There are quite a few terrific moments in this true story, based on the memoir by journalist Jeannette Walls. It's an account of a seriously mind-boggling childhood that sees years of mayhem through a remarkably clear perspective, only occasionally dipping into sentimentality. But the actors are terrific, bringing an earthy realism to their roles, including a stand-out turn from Woody Harrelson.
It opens in 1989 New York, as Jeannette (Brie Larson) lies to her prospective in-laws about her parents, with her nice-guy fiance (Max Greenfield) helping her create a story that obscures the truth: Rex and Rose Mary Walls (Harrelson and Naomi Watts) are essentially homeless, living a life deliberately off the grid in defiance of meddling governments and too-powerful businesses. Indeed, Jeannette was raised in a free-form way, and her siblings (Sarah Snook, Josh Caras and Brigette Lundy-Paine) understand why she tries to hide them from her high-flying Manhattan life. But they are determined to be involved with her, and after another of Rex's impulsively violent outbursts, Jeannette thinks it might be time to get away from them for good.
This story is interspersed with extensive flashbacks of Jeannette's childhood (in which she's played by Chandler Head and the excellent Ella Anderson), exploring Rex's lifelong desire to build his dream "glass castle" for the family to live in. But this strikingly intelligent man is undone by his hot temper and antagonistic approach to society, creating problems with his wife and children. Harrelson and Watts are terrific in their colourful roles as these brightly artistic people trying to make sure their kids are smart and free. By comparison, Larson can't help but seem a bit bland, especially in her puffy 80s suits and hairdos. So some of her emotional reactions to the people around her feel strangely abrupt.
Continue reading: The Glass Castle Review
By Rich Cline
Working with perceptive writer David Magee (Finding Neverand), Ang Lee creates one of the most thoughtful, artistic blockbusters ever made by a Hollywood studio. Although Yann Martel's award-winning novel was considered unfilmable, Magee and Lee have managed to maintain the delicate balance of an awesome adventure story with provocative themes that echo long after the story reaches its tricky, mind-expanding conclusion.
Imaginative teen Pi Patel (Sharma) grew up in a zoo owned by his parents (Hussain and Tabu) in formerly French India. And when hard times come, they decide to pack up and move with the animals to Canada. But the ship they are travelling on runs into a fierce storm in the Pacific, sinking suddenly and leaving Pi as the lone survivor on a lifeboat with a wounded zebra, a frantic hyena, a seasick orang-utan and a hungry Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. Over the coming months, Pi and Richard Parker survive due to the challenges of coexisting in such a confined space. And with his Buddhist, Christian and Islamic beliefs, Pi now believes the experience also helps explain the existence of God.
The film adds a framing device as a writer (Spall) interviews the older Pi (Khan), essentially putting both us and Martel into the story. This helps open the themes up in intensely personal ways, while grounding the extravagantly visual ordeal at sea with a quietly involving house-bound conversation. And far from removing suspense, knowing that Pi survives brings out the layers of meaning in ways that are suspenseful and challenging. Everything about the story is infused with the idea of faith in God, with intriguing parallels in the relationships between humans, animals and nature. But none of this is overstated: it's subtle and questioning rather than preachy. And much more effective as a result.
Continue reading: Life Of Pi Review
By Rich Cline
With a heavy dose of gold-hued nostalgia, this Depression-era drama works overtime to generate big romantic emotions. But the characters aren't quite interesting enough to really grab our sympathy. Besides the elephant.
On the verge of receiving his veterinary degree in 1931, Jacob (Pattinson) is left homeless by his parents' sudden death. Wandering aimlessly, he stumbles into the Benzini Brothers Circus and convinces gruff boss August (Waltz) to give him a shot. Soon he's training the new star Rosie, an elephant that will perform with August's wife Marlena (Witherspoon). There's a clear spark between Jacob and Marlena, who know better than to act on it due to Jacob's hot temper.
Sure enough, he grows insanely jealous, and with the circus on a financial knife-edge, real trouble is brewing.
Continue reading: Water For Elephants Review
By Rich Cline
Based on a remarkable true story, this film has quite a lot in common with Precious, although this is a much more mainstream movie with a more white-liberal perspective. But it's involving and very well-acted, earning Sandra Bullock an Oscar in the process.
Leigh Anne (Bullock) is a Memphis housewife with a fast-food magnate husband, Sean (McGraw), and two bright, witty kids (Head and Collins). Meanwhile, the hulking, black 17-year-old Mike (Aaron) has been admitted to her daughter's posh private school, and Leigh Anne takes an interest in him when she discovers that he's essentially homeless. Eventually he becomes part of the family, emerging from his shell after a lifetime of abuse and discovering that he has a skill for American football. Although he'll need a tutor (Bates) to improve his grades so he can play.
Continue reading: The Blind Side Review
By Bill Gibron
Animal films are critical landmines. Step wrong, opinion-wise, and readers will accuse you of being everything from heartless and insensitive to PETA's public enemy number one. Clearly, Old Yeller and other four-footed tearjerkers have made canines the noblest of our beloved domesticated friends. After topping the bestseller's list with his autobiographical memoir Marley and Me, journalist John Grogan is seeing his tale of the world's worst pooch finally make it to the big screen -- and it's time to get out the tar and feathers. Instead of being uplifting and heartwarming, this excruciating effort is 90 minutes of mediocrity followed by 10 minutes of the most manipulative, mean-spirited pap ever put into a movie made for families.
When they get married, reporters John Grogan (Owen Wilson) and his new bride Jenny (Jennifer Aniston) picture themselves setting the Fourth Estate on fire. Eventually, they end up in South Florida where she handles hot button political and social stories. He, on the other hand, is relegated to writing about building fires and lame local oddities. When his sourpuss editor (Alan Arkin) offers him a column, John is unsure what to do. Taking inspiration from the new dog named Marley he just adopted, our scribe is soon scribbling stories about how this cute-as-a-button Labrador retriever is evil incarnate. Labeled "the world's worst dog," Marley lives up to the title. Even as the Grogans grow older and raise a family, they still don't know what to do with their destructive hound from Hell.
Continue reading: Marley & Me Review
You'll have to forgive my small bias for this Farrelly Brothers boy-meets-girl-but-loves-baseball-team charmer. As an 18-year resident of Boston, the movie's ever-present backdrop, I hooked onto this breezy romantic comedy like an eager fish.
It's not like I'm devoted to our beloved Red Sox as obsessively as Ben Wrightman (Jimmy Fallon, in all his awkward glory). When Ben, a high-energy math teacher meets Lindsey, Drew Barrymore's on-the-rise executive, it's wintertime and Ben is, well, different. Because each April, Ben's only love is 26 guys, a ballpark, and a dream... the world of the Boston Red Sox.
Continue reading: Fever Pitch (2005) Review
There are many mysteries to be solved in this world. Who really killed JFK? How the hell do you mix up "Al Gore" and "George Bush" on a ballot? In what world does a man who looks like the inbred son of goofy and has the haircut of a hangover become a teen heartthrob? Oh yeah, and why the hell did this movie ever get off the shelf it had been sitting on for two years to ruin what was otherwise a perfectly good day of mine?
To add to that selection of mysteries, we could easily tack on what the hell My Boss's Daughter is about (except third-grade grammatical screw-ups). Seriously. About an hour after I got out of the theatre I was attempting to warn some girl about the dangers of seeing this movie and, in the process, realized that I still don't know of a single shred of the movie that makes sense.
Continue reading: My Boss's Daughter Review
Sadly underrated, it seems Parker and Stone will get no points for anything they do outside of South Park. While they didn't write this one, BASEketball is surprisingly hilarious, filled with sheer asinine humor to fill a dozen Naked Guns. The plot, involving the travails of a new sport combining basketball and baseball that goes pro, is absurd, but it's the little moments, like Jenny McCarthy sucking the chrome off a trailer hitch -- literally -- that give BASEketball all the legs it needs.