“The Glass Castle” film review

An organic, unapologetic emotional rollercoaster. Based on the novel by the same name written by Jeannette Walls, The Glass Castle provides audiences with a glimpse into the childhood, young adulthood, and then-present day life of Jeannette Walls. After watching the film and end-credit scenes of the real Jeanette and family, it is clear that the movie is supported by a screenplay that takes its inspiration from the tome-like book. From what I have read, this film successfully adapts the novel to the screen, inclusive of all the intangibles and the unseen or heard elements from the book. Furthermore, this film strikes a fantastic balance between family drama and biographical motion picture. For all that this film has going for it, it falls short of the big-budget tear-jerker that is expected of Destin Daniel Cretton after his hit Short Term 12. However, those who choose to see this gritty slice of life, who have not seen Cretton’s previous works, will likely miss just how safely objective this film is. Although you will likely identify with one or more of the characters, in general, audiences will feel that they are safely watching the events unfold from a removed vantage point. The danger in bringing a story like this one to screen is creating characters that are either too softened compared to the real people or too detestable. Fortunately, Cretton skillfully tells a story that plays as authentic as cinematically possible.

You can choose your friends and lovers, but you cannot choose your family. The Glass Castle is the film adaptation of the memoire authored by Jeannette Walls (the central character). Jeannette and her three siblings must learn to take care of themselves and survive life as their parents are free-spirited responsibility-adverse individuals who inspire and inhibit growth and education. When he was younger, their father generated a great deal of warmth, compassion, individualism, and creativity; but when he turned to drinking more heavily, he allowed them to go without food and watched over them like a warden watches over prisoners. Meanwhile, mom was completely disgusted with the idea of being a domestic so she allowed the children to care for themselves and even prepare her meals. Jeannette and her siblings faced great adversity growing up, but grew to become contributing members of society.

This is one of those films that you go into thinking that a particular actor or character is the main one, but in all reality, it is the antagonist, if you will, that is the main character. Jeannette Walls (Brie Larson) may be the author of the novel and a lead character, but it is actually Rex’s (Woody Harrelson) movie. On one hand, Rex is a brilliant father who is preparing his kids for the harsh realities of life and how to not fall victim to blending in or turning into someone you are not. On the other, he is a belligerent drunk who cares very little for the well-being of his children and even ships them off to live with his aged mother who is a child molester. Through all the struggles and setbacks, Jeannette and her siblings learn resilience and strength to face whatever life throws their way whether that is extreme poverty or molestation.

The Glass Castle relies upon switching between the present story and flashbacks to hone in on the relationship between Jeannette and her father Rex. Often times, flashbacks are used as means to lazily integrate exposition into the film or explain some other dynamic; however, much like the background story in Fried Green Tomatoes is just as interesting as the foreground story, the rotation between Jeannette’s childhood and her adulthood is performs well and creates quite the interesting dichotomy. Both have the central focus of showing the development or lack thereof in Jeannette’s and Rex’s relationship. Not that other relationships take a backseat, but there focus is squarely on Rex and Jennette. There is one particular scene in the film that deserves special attention, and that is the restaurant scene with Jeannette and Rose Many, her mom played by Naomi Watts. The degree to which this scene is pitch-perfect is almost uncanny. The tension, emotion, and cathartic release commands attention.

Ultimately, the strength of this film lies in the writing and lead cast. Only to a minor extent does the screenplay depart from the source material. And in doing so, the film is strengthened. For those who enjoy films in the vein of The Help, you will enjoy this story as well. To keep the film from being too dark, Cretton adds some feel-good moments to the film that do not attempt to sanitize the past but honors the complicated truth in Jeannette’s and Rex’s relationship.

“The Divergent Series: Allegiant part 1” movie review

AllegiantPossibly a strong finish for the Divergent Games! Of course, we won’t know just how well it finishes until the second part. Surprisingly, The Divergent Series: Allegiant part 1 provides fans with a good start to a well-executed conclusion. After the weak sequel, it was quite unexpected that the series would begin to complete this YA series on such a high note. Unlike the disappointing conclusion of The Hunger GamesAllegiant brings back your favorite characters you love and love to hate in a very satisfying ending in the dystopian adventure to rescue a people from themselves. At the end of the day, the Divergent series will never be as successful or generate the same fandom as The Hunger Games; but simply comparing the last two films in both franchises, this is clearly the superior finish (or should be). Although Roth’s socio-political themes and subtext were fairly clear, all be it still weak, in the first two films, the message is a little vague and incoherent in Allegiant. Two YA franchises down and one to go. We will just have to see what lies in store for the Maze Runner series. Just like the Divergent series has a week middle, hopefully the weak sequel in The Maze Runner will pave the way for a strong conclusion as well. One thing is for sure, Allegiant contains far more action than the previous films which almost makes the weak and still completely explained plot worth the approximate 2-hour run time.

The first part of the final chapter in the Divergent Series takes us beyond the wall into a desolate wasteland. Follow Beatrice/Tris (Shailene Woodley), Four (Theo James), Caleb (Ansel Elgort), Peter (Miles Teller), and Christina (Zoe Kravitz) as they embark on a journey to seek help from the outside in order to stop the civil war in dystopian Chicago (or modern day Detroit). With newly asserted leader of the faction less system Evelyn (Naomi Watts) and Amity turned Allegiant leader Johanna (Octavia Spencer) at odds with one another, war is brewing in the streets and all hell is about to break loose. Barely escaping Evelyn’s security team, Tris and her band are rescued by a team from an organization of pure bloods who oversees the “Chicago Experiment.” This group of researchers and scientists led by David (Jeff Daniels) recruits Tris and her team to develop a plan to save Chicago, or so they think. When Four discovers what is really going on, he must convince Tris and the rest of her band of rebels to make right what is going incredibly wrong.

For me, and I am sure other critics, analyzing this particular series, The Hunger Games, and Maze Runner gets boring. Because, for the most part, they all have the same plot, same fallacies, and similar subtext. They are all extremely socio-political methods to spread the message that only teenagers are special and are capable of saving the world from corrupt adults. Although these movies are aimed at Generation Z (anyone born after 1995), they still attract attention from Y/Millennials (~1982-1994) and Generation Xers (~1965-1981). That is important because Generation Z does not have the spending power that generations X and Y do. In order to maximize the income potential of the films, the studios have to appeal to Generation Zers in such a way that it will also bring their Millennial friends and potentially Generation X parents. Since schools are constantly preaching the message that teenagers are the future, they are special, and uncontaminated by the greed of the world, it makes sense to create films based on books that carry that theme. The negative side effect to this approach is creating a generation(s) that automatically distrust adults and their respective decisions regarding the environment, politics, and society. Just as Allegiant depicts what happens when there is such great division among a people who view the approach to peace so very differently will devolve into a war-like state, it’s entirely possible that reinforcing this division between Generation Z and X/Y could symbolically arrive at the same precipice.

The production value and design in Allegiant definitely outshines the prior two installments. That is important due to the fact that Roth’s political subtext definitely becomes a little muddled in this last chapter. Although there is definitely way too much cheesy CGI, it is far less than the previous film. And other than some of the outlandish technology used in the story, for the most part, the defense, security, and surveillance technology used by the various characters makes sense and is perfectly believable in their universe. There is even a real reference to 21st century earth’s scientists experimenting with the human genome. That helps to create a sense of futuristic realism in the Divergent universe. One of the biggest problems I have with the plot is the still unexplained history of how exactly the Chicago experiment began. Perhaps the director and writers did not feel it was necessary to provide a clear history through character exposition, but I am still a little confused as to how the Pure Bloods and Damaged became so incredibly separate. Another thing, if there are thousands (if not millions) of Pure Bloods in existence, then why use the Chicago Experiment as a method to see if a Pure Blood can be born out of all of it??? I guess that is why it’s not worth overly analyzing films such as this one.

For what it’s worth, Allegiant is an exciting start to the last chapter in the Divergent Series! Far more entertaining than the last one. If you were disappointed by Mockingjay Part 2 than rest assured that you will definitely enjoy the conclusion of this franchise. Not a bad way to spend your Spring Break or an afternoon over the weekend. But, I wouldn’t bother seeing this film in IMAX or 3D. However, I can see some benefit to the experience of this film by watching it in a D-Box auditorium.