Sunday, August 27, 2017


Rated: R 

STARS: Callum Turner, Jeff Bridges, Kate Beckinsale, Pierce Brosnan, Cynthia Nixon, Kiersey Clemons
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 +


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


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


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 +