Playing Catch Up With The Films of 2017: The Glass Castle (dir by Destin Daniel Cretton)

The Glass Castle, which some people expected to be an Oscar contender until they actually sat through the damn thing, is a film that nearly inspired me to throw a shoe at my television.

Seriously, I was curled up on the couch and watching the movie on TV.  On the screen, Woody Harrelson was playing an obnoxious, selfish alcoholic who resented both his daughter’s success and her boyfriend.  According to the alcoholic who was living in a trash-strewn hovel with his wife, success meant selling out and money was the root of all evil and blah blah blah.  Anyway, the drunk ended up punching his son-in-law.  The very next scene featured the son-in-law whining about getting punched and that’s when I realized that the film somehow expected us to be on the side of the drunken asshole.

I reached down and picked a shoe up from the floor.  I was just about to throw it at the television when my sister Erin reached out from behind me and grabbed my hand.

“Lisa Marie,” she said, “you are not throwing your shoe at the TV.”

“But Errrrrrrrin,” I whined, “this movie really sucks!”

“Well, then write a review about how much it sucks.  But you’re not going to throw another shoe at the TV.”

Reluctantly, I dropped the shoe.  Though I may have been annoyed at the time, I see Erin’s point.  The Glass Castle is not worth losing a shoe over.

The Glass Castle is based on a powerful memoir by Jeannette Wells.  It tells the story of how she and her siblings were raised by an alcoholic father and an artist mother.  It’s a story that’s full of adventure and pathos and everything else that you could hope for from a family memoir.  It’s also a memoir that works because Walls refuses to idealize her life.  Though she writes about how her childhood seemed like a grand adventure when she was actually living it, she’s also very honest about the fact that it really wasn’t.  Though her love for her family comes through on every page, she never shies away from the darker aspects of growing up as American vagabonds.

The film largely takes the opposite approach to the material.  As played by Woody Harrelson and Naomi Watts, Walls’s parents are portrayed as being somewhat lovable eccentrics.  Early on, when her mother’s carelessness leads to young Jeannette being burned and permanently scarred in a fire, there’s a scene where Harrelson compares it to the fire that burns inside of the entire family.  When I realized that we were supposed to be moved by this asinine comparison, I ended up rolling my eyes so hard that the world literally looked like it was upside down for five minutes.  “ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME!?” I yelled at the movie.

This was followed by another scene where, at a public pool, Harrelson attempts to teach Jeanette to swim by repeatedly tossing her into the deep end and nearly drowning her.  And while the film acknowledged that this wasn’t exactly the best parenting technique, it was hard not to feel that we were supposed to think that Harrelson had a point when he said that he was preparing Jeannette to be a strong and independent person who would be able to survive being plunged into the deep end of existence.  “NO!”  I shouted at the TV, “YOU JUST NEARLY DROWNED YOUR DAUGHTER, YOU PRICK!”

(Full disclosure: My Dad once tried the same thing with me.  Fortunately, he only nearly drowned me once — as opposed to Jeannette’s father who just keeps dunking her in the deep end.  Still, it was frightening enough to not only leave me with with an obsessive fear of drowning but it also kept me from ever really learning how to swim.)

When Jeannette grows up, she’s played by Brie Larson, who does a passable Virginia accent and gives about as good a performance as anyone could, considering the script and the direction.  Her husband, David, is played by Max Greenfield.  David is a good, responsible person who doesn’t drink much and who makes a lot of money.  Jeannette’s father looks down on him for those two reasons and the film seems to expect us to do so as well.  But why?  David hasn’t done anything wrong.  He’s certainly not the one who tried to drown his own daughter or who came up with some bullshit explanation about why it was a good thing that she was allowed to burst into flame.  But, if we accept that David’s not a bad guy then we also have to accept that Jeannette’s father is being an asshole.  The film’s not sure how to handle that so instead, we’re just supposed to laugh at David because he gets the worst lines in the script.

It’s a very dishonest film.  Unlike the memoir on which it’s based, it has no interest in honestly examining what it’s like to grow up with an alcoholic.  Instead, it’s too busy giving us Woody Harrelson playing yet another redneck with a drinking problem.  Harrelson does a good enough job but fuck it.  If I want to spend time watching a drunk Woody Harrelson, I’ve got The Hunger Games on Blu-ray.

The Glass Castle ends with footage and pictures of Jeannette’s actual family and, as I watched them, it occurred to me that I would happily watch a documentary about the Walls family.  That would presumably have the honesty that is so lacking in The Glass Castle.

Trailer: Predestination


The Spierig Brothers have been two filmmakers whose work has been coming in under the radar since their cult-favorite horror film Undead came out in 2003. They followed this up seven years later with the vampire dystopian film Daybreakers.

Both films have their moments but (IMO) failed to reach the level of the filmmakers’ ambitions for both films.

It’s now been four years since Daybreakers and the brothers have a new film out and it’s another ambitions project that tackles the themes of time paradox and predestination hence the title of the film.

Predestination made it’s premiere at this year’s SXSW festival is Austin, Texas. It has since made a limited run in the US since late August.

A Few Thoughts On The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo Remake

Have I mentioned how much I loved The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo?  Have I suggested that the late Stieg Larsson, in the Millenium Trilogy, did for Europe what James Ellroy did for America with the American Tabloid trilogy?  Have I gone into the fact I think Noomi Rapace’s performance as Lisbeth in both the original film and its sequels will probably be remembered as one of the greatest film performances of all time?  Have I explained that I think, even beyond Rapace’s performance, Lisbeth herself is one of the best characters in the history of film?  For that matter, have I talked about the hours that I’ve spent standing with my back to a mirror and looking over my shoulder and debating on which shoulder-blade a dragon would look most appropriate?  Personally, I think my left shoulder-blade is a bit nicer than my right but last night, my friend Jeff was telling me that…

Sorry, I’m losing focus here.  Okay, getting the ADD under control.  Anyway, the point of the matter is that I love The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. 

That’s why I feel a lot of caution about the upcoming, David Fincher-helmed remake.  First off, quite frankly, I really don’t see what can be improved on the original films.  It’s not as if the original film version of the Girl With The Dragon Tattoo failed to do justice to the book (if anything, the book fails to do justice to the film that eventually made from it).  I suppose a remake would give people who can’t handle subtitles the chance to see the story but honestly, who cares about those losers?  Speaking of the story, the rumors I hear seem to indicate that this remake is going to be an “Americanized” version of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, which I’m not really sure can be done as the entire book is basically meant to act as a metaphor for Swedish society.  Of course, it is possible that the remake is going to be set in Sweden as well but if that’s the case, what’s the point of the remake?

I know the usual argument to these concerns is that, as a director, Fincher will not allow the film to be Hollywoodized.  At one point that may have been true but, judging from The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Fincher’s got more Hollywood in him than most people want to admit.  The fact that he’s also teamed up with Aaron Sorkin (an establishment figure if there ever was one) to direct a movie about Facebook doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence but I’ll hold off on judging until the Social Network actually shows up in theaters.

However, I am encouraged by the news (announced yesterday) that Fincher has cast Daniel Craig as the male lead, Mikael Blomkvist (or whatever his name is going to be in the Hollywood version).  Craig’s name had been mentioned for the role ever since the remake was first announced but there were also reports that the role would go to Brad Pitt (who, of course, has already made 3 films with Fincher).  Nothing against Brad Pitt (who I think is a truly underrated actor) but it’s hard to think of a worst choice for the role of Mikael.  Mikael’s defining characteristic is just how ineffectual he is.  He’s the ultimate well-meaning intellectual, the type of guy who wants to fight injustice but is to insulated from the harsh realities of life to effectively do so.  (That’s why he needs Lisbeth, she represents everything he wishes he could do but can’t.)  In short, Mikael is a hero by default and casting an actor like Brad Pitt would throw the entire movie off-balance.

Mikael is not a role for a star.  Mikael is a role for a character actor and, James Bond aside, that’s exactly what Daniel Craig is.  (That’s one reason why Craig’s Bond is dull, regardless of how good a performance Craig gives in the role.)  Not only is Craig the right age, he projects just the right amount of idealistic weariness for the role.  Admittedly, it helps that Craig bears a passable physical resemblance to the original Mikael, Michael Nyqvist which, if nothing else, will make it easier for fans of the original film — like me — to accept him.

(For the record, my personal choice for Mikael would have been Tim Roth.)

Of course, the question now is who will win the role of Lisbeth and why would they want it?  For me, Noomi Rapace is Lisbeth.  She is the girl with dragon tattoo.  It’s hard to think of single mainstream actress in her 20s or early 30s who could hope to match Rapace’s performance.  (Perhaps a young Angelina Jolie could have though physically, Jolie is all wrong for the part.)  However, even beyond what Rapace did with the character, Lisbeth is one of the most vivid and memorable characters in recent literary history.  Even without having to worry about the shadow of Rapace’s previous performance, the role is not an easy one.

Originally, rumor had it that Kristen Stewart was a lock for the role.  At the risk of being burned at the stake as a heretic, I’m going to say that I think Stewart could have been an adequate (though not a great) Lisbeth except for the fact that she’s about ten years too young.  (While Lisbeth is described as looking like a teenager, she also projects a worldliness of someone much older.  Physical appearance can be faked but life experience can not.)  Carey Mulligan, star of An Education (the best film of 2009, by the way), was another actress who was frequently mentioned.

Well, according to Entertainment Weekly, neither Stewart nor Mulligan will play Lisbeth Salander.  Neither will Natalie Portman who, according to EW, was offered the role but turned it down.  The offer to Portman makes sense as she’s physcially right for the role and she’s an undeniably talented actress.  However, much as Pitt could never have been convincing as Mikael, Portman would have been miscast as Lisbeth.  Portman may be a talented actress but she’s also a rather passive one.  Even in her previous “action” roles (Leon, V For Vendetta), Portman essentially played a lost, damaged character (much like Lisbeth) who needed an older male figure to serve as her mentor (which, needless to say, is nothing like Lisbeth).

Again, according to EW, the role of Lisbeth has been narrowed down to four actresses: Rooney Mara, Lea Seydoux, Sarah Snook, and Sophie Lowe.  It’s probably a good sign that none of these actresses are household names exactly.  Competing with the shadow of Noomi Rapace’s Lisbeth is going to be difficult enough without also having to deal with the shadow of their own previous performances.  (For instance, even if Stewart gave a brilliant performance as Lisbeth, it would still be impossible for me to get through the remake without making at least one Twilight joke.)

For me, the real question is not who is going to be cast as Libseth but if Fincher and his producers are going to give us the real Lisbeth — this would be the unapologetically lesbian Lisbeth who can only befriend Mikael once she’s sure that she doesn’t any sort of sexual attraction towards him — or if we’re going to get a more mainstream, Hollywood version of Lisbeth.  Are we going to get the real Lisbeth who needs no one or are we going to get another version of what Hollywood claims to be a strong woman, one who can fight up until the final 30 minutes of the film at which point she’s suddenly rendered helpless by the demands of Mainstream Filmmaking 101.

More than anything, that will be the test that Fincher’s Girl With The Dragon Tattoo will have to pass if it wants to be anything more than an unneeded imitation of the original.

(Incidentally, the perfect Lisebth Salander would be Jena Malone.  End of story.)