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.”

Jun 30

“Gypsy”: Role Model for Unethical Therapists Everywhere

Coming to Netflix today is Lisa Rubin‘s Gypsy, a widely panned series starring Naomi Watts as a therapist—a vastly unethical therapist.

Let’s just get the trailer out of the way:

 

Rubin offers this official film description:

Gypsy is a ten-part psychological thriller that follows Jean Halloway (Naomi Watts), a Manhattan therapist with a seemingly picturesque life who begins to develop intimate and illicit relationships with the people in her patients’ lives. As the borders of Jean’s professional life and personal fantasies become blurred, she descends into a world where the forces of desire and reality are disastrously at odds.

Psychological thriller? Most critics seriously question how well Gypsy fills that particular bill.

Further plot details from Jen Chaney, Vulture:

Happily married (Billy Crudup plays Michael, her handsome lawyer-husband) with a daughter, a nice home, and a New York City office yanked straight out of a Z Gallerie catalogue, Jean ticks most of the boxes on the ‘she has it all’ checklist. She does have some issues, though, including a strained relationship with her mother (Blythe Danner), difficulty coming to terms with her non-gender-conforming daughter, and a low-simmering jealousy of the relationship between Michael and his assistant. To cope, Jean does what Gypsy the series does: spend minimal time genuinely exploring these matters in order to channel energy into unethically infiltrating the social and family circles of her patients.

Selected Reviews: Comparisons and Conclusions

Dan Fienberg, Hollywood Reporter:

Watts doesn’t play Jean as victim or villain and Gypsy doesn’t judge Jean, though many viewers are probably going to think it should. Professionally, the things she’s doing are wrong and the show’s only real tension comes from playing the same, ‘Is she about to get caught in her latest lie?’ beats over and over without offering an alternative perspective, allowing us to root for the cruelly manipulated patients.

Jen Chaney, Vulture: “It’s like In Treatment with more weird, stalker-y behavior, except when it’s delving into Jean’s conflicts with fellow moms in her chichi Connecticut suburb. Then it’s like a far inferior version of Big Little Lies.”

Maureen Ryan, Variety:

It’s hard not to compare this show to ‘In Treatment,’ the HBO series about a therapist which had the good sense to keep its episodes to under 30 minutes. Not only did that series do a better job of turning most clients into three-dimensional people, it distilled the intensity of sessions into efficient, effective installments.
What transpires in Jean’s office, however, usually lacks insight and spontaneity, and her patients — who nurture obsessions with people who don’t return their interest — are a pallid, moderately annoying bunch. Jean’s eyes often glaze over with boredom, and it’s easy to see why.

Inkoo Kang, Village Voice:

The show is a confluence of interesting ideas: female midlife crises, competitive mothering, the parenting of a very young trans child, the invisibility of female sociopathy, mental-health professionals’ frustration at their own helplessness, and, especially, the vicarious thrills therapists (might) experience when they hear about the life-derailing pleasures that got their patients into trouble. But each scene wastes every opportunity to reach for something fresh or original.

Brian Tallerico, rogerebert.com:

…a depressingly bad show for the talent it wastes on horrendous dialogue, unbelievable characters, and the kind of soapy plotting you’re more likely to see on a Lifetime TV movie than prestige drama…
Worst of all, none of it rings true…If I was the show’s therapist, I’d suggest it stop taking itself so damn seriously. Pick up the pace and give us something to care about. Get to the point and stop dancing around your issues. Because no one wants to dance this slowly.

May 26

“3 Generations” Deal with Teen’s Transgender Issues

Emily Yoshida, Vulture, sets up the plot of Gaby Dellal‘s 3 Generations, a film (formerly called About Ray) that’s sat on the shelf for quite some time pending some needed fixes:

Ray (Elle Fanning) is a transgender high-school boy who desperately wants to begin hormone therapy, a development that leads to much hand-wringing from his mom, Maggie (Naomi Watts), and grandmother Dolly (Susan Sarandon). The three live together in a charming, ramshackle East Village apartment along with Dolly’s girlfriend, Frances (Linda Emond). Ray’s father, Craig (Tate Donovan), is out of the picture, but because Ray is a minor, he requires a signature from both parents in order to proceed with the reassignment process. Cue a messy family reunion, and at least one dramatic revelation.

Many critics wish it had been fixed even more. Its Tomatometer score (Rotten Tomatoes) is currently at 30%.

Christy Lemire, Rogerebert.com:  “A movie can mean well but not necessarily work well. Being tasteful can get in the way of being truthful. Such is the frustrating case of ‘3 Generations,’ which takes on the topic of gender dysphoria with a talented cast but not much to say.”

Alonso Duralde, The Wrap: “It’s a film that positively reeks of good intentions, but it’s so timid and tentative — the words ‘trans’ and ‘transgender’ are never uttered aloud — that it feels as hopelessly retro as casting a cisgender actress in the lead. Fanning does fine work, but the current habit of not hiring trans performers to play trans characters is going to feel very dated very soon.”

Jesse HassengerAVClub: “Many scenes and sequences end abruptly, indicating that there may well have been a longer cut of the movie, which may well have played better than this one.”

Watch the trailer below:

Depiction of Transgender Issues

Alonso Duralde, The Wrap:

…Yes, many parents have a difficult time understanding their children’s transitions, but the characters presented here are all artsy New Yorkers, so the idea that they’ve had no interaction with trans people never rings true. As for Ray, he has not one trans friend — not even online, where he would presumably be posting his auto-documentary shorts on YouTube and finding others going through similar life stages. And given that he’s known he was a boy since the age of four, he seems ill-equipped to discuss the subject with his well-meaning relatives.

Joe McGovern, ew.com: “Nine out of 10 scenes in the film involve the characters hurling insults at each other while seeming miserable in their fantastic Manhattan brownstone. Some of the screaming fights yield challenging points of conflict: Sarandon’s character, for example, thinks it’s antifeminist that ‘my granddaughter wants to be a grandson’.” Christy Lemire, rogerebert.com: “Theoretically, you might expect that because Dolly is a lesbian, she’d be more understanding of Ray’s desire to assert his true self; the fact that she isn’t is one of the film’s more intriguing—yet unexplored—elements.”

Emily Yoshida, Vulture: “…(I)t feels more like a checklist lifted from a pamphlet about things to expect when your son or daughter comes out — well-meaning, emotionally unimaginative, and always at arm’s length.”

Selected Reviews (Not 100% Bad)

Rex Reed, New York Observer: “3 Generations is contrived, but the heartfelt performances keep the threadbare material on track-witty, warm and wise.”

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone: “3 Generations doesn’t cut deep into the torn-from-the-headlines issue of trans rights. In fact, it doesn’t cut at all.”

Gary Goldstein, Los Angeles Times: “Still, when this well-acted picture calms down and focuses on real emotions, it proves a poignant, absorbing look at a modern family.”

Nov 17

“Birdman”: Does He Fly? (Reviews of the Film and a Non-Answer)

Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman, starring Michael Keaton, is getting a lot of critical love—for starters, it features several first-rate performances and is stylistically innovative. For me, on the other hand, the latter aspect actually ruled over substance, when I would usually prefer it the other way around.

Moira Macdonald, Seattle Times:

Watching Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu’s multilayered ‘Birdman’ is like unfolding a piece of intricate origami; it keeps opening in unexpected directions. It’s a movie that can be appreciated on many levels simultaneously: as a backstage-at-the-theater comedy; as a literate and literary character study; as a remarkable achievement in cinematography (it’s filmed as to appear to be one unbroken two-hour shot); as a comment on the nature of contemporary entertainment; as a showcase for one of the year’s finest ensemble casts; and as a surreal tale of a man seeking his soul, with a final image so understated yet beautiful you may find yourself sitting still for a minute longer, happily taking it in.

THE PLOT

Tom Long, Detroit News:

So exhilarating it can be exhausting, ‘Birdman’…is a film that challenges, surprises and dazzles while still working at the edges of a frazzled mind.
That mind would belong to Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton), a movie star who long ago played a superhero character named Birdman to international acclaim before walking away from the franchise. Now he’s written an adaptation of a Raymond Carver story that he’s staging on Broadway, directing himself as the star, trying to reignite his career and validate his work…

Lisa Kennedy, Denver Post: “Ambition, need, regret, resentment, arrogance, and dire doubt will be on rare and constant display, as Thomson tries to mount, direct and star in an adaptation — his own! — of Raymond Carver’s short story ‘What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.'”

Liam Lacey, Globe and Mail: “The story [of the play], which appears to be an update on Plato’s Symposium, features two couples getting sloshed on gin, swapping stories about suicide, wife abuse and a horrific car accident.”

SUPPORTING CHARACTERS

Riggin’s costars in the stage play are Mike (Edward Norton), Lesley (Naomi Watts), and Laura (Andrea Riseborough). Emma Stone, Zach Galifianakis, and Amy Ryan also have important roles.

Stephanie Zacharek, Village Voice: “Riggan’s two actresses, Naomi Watts’s Lesley and Andrea Riseborough’s Laura, flounce about radiating moonbeams of actressy insecurity.”

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone: “…award-caliber work from Edward Norton as a volatile actor who drives Riggan nuts, mostly because his talent is as big as his ego.”

Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle:  “As Keaton’s sullen daughter, Emma Stone has never been more vivid, neither as an actress nor as a physical entity. Inarritu does her the service of not falling in love with her, of seeing her as a mixed-up kid.”

Christy Lemire, rogerebert.com: “Zach Galifianakis plays strongly against type as Riggan’s manager and the rare voice of reason in the middle of all this madness.”

Lisa Kennedy, Denver Post: “The only grounding presence here is Riggan’s ex-wife, played with a kind of no-B.S. clarity and charity by Amy Ryan.”

BIRDMAN

Liam Lacey, Globe and Mail:

There’s one more important figure, the title character Birdman, Riggan’s superhero character from decades ago, who lives on as a growling negative voice inside the cracked actor’s head. Nothing’s necessarily entirely literal here, but Birdman is not just the garden variety voice of inner self-loathing…Riggan can move and destroy objects with his mind, rather than just smash them in a bad temper. His madness is distinctly thespian-centric: He believes he can will himself to be someone much greater than he is.

THE TRAILER (With Background Song “Crazy”)

OVERALL REVIEWS

Ty Burr, Boston Globe:

‘Birdman’ — full title ‘Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance),’ for reasons that become sort of, kind of, all right, not really clear — is a jaw-dropping stylistic wow that spins, pirouettes, turns inside out, and miraculously stays aloft for two hours.
It’s a backstage drama — correction: It’s a backstage middle-aged male freakout comedy-drama and, as such, possibly a guy’s answer to the anxieties of ‘All About Eve.’

Dana Stevens, Slate: “A movie that, while ultimately less satisfying than I hoped, features two breathtaking star turns: one from its lead actor and another from that camera, wielded by the indisputably magical Emmanuel Lubezki.”

Betsy SharkeyLos Angeles Times: “…(J)ust as the stage belongs to Riggan, ‘Birdman’ belongs to Keaton. It is one of those performances that is so intensely truthful, so eerily in the moment, so effortless in making fantasy reality, and reality fantasy, that it is hard to imagine Keaton will ever be better.”

Ann Hornaday, Washington Post: “With grandeur, giddiness and a humanistic nod toward transcendence, “Birdman” vividly evokes a time of equal parts possibility and terrifying uncertainty, and makes a persuasive case that, when the ground is shifting beneath your feet, the best thing to do is to take flight.”

Tom Long, Detroit News: “Can Riggan really fly? Can any of us? ‘Birdman’ doesn’t offer the answer, but revels in the question. Soar with it.”