Recommended Reading

Leftism, Political Correctness, and Other Lunacies (Dispatches from the Fifth Circle Book 1)


On Liberty: Impossible Dreams, Utopian Schemes (Dispatches from the Fifth Circle Book 2)


We the People and Other American Myths (Dispatches from the Fifth Circle Book 3)


Americana, Etc.: Language, Literature, Movies, Music, Sports, Nostalgia, Trivia, and a Dash of Humor (Dispatches from the Fifth Circle Book 4)

Screen Shots: “The Glass Castle”, “Victoria”, and “The Crown”

I seldom recommend a movie, but The Glass Castle (2017) has joined the relatively short list of films that I have rated 8 or higher on the 10-point scale at IMDb. (Relatively short is 700 of the 2,100 feature films that I have rated. If that seems like a high ratio, consider that I am picky about what I choose to watch, not an easy grader.)

The Glass Castle is based on the eponymous memoir by Jeannette Walls, which my wife has read. Here’s a summary of the story, courtesy of

Jeannette Walls grew up with parents whose ideals and stubborn nonconformity were both their curse and their salvation. Rex and Rose Mary Walls had four children. In the beginning, they lived like nomads, moving among Southwest desert towns, camping in the mountains. Rex was a charismatic, brilliant man who, when sober, captured his children’s imagination, teaching them physics, geology, and above all, how to embrace life fearlessly. Rose Mary, who painted and wrote and couldn’t stand the responsibility of providing for her family, called herself an “excitement addict.” Cooking a meal that would be consumed in fifteen minutes had no appeal when she could make a painting that might last forever.

Later, when the money ran out, or the romance of the wandering life faded, the Walls retreated to the dismal West Virginia mining town — and the family — Rex Walls had done everything he could to escape. He drank. He stole the grocery money and disappeared for days. As the dysfunction of the family escalated, Jeannette and her brother and sisters had to fend for themselves, supporting one another as they weathered their parents’ betrayals and, finally, found the resources and will to leave home.

That barely skims the surface of the memoir, which (as my wife tells) me is often harrowing in its depiction of the poverty, squalor, rootlessness, and shame inflicted on the Walls children by their parents. The film captures the essence of the memoir without rubbing the viewer’s nose in squalor or seeking to blame “society” for the fate of the Wallses. And why would a Hollywood film do that, in this day and age, for the Wallses weren’t ghetto blacks or “undocumented” immigrants. They were just rednecks.

And it is for that reason that I admire the film. It just tells it like it was, according to Jeannette Walls. In fact, it pulls a few punches, as it must to fit a book-length memoir into 127 minutes of screen time. But it lands a lot of punches, and lands them effectively. There are no cardboard characters or ersatz themes in this film, which manages to convey Jeannette Walls’s love for her parents, despite all that they put her and her siblings through.

Woody Harrelson, who plays Rex Walls, has the redneck thing down pat. He is like most of the many rednecks I have known and encountered: full of false braggadocio and seething resentment, with the ever-present threat of sometimes-realized violence. Harrelson’s performance deserves far more prestigious recognition than a nomination for Central Ohio Film Critics’ Actor of the Year.

I can’t leave The Glass Castle without mentioning the fine work of Naomi Watts, who does a good hillbilly for an Englishwoman. Watts works in the tradition of British actors, who mostly are able to sound authentically American. This is a talent that is reciprocated only be very few American actors who have tried to sound British.

But if Victoria is representative — and it is, in my experience — British actors should be banned from doing German accents. Three main roles — Prince Albert, his brother Prince Ernest, and his uncle Leopold, King of the Belgians — are given to Brits: Tom Hughes, David Oakes, and Alex Jennings. It would have been hard to get worse German accents by randomly choosing from among American high-school students who have been cast in a senior play.

But that matters little in the grand scheme of Victoria, which is a sumptuous, feminist soap opera. Albert is always trying to usurp or guide little Vickie, who is always putting her tiny royal foot down, when she isn’t making passionate love (with Albert) that results in yet another little encumbrance to the performance of her royal duties.

Poor Vickie. She should have commanded her first prime minister, Lord Melbourne, to marry her. The result would have been a much more satisfactory soap opera, inasmuch as Rufus Sewell (who plays Lord M.) is a more convincing lover than Tom Hughes (Albert), despite being 20 years older than Hughes.

I must add that Jenna Coleman (below, left) is a cute Victoria. Certainly cuter than the real item (below, right). But that’s a main part of Victoria’s appeal.

There will be a third season, and I probably will watch it, but only because I enjoy soap-operas about the upper crust, like Downton Abbey.

The Crown is another royal soap-opera, which is also destined for a third season (at least). The script-writers’ dislike for Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip is so evident that Her Majesty and His Royal Highness might prevail in a libel suit. There may be shards of truth in The Crown, but they are cocooned in fabrications.

To take two blatant examples: The Queen didn’t conspire with Anthony Eden to prevent her sister, Princess Margaret, from marrying Peter Townsend. Harold Macmillian didn’t conspire to unseat Anthony Eden as prime minister in order to succeed him.

In keeping with the historical inaccuracy of the series is the producers’ penchant for casting actors who somewhat resemble the persons they play, but who are much too tall. Alex Jennings (he does get around), is several inches taller than the very late Duke of Windsor; Vanessa Kirby is likewise much too vertical to pass for the tiny (and somewhat late) Princess Margaret; and John Lithgow (question-mark-stooped as he plays Churchill) is far too hulking to pass for the immortal hero of World War II.

I might let the miscasting pass, were it not for the writers’ venomous and inaccurate telling of events. But, again, after ingesting several teaspoons of salt, I’ll probably stick around for another season of Downtown Abbey meets Buck House, as The Crown should have been titled.

Related posts:
A Hollywood Circle
Christmas Movies
Pride and Prejudice on Film
The Movies: (Not) Better Than Ever
At the Movies: The Best and Worst Years
My Year at the Movies (2007)
Forgotten Stars
The Quality of Films over the Decades
More about the Quality of Films
The Movies: Not Better than Ever (II)
The Longevity of Stars
2013: A Bad Year at the Movies
A Trip to the Movies
Another Trip to the Movies
Unwatchable Movies on the Rise
Film Fiasco: Mon oncle Antoine

The End of an Era?

What do these people have in common?

Roy Moore
Harvey Weinstein
Kevin Spacey
Louis C.K.
Al Franken
Charlie Rose
John Conyers
Matt Lauer
Garrison Keillor

I’m sure I’ve missed some names. They’ve been coming too fast for me to keep up. And that’s just this year’s crop — though Bill Clinton always heads the list of past offenders (proven and alleged).

What they have in common, of course, is a rap for sexual harassment or worse — sometimes much worse.

What they also have in common is that they are all public figures who are either in politics or entertainment (which includes “news”).

The most important thing that they have in common, with the exception of Roy Moore, is their attachment to left-wing politics. Oops, here comes Clinton, again.

The day of the free pass because “his heart’s in the right place”* seems to be over.
* This is a reference to following passage in “The Devolution of American Politics from Wisdom to Opportunism“:

The canonization of Ted Kennedy by the American left and its “moderate” dupes — in spite of Kennedy’s tawdry, criminal past — reminds me of the impeachment trial of William Jefferson Clinton. Clinton’s defense attorney Cheryl Mills said this toward the end of her summation:

[T]his president’s record on civil rights, on women’s rights, on all of our rights is unimpeachable.

In other words, Clinton could lie under oath and obstruct justice because his predatory behavior toward particular women and the criminal acts they led to were excused by his being on the “right side” on the general issue of “women’s rights.” That makes as much sense as allowing a murderer to go free because he believes in capital punishment.

Untimely Deaths

The late Prince Rogers Nelson (a.k.a. Prince), a late-20th and early-21st century “musician,” seems to have died of the usual causes. Some will call his death untimely because of the relatively early age at which he succumbed. I can easily think of many real musicians who died before or at the age of 57. The following eclectic list of names (with biographical links), gives the age at which each musician died and a link to a representative recording of his or her work:

Russ Columbo, 26, “Goodnight Sweetheart” (1931)

Bix Beiderbecke, 28, “Somebody Stole My Gal” (1928)

Jimmie Rodgers, 35, “Blue Yodel Number 1 (T for Texas)” (ca. 1930)

Fritz Wunderlich, 35, “Dein ist mein ganzes Herz“* (ca. 1965)

Joseph Schmidt, 38, “Dein ist mein ganzes Herz“* (1930s)

Glenn Miller, 40, “Chattanooga Choo Choo,” (1941)

Kathleen Ferrier, 41, “Ombra mai fù“** (1949)

Helen Morgan, 41, “Body and Soul” (1930)

Al Bowlly, 43, “Did You Ever See a Dream Walking?” (1933)

Django Reinhardt, 43, “Ain’t Misbehavin’” (with the Quintette of the Hot Club of France, 1937)

Bessie Smith, 43, “St. Louis Blues” (1925)

Mildred Bailey, 44, “Georgia on My Mind” (1931)

Franklyn Baur, 47, “When My Dreams Come True” (1929)

Enrico Caruso, 48, “Questo o quella” (1908)

Leonard Warren, 48, “Largo al factotum” (1940s or 1950s)

Jussi Björling, 49, “Duet” (from Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers, 1940s or 1950s, with Robert Merrill)

Tommy Dorsey, 51, “Daddy Change Your Mind” (1929)

Jimmy Dorsey, 53, “Oodles of Noodles” (1932)

Ma Rainey, 53, “Farewell Daddy Blues” (1924)

Richard Tauber, 56, “Dein ist mein ganzes Herz“* (1920s or 1930s)

James Melton, 57, “Make Believe” (1932)

* I chose the same song for Wunderlich, Schmidt, and Tauber just for the fun of it. “Dein ist mein ganzes Herz” is from Franz Lehár‘s The Land of Smiles (1929). The song, like many of Lehár’s, was written for Tauber, who had the perfect voice for Lehár’s lushly romantic melodies.

** If Ferrier’s rendition doesn’t send a chill up your spine and cause you to choke up, you had better check yourself for a pulse.

Whither Francis Underwood?

If you’re addicted to the Netflix version of the House of Cards, you’re probably wondering whether and how President Francis Underwood will get his comeuppance. I have long guessed that he will meet a fate similar to that of his British counterpart, Prime Minister Francis Urquhart (pronounced urk-ert), of the BBC’s House of Cards trilogy. (SPOILER WARNING: Don’t follow the links in the preceding sentence if you haven’t seen the BBC series and don’t want to know how it ended.)

I base my guess on the many parallels between the main characters of the BBC and Netflix series; for example, their initials are FU, both have a right-hand man named Stamper, both are murderers, both have Lady Macbeth-like wives, and both rose to power by arranging the disgrace and resignation of their predecessors.

There’s another crucial similarity: Francis Urquhart is staunchly conservative in his rhetoric, and his evil ways are obviously meant to discredit conservatism and the British Conservative Party. Francis Underwood is a Democrat, but a nowadays rare Southern Democrat who sometimes deploys conservative rhetoric. Many viewers and most Democrats will be happy if FU II shares the fate of FU I.

By the way, I’m not binge-watching HOC IV. It may be a few weeks before I finish the series. So if HOC IV turns out to be the final series and you already know the fate of FU II, please don’t reveal it in a comment.