Reviews — June 14
Here’s the difference between two of the biggest summer popcorn movies of all time, released within a year of each other: If you watch the original “Star Wars” today, it’s difficult not to feel embarrassed by how much you liked it as a kid — the plodding storytelling, the wooden acting, etc. But when you watch the 1978 “Superman” today, the magic is still there.
Thirty-five (!) years later, the special effects still work splendidly, the film looks gorgeous, and John Williams’ magnificent score still quickens the heartbeat.
So, yes, I will see the new Superman movie, but for me, Christopher Reeve was and remains the real deal. (Could any actor possibly have looked more like he was actually peeled from the pages of the source material?) Of the hundreds (yes, there have been hundreds) of comic book movies both animated and live action, Richard Donner’s “Superman” is one of fewer than a half dozen that is very nearly perfect.
My 4-year-old is too young to see either version, but when he’s old enough, this will be his first Superman. It’s clearly a movie for kids, but there’s also a sly humor built into those wink-and-nod performances by Reeve and Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor, both of whom win you over. It occurs to me that if Norman Rockwell had worked in celluloid instead of paint, this is a movie he might have made. It’s pure, unapologetic Americana.
“Superman” (1978) Directed by Richard Donner. Starring Christopher Reeve, Gene Hackman, Margot Kidder, Marlon Brando, Ned Beatty, Jackie Cooper and Glenn Ford. 154 minutes. Rated PG for mild violence, intense situations.
Jeannette Walls paints a vivid picture of growing up in what readers will immediately recognize as an exceedingly dysfunctional family.
She wouldn’t have called it that as a child, of course, when her family’s differentness seemed like a series of adventurous escapades with the people she loved best in the world. And she might not call it dysfunctional even to this day: Between the periods of going hungry and cowering away from her drunken dad, her life was an adventure, filled with nature walks, big dreams and learning opportunities at every turn.
The title refers to a symbol of both the dysfunctional and dreamy. Walls’ father, who knew about “most everything and bluffed about what he didn’t know,” designed the family’s dream home, a mansion with glass walls that would be powered by solar cells. He carried his elaborate plans from hovel to hovel, promising to built it as soon as he struck it rich with one of his myriad schemes.
We first meet Jeannette as a 3-year-old who’s cooking her own dinner, since her artist mother can’t be bothered. Her dress catches fire on the gas stove, and she’s hospitalized with severe burns.
She loves the hospital because it’s neat and orderly, there’s plenty of food and the staff is attentive to her needs — all things she doesn’t get at home. But six weeks later, while she’s still undergoing treatment, her dad spirits her out of the hospital, and not long after that, her family skedaddles out of town in the middle of the night, leaving unpaid bills and most of their possessions behind.
It’s a pattern that will continue throughout her childhood. Only the names of the towns change — unchanging are the laissez-faire attitude of the parents; the irregular meals, often consisting of one thing, such as grapes or popcorn; the threadbare clothing and inattention to hygiene that make the children targets for other kids’ taunts.
Yet Walls and her siblings feel cherished. One Christmas, for instance, her father can’t afford any gifts, so he lets each child pick out his or her very own star.
Still, it’s a wonder they lived through it all. As their father’s alcoholism deepened, the three eldest left home, struck out on their own and created successful lives for themselves. They were shaped, but not scarred, by their early life.
“The Glass Castle” is disturbing and triumphant, and it raises a lot of questions about what’s normal, what’s acceptable and what’s right.
“The Glass Castle: A Memoir,” Jeannette Walls, Scribner, 2005.