Staff Review: The Florida Project

Long after I watched it, I still think about The Florida Project from 2017 staring Willem Dafoe. The small budget sleeper which received many acting nominations and awards for Dafoe  was recognized by both the
National Board of Review and American Film Institute as one of the top 10 films of the year in 2017.

Set in Florida the story centers on six year old Moonee  who with her mother lives at the Magic Castle, a faded pink stucco two story motel located along a busy freeway. Without helicoptering parents to squash their freedom Moonee and her friends from the motel are free to roam which also means there is no one to protect them when their curiosity and creativity can have dangerous results. A visually captivating film, the single shot of a sign advertising the proximity of Walt Disney World to Magic Castle is not lost on the viewer.

Dafoe with his weathered face has seen many lives pass thru the motel he manages which serves as housing for poor single mothers who resort to any way to make the rent money from reselling fake Disney World tickets to prostitution. Meanwhile the looming threat is family services will discover these desperate acts by Moonee’s mother and she will lose her daughter to foster care. Dafoe is the stability in the lives of the motel residents both children and adults. But for how long can he protect the children and their mothers from making bad choices.  As consequences unfold the viewer is left to wonder what truly would be the best outcome for Moonee. 

Staff Pick

Recommendation by Nina Murphy

When a patron checks out a show I have enjoyed I can’t help but get excited for them, particularly when it’s a well done British murder mystery.   Somehow murders taking place across the pond seem less nefarious to me than those taking place stateside. Broadchurch, a three season TV program extremely popular with streaming services is available through Ocean State Library (Season 1 & 2 are available on the shelves at Rogers Free Library with Season three available for request from other libraries.

Broadchurch takes places in a fictional town near Dorset, England. The dramatic landscape of a massive cliff which looms over a wide empty beach provides a forlorn sadness to a very the sad reality: A 14-year old boy has been found dead below the cliff. As we discover with the twists and turns of each episode there are secret lives behind the townspeople which begs the question did those secrets play a part in the tragedy? To add to the tension is the working relationship between DI Alec Hardy, a seasoned detective who has for reasons we will learn later moved to this remote coastal town, and local DS Ellie Miller who is a product of the community and thinks she knows her residents inside and out.

Chris Chibnall was the creator and executive producer behind the series and more importantly wrote all 24 episodes of the series. He has created characters with complicated intersecting lives. Interesting production note which I did not know when I watched the series is the identity of the killer was kept from actors and crew up until the final three episodes. 

Broadchurch is the perfect antidote for a cool fall night along with a large bowl of popcorn. A word of warning: you don’t want to rush through this well-crafted production. Once it’s over you’ll only be frustrated that there are not more programs as well produced as this one.

Staff Review

The Engagements
by J. Courtney Sullivan

I was recently given a copy of The Engagements by J. Courtney Sullivan which was published in 2013. I was aware of her novels but had yet to read any of them.

Tucked in between its pages the previous reader had left a clipping from The Boston Globe featuring an interview with the author about the book. I purposely put it aside not wanting it to influence my reading of it in any way. 

At the center of this fictional story the main character is based on the real life of Frances Gerety, a copywriter for a Philadelphia adverting agency beginning in the 1940’s who was assigned to the agency’s biggest account, DeBeers Jewelers.  As the book travels over the decades, the author explores the lives of four people, some of whom experienced engagements, some not, always returning to Frances and the factual history of the DeBeers marketing strategy to promote diamond rings which began with the engagement ring. 

I’m not a fan of historical fiction and the tool of taking real people and using them as characters. I find it a gimmick – I’m always wondering what was true, what was created by the author and how unfair it is the person who is no longer alive to tell their story.  However after finishing the book, I was grateful to learn that Ms. Sullivan did a great deal of research, and more importantly, had had lengthy interviews with former colleagues and friends of Frances; I felt confident that she, a women ahead of her time was presented accurately and would appreciate her story being told.

Ms. Sullivan is often lauded for her developed and drawn out characters. At times I found the characters too developed, leaving little to the reader’s imagination; some of the characterizations bordered on being one dimensional and stereotypical. For me the most interesting character was not the fictional ones but was Frances.

After a handful of chapters and not feeling overly enamored with the story I pulled out the interview and discovered that there would eventually be a connection linking the individual characters. Armed with this nugget, the amateur sleuth in me resumed reading with a new curiosity to figure it out. I’m glad I finished the book.  I’m grateful to Ms. Sullivan for sharing the life of Frances Gerety, a woman whose work in a once male dominated industry contributed immeasurably to the success of DeBeers. We need more stories which reveal and acknowledged the ground breaking contributions of such women. ~ Nina Murphy