Aug 11

“The Glass Castle”: From Best Selling Book to Film

 A young girl comes of age in a dysfunctional family of nonconformist nomads with a mother who’s an eccentric artist and an alcoholic father who would stir the children’s imagination with hope as a distraction to their poverty. IMDB description of The Glass Castle

Home goes wherever we go. Tagline to The Glass Castle

Long-term best seller The Glass Castle: A Memoir, by Jeannette Walls, now has an eagerly awaited movie version.

THE BOOK

Book critic Francine Prose, New York Times, stated about it that “…what’s best is the deceptive ease with which she makes us see just how she and her siblings were convinced that their turbulent life was a glorious adventure.”

More book details from Publishers Weekly:

…Walls’s parents—just two of the unforgettable characters in this excellent, unusual book—were a matched pair of eccentrics, and raising four children didn’t conventionalize either of them. Her father was a self-taught man, a would-be inventor who could stay longer at a poker table than at most jobs and had ‘a little bit of a drinking situation,’as her mother put it. With a fantastic storytelling knack, Walls describes her artist mom’s great gift for rationalizing…The Walls children learned to support themselves, eating out of trashcans at school or painting their skin so the holes in their pants didn’t show.

Kirkus Reviews: “The author’s tell-it-like-it-was memoir is moving because it’s unsentimental; she neither demonizes nor idealizes her parents, and there remains an admirable libertarian quality about them, though it justifiably elicits the children’s exasperation and disgust. Walls’s journalistic bare-bones style makes for a chilling, wrenching, incredible testimony of childhood neglect.”

THE MOVIE ADAPTATION

Peter Debruge, Variety, introduces Destin Daniel Cretton‘s film, which features the highly regarded Brie Larson as the lead:

‘The Glass Castle’ catches up with Walls at the moment in her life when she finally came to terms with her father (which has taken a bit of creative fictionalization, but remains remarkably true to the book): She’s engaged to a successful investment banker (Max Greenfield) and looks like a character out of ‘The Bonfire of the Vanities,’ with her fancy high-society hairdo, pearl necklace and stiff-shouldered blouse. No one would guess that this charming, seemingly cultured woman once ate a stick of butter and sugar because there had been nothing else in the house — a house without running water or electricity.

The trailer:

 

Critics are divided over whether the movie does the book justice. Sheri Linden, Hollywood Reporter, believes, on the one hand, that The Glass Castle “successfully captures the essence of the memoir, with exceptionally potent work by Woody Harrelson and Naomi Watts as the spirited, self-involved and willfully impoverished bohemians who subjected their four kids to a peripatetic, hardscrabble life but also, in the process, taught them to fend for themselves.”

Claudia Puig, The Wrap, concludes, though, that it’s “a far better book than movie” and “feels like a cloying, one-note Hollywood tale, the beastly trauma all tied up with a pretty bow and de-fanged.” Likewise, Peter Travers, Rolling Stone, states that The Glass Castle “gets the mediocre-movie treatment.”

Other Selected Reviews

Tomris Laffly, Time Out: “Reflective and cumulatively poignant, Destin Cretton’s The Glass Castle lays bare the utmost truth about families: You will eventually morph into your parents.”

Eric Kohn, IndieWire: “For a while, the movie generates a fascinating juxtaposition between Jeanette’s childhood efforts to improve her family’s circumstances and the tragic results, a mystery unfolding piecemeal. However, the movie becomes ever more familiar as it moves along, giving way to a tale of father-daughter estrangement.”

Peter Debruge, Variety: “Cretton captures the incidents of Walls’ childhood (too many of them, to be honest, as the film really ought to be half an hour shorter), but struggles to connect them to the grown woman Larson plays in the present. Here is a successful New York gossip columnist whose own story was juicier than practically any she uncovered in her day job, and yet, despite its running time, it offers at best a fragmented portrait of how she was personally shaped by having a father as unique as Rex Walls.”

Oct 23

“Room” Is the Film to…Well, Make Some Room For

The most terrifying movie of the season does not involve aliens, ghouls or men in hooded masks. Regina Weinreich, Huffington Post, about Room

Because of the subject matter, a movie like Lenny Abrahamson‘s Room, adapted from Emma Donoghue‘s bestselling 2010 novel by the author herself, will not be readily received by everyone. But many critics want us to try.

Too grim and heartbreaking for some viewers, Room is nevertheless an extraordinary film so powerful and unforgettable that it must be seen,” says Rex Reed, New York Observer.

Others are largely in agreement, not only about the high quality of the film itself but also about the powerful performances.

The gist: Jack (Jacob Tremblay), now five years old, has always lived in a small garden shed, imprisoned, with his Ma (Brie Larson).

As Chris Nashawaty, EW.com, elaborates, “Their jailor is a brutal sadist named Old Nick (Sean Bridgers), who grants and withholds privileges depending on his whims. How long have they been in this room? What cruel fate put them here? The movie doles out these answers slowly, making us feel as disoriented as these doomed souls in confinement.”

Although some, including Nashawaty, indicate that further info about the plot constitutes spoilers, others recognize that many viewers will already have accessed certain info from the trailer and/or press and/or reading the book. But if none of the above applies, the following may not be for you.

Basically, the first “act” is their Room experience, the second their escape toward Joy’s (Ma’s) parents (Joan Allen, William H. Macy).

The First Act

Amy Nicholson, Village Voice:

To keep Jack calm, his mom convinces him that the world on TV is make-believe. All dogs are fake, the ocean is fake, the other people are just ‘made of colors.’ Their room — or, as he calls it, ‘Room,’ the same way we say ‘America’ or ‘Earth’ — is the only reality.

The twist is, to Jack it’s not that bad…

Susan Wloszczyna, rogerebert.com:

As for Ma, her whole focus is on Jack’s well-being and rarely her own. She ignores a painful rotting tooth in her mouth until it falls out and it immediately becomes one of her son’s most prized possessions. She is endlessly resourceful, turning cardboard toilet paper rolls and egg shells connected by string into playthings. For her, Jack is her anchor and her reason to carry on.

The Second Act

Justin Chang, Variety:

…Abrahamson and Donoghue invite and achieve an uncommon level of audience identification as they give due weight to their characters’ post-traumatic stress disorder. Their story implores us to consider the normal or expected passages to adulthood — the gradual separation from one’s parents, the growing sense of self-sufficiency, the ability to put away childish things, the understanding that what we are losing is (hopefully) being matched by what we are gaining — and to realize the impossible situation that now confronts Jack. Yet a subtle, provocative question also rises to the surface, slyly articulated in a scene where his mother wistfully scans the photos of her former classmates in a high-school yearbook: With their comparably blessed, sheltered, mundane lives, were they really that much better off?

Susan Wloszczyna, rogerebert.com:

Jack especially thrives in the company of his grandmother (Joan Allen, whose smile alone gives a boost to the film’s last third). She got divorced in the wake of her daughter’s disappearance and has a new man in her life, the good-natured Leo (Tom McCamus) who patiently guides and encourages Jack. If there is a weak link in ‘Room,’ it is William H. Macy, who is too predictably cast as Joy’s father, ill-equipped to handle her reappearance, let alone the news that he now has a grandson.

The Trailer

Selected Reviews and Take-Aways

Chris Nashawaty, EW.com: “Room is the kind of spare and lean film that lives or dies depending on its performances. Fortunately, Larson and Tremblay are remarkable…Room may not be a pleasant place to spend two hours, but it’s an unsettling experience you won’t forget.”

Dana Stevens, Slate: “Though it goes to places as dark as any you could imagine, Room carries at its heart a message of hope: Two people in four walls can create a world worth surviving for, if they love each other enough.”

Susan Wloszczyna, rogerebert.com: “’Room’ is a soul-searing celebration of the impenetrable bond that endures even under the most unbearable of circumstances between a parent and a child.”

Justin Chang, Variety: “…a suspenseful and heartrending drama that finds perhaps the most extreme possible metaphor for how time, regret and the end of childhood can make unknowing captives of us all.”

Amy Nicholson, Village Voice: “Like with Jack in his magical Room, paradise is a matter of perspective. How much we appreciate this world is up to us.”

Aug 29

“Short Term 12”: Realistic Portrayal of Facility for Troubled Teens

A new award-winning indie film called Short Term 12 (that expands on writer/director Destin Cretton‘s 2008 short film of the same name) is reaping much critical praise.

Joe Neumaier, New York Daily News, sets it up:

Grace (Brie Larson) is a supervisor at the title facility, handling youngsters whose home lives endanger them or whose suicidal behavior landed them there. Her small staff includes her boyfriend Mason (John Gallagher Jr.), whom she lives with, and shy newcomer Nate (Rami Malek). They’re not social workers or psychologists, but they help the teens work out their emotions..

Early on we learn Grace is pregnant, but she hasn’t told Mason yet. The knowledge of that, and the question of how to handle it, echoes through Grace’s experiences with Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever), a recent arrival at the group home. Among the other kids is the troubled Marcus (Keith Stanfield), who frets about his approaching 18th birthday because it means he’ll soon be on his own after three years at Short Term 12. There’s also the younger prankster Luis (Kevin Hernandez) and bipolar Sammy (Alex Calloway).

…Cretton treats all of them with respect, and we slowly see why the counselors choose to be there.

Below see the trailer:

THE REALISM

Notably, Cretton bases this movie on his own employment experience in a similar facility.

Jonathan Kim, The Huffington Post: “On every level, there’s something about Short Term 12 that just feels perfect and so, so real, while also paying tribute to the men and women, often young and underpaid, who are on the front lines with America’s at-risk kids, sacrificing everything to give them a better future than what fate has handed them.”

Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times:

Critical to ‘Short Term 12’s’ success is its gift for believability, for putting on screen people who are unmistakable individuals. In a larger sense, this is a film about the riskiness involved in both caring for another human being and having someone else care for you.

Helping this process is writer-director Cretton’s natural storytelling gifts. Though ‘Short Term 12′ holds us at once because of the immediacy of its characters, the film’s actual plot is revealed only gradually, shrewdly doled out in a series of small surprises. Things may be hidden but we never feel in the dark because the film in effect seduces us into its protagonists’ lives before telling us all about them.

GRACE AND MASON

Their adolescent charges don’t know that Grace and Mason are romantically involved.

Kenneth TuranLos Angeles Times: “Given equal weight with what happens between the staff and these kids is what happens between Grace and Mason, a nuanced relationship that gets increasingly complex as different, unexpected aspects of their backgrounds get revealed.”

THE ROLE OF THERAPY/THERAPISTS

Peter DebrugeVariety: “Although the facility’s care involves dedicated sessions with trained therapists (left almost entirely offscreen), the doctors don’t spend nearly as much time with the kids as the other staffers do, and tensions frequently arise when suggested treatments don’t align with what the on-the-ground counselors observe on a daily basis.”

Inkoo KangVillage Voice: “Grace and her crew exercise firm control over their charges, some of whom cope better than others. But they’re hamstrung by the relative powerlessness of their low-status positions, forced to stand by while the kids’ lives are administered by well-meaning therapists and social workers whose knowledge is more academic than actual.”

THE SETTING

Joe Morgenstern, Wall Street Journal:

The setting of ‘Short Term 12,’ a vividly intimate film by Destin Daniel Cretton, might better be called ‘Indeterminate Term 12.’ It’s a foster-care facility where troubled teens are kept in a safe environment until the county figures out what to do with them—a process that can take weeks, months or as much as a year. They get sporadic psychotherapy, the quality of which is undetermined; we’re never privy to any sessions. What we do see is a 20-something supervisor, Grace, trying to help her volatile kids as best she can, even though she isn’t a trained therapist, isn’t much older than some of her charges and is far from untroubled in her own life.

R. Kurt OsenlundSlant:

Short Term 12’s greatest virtue is its intimate understanding of the sort of people who often work in rehab centers and halfway houses, or, in this case, a foster-care facility for at-risk youth. As the film boldly underlines, office-dwelling supervisors like Jack (Frantz Turner) may be bureaucratic and out of touch, but those in the proverbial trenches…know precisely where the kids in their care are coming from, specifically because they both have similar roots and (sometimes literally) similar scars.

Andrew O’Hehir, Salon:

Cretton has been admirably clear about the fact that ‘Short Term 12’ is meant to be a satisfying work of fiction rather than a conversation-starter about the failings of a poorly funded juvenile care system. But the old-fashioned Dickensian ambition of this movie is its great strength. In showing us all the richness and tenderness and passion that’s possible in young lives that have pretty much been discarded by ordinary society, Cretton invites us – in the kindest possible spirit! – to question our own privilege.

JAYDEN AND GRACE

Kenneth Turan,  Los Angeles Times: “Smart, bored, entitled though she is, Jayden touches something in Grace. Though no one knows better than Grace the support staff mantra that ‘you’re not their family, you’re not their therapist, you’re there to create a safe environment,’ she cannot help but want to get involved.”

Inkoo KangVillage Voice:

Jayden’s presence also forces Grace to deal with the long-term effects of her own abusive past—strongly hinted at early in the film, when she gives a hard, reflexive slap across the face to the colleague/secret boyfriend who climbs atop her one night for a bout of cuddly lovemaking. A surprise pregnancy amplifies Grace’s hopes and fears. As the shadows of the latter loom larger—and her abuser suddenly threatens nearer—her relationship and her sense of self unravel, just when she’s needed most by Jayden.

OVERALL REVIEWS

Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times: “‘Short Term 12’ is a small wonder, a film of exceptional naturalness and empathy that takes material about troubled teenagers and young adults that could have been generic and turns it into something moving and intimate.”

Andrew O’Hehir, Salon:

The instantly absorbing low-budget drama ‘Short Term 12’ has more than a hint of after-school special and more than a hint of prime-time teen soap – and I mean those things in the best possible way! It’s both a compelling group melodrama built around an appealing young cast and an immersive introduction into a social reality many of us haven’t thought about, that being the question of what happens to young people who have been abandoned, abused or damaged to such a degree that they no longer have anything close to a stable family or home life.

Inkoo Kang, Village Voice:

It’s a delicate yet passionate creation, modest in scope but almost overwhelming in its emotional intricacy, ambition, and resonance. Easily one of the best films so far this year, it’s a nearly perfect blend of pimple-faced naturalism, righteous moral fury, nuanced social insight, and unsentimental but devastating drama…

Short Term 12‘s greatest achievement is its ability to paint a double portrait of abuse—a larger exploration of the enduring effects of violent trauma, as well as an intimate depiction of a damaged but hopeful and persevering individual. It’s a bold and sensitive vision—and one that shouldn’t be missed.

Jonathan Kim, The Huffington Post:

Short Term 12 is a movie that’s so honest, authentic, well-executed, and truthful that after seeing it, you can’t help but want to cheer for it, root for it, and do whatever you can to let people know about the remarkable thing you just experienced with hopes that they’ll experience it too. It’s one of those great movies that reminds you why you love movies and the emotions they can elicit and the worlds they can show you.

Dana Stevens, Slate: “When Short Term 12 reaches its last scene, the lump it leaves in your throat feels earned.”