Family dysfunction in The Glass Castle and contrasting aboriginal lives in Wind River and Rumble
This may be the movie highlight this week: Saturday Night Fever is now 40 years old and the director, John Badham will be there at the VanCity Theatre tomorrow night to introduce it. He’ll also talk about it in an interview after the screening. There’s lots to say.
This is the film that made John Travolta a movie star (adding to his TV fame) and boosted the Bee Gees into superstars of disco music. “Ah, ha, ha, ha, stayin' alive, stayin' alive.” The punk music crowd soon turned on them but the film is a classic.
And these are the new ones in town:
The Glass Castle: 3 ½ stars
Wind River: 3 ½
Rumble: The Indians that Rocked the World: 4
Menashe: 3 ½
Landline: 2 ½
Annabelle: Creation: 2 ½
The Nut Job 2: Nutty By Nature: --
THE GLASS CASTLE: Before she won an Academy Award for Room, Brie Larson starred in a little-seen but highly praised film called Short Term 12 set in a group home for young people. She’s back together with the same director, Destin Daniel Cretton, this time looking deep inside a dysfunctional family. The children don’t go to school, aren’t fed sometimes for days and are dragged from one run-down house to another, usually to elude people owed money. Dad (Woody Harrelson) drinks, works now and then and expounds big dreams, like building a solar powered house. Mom (Naomi Watts) thinks she’s an artist and spends all her time painting. Young Jeanette (Chandler Head and Ella Anderson, at different ages) and her three siblings have to learn to take care of themselves. The story is true and emotionally affecting. Adult Jeanette (Brie Larson) told it in a best-selling book.
The film takes some of the harsh edge off it though. Dad isn’t just irresponsible and a non-achiever; he’s a dreamer who can inspire. Jeanette, though her book is mostly about a horrible childhood, is given more scenes as an adult. She’s a newspaper gossip columnist, wears stylish clothes, lives in an elegant New York apartment and muses on whether she’s any better in the life she’s chosen. The script helps with her self-doubting by making up a new character, a financial analyst she’s about to marry. That gives dad a chance to rail about “this fool” and the greedy system he works in and, incidentally, to put a much-more positive, almost Hollywood sheen on his own image. That feels out of step with Jeanette’s protest: “We were never a family. We were a nightmare.” Good performances all around, though. (International Village and suburban theatres) 3 ½ out of 5
WIND RIVER: Remember the name: Taylor Sheridan. He may be the new best-chronicler of the contemporary American experience. He wrote two fine examples, Sicario (2015) and Hell or High Water (2016). Now he’s taken on directing too for this tale of a murder investigation that also reveals despair, poverty and hopelessness of some people who live on Indian reservations. A young man hangs out in a drug den because, as he says, there’s nothing else to do. Native women regularly go missing, a postscript says. It’s as chilling as the grey, snowy days that hang throughout the film on the Wyoming reservation of the title.
At the start, a young woman is seen running barefoot through the snow and is later found dead. A newby FBI agent (Elizabeth Olsen) arrives from Las Vegas to investigate but she’s so inexperienced that a local wildlife officer (Jeremy Renner) has to help. He knows the land, where the tracks lead and what they mean. The coroner won’t declare it a homicide, but Renner and Olsen follow the leads to an oil-drillers’ camp where boredom and isolation create their own atmosphere of desperation. We see the crime in a hard-to-watch flashback and though the climax that follows is hard to take seriously, Sheridan’s insights into these dead-end lives are potent and real. Renner gives a strong, stoic performance and the cast also has at least three Canadian actors, Graham Greene as a tribal cop, Tantoo Cardinal as the victim’s mother and Hugh Dillon as Curtis. (5th Avenue, International Village) 3 ½ out of 5
RUMBLE: You don’t have to re-write the book on American music when you see these “Indians Who Rocked the World.” You must add some chapters though about the major way aboriginals shaped rock and roll. Jimi Hendrix had a bit of Cherokee ancestry, Howlin’ Wolf was part Choctaw. Robbie Robertson is half Mohawk and Link Wray was a full-blood Shawnee. In his late 50s hits, including Rumble from 1958, he invented the power chord (as a statement of resistance)and influenced The Who, Iggy Pop and other hard rockers. It doesn’t stop there. The Neville Brothers are also part Choctaw. Mildred Baily influenced jazz. The early Delta Blues singers were often part black/part Indian because both races were marginalized and intermixed.