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‘American Assassin,’ Rhode Island, specifically

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Catholic News Service

The award for the most obvious film title of the year goes to “American Assassin,” an action thriller about, you guessed it, a professional killer from the United States, specifically Rhode Island.

Shiva Negar, Michael Keaton, Neg Adamson and Dylan O’Brien star in a scene from the movie “American Assassin.” The Catholic News Service classification is L — limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. (CNS photo/CBS Films and Lionsgate)

This adaptation of the 2010 novel by Vince Flynn opens with a bang and proceeds at a breakneck pace, leaving in its wake a veritable tsunami of bullets, blood and bodies.

It’s a gory revenge fantasy reminiscent of the “Death Wish” films, requiring a strong stomach and extreme patience. But the movie does finally come to its senses, and good triumphs over evil.

The story opens on a happy note before spiraling downhill. Mitch Rapp (Dylan O’Brien) has just proposed to his girlfriend, Katrina (Charlotte Vega), on a crowded beach in Ibiza. As he strolls off to get celebratory cocktails, gunmen burst onto the sand and open fire, killing just about everyone in sight, including Katrina.

Flash forward two years, and Mitch has transformed himself into a lean, mean, fighting machine, a baby-faced version of Jason Bourne. He is driven by one desire: to avenge Katrina’s death by killing the terrorists responsible. This means learning Arabic, studying the Quran and joining shadowy chat rooms on the internet.

Unbeknown to Mitch, the CIA is watching his every move, and deputy director Irene Kennedy (Sanaa Lathan) is impressed.

“I like your agenda,” she says. “I know exactly what to do with you.”

And so Mitch is recruited for a new black-ops program to infiltrate Iranian terrorists seeking to unleash nuclear war in the Middle East.

First he must be trained, and that responsibility falls to Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton), a grizzled Cold War veteran. To his credit, Stan tries to temper Mitch’s rage, and the hothead’s belief that “we kill people who need to be killed.”

“We need a higher cause,” Stan counters, discouraging Mitch’s vigilantism. “As soon as it starts feeling good, that’s when you stop being a professional.”

As the Iranian plot unfolds, Batman and Robin, make that Stan and Mitch, join forces with Annika (Shiva Negar), a comely Turkish agent who has her own scores to settle.

Director Michael Cuesta, channeling a Robert Ludlum thriller, keeps the audience guessing and the body count rising as the trio zips across Europe in search of a mysterious ringleader named Ghost (Taylor Kitsch), who just happens to be an old buddy of Stan’s.

The film contains a vigilante theme, constant bloody violence, including torture and gunplay, brief upper female nudity, several uses of profanity and pervasive rough and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is L, limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R.

     

McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

 

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Evil clown terrorizes children in ‘It’

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Catholic News Service

Moviegoers looking for nothing more than to be unsettled will likely be satisfied with the horror adaptation “It.” However, while director Andy Muschiett’s generally effective screen version of Stephen King’s 1986 novel promotes friendship and fear-conquering solidarity, it also includes some grisly sights that, taken together with other elements, make it suitable for few.

Bill Skarsgard stars in a scene from the movie “It.” The Catholic News Service classification is L — limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture (CNS/Warner Bros.)

Set in a small Maine town in the late 1980s, the novel took place in the 1950s, the film finds an ensemble of middle-school kids being preyed on by a demonic clown called Pennywise (twitchy Bill Skarsgard) and by other manifestations of evil.

The youngsters, led by stutterer Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Lieberher) and Beverly Marsh (Sophia Lillis), a girl with a dark domestic secret, are bound together by their status as outsiders. Thus they christen themselves the Losers’ Club. Other members include overweight Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), bespectacled Richie (Finn Wolfhard) and undersized hypochondriac Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer).

For Bill, the struggle against Pennywise has a special urgency since he suspects that the malevolent jester was behind the disappearance of his little brother, Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott). The early scene in which Pennywise deploys rows of fangs to bite Georgie’s arm off marks a notable departure from the movie’s generally restrained approach to mayhem.

Screenwriters Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga and Gary Dauberman emphasize the camaraderie uniting the youthful crusaders as they battle their occult opponents. By unwelcome contrast, though, the script ranges virtually all adults on the side of darkness; Beverly’s unnamed father (Stephen Bogaert) is particularly villainous.

Matching Georgie’s dismemberment is a sequence in which Muschietti does to Beverly’s bathroom what Stanley Kubrick did to the elevators of the Overlook Hotel in another Stephen King property, 1980’s “The Shinning,” flooding the place in gallons of gore. Though such moments are rare, they are sufficiently excessive to deter even a large swath of grownups.

Additionally, there’s a nasty undertone to some of the dialogue since the lads of the Losers’ Club revel in exchanging sexual insults, including jibes aimed at one another’s female relatives. An underwear-clad dip in the local quarry also affords the boys a chance to ogle the contents of Beverly’s bra. Though their fascination is played for laughs, it registers as something more than innocent curiosity.

The film contains mature themes, including implied incestuous child sexual abuse, occasional bloody violence and disturbing images, intermittent sexual humor, a few uses of profanity, pervasive rough and frequent crude language and obscene gestures. The Catholic News Service classification is L, limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

     

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

 

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‘Tulip Fever’ treads clumsily through love and lust

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Catholic News Service

Horticulture was never as steamy or silly as in “Tulip Fever,” a period drama based on the 1999 novel by Deborah Moggach.

Cara Delevingne stars in a scene from the movie “Tulip Fever.” The Catholic News Service classification is L — limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. . (CNS photo/The Weinstein Company)

Despite a handsome cast, lavish sets and a script by no less than Tom Stoppard (“Shakespeare in Love”), the film never transcends above a bodice-ripping soap opera, venturing dangerously close to soft-porn territory.

In 17th-century Amsterdam, an orphan named Sophia (Alicia Vikander) lives in a convent run by a crusty old abbess (Judi Dench). The abbess is approached by Cornelis Sandvoort (Christoph Waltz), a wealthy merchant who seeks a young wife to provide him with a son and heir.

“Love, honor and obey,” the abbess tells Sophia as she heads to the altar.

“The Sound of Music” this is not. Years pass, and despite multiple attempts at conception (all depicted in living color), the union is childless and Sophia is miserable.

But Cornelis is patient, and as a distraction enlists a struggling young artist named Jan Van Loos (Dane DeHaan) to paint a portrait of the supposedly happy couple.

Bad idea. Jan is enchanted by Sophia, who returns his affection, and soon they embark on a torrid affair, unbeknownst to Cornelis.

Meanwhile, below stairs in the Sandvoort household, the saucy maid, Maria (Holliday Grainger), is also in love, make that lust, with the hunky fishmonger, William (Jack O’Connell).

All this randy behavior is set against the frenzied tulip market, think Wall Street, but with flowers, where fortunes are won and lost based on the viability of a single bulb. By chance, William acquires a rare one which may be his ticket out of the fish market. Jan also sees a way to buy his happily-ever-after with Sophia.

If it all sounds confusing and somewhat preposterous, it is, as director Justin Chadwick (“The Other Boleyn Girl” juggles multiple story lines including a faked pregnancy. Mercifully, some consciences do prevail in the end and there is welcome redemption.

As the wise abbess, chewing on her clay pipe, growls, “Never underestimate God. He forgets nothing.”

The film contains frequent premarital, marital and adulterous sex scenes, full nudity, and unflattering references to religion. The Catholic News Service classification is L, limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R.

     

McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

 

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‘Birth of the Dragon’ takes the action out of kung fu

August 28th, 2017 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

No one goes to a kung fu movie to savor plot nuances. They’re all about tightly choreographed kicks and punches, and pleasing epigrammatic dialogue about near-monastic discipline and self-control, mixed in with a dusting of Asian spice.

Xia Yu and Philip Ng star in a scene from the movie “Birth of the Dragon.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. (CNS photo/BH Tilt)

“Birth of the Dragon” — a fictional retelling of a real confrontation between Bruce Lee (Philip Ng) and Chinese martial-arts master Wong Jack Man (Xia Yu) in San Francisco in 1964 — hits all these notes, but dully. There’s far more talking than punching, plus a subplot involving Chinese criminals that comes off as stereotyped.

The good intentions and moral core of the film, adapted from an article by Michael Dorgan, are on display, though. Director George Nolfi and screenwriters Christopher Wilkinson and Stephen J. Rivele show Lee — a future martial-arts legend who died at only 32 in a 1973 accident — as cocky and engaging. He teaches his craft to groups, including white men, with the intention of popularizing it while building his nascent screen career.

Lee wants to make kung fu “bigger than the Hula Hoop,” he claims. “Bigger than Coca-Cola.

Most of the screen time, though, is taken up by Lee’s student, Steve (Billy Magnussen). His earnest goofiness ties all the plot threads together, as when he becomes enamored of shy waitress Xiulan Quan (Qu Jingjing) who’s actually a “possession of Auntie Blossom” (Xing Jin), a crime lord who brought her to America.

There aren’t any opium dens here, mostly there are just scowling gangsters throwing punches and making threats. But viewers get the feeling that such ancient Asiatic canards are never far away.

Wong, older and dignified, arrives from China and takes a job as a dishwasher because he’s undergoing some form of penance. He’s suspicious of Lee’s teaching of Westerners, since he believes that all forms of martial arts address one’s soul, and should not be used to procure fame and wealth.

Eventually, Lee, who admires Wong, challenges him to a fight. Bets go down, there’s a big finish as old school takes on new school, and Lee’s legend, like that of a gunfighter, is born.

The relatively restrained language and low level of mayhem in “Birth of the Dragon” probably make it acceptable for at least some mature adolescents.

The film contains much nonlethal violence and fleeting rough language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III, adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13.

     

Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

 

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Ballet fans might jump for joy at ‘Leap!’

August 25th, 2017 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

Ballet enthusiasts of all ages should jump at the chance to see the charming animated film “Leap!” Set in 1880s France, and originally entitled “Ballerina,” this French-Canadian movie, produced by L’Atelier Animation and directed with brio by Eric Summer and Eric Warin, is a visual wonder.

Animated characters Felicie, voiced by Elle Fanning, and Victor, voiced by Nat Wolff, appear in the movie “Leap!” The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. . (CNS/Weinstein)

Streetscapes of Paris are rendered in colorful detail, while precise ballet poses and movements are depicted in a fluid, almost photo-realistic manner. Nor does the inclusion of a couple of mild bathroom jokes seriously detract from a winning tale about friendship, perseverance and helping others in need.

The plot centers on two orphans, Felicie (voice of Elle Fanning) and Victor (voice of Nat Wolff). Inspired by a music box left in her crib by the birth mother she never knew, Felicie longs to be a dancer. Victor, on the other hand, wants to be a famous inventor.

The buddies plan their getaway. “We arrived at the same time and we’ll escape at the same time,” says Felicie.

Standing in their way are the authorities at their (presumably Catholic) orphanage: the predictably stern Mother Superior (voice of Kate McKinnon) and a gruesome caretaker, Monsieur Luteau (voice of Mel Brooks).

But destiny will not be denied and, with Victor masquerading as a nun, the merry duo absconds. They make their way to City of Light where Victor lands a job in the workshop of Gustave Eiffel, who is busy constructing his namesake tower.

Meanwhile, Felicie heads to Paris’ famed opera house and its ballet school. She meets Odette (voice of Carly Rae Jepsen), a cleaning woman with a secret: She was once a prima ballerina until sidelined by injury.

Odette takes pity on the orphan and agrees to train her so she can impress Merante (voice of Terrence Scammell), the demanding instructor of wannabe ballerinas. To succeed, Felicie must outwit Odette’s mean boss, Regine Le Haut (also voiced by McKinnon), and Regine’s bratty daughter, Camille (voice of Maddie Ziegler).

Dozens and dozens of plies and pirouettes later, Felicie faces Camille in the ultimate dance-off for a coveted starring role in

“The Nutcracker.” Through it all, Felicie is sustained by the voice of her birth mother (McKinnon again) saying in her head: “Don’t give up on your dreams. If you never leap you’ll never know what it is to fly.”

The film contains brief scatological humor and a less than flattering representation of women religious. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II, adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG.

     

McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

 

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‘All Saints’ celebrates Christian family life

August 25th, 2017 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

Sincere but less than slick, the low-key, fact-based drama “All Saints” celebrates Christian faith and family life. Believers, accordingly, will likely be inclined to overlook its artistic shortcomings.

Nelson Lee and John Corbett star in a scene from the movie “All Saints.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. (CNS photo/AFFIRM Films)

Director Steve Gomer and screenwriter Steve Armour recount the story of the titular Episcopal parish in Smyrna, Tenn. With its dwindling congregation down to a mere dozen, the church appears to have no future. So its new pastor, Michael Spurlock (John Corbett), arrives with orders from his superior, Bishop Thompson (Gregory Alan Williams), to shut it down and sell off its property.

A former salesman taking up his first assignment in ministry, Michael is not disposed to question his instructions, at least at first. But the revitalizing influence of an influx of devoutly Anglican refugees from Southeast Asia — Nelson Lee plays their leader, Ye Win — begins to change his outlook.

The newcomers are Karen people, the victims of long-standing and bloody persecution by the government of their homeland, Myanmar. Partly in order to aid them, but also with an eye to rescuing All Saints, Michael launches a scheme to transform the fields around the church into a profitable farm.

His plan draws the support of his dedicated wife, Aimee (Cara Buono), but the steady opposition of Forrest (Barry Corbin), an ornery veteran parishioner. Other challenges come in the form of a lack of equipment and a potential drought.

Through the changing fortunes that follow, Michael demonstrates determination, perseverance and solidarity with the immigrants who now make up the bulk of his flock. Gomer clearly aims to inspire his audience, and
“All Saints,” despite its necessary discussion of the ill-treatment to which the Karen have been subjected, is generally wholesome and suitable for most age groups.

Considered on a purely aesthetic level, however, the picture suffers from a sluggish pace and often awkward tone. Good intentions help to make up for, but cannot entirely mask, these defects. Still, patient patrons will find positive values awaiting them under the sometimes-imperfect surface.

The film contains mature themes, including references to atrocities and rape, and a marital bedroom scene. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II, adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG.

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

 

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‘Good Time’ — The title is ironic

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Catholic News Service

Gritty and intense, the ironically titled crime drama “Good Time” actually charts some very grim hours in the lives of its central characters.

Robert Pattinson stars in a scene from the movie “Good Time.” The Catholic News Service classification is L — limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. (CNS photo/A24)

In doing so, the film conducts viewers on a journey through a bleak urban landscape many entertainment-oriented moviegoers may not care to visit.

Robert Pattinson of “Twilight” fame plays petty criminal Connie Nikas. After their attempt to rob a bank goes awry, Connie and his mentally challenged brother Nick (Benny Safdie) make a run for it. Though Connie evades capture, Nick ends up in custody.

Desperate to free his vulnerable sibling, Connie embarks on a nocturnal odyssey through the underworld of New York City. He first tries to get his emotionally unstable girlfriend Corey (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to loan him bail money.

Later he takes refuge in the home of Haitian immigrant Annie (Gladys Mathon) and her teenage granddaughter Crystal (Taliah Webster) before joining forces with recent parolee Ray (Buddy Duress) in a scheme to make a quick windfall by selling a cache of liquid LSD.

Co-directed by Safdie and his brother Josh (who co-wrote the script with Ronald Bronstein), “Good Time” presents a subtly shaded portrait of its protagonist, aided by an outstanding performance from Pattinson. At once a vicious thug and a relentlessly committed defender of the one person in the world he really cares about, Connie appeals even as he repels.

The picture’s seamy milieu, however, suggests caution even on the part of grownups. This is a slice of life in which the disadvantaged scramble to survive, pursue gratification from narcotics and debased sexuality and, with the notable exception of Connie’s unflagging concern for Nick, seem to aim at nothing higher than cheap thrills.

The film contains much nonlethal violence, including bloody beatings, brief graphic casual sex and an underage bedroom encounter, drug use, several instances of profanity and pervasive rough and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is L, limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted.

 

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

 

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‘Logan Lucky’ is a zany heist caper

August 24th, 2017 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

Director Steven Soderbergh reinvents his “Ocean’s Eleven” trilogy with a backwoods twist in “Logan Lucky, ” a zany heist caper.

Adam Driver, Tom Archdeacon and Alex Ross star in a scene from the movie “Logan Lucky.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. (CNS /Fingerprint Releasing, Bleecker Street)

Instead of suave leading men like George Clooney and Brad Pitt, who rob casinos with sophistication and flair, Rebecca Blunt’s screenplay presents a band of mismatched misfits from West Virginia who turn to crime in the hope of a better life beyond the trailer park.

The resulting romp is an amusing bit of fluff, a tasty confection that, like cotton candy and other late summer treats, does not linger long in the memory. It’s safest for grownups, but possibly acceptable for mature teens as well.

Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum) has just lost his job as a coal miner. He adores his daughter Sadie (Farrah Mackenzie), who lives with his mean ex-wife, Bobbie Jo (Katie Holmes). With Bobbie Jo planning to relocate out of state, Jimmy is in desperate need of cash to move closer to his daughter.

He concocts a scheme to rob the Charlotte Motor Speedway in neighboring North Carolina during a NASCAR race. The racetrack sits atop a series of tunnels which Jimmy helped to excavate, and where he observed the elaborate system of pneumatic tubes that funnels cash from the betting windows and concessions above to the vault below.

A bit too eagerly, Jimmy’s siblings hop on board: his one-armed bartender brother, Clyde (Adam Driver), who makes a mean martini, and his sassy sister, Mellie (Riley Keough), a beautician.

All that’s needed is a demolition expert to blow a hole in the vault. Enter the aptly named Joe Bang (Daniel Craig, straying very far indeed from his James Bond persona). There’s one catch: This lunatic is in prison.

No worries: Jimmy and Clyde arrange to spring Joe for the heist and have him back in his cell before the guards miss him.

“Logan Lucky” rolls merrily along, introducing more oddball characters than you can wave a racing flag at, including Joe Bang’s dimwit born-again brothers, Fish (Jack Quaid) and Sam (Brian Gleeson), and a smarmy race-team owner with the brilliant name of Max Chilblain (Seth MacFarlane).

As the climax nears, expect a few curve balls, as well as curvaceous FBI agent Sarah Grayson (Hilary Swank). She arrives to investigate the so-called “Hillbilly Heist,” which also goes by the code name “Ocean’s 7-11” (wink, wink).

The film contains drug references and occasional profane and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III, adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13.

 

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‘The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature’ and bland

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Catholic News Service

Much of the action in the animated children’s comedy “The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature” unfolds at a frenzied pace. Yet, for all the sound and fury, this is in the end a bland film, unlikely to please any but the least discerning viewers.

Animated characters appear in the movie “The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. (CNS photo/Open Road Films)

Perhaps that’s because the folks behind this sequel were too focused on 3-D special effects to waste time giving their characters much personality. Ironically, those effects turn out to raise the main objection to the picture from a parent’s perspective since, together with the many menacing situations to which the plot gives rise, they may be too scary for little kids.

The less-than-dynamic duo at center stage here is made up of squirrels Surly (voice of Will Arnett) and Andie (voice of Katherine Heigl). They’re obviously destined for each other from the start. But, of course, before true love can prevail there must be a conflict for them to resolve.

In this case, it concerns the fact that Surly, his unspeaking sidekick Buddy the rat and the rest of the gang from nearby Liberty Park have long been living off the abundance of an abandoned nut shop. Andie considers this a lazy and unnatural way of life, and is pleased when the negligence of one of her fellow animals causes an explosion that destroys the derelict building.

Trooping back to their original habitat, the critters suddenly find themselves pitted against their city’s corrupt, never-named Mayor (voiced by Bobby Moynihan). Hizzoner plans to bulldoze Liberty Park and turn it into a profit-making amusement concern.

As Surly organizes the resistance to this greed-driven project, huge earthmoving machines bear down on the small creatures. Later, an unmoored Ferris wheel lumbers through the Mayor’s creation, “Liberty Land,” rapidly and spectacularly destroying his handiwork. Grownups with jittery tykes in tow, take note.

Amid all the chases and the animal-human combat, the movie makes respectable, if hardly original, points about protecting the environment and the value of friendship and teamwork. It’s all perfectly acceptable for a wide swath of age groups.

Still, to paraphrase an old candy bar ad, sometimes you feel like a nut; this time, not so much.

The film contains cartoon violence, including explosions, recurring peril and mild gross-out and scatological jokes. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II, adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG.

     

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

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‘The Glass Castle’ —From Jeannette with love and squalor

August 11th, 2017 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

Anyone who’s endured the ignominy of grinding poverty with an alcoholic, out-of- work parent understands that there’s nothing ennobling about the experience.

Naomi Watts and Woody Harrelson star in a scene from the movie "The Glass Castle." The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults.  (CNS/Lionsgate)

Naomi Watts and Woody Harrelson star in a scene from the movie “The Glass Castle.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. (CNS/Lionsgate)

It’s something to endure, to escape if one can, and it leaves deep psychic scars for which later wealth is weak compensation. It’s not an experience to be sentimentalized.

For all its bitterness toward the Catholic Church, Frank McCourt’s childhood memoir “Angela’s Ashes,” in both book and film, got that much right. But “The Glass Castle,” the screen version of Jeannette Walls’ 2005 account of her impoverished youth, tries to put a cheery gloss on everything, as if all the excruciating history was somehow not as bad as it seemed at the time.

Jeannette, at age 3, is grotesquely burned when her clothing catches fire from a gas stove. This is portrayed as a character-builder rather than child neglect.

Walls’ memoir was unsparing with her indignities. They included having to use a ditch as a toilet, the constant presence of rats, and a racist paternal grandmother who molested her brother.

Director Destin Daniel Cretton, who co-wrote the screenplay with Andrew Lanham, avoids all the most wretched material, however, to invoke some kind of rosy Appalachian glow. As if a Christmastime snowfall makes everything so much better because it temporarily covers up the squalor.

Walls (Ella Anderson, mostly, as a child; Brie Larson from high school on) was one of four children of Rex (Woody Harrelson), a wannabe engineer with almost no formal schooling, and Rose Mary (Naomi Watts), a failed artist who never sold a painting.

Like one of playwright Eugene O’Neill’s dreamers, Rex is constantly designing a house for them (the glass castle of the title). But as a result of his boozing, he achieves none of his dreams. He and Rose Mary, though, manage to imbue all their children with vivid imaginations and lots of children’s literature so they can keep reality at bay.

After a peripatetic existence one step ahead of the law and bill collectors, the family ends up in Welch, W.Va., where Rex had grown up. It’s a rock bottom of several magnitudes. But somehow the children are educated, even when they’ve not eaten for several days. Rex’s only stable job is as a coal miner, but that doesn’t last for long.

Rex is sometimes violent. In reality, that’s always bad. In this film, though, it becomes just another of his quirks, and the father-daughter bond never breaks, even when his homespun “wisdom” sounds like something out of a phony Farmer’s Almanac.

Jeannette, with a ferocious love of writing, eventually becomes a famous celebrity gossip columnist in New York City. But even there her parents turn up, homeless and squatting in an abandoned building on the Upper East Side. She feels the need to keep her previous life secret when she becomes engaged to nebbishy David (Max Greenfield), although both she and her siblings do occasionally meet their parents for dinner.

This becomes the central conflict of the story: How does Jeannette deal with an invented reality for herself that omits her childhood poverty and her somewhat hopeless folks? When does she finally incorporate her past into her present?

That’s typically good stuff in either a drama or comedy. Here, though, it just drags on and on, which is typically the problem in a biopic in which nearly all the characters are very much alive and story lines are quietly sanitized.

There are no moral forces at work here. There’s only the feral ability to survive, as well as a depiction of poverty that’s as dishonest and delusional as Jeannette’s father.

The film contains a brief scene of implied child sexual abuse, physical violence and fleeting profanities and rough language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III, adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13.

 

Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

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