there is love behind the snide remarks.  Poor Leslie stomps about trying to find his place in their family, on the island, in the world and says “maybe I’m not the sort who is meant to be happy” but when Larry wonders if it might be time for him to return to England and they have a real brotherly conversation it is as if the two actors have really grown up together.  There is great chemistry there.  And Margo is sublime.  I’m sure that this young actor, Daisy Waterstone, is meant for great things.  She delivers every line – comic or dramatic – with such flair.  When she confesses to a local countess, played by the exquisite Leslie Caron, “I’m a bit dim”, there is really nothing more delightful.  It is so hard to choose a favourite among this cast of wonderful actors.

Each episode finds the family getting to know their new neighbours, the culture of the island, and finding their way to a happiness that they did not have in England.  It’s not an easy journey for them, thankfully, or the series would end and it would seem far too effortless.  It’s because life is a struggle for Louisa and her children that you keep watching, you become invested in their success, whether it be in Leslie’s love life, Margo’s quest for employment, or Larry’s constant pecking away at the typewriter.  And they are doing all of this while the sun is shining, they are wearing the most colourful clothes (well, Larry is usually wearing a dressing gown) and eating glorious meals on their patio which overlooks the Ionian Sea.  What more can you ask of a miniseries?  I read some terrific news online (there are spoilers about Louisa’s romantic prospects in this article so tread carefully) which tells us that ITV has committed to making a fourth season of The Durrells and that many key figures are returning to produce, direct and act in the show.

Besides Season One and Season Two on DVD,  we have many, many books written by Gerald and Lawrence in the collection.  Rosy is My Relative is a fabulous pick if you wanted something to read aloud on a car journey – it is sure to please everyone in your family.   You will find endless information about all of the Durrells on the Internet including wonderful content about Gerald’s conservation efforts and his Wildlife Conservation Trust.

It’s possible that after enjoying this miniseries you might be inspired to cook like Louisa, dress like Margo or plan a trip of your own to Greece.  The Durrells will keep you busy all through the summer with the help of the staff here at WPL.  And, if you are inspired to adopt a goat or a turtle then that’s entirely on Gerald.

— Penny M.

Shhh…A Quiet Place

We received a movie at WPL this week that has been worth waiting for. I don’t always think this. I place my holds early and often for books but don’t really follow the same plan for movies. I know that a new book is coming months, sometimes years, before it is published and it’s so exciting. With movies, it’s a so-so feeling. Many movies are good, many movies have captivating performances, gorgeous sets, wonderful costumes, sensational soundtracks but very few will actually knock my socks off. Well, this is the one. Socks are off. This is the one you must see. A movie that should rise to the top of every list this year. It’s John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place.

Initially it was billed as a horror film and then the tide seemed to swing towards marketing it as a thriller but I would say it is more like a classic suspense film with a few monsters thrown in to spice things up. The monsters are definitely scary. A bird flew past our kitchen window the day after we saw this movie and I was sure it was one of those monsters in our backyard. That feeling has finally worn off now.

This is John Krasinski’s film because he is the director, co-writer and star of this film. You might be thinking to yourself “Hey, isn’t he Jim from the American version of The Office?” when you see his face on screen. Yes, yes, he IS Jim from The Office and he is just as spectacular as a father who is leading his family through a post-apocalyptic world where monsters are hunting them using the sounds that they make as he was when he played Jim. And these monsters, they are hunting for any sounds. This family is so careful about not making noise that they use American Sign Language to communicate, play Monopoly with felt pieces, and spread this wonderful white sand on the walkways of their farm to muffle their footsteps. Now, about that sand. Where did it all come from? I was really not sure about this as we were watching the film but I could not even bring myself to lean over and ask anyone in my family because I was so compelled to stay silent throughout the whole thing. I’m sure that you have heard this from other people who have seen the film or even seen some of the jokes online.

quiet

But after you see the movie you can’t stop talking about every last detail. I think it’s been our top film for post-movie chatting for the whole year. Maybe it was because we felt like we had to stay silent through the whole thing or maybe it was because of the outstanding performances of the cast, the beauty of the landscape and the sheer terror we felt while we were watching. Other than Krasinski the cast is small which works very well and adds to the sense of isolation on screen as you realize that so few people survived the apocalypse. It’s just eerie. Emily Blunt plays his wife in a role that is half earth-mother, half warrior and they have cast some wonderful actors as their children, including a young woman who also had a lead role in 2017’s Wonderstruck.

This is a challenging film for all of the actors as so much of the emotion is conveyed entirely through gestures and facial expression – there is no room for error in their parts and it is done well. You can find some wonderful interviews online with the actors as they describe the work that they did to prepare for these roles and the guidance they received from young Millicent Simmonds with using ASL on film.

And, I know it’s a horror/thriller film, but I did really think it was a beautiful film. It might not make it to any Oscar lists for costumes or set design but there was a distinct look to this movie. They cared. Really, if they hadn’t been facing a constant struggle to stay alive I think it might not have been a bad way to live. The lovely photographs on their walls, the jam jars and quilts. Like Country Living but dingy. I did catch myself thinking that the absolute silence of their home life was appealing. Their kids were playing Monopoly without arguing over who got which piece or who had the next turn. I know, I know, they are living in the constant shadow of an ever present danger that will swoop in and eat them if they even knock a knife off of the table. But the sense of calm and all of the cozy sweater wearing? I could go for that. Monsters – no. More whispering while we play board games after dinner – yes.

The Blu-ray + DVD copies that we have here at the library come with glamorous special features which I am so very excited about. Director John Krasinski will give us a special behind the scenes look in Creating The Quiet and they have also included The Sound of Darkness and something called A Reason For Silence : the art of unforgettable visual effects. I look forward to watching all of these and I am going to watch the entire film one more time. I’m going to watch it again because I know that I am going to love being terrified again, because those children are absolutely amazing, because Emily Blunt gives an incredible performance as the strongest onscreen mother I have ever seen and because this time I’ll be able to eat popcorn while I watch.

— Penny M.

The Long Night is upon fans of Game of Thrones

It’s going to be a very long wait for Game of Thrones fans. Recently, it was announced that the final season will not be released until spring of 2019. Will Bran reveal what he knows about Rhaegar? Will Jon Snow defeat the Night King? Will the Long Night end? Who will sit on the Iron Throne if the battle is won?

Fortunately, there are some fantastic television series DVDs in our collection to help you get through the Long Night.

Vikings

There are only two things that matter to the Vikings: destiny and war. And the only way for a Viking to achieve his destiny was to be victorious in war. Vikings follows the story of the legendary Norse hero, Ragnar Lothbrok. Ragnar is an ambitious and methodical warrior who is a descendant of the god Odin. Eager to achieve what no other Viking has done, he eventually he leads an army to the shores of England to raid the Saxon villages.

Axes and shields may dominate the screen but at its core Vikings is about politics. Ragnar is a calculating leader who plays the long con, often outsmarting his opponents through strategy rather than blood. Women also play a strong role in the show. Lagertha (Ragnar’s wife) is a shield maiden with a reputation for courage and wit all her own. When it comes to fantasy, Vikings goes light on the supernatural elements. A raven may appear to give the idea that Odin is watching, but the fantasy symbols are few and only serve to reflect the belief system of the time.

Vikings combines action with intrigue and is my go-to series between seasons of Game of Thrones. Season Five, Part I of Vikings will be release in April 2018.

The Last Kingdom – (based on Bernard Cornwell’s The Saxon Series)

The Last Kingdom shares the same timeline as Vikings but the story is told from the point-of- view of the Saxons.  What we know as modern day England is broken up into seven separate kingdoms. Six of the seven kingdoms are ruled by Danes (Vikings). For decades, the Danes have attacked and plundered Saxon lands and now only Wessex remains free. The show follows Uhtred, the young heir to Bebbanburg. His family is murdered by ruthless Danes and he is taken as a slave. Overtime, he is sold to a Danish Earl who treats him as a son rather than a captive. Uhtred grows to be a man of two worlds – born a Saxon but raised in the brutal traditions of the Danes. His adoptive father is murdered in the first episode and his quest for retribution sets the tone for the remainder of the show.

The Last Kingdom is a fast paced, plot-driven series that is quick to watch – the first season only has eight episodes. It’s a good choice for those who don’t want to commit to hours of television watching.

Spartacus

A Thracian soldier is captured and enslaved by the Romans. Forced to fight as a gladiator for Roman entertainment, Spartacus conspires to overthrow his masters. His path to freedom is bloody and full of vengeance.

This is not a show for the faint of heart. There is a lot of action and violence, true to the nature of historical gladiator fighting. The cast is incredibly talented. You can’t help but love the villainous husband and wife who run the gladiator school. Played by John Hannah and Lucy Lawless respectively, they are comparable to the Macbeths – always plotting to rise above their station. The costume and set design is equally impressive. There is a great attention to detail placed on replicating the style of the Roman time period. It is done on a scale that is usually reserved for big budget Hollywood movies.

Spartacus is a wild ride – it is incredibly fast paced with a scandalously shocking storyline. It is one of my guilty pleasures.

Reign

Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, was only six days old when she ascended to the throne. Viewed as a threat to the English crown, she was sent to France for her protection. The show begins with Mary’s betrothal to Dauphin of France and follows her rise to power until her execution in England.

Reign takes a lot of liberties with history, which makes the story hard to predict. The Mary we see on the show is much more scandalous than the Mary we read about in our history books.   The costumes, accessories and music of the show are designed in modern style, giving it a Gossip Girl type of appeal. While not a true fantasy show, there are elements of the supernatural on the fringes of the storyline – just enough to add a twist to the plot and keep the audience guessing how the story will unfold.

Reign is a plot-based show, rich with intrigue and conspiracy. The main character, Mary, is a relatable girl that you will root for even when you already know her fate.

-Lesley L.

It’s All About Pi(e)

We live in a great city for celebrating Pi Day (March 14). I’m not entirely sure when the idea to full-on celebrate the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter began but any celebration is a good thing and I love this one.

Each year we are surrounded by celebrations of 3.14. The University of Waterloo marks the occasion in multiple faculties as do groups at Wilfrid Laurier University, Conestoga College and our Main Library’s neighbours, the Perimeter Institute. It’s everywhere and it’s so much fun.

There’s no shortage of people in Waterloo who might feel inclined to get involved in the classic “How many digits of Pi can you recite?” contest and I’m sure that they don’t need to be convinced to enjoy sweet or savoury pies in a tribute to the day.

When I think of Pi I must confess that I think of pie and this in turn gets me thinking of some of my very favourite music. On the WPL shelves we have one of the most beautiful CDs from American singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles. It’s full of gorgeous songs that she created for the 2015 Broadway musical, Waitress. Just put it on repeat. Once you get started you won’t be able to stop singing along and thinking about friendship, family, love, heartache and baking. Great news too! The Mirvish theatre schedule includes a production of Waitress for summer 2019.

You can also borrow the 2007 movie that the musical is based on. The film has a fabulous cast – Keri Russell and Nathan Fillion – and seems like a standard Southern rom-com (one character is even named ‘Earl’) but it has so much more depth. Treat yourself to a generous slice of pie and some time watching The Waitress.

Should you actually want to learn how to bake your own delicious pie, we have many books to offer you recipes and guidance. You could select a classic cookbook like Joy of Cooking or pick something a little more modern like Iron Chef Alex Guarnaschelli’s The Home Cook: recipes to know by heart. I have read that she includes a personal favourite in there called “dark chocolate rum pie”. Oh. Yum.

So, whether you want to sing, eat, bake, or learn more about the magic of Pi, we will be happy to help you celebrate – and maybe we’ll sing you a song too.

— Penny M.

What I love about working at WPL

You know what I love about working here at the library? It’s the… People. I bet you thought that I was going to say books. I do love the books. Books have always been very good friends of mine but in an hour or so of working here at the desk I can have such great conversations on so many different things this comes from the people who visit the library. You know, it’s pretty quiet in here before we open the doors every day. On a recent afternoon I enjoyed chats about classic action movies, a great new mystery book with a suspect known for wearing a crooked hat, and a shared love for short stories. This is the kind of lively dialogue you just don’t get anywhere else.

On that afternoon I was speaking on the phone to a customer about the good old days of Stallone, Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis.  You know, when you search for films on the catalogue you can narrow it down by the name of the actor so it can be a treasure trove for the customer who is in the mood to take a walk down memory lane and watch movies from someone’s back catalogue. After he and I had placed holds on some of the classics, like Rocky and Die Hard (of course), we also moved ahead a decade or two and he decided he would dip a toe into the world of Iron Man. I gave him my wholehearted recommendation for these films although confessed that I found that Marvel films are like potato chips, once you watch one, you find yourself wanting to watch another…

I was also talking to a customer about a new mystery novel called The Man in the Crooked Hat because we were agreeing about how much escapist pleasure there is in reading murder mysteries. There are many new ones each week – how do you pick a good one? This particular title caught my eye because of the improbability of searching for a suspect wearing a crooked hat. Surely even the least bright of all criminals would know to remove his hat after he committed a murder and was spotted by a detective? Is he so attached to his chapeau that he can’t bear to part with it? This book has snappy dialogue, the main character is a former police officer turned private detective so the gritty details are spot on, and there are twists to the mystery that I just never see coming. And the man with the hat?  Well, he is simply terrifying to me and I’ve had to stop reading it in the dark which comes at 5:00 every day so it’s limiting my reading time to lunch hours in our comforting staff room. Will the man keep wearing his hat to the end of the book? I just don’t know but Harry Dolan is fast becoming one of my favourite authors.

A discussion of a shared love of short stories began with talking about the movie You’ve Got Mail. This is one of the movies that I watch every year while I wrap presents and a library customer was agreeing that she felt it had a great holiday vibe and then we started talking about the book, Uncommon Type: Some Stories, that Tom Hanks had recently written. It is getting a lot of attention right now but short story collections don’t get as much love as they should. They really are the unsung heroes of our shelves! You can pick up one of these gems and find yourself transported into another world in just minutes. Perfection – you have low commitment, low stress and so much opportunity for distraction. Try Alice Munro’s short stories or for additional CanCon I also recommend Alistair MacLeod’s wonderful writing. We have short stories in collections from different time periods, some which are organized by country, and can even provide you a 2017 story collection with a tale narrated by a talking lion in James McBride’s Five-Carat Soul.  You have got to get your hands on some of these.

So many conversations we have here at the library begin as one thing, like talking about the movie ‘You’ve Got Mail’, and then turn into another, with two people sharing how much we both enjoy a the low commitment and high reward of a good short story.  The public library is vibrant and ever changing, like life, and that’s why I just love it.

-Penny M.

E.T….35 years later

It’s hard for me to pick a favourite genre of book, almost as hard as it would be to pick a favourite child (I know that picking a favourite child probably packs more emotional punch but books are serious business around here), but I think that eventually Science Fiction would win out and any book featuring an alien would reign supreme.  I can lay the blame for my love of stories with an otherworldly being solidly at the feet of Stephen Spielberg and the ground-breaking film he co-produced and directed in 1982.  E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial hit the screen in June of that year and that little creature with a heart that filled his entire chest changed the world. For 35 years it has remained a movie you can rely on to fill you with hope and satisfaction every time you watch it.

Here at WPL, we have the 20th anniversary edition of the film which includes a reunion of the cast among the exciting special features. Along with Steven Spielberg they have Henry Thomas (Elliott), Dee Wallace (Mary), Robert McNaughton (Michael), Drew Barrymore (Gertie) and Peter Coyote (known as ‘Keys’ because of the sound that his keys made as he walked through the forest) in interviews alone and with each other.  The cast for this film was fairly small and that helped to create a feeling of intimacy around E.T. and his short time on Earth. In interviews, Spielberg has said that so much of the inspiration for this story came from his own childhood. He keeps the camera angles very low and the main dialogue is between Elliott, Michael and their friends so it plays out just like you are among a conversation with the kids. I love when Elliott first introduces E.T. to all of the Star Wars toys on his desk like that is just naturally one of the first things you would want to tell a being from another planet – “here is Lando Calrissian and here is Greedo” – not anything about how Earth works, just toys. Mary, their mother, is the classic afterthought of a parent who seems to get in the way of their good times together.  We also have a wonderful commemorative book from the 20th anniversary which includes the complete screenplay so you can relive the hilarious dialogue between the three siblings. When you check out one of our copies of this DVD – I know that you will – you should watch these reunion interviews and see the love that these actors have for each other years after this iconic film was made and marvel at the incredible talents that made the story come alive.

And what a story! I cry every time I watch it even though I know what will happen. I occasionally watch E.T. deliberately so that I can have a really good cathartic cry. I know what is going to happen, I could practically act it out if such a performance was required, but seeing those moments of heartache and joy on screen get me every time. There is magic on that screen between the little extraterrestrial and the children as they experience their adventure – from the first moments when Elliott leaves the little trail of Reese’s pieces to the last seconds of John Williams outstanding score – it’s just perfection. I’m not the only person who feels this way about E. T., you know. It was a worldwide lovefest for E.T, and the movie brought in over $11.8 million dollars on the first weekend – that was way back in 1982! When the 20th anniversary film was released the movie had made over $700 million. Reviewers loved it, it received many award nominations, and won 4 Oscars including one for John Williams, and they made endless spinoff toys and gadgets. I still have my original plush E.T. and a complete set of trading cards.

With this being the 35th anniversary of the film, there are film screenings being held at theatres and there are special edition DVD sets available to purchase but it really all comes down to the story of a peaceful alien who is left behind and the friendship he develops with the boy who saves him. Elliott doesn’t think twice before he starts to put a plan in motion to help his new friend and the other kids drop everything that they are doing so that they can do the same. They derail the government’s plans every step of the way and outrun them on BMX bikes (which has got to be one the most exciting chase scenes in movie history) and end up flying across the night sky. The idea that E.T. or any other extraterrestrial being might come to Earth has always been fascinating to filmmakers and authors, and Speilberg’s is just one of many stories about aliens that we have here on the shelves at WPL. These stories open up a whole new world of possibilities, a chance to welcome new friends, share candy, and maybe look at Star Wars figures together.  E.T. is 35 years old this year and I look forward to watching for at least another 35.

-Penny M.

 

 

 

 

Can’t Get Enough of Outlander

Have you ever read a series of books that combine history, political intrigue, battles and war, adventure, time travel, and the supernatural with a love story so captivating it has generated millions of fans around the entire world? Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander books do just that.

Outlander, the first book in the series, was originally published in 1990. The story begins in 1945 when Claire Beauchamp and her husband, Frank Randall, are on a second honeymoon in Scotland. They are hoping to re-connect after serving separately in WWII.

Alone on a ramble in the countryside, Claire is drawn to an ancient circle of standing stones. She accidentally walks through a magical portal and finds herself in the war-torn Scotland of 1743. Due to her appearance and English accent, she is considered a spy by Redcoat Captain “Black Jack” Randall (no the last name is NOT a coincidence!). Only Jamie Fraser, a tall, red-headed, strong-willed Scottish Highlander, can save Claire from danger.

Claire soon becomes torn between the two very different men (husband, Frank, and Highlander, Jamie) in her two separate worlds.

The remaining books in the series, which should definitely be read in order, are:

  • Dragonfly in Amber
  • Voyager
  • Drums of Autumn
  • The Fiery Cross
  • A Breath of Snow and Ashes
  • An Echo in the Bone
  • Written in My Own Heart’s Blood

66a08d71d8a20de6e487672119ec0226Diana Gabaldon is currently working on the ninth book, Go Tell the Bees I Am Gone. Gabaldon does an incredible amount of research and puts great historic detail into her books, so there is usually a span of a few years between each publication.

When I first learned that Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander books were going to be made into a television series, I was very skeptical that the screen version would live up to the images of Jamie and Claire that have been entrenched in my mind for so many years. However, I was very pleasantly surprised!

Season 1 and 2 successfully capture the important people, places, and events of the first two books, and it has been thrilling to see all these things come to life in vivid colour and detail. The screen version seems to be just as popular as the book series. Rotten Tomatoes has given Season 1 a score of 91%, with an audience rating of 94%. It also set a Rating Record for Multi-Platform Viewing. Season 1 (which is divided into Volume 1 and Volume 2) and Season 2 are available to borrow on DVD from WPL as well as all of the books, of course. Season 3 of Outlander premiered on the W Network on September 10th.

One final note: the Outlander series (both book and screen versions) contain scenes of extreme violence which is indicative of the time period. There are also some very steamy parts so keep a fanning device handy!

— Sandy W.

Who Done It? (or as the French say, Qui Fait?)

I love a good mystery. And even though I haven’t read many Agatha Christie novels (shame on me), I was interested in Agatha Christie’s Criminal Games when I recently saw this DVD on WPL’s list of new items. I always like to consult the Internet Movie Database (IMDB) to get an impression of viewer ratings, but when I typed in this title, it didn’t come up. Instead, there was something called Les Petits Meurtres d’Agatha Christie, a French television series. A quick review of the DVD description on the catalogue confirmed that these must be one and the same, and the IMDB rating was 7.5 out of 10. Not bad. I took it home.

That night when we popped it into the DVD player and pressed play, I was a bit dismayed to see English subtitles pop up with French audio. While I have high school level French and did a minor in university, it’s been a while. I can get us through Quebec, but this was France French, not Quebecois. And my husband’s French is pretty much limited to oui, comment ca va, au revoir, and frites. I wasn’t sure he’d go for watching the movie, but given his interest in learning French, he agreed to give it a chance.

8409e218d65dde23069e23e5295a1a3aIt was a good decision. Even though it meant a lot of pausing to read the subtitles, I eventually picked up much of what was being said audibly and my husband expanded his French vocabulary. Not only that, but the actors did an excellent job of portraying their characters. Samuel Labarthe convinced the viewer that he was an arrogant Commissaire, the only detective with the intelligence to get the job done. Blandine Bellavoir (I just love saying her name) is fantastic as his sidekick, Alice. An advice columnist seeking the big story that will finally earn her recognition as a bona fide journalist, she is always underfoot and an aggravation to the Inspector. Of course, the viewer also gets the sense that the two have an attraction for each other, though each pursues alternate romantic interests. A third prominent character is played by Elodie Frenck. Marlene is the Commissaire’s receptionist/ secretary. She is head over heels for her boss, but he either doesn’t see this, or pretends not to.

We had a ball watching this and were sorry when the discs ended after only six episodes. I don’t know whether too much translation work was involved in creating subtitles for more episodes, but hope there’s a sequel that includes English language viewers. The plotlines are quite intriguing and there’s always a twist at the end.

Next on the list of foreign language films I’d like to see are A Man Called Ove (Swedish) and Son of Saul (Hungarian)

Wonder if I can get my husband to join me!

— Susan B.

 

This Beautiful Fantastic

Warning! The film, This Beautiful Fantastic, contains NO violence, coarse language or sexuality. However, it does contain some lovely moments of whimsicality threaded throughout an age old story.

Bella Brown, who was abandoned at birth and raised in an orphanage, becomes enchanted with literature and longs to write a children’s book. As a young adult with an obsessive-compulsive disorder, she lands a job at the local library ruled by an overbearing librarian who is not a fan of Bella’s gentle and inquisitive demeanor. Her next door neighbour, a curmudgeon of a man, holds the same opinion of Bella and thus, it feels like the forces of darkness are conspiring against this sweet woman.

One of the regular library patrons is a man who describes himself as an inventor and his quirkiness and innocence touches Bella in a way she has had no experience with. This ray of sunshine is marred by events unfolding at home. Bella, who is terrified of the ‘great outdoors’, receives a visit from her landlord and discovers that she needs to do some serious work on the gardens on the property that she is occupying or risk eviction.

The grumpy fellow next door offers some advice to Bella on how to get the garden into a reasonable state and it is through these encounters that their relationship begins to grow and blossom like the very garden she is trying to create. We get a glimpse of the glorious parkland that the neighbour has developed over the years and the imagery of the flowers is stunning. While Bella’s horticultural efforts are being rewarded, her love life takes a turn which upsets the apple cart. With the support of her neighbour and his loyal employee, Bella begins the healing journey that will help her in her quest to write the children’s book she dreams of.

This is a simple story but beautifully filmed and terrifically heart-warming.

-Nancy C.

Gifted: keep the Kleenex close

Gifted is a touching story about family (in all its many, complicated forms), loss, forgiveness and helping children reach their potential in the various aspects of their lives. It’s the story about a young girl named Mary whose uncle is dedicated to raising her to be a normal child. But Mary isn’t normal. She’s a math prodigy whose family has more than their fair share of baggage.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this movie but picked it up at WPL because, let’s be honest, Chris Evans and Octavia Spencer are in a movie together. Did I mention Chris Evans? But I digress … I knew very little about this movie before popping it in my DVD player but was pleasantly surprised at how quickly I became engaged in the lives of this family.

This film has got a lot of heart, a touch of humour and, like I mentioned, a truly stellar cast. We have Chris ‘Captain America’ Evans as Frank Adler, the uncle who is trying to do his best to raise his young and brilliant niece so that she leads a normal life. I enjoyed seeing a new, tender side to Evans and I liked that he got to exercise his acting chops more than his biceps in this movie.

gifted-648673583-largeThen you have Oscar winner Octavia Spencer who is always captivating and could play a potted palm that would leave me slack jawed in awe of her. The only person in this film who can hold a candle to Ms Spencer may be young McKenna Grace who plays Mary Adler, the 7-year-old child at the heart of the movie. Wow, can this girl act. Grace is as talented as her eye lashes are long. Her portrayal of the precocious, brilliant young girl is wonderfully natural, touching and believable. She vacillates between childish innocence, a spunky attitude, a wee case of potty mouth and shows viewers Mary’s extraordinary brilliance which is well beyond her years. The deep connection between Evans and Grace comes through to the audience and I recommend that viewers keep some Kleenex handy.

The cast of characters also had a complexity to them that I wasn’t expecting. This is a complicated family situation filled with emotion, power struggles and grief. You’ll feel for Frank as he struggles to figure out what is best for Mary in the wake of family upheaval that threatens to damage the bond between them.

Overall, this is a wonderful little movie that is endearing, poignant and shows the complexities of family. You will quickly become wrapped up in the lives of Frank, Mary and even Fred, their one-eyed cat. I highly recommend this movie.

— Laurie P.