By David Elliott
Flix Nosh is a personal movie menu, fresh each Friday.
(Note: Nosh 77 will appear on Friday, Sept. 1)
(Note: Nosh 77 will appear on Friday, Sept. 1)
APPETIZER: Reviews of The Glass Castle and An Inconvenient Sequel
The Glass Castle
Pulling off a strong family film is tough work. Many slop into suds, or browse through an album of clichés. The Glass Castle is based upon Jeannette Walls’s crowded 2005 memoir of growing up as the bright, literary child (with two sisters and a brother) of Rex and Rose Mary Walls. This saga rarely sags, and is rich in human moments.
Rex is a rude drinker and a dream hustler (that’s his double helix of hope and despair). His mind bursts with plans, but, as we learn, he is a boozer with a deep inner wound, hauling the family into his flighty fantasies. He envisions building a glass home, a “castle,” clearly a pipe dream when you see the dumps he can afford (the Walls barely have walls). And yet, Rex is inspiring, funny, a dynamo of gusto. And he is Woody Harrelson’s best performance since The Messenger in 2009 (the hair is iffy; like Ed Harris and Robert Duvall, Woody looks better without a rug). Rex’s tumbleweedy wife Rose Mary (Naomi Watts) is fretful but loyal, and he supports her painting (some is not bad, though her comment about Picasso is inane).
Don’t be a prune and ask why Watts and Harrelson, over 20 years, barely age. The film’s heart is not the marriage but family life, anchored by Rex’s very demanding bond with Jeannette. She is acted by hug-bug Chandler Head in childhood, in early adolescence by Ella Anderson, and by nuanced Brie Larson in maturity (Anderson’s teen or pre-teen performance rivals Jacob Lofland in Mud). When director Destin Daniel Cretton really plunges into the family – as in Rex’s cold-turkey crisis, a swimming lesson, and a screaming blow-up – he approaches the vitality of Alan Parker’s best film, Shoot the Moon. Cretton stuns us at the start, showing a child in peril as the soundtrack wails “My Wild Irish Rose.” He sustains a forceful dramatic line through many changes (crucial supports were designer Sharon Seymour and cinematographer Brett Pawlak).
Inevitably this busy movie simplifies an unusually dense memoir, and some reviews have tried to slot the messy family (immature parents, maturing children) into snug TV and PC cubicles. Some of the story’s hurly-burly comes close to soap opera, and a reunion dinner shades towards Norman Rockwell (was this added late, under pressure?). Forget minor demerits. The Glass Castle is engrossingly alive. I first knew and wrote about Destin Cretton when he was a bright student filmmaker in San Diego. His progress is less surprising than confirming, and may it continue.
An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power
If the world is going to hell, Al Gore is not going to spare us the Dantean downside. Eleven years after An Inconvenient Truth spotlighted our daily, guilty contributions to global warming, he’s back full of scientific fire, informative brimstone, stunning footage and more Gore than before (is body bulk his stress relief?). Anyway, the calories that count are global. The crisis is vast, growing and only marginally impacted, so far, by big advances in clean energy (solar is booming, even in China).
The subtle but devastating reaction on Gore’s face when he realizes Trump has been elected is a logo for international nausea. Only months earlier, the Nobel winner and 2000 presidential “loser” used his political skills to broker India into the Paris climate accords. If you consider what President Gore could have done from 2001 to 2009 (and not have done: Iraq), you might feel disposed to let Florida go under without a snorkel. But the seawater sloshing into Miami Beach, our treasury of classic Deco, is sickening.
Most likely this film preaches to the choir (how many Trump districts will see it theatrically?). But maybe it’s time for the stupefied congregation to notice that the choir is screaming “Wake up, the church is on fire!” Gore’s smart, angry, honorably passionate warning reminds us that humanity has always been in a tense contest of “by tooth and claw” versus “by the skin of our teeth.” Al Gore makes a good case that his skin in the game is ours. All of us.
SALAD (A List)
20 Dramatic Movies About American Families (with director and year): Alice Adams (George Stevens, 1935), The Grapes of Wrath (John Ford, 1940), The Little Foxes (William Wyler, 1941), The Magnificent Ambersons (Orson Welles, 1942), Our Vines Have Tender Grapes (Roy Rowland, 1945), The Southerner (Jean Renoir, 1945), East of Eden (Elia Kazan, 1955), Friendly Persuasion (William Wyler, 1956), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (Richard Brooks, 1958), Home From the Hill (Vincente Minnelli, 1960), A Raisin in the Sun (Daniel Petrie, 1961), Long Day’s Journey Into Night (Sidney Lumet, 1962), Sounder (Martin Ritt, 1972), The Godfather (Francis Coppola, 1972), Shoot the Moon (Alan Parker, 1982), Running on Empty (Sidney Lumet, 1988), Avalon (Barry Levinson, 1990), What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (Lasse Hallstrom, 1993), Boyhood (Richard Linklater, 2014) and Fences (Denzel Washington, 2016).
WINE (Vin Orsonaire de Chateau Welles)
Nothing detonated Orson’s firecracker quite like Irving Thalberg, the famous MGM producer who infamously ruined Erich von Stroheim, John Gilbert and Buster Keaton: “In his whole career he didn’t make a picture that will last 50 years from now, and still he’s revered. Romeo and Juliet produced by Thalberg, directed by Cukor, was the cultural high point of his years of moviemaking. Now, you cannot sit through four minutes of it, it’s so terrible! Norma Shearer (Mrs. Thalberg) with those tiny eyes, and Leslie Howard, a Hungarian Jew, as Veronese teenagers?” (Orson Welles, in Henry Jaglom’s My Lunches With Orson. Howard, born in England to a Hungarian Jewish dad and German Jewish mum, became the quintessential, quick-tongued Englishman.)
ENTRÉE (Starlight Rising)
“Stanley Donen could pop pizzazz. Small, cocky, alert as a ferret, he had survived Gene Kelly’s armored ego and, irking Cole Porter, had filched ‘Be a Clown’ from The Pirate for revamping as ‘Make ‘Em Laugh’ in Singin’ in the Rain (in that he turned sound’s traumatic arrival into pure joy). Donen’s Hepburn trilogy – Funny Face, Charade, Two For the Road – are unique entertainments. With the pragmatic oomph of a South Carolina Jewish dance addict turned studio politician, he was genetically show-biz. At 73 he topped the 1998 Oscars by tap-dancing ‘Cheek to Cheek.” (From the Audrey Hepburn/Funny Face chapter of my book Starlight Rising: Acting Up in Movies, available from Amazon, Nook and Kindle.)
DESSERT (An Image)
A great movie image is more than a still, it’s a distillation.
James Mason and Kathleen Ryan approach the fateful end of Odd Man Out (Rank, 1947; director Carol Reed, cinematographer Robert Krasker).