Movie reviews: The Glass Castle, The Mountain Between Us, Return to Montauk
The Glass Castle (12A, 127mins) ***
The Mountain Between Us (12A, 112 mins) **
Return to Montauk (15A, 106 mins) **
In 2005, American gossip columnist Jeanette Walls published a memoir of her positively feral childhood. The Glass Castle described an upbringing so messy and squalid it's a miracle Jeanette and her three siblings weren't taken into care. When Jeanette was five she set herself on fire while trying to cook frankfurters because her 'artist' mother was too busy to supervise.
The Walls children moved constantly from hovel to shack and went hungry while their charismatic and deluded father drank himself silly. All the while he enchanted Jeanette and her siblings with tall tales about a giant prototype eco glass home he was going to build someday. Of course, he never did.
This film is based on that memoir and is pretty well cast. The story begins in the 1980s, as a grown up Jeanette (Brie Larson) blithely pursues a high-flying life in New York. But when she sees her parents scrabbling in bins in midtown Manhattan, she's overwhelmed by childhood memories both bitter and sweet. Woody Harrelson is Rex Walls, the grandiloquent pater familias, who loudly rails against the "system", can't hold down a job and is a hopeless drunk. He's also a kind of poet, who enchants the kids with tall tales and big gestures: but you can't eat gestures, and tall tales don't amount to a formal education.
Naomi Watts plays his wife, Mary Rose, who tries to persuade herself and her kids that their chaotic life is a wild bohemian adventure. For a while, she almost succeeds.
The Glass Castle is gripping enough on an emotional level but looks and feels like a TV movie, and is full of loud acting. This is not the fault of the performers themselves: it's the film's clunky screenplay which pushes them towards compensatory hamminess.
The Mountain Between Us (12A, 112mins) **
Imagine the unamused expression on Kate Winslet's face when she realises the light aircraft she's aboard is about to plunge into the side of a snow-capped peak. In The Mountain Between Us, that crash is a prelude to hardship, hunger, lion attacks and love: oh yes, this is a very silly film. Photojournalist Alex Martin (Winslet) has ended up on board the doomed flight after getting snowbound in Denver and unwisely chartering a plane. With her is Ben Bass (Idris Elba), a neurosurgeon who's also decided he's too important to be detained by weather.
Their pilot dies in their collision with a Rocky, but Ben and Alex survive, along with a winsome Labrador who seems concerned about the growing possibility that he may end up on the menu. Alone on the side of a mountain, Ben and Alex disagree about how best to survive before embarking on a dangerous walk down the peak in freezing storms. Gradually, they get to know each other, and when their eyes meet over a roasting mountain lion (don't ask), you know what's coming next.
Pity the poor actors cast adrift in this nonsense: Idris and Kate do their level best to take it all seriously, but must have been holding in their titters during the film's ridiculous climax.
Return to Montauk (15A, 106mins) **
Words fall thicker than Winslet's mountain snow in Return To Montauk, Volker Schlondorff's worthy drama adapted by Colm Toibin from a short story by Max Frisch. The ever-excellent Stellan Skarsgard is Max Zorn, a renowned European author who arrives in New York for a book tour with decidedly mixed motives. His wife lives there, but Max is much more interested in hooking up with Rebecca (Nina Hoss), an old flame he can't get out of his mind.
She initially wants nothing to do with him, but when they travel together to a bleak Long Island beach for the weekend, their passions - and problems - resurface. Those scenes are the best in this film, thanks to Skarsgard and the wonderful Hoss, who manages to make Toibin's windy dialogue sound believable. But this is a film that moves too slowly and never shuts up.