Sunday, November 12, 2017

LBJ (2017)

LBJ Library photo by Yoichi Okamoto

Rated:  R

STARS: Woody Harrelson, Jennifer Jason-Leigh, Richard Jenkins
DIRECTOR: Rob Reiner
GENRE: Docudrama


Many of us who lived through the sixties remember Lyndon Baines Johnson as a redneck from Texas who rose above the prejudices of his upbringing to instigate the most important piece of social legislation in the history of the United States--the Civil Rights Act of 1964. But we also despised him for escalating the Vietnam war, and it was his unpopularity due to the war that brought him to the decision not to run for a second term. That aspect of his legacy is given scant attention in LBJ. Instead, the film concentrates almost exclusively on the period leading up to the historic legislation of 1964 and how it was accomplished. So in this particular version of history, the man comes out smelling like a rose.

The major flaw in LBJ is that it's too talky--way too talky--as Johnson twists arms and makes deals, even while sitting on the crapper. Not unexpected, I suppose, for a character study about a politician (too much talk and not enough action!) Rob Reiner--a director I admire--does what he can to counteract the draggy parts by interspersing them with an impressively realistic recreation of that terrible day in Dallas when John Fitzgerald Kennedy met his fate.

Woody Harrelson knocks it out of the park in the title role. Only they've got him made up to look even uglier (sorta grotesque even) than the real Lyndon Johnson was, and that's saying something. On the other hand, Jennifer Jason Leigh as Lady Bird Johnson is so spot on in appearance and mannerism it's scary. You have to use your imagination with the rest of the supporting cast---Jeffrey Donovan in particular, who bears little resemblance to JFK, though he has the accent down. I guess William Devane is too old to play the forever young president now. 

Those who remember the charismatic Bobby Kennedy will be taken aback by Michael Stahl-David's portrayal. He comes off as a kind of vindictive little shit in his not so well publicized at the time feud with LBJ. I don't think it does Bobby's legacy justice.

But LBJ is a film you may want to see--especially if you're a history buff--as it provides some deft insight into the character of the 36th president of the United States.   

Grade:  B -


JILL'S TAKE

Tim pretty much covered it in his review. I, too, thought they overdid the makeup on Woody Harrelson. (On the other hand, I thought Bryan Cranston as LBJ in "All The Way" looked incredibly like the former president.) What I admired most about this cinematic slice of history was the editing. Whether the credit belongs to Rob Reiner (director), Joey Hartstone (screenplay writer) or Bob Joyce (film editor), the way they kept flashing back and forth between Dallas and JFK's actual assassination, and LBJ's life before that horrific event, was a definite tension-builder.

For me, the one actor Tim didn't mention gave an Oscar-worthy performance. Having already received a Best Actor nomination for The Visitor(2009), Richard Jenkins deserves a Best Supporting Actor this year for playing the old school segregationist Senator Richard Russell. (Jenkins became one of my personal favorites when he appeared in the TV series "Six Feet Under.")

But while I'm on the subject of Oscars, I'm sorry that Woody Harrelson, who will probably be nominated twice this year for both this flick and The Glass Castle, won't win anything. (Double nominees never do.) If I were voting, I'd give him the gold statuette for his role as Rex Walls not LBJ....

As I was leaving the theater, comparing notes with my film-going accomplice, an elderly woman turn to us and said "We lived through this time, didn't we!" It made me wonder how a younger generation, one unfamiliar with this particular segment of political history, would view the movie. Would it hold their attention? I'm betting it would.

Grade: B +

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

THE SNOWMAN (2017)




Rated:  R

STARS: Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Ferguson, Charlotte Gainsbourg
DIRECTOR: Tomas Alfredson
GENRE: Mystery/Suspense/Thriller

The Snowman, adapted from the novel by Joe Nesbo,  is hauntingly reminiscent of a Stieg Larsson tale, and not just because it's set in Norway. As with most screenplays of the the murder mystery/suspense/thriller genre, the plot will have you scratching your head--lagging one step behind the action as you try to keep up--and in the end just settling for trying to enjoy the performances; after all, it has Charlotte Gainsbourg in it, so it can't be all bad. (Tell me what it is about her...TELL ME!!!)

Michael Fassbender stars as police detective Harry Hole (no puns from me required--at least they didn't make him a female detective).  He's a drunk who needs a case to work on to keep him focused. And then a young woman disappears, and other women start disappearing, and Harry figures there's a serial killer on the loose. It's all tied in with a strangely bizarre prologue about a young boy and his mother. I won't go into further detail because it's pretty convoluted, and I hate convoluted. And anyways you deserve to suffer through it the same as I--saying  HUH? all the way through, should you decide to tackle this one. 

Harry Hole is paired with a female detective named Katrine Bratt (Rebecca Ferguson). The character names are the only comic relief in The Snowman--unless you want to count when she says early on to him, "You're not going to try to sleep with me, are you?"  He responds in the negative, which normally would set the two of them up for just that kind of thing to happen...but it doesn't. What a waste. And then we have the not often used plot twist of one of the  principal characters biting the big one half way through the film. That's a shocker...you don't expect it...they've got you thinking this person is integral to the story and will be there to the end...and then they aren't. And that sucks. 

The infamous Chloe Sevigny has a bit part--she's had a lot of those lately--and likewise Val Kilmer and J.K. Simmons. A waste of an interesting cast--and ultimately a waste of your interesting money.

Grade: D + (the plus is for Charlotte Gainsbourg!)



JILL'S TAKE

Tim called it 'convoluted.' The fellow I saw The Snowman with muttered "Obtuse," as we left the theater. For me, the one good thing about this time-waster was thinking up other words to describe it: disjointed...confusing...fragmented. You get the idea. But according to my own rigid movie-viewing rules, I must now find something cinematically redeeming about this film.

I guess it would have to be the photography. Dark, moody, snow-filled and unrelenting – like the hard-to-figure-out plot. So many bit parts played by good actors, too. This only added to my befuddlement. Who was I supposed to root for? Who was I supposed to be suspicious of? And what was the damn movie about!

Okay, onto what really pissed me off. The bombastic, hit-you-over-the-head score by Marco Beltrami. "Be afraid," the music kept screaming at you. "You're watching a very scary movie!" If it were up to me, I'd make Mister Beltrami write 'subtle is good' six hundred times in his music notebook. And then, just for good measure, I'd handcuff him to a chair and make him watch Jaws. Over...and over...and over!

There is another positive: I love seeing a really bad movie and looking forward to lambasting it on this blog. Some of you may buy into that old bromide about 'saying something nice or not saying anything at all,' but I sure don't. Movie prices being what they are these days, at least venting allows me a verbal bang for my buck.


Grade: D -

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

VICTORIA & ABDUL (2017)


Rated: PG-13

STARS: Judi Dench, Ali Fazal
DIRECTOR: Stephen Frears
GENRE: Drama


We live to play dress-up and let's pretend! Pretend that we're better than you, and deserving of the wealth and privilege we've been born into when we've done zilch to earn it. What, pray tell, does the curmudgeonly reviewer have in his gunsights now? Why, the royal family, of course!

Things haven't changed much in that respect from the days of old as evidenced by the obsequious pretense and butt kissing the royal staff maintained on a minute by minute basis--part of the job description--as attendants to Queen Victoria, the monarch who sat upon the British throne for 64 years.  It's all done up with lavish style and great comic effect in Victoria & Abdul, with Dame Judi Dench reprising her role as the widowed queen who seemed to long for some genuine human connection, and found it in the person of Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal), a Muslim clerk from India (under British rule at the time) who'd originally been selected to do nothing more than present a ceremonial coin to the queen on the fiftieth anniversary of her reign and then make himself scarce. He wasn't even supposed to look her at her (flashing on Dennis Hopper in Blue Velvet...don't look at me...don't look at me!) But he did anyway--cheeky bugger. He caught her eye--had her at hello--and the rest, as they say is history.

Based upon the real story of these unlikely bedfellows (not literally, as she was HUGELY his senior), Victoria & Abdul is a lighthearted romp, for the most part, until it turns sinister. Karim became the queen's companion, confidant and teacher, and Victoria bestowed upon him honors and titles in increasingly disturbing ways--to the royal staff, that is--a bigoted lot, as was the fashion of the day. (You've heard of the Isle of White? Never mind.) They highly resented being upstaged by an Indian, and they plotted against Abdul, trying to turn Victoria against him.

Dame Judi brings to her part a kind of humanity that on the one hand may be unexpected considering the role a queen has to play, but on the other totally necessary to explain her fondness for the "Munshi"--a Persian word for teacher. For his part, Fazal doesn't bring great depth of character to his role, but he has a kind of self-effacing charm that carries him through. But the real delight of this film is the talented supporting cast. They've got few lines, but they make the most of their screen time by being as priggishly British as possible.

The climactic scene is a bit over the top for melodrama, but all in all I found Victoria & Abdul to be the dog's bollocks...the mutt's nuts! And the closing shot is truly majestic!  Now, as a token of my affection for all things UK, here's a few lines from one of my poems (with Queen Lizzie in mind):

...yet some still say "Your Majesty" 
to another human being and
manage it with a straight face.

Kilimanjaro--that's majesty.

An old lady sitting on the crapper
in a funny hat
she never takes off
well... 

Grade:  B +


JILL'S TAKE

Two winners in a row? WOW. (As some of you may already know, Tim is a filmic fussbudget of the first order. Me, I'll go see anything. And usually, when I suggest a movie we should review, he immediately nixes the idea. So what I've taken to doing is seeing the movie anyway and then urging him—if it's a goodie—to go see it. Amazingly, Victoria & Abdul and The Big Sick were both handled in this manner. And both earned high marks from Mister Curmudgeon himself!)

I loved Victoria & Abdul. And a piece of casting trivia that I find interesting and quirky is that, in both her roles as Queen Victoria, Judi Dench's male partners (in the broadest sense of the word) are well-known comedians in Britain. For those of you who saw Mrs. Brown, the fellow who played John Brown was Billy Connelly – a Scotsman whose comic timing is universally appreciated throughout the UK. He's also an accomplished banjo player! As for the actor in Victoria & Abdul who played her wimpy yet cruel son Bertie? He, too, is a famous British comic: Eddie Izzard. As I said, interesting casting....

There's so much I enjoyed about this film – it's attention to detail, the insights it gave us about the loneliness of being a queen, the prejudice that drives people to do unthinkable acts....but if I had to praise just one thing, it would be how Judi Dench was made to look really, really old. (Since there are 22 names associated with The Makeup Department, I won't list them all!) And, as an aside, I so enjoyed how she looked so much younger when her 'Munshi' became her confidant. (Love does that to all of us!)

My only beef with this otherwise perfect film is that the size of the subtitles made them impossible to read. Even with glasses on!


Grade: B +

Friday, September 22, 2017

AMERICAN ASSASSIN (2017)



Rated:  R

STARS: Dylan O'Brien, Michael Keaton, Sanaa Lathan, Shiva Negar, Taylor Kitsch
DIRECTOR: Michael Cuesta
GENRE: Action/Adventure/Espionage

Mitch Rapp (Dylan O'Brien) sees his fiance gunned down by terrorists in a bloody massacre. He himself is seriously wounded. Eighteen months later he's doing a Rocky Balboa style training regimen--punishing those punching bags and target shooting...with automatic weapons. He's out for revenge and ready to kick some ass. Next stop, CIA black ops. His crusty, highly skeptical mentor, Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton) challenges him to prove himself at every turn. Now he's ready to head overseas and stick it to the bad guys. BAM BAM! BOOM BOOM! 

There's a rotating cast of bad guys that need hunting down. They all must be taken out in bloody and grisly fashion. BAM BAM! BOOM BOOM!  One group is trying to get their hands on a nuke.The stakes have been raised exponentially.


The plot, as is often the case with film adaptations of novels, is fast moving and will leave you in the dust if you look away for a moment to retrieve the popcorn you've dropped onto the floor for the purpose of stuffing it right back into your mouth. Like you, American Assassin tries to cram too much into a small space--in this case the just under two hours running time--consequently each plot element is given short-shrift and it's onto the next at breakneck speed.

VROOM VROOM! The cars are chasing each other through the winding streets of Rome and other exotic locations. While all of the surface level stuff is smashingly well done--the cinematography; the editing; the stirring score--in the end American Assassin is your standard revenge-justifies-any-and-all-means movie fare.

The only noteworthy acting turn is Michael Keaton's jaded hard-ass Stan Hurley. Beyond that, I have to ask myself why is it necessary for another film of this nature to exist? The ongoing, ear-piercing rat-a-tat; the cringe-worthy scenes of torture. It blends in with all the other nasty scenes from all the similarly nasty films out there that promote gratuitous violence (which American audiences feast upon like buzzards at a road kill). Which could have been mitigated to a degree had they attempted to place it in the context of a narrative that at least skimmed the surface of the complicated issues of why this tragic and unwinnable clash of ideologies exists in the first place. It's hard to take a film ostensibly about combating evil seriously when it's obvious the primary reason for making it is, in fact, the "root of all evil."

GRADE:  C-
  

JILL'S TAKE

(You're too kind, Tim. BAM, BAM, BOOM, BOOM!) The only thing lacking in the opening beach scene of this ho-hum shoot-em-up was the theme from Jaws. We all knew something baaaad was about to happen. And happen. And happen....

In the beginning, I was hopeful that maybe, just maybe, there'd be a kind of father-son relationship (a la John Wayne and Montgomery Clift in Red River) that would sustain my interest. I was wrong. Still hopeful, I thought maybe the love/hate trainer/trainee plot would make the movie watchable. (Remember Lou Gossett and Richard Geer in An Officer And A Gentleman?) No such luck.

Since a nuclear threat is currently sharing the news with hurricanes and earthquakes, American Assassin is at the very least timely. Perhaps if Kim Jong Un (AKA Rocket Man) was forced to watch it, he'd change his mind about nuking us. After all, despite impressive graphics when a nuclear device does in fact explode under water, nobody dies. And by then I was hoping everybody would!

The torture scene with Michael Keaton is worth a look and a lot of cringing. And some of the one-on-one fights were impressively choreographed. But really, folks. How many gut-punches can one viewer take? By the end, when our anti hero was battling with yet another villain on a moving speed boat, I had to bite my lip to keep from laughing out loud. I hope the actors were well paid for this turkey. It ain't worth the price of admission.


Grade: D

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

THE BIG SICK (2017)


Rated: R

STARS: Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter, Ray Romano
DIRECTOR: Judd Apatow
GENRE: Romantic Comedy/Drama

There is plenty of irony, even in the title: The Big Sick. A young woman lies in a coma, fighting for her life. But there is another kind of sickness that permeates all of society--in every culture--and it's called prejudice. Here, though, we have a different twist. Instead of white folks being the bigots, it's a Pakistani family living in the USA that absolutely will not accept the idea of their son falling for an American girl--and a blonde, at that! Arranged marriages are their thing, and mom recruits a cadre of comely Pakistani ladies who just happen to "drop by" during dinnertime to meet her sitting duck son, Kumail.

But Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani), a stand up comedian, is smitten by Emily--an affable, quirky kind of girl--qualities brought out in spades by the delightful Zoe Kazan. Emily is so American that she believes couples should fall in love first, and proceed from there. This sets up a classic clash of cultures, as Kumail is chicken to reveal Emily's presence to his family for fear of the consequences. He's caught in the middle, and now, as Emily lies in a medically induced coma in the hospital fighting a life threatening infection, Kumail has her parents (Ray Romano and Holly Hunter) to contend with as well. What's a funny man to do...laugh it off?  Hardly.

It's a bit peculiar to See Ray Romano playing it straight as the concerned dad, though it's not that much of a departure from his normal deadpan style. Just the punchlines are missing. Who knows, maybe he'll morph into the next Steve Carell! And director Judd Apatow surely knew that Holly Hunter was a show stealer when he brought her aboard. Here he looks the other way as she commits grand larceny in a supporting role with a powerful and nuanced performance. 

The only thing that didn't ring true (to me) is that we we watch Kumail blow off all of these beautiful Pakistani women (and I cringed) in favor of his American crush. Hey, I would have found a way to fit some of them in...

But that's me. 

I almost didn't see The Big Sick (based on a true story) due to its highly misleading trailer. They took what comedic punchlines there were and stuck them all into the trailer, making the film appear to be lighthearted romantic fluff. It's MUCH more than that. Serio-comic would be the appropriate term. Thought-provoking would be another.  Damn good would be another. 

Bring tissue.

Grade: A


JILL'S TAKE

How I love to be right! And this time, at my insistence, Tim finally broke down and went to see The Big Sick. I'd seen it in California and knew he'd like it. A lot. Having spent many years in Vancouver, BC, where the Pakistani culture flourishes, I had witnessed a mother who actually pretended to be her own daughter, signing her up on a Pakistani dating site and corresponding with potential husband material. (I kid you not!)The Big Sick uses this arranged marriage business in wonderfully humorous ways. But in real life honor killings are no joke.

The story is based on the real life of stand-up comedian Kumail Nanjiani, whose role as Dinesh on the HBO series "Silicon Valley" made his face a familiar one to TV viewers. His comic timing is impeccable and some of the lines he utters in The Big Sick (I won't ruin it for you by repeating them here) are guffaw-makers. If you want a taste of his understated brilliance check out this YouTube video:


The only criticism I could come up with was too much medical stuff, too many specialists. My west coast movie buddy Hank was quick to point out that some of those actors-turned-doctors were, in reality, fellow comics. (Good for Kumail for casting them in cameos...) I also want to mention that this same movie buddy agreed with Tim. He felt the pack of potential Pakistani wives, especially the last one, were far more appealing than his coma-induced American cutie. The Big Sick is layered, thought-provoking and a cinematic gem. No wonder it's been held over in movie theaters here for six weeks straight.

Grade: B+

Sunday, August 27, 2017

THE ONLY LIVING BOY IN NEW YORK (2017)


Rated: R 

STARS: Callum Turner, Jeff Bridges, Kate Beckinsale, Pierce Brosnan, Cynthia Nixon, Kiersey Clemons
DIRECTOR:Marc Webb
GENRE: Drama
Oh, look who's seated at the table...there's Pierce Brosnan...and there's Cynthia Nixon...and there's-there's Wallace Shawn! Looking the same as he has looked for the last fifty years or so. There's no reason for him to do a cameo in The Only Living Boy In New York, except he always seems to show up for dinner. (Maybe he's looking for Andre?)

But let's rewind. In the beginning there was Thomas and Mimi. Thomas (Callum Turner) has just graduated from college and Mimi (Kiersey Clemons) is his hang-around pal. He is smitten by her, but she has consigned him to the dreaded "friend zone." But we needn't feel sorry for nice guy Thomas, because he will find what he is looking for in Johanna (Kate Beckinsale), who just happens to be the mistress of his New York publisher father (Pierce Brosnan). At first Thomas just wants Johanna to stop seeing his still married dad, because he doesn't want his mother (Cynthia Nixon) to get hurt. But he falls under Johanna's spell. And she's the type who goes for the flavor of the day, and figures she can juggle father and son and keep both balls in the air at once (whoops... didn't mean for it to come out quite that way!) To further complicate things, Mimi re-enters the picture, noticing that her friend's affections are being directed somewhere else, so naturally she wants him now. Added to the mix we have Jeff Bridges, looking almost unrecognizable as the mysterious boozy neighbor who acts as a surrogate therapist for Thomas, dispensing worldly advice about women and whatnot. But there's more to that connection than meets the eye, which will lead to the big twist at the end.

This is an interesting, subdued turn for Bridges. For some reason it reminds me of him as the affable alien in Starman.  Kate Beckinsale has tried on numerous  costumes--she played a ninja type in one flick--not believable at all with that willowy body. But here she is perfectly cast as the New York sophisticate...the temptress whose eyes are bigger than her tummy, and manages to bring some depth to the character. Pierce Brosnan has never been taken all that seriously--pretty boy and James Bond and all that--but I imagine the older and uglier he gets (if he ever does get uglier), the more respect he'll receive, and he deserves it. Cynthia Nixon is kind of wasted here, and I can't tell you anything about her performance because all I can think about when she comes onscreen is the one time I saw her full frontal, and I was so surprised...she was a goddess! Of course, that was a while back. Young Brit Callum Turner, as Thomas, has a good face for the movies. Kiersey Clemons, as Mimi, I felt was miscast. There was no underlying romantic tension between Mimi and Thomas, which would have laid the groundwork for her eventual rekindling of interest in him.

Critics are saying harsh things about The Only Living Boy In New York, but all in all, I liked this film. It didn't have me at hello. I was still wavering even in the middle. But it sure had me at the end. It's a sweet movie, and the last truly sweet film I think I saw was Dustin Hoffman in Last Chance Harvey, and that goes back to 2009. Strong points: Impressive cast and a great soundtrack. Simon and Garfunkel, of course. Bob Dylan. Lou Reed. Herbie Hancock. A musical feast.

Dig in, Wallace Shawn!

Grade:  B +


JILL'S TAKE

My poor, misguided friend. Those three-digit Tucson temperatures must have fried your brains. You actually liked this piece of cinematic merde? Oh dear.

Let me start with the boy called Thomas. Callum Turner, a Brit whose acting credits are scanty at best, has about as much sex appeal as a young Woody Allen minus the self-deprecating humor. How the two women in this implausible drama could be attracted to him in the first place made me queasy. As the film unfolded—at least it was mercifully short—this flaw was replaced by myriad others. I won't reveal the ending in case anyone is foolish enough to want to see this turkey. But as I walked out of the (totally empty) movie theater, I kept shaking my head. I'm sure if Jeff Bridges hadn't been one of the producers, this film would never have been made.

I do, however, want to give credit where credit is due. Rob Simonsen's song choices were terrific, as was his understated score. And as much as I thought I was familiar with all of Paul Simon's songs, The Only Living Boy In New York was new to me. For you trivia buffs, Simon refers to Garfunkel in the song as "Tom", alluding to their early days when they were called 'Tom and Jerry.' And the main character in this movie is called Thomas. Obviously, no coincidence.

I don't usually agree with movie critics but there's always a first time!

Grade: D -

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

THE GLASS CASTLE (2017)



Rated: PG-13

STARS: Woody Harrelson, Brie Larson, Naomi Watts, Ella Anderson, Max Greenfield
DIRECTOR: Destin Daniel Cretton
GENRE: Drama

He did a lot of shitty things, but he had his moments. If I had to pick one quote from the movie to sum up Woody Harrelson's character in The Glass Castle, it would be that one. Harrelson takes on the persona of Rex Walls, who was either the most free-spirited drunk, or the drunkest free spirit you'd ever be likely to meet.

Director Destin Daniel Cretton takes on a whopper of a challenge in putting together the screen adaptation of Jeanette Walls' best-selling memoir about growing up in a dysfunctional family with a capital "D."

The film opens in 1989, where we meet the adult Jeanette Walls (Brie Larson), a successful gossip columnist for New York Magazine. Her story is told in flashbacks that jump around a lot and can be confusing, but what film have I ever seen that employs this technique wasn't confusing?  You've gotta be up to the challenge if you're going to be a reviewer, because few films are strictly linear anymore. (You don't play this game in short pants, even though most of the attendees in the theater were wearing them!)

Ms.Walls may be the shining example of survival and triumph in overcoming, along with her three siblings, one of the crappiest childhoods anyone would never ask for. Rex Walls, her dad, could never hold down a job and subjected his family to a nomadic lifestyle in poverty-stricken conditions, as he was usually staying one step ahead of the law. He was a raging alcoholic who would go on benders and leave his family neglected and without food for days at a time. His wife, Rose Marie (NaomiWatts), a self absorbed hippie-flippy type who fancied herself as a talented painter, was his enabler. Where the "he had his moments" part came in was that Rex Walls tried to instill in his children an extraordinary sense of independence and self-reliance. In other words, he gave them what they needed to survive HIM. As you will see in the end, it took.

In one sense, I see The Glass Castle as a series of scenes, taut and dramatic, many of which are nothing short of brilliant--each trying to outdo the other on the wow factor scale. The best of them is when dad challenges the adult Jeanette's fiancee (Max Greenfield) to an arm wrestling match. The players are all in on this one--in sports terminology you would say they left it all on the field. The scene transcends into something truly primal. It's worth the price of admission.

Woody Harrrelson, who in real life is a really good guy with a good heart, has nonetheless never shied away from playing some really scary, even sinister types. In acting your alter-ego gets to take over, and Harrelson has taken good advantage of those opportunities. Naomi Watts may be the most versatile of the actresses we see all the time in seemingly everything. They are buoyed by a fine cast of young thespians, most notably Ella Anderson as the young Jeanette.

The Glass Castle is a tad over two hours long, but don't vault out of your seat the moment the closing credits begin to roll, because you get to meet the real Rex Walls and family. Fascinating. That most of his kids still had a soft spot in their hearts for the guy after his passing is a testament to something.

Stockholm Syndrome is my guess.

Grade:  A


JILL'S TAKE

I know it's early yet, and there are bound to be some great performances coming out of Hollywood this year, but my money's on Woody to win an Oscar. It's a real challenge to play such an unlikable character -- and make him sympathetic. Despite Rex Walls' obvious flaws as a father, his spirit is sometimes infectious. Until it isn't anymore.

Harrelson's acting credits began as a likable drunk on the hit TV series "Cheers" and has certainly progressed dramatically since then. I thought it was a wise choice on the director's part to give Woody a toupee to wear. Not only did it make him more closely resemble the real Rex Walls, it made me forget him as a bald psychopathic murderer in the 1994 classic Natural Born Killers.

The Glass Castle was, for me, a gasp-a-minute film. The twists and unexpected turns kept me on the edge of my seat, eyes riveted on the screen. For a family to live in such squalor and actually survive is impressive. More impressive still is the fact that Jeanette Walls, even as a child (played brilliantly by Ella Anderson), was able not only to escape but to become successful. And I loved the irony that she was the closest child to her broken down dad.

The sets, the costumes, the score (subtle as it was) were all authentic as hell. And I have to really struggle to come up with a negative about this impactful film. But here is my miniscule criticism. As the end credits rolled and we were given cameos of the real cast of characters, I felt it went on too long and interrupted what I wanted to be left with after viewing the movie. A few still photographs would've been just as effective. That being said, run don't walk to the nearest theater where this cinematic gem is being shown....


Grade: A +