Film Review: “The Glass Castle”

Starring: Brie Larson, Woody Harrelson and Naomi Watts
Directed By: Destin Daniel Cretton
Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 127 minutes
Lionsgate

There’s an old adage that everyone has heard at some point about how we can’t pick our parents. I hate that truism. It’s rarely used in an earnest conversation and mainly glosses over a more deep-seeded conflict. In “The Glass Castle,” the conflict is multi-layered and a lot more complicated than its face value. Rex Walls (Harrelson) drags his wife and kids cross country to escape debt, police and his own parents, internalizing and allowing some of his more dark secrets to manifest into emotional manipulation and possible abuse.

Rex repeatedly attempts to drown his sorrows in alcohol, but surprisingly reveals a softer side anytime he hits the bottle. That’s not to say he has his deplorable moments with whiskey heavy on his breath. His four children and wife, Rose (Watts), are generally at his mercy as he goes from dilapidated home to dilapidated home. They live without proper plumbing, heat or even food sometimes. They finally settle down in rural West Virginia where his children, on the cusp of puberty, begin to piece together that their father isn’t the kind, gentle soul they have believed him to be.

“The Glass Castle” is told from the point of view of Rex’s second oldest child, Jeanette. Brie Larson is wasted as grown-up Jeanette, but is played much better in flashbacks by Ella Anderson. The other three kids don’t have much of a personality in the flashbacks, but considering its Jeanette’s memoir, that’s perfectly fine. The audience’s perception of Rex unravels as Jeanette gets older and sees Rex as a flawed father figure. Besides being an alcoholic, he possibly abuses their mom, imprisons the children within their own home without proper education and prioritizes booze over buying essentials for the family.

Rex is a difficult character to root for, at all. His likeability is buoyed by Harrelson’s ability to flip from a shattered, paranoid man to a charming goofball. It’s difficult to fully comprehend Jeanette’s overall attitude because when Larson is brought back, she’s used to deliver icy stares and spout declarative disgust in the film’s present day. It’s not only until the end of the movie that she begins to warm up to her father’s habitual lies. “The Glass Castle” sloppily attempts to ever convey a direct, and even indirect, message about who Rex really is.

But because it continues to play with Rex as an anti-hero, “The Glass Castle” is rarely boring and is a sometimes interesting, if not derivative, soap opera. There are predictable beats, but the film throws a few curveballs and avoids several cliché moments, settling for a more genuine dramatic effect. Some viewers may even see their own family in the Walls, which is both heartbreaking and terrifying. Of course the modern day Walls most likely wouldn’t be able to handle life without a smartphone.

“The Glass Castle” is based on Jeanette’s memoirs, which I imagine is much more lengthy and in-depth. The book is a bestseller with a massive following because of its truthful slice of impoverished Americana. Despite taking place in the 70’s, there are parallels to the broken small towns that continue to dot America, which add another level of relatability to the film. However the entirely white cast may disarm and confound anyone outside the demographic depicted on-screen.

There is a level of understanding in “The Glass Castle” about how once one or both of your parents pass, you don’t necessarily reflect on the bad times. You seem to neglect how terrible they may have been, but instead focus on and cherish the moments where they showed their parental love and care for you. The things that bugged you and the moments of turmoil are reflected on through tears and laughter, as long as those memories weren’t too tumultuous. “The Glass Castle” is a peculiar film about hindsight forgiveness, more than blind acceptance.

Win Passes to the Kansas City Premiere of “The Glass Castle”

Media Mikes has teamed with Lionsgate Films to give 50 readers and a guest the chance to be among the first to see the new film “The Glass Castle” in Kansas City.

The screening will be held on Tuesday, August 8th at the Cinemark Palace at the Plaza in Kansas City, Missouri and will begin at 7:00 p.m.

All you have to do is go here and download your passes.The first 50 readers to do so will receive a pass for two to attend the screening. This is a first come/first serve contest and once the passes are exhausted the giveaway is over.

“The Glass Castle,” starring Oscar winner Brie Larson as well as Oscar nominees Naomi Watts and Woody Harrelson, opens nationally on August 11, 2017

Film Review: “Free Fire”

Starring: Sharlto Copley, Brie Larson and Armie Hammer
Directed By: Ben Wheatley
Rated: R
Running Time: 90 minutes
A24

Our Score: 3 out of 5 Stars

Guns, swearing and an ensemble cast. Sometimes that’s all you need. At least that might have been the idea behind “Free Fire,” a 90-minute dark comedy meant to entertain and amuse those sick enough to sift through its violence to unearth the humor and enjoy the over-the-top gunplay. “Free Fire” is heavy on style and short enough to justify the full-fledged warehouse shootout, but its lack of storytelling substance and handful of one-dimensional characters risks shooting it down entirely.

Chris (Cillian Murphy) and Frank (Michael Smiley) are representatives with IRA, in Boston to purchase weapons from gun runner, Vernon (Copley). Mediating for the gun runner is Ord (Hammer) and Justine (Larson) for the IRA. Each side has their own underlings to schlep the merchandise around and nothing seemingly goes right during the late night meet-up. Things come to a head when underlings from both sides know one another and before you know it, the bullets start flying.

There are enough off-the-cuff remarks to understand that a few people in the overall group are a part of an underlying double cross, even before things go South. However, there’s just not enough information to fully understand the backstabbing that was about to take place before all Hell broke loose. The secondary plot at work seems inconsequential when everyone’s ready to kill each other off until the bitter end. It’s a story full of bullet holes, but I doubt “Free Fire” was concerned about that.

The movie is written and directed by Bill Wheatley, who certainly has a unique and perceptive style. “Free Fire” is so tightly filmed; it truly feels like a never ending gun battle without a dull moment in sight, unless of course you loathe brainless violence. Wheatley’s no stranger to content that will certain hook some while completely turning off others. “High-Rise” is a movie that’s intentionally repugnant, rewarding those that dig through the putrid humanity for the meaning and infuriating for those that prefer a much cleaner, deeper message.

“Free Fire” doesn’t serve a purpose other than to entertain and pay homage to late-night action movies of the 70’s and 80’s. It’s certainly a movie that Quentin Tarantino would have watched at the video store he was employed at if “Free Fire” had come out about four decades ago. Of course that would have influenced Tarantino to make a better movie. I would have preferred a story to “Free Fire” and much meatier characters so that their sass had more of a bite and their deaths were more consequential.

If “Free Fire” fails at the box office, it’ll surely become a cult classic, but if it succeeds, it’ll be shuffled to the side as a retro tribute to bygone action films. Regardless, “Free Fire” is crass escapism with some of the best filmed gunplay in recent memory. If you’re hoping for a little oomph to the plot and characters, outside of witty one-liners, you’ll be disappointed. If I could make a recommendation with what should accompany this movie, it would be alcoholic beverages and friends who bring out the immaturity in you.

Film Review: “Kong: Skull Island”

Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson and John C. Reilly
Directed by: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Rated: PG-13
Running time: 2 hrs
Warner Bros

Our Score: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

There are two funny stories attributed to the late producer Dino De Laurentiis, who produced the 1976 remake of “King Kong.” The first is that, every time his film was compared with “Jaws” he would comment on how “nobody cry when the Jaws die”…and that audiences would be weeping at the end of his film. The other is when he first met producer John Peters, who was not only dating Barbra Streisand at the time but had produced her film “A Star Is Born.” Both movies opened on December 17, 1976 and Peters congratulated Dino on “Kong” out grossing “A Star Is Born.” “I’m not surprised,” De Laurentiis is said to have commented. “My monkey can act!”

1973. As the war in Vietnam winds down, a group of soldiers, led by Colonel Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) is chosen to accompany a group to a recently discovered island on a trip funded by the United States government. Finding the island surrounded by horrible weather and storms, the group takes a few helicopters out to make the journey from ship to land. On the way they encounter a big problem. A problem named Kong.

Though it seems like the big ape has been around forever, this is only the eighth film to feature him and the first since Peter Jackson’s remake of the original 1931 classic over a decade ago. Some people didn’t like Jackson’s version but I thought it was well made and really made Kong a sympathetic character. The same holds true here. We learn that Kong is really less of a bully and more of a protector of the indigenous people living on Skull Island. There are lots of creatures roaming around, from lizard-like monsters to giant octopi. But nothing is as big of a threat to the big beast than Colonel Packard, who takes Kong’s protective attack on his choppers as a declaration of war.

Though you really don’t go to a movie like this to see the actors, the cast here is quite good, including a rather dashing looking Hiddleston, strong-willed photographer Larson and World War II vet Reilly, who is truly the heart of the film. Reilly’s former soldier has been on the island since the end of World War II and it’s fun to watch him learn about the world ahead of him while he tries to save the one he’s involved in. Ironically the weakest part of the cast is Jackson, who here plays…Samuel L. Jackson. Clever comments, like “bitch, please” roll from his lips as he continues to plan Kong’s demise. And while Kong isn’t all over the film he appears enough to remind you who’s King. The action is intense and the special effects are well done.

What’s next? Stay through the end credits and find out!