New This Week
The Glass Castle is based on Jeanette Walls’ best-selling 2005 memoir about growing up in a nomad family led by an alcoholic father and a delusional artist mother. The film version is co-written by Destin Daniel Cretton, who also directed. It’s his first film since his 2013 breakout hit Short Term 12, which starred Brie Larson, who plays Walls as a teenager and young woman in the new film.
The film is similar in theme to last year’s Captain Fantastic, except that Viggo Mortensen’s always involved father was the opposite of Woody Harrelson’s irresponsible one here. The title comes from Harrelson’s character’s lifelong promises of a dream house that he sketched, but never got around to building. At its best in depicting the travails of young Jeanette and her three siblings, an older sister, a younger brother, and two other sisters, the best performance is delivered by 12-year-old Ella Anderson as the younger Jeanette, the one who tries in vain to get her father to stop his drinking and acts as the real parent to her siblings.
Larson has several strong scenes as the successful, but emotionally damaged, older Jeanette, in a relationship with an investment banker (Max Greenfield), who would become her first husband. The weaving back and forth between the then-present and the past is expertly handled, except that the time is not specified. The then-present was the late 1980s, and the scenes from the past were set in the 1960s and 70s as the family moved back and forth across the U.S., finally settling down on family owned property in Welch, West Virginia, a hellhole presided over by Harrelson’s abusive mother (Robin Bartlett). Naomi Watts plays Jeanette’s ever physically present, but mostly emotionally absent mother. Her foibles are left mostly unchallenged, probably because the real-life woman is still alive and living with Jeanette and her second husband on their 205-acre farm outside Culpepper, Virginia.
The look of the film compares favorably to 1980’s Coal Miner’s Daughter and shows up nicely on Blu-ray and standard DVD.
As pertinent to today’s politics as those of seventy years ago, The Crown, which begins in 1947, was created by Peter Morgan, the Oscar-nominated writer of The Queen and Frost/Nixon. It begins with the renunciation of his Greek and Danish royal titles by Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark, who took the surname of his maternal grandparents, Mountbatten, so that he would be granted permission by George VI to marry Princess Elizabeth. Granted the title of Duke of Edinburgh, he became Consort of the British Monarch when Elizabeth became Queen Elizabeth II at the passing of her father in 1952.
Sumptuous in detail, the 10-episode first season of The Crown takes us through two funerals (George VI and his mother, Dowager Queen Mary), an early climate change warning accompanied by the refusal of politicians to take it seriously despite thousands of deaths from pollution, the breakup of an empire, a doomed romance, and the strain on a royal marriage in which the wife is torn between love for her family and duty to her country.
Claire Foy is sensational as Elizabeth, giving us a queen with much in common with both her 16th Century namesake as depicted in Elizabeth R and Elizabeth I and her great-great grandmother as depicted in Victoria and Albert and The Young Victoria. Matt Smith is superb in the difficult role of the husband no one wanted for her. The fine supporting cast also includes outstanding performances by Jared Harris as the dying king, Victoria Hamilton as a not so nice Queen Mother Elizabeth, Vanessa Kirby as the tragic Princess Margaret, Ben Miles as the man she loved but couldn’t marry, Alex Jennings as a particularly nasty Duke of Windsor, Jeremy Northam as a harried Anthony Eden, Harriet Walter as a charming Lady Churchill, Eileen Atkins as an all-knowing Queen Mary, and towering above them all, John Lithgow as a Winston Churchill in decay.
The Netflix series The Crown – Season 1 has been released by Sony on both Blu-ray and standard DVD.
One of the best loved sophisticated comedies of all time, George Cukor’s 1940 classic The Philadelphia Story has been given a 4K digital restoration by the Criterion Collection. The film, which was a staple of revivals in movie theatres before home video, has never looked or sounded better. Katharine Hepburn’s performance remains, for many, the highlight of her extraordinary career. It’s the only performance for which she won a New York Film Critics award despite numerous nominations. It’s not, however, one of the four films for which she won Oscars. Those were for Morning Glory, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, The Lion in Winter, and On Golden Pond. Third-billed James Stewart did win his only Oscar for what has long been considered a consolation prize for not winning the year before for Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Top-billed Cary Grant was not so lucky. He wasn’t even nominated.
Hepburn, who owned the screen rights, originated the role of socialite Tracy Lord on Broadway. Grant and Stewart have roles that were played on Broadway by Joseph Cotten and Van Heflin. Oscar-nominated Ruth Hussey has the role created on stage by Shirley Booth.
Extras include commentary transferred from the 2005 DVD release, a new piece on Hepburn’s role in the development of the film, two excerpts from 1973 Dick Cavett Show appearances by Hepburn, and an excerpt from a 1978 Cavett appearance by Cukor.
Also new to Blu-ray are He Walked by Night, Summer of ’42, and The Burning Bed
1948’s He Walked by Night is the film that established the police procedural, which co-star Jack Webb used as the blueprint for his 1949 radio series Dragnet, and the subsequent 1951 TV series and 1954 film of the same name. It has since, of course, also been used by hundreds of TV series. The film starred Richard Basehart (La Strada, Moby Dick) as the elusive killer, with Scott Brady, Roy Roberts, Whit Bissell, James Cardwell, and Webb providing principal support.
Extras include a new commentary and a documentary on the making of the film.
Robert Mulligan’s 1971 coming-of-age film Summer of ’42 is best remembered for its breathtaking Oscar-nominated cinematography and gorgeous Oscar-winning score. It also received Oscar nominations for Original Screenplay and Editing. Jennifer O’Neill is the beautiful war bride and Gary Grimes, Jerry Houser, and Oliver Conant are the teenage boys who are enraptured by her.
Farrah Fawcett received the best notices of her career as the abused wife who takes matters into her own hands after the system failed to help her over a period of 13 years in 1984’s The Burning Bed, a better-than-average TV movie. Paul Le Mat co-stars as her husband.
This week’s new releases include Wind River and the Blu-ray debut of Battle Cry.