Wind River, NOT for the kids or even teens, is a solid, beautifully filmed murder mystery which showcases a brilliant, old school classic style performance by Jeremy "Hawkeye" Renner.
I LOVE The Avengers. I’ve seen all the origin stories more than once – heck I own them. Iron Man, Thor, Hulk. Didn't think I’d live to say Wonder Woman was fabulous. I’d never even HEARD of Guardians of the Galaxy before the incredibly fun movies and now I'm a BIG fan. And when it comes to the Sokovia Accords I happen to be a member of Team Cap (even though I think Robert Downey, Jr.’s Iron Man is terrific and contributes some of the best lines.)
So it pains me to say this but….after seeing Wind River, I realize Jeremy Renner is COMPLETELY WASTED as Hawkeye. I have always looked forward to seeing Hawkeye. He makes some of the pithiest remarks. My favorite scene in Thor is Hawkeye doing the “color” as Phil Coulson attemptes to subdue Thor: “You better call it Coulson ‘cause I’m starting to root for this guy.” And, “Do you want me to take him down or would you rather send in more guys for him to beat up?”
So he can play a fun snarky action hero movie star but I never knew Renner was a REAL ACTOR. Wind River is, at its core, a murder mystery. A young woman is found barefoot, abused, and frozen to death six miles from anywhere in the Wind River Indian Territory of Wyoming where the night time temperatures get down to negative 20 even in the spring. Her body is discovered by Cory Lambert (Renner) hunter/track of predators for the US Wildlife and Fisheries, and, tragically, family friend of the dead girl. His wordless measured response to finding her body is heartbreaking.
Lambert’s daughter met the same fate some years before and his family was devastated by it, leaving him estranged from his still grieving wife and trying to be a good father to his young son. FBI Agent Jane Banner, played by ANOTHER Avenger, Elisabeth “Scarlett Witch” Olsen, is solid in the role of Lambert’s sounding board.   As you might imagine, there is a LOT going on for this beleaguered protagonist and Renner captures his quiet stoic pain, conveys devoted familial connections, humbly accepts the unearned guilt for the past tragedy, asserts a noble masculinity, and communicates an unflagging determination ALL with a paucity of words. His is an old school acting style the likes of which were seen in Jimmy Stewart’s George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life or Gary Cooper’s Sargent York – good, principled men, who act thoughtfully with a steel spine, doing the job others won’t or can’t to protect the innocent as best they can, and try to bring justice into a difficult, sometimes heartless world.
The movie is also beautifully filmed. Utah subs for Wyoming and the vast expanses, open wilderness and sense of brutal but gorgeously frozen mountains is cinematically eye catching.
The supporting cast, including the iconic Graham Greene as the Tribal Police Officer, are personable and work comfortably with Renner’s character as though, in fact, they have worked together for decades.
My biggest complaint, without giving away too much, is near the denouement. There is an artlessly edited flashback which is so unnecessary, sappy, gratuitous and slow it not only interrupts the suspension of disbelief but makes you wonder if, like a bad TV connection, you have been flipped to a different channel. Worst of all it not only contributes nothing to the plot but actually takes away from the flow, the mood, and the suspense. The director could have literally pulled out the entire scene in one unwanted whole, like a splinter from your foot, and it would have been completely unmissed. Its poor inclusion is especially damning as the rest of the movie is pretty darned good.
Some bad language and the murder circumstances make this a movie NOT for kids. The poorly chosen flashback make this movie inappropriate for anyone but adults.
This is a visually impressive but moody, grim film. If it were not for the jarringly bright, snowy, stunningly beautiful shots of mountain vistas one might even call it a film noir. The center of this film is the character studies and the axis about which everyone turns is the amazing character Renner crafts as Lambert.


SHORT TAKE: All Saints is a charming delightful uplifting movie about the real life All Saints, a failing Episcopal Church in Smyrna, Tennessee which, despite its own desperate financial problems,  takes in 70 persecuted Burmese Christian legal refugees. Perfect for ALL ages.
Mother Teresa famously said: “God does not require that we be successful, only that we be faithful.” All Saints is a movie that exemplifies that sentiment.
Based on a true story: filmed in the church of the title and using the refugees who sought help from this church as actors, All Saints is about a small failing Episcopal Church in Smyrna, Tennessee. A freshly minted pastor – Michael Spurlock (played by John Corbett) – is assigned by the local Pastoral Council to use his skilled business talents to close All Saints, a dying church with only 12 remaining active members, and sell the 16 ares of bottom land on which it sits for close to a million dollars. Spurlock reminded me of the young man who approached Jesus asking what more he could do to become closer to God. But when Jesus told him to sell all he had and give to the poor the young man turned sadly away. Spurlock did not. He turned his back on his lucrative career which, by his own admission was killing his marriage, and followed the voice which had been calling for him for years. Taking his wife (played by Cara Buono) and son to this tiny community it was to have been a test for him which would springboard him to a more prominent church position.
But in God's Providence, just as Spurlock is about to close the sale for the property, the most unbelievably unlikely group of 70 Episcopal legal refugee natives from Burma – shunned and persecuted in their own country – walk into the church seeking admission and help. Were I writing this script I would have dismissed this idea as a McGuffin that no one would have accepted as possible….except that that is what really happened.
Michael is inspired by what he believes is the Voice of God telling him to save, instead of sell, the church, and to help these poorest and smallest of His people. Bucking his superiors he comes up with a plan to use the resources God has put into his hands and do just that.
Without giving too much away, Michael encounters internal and external struggles, obstacles, and challenges he never expected, and gifts he couldn't have imagined. Like Indiana Jones in the Last Crusade he had to step out into what appeared to be thin air relying on his faith in God alone to see him, his family, the surviving members of the All Saints congregation and the new influx of refugees who came to trust him across a chasm which seemed impossible to cross.
This is a beautiful movie with a richly warm heart. Corbett is charming and sincere as Pastor Spurlock, Nelson Lee is wonderful as Ye Winn the leader of the refugees who fathers all of the families and is a man with a tragic but noble past. And most delightful of all was the appearance of people like David Keith who you will recognize from a zillion TV and movie supporting roles.  I was especially pleased to see Barry Corbin who plays the oldest and most cantankerous All Saints member and expert farmer. Mr Corbin, also quite memorably played General Beringer in 1983's Wargames. (See quote below)
It's refreshing to be able to recommend a movie with absolutely no reservations or editorial warnings. This is a movie for everyone.
BTW – Appropos of nothing except my own fond memory of the scene – Corbin, as General Beringer, says one of my all time favorite lines, which I have applied every time I have been frustratingly faced with one of those forced upgrades we must all endure from either our business programs or Microsoft: “Mr. McKittrick, after very careful consideration, sir, I've come to the conclusion that your new defense system sucks.” LOLOL


If you can swim through the tsunami of profanities you will enjoy The Hitman’s Bodyguard – a loose remake of the1988 DeNiro vehicle Midnight Run.
When you are in the mood for a  milkshake you don’t complain that it is not a chocolate mousse. If you go to a church fair you would be foolish to be disappointed that it does not compare to Disneyland. To attend a local rock band’s concert and wonder why they didn’t play like the Philharmonic Symphony is simply delusional. So when I knew Samuel L  “&*%@*^!%$” Jackson and Ryan “Deadpool” Reynolds were in an action adventure buddy movie, I knew what I was getting into and I'm reviewing Hitman based on its genre and how it meets those expectations. I have to admit, though, they had me with the title. It was kind of irresistible to see where they were going to go with that.
First off, if you are offended by profanity —- wait until it comes on TV – but keep it mind it will then probably be a silent movie. There’s enough bad language to fatigue the ears of your average sailor. On the other hand there is no sex, no insults to our country and Jackson’s character shows respect and affection for nuns, which is more than you can say for a lot of what IS shown now on TV.
Judging the movie based on the species from which it comes, The Hitman’s Bodyguard is a good movie. It’s not Shakespeare. It’s not even The Avengers. But it is fun – full of ludicrous car chases, preposterously survived stunts, a LOT of cartoon violence, snarky banter, and a plot with a fair amount of heart.
Ryan Reynolds is Michael Bryce, a previously “Triple A” security expert. Former CIA operative, he was at the top of his game protecting the unprotectables – gun runners, drug smugglers, Mafiosos – for a lot of moolah – until one day, despite his best laid, always meticulously thought out plans, he fails and one of his notorious clients gets “popped”. Reduced to protecting corrupt middle class drug addicted lawyers, we find he has lost his firm, his girlfriend and a lot of his faith in the way the world should work. Believing that HE could never have made a mistake he blames others, including the woman he loves, for things that go wrong in his life.
As fate would have it he ends up being asked to escort a professional assassin, Darius Kincaid (Samuel L Jackson) to be a witness against a dictator (Gary Oldman) with whom Kincaid had a previous association.
One of the charms of this movie is that the stereotypes do not hold. Jackson’s Darius believes he is on the side of the angels as he kills only bad guys. He notes that Michael protects the really evil and brings up a surprisingly philosophical question for a goofy action flick: who is committing the more immoral act – those who kill men who commit great evil or those who protect them? It is the hitman who is the Jiminy Cricket and the Bodyguard who has the most interesting character arc.
The team from Lake Charles Best Sports Show on our local McNeese State University’s KBYS do about a ½ hour of culture on every Sunday morning before they get into the heavy duty sports commentaries. They are gracious enough to take my calls about movies and when mentioning I might go see The Hitman’s Bodyguard, out of the blue Corey said: “I wonder whatever happened to Charles Grodin?” I suddenly remembered he had been in Midnight Run and that got me thinking. Midnight Run starred Charles Grodin as a meek accountant who is on the run, captured by Robert DeNiro’s bounty hunter in order to bring him to court to testify against a mobster. DeNiro is rough and lives in his leather jacket and his beat up car whereas Reynold’s former CIA agent is refined and has retractable closets full of thousand dollar suits – at least until "that fateful day". Grodin's witness is quiet, soft spoken, polite and a bit like Eeyore whereas Jackson's witness is at the peak of his game here as an assassin whose infectious optimism and good humor set the tone of the movie. Reynolds is kind of adorable as the straight man to Jackson who steals every scene as he sings with nuns, laughs with gusto, shoots, improvises plans and has the time of his life in every situation. I could hardly tell whether he was acting or just having a LOT of fun being paid to play act. Either way Jackson is a hoot to watch.
But there are a lot more commonalities than differences between the two movies.
Here are my Top Ten Reasons why The Hitman’s Bodyguard is a remake of Midnight Run:
1. Both are buddy movies – cop with criminal.
2. In both a cop  is taking witness/criminal to testify, necessitating a long hazardous trip.
3. Defendant against whom the witness will testify is trying to kill the witness and sends multiple thugs and professional hitmen against them.
4. The criminal/witness has it more together than the cop.
5. The criminal has a devoted spouse whereas the cop/bodyguard’s romantic life is in shambles. In Midnight Run Robert DeNiro is divorced. In Hitman, Reynold’s Michael blamed his girlfriend as the source of a leak which caused his client’s death, resulting in an acrimonious break up.
6. Both DeNiro’s bounty hunter in Midnight Run and Reynold’s ex-CIA/security guard are unfairly disgraced – DeNiro by corrupt cops who got him thrown out of the police force and Reynold’s by the death of his client by a freakishly successful sniper shot.
7. Grodin’s criminal/witness character and Jackson’s assassin teach their respective escorts how to better communicate with and treat those they love, and know a lot more about women than their supposedly worldly counterparts.
8. In both movies the criminals have a strict moral code they follow which, though they break laws, are intended to protect the innocent and in their own minds are the heroes.
9. In both movies the witnesses become involved with those they are to testify against because they did not know what kind of business these people were in until it was too late and they subsequently refused to work with them any more.
10. In both the character arc is with the representative of law and order.
In a bonus point – there’s even an explicit homage to Midnight Run. During one particular chase scene my brother noticed a musical theme present in the soundtrack for Hitman that was featured heavily in Midnight Run. Since my brother has seen Midnight Run about a dozen times by his own count I would count this as a credible catch.
That being said though, Hitman is a stand alone movie which works on its own level – again, in its genre.
CAUTION: Do not bring the children, do not even bring older teens. But if you can tolerate an Eddie Murphy or Richard Pryor comedy act then your hair won’t curl overly much and you will have a good time. And if you are of a mind to be at all thoughtful about it, it will also give you food for thought about the people who are most important to you and how your commitment to them will form your world view which will, in turn, guide and shape your life. Like Mary Poppins, the best lessons in movies come at you when you are not looking. I ended up thinking more about this movie than I expected to.
And on top of all that I never knew before that Samuel L J could sing!!


SHORT TAKE: Logan Lucky is Steven Soderburgh’s tongue-in-cheek retelling of his own Ocean’s Eleven franchise as well as an oblique stab at the Hollywood establishment.

LONG TAKE: Rex Reed of the New York Film Critics’ Circle hated Logan Lucky and had some very unkind words to say about it. Toe fungus was one phrase he applied, which only goes to prove Logan Lucky WORKS. Nothing against Rex Reed but it’s just that he fell for it. Surprising too as Reed was born in Texas and got his journalism degree from the same LSU that Soderburgh attended. Apparently while Soderburgh embraces his roots, Reed fails to appreciate them. Logan Lucky demonstrates the perils of underestimating someone and – going out on a limb here – might just be an autobiographical parable for Soderburgh’s professional life. For a full explanation you will have to read below in the BIG SPOILERS section.

I can’t find another example of a director who made a feature film spoof of one of his own movies. There have been a lot of spoofs – Airplane, Hot Shots, Scary Movie, Naked Gun, and pretty much anything Mel Brooks wrote. But Logan Lucky may be unique.


 +  Logan Lucky is basically Beverly Hillbillies meets Ocean’s Eleven. Even the names have the same ambient rhythm to them. Ocean’s Eleven sounds backwards, as though it should be Eleven Oceans, until you realize the intent is to describe the Eleven person team of a man whose last name is Ocean. Logan Lucky is the same way, with the adjective in the back, but without any explanation, except that it is a homage to its predecessor. To be sure we get the connection, Soderburgh has a newscaster comment on the crime: “People are calling it [the heist] Ocean’s Seven-Eleven”.

Truth be told the Clampett family in the Beverly Hillbillies were often underestimated too. Uncle Jedd had a lot of home spun wisdom which often benefitted the swells in their neighborhood. And the example the Clampetts set of morality, self sufficiency, kindness and generosity was mostly unappreciated but was the backbone of why this show, for all its goofiness, was so popular. They may have been hicks but they had more sense and were happier than all of their neighbors put together.

At first I was not sure if I should be offended by the bald faced home spun backwoods characters Soderburgh conjures. But as time goes on you realize he has a lot more respect for West Virginaians than it might appear. It’s almost as if he is saying it isn’t just the college educated affluent upper class snobs who can plan and execute a clever heist. All it takes is a motive, some common sense and a flair for planning. Let’s put aside for the moment the moral question of our protagonists stealing millions. There is, you’ll find without giving too much away, an aim of poetic justice, hinted at briefly when recruiting two of the most unlikely techs you’ll ever meet, which tit for tat ending pays off at the end.

I, personally, approached the movie with great trepidation due to the casting choice of Daniel “James Bond” Craig as a red neck bank robber explosives expert. But, shockingly, my concerns were unfounded as I quickly forgot Craig’s character was anyone other than a tatooed, cocky good ol’ boy with a brilliant knack for getting his job done, and far more self-discipline than you’d give him credit. Again someone we, the audience, immediately underestimates on first sight.

And there’s one scene near the end at a child’s talent show which establishes Soderburgh’s intent to recognize the beauty and dignity of West Virginians despite his teasing and tweaking.


As unlikely as it may seem I believe Logan Lucky is an autobiographic parable of Soderburgh’s professional life.

The movie starts with Jimmy (Tatum Channing) a hard working schmo amiably divorced and devoted father who runs a bulldozer in an underground construction site beneath the NASCAR race track. The opening scene neatly, with simple dialogue, proves Jimmy is intelligent and capable, a good dad and loves his home state as he chats with his little girl while fixing a car. It is obvious this is a familiar scene as she casually hands him the specific tools he needs like a well trained nurse to a surgeon. They talk about his favorite song – John Denver’s “Take me Home Country Roads”. He does a good job at work but because of a bad knee and the fear of future liability the insurance executives for the construction company insist he be let go.

Soderburgh is a Southern boy – born in Atlanta and grew up in Baton Rouge, LA – his stint in Hollywood as an editor was short lived and it wasn’t until his indie films started making money that the industry powers started paying attention. But after a while Soderburgh again left, citing lack of creative and financial control. In short, Soderburgh, much like our protagonist was misjudged, underappreciated, disrespected, underestimated and dismissed.

Jimmy acquires two of his team members under the pretext that he is planning this heist on moral grounds. Jimmy is lying, but much like Danny Ocean in Ocean’s Eleven, Jimmy has an ulterior motive he is unwilling to share with them which, in his mind, truly is a just goal. In Ocean’s Eleven Danny’s true end game is getting Tess back by proving to her that her boyfriend, Terry Benedict, doesn’t really love her. In Logan Lucky Jimmy just wants the money he is owed from the work he would have done had the insurance company not unjustly ordered him fired. In both cases there is an ulterior motive known only to the leader.

In the case of Soderburgh’s life he has reconstructed the anchor in his Ocean’s franchise into what at first glance appears to be a parody which makes fun of both Ocean’s Eleven and Southern “hicks” but in fact does neither. As the movie progresses we come to understand that the people who are labeled as dumb and appear slow have a real genius to their methods. The apparently inane “robbery to-do list” Jimmy makes in planning his heist which includes: “s*** happens, don’t get greedy, walk away,” all come to necessary fruition. The pretty female of the bunch and Jimmy's sister, Mellie, (Kelley Keoughh) is a hairdresser but knows everything about cars and has the skills of a class A transporter. Joe Bang (Craig)  (a – what else – demolition expert) appears to have the IQ of someone who has fallen on their head one too many times. But he explains how bleach and gummy bears with heat will produce the explosion they need, using an improvised chalkboard on which he draws balanced chemical equations.

The characters read like a Cohen Brothers movie. For example Clyde Logan (Adam "Kylo Ren" Driver), Jimmy’s Iraq veteran brother, is called one armed by an obnoxious patron at the bar in which he tends. In response Clyde proceeds to describe with specificity that he is one handed and partially forearmed in a dry deadpan – just before Jimmy beats the tar out of the offending customer. When Clyde sees his brother’s “robbery to-do list” he points out that he is not a criminal but that since Jimmy cooked his bacon almost burnt just the way he likes it AND it is obvious by the list that his brother is trying to exercise a certain amount of organizational skills, he will hear him out. This is pure Cohen, director brothers who also create characters often far deeper than they initially seem.

Like Ocean’s Eleven it appears as though the money has been destroyed or lost but when reviewed later from an alternate POV we find out what ACTUALLY happened. (Clyde: Are we going to trust our lives to them? Jimmy: We only tell them what they need to know.)

And finally the only ones to get hurt are those who are the “real” bad guys. In the case of Ocean’s it is Benedict, the casino owner. In Logan Lucky it is the insurance company. We find out that Jimmy returned “all” the money stolen in a truck deliberately abandoned by him. However, due to the high volume of the concession income during the race and some subterfuge on Jimmy’s part, there was an accounting opportunity for the race track owners to get a substantial amount of “lost” money from —- the insurance company. Unbeknowst to the rest of the team Jimmy squirreled a separate pile away to be hidden until the FBI agents, who he knew would inevitably be all over this case, gave up on them as suspects. What his other, less trusted teammates didn't know wouldn't hurt any of them. As he explained to Clyde he knew they were all free when the FBI no longer paid for his phone which they were tapping. And it was only after he knew they were in the clear that he distributed the shares of the hidden funds. Ultimately the one who was robbed was the insurance company who stole Jimmy’s job in the first place, starting the chain of events for this movie. And everyone who aids Jimmy in his quest gets a piece of the loot – whether they knew they were helping or no.

A TRUE Robin Hood story – not stealing from the rich to give to the poor but RETURNING money stolen from the poor by the original thief.

In the end the Southern hicks who everyone wrote off use their “ability” to be underestimated like a super power – flying so low under the radar that no one can believe they did it. And the losers are those who tried to exploit them. Soderburgh finds his last laugh in the popularity of his movies despite the lack of support from the Hollywood crowd. Like Jimmy, he is a Southern boy who plucks the prizes from the reach of the establishment swells whose view is obscured by the very nose down which they look.

Almost as if Rex Reed wanted to hand me proof that he didn’t “get” the movie because he has BECOME one of the Hollywood establishment, Reed specifically points out that he didn’t think the title Logan Lucky made sense. He never saw the deliberate grammatical connection (what looks like an adjective coming after a noun) or the literary syntax rhythm to the title of its predecessor. It’s a joke Mr. Reed doesn’t get because he has boxed himself up inside the institutional Hollywood structure.

If you like Soderburgh you’ll like this movie. If you liked Ocean’s Eleven you’ll like this movie.

But Logan Lucky is pretty good all by itself.

And it just goes to show you – it isn’t wise to underestimate us Southern folk.

Detroit: A Disgraceful Disingenuous Pseudo-Documentary

Have you ever seen the movie Rashomon? It is the story of a rape or seduction, murder or honorable duel, depending on from whom you hear the story. The film is told from four different points of view: a deceased Samurai – via a medium, his wife, the bandit who either seduced or raped her, and a woodcutter who viewed the entire event from afar but has no vested interest in any of the other three parties.

Detroit could have been told in this fashion. By director Katherine Bigelow’s own end credits admission there is no conclusive evidence indicating what really happened at the Algiers Hotel the night 3 men were found dead after police stormed the hotel in search of a sniper. She could have chosen a Rashomon approach. Instead she chose to film yet another hit piece against men whose job it is to risk their lives in protection of others, including hers.

In The Hurt Locker she filmed a movie whose plot relied on so many inaccuracies of military procedure, assignments and combat protocol as to be deemed openly disrespectful by military representatives.

In Detroit Bigelow proceeds from a similar unfortunate approach. Choosing a documentary style of film making that implies confidence of accuracy where there is none is deceptive and disgraceful. In addition, Ms Bigelow falls back on vulgar and ugly stereotypes of black men who spend their time drinking and whoring during a riot playing out only blocks away, who are dumb enough to shoot a starter pistol at National Guardsmen, and are overall sniveling and cowardly. And all the authority figures, from city and state police to military, regardless of race, are either borderline psychotic sadists or collaborators to abuses.

Bigelow signals contempt of her subject matter, the people involved and her audience by beginning the movie literally with a poorly drawn cartoon history of the socio-political and historic events which led up to the Detroit riots of 1967 as though she did not believe the movie goers would understand a more sophisticated approach. Names were changed, alleged actions by different people were attributed to a single person, and events were fabricated. When things are "fabricated" in something presented to us as a documentary, there is a word for that. LIE. Ms. Bigelow LIED to put forth an agenda which can do nothing other than promote racial tensions. To me THAT is bigotry. And not a half-century old bigotry but bigotry TODAY against people of both races.

And her take on the events are full of ludicrous plotholes. One telling example: Her contention in the film is that someone shot a starter pistol out of the Algiers Hotel at Guardsmen in the middle of the night at the height of the tensions during the riot. Logic dictates that either someone shot a starter pistol, in an act of criminal stupidity, out of the Algiers Hotel window or there was a sniper at the hotel. If, in fact, it was only a foolish stunt with a blank shooting pistol, why, when lined up against a wall by police and military, did the hotel partiers not say this when asked where the weapon "of any kind" was? The man, according to Ms. Bigelow, who shot a harmless starter pistol, was lying dead on the floor in the next room having charged the incoming officers (another unbelievable move by a character in the story) so there was zero point in not telling the interrogating police this. It stretches credibility beyond breaking that no one would have told the officers, espcially after a prolonged series of interrogations, but would instead subject themselves to beatings and torture. This point alone, upon which the rest of the entire movie depends, puts all of Bigelow’s conjectures into serious doubt.

The rest of the movie continues with assumption on assumptions that can not be verified but which are put forth as Gospel truths.

Tellingly, the first one-half hour or so of the movie, which portrays events which are well documented – how the riots began, who were involved, the premature termination of a singing contest – was fairly even handedly presented. But this is only a set up to create the illusion of credibility for the rest of the story where there is none. When she places her characters in an unverifiable situation her biases become conspicuous.

Further, her creation of this questionable narrative based on a 50 year old event comes on the heels of current events where police have been targets for assassination in REAL life.


Ms. Bigelow, you should be ashamed of yourself. Everyone else should give Detroit a miss.                                    Go get Rashomon and see how a really good movie is made.


Every daughter, some day, has to face the fact that her father – her hero, her protector, her guide through life, her knight in shining armor, her story teller and provider – is human. The Glass Castle is an incredibly beautiful parable of a child’s arc from hero worship through reality check to genuine appreciation of the good man and father he has been their whole life. Jeanette Walls lived this parable – albeit an extreme version – and tells about it in her autobiographical novel turned film.

Her father, Rex Walls is very intelligent, fiercely loyal and protective, devoted husband and father. Doting, creative, skilled, anxious to spend and share every moment of his life with his children. Unfortunately he is also an irresponsible alcoholic whose drinking loses him job after job, forcing his family to live a nomadic life in a series of decreasingly appropriate homes. Rex is a class tragic hero – a noble man with one serious flaw which brings down himself and everyone around him. His wife has either personality or mental issues as she blithely spends all her free time and attention painting while her children go without food for days. The four children, as a result, essentially raise each other.

The movie is seen through the eyes of the second oldest daughter, Jeannette. When we first meet her, she is a successful and wealthy journalist who finds that circumstances, and her parents decision to follow her to New York, forces reminiscences of her childhood and teenaged years to the surface. Her and her siblings’ life experiences growing up ranged from magical to tragical as Rex spun yarns of plans we know he will never fulfill but which his children believe in wholeheartedly — for a while. The tragedy emerges with the slow realization by Jeannette, his favorite child, that Rex lives his entire life as a could’ve-been. The title Glass Castle comes from the enduring myth Rex creates of building a home made of glass through which they can always see the outdoors and, most importantly, the stars at night. He talks of and draws working blueprints on and off for decades but never actually completes any significant steps towards accomplishing this goal. Sadly, Rex was gifted, trained, creative and intelligent enough to probably really build it had he been able to stop drinking. But, despite one several month period of abstinence, drinks himself towards death – the death of himself as well as his dreams.

The Glass Castle has brilliant visual as well as interpersonal metaphors. For example, the site of their planned "castle" home is, piece by piece, eventually neglected, forgotten and finally made into the family garbage dump. The image of a glass castle itself is a brilliant analogy for the preposterousness of Rex’ lifetime plans, the transparency with which Jeanette bares her honest and self aware soul and family warts and all to her audience, the concept – unspoken – of the emperor’s new clothes which are nothing more than fabrications made of spun words which a trusted child will eventually expose, and finally the fantastic dream which Rex had for his children of a magical childhood which he would never provide.

Harrelson is positively amazing in this role which could have gone wrong so many ways: too much and he would have been a jester to be ridiculed. Too little and he would have just been pathetic and contemptuous. But Harrelson at once conjures a character who is adorable, somewhat frightening, occasionally cruel, the ideal father, and a parental nightmare – all together and sometimes all in the same moment. Harrelson’s performance would have deserved an Oscar – if the Oscars were the legitimate award they once were and not the politically correct token they have become.

Brie Larson does a heartbreaking job of portraying the grown Jeanette Walls – forced to put up emotional walls (Jeanette’s last name a GIFT of verbal analogy with which she was born) and Naomi Watts is solid as the selfish self-indulgent facilitator mother who has mental and emotional issues of her own.

But serious kudos also belong to Ella Anderson who plays the young Jeanette who travels from adoring believer in all of Rex’ plans and the last to lose faith in him to the disillusioned angry young woman who unites her siblings in a contract to escape from the deteriorating reality of their parents’ lives. While there’s nothing more zealous than a convert, as MY father used to say, there’s nothing more vengeful than a betrayed devotee. And the young Ella lays the groundwork for the character of Jeannette with which Brie Larson follows through and the baton passing from Ella to Brie is a masterful and convincing accomplishment.

But for all of the depressing moments in this sometimes difficult to watch film, there is an underlying foundation of optimism and a deep abiding love between Jeanette and Rex which can not help but break through like sunlight dappling through fall colored leaves. Rex’ betrayals of her trust is the source of Jeannette’s biggest disappointments but his unconditional uncompromising love and belief in her is the wellspring of her strength. Go see The Glass Castle – a tragic love story between a father and daughter ………….. then go hug your Dad.

Dark Tower – A Wasteland of Missed Opportunity

poster2Popular wisdom says that origin books are almost always better than the movies based on them. While often true the reverse is more prevalent than you might think. Wille WonkaTake Gene Wilder’s Willie Wonka and The Chocolate Factory. The movie, based on the book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, did not wander far from the source material. Though since Dahl wrote both the book and the first draft of the screenplay that is not surprising. But the movie had an added fillip which, to me, was the most memorable moment in the story. Charlie had snuck a sip of Fizzy Lifting Drink and Wonka tells Charlie because of that he won’t get any reward. But it’s a test. So shines.pngDespite Wonka’s cruel and angry behavior to him Charlie gives Wonka back the gobstopper souvenir instead of selling it to Wonka’s competitor. Wonka says: "So shines a good deed in a weary world," then tells Charlie he is to inherit the entire factory. It’s a beautiful moment masterfully played out between Wilder and Ostrum. But it wasn’t in the book. To me it was the crown jewel of the adventure.

MP bookMary Poppins was a series of adventures with the title character coming and going into and out of the Banks' children's lives, as the winds changed: trips around the world, tea parties on the ceiling, learning to cook when the Banks’ cook goes on leave, the birth of other children in the Banks' household, etc – some knit into the movie, most not. But no where does it have the central theme of rescuing not the children, but ultimately the Banks’ children’s father, despite the fact, according to the movie Savings MBSaving Mr. Banks, this was the intent of her stories. Apparently she was just too coy with the theme. The movie, however, makes this beautiful theme crystal clear. Mr Banks.jpgThe hair on the back of your neck will stand up and the hardest will get teary watching a defeated Mr. Banks, knowing he is about to be fired, believing he has failed his children, stand, in the dark at the bottom of the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral where the children had wanted to buy feed for the birds. As the instrumental version of Feed the Birds swells in the background and you know there is a change of wind coming for HIM, you know you are experiencing one of the great moments of cinema. This was not nor could have been adequately portrayed in the book.

GWTWGone With the Wind, while a classic book did not capture the imagination the way the movie did with its sweeping panoramas of Tara in her glory and stricken Confederate soldiers at the railroad station or the burning of Atlanta all against Max Steiner’s magnificent soundtrack and the incendiary chemistry between Leigh and Gable as Scarlett and Rhett played out in Technicolor.

On the other hand, there are movies like the HPHarry Potter series, which are based on a sequence of books so packed with rich magical ideas and creativity that even in 8 movies the filmmakers could only make a Reader’s Digest version. Short shrift was given to some characters like NHNNearly Headless Nick and some were left out altogether Peeveslike Peeves; and some brilliant parts of the books were sadly absent from the films: Harry dressing down Lupin for virtually abandoning his wife and child; the previously misjudged Fleur Delacour declaring her continued devotion to the now scarred Bill Weasley saying "I am beautiful enough for the both of us." It was obvious the movies were a labor of love but just couldn’t do the books justice.

c6269487482a083efdda16c756e186c0--dark-tower-gunslinger-dark-tower-tattooThen there’s Dark Tower. *weary sigh* I once was a fan of Stephen King. That was before he went on a diatribe against the pro-life movement, but that’s a story for another blog. During the height of my King fan-reading I tried to slog through the series of Dark Tower books AS they were coming out. I couldn’t get past the third of what would eventually be eight. It was an incomprehensible mess. It seemed as though King would wake up every morning and before his first cup of coffee spill, without filter, whatever thoughts came to him. Then the next day he would do the same thing, making weak efforts to tie what he’d written the previous day into the current days "work". There were lobster monsters and vampires, slow mutants and doomed theme parks, fatal rides on mining cars and homages to his other books. And in the book ROLAND, THE GUNSLINGER THOUGHTLESSLY MURDERS JAKE just to be able to continue his quest towards this Dark Man who, as time goes on, seems to not be quite as bad as the the Gunslinger himself. Then at the end of the 8th book (I read the Wikipedia synopsis recently as I didn’t want to wade through the rest of the books) King pretty much gives a middle finger to his audience, leaving the Gunslinger to start his quest all over again with no real resolution. The series reads like a challenge to see just how devoted his fans really are – like an insecure child constantly misbehaving just to be forgiven, demanding his parents prove they love him.

That’s not to say King hasn’t written anything good since mile Green Mile was a beautifully written modern parable and I’d be hard pressed to say which I liked better – book or movie. They were both well done, the former by King the latter by Frank Darabont.

The FOUR screenwriters (Akiva "A Beautiful Mind and I,Robot" Goldsman, Jeff "Fringe" Pinkner, Anders Thomas Jensen and Nikolaj Arcel) who were tasked with writing the screenplay from King’s Dark Tower series must have taken a look at the books, thought – "Well, Dark Tower is a King product so we have to do SOMETHING with this because we sure can’t film THIS mess," and actually managed to create a decent narrative script.

Gunslinger and walterSo they took the general idea of the Dark Tower quest, the 3 main characters – Roland, Jake and Walter the Dark Man, SOME of the weirdness rats(animal mutants wearing people faces) and created a STORY. picturesFatherless Jake and his widowed then remarried mother live in a New York beset with signs of coming cataclysm – earthquakes and eerie storms. His visions of the gunslinger’s Wasteland – a world which has "moved on" – and his violent outbursts drive his desperate mother to seek help from psychiatrists who ultimately schedule him for a stay at a retreat for troubled youths. When Jake realizes the social workers who have come to take him are mutants from the Wasteland of his visions he escapes through a portal in an abandoned house possessed by a demon sent by the Dark Man….and THIS is the version of the story that makes SENSE!

Dark Man.jpgThe Dark Man, Walter, is played like a sinister Vegas magician by Matthew "Interstellar" McConaughey. Not his fault – just the way it’s written. McConaughey does his best to tread that fine line between over the top scene chewing bad guy and seductive Hannibal Lector-like serial killer. The result is serviceable but nothing to write home about.

The script doesn’t hang together. Dark towerIf the Dark Tower is the force for good, why is it DARK? The thing looks pretty darned creepy as portrayed – not some bastion of good and cohesive force. Traditionally, especially in a mythos-like fable of good and evil something this DARK would represent evil. And why is something DARK under attack from the DARK Man? The name similarities are either a product of a direct intentional relationship or sloppy writing. If the former there is a glaring inconsistency. As this is a completely invented universe we have no context for making a distinction and are given no explanation. Where did the mutants come from and why does the Dark Man make them wear masks? Why do the "mutants" look like large versions of Ratty from Wind in the Willows? How did the Wasteland come to "move on" and where did that expression come from? Not to be pedantic or facitious but where did it move to? Just an odd phrase for something falling apart. How does the Gunslinger have the power to resist the Dark Man’s magic and if the Dark man has the power to put people under his control just by waving at them why does he play with Roland like a sated cat with a mouse instead of just sending people by the thousands to overwhelm him?

Not that this movie is bad. It is CERTAINLY MUCH better than the books. OK that is because it is completely different from the books. Frankly – aside from the superficial skeleton – it has NOTHING in common with the books. It’s just that it could have been so much more. The writers were so burdened with trying to glue a coherent story from King’s mismash soup of blatherings from the book that they missed several opportunities to make a really great movie. The story felt as though they became so exhausted with stitching an entire suit out of the random pieces they were given that they forgot to sew up the holes created by the mismatching parts.

The only jewel in this story is Idris Elba. He can sell ANYthing. And he makes the Gunslinger a compelling believable character. He’s what Shane would have been in Lord of the Rings – valiant, determined, stalwart and brave in the face of evil. NOT the kind to murder young boys out of convenience as King's character in the books does. Elba’s fighting scenes are worth the price of admission.

roland on ground shooting

I realized when looking for interesting pictures to feature in the blog, about all there WAS were pictures of Idris Elba's Roland shooting – and even then you can't get the grace and class with which he performs these balletic moves. Creative and exciting, the style with which he just loads his gun is fun to watch. However and unfortunately, you get a pretty generous preview of all the good stuff in the trailers. That’s not to say you should not go see it, but don’t be disappointed when you find the movie’s best features are just longer versions of what you’ve already seen.