Escape at Dannemora

A Real Life Shawshank Redemption Miniseries

On the morning of June 6 2015, two prisoners were discovered missing from their cells at the Clinton Correctional Facility. Since its construction over 150 years ago, no one had ever escaped from this New York State maximum security prison. What followed was a 3-week manhunt that would be plastered across the media. Convicted murders David Sweat and Richard Matt tunneled out of their cells, crawled through a heating pipe and made their way out of a manhole to the streets in Dannemora. Once outside, they hid in the wilderness for weeks planning to cross the border into Canada.

escape-at-dannemora-dvdEscape at Dannemora is a dramatic television miniseries that retells how Sweat and Matt, along with the help of prison worker Joyce “Tilly” Mitchell, orchestrated a real life Shawshank Redemption prison break.

The first episode starts with Tilly being brought in wearing a black and white jump suit. Her involvement with Matt and Sweat is fully fleshed out throughout the series. Without her, their escape would not be possible. Six more episodes follow, focusing not only on the escape plot but on character motives as well. It is a far more complex story than just two men breaking through cell walls.

In the beginning of the series, the story humanizes Sweat and Matt. Although they are inmates, you can understand that their lives in prison are brutal. You can relate to their desperate need to get out. Then, after the pair escapes, the story very bluntly reminds you that they are in fact very dangerous people who have committed horrendous acts. They were in prison for a reason.

At the start, Tilly’s character was also somewhat sympathetic, only to show, little by little that in her own way she is as sinister as Sweat and Matt.

The biggest surprise for me was that it was directed by Ben Stiller. Looking at his previous movies, which are mostly over-the-top comedies like Zoolander and Tropic Thunder, I certainly wouldn’t have guessed he could create such an exceptional dramatic production. He has shown to have remarkable ability when it comes to storytelling and character development. The shots Stiller used to visibly demonstrate the escape plan were brilliant. Where was he hiding this talent for all these years?

This series puts Ben Stiller on par with the likes of directors Cary Joji Fukunaga (True Detective) and Joe Chapelle (The Wire). Escape at Dannemora has proven that Stiller has an incredibly versatile skill set. I can only hope he takes on more dramatic projects in the future.

— Lesley L.

My Unexpected Encounter with Father Brown

As a young millennial, I never thought I’d find myself watching period-drama mysteries. Miss Marple, Midsomer Murders and the like–those were TV shows for other people of a more *ahem* mature lifestyle to enjoy. I was in for a big surprise when on a whim I borrowed Season 1 of the BBC’s Father Brown.

I originally intended to let this show play in the background, while I worked on other things around my apartment. Before I knew it my housework had been forgotten, and I was fully enthralled in 1950’s era mystery. I had gotten lost in the world of Kembleford and fallen in love with Father Brown and his hodge-podge group of sidekicks.

As I watched through the episodes of Father Brown, I couldn’t quite figure out why I was enjoying it so much. Normally I lose interest in the “one-and-done” crime shows that don’t have any over-arching plot lines and the crimes are contained to one episode, never to be spoken of again. The episodes of Father Brown were of the “one-and-done” variety, but I was addicted.

Somewhere in Season 3, I figured out the Father Brown appeal: escapism. The power of escapism is often overlooked in conversations about the stories we consume. We boast that good stories help us see other people’s point-of-views, inform us of other ways of living and ultimately make us more empathetic human beings. This is all true, but good stories have another role.

Watching Father Brown — in all of it’s “one-and-done” glory–gave me an escape from the stresses of everyday life, and that’s why I loved it so much. I could turn on the TV and know what to expect. By the end of the episode, the balance would be back in check and I’d have had the opportunity to spend a good 45 minutes with the now-familiar characters. It might sound silly to some, but the episodes were a stable comfort during a chaotic period in my life.

So, if you’re looking for an escape or just enjoy a plain, old-fashioned mystery, I’d definitely recommend trying a season or two (or six!) of Father Brown.

— Jenna H.

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.