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
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
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