Review of the Road Ends by Mary Larson

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Review By Carla Sands

The Road Ends is a story of journeys — journeys taken by members of a family living in the northern isolated reaches of Ontario in the 1960s. The backdrop of a brutal winter further underscores the hardship and loneliness of this family as they seek to find warmth and protection from both external and internal elements.

As the family implodes, Megan the only daughter of eight children — leaves for England to begin a life of her own. She leaves behind a family isolated from each other and unable to heal from their emotional wounds. Megan, her brother Tom, and her father give voice to their torments as they journey to find redemption, answers, and hope for their lives.

Lawson beautifully layers her story, illuminating the sacrifices we make and the responsibilities we have for each other. The novel is not a happy one, but the journeys’ ends provide us with a testament to the resiliency of love and family ties.

Review of Open Range (2003)

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In the mood for a western? Give Open Range a try.

It’s the story of two cowboys named Boss (Robert Duvall) and Charley (Kevin Costner). These cattlemen are traveling across the American West minding their own business when they are unintentionally caught up in a bitter feud with a town sheriff and land baron.

The film opens with a stunning shot of the prairie and depicts the solitary, hard-working life of these nomadic cowboys. They are removed from the townspeople, many of whom don’t take kindly to “free grazers” who allow their cattle to roam on their lands. The cattlemen do their best to avoid a quarrel, but when these townspeople brutally kill one of their friends, they decide to fight back. Can these outsiders convince the townspeople to back them up or will fear and prejudice force them to stand up to these corrupt lawmen alone?

I enjoyed this movie more than I thought I would. Everything from the cinematography to the costumes transports you into its western setting. The suspense is subtle and builds slowly throughout the film. Just when you think one of the characters is going to walk into an ambush or start a fight, all of a sudden he backs away. The quintessential shootout does not happen until very late in the movie, which is just one of the characteristics that makes Open Range more of a character story than an action-adventure flick.

While Boss does his best to avoid conflict, Charley is no stranger to violence. Secretly, they both yearn to settle down and have a family, but their traumatic pasts have led them to pull away from intimate relationships. When they meet a charming doctor’s wife (played by Annette Bening), Charley doesn’t know how to handle his feelings towards her. He is a hard man, afraid of gentility and love. Slowly, throughout the movie, he fights to tear down these walls he’s put up around him. It’s not an easy process, but a necessary one if he hopes to experience any happiness in his life. We get a sense from watching this movie that neither man has experienced much joy recently. As much as the open range is beautiful and peaceful, for them it’s an escape. Can they find a balance between solitude and human interaction? This is just one of the questions that the plot forces upon these men.

If you enjoy thoughtful dramas, classic westerns, or romance, then this is the movie for you.

Available to check out now from the Gabriele Library.

Review of The Way Way Back (2013)

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By Christine Iannicelli

One of the most successful films showcased in the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, The Way Way Back is a beautiful coming-of-age story about a shy preadolescent named Duncan (Liam James) who finds a confidante in a water park manager named Owen (Sam Rockwell).

Duncan is a lonely kid spending summer vacation at the beach with his mother (Toni Collette), her boyfriend (Steve Carell), and his daughter.  He is miserable because he knows no one at the beach, save for his mother who is too busy drinking and partying with the neighbors to spend time with him.  Her boyfriend Trent is also very rude and condescending towards Duncan.  Eager to escape, Duncan goes on a bike ride and comes across a water park where he meets Owen, a childish but friendly man who exudes self-confidence.  Sensing that Duncan feels lost, Owen takes him under his wing and introduces him to a variety of supporting characters (including Jim Rash and Nat Faxon, who wrote and directed the film).  It is here at this water park that Duncan manages to come out of his shell and find a place where he truly belongs.

I really enjoyed this movie.  Every character felt like a real person to me, from the over-the-top drunken neighbor (played by Allison Janney) and her wayward children to an exasperated co-worker of Owen’s (played by Maya Rudolph).  Duncan’s mother particularly struck a chord with me.  I disliked her character for her weak nature and failure to see her how unhappy her son was, but part of me understood why she was with Trent.  She’s a single mom, alone in the world.  She’s not blind to her boyfriend’s infidelity and controlling nature, but who else does she have to turn to?  Like Duncan, her self-esteem is wrapped up in the people around her.  The Way Way Back is a story of her growth and redemption as much as it is Duncan’s.

It took me a while to warm up to Duncan, whose personality first came off as so aloof and awkward that I couldn’t stand to watch him.  Mid-way through the film, however, I realized that Duncan is just lacking a positive male role model in his life.  When he has that, Duncan comes to life.  Sam Rockwell, to me, is the real star of this film.  I was drawn to him from the beginning, as Duncan was.  He’s sarcastic and lazy, but also a genuinely warm and loving guy.  There are comedic moments where he wise-cracks and rambles endlessly to help Duncan lighten up and feel at ease, and other serious situations where he’s quiet and supportive to give Duncan the opportunity to vent.  He represents everything this boy could be when he grows up, and while their friendship is short-lived, it’s one I’m sure Duncan will remember for a lifetime.

Check out The Way Way Back yourself, available at the Gabriele Library.

Review of While You Were Sleeping (1995)

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By Christine Iannicelli

Sandra Bullock’s rise to fame is most attributed to her role in the 1994 action film Speed, but I will always credit her starring in the romantic comedy While You Were Sleeping as the moment when this talented actress became America’s sweetheart.

Bullock plays a lonely token collector at a Chicago train station named Lucy who is enamored by a handsome stranger who commutes every day by train.  One day, this stranger (named Peter) falls onto the tracks and Lucy rescues him.  Peter ends up in a coma and through a misinterpretation at the hospital, one of the nurses informs Peter’s family that Lucy is his fiancée!

Without a family of her own to go home to, Lucy is touched by the love and affection Peter’s family bestows upon her and decides to play along with the lie.  But what will she do when Peter finally wakes up, especially since she is starting to fall in love with his brother Jack?!

While You Were Sleeping is a perfect balance of comedy, sentiment, and romance.  Lucy is quirky and down-to-earth and the supporting characters, including Peter Boyle and Micole Mercurio as the parents, are hilarious.  I especially liked Bill Pullman’s portrayal of the brother Jack.

While You Were Sleeping is a feel-good movie that I can watch year-round and one that I highly recommend you check out this summer!

Favorite Quote:

Peter: “I don’t think I’ve ever done anything truly heroic in my life.”

Lucy: “You give up your seat every day in the train.”

Peter: “Well… But that’s not heroic.”

Lucy: “It is to the person who sits in it.”