The Christmas Zone

Christmas is a time of cheer, family, sharing, snow and small-town comradery. At least it is in most movies. But today we cross the line into that dimension of time and space known simply as… The Christmas Zone!

Case in point: the Firpo brothers.

Trapped in Paradise spins the tale of three, um, less-than-genius brothers who decide to rob a small-town bank at Christmas time. The robbery goes without a hitch, but the trio finds themselves trapped in the town of Paradise courtesy of a snowstorm. Hilarity ensues. While I recognize the borderline quality of this film, and I typically do not enjoy Nicolas Cage or Dana Carvey, somehow I am tremendously amused by this offbeat Christmas story.

Office Christmas Party features an excellent cast that should fill me with delight. But Jason Bateman, Jennifer Aniston, Kate McKinnon and T.J. Miller cannot save this vehicle from itself. Once again it’s Christmas time, and the Chicago Zenotek branch is facing massive layoffs. Most of the movie is devoted to a, wait for it, office Christmas party which reaches new levels of decadence every few moments. Then, just as the mayhem hits dizzying heights and comes crashing down, a happy ending descends upon Chicago and there is peace and decked halls for all. Not a great movie, but it is filled with charming performances. If you’re looking for something outside of the typical Christmas fare, this just might be the ticket.

Yes Virginia, there are Christmas horror movies. Gremlins combines the cuteness of furry little critters with the unquenchable bloodlust of monsters. What could possibly go wrong? Without giving the story away too much, the town of Kingston Falls is attacked by gremlins on Christmas Eve. Chaos ensues, people die, and an effort is made to stop the gremlin threat in its tracks. The movie also sports an element of black comedy to take a bit of the people-dying-in-the-streets edge off. Will there be a Christmas miracle? Tune in to find out.

Perhaps you long for a Christmas zombie musical? Anna and the Apocalypse is a difficult movie to describe without giving it all away. Picture a typical zombie movie, but with fun little pop songs and happy teens who are somewhat oblivious to what’s going on around them. Add a touch of carnage, a soupcon of choreography and a dash of holiday celebration to the mix and you have one of the stranger Christmas movies to hit the bricks in some time. As always, don’t forget your towel.

So if you find yourself unable to view Santa Claus Conquers the Martians this holiday season, take a look at what’s available at Everett Public Library. You just might start a new and awkward tradition.

Classic TV

Even as a person who was raised on sixties television, I can be put off by the thought of watching shows produced during that time. Acting styles, writing, pacing and sets were often different from today’s standards. And, hold on to your girdles, programs were sometimes shot in black and white! My brain often decides, on its own, that these shows are inferior, and thus I hesitate to watch them.

But every now and then I’ll talk myself into taking a chance. My latest find is Ironside starring Raymond Burr. Now, I’m a long-time Perry Mason fan, but for some reason Ironside never appealed to my finer senses. Well, let me tell you: It’s fabulous!

Burr plays the San Francisco chief of detectives who, in the show’s first episode, is shot in the spine and rendered unable to walk. Robert T. Ironside is a firecracker of a person, not one to accept physical limitations, and he’s soon working as a special consultant to the SFPD. Along with officers Ed Brown and Eve Whitfield and personal assistant Mark Sanger, Ironside looks to crack a case each episode.

Plots are well-crafted and fascinating, often delving into issues of race and discrimination. At a time when freedoms of Americans are potentially eroding, it’s pretty eye-opening to see a 50-year-old tv show embracing diversity. It’s also educational to see how much the world has changed in those 50 years. One episode features a criminal who steals a machine that issues payroll checks. He uses it to forge checks and then takes them to about 20 grocery stores each day. In San Francisco 2020, I’m guessing you’d be hard pressed to find a grocery store that would cash a payroll check from a stranger.

But perhaps the most intriguing aspect of Ironside is the man himself. If you’ve ever watched Nero Wolfe, you’ve seen a character who is set in his ways, unwilling to bend, brilliant, unpleasant and prone to tirades. There is nothing particularly likable or sympathetic about him. Ironside, on the other hand, has many of the same qualities, but his bluster is tempered with a side of compassion and sarcastic humor. The result is a character who you like and admire, perhaps fear a bit, but definitely respect. I’ve not seen another TV character of this same ilk.

Over the years, I’ve not heard too much buzz about Ironside. But let me tell you uncles and aunties, it’s a cut above most of the crime shows that have been produced for television. Intelligent, often riveting, not too predictable, a breath of fresh air in my TV viewing world. As Bob Ironside himself might say, “What’s your flaming excuse for not watching it?!?”

The Bookshop on Film and Page

At the start of the film The Bookshop it is 1959 and a young widow living in a small English town decides to open a bookshop. After six months of negotiations, she is able to purchase an old building that has been vacant for years. That’s when the town grande dame decides that she wants that building for an arts center and tells the young woman that she will have to find another building for her bookshop.

The grande dame is accustomed to the villagers simply acceding to all her demands, no matter how unreasonable. This time, the young woman decides to fight for her dream of opening a bookshop in that building. Big mistake. The grande dame and her husband, a former general, begin an all-out campaign to destroy the young woman who dared to defy them.

This independent British film is available on Kanopy, one of the library’s free video apps. It stars Emily Mortimer as Florence Green, the young widow; Patricia Clarkson as the village grande dame; and Bill Nighy as a reclusive, book-loving widower (who isn’t actually a widower at all).

This is a beautifully made film with a superb cast – the stars all turn in exceptional performances and so do the supporting actors.

If you like British films, you might enjoy The Bookshop.

This film is based on the novel The Bookshop by British author Penelope Fitzgerald, which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. We have the novel available in our digital collection as an e-book and also as an audiobook.

Streaming Video

Streaming video has become old hat these days. Still, it’s nice to know that the library has streaming services available. Recently, I took it upon myself to see just what kind of offerings Hoopla has available for patrons of the Everett Public Library. And what I found might amaze you! Well, not really. In fact it’s not that surprising at all, but here it is.

Many of the movies offered by Hoopla are not first run blockbusters. In fact, popular fiction titles are few and far between. But for a person such as myself who is entertained by bad movies and can find good in mediocre movies, there’s a treasure trove of entertainment to be viewed.

Take for example The Radioland Murders. I discovered this movie some years ago and was never able to locate it again. Here we find a murder mystery set in the 1930s with lots of Art Deco, live radio broadcasts, full orchestras in the studio and a killer on the loose. The cast includes a variety of talented actors and the script is well written and entertaining. If you like live radio shows such as The Shadow, you’ll get a kick out of watching the shows be produced, seeing how the sound effects are made, and witnessing the stress of actors receiving scripts just moments before they have to speak the lines. In brief, if you enjoy murder mysteries this movie is well worth checking out. Thank you, Hoopla, for finding this treasure for me once again.

Another title I tried out was The Red House starring Edward G. Robinson. The movie was listed under film noir and I thought it might be based on a mystery by A.A Milne that I had read a few years back. This 1947 film, which in fact has nothing to do with the Milne book, focuses on middle aged siblings who own a small farm. Locals refer to them as the mysterious Martins. Next to their farm stands the Oxhead Woods, which turns out to be the real center of the mystery.

When high school senior Nath goes to work for the Martins, he simply wants to earn some cash. The couple’s adopted daughter Meg obviously has feelings for Nath, but he is planning to marry his girlfriend Tippy and doesn’t even notice Meg’s interest. Early on it becomes apparent that Mr. Martin, Pete, is obsessed with the woods and he tells everyone to avoid them. Something happened in his past in a red house in the woods and Pete hears screaming whenever he’s in those woods. But we don’t learn more about this for quite some time.

Ultimately, the movie is a psychological thriller and I don’t really want to give any more details so as not to give away the thrill of it to. Suffice to say, any time you watch an older movie that apparently has the soundtrack from a hygiene film, well, you know what you’re in for. Kidding aside, The Red House, while sometimes predictable, is still an enjoyable ride.

My final foray into Hoopla came in the guise of a spy thriller/action/comedy titled Operation Endgame. In this movie featuring a talented cast, the director couldn’t decide what type of movie he was making. While the original intent was probably for a spy spoof, the humor never grew much beyond occasional funny dialog. The action seems fine, the gore level adequate. The plot, involving a secret American intelligence group whose members are all trying to kill each other, was sufficiently twisty to satisfy my need for surprise and novelty.

It’s difficult to say much about the plot of this one without giving too much away. What I liked best is that anything could happen, any character could suddenly die. This took away the predictability that this type of movie often suffers from. I moderately recommend this film to anyone who enjoys spydom.

So there you have it. Oh, and let us not forget the best feature of Hoopla: It’s free! So you can take a chance on a movie that may or may not be outstanding. And, I recommend that you do so. But please, do not start with Nude Nuns with Big Guns (I did not make this up!). Slide into an easier title first before tackling the big guns.

My Life is Murder

Whose life is murder? Alexa Crowe, that’s who. Alexa is a retired Australian police detective whose old boss keeps asking for her help with his toughest cases. And Alexa – who planned on spending her retirement baking bread, except that her expensive German bread machine refuses to work (she’s trying to fix it, but always seems to need one more part she doesn’t have), and whose companion on these days is a stray cat who just appears in her kitchen – finds it impossible to refuse the siren song of detective work.

Alexa, charmingly played by actor Lucy Lawless, is the main character in the Australian television crime drama My Life is Murder. I’d been hearing good things about this series from my friends, so I was delighted to discover that the first season is available on Hoopla, one of the library’s free video apps. (Click HERE for information on how to use Hoopla.)

I’ve watched the first two episodes, and I’m enjoying this series very much. It’s a lighthearted series with a lead actor who doesn’t take herself too seriously, perfect for these dark times we’re living in. I’m not interested in watching or reading anything depressing these days – give me pure entertainment to take my mind off the news, please!

The supporting characters are played by terrific actors and I enjoy that it takes place in Australia, a country I’ve never visited. And My Life is Murder is one of the best names I’ve ever heard of for a crime drama – I would have watched the first episode for the name alone!

The Doctor is in

Enjoy this recommendation from Liz:

Even before COVID-19 changed all of our work and play routines, I was feeling thankful for the library’s streaming service through Hoopla. My coworkers and I were talking about how much we loved the TV show Doc Martin when I complained that it felt like I was waiting forever for the newest season to go on hold for me. When my coworker told me it was on Hoopla, I was so excited that I wouldn’t have to wait any longer to watch it. I went home that night, cancelled my hold, and watched the first three episodes of Season 9.

I love the brusque, blunt character of Doc Martin – a doctor with a fear of blood that continually threatens his career – almost as much as the scenery of idyllic Portwenn and all its crazy characters. Doc Martin’s deadpan answers to moronic patient questions always makes me chuckle.

Especially in these scary times where many of us are worrying about our health, it is so satisfying to see Doc Martin instantly diagnose his patients with all manner of illnesses that I’ve never heard of, and offer treatment options that will help them heal. I definitely wouldn’t mind having Doc Martin as my doctor during this current health crisis.

Seasons 1 – 9 of Doc Martin are available to stream on Hoopla now.

Hoopla is?

Today I cancelled my Amazon Prime. You may be thinking: is she crazy!

The tall blue vans are making their rounds in my neighborhood like birds in spring. As I drove down Evergreen Way Sunday evening, I spotted no less than 4 vans gassing up. I thought to myself: things must be getting serious.

That was earlier this week and it is true; things are serious. I was told on Monday along with other city employees 60 years and older in my department, that I would be telecommuting from home as a safety measure. Sunday March 22 the library will be closed temporarily until further notice.

At first I found all this news so hard to grapple with, but it is not the end and I’m choosing to look at the many marvelous options now available. As a wannabe optimist, I look at this as an opportunity to learn new things. This includes looking at the library’s digital collection with fresh eyes.

A few weeks back I overheard one of my co-workers rave about how she loves Hoopla because of all the free stuff. Keyword FREE! Hoopla is accessible to library users with an Everett Public Library card in conjunction with their pin number.

Hoopla offers not just one thing but a variety of online venues. For instance, under the tab video you can select Movies or Television. So lets say you missed an episode of your favorite TV show or maybe you don’t want to wait in for the DVD. My husband and I are die hard Doc Martin fans and I am very pleased to see season 9 is available on Hoopla.

I’m not particularly ‘Techy.’ But I was pleasantly surprised how easy it is to navigate in this app.

HOOPLA basics: There is Video, Music, and even Books. The book selection has a wide variety and genre of Graphic Novels and Comic books.

Browsing in any of the categories allows you to view popular, recommend, or featured items plus the Genre of your choice. The choices are endless. Here are some I hope to borrow.

Video:

Movie: Love Comes Softly We’ve enjoyed this tearjerker featuring Katherine Heigl, but it’s a feel good movie as well, and to be honest I need a feel good movie about now.

Television: I highly Doc Martin Season 9, hands down my favorite season yet. There is also a good selection of BBC mystery and a plethora of other shows.

Music:

Got kiddos, kiddos at home? Put on Moana or Frozen and let the music do its magic. Don’t miss, It’s Such a Good Feeling: The Best of Mister Rogers.

The adult collection is comprehensive from A-Z, including Grammy nominees and winners.

Books:

Confession: I’ve only checked out one Graphic Novel in my lifetime. It was actually very good, however. Looking under the genre Non-Fiction, I found a winner. How to Read Nancy. Nancy was my first and favorite cartoon as a little girl. How cool is it to rediscover a beloved character!

The end of the story: I still have an account with Amazon, I’m not that crazy! However, I am saving money in one small way by shopping at the library for FREE!

I Am Speechless!

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Speechless is a clever sitcom driven by brilliant writing and acting. Amazingly, in 2019 it was ABC’s lowest rated show. Filled with a cast of characters viewers can truly care about, perhaps even want to hang out with, its failure leaves me utterly, wait for it, speechless.

At the center of Speechless we find the DiMeo family. Maya (played by Minnie Driver) is a superstar special-needs mom who is constantly on the lookout for the perfect school environment for J.J., her 16-year-old son. J.J.’s cerebral palsy relegates him to an electric wheelchair and requires him to communicate by pointing a laser at a word/letter board. He is intelligent, happy and generally a typical 16-year-old.

At the start of Season 1 the family moves into a new house (something they do every year) and J.J. undertakes his first experience with mainstream high school. Really, all he wants is to experience the same things as most teens. Maya is, shall we say, rather intense in her efforts to get the best of everything for J.J. and most people are somewhat scared of her. But persistence produces results and J.J. soon has a full-time aide, Kenneth, who goes to classes with him, speaks for him and helps him with physical tasks. Kenneth and J.J. soon form a tight bond that is unique in the annals of sitcoms.

The household is rounded out by husband Jimmy, an airport baggage handler who doesn’t really care what anyone thinks of him; Ray, the middle child, a worrier and realist who just wants a girlfriend; and Ray’s younger sister, Dylan, a competitive runner who has little time for nonsense unless it involves pranking Ray. They make up a close-knit family and although the others feel neglected at times, everyone is focused on providing J.J. with whatever he needs.

Prom

One of the show’s main sources of tension is J.J.’s desire for independence versus Maya’s need to orchestrate his life. She has spent 16 years fighting for J.J., trying to make things easier for him. Now in high school he’s asking for opportunities to go to parties and school dances, play sled hockey and go to summer camp. Maya, understandably, has a hard time letting go. But Kenneth recognizes J.J.’s needs and desires and is an excellent advocate, which in turn leads to tension between Maya and Kenneth.

Hockey

Sibling subplots center around Ray’s quest for a girlfriend and Dylan’s insatiable need to win. Another recurring plot point is the family’s general messiness and lack of yard care. J.J. takes a lot of everyone’s energy and little is left for household chores. The DiMeos are fine with this, but neighbors do not always share their enthusiasm. Perhaps my favorite episode is “T-h-a Thanksgiving”. The family is supposed to visit Jimmy’s brother but don’t want to because, well, those relatives are horrible. The brother always humble-brags about his wealth and success; his wife cries at the drop of a hat; her mother performs weird semi-lap dances for J.J.; and their son says a single catch phrase each year and nothing else; So the DiMeos pretend that J.J. is sick and cancel the visit. However, the relatives decide to visit the DiMeos instead. As they continue to plan ways to avoid the unwanted gathering, Maya comes up with a brilliant idea, turning the relatives annoying habits into a game. Every time the wife cries Maya gets a point, when the brother brags Jimmy gets a point, and so on. This is a unique perspective on coping with difficult family interactions.

If you like sharp, clever writing, be sure to check out Speechless. It’s truly a superior and unusual show, well worth the price of admission. And please remember: no helmet, no hockey.

Ken Burns’ Country Music

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I listen to a wide variety of musical styles and one of my favorites is what I call Old Timey. This general label can include early blues, ragtime, folk, jug band and early country. So I eagerly anticipated Ken Burns’ latest documentary, titled simply Country Music. Little did I realize that my version of reality was about to be blown up like a trout in a mountain lake. 

Volume One of this monumental work looks at the folks who invented what we have come to know as country music, including the Carter Family, Jimmie Rodgers and Gene Autry. Beautiful photographs mix with audio recordings and narrated histories. Although I’m more familiar with this music than many people, I still found myself watching with wonderment, learning stories (including scandals) that I’d not known, feeling as if I were present in the photos, cipherin’ the importance of individual performers.

For example, I did not know that Maybelle Carter, guitarist for the Carter Family, created her own style of guitar picking called, among other things, the thumb brush. Or that Jimmie Rodgers was so weak from tuberculosis during his final recording session that he had to rest on a cot between takes. And that Gene Autry’s singing cowboy films were vitally important in spreading country music to a national audience.

Someone I do know a bit about is Mr. Hank Williams, whose short but fertile career began to unfold in the 1940s. From his first hit in 1948 to his death in 1953, Williams created a litany of country standards that continue to be popular 70 years later. Outstanding songwriting skills and an appealing voice were the perfect combination to catapult Hank to stardom. But it was perhaps his lyrics that drew in listeners. Tales of heartache and ways to combat said heartache spoke to people in a way that popular music seldom did.

Country Music moves on to tell of Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs developing a new style called bluegrass, of Elvis Presley and others taking country in a new direction that would eventually become rock and roll, and of Ray Charles’ importance in popularizing country with the release of his album Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music. The amount of information in this documentary is phenomenal and we’ve only scratched the surface today. And, there’s also a Volume Two!

Part of the beauty of country music, and American music in general, is the combination of influences. Nobody woke up on a Tuesday and said, “Ah, I think I’ll invent country music!” American folk music, which is derived from European folk music, along with African influences, blues, jazz and swing all had an impact on the growth of country. For example, Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys modeled themselves after swing bands, employing horn sections, drums, instrumental solos and a swing feel. And in the early 1950s honky tonk, boogie woogie and country, as well as other genres, coalesced into rockabilly and then rock and roll. It’s all intertwined.

So sit back and prepare to be stunned. Volume One is about eight hours of viewing time, so make sure you have a comfy chair and an adequate supply of beverages. And do not sit too close to the screen as this is bad for your eyes. And please, as always, allow time for bathroom breaks.

Snow Day Movies

With snow in the forecast, it’s time to enjoy watching movies from the comfort of your living room! If you forget to stock up on DVDs at the library before the snow hits, the library has two FREE movie apps you can use to watch movies digitally: Hoopla and Kanopy. With either of these apps, you just download the app and set up an account with your email address, library card and pin number. Then sign in with your library card and pin number and you can watch movies available in the app for FREE! There is a monthly limit: 6 per month for Hoopla and 8 for Kanopy. It’s another benefit of having an Everett Public Library card!

The movies change a little every month, and this month they have some really wonderful movies for both adults and kids. Here are some of my favorites on Hoopla:

Finding Neverland starring Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet. When his latest play flops, J.M. Barrie starts spending his days at a park near his London home where he meets a young widow and her four adventurous sons. His friendship with the bohemian family sparks his imagination and he ends up writing his greatest play – Peter Pan. This is a MAGICAL movie – totally amazing!

Kinky Boots starring Chiwetel Ejiofor and Joel Edgerton. This is an English film about a small family-owned shoe factory that is about to go out of business, unable to compete with lower priced shoes made elsewhere. The young man who has recently inherited the firm is determined to save it and keep the people who work for him employed, and he hits on a creative way to do so – making boots for drag queens! This is a heart-warming film with fantastic music and dancing. No description can possibly do it justice. 

A Long Way Down starring Pierce Brosnan, Toni Collette, Aaron Paul and Imogen Poots. This is an English film about four people who meet when they all decide to jump off the same building on New Year’s Eve. Unable to watch the others commit suicide, they make an agreement to halt their plans to jump for six weeks. During this time, they become the family they all desperately need. Brilliant acting makes this a very touching and compelling film.

The Price Winner of Defiance, Ohio starring Julianne Moore and Woody Harrelson. This film is based on a true story. In 1950’s Ohio, a housewife with ten kids discovers she has a flair for writing jingles and ad copy and uses that flair to win contests. Her contest winnings paid her family’s bills for many years. Based on a book written by her daughter. This is a very emotional film with first-rate acting. 

Hamilton: One Shot to Broadway starring Lin-Manuel Miranda. This is a documentary about the making of the musical Hamilton. Fascinating and stunningly well made.