Mike at the Movies

The Glass Castle (R) *****

I just knew there had to be one movie out there that would make the summer great and I have seen it. This film grabs your heart and your mind and, through totally absorbing performances, makes its message clear and indelible: Dreamers are not necessarily good fathers or mothers but they are vital. Rex (Woody Harrelson) is the primary dreamer. Throughout the film, based on the memoir of Jeannette Walls (Brie Larson and Ella Anderson), Rex talks about building a magnificent glass castle with a spiral staircase. Whatever is to become of it ends up in a pile of trash and garbage outside his last home in Welch, Virginia, abandoned like all of his dreams.

As fiercely as Rex’s children come to hate him, there is a kernel of love there that can’t be extinguished. Early on, the adult Jeannette asks her fiancé, David (Max Greenfield), “When it comes to my family, let me tell the lies.” This is the same Jeannette who, as a child, is tossed into the deep end of the pool with her father telling her: “You’re going to learn to swim today.” He nearly abandons her, but he does that many times throughout the film, mostly by turning to alcohol. On one occasion, he takes the family money to buy groceries and ends up drinking it all and ripping open his shoulder. Jeannette is forced to sew it up for him with a sewing needle and thread. Rose Mary, Rex’s wife (Naomi Watts), is ineffective in controlling Rex and, in fact, is physically abused as well as mentally attacked.

Lest I run out of room before getting to it, let me tell you that the performances from kids on up to Harrelson, Larson and Watts, with special mention of the young Jeanette, Ella Anderson, are Oscar-quality. They have you holding your breath and cursing in agony as Harrelson, his mother and even Watts move from indignity to indignity. As Jeannette sums it up at one point, “We were never a family; we were a nightmare.”

Director Destin Daniel Cretton did a fantastic job, keeping the pace relentless and the time switches between the kid years and the adult years clear. Cretton drew stunning performances from the kids: Chandler Head, John Caras, Charlie Shotwell, Sadie Sink and a particularly haunting performance with few lines from Brigette Lundy-Paine as Maureen. If you get to only one film this summer, make it this one and leave the kids at home so you can talk about it with other adults afterward. This is one enriching film, and it would be a shame to miss it for any reason.

Detroit (R) ****

This is a hard movie to watch, if for no other reason than the fact that it is based on, but not guaranteed to be, a portrayal of real events. The Detroit Riots in 1967 destroyed lives and property after, according to the film, black frustration with police violence escalated once the National Guard and Wayne County Sheriff’s deputies got involved.

The film, using real-time film and film shot for the movie, is admittedly a mash-up of facts and statements by witnesses; much of this was discounted or blocked for Constitutional reasons in the ensuing trials and hearings. Kathryn Bigelow, the director, clearly accepted the accounts that put the blame on the police and, in her vision, what we see is a full-fledged police riot, led by Krauss (not a real figure) played by a pouting, simpering Will Poulter. He is a monster in the film, intimidating black men, white women and his fellow officers.

After an initial overview of the riots, the action focuses on the Algiers Motel and events there that eventually cost three lives and damaged several others. “Sniper fire!” was reported coming from the Algiers. It was, in fact, part of a joke played on one member of a group of several black men in which one of them pretends to kill another with a starter pistol, shooting blanks. Nervous Guardsmen report hearing shots and assume it’s a sniper. They focus their return fire on the room with the black guys, the lead singer for a group called the Dramatics, and two white girls from Ohio. The girls are on vacation and in over their heads as they flirt with the black guys. Krauss takes the lead for the DPD and informs the group: “I’m just going to assume you are all criminals.” Certainly the girls are not and their innocence can never be proven to Krauss enough to prevent the manhandling, beating and stripping they receive at his hands and those of his two squad mates, Demens (Jack Reynor) and Flynn (Ben O’Toole) (also not real names).

The problem with the film is that its point of view was never proven. You are forced to ask: Would Detroit police and Michigan State Police and National Guard troops act this way? Unfortunately, the factor that acts in defense of Bigelow’s vision is the fact that police misconduct such as this did happen in many American big cities both during the ‘60s and more recently.

John Boyega, who portrays a rent-a-cop security agent who attempts to provide a neutral witness, Dismukes, is eventually involved in the arrests. One suspects that because he is black, he is considered guilty of the crimes perpetrated by the regular police. He is not, and that injustice leads him to leave his job and eventually find work as a security guard for the Detroit Pistons. His is the most difficult role since he must only stand and observe.

The movie is tense and filled with violence, very disturbing and generally well filmed. I am not a fan of jump cuts but they often represent violence and this is a film filled with inhumanity toward blacks and whites, men and women alike. It is recommended only for those old enough to understand the terms “injustice” and “prejudice.”

The Nut Job 2: Nutty By Nature (PG) **

This is almost a direct copy of the first entry in this hapless series. A park is threatened and eventually bulldozed to make an amusement park so a corrupt mayor can profit. Blue squirrel, Surly (Will Arnett), aided by his mute friend, the rat, unite to try to fight back against the mayor, a pest eliminator named Gunther (Peter Stormare), and assorted other associates. These humans fail, of course, because they are fighting hordes of animals and a Chinese Army of mice, led by Mr. Feng. (Jackie Chan). There is one skeptic, a blue something, that keeps screaming: “We all gonna DIE!” but even he changes his tune by the end of this interminable piece of fluff. You might want him to be proved right.

The Dark Tower (PG-13) **

Inspired by the novels of Stephen King, “The Dark Tower” is perhaps best seen by his readers. I found it to be a mishmash of fantasy, science fiction and typical chase formats with some special effects fun that is somewhat intriguing.

Basically, a kid haunted by dreams (Tom Taylor as Jake Chambers) that seem allied to a series of earthquakes in New York receives a visitor and escapes into the world of his dreams—only to find he has a role in saving the world. He stumbles across the last Gunslinger (Idris Elba), and they go hunting for “The Man In Black.” No, not Johnny Cash but Matthew McConaughey as Walter. Walter is a self-admitted sorcerer who uses all sorts of special effects, including shape-shifting, to accomplish his ruling the world. Jake and Gunslinger survive, of course, and the audience can go home secure from earthquakes and knowing that the world is saved. Visually appealing, but dramatically appalling. There are many better choices out there for summer movie-going.

Annabelle: Creation (R) ***

Three stars for sound effects and Stephanie Sigman who plays Sister Charlotte. Plot-wise, you’ve seen it so often before that only the synced effects and loud banging noises and screams will keep you awake. It is also perhaps the most anti-Catholic film I’ve seen for some time. Crosses fill the screen at the oddest moments, every exorcism fails, prayers go unanswered and the devil triumphs in the end, in a way.

Anthony LaPaglia has an unforgiving role as Samuel Mullins, host to orphans but burdened with a long-dead daughter and an incapacitated wife (Miranda Otto) in a lovely old house that needs some paint and some serious un-deviling. Janice (Talitha Bateman) had polio so she has to hang behind the gang of other orphans, and this unfortunate position puts her in closest contact with the devil (Annabelle). Soon her crutch is thrown away and she joins the general mayhem that includes disemboweling, crucifixion, dropping from upper stories and bad things any time there is a silence followed by a dark room. (Standard horror fare.)

Throughout, Sister Charlotte’s beauty gives us hope for eventual saving of the girls, if not the Mullinses. There is a hapless priest, the usual scene in which one of the girls demands of the demon: “What do you want?” with the appropriate answer: “YOUR SOUL!!!” (Cue the sfx.) The formula for these films is followed slavishly: Make them move slowly and silently so that the sound effects are more effective. Is the film really anti-Catholic? After all the mayhem, the only thing left is an abandoned crucifix. ‘Nuff said?

Kidnap (R) **

There must have been a Hollywood pre-production meeting on this film that went something like this: “Let’s do an action film for Halle Berry that lets her kick some butt, get in wrecks and end up looking positively feral.”

“And let’s start with a kidnapping from a park.”

“I can see it! She chases the kidnappers (Lew Temple and Chris McGinn) in their beat-up old car, always keeping them ahead of her brand-new mini-van.”

“She can lose her cellphone so she’s isolated from cops! … Or anybody else who could help.”

“Let’s have some crazy car chases on freeways with lots of tight close-ups and jump-cuts as if something is happening while nothing really does.”

“Let’s have her threatened by the kidnap car, a knife, crashes and a big dog, drowning…”

“Oh, and while she loses her credit cards, let’s show her running out of gas, then chasing the kidnap car on foot for about a mile.”

“Sure! They’ll buy that! … Any more junk we can throw her way will be great. Just so she looks horrible at the predictable end of it. This is a family picture, after all.”

A couple at the showing I attended brought their five- and seven-year old kids. They should be investigated. SPOILER ALERT! She saves her precious one in the end.

A Ghost Story (R) *

In what may be the slowest, most agonizing piece of ego-driven phony artisan filmmaking in the past decade, Director/Writer David Lowery concocts a precious piece of nonsense that was the first film we have seen in California in which nobody applauded at the end and several folks gave up and left early. Quickly: Ben Affleck (“C”) and Rooney Mara (“M”) are married, C is killed in a car crash and sits up in the morgue, wears the sheet as a shroud for the rest of an interminable movie that says nothing and goes nowhere for an hour and a half and ends up nowhere.

You may think things are happening and, if you wait long enough, things happen but they are mostly long shots of nothing. There is a long, boring and self-centered monologue that is supposed to give us a theme for the film of love and loss and time, but it falls flat in its attempt to be profound. Like the rest of the film, it is unbelievable and far too long.

Avoid this experimental piece of arrogance and see something that remembers that the descriptor “movies” comes from “moving pictures.” Nothing moves here in any sense of the word.