MOVIE REVIEW: The Glass Castle

How does the old saying go? You can’t choose your family? If you could, it’s hard to fathom why anyone would willingly pick the Walls family. The Glass Castle, based off the memoir of journalist Jeannette Walls, tells the story of a dysfunctional family living way below the poverty line, desperate to find a balance between survival and hope. Held afloat by powerful performances by Brie Larson and Woody Harrelson, writer/director Destin Daniel Cretton (Short Term 12) and co-writer  Andrew Lanham (The Shack) do a decent job in spotlighting  the shocking day to day experience of being a child of Rex (Harrelson) and Rose Mary Walls (Naomi Watts.) But this membership holds no privileges.

The Walls structure their parenting (use that term in the loosest possible way) philosophy around indifference and empty promises. The result is an environment suited to reckless endangerment, emotional and physical abuse, and a disinterest in pursuing any exploit that might better their lot in life. A lot of this neglect is shadowed by a delusion that everything will work out, which only serves to justify their lack of effort and responsibility.  Added to that is the drunken state Rex usually resides in, and the blissful ignorant haze that gets Rose through life. It’s a frustrating and often uncomfortable watch- one that is all too easy to judge from the sidelines- yet one that is peppered with just enough sentimental moments to play with our emotions and rage against our instincts as rational human beings.

Where The Glass Castle falls short is in its inability to push the boundaries outside the Walls’ family bubble.  Something the book does very well is focus on the societal impact of living in this level of squalor, especially on the children. They are bullied at school. There is a constant fear of social workers intervening. The images the book conjures in your mind are infinitely more graphic than what is depicted onscreen. The film brushes over a lot of that in favor of keeping within the confines of interpersonal family relationships.

Told primarily through the lens of young Jeanette, played with a wide-eyed precociousness by Ella Anderson (The Boss), all of our emotional chips are wagered on the fallout from Rex’s indiscretions and how they impact his family. Promises of one day striking it rich and building a fantastical “glass castle”, Rex manipulates Jeanette with false hope. As his children get older and more wiser to his bullshit, Rex flees deeper into his alcoholism, leading to much darker situations that are likely to leave audience members sickened with disgust. But, throughout all of the hurt and anger justifiably levied against their parents by the children, there is always an air of unconditional love lingering. That’s where a lot of people are struggling to hang their hat.

Because of the focus on Jeanette and Rex, Harrelson and Larson get the lion’s share of dramatics to handle. Harrelson is doing some of his best work here. It’s a role that seems built for his irascible style. Larson continues to prove she’s worthy of acclaim.  Even though she really only gets one “awards worthy” scene, it’s a powerful moment in which she’s able to express Jeanette’s long festering frustration with her parents, and it’s quite satisfying as a viewer that has had to watch these kids go through Hell for ninety minutes. I’d like to say the remaining characters leave an impression, but their moments simply aren’t as impactful. Watts is never given much to do other than hang around in a lot of scenes as the compliant waif to Rex’s aggressions. The other kids are there more or less because they have to be.

So the difficult question to answer is, do the filmmakers sprinkle a bit too much sugar on the film to make it more palatable? Do the arguably criminal actions of the Wall’s level of neglect warrant a mostly happy ending? Most of the critics serving negative reviews I’ve seen seem to want to die on this particular hill. The consensus is that transgressions such as these couldn’t possibly align with themes of redemption and forgiveness.  Admittedly, I’m not sure I would be able to find that level within myself, but it’s easy to say that as an outsider looking in. The book and the film seem to indicate that the power of love is strong within this hot mess of a family. Only Jeanette Walls and her three siblings get to decide whether that’s a worthy ending.

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Episode 049: Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

This week we are covering the second of our two listener chosen episodes based on voting compiled from films recommended using the #FeelThisFilm hashtag. The winning movie was Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and we couldn’t be more excited to discuss this awesome and unique film experience. There is nothing quite like this creative graphic novel adaptation by Edgar Wright. We just might be in lesbians with this one.

What We’ve Been Up To – 0:02:43

(Patrick – The Graduate)

(Aaron – Kong: Skull Island, Pacific Rim, NieR: Automata)

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World Review – 0:17:25 

The Connecting Point – 1:04:11

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Intro/Outro Music – “Air Hockey Saloon” by Chris Zabriskie

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Minisode 16: Kong: Skull Island

Don Shanahan joins the show for a discussion about the return of Kong to the big screen. This latest monster movie provides plenty of thrilling, towering action sequences that are worthy of the King. We talk about the different style of creature features over the years and whether or not character development is necessary for a good blockbuster. So push play on this episode and find out why we think Kong is back and here to stay.

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Intro/Outro Music – “Air Hockey Saloon” by Chris Zabriskie

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https://www.patreon.com/FeelinFilm

Rate/Review us on iTunes and on your podcast app of choice! It helps bring us exposure so that we can get more people involved in the conversation. Thank you!

Feelin’ It: Kong: Skull Island Review

Rating:

The hype surrounding Kong: Skull Island had a decidedly Apocalypse Now feel to it. Based on the trailers and posters we’d seen, it appeared that director Jordan Vogt-Roberts was going to do his best at a Francis Ford Coppola impression. Were we truly about to see the merging of a dramatically brilliant war film with the unapologetic campiness of a monster-focused blockbuster? In a sense, we did. And what’s really crazy is… it worked.

Where Vogt-Roberts draws inspiration, however, is not from the dramatic human stories we see in war epics like Apocalypse Now. Instead, he focuses on using the beautifully shot landscapes, often bathed in fire or backed by a burning sun, to give the adventure on Skull Island a Vietnam flare. The colors, especially red and orange, are bright and the island itself is incredible to look at on a big screen. With its lush jungles, towering mountains, and various unique animal species, there is never a moment where we do not feel in complete awe of the locale. Additionally, he takes cues from classic Vietnam pictures in the way his action is shot. Often it has a horror feel to it, with blood splatters and the loss of limbs displaying the true terrors of a fight against something so much more powerful and primal than our characters have ever seen. The action is fast-paced and has that blockbuster intensity that gets blood pumping. And it is in this stylized action (brought to us by long time Zack Snyder cinematographer Larry Fong) that we begin to really understand what kind of film Kong: Skull Island is supposed to be. 

Above all else, this monster movie is meant to be FUN. If you’re expecting this A-list cast of award-winning actors to wow you with incredible dramatic performances, you’re going to be highly disappointed. If, however, you like your monster movies classic style, with a dose of campiness and a focus on the monsters themselves, you are in for a treat. Our main characters are mostly given back stories, with the inexplicable exception of Tian Jing’s biologist (?) who hardly is ever even noticed, and they fulfill the roles required of them with aplomb. Essentially they seem to serve as varying viewpoints on how the discovery of Kong and Skull Island should be handled. Samuel L. Jackson, for example, is perfect as the commander who just isn’t ready to hang up his rifle and is willing to lead his unit into harm’s way to hold on for one minute more and one last fight, regardless of any logic that may say otherwise.  This movie is about Kong, though, and by keeping the character stories from overpowering the narrative Vogt-Roberts allows us to never get dragged down into the drama, instead simply using the humans as a means of getting us from big action sequence to monster fight in an entertaining and often humorous manner. Not much is felt for the ones who perish and that is by design, because this isn’t really their story. It also would have been easy to let Brie Larson’s character become a love interest of the ape, for old time’s sake, but the restraint shown here instead paints a more “realistic” picture of two species trying to understand each other via non-verbal communication and then protecting those who’ve protected you.

Thankfully this is a story about the island, about Kong and its other less friendly inhabitants. They are rightfully the star of this picture and every scene with Kong in it is incredible. Particularly, his shining monster vs. monster moment is worth the price of admission alone and the creature design throughout is stunning, the perfect mix of creepy and amazing. Also of note (though not a beast) is John C. Reilly who steals every scene he’s in and serves as much more than just a comedic side note, but rather the heart of the human component in the film.

After suffering through Hollywood’s recent attempts at more serious monster movie fare, it was absolutely refreshing to sit with my 12-year old son, mouth agape, ooh’ing and aah’ing as a gigantic towering ape did the exact things a gigantic towering ape should do in this scenario. It was just over-the-top enough to hit the right notes without becoming a drawback. From the looks of the post-credits scene, it appears that we’re in for a connected world of monster films with some A-list stars continuing forward. So while Kong may not quite have been a perfect film, it’s a solid effort and serves as a fantastic starting point to build around, much like Marvel has accomplished with its comic book universe.

Emotional Takeaway: EXCITEMENT
Not only for its big screen thrills and frantic, stylized action sequences, but because Kong ushers in a new era of monster movies for this generation to enjoy. Here’s hoping we embrace these films with a childlike passion and let pure blockbuster fun reignite our over-dramatized movie-going souls. See it on a big screen, let yourself go, and just enjoy the ride. The King is back.