“The Glass Castle” based on a memoir of white poverty

Is “The Glass Castle” a film about rebellion and living outside the system (and trying to get your kids to do so) and almost off the grid, or is it about the moral politics of poverty, especially for less well-off whites in southern West Virginia – specifically near Welch, very much in Trump’s coal country.

The dramedy, overlong at 127 minutes, directed by Dustin Daniel Cretton and somewhat freely adapted from the memoir of Jeannette Walls (not quite a “manifesto”), tells its story in two time layers.

In 1989, the young adult Jeannette (Brie Larsen) has escaped into the good life in NYC as a reporter and gossip columnist with a Wall Street fiancée David (Max Greenfield). When her alcoholic, derelict dad Rex (Woody Harrelson) barges back into her life, the movie goes mostly into flashback mode. We learn that at 3, Jeannette was left to cook on a gas stove and was scarred for life from the resulting fire, although it gets covered by clothes (something a fiancée would have to deal with).

Most of the narrative concerns Rex’s taking the family to a ramshackle clapboard house near Welch, and promising to build his fantasy “Glass Castle” with solar panels. In the meantime, the family goes hungry. Mom, Rose Mary (Naomi Watts) does her thing as a painter. She thinks there will be little competition in coal country. The kids turn out all right. Brian becomes a police officer but looks pretty sharp in the film (Josh Caras, from “Bugcrush”).

People in that part of the world, in the mountain hollows, are quite self-reliant, as they demonstrated after the 2016 floods. They hardly used the volunteers churches tried to sent them.

The film does some travel in the desert and in New Mexico (the early road-movie scenes) but it doesn’t take advantage of a chance to mention the mountaintop removal in the area.

The Washington Post ran an article in the Outlook Section P. 2 today by Stephen Pimpare that talks aout this film a lot. The print title is “What movies tell us about poverty.” Online the title is more challenging, “Where do we learn that poverty is shameful and dangerous? At the movies.” This film echoes that view. You don’t want to walk in their shoes unless you’re coerced to.

Jeffrey Tucker of FEE reviews the film in an article, “Does Society Have Room for Brilliant Eccentrics?” Well, Rex is irresponsible enough that Jeannette tells him she never wants to see him again (that’s much worse than being blocked in today’s social media) but she does go back to West Virginia for his deathbed.


Name:  “The Glass Castle”
Director, writer: Dustin Daniel Cretton, Jeanette Walls
Released:  2017
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Regal Ballston Quarter, 2017/8/27 fair crowd
Length: 207
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  Lionsgate
Link:  official

(Posted: Sunday, Aug, 27, 2017 at 10:30 PM EDT)

“Moscow Never Sleeps”: a great opportunity to “see” Moscow

Moscow Never Sleeps” is a new film by Irish director Johnny O’Reilly, who says he spent a dozen years living in Moscow as Putin gradually consolidated power. He thinks the city is fascinating, and it is still rarely visited by Americans because of fear of hostility and maybe arrest.

O’Reilly’s film is in Robert Altman style, presenting intersecting stories of the everyday lives of a few characters.  American films like this might include “Short Cuts” (1993), or Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Magnolia” (1999), although this film is shorter at 100 minutes.

It starts in an operating room where an old sot Valeriey (Yuriy Sotyanov) refuses coronary bypass surgery and insists on going back to his pub crawls despite having only a few weeks to live this way. There is an oligarchy businessman Anton (Aleksey Serebryakov) who seeks the freedom of part-time life in New York, doing his deals from afar where Putin can’t get to him. But most of the rest of the stories involve mundane things.  A son puts his mom into assisted living, where she has to deal with loss of privacy and dignity, and wonders why mom didn’t help grandma more.  The mom returns home for a visit (unusual in real life).  A young woman reenters the lives of rivals and seeks personal revenge.  This film has parallel two drink poisoning scenes.

The people are not all that likable, and are not doing particularly well in Russia’s grubby, hierarchal economy based on right-sizing. But the film gives us a wealth of long shots of Moscow, including drone aerials (this was a trick, to get past authorities), with views of long ring expressways.  There are long cityscapes of ornate low-rise apartments, giving way to highrises, with islands of skyscrapers in the distance.  The effect is that of a city on another planet, an alien world. The events in the story center around Moscow City Day, which is the first Saturday in September. It’s still warm (24 C) but won’t be for long.  The film indeed provides a practical way to see Moscow without the risk and expense of going there.

I do recall films like “Gorky Park” (where some of this new film was shot) and “Moscow on the Hudson” from the 80s.

Wikipedia link for Evolution Tower.

Director QA

1  (my question about the 2013 anti-gay propaganda law)



Name: Moscow Never Sleeps
Director, writer:  Johnny O’Reilly
Released:  2017
Format:  2.35:1   in Russian, with subtitles
When and how viewed:  Landmark E Street, Washington, 2017/7/1, sold out
Length:  100
Rating:  NA (R)
Companies:  Snapshot films
Link:  official site

(Posted: Sunday, July 2, 2017 at 3 PM EDT)

“The Book of Henry”: the legacy of a gifted child who was grown at 12

The Book of Henry”, directed by Colin Trevorrow and written by Gregg Hurwitz, is layered, in the sense that the plot is partially driven by the contents of a handwritten notebook authored by the charismatic Henry (think “Nocturnal Animals”) and it is also Biblical, in that the 12 year old Henry (Jaeden Lieberher) is almost like a Christ figure (think Danny in “Judas Kiss”) who really could save us, so his book is like a Gospel.

Unfortunately, Henry has an unusual, opportunistic brain tumor.  It starts with headaches, and a seizure, and he dies in his mother’s arms, looking at the sky. It’s a horrific tragedy. It is sudden, like Lee Atwater’s in 1989. Why would this happen.  Was he born with HIV?  His single mom (Naomi Watts) also has a younger son Peter (Jacob Tremblay, from “Room”) whom we also hope will grow up to be a genius.

Henry and Peter have built a tree house with all kinds of perpetual motion gadgets. Mom likes to play video games on TV, but the movie has the look of the early 90s (in upstate New York).  Mom (Susan) works in a diner as a waitress even though it’s not clear  she has to. (The source of the money is not quite clear.)  She often covers for goofball comedian Sheila (Sarah Silverman).

There are twelve year old’s who understand the adult world.  I’ve met a few in my life, as a substitute teacher, and at local churches.  It’s gratifying to see the same 12 year old a decade ago at 22 today out of college.  (Maybe the Washington Nationals could use him as a closer, but I’ll stop there.)  But Henry won’t go to M.I.T., Stanford, or UNC.  His days are numbered, and he knows it, and he has to take care of his family.

Henry talks fast, often in rich metaphors (“our legacy is not how many commas we have after our name”).

Henry has Jesus’s moral sense.  Before his illness, he gets after his mom not intervening in an abusive situation in a supermarket.  He says that if everybody minded just their own business, people who can’t take care of themselves would be left to die.  Remember the parable of the Rich Young Ruler, who has too much to lose?

Henry, playing “Rear Window”, has spotted the possible abuse of a female classmate by her stepfather, a politically powerful police chief, through the window, in the next door house.  He wants mom to intervene but he figures out that politically Child Protective Services won’t help.  So his authored book provides the blueprint for what mom must do to stop the stepdad once Henry is gone.

Susan (the mom) puts her comic plan into action to trap the police chief while Sheila leads a talent show at the school.  At the end, she burns the Book and the 80s-style minitapes.  But the DVD for this movie will need to include a PDF of the Book, with all of Henry’s Da Vinci-like drawings.  The Book itself needs ti be published.

The style of the movie is almost that of comedy, despite its tragic middle. The look of it reminds me of “Moonrise Kingdom”.

There is a NatGeo film “The Gospel of Judas” (2006).

Name: “The Book of Henry”
Director, writer:  Colin Trevorrow, Gregg Hurwitz
Released:  2017
Format: 2.00:1
When and how viewed:  Cinema Arts, Fairfax, 2017/6/20
Length:  106
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  Sidney Kimmel, Focus Features
Link:  official

(Posted on Wednesday, June 21, 2017 at 11 PM EDT)

“The Salesman”: dramatic film from Iran layers with an American classic stage drama

The Salesman” is Asghar Farhadi’s candidate in the Oscars, and at this writing it’s unclear whether he will be able to attend, given Donald Trump’s political and now judicial crisis over immigration.

It comes as a surprise that Iran, with whom the US has no formal diplomatic relations and considerable official antagonism, looks as modern as it is in film and that the people live rather self-interested lives, with relatively little reference to Islam.  True, in the opening scene an apartment building starts to collapse because of construction next door, and the flat that the lead character, actor and teacher Emad (Shahab Hosseini) and wife Rana (Taraneh Aldossti) move to looks cramped and cookie-cutter.  The improbable house “fall” does satisfy a tenet of screenwriting, that a film should open with the characters being put in a real crisis, in order to hook the viewers. I don’t think that’s always necessary.

The film provides an excellent example of layering:  the top level story, leading to a tragic death of a older theater principal and landlord, embeds scenes from Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman”, and from the Persian story “The Cow” (Gholem-Hossein Sa’edi) which Emad teaches to his teen boy students in his day job (with a BW film excerpt).

The 1949 Miller play, especially the scenes shown in the film (in Farsi) certainly plays on the values of “sales culture”, where the husband proves he can manipulate customers to indulge a dependent family. In the play, that culture produces tragic results.

In the highest level of the story, Emad and Rana find that a female prostitute had lived there before, and the possibility of johns returning creates the tragic unraveling of the high-level plot.

Wikipedia link for scene in Tehran similar to film.

Name:  “The Salesman”
Director, writer:  Asghar Farhadi (Iran)
Released:  2016
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Angelika Mosaic 2017/2/5, small audience, late afternoon (Super Bowl competes)
Length:  126
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  Cohen Media Group, Amazon Studios
Link:  official

(Posted: Sunday, February 5, 2015 at 8:30 PM EST)


“Jackie” is a rather dour retelling of the First Lady’s experience during and right after the JFK assassination


Name: Jackie
Director, writer: Pablo Larrain, Noah Oppenheim
Released: 2016/12
Format: 1.66:1
When and how viewed: Angelika Mosaic, 2016/12/12
Length 100
Rating R
Companies: Fox Searchlight
Link: official site

Jackie” (directed by Pablo Larrain, written by Noah Oppenhei) is a rather morose exercise in dramatizing Jackie Kennedy’s life in the week after the assassination of president John Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963.

The film is framed as an interview of Jackie (Natalie Portman) at home in Hyannisport in early December, 1963 by journalist Ted White (Billy Crudup). Portman’s raspy voice and intonation help make her seem self-centered, sometimes almost creepy.

But the screenplay flashes back into two layers: one of black and white segments of Jackie’s arranging the White House interiors to celebrate American history (“A Tour of the White House”, rather like a Smithsonian museum today). These way-back’s use Caspar Phillipson as a caricature of John Kennedy.
But the more interesting, if titillating, part of the film traces the assassination itself: Jackie holding the president’s bloodied head as they speed off to Parkland Hospital; her dealing with blood-soiled garments on the flight back to Washington, then the reenactment through BW television of Ruby’s execution of Lee Harvey Oswald. “He’s been shot!” I recall that moment, riding with my parents down 17th Street in Washington the Sunday after the assassination and hearing the second event live on a car radio. A major issue is whether Jackie will walk outdoors during the funeral procession, a security risk.

Peter Sarsgaard becomes a distortion of his usual self in the extreme closeups as brother Robert Kennedy. John Carroll Lynch plays LBJ, who will draft me in less than five years, and Beth Grant is Lady Bird, and nothing right now is “so good”.

The original music score, for small string orchestra, is by Mica Levi; it often sounds post-Mahler, but with some sliding or quarter-tone glissandi in the phrasing. There is a scene where Jackie plays an LP of “Camelot” on an old record player that would have tracked heavy, in the White House (although by 1963, good turntables, cartridges and tonearms for reliable fidelity in stereo vinyl were well developed already).

Everybody, most of all Jackie herself, smokes. It’s depressing.

The film is shot in the slightly reduced aspect ratio of 1.66:1 instead of 1.85:1; I wonder why. The film was partly filmed in France (for indoor scenes).

Possible comparison’s would be Oliver Stone’s “JFK“, as well as “The Day Kennedy Died“, “Interview with an Assassin“, and “Parkland“.

(Posted: Tuesday, December 13, 2016, at 9:45 AM EST)

“True Memoirs of an International Assassin”: a novelist is forced to live out his own “true story”


Name: True Memoirs of an International Assassin
Director, writer:  Jeff Wadlow
Released:  2016
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Netflix instant play
Length 98
Rating PG-13
Companies: Netflix Red Envelope
Link: FB

True Memoirs of an International Assassin”(2016), directed by Jeff Wadlow, presents another layered concept where an “esteemed author’s” writings trigger his own musings in real life.

Ordinary looking  Sam Larson (Kevin James) imagines himself as hit man mason Carver behind the scenes in a coup in Venezuela.  The movie opens with his visualizing violent action scenes, with bodies blown up and the like.  Soon we see him as a wannabe novelist with a desk job, getting rejection slips from traditional publishers, for a novel with the same title as this movie.

One day a woman calls him late at night and offers to meet him in a Starbucks.  He signs a contract to have his novel published as a “true story” online only, as fake news.  It goes viral, and he’s famous quickly, interviewed by Katie Couric (where in one scene it looks like he could vomit on morning television).  He is getting set up to become his own character, “The Ghost”.

He does get asked things like, why doesn’t he live his own life instead of writing about other people’s.  (I get asked the inverse, why don’t I write outside my own narrative?)

Then real life catches up him, as he is kidnapped in his own apartment by a home invasion, and taken to Venezuela, where he is expected to act as a real hit man to assassinate the Venezuelan president (Kim Coates) and then counter-hired to get rid of a political opponent El Toro (Andy Garcia).  The CIA and DEA are involved in what becomes a conventional comic caper. Caracus is said to be the most dangerous city in the world.

In the end, he will write a real novel, “A Ghost in Colombia”.

By Superyessicanovahttp://www.flickr.com/photos/superyessicanova/468649543/, CC BY 2.0, Link

Posted Wednesday. Nov. 23, 2016 at 8:45 AM EST

“Nocturnal Animals”: fascinating layered storytelling


Name: “Nocturnal Animals”
Director, writer:  Tom Ford, Austin Wright
Released:  2016
Format:  2.35:1;  layered plot with slightly different filters to differentiate story lines
When and how viewed:  2016/11/18;  Angelika Mosaic, fair audience; audience smaller than expected but liked film
Length 117
Rating R
Companies: Focus Features, Fade to Black (UK, USA)
Link: official

Nocturnal Animals”, directed by Tom Ford (based in the novel “Tony and Susan” by Austin Wright) gives us a neo-noir drama with an interesting “story within a story” layering.

Susan Morrow (Amy Adams) owns an art gallery in LA.   The film opens with a bizarre introduction of obese naked women doing an exhibition at her business (they seem right out of David Lynch, as if the “Lady in the Radiator” from “Eraserhead” were to strip).  Susan is already starting to suspect her handsome businessman second husband Hutton (Armie Hammer) of philandering, as he bugs out of a weekend with her and heads to New York for another Trump-like deal.   Saturday morning, she gets a mysterious package, getting a paper cut (I thought of Richard Kelly’s “The Box”); inside is a novel manuscript from her first husband, Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal).  The novel is to be published by a trade press soon.

She can’t put the manuscript down.  The movie intersperses the book with present day (using slightly reddened filters to distinguish the look). Soon the movie also gives flashbacks of her dating her gentle first husband, and her mother’s (Laura Linney, who impersonates Bette Davis here) reservations about Edward’s lack of ambition. Edward had worked in a bookstore and aimed to be a writer (getting graduate degrees that didn’t give high-paying jobs). Susan had cautioned Edward that he needed to learn to write about people other than himself, and Edward had said every writer is most concerned about his own narrative.  But they had married, and soon the intimacy had floundered.  There’s some hunt that Edward is bisexual.


The embedded novel is a violent tale where Edward imagines himself as Tony Hastings, with a wife and young daughter.  As they drive at night through West Texas, they get into what seems like a road rage incident at first, before the Tony realizes that Lou (Karl Glusman) and Ray (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) intend to kidnap them.  Tony gets away but his wife and daughter are raped and murdered, and his manliness is challenged by his inability to protect them.  Tony is recused by a chain “cigarette smoking man” sheriff Bobby Andes (Michael Shannon) who helps track down the killers.  Eventually the DA doesn’t think there is enough hard evidence against them so Bobby and Tony go on an extra-legal, vigilante mission that ultimately kills both perps but comes to a tragic end for Tony, too.  Bobby will die of lung cancer.

Susan eventually winds up in a restaurant waiting to meet her first husband again, and we don’t know if he will show up.

Gyllenhaal’s physical transformations (from age 25 or so to mid 40s) are interesting.  In the fiction section, his chest hair is back (after depilation for a couple previous movie roles), but not when he is younger.  There’s a curious scene where Bobby and Tony approach Tay Marcus, sitting naked on an outdoor potty near a burglarized desert trailer,  with Ray having an absolutely hairless chest.


The structure of the screenplay is like that of my own “Do Ask, Do Tell: Epiphany” where I set up a “contest” (so to speak) for survival on a space station, but where the backstory (of me) links back to a fiction work (also by me) which affect the outcome of the “contest”. In my screenplay, the “fiction” part of the backstory would be filmed in black and white, but I imagine the film as 2.35:1.  The Ford-Mallack acting and directorial style would work with my material.

The movie could also be viewed as a kind of heterosexual “Judas Kiss”.

The music score by Abel Korzeniowski sounds a bit like Andre Desplat’s work in “The Tree of Life” and the directing style recalls Terrence Malick.  There is a mournful piano and chamber theme in G Minor dangling all the time in the dominant D, played a lot in the trailers.

The film, while shot in LA and west Texas (or New Mexico), has a lot of funding from the UK and some interiors may have been filmed overseas.

(Posted: Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016 at 10 AM EST)