Aug 11

“The Glass Castle”: 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

“‘The Glass Castle,’ states Peter Debruge, Variety, “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).”

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

…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.”

Jun 30

“Gypsy”: Role Model for Unethical Therapists

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

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”: Teen’s Transgender Issues

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

Ray (Elle Fanning)…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 on the website 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.”

Nov 17

“Birdman”: Does He Fly? (Reviews 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…

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.

BIRDMAN

Liam Lacey, Globe and Mail: “…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”)

SELECTED REVIEWS

Ty Burr, Boston Globe: “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.”