Thursday, December 13, 2018

Chance's Corner: Dumplin' Review

"The way I see it, if you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain."
                - Dolly Parton
Funny story here, but when I first saw the book Dumplin' on our shelves at the library, I thought it was about a young overweight drag queen who entered a teen beauty pageant to disrupt the status quo. I never read the book (not because of that), but I eventually figured out that it was really just about a girl. So, I went into watching Dumplin’ totally blind, and what should appear? Dolly Parton drag queens. I just knew there would be drag queens! One of them even treats us to a rousing lip sync of Dolly Parton’s "Jolene". If you didn’t know, there’s a lot of Dolly Parton in Dumplin’ – minus the actual Dolly, although she does provide the soundtrack with several of her classic hits and a few new songs penned especially for this film!

In Dumplin’, our small town Texas-livin’, Dolly Parton lovin’ heroine, Willowdean Dickson (Danielle Macdonald), is beautiful, no matter what they say. Words won't bring her down! Okay, so maybe the nickname "Dumplin'" will bring her down a bit, but as she comes to face her greatest enemy, which is herself, she comes to embrace it. The journey to that embrace isn't your typical journey, though. There's the threat of mean girls (mainly Dove Cameron), but they never strike - there's no moment where a group of them back Willowdean into a corner, call her names, and tell her she's not good enough, which causes her to bawl and have a spiritual Dolly Parton intervention – although Dolly’s classic tunes and near-philosophical words of wisdom help Willowdean pull through. Sure, the other girls in the pageant snicker behind her back (Willowdean brings it upon herself, to be honest), and some folks give her "girl, what are you doin' here?" looks, but, like I said, the threat is mostly internalized. Bo (Luke Benward), a good-ole burger-flippin’ country guy, does everything but take out a billboard for Willowdean, but due to her own insecurities, she pushes him away. What a dummy! Sometimes, I just really wanted her to snap out of it, but I have my own insecurities, so I know it's not just something you can snap away. So, I'm a dummy, too, at times. That flip of the script is what really sells Dumplin' as something different and unique in a market oversaturated with teen issues. Dumplin' is also grounded in reality, particularly concerning the beauty pageant results, and I respect that.

Performances all around ranged from good to great - the good are only limited to good because they didn't have much to do, such as Bo who disappears for way too long – he wasn’t even at the pageant! The greatest of the great, of course, is Jennifer Aniston, who could have easily come off as Willowdean’s wicked former teen beauty pageant winner (not step) mother, but instead brings a layer of complexity and sympathy to perhaps the most "villainous" character in the film. Others do shine, though, and Danielle Macdonald is one of them as the titular Dumplin', but she can come across as insufferably stubborn, at times. However, the one who shines the most is Maddie Baillio as Millie - I'm so proud of her!

Overall, this is the feel-good movie I've been needing lately, and no matter if she wins the crown or not, Willowdean Dickson is still a winner! If you’re interested, Dumplin’ is available to watch on Netflix. If you're interested in reading Dumplin', we currently have no suitable copies available for check out, but check back with us after the New Year!

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Chance's Corner: Alternative Christmas Movies

Are you tired of watching films where exceptionally attractive people fall in love during Christmas? Tired of seeing romances set at Christmas cottages, ski resorts, or obnoxiously quaint small towns where someone may or may not be Santa? Or how about... okay, you get the picture! Well, if you answered yes to any of those questions, then I've got the best Christmas list for you - a list of alternative Christmas movies! Alternative Christmas movies? Yes, that's right! This is a list of movies that may not care about spreading the Christmas spirit, but they do take place during the Christmas season. They might just bring a little Christmas cheer, too, depending on how you look at it.

Gremlins - A lot of strange things came out of the '80s, and Gremlins was certainly one of them. It was so strange, in fact, that it (along with Temple of Doom) instigated the creation of the PG-13 rating. Now, I'm not the one to push what is appropriate and inappropriate for children, but I can imagine the sheer horror Gremlins brought to unsuspecting families upon its initial release - the ultimate horror being Phoebe Cates' Santa story. WOW, way to ruin Christmas. Sounds like I'm taking Gremlins to task, and I am a little bit, but I'd be lying if I said it wasn't fun despite its mean-spirited nature. What I especially love about Gremlins is all the little callbacks to past films it has in it - Back to the Future, E.T., The Time Machine, Forbidden Planet, Indiana Jones, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Alien, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, It's a Wonderful Life, and so much more.

Black Christmas - While John Carpenter’s Halloween gets most of the credit for developing the formula for the modern slasher film, Black Christmas pre-dates it by four years and sets the classic standards that have been repeated ever since. Black Christmas is definitely more of a slow burn, wrapped in mystery and a thick, claustrophobic atmosphere, but the wrapping comes off in the end and leaves you squealing like the kid who got what they wished for on Christmas morning. Funnily enough, the director of this film, Bob Clark, would go on to make another Christmas classic - A Christmas Story.

Die Hard - Die Hard is a Christmas story for the ages, where NYPD cop, John McClane (Bruce Willis), flies to California for the holidays to reconnect with his wife, and ends up eliminating a dozen or so terrorists - oops, I mean "robbers" - at his wife's company Christmas party. Whether Die Hard really is a Christmas film or not is up for debate, but it is a truly iconic action film. Bruce Willis delivers a career-defining performance as McClane - a performance that shadows him to this day. Poor Bruce has always been criticized for having no range, but he manages to keep pace and match wits (and expletives) with the formidable Alan Rickman, who is deliciously villainous as Hans Gruber. Thespian by nature, Die Hard virtually put Rickman on the map overnight. As I always say, a movie is only as good as its villain, and, as such, Die Hard is phenomenal.

Lethal Weapon - Here we have another iconic action film that just so happens to take place around Christmastime. Mel Gibson and Danny Glover make an excellent partnership, even if they don't believe it, and Richard Donner's direction and Shane Black's script bring a real gritty edge to the holiday season. Oh, and Gary Busey brings the insanity, as usual. Overall, if the sounds of "Jingle Bell Rock" and excessive gunfire doesn't get you in the Christmas spirit, I don't know what will!

Scrooged - Bill Murray expertly lends his dry wit and cynicism to this modern (it's 1988) and darkly comedic twist on Charles Dickens' classic A Christmas Carol. There's honestly a bajillion versions of this classic tale to choose from, but this one is my absolute favorite. The ending monologue may schmaltzy, but it brings me to tears every… single… time!

Batman Returns - While Tim Burton's Edward Scissorhands could easily make its way on this list, Batman Returns is the Burton Christmas classic I turn to. The Christmas iconography at play here is truly through the roof, and as a young kid, this film taught me that mistletoe can be deadly if you eat it... and a kiss can even be deadlier if you mean it. Ooo la la! Christmas aside, Batman Returns is the greatest comic book film of all time, and you can quote me on that! After Burton proved that a "serious" Batman film was bankable (it was one of the highest grossing films of the '80s), Warner Brothers loosened his leash, which lead to this grandiose, absurd, dark and operatic sequel.

The Nightmare Before Christmas - You thought I had forgotten about this one, didn't you? While Tim Burton might have written the poem this film is based on, The Nightmare Before Christmas is actually directed by Henry Selick. While it grossed me out as a kid, this grotesque stop-motion animated opera has certainly grown on me, and has left its mark both on Halloween, with the song "This is Halloween", and Christmas, with the demented "Making Christmas" and the even catchier tune "What's This?"

If none of those are your style, then that's okay! I have a list of traditional Christmas movies, too, that offers a variety of viewing options. I'd like to know, what's your go-to Christmas movie? It can be traditional or non-traditional.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Chance's Corner: Ralph Breaks the Internet Review

Lo and behold, I only had to wait six years for a sequel to Disney’s Wreck-It-Ralph instead of fourteen years, which is how long I waited for Disney/Pixar’s Incredibles II! Years aside, Ralph Breaks the Internet is the sequel we've been needing, but not the sequel we deserved. Let's face it, while Wreck-It-Ralph is rated fairly well, no one really talks about it. So, when it was teased that we were getting a sequel, I was surprised, elated and concerned. I was concerned because the Internet is such a huge environment to explore, and it houses too many competing brands that would want their own slice of the pie. Then I found out Disney was also interjecting themselves into the mix (creating a sort of paradox) with their website Oh My Disney. This easily could have been an absolute mess... could have.

While the brand exposure is certainly overwhelming as our bumbling video game hero Ralph (John C. Reilly) and his best friend Vanellope (Sarah Silverman) enter the Internet for the very first time, Ralph Breaks the Internet keeps itself under control, while still having fun, of course. Nothing feels like an unnecessary sidetrack, even when Vanellope makes the tad self-indulgent visit to the Oh My Disney site. Have no fear, the scene(s) featuring all of the original Disney princesses (with original voice actresses!) is well worth seeing, and there's more to their meeting with Vanellope than what's shown in the trailer. I won't say much, but prepare for a riotous song and dance number! Just like in the original film, the third act hits hard and fast, which left me in a highly emotional state. The film’s overall message about friendship and the directions it can go is hard to hear but important.

Overall, Ralph Breaks the Internet is fun for kids and adults alike, and proves to be one of Disney's most successful and original sequels. Please make sure to watch the credits all the way to the end, otherwise you'll miss seeing the much anticipated Frozen 2 teaser trailer! *wink*

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Julie's Journal : What I've Been Reading

As usual, I have been reading quite a bit this fall.  I generally have been reaching for comfortable, escapist reads.  The news has been generally depressing this year, so I want happiness and fun in my reading. 

I'm still working on reading the J.D. Robb In Death series, which are futuristic murder mysteries.  While there's nothing profound about J.D. Robb/Nora Robert's writing, I enjoy her way of developing a story and characters.  She's a formulaic author, but I enjoy her formula, so I don't mind.  I'm also slowly working my way through Jan Karon's Mitford series.  The Mitford books are about a small town in North Carolina, its aging pastor, and the many dramas of the townspeople.  There's no huge excitement, no major events, but the stories are sweet and wholesome and uplifting.  I've finished the first four and have the fifth checked out to read soon. 

I also recently read "Upstairs at the White House" by J.B. West after my mother recommended it.  I  enjoyed this non-fiction account of Mr. West's career as the chief usher at the White House.  He worked mainly with First Ladies and coordinated the domestic side of life in the White House.  He was in charge of the day-to-day operations and well as big events, such as state dinners, weddings, and funerals.  His insider look at the personal lives of the presidential families he served was fascinating.  He served from the time of Franklin D. Roosevelt through Richard Nixon.  This is an older book, published in 1973, but I was able to borrow it for my Kindle.  If you can get a hold of a copy, I highly recommend it.

As far as more recent books, I find that I have been disappointed as often as I have enjoyed a new book.  I read "The Witch Elm," which has had rave reviews, but I found the main character, Toby, whiny and unlikable.  Nicholas Sparks is usually a sure bet, but his newest book, "Every Breath" was a disappointment for me.  I didn't find the whirlwind love story at the beginning of the book believable, so I was never invested in how the rest of the story turned out.  I looked forward to Kate Morton's "The Clockmaker's Daughter" as I have enjoyed all her previous books, but this time the story didn't work for me.  I felt like there were too many story lines, and as soon as I started getting a feeling for one character the point of view changed and I was lost again.  I didn't feel like Ms. Morton brought all the story lines to a satisfying end and the ending was very abrupt.

I have read a few new things I've liked.  Australian author, Liane Moriarty's new book "Nine Perfect Strangers" was different.  Nine people from different walks of life all sign up for a ten day retreat at a remote resort.  At first it seems okay.  There's at least one custom smoothie every day, a full service spa, meditation, and exercise.  The only thing unusual is that the first five days are spent in silence.  About halfway through the book, the story took a turn I wasn't expecting.  As a result, the tranquil atmosphere of the retreat is shattered and the attendees deal with the fallout in different ways.

"Look Alive Twenty-Five" is Janet Evanovich's next installment in her Stephanie Plum series.  Stephanie is a somewhat bumbling bounty hunter and with the help of her two love interests, she eventually, usually, gets her man.  Her sidekick Lula adds a comedic flare.  Quick and fun and light, I recommend Stephanie and Lula for any time you need a laugh!

I saw lots of advertising for Delia Owens' "Where the Crawdads Sing".  Sometimes I'm a little leery of books that are heavily hyped, but I enjoyed this one.  Kya is a young girl who falls through the cracks of her family and child services and ends up living in the swamp of North Carolina alone at about 10 years old.  She becomes something of a legend in the nearby town and the boys torment her by daring one another to approach her.  This game eventually leads to tragedy.  Very intelligent, Kya is taught to read by a boy she meets in the swamp.  She eventually becomes  a respected naturalist.  She remains reclusive and strange her whole life, never really fitting into society, but does eventually find love and a sense of family.  I found the story thought provoking.

I've also just started John Grisham's new book, "The Reckoning".  Have you read it?  What did you think?    

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Chance's Corner: Noirvember

It's that time of the year again! No, it's not Christmas, although the Hallmark Channel insists it is. It's Noirvember! Noirvember is a month, designated by the film community, that celebrates the genre of films known as film noir. By definition, film noir is a style of film that is marked by a mood of pessimism, fatalism, and menace, and they are usually shot in an expressionistic black and white style. Films that are generally considered to be film noir were made between 1944-1954, but several noirs have been made after that period, and they are generally known as neo-noir. I've been celebrating this month (I actually celebrate all year) by watching a few of my favorites, and here is one of them:

Ride the Pink Horse (1947)

Lucky Gagin (Robert Montgomery) rides into San Pablo, New Mexico with a mean look on his mug. He walks into a bus stop, past a neon-tinged welcome sign, and puts a slip of paper in a locker. He takes the locker key and then buys himself a stick of gum to chew. It seemingly means nothing, until Gagin spits the gum into his hand, wraps it around the key, and then sticks the key behind a large map in the bus terminal. We're only a few minutes in, but the mystery has already been laid out without a single word being said or a shot being fired. It only gets better from here.

Ride the Pink Horse is the second film noir directed by auteur director Robert Montgomery. His first was the highly experimental Lady in the Lake, based on Raymond Chandler's bestselling novel, which was shot entirely in a point of view style. That technique made the film come off a little stiff, but I appreciate what Montgomery was trying to achieve. This time, Montgomery sticks with more conventional camera techniques, but he still pushes the boundaries of what a film noir can be. For instance, Ride the Pink Horse ditches the film noir staple of being set in some grimy urban sprawl, and instead sets its focus on the dusty streets of the American West, which has been described as a post-war phenomenon.

What I really like about Ride the Pink Horse is that it's not clean cut. Gagin ain't so lucky, and his morals are a little dubious. You're not sure what direction he'll go in, but thankfully he has the enigmatic Pila (Wanda Hendrix), the loyal Pancho (Thomas Gomez) and the "flag waving" Retz (Art Smith) to help him escape the clutches of a scheming femme fatale (Andrea King) and her deaf crime boss beau (Fred Clark). Yes, the film itself may be a little dubious, too, seeing that Wanda Hendrix is playing a Mexican girl that Gagin likes to call Sitting Bull, but Gagin grows out of that as he comes to respect her. They're friendship is really touching, and I was left a little misty eyed at the end. And let's not forget that Thomas Gomez's performance lead him to be the first Hispanic-American to be nominated for an Academy Award, so that kind of makes up for the minor indiscretions!

If you ever run across Ride the Pink Horse, I definitely recommend that you check it out, but if you can't get your hands on it, here are a few other film noirs I would suggest watching to celebrate Noirvember.



Thursday, November 8, 2018

Chance's Corner: The Other Side of the Wind Review

It’s been 40 years since Orson Welles filmed The Other Side of the Wind, and now, 40 years later, and 33 years since Orson Welles passed away, it has finally been edited and released through the combined efforts of director/actor/historian Peter Bogdanovich (among others) and Netflix. I can’t emphasize just how important that is. Okay, maybe I can - this is film history!

The Other Side of the Wind mainly serves as a director's lament on the passing of Old Hollywood, and a satire of the radical, sometimes vapid, ideas to come out of New Hollywood (post-1967). Shot in a guerrilla mockumentary style, in high-contrast color and black and white, Wind is perhaps Orson Welles' most personal and biting work, with Jake Hannaford (John Huston), a creature of the Old trying to fit in with the New, being a thinly-veiled interpretation of Welles and his own doubts and desires. In the film, Hannaford is an aging director, surrounded by an entourage of has-beens, who has a bold idea for an experimental comeback film, something that’ll really get his career going again, if only he can get the financing for it (life imitating art, it seems!). Wind picks up at the end of this attempt, and at the end of Hannaford’s life, showing his final hours on the eve of his birthday, which is being celebrated at a ranch house in the desert.

Interspersed between the alcohol-fueled birthday celebration, we get to see parts of the comeback film – the real The Other Side of the Wind – as Hannaford shows some of the completed footage to ravenous, almost contemptuous, reporters. In contrast with Hannaford’s last hours, this film is controlled and kaleidoscopic. Sensical? No. As a would-be investor puts it, Hannaford seems to be just making the film up as he goes. Maybe so, but in reality, Welles seems to be parodying Michelangelo Antonioni's Zabriskie Point, a key film in the counterculture/New Hollywood movement. While it is a parody, the film within a film showcases some incredibly inventive work from Welles (no surprise there), and he conjures up some of the most striking visuals to be seen in decades, and this was made in the '70s! That's Welles, for you, always getting the last laugh.

I'm very interested to see just how the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will handle this, as the direction, performances, editing and cinematography are all hard to ignore. If it is awarded anything, the award will most likely be posthumous, as most, if not all, of the heavy hitters in the film are long gone, excluding Bogdanocivh, of course!

If you’re interested in seeing this film, you can watch it now on Netflix.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Chance's Corner: A Star Is Born Review

An absolute gut punch of a remake, something I never imagined saying, especially about a third one (fourth, if you consider 1932's What Price Hollywood? as canon), but as a somber Sam Elliott remarks, "Music is essentially 12 notes between any octave - 12 notes and the octave repeat. It's the same story told over and over, forever. All any artist can offer this world is how they see those 12 notes." Yes, he was talking about musicality, but he also seemed to be winking at actor/debut director Bradley Cooper's handling of A Star Is Born. What could have very well been a soulless disaster, is instead raw, kinetic, beautiful, and heartbreaking under Cooper's deft direction.

In front of the camera, Cooper brings charm to the boozy and gruff Jackson Maine, hitting just the right sympathetic sweet spot to ward off the annoyance that would generally come with his drunken antics, but it's Lady Gaga who absolutely stuns as Ally, a role that nearly mirrors her own rise to fame. I was skeptical at first, especially after her head-scratching introductory scene (the only questionable moment in the film), but once Jackson stumbled into her world everything just clicked. The interactions between Cooper and Gaga are just so... instinctive. That makes things kind of awkward because I felt like I was listening in to their private conversations. If it came out in the near future that Cooper and Gaga were dating or engaged, I would certainly believe it. Their chemistry is through the roof, which helps this remake soar. 

The only real drawback here is the language. I'm not against its usage, per se, but when it seems like Cooper and Elliott are having a cuss-off, it erodes the impact of a scene. In those moments, it really feels like they didn't have anything to say, so they used filler. I believe that about any movie, though, so don't think I'm just picking on this one! Aside from that, I wouldn't change a thing, and I fully expect Oscar nominations and wins to come out of this for the acting, the direction, and the rousing soundtrack, which was sung live in the film at Gaga's insistence.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

The Benefits of Crocheting, Knitting, and other Crafts

Franklin County Library has started a crochet class.  We met last week for the first time and our group is starting to learn the basics of the chain stitch, single crochet, and double crochet. 

Several articles have been written recently about the benefits of crochet and any handicraft.  Crafts are stress relieving, self-esteem building, and anxiety reducing.  Crafting has been shown to help postpone or reduce dementia.  The repetitive nature of knitting and crocheting can help combat insomnia and irritability.* 

I (Julie) find that when I am working on a crochet project, my mind has to focus solely on the project so all the whirling thoughts about current events, day-to-day stresses, etc, get pushed right out of my head.  Our current always online environment bombards me with information constantly and sometimes it's nice to just escape, at least in my own mind.  Crocheting and other crafts can help do that. 

On the other hand, if you are someone who wants to connect with other people who love your craft, the online world gives countless opportunities to do so.  Below are three different links to crochet communities, ideas, and patterns.

Our crochet class is meeting on Thursdays at 10:00 for the next few weeks.  We have a couple more spots available so if you'd like to attend, give us a call at 903-537-4916. 


Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Tom's Two Cents : Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner

“Angle of Repose” is Wallace Stegner’s final novel and his most ambitious fictional work.  It is the story of an artistic and cultivated woman, Susan Burling Ward, who gives up her budding career as a literary illustrator in the East to become the wife of a young mining engineer, moving into the American West of the 1880’s. Published and honored in 1972 with the Pulitzer Prize, it seems even more relevant today in its depiction of a gifted young woman, wife and mother, who struggles against the prevailing notion of her time to allow her dreams to be secondary to those of her husband’s, to follow, not lead, in their relationship. To complicate this relationship even further, she becomes the love/adoration object of a younger would-be suitor, who is her husband Oliver’s chief assistant. The story takes place over Susan Ward’s entire mature lifetime, but it concentrates heavily on the earlier years of her marriage, told mostly in letters to her Eastern lifelong friend, Augusta.

Actually, this is a story within a story. The narrator, Lyman Ward, ex-professor of history, now retired to the family home in Southern California with a permanent leg injury, is Susan’s grandson, reconstructing her story through her letters, art work, newspaper clippings, and other memorabilia of her era. Lyman is a sharp-tongued, tough old guy, who stands in stark contrast to his lovely, artistic grandmother and the artsy, literary friends she has left behind in the East. He is also evidently much more like his taciturn father and non-expressive grandfather, Oliver Ward—an engineering genius ahead of his time, though obviously rarely in tune with his highly expressive wife. This was clearly a marriage and attraction of opposites, and therein lies much of the conflict and tension within the story, though it is slow to build.

I would say this is one of the problematic areas of this novel: it takes us from place to place to place, all beautifully and authentically rendered, but redundant in story telling: Oliver gets a promising job in the West, Susan reluctantly follows him, hopeful and ambitious for them, but something inevitably goes wrong, so they must start all over again in a new location, foretelling again the same essential story, ultimately for about seven or eight times. The only real blip in all this is Susan’s admirer and would-be suitor, Frank, though there is a time, earlier in the story, when the reader could posit a romance of sorts between herself and her best friend, Augusta. We have approximately five hundred pages of this before the story takes off like an out-of-control locomotive engine that crashes to a tragic denouement. I could write an entire article on the last chapter, which, in my opinion, is a mess, but I won’t.

This is an important and worthwhile book by a fine writer, and should you choose to read it, I wouldn’t want to spoil it for you!

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Chance's Corner: My Summer with Bergman

I don't have the time or the money to go on a real vacation (thanks student loans!), but I was able to squeeze in a cinematic vacation. A cinematic vacation? Yes, I took a vacation by watching some films, particularity films that exuded a summer vibe. Two of those films were directed by the Swedish director Ingmar Bergman, who is best known for The Seventh Seal, the film where the Grim Reaper plays chess, and Persona, a haunting examination of converging identities. However, for my cinematic vacation, I picked two films from earlier in his career, Summer with Monika and Summer Interlude. Here's how those two "trips" to the Stockholm archipelago went:


Summer with Monika

I'm not sure why I expected a sunny coming of age film from Bergman. His films are usually cold, dark and weighty, and while young love does seem to blossom between teenagers Harry and Monika (Lars Ekborg and Harriet Andersson), things do take an icy turn. Honestly, it took me awhile to get interested in this film. I was about halfway into the second act when it finally clicked with me. I could sense something was happening - something that wasn't just about young love. It's disintegration, and I'm a sucker for disintegration à la Bergman. Love is peeled away to resemble something akin to only lust, and Monika is slowly revealed to be an absolute devil (and that's putting it nicely). Okay, maybe I'm being too harsh on her because I've rushed into feelings before, which ended in emotional turmoil, but I haven't screwed up this bad. Anyways, her future is not made clear, and neither is Harry's, but what is made clear is that they'll be carrying the emotional scars for a very long time.

Summer Interlude

Through a series of flashbacks, Summer Interlude takes us back to the Stockholm archipelago, where we're treated to the blossoming love between a different set of teenagers, Henrik (Birger Malmsten) AKA the Swedish Jack Palance and the ballerina Marie (Maj-Britt Nilsson). They spend every waking second together swimming, canoeing, eating wild strawberries, and kissing in front of Henrik's faithful dog Gruffman. Ah, young love - an almost unstoppable force. Almost. Bergman may be paying for the trip, but Henrik and Marie will end up paying the ultimate price. Why? That's life, apparently.

Summer Interlude is widely considered to be a turning point in Bergman's career - a point that hints at the themes of his later masterworks, which include isolation and the power of the past and memory. It's also considerably one of his warmer films, well... warm to a point. As the summer ends, the world grows cold, as does Marie, and Bergman's themes hit with full force in the third act. I can't help but feel that the third act carries on too long, though, especially when the clown/magician full of put-downs comes into play. Yes, there's a clown, and he's really a jerk! Despite the clown, Marie is able to come to terms with life and the past, and manages to find a bittersweet ending.

And that was my summer with Bergman! It was kind of a miserable experience, but when Bergman makes you miserable, it's good?

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Julie's Journal : Epic Road Trip!

This year, my husband and I wanted to take some time and see the Rocky Mountains.  I had never been much further west than Fort Worth and neither of us had been very far north.  So after he was finished with Summer School and when Summer Reading was winding down at the library, we took off in his truck to see the sights.  Over the next 12 days we went to 10 states and 5 national parks and traveled 4,456 miles!

We saw mountains and rivers and wildlife, along with buttes and farmland and waterfalls.  We went through canyons and drove above the tree line.  We mostly avoided the cities and tried to avoid crowds, although that proved impossible at Yellowstone!

Grand Teton National Park

We were able to hand feed Chipmunks and Ground Squirrels at St. Elmo, CO.

We saw hot springs and Old Faithful at Yellowstone.  Old Faithful was extremely crowded, so my pictures aren't very good.

We saw moose, elk, beaver, geese, otter, black bears, bison, mule deer, and lots of other wildlife.  We were on a quest to find a grizzly bear, but we weren't successful.

After Yellowstone, we cut across Montana and the Dakotas and stopped at Mt. Rushmore.  We weren't sure how much would be there, but if you ever get a chance to go, we recommend it.  There is a viewing platform and a museum that is very well done.  The day we visited Mt. Rushmore was the only day that it rained on us, or we might have done the walking trail as well.

From there, we headed south towards home.  Our last tourist stop was at The Pioneer Woman Mercantile in Oklahoma.  I've followed The Pioneer Woman's blog for years, so it was a fun stop for me.  

We were exhausted when we got home, but the trip went by in a hurry.  It's hard to believe that after all the time we spent planning, it's already over.  We added to our memories and expanded our horizons, though, which is what travel is all about!

Our route - marked out by my mother as we traveled.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Tom's Two Cents : Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner

Wallace Stegner is not a familiar name in 20th century literary annals, though he probably should be. He is part of that second-tier group of mid-century writers that included William Styron, John Updike, and others, who were highly respected for their craft, but who did not make it into the top literary critical echelon.  Were they good?  You bet—maybe at times better than the critical darlings like Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and Faulkner.  Stegner was a mid-westerner, who ultimately settled in California, where he taught creative writing for a good many years, producing writer/students like our own Larry McMurtry.  His last two novels, this one, and his last, Angle of Repose, which won the Pulitzer, are considered his best, although there is a respectable body of work before that.

Crossing to Safety touched a particular chord in me.  The principal characters are two couples, Sid and Charity and Larry and Sally, couples who meet in the 30’s, both men striving for position and tenure in a small New England college, where they form an enduring friendship.  This academic scene took me immediately back to my first four years of teaching English at Southern Methodist, fraught with all the same positives and negatives, especially those of a would-be creative writer, striving for recognition in a field, English, that normally came from publishing critical essays, not poems or stories or novels.  Larry, who tells this story, becomes a successful novelist, as he watches his conflicted colleague, Sid, a “wannabe” poet, being pushed into Traditional Academia by his ambitious wife, Charity, the central focus of this novel, even though her female foil, Sally, seems to have a much more momentous problem in her lifelong struggle with polio.

Charity, who seems to have few problems, is the focus of this novel, and we all know her type, indeed we may be her type, live with her type, or struggle with friends of her type.  She is the Classic Control Freak, who must, simply MUST, manage everyone’s life to the nth degree.  To compound the frustration of dealing with her, she is also smart, loving and generous to a fault. Stegner beautifully traces the relationship of these four to its final conclusion.  Though this book is short on plot and long on the subtlety of its character relationships, it is beautifully written in the kind of prose one seldom finds anymore and substantive in its praise of enduring friendship, the thing, as Robert Frost is quoted from, that “I have crossed to safety with” and “what I would not part with” that “I have kept.”

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Julie's Journal: Small, Happy Things

Occassionally, I go through spells of being down in the dumps for no particular reason.  When that happens, I find it helpful to look at the positives in my life.  My mother would call it counting my blessings!  In that spirit, the following are a few very small things that have been making me happy recently:

1.  Adult Coloring - The coloring fad of a couple of years ago was right up my alley.  I love the peacefulness of coloring and the ability to be creative without having to have drawing skills.  I have discovered that there are all kinds of techniques to coloring and numerous ways to become better at it.

2.  Coloring Cart - In keeping with my coloring hobby, I recently bought a cart to organize all my supplies.  I love seeing everything all neat and organized and accessible!  Plus it's much easier to clean up my mess now!

 3.  Blueberries - Several years ago, as in 8+, I planted two blueberry bushes at my house.  Blueberries are my favorite fruit and I knew they could be grown around here since my parents had a couple of bushes when I was a child that produced more berries than we could eat.  However, I'm not the gardener my father is and my bushes have taken a long time to develop.  But finally, this year, my bushes have produced more than just a few berries.  I'm picking blueberries every evening and have enough to put some in the freezer for future muffins and pies. 

4.  Planning a vacation - My husband and I don't always take a vacation during the summer, but this year we are planning a pretty big trip.  We are planning to go west into New Mexico then north through Colorado and Wyoming.  We're going to stop at Yellowstone and then cut across Montana to the Dakotas and visit Mt. Rushmore.  We really enjoy scenic drives, and plan to see as many sights as we can along the way.  So far, the planning has been almost as much fun as actually taking the trip.  Do you have any suggestions for any "can't miss" attractions on our route?

5.  Back-list books - Summer seems to be a good time to catch up on series that I may have missed when they first came out.  This year I have dived into J.D. Robb's In Death Series.  I am on the 7th one now, Holiday in Death, and I have about 40 more to go, so they should keep me busy for awhile!

6.  Rediscovering Crochet - I used to enjoy handcrafts - particularly cross-stitch and crochet - but hadn't done a new project in a long time.  My mother gave me an afghan kit for my birthday this year and I have really enjoyed working on it.  It is worked in strips and I have finished 2 of the 9 strips.  It will be a pretty plaid pattern when it is finished!

 What small things make you happy? 

Full Disclosure:  The idea for this post came from Modern Mrs. Darcy - a bookish blog by Anne Bogel.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Chance's Corner: Hereditary Review

There was a lot of animosity radiating from my theater as Hereditary faded to black, most of it was verbalized through groaning and other grumblings. The staff quickly bumped up the lights (we didn't even get to see the credits), and as I collected my trash, I turned to the people behind me and kind of rolled my eyes. They rolled their eyes, too, and one of them said, "well, that was stupid and predictable." That's certainly the simple way of putting it, but... they're not wrong. I'd also add "dull" to that critique.

Marketing suggests that Hereditary is this generations The Exorcist - the scariest movie of the year! However, the majority of Hereditary is just straight-up draaaawn out drama, with unfocused meditations on loss and (postpartum) depression. The bits of horror that are sprinkled throughout the first two acts are just staples of the genre - birds flying into windows, supposed specters lurking in the shadows, etc. There's a few "unsettling" things in the lingering pauses, but nothing significant. The only genuine surprise it had up its sleeve, which involved a telephone pole, was met more with giggles than terror. It was so ridiculous, just about as ridiculous as actor Alex Wolff's attempts at sobbing.

Now, the third act does up the ante as it transitions into a full-fledged horror film, but yet again, most of it was met with giggles - except when a particular man smiles, which is pretty ironic. That was the only instant in which I truly felt unnerved - an instant. The rest of it just didn't come off the way writer/director Ari Aster obviously intended, and it ends up feeling like a knock off of Paranormal Activity 3 and Rosemary's Baby once you really think about it.

Toni giving her monologue
Toni Collette is just about the only saving grace of this film. That woman can act! Her yelling monologue at the dinner table is a true standout moment. Unfortunately, her touted Oscar chances were made null and void by the horrific (not in the good way) third act where her character merely becomes an oogie-boogie device - in other words, a creature not a character. I also enjoyed the overall aesthetic of the film, especially the way certain scenes felt like they were unfolding in one of the central character's dioramas. That's about the only nice things I have to say about Hereditary.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Bookish Scavenger Hunt

I copied this idea from Bookish.  Three library employees, Chance, Kass, and me (Julie), found books in the library to meet 15 different criteria.  If you need something to finish up a book challenge, maybe one of our titles will help you!

1.  A book with an orange cover:

2.  A book featuring felines:

3.  A book with the word "sun" in its title:

4.  A book that scares you:

5.  A book written by a woman of color:

6.  A book about a Superhero:

7.  A book with a blue cover:

8.  A dramatic book:

9.  A book that has won the Pulitzer prize:

10.  A book about a secret:

11.  A book with a tree on the cover:

12.  A book whose title contains the letter "Q":

13.  A book written by a celebrity:

14.  A book with a color in the title:

15.  A book whose title starts with the letter "J":