Friday, February 17, 2012


(US - 2011)

The general consensus in the recent weeks since the Oscar nominations were announced has been that Michael Shannon got robbed when he didn't get a Best Actor nod for TAKE SHELTER.  Well, not that the other gentlemen weren't deserving, but Shannon was robbed.  TAKE SHELTER reunites Shannon with Jeff Nichols, the writer/director of their previous collaboration SHOTGUN STORIES, the best movie from 2008 that no one saw (unless I'm mistaken, SHOTGUN STORIES might the newest title to be aired on Turner Classic Movies).  Shannon has a tendency to be typecast as twitchy weirdos, but he's become one of the most reliable character actors in recent years (he got a Supporting Actor Oscar nod a few years ago for REVOLUTIONARY ROAD), and TAKE SHELTER is the best showcase yet for an actor that more than one critic has called "the Christopher Walken of his generation."

Family man Curtis (Shannon) has a good job, a loving wife (the ubiquitous Jessica Chastain), and a young daughter (Tova Stewart).  He also has a lot of bad dreams.  And he's seeing things.  He's concerned that he's at the same age that his mother (Kathy Baker) was when she was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic.  Convinced that "a storm is coming," Curtis becomes obsessed with refurbishing a tornado shelter underneath the backyard of his rural Ohio home, growing so consumed by it that it becomes his undoing in more ways than one.  Nichols lets TAKE SHELTER build slowly, and Shannon wisely underplays what could've easily been a performance of bouncing-off-the-walls histrionics and makes Curtis terrifying and tragic at the same time.  He's matched by Chastain, in what might be the best of her many 2011 roles.  Many viewers find the ambiguous ending frustrating.  I'm not sure how I feel about it immediately after watching it, but it's certainly the kind of film that provokes discussion and debate.  Highly recommended and, if you haven't seen it, check out Nichols' even better SHOTGUN STORIES.  This is a filmmaker to watch.  (R, 121 mins.)

(Brazil - 2011)

The highest-grossing film in Brazil's history is a sequel to 2007's ELITE SQUAD, but still works as a stand-alone film.  I haven't seen ELITE SQUAD, but I think doing so most likely would enrich ELITE SQUAD: THE ENEMY WITHIN to some degree, but director/co-writer Jose Padilha does a commendable job of catching neophyte viewers up to speed.  Padilha's sequel to his earlier film was an astonishing, record-smashing success in its native country, even outgrossing AVATAR.  It's a gritty, furious indictment of the status quo by Padilha that obviously resonated deeply with Brazilian audiences, but there's plenty here to which global viewers can relate.  The film opens with a botched raid into a prison riot by BOPE, the Rio de Janeiro military police outfit commanded by Nascimento (the intense Wagner Moura, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Mark Ruffalo).  Nascimento is about to be thrown under the bus by his bosses, but public support forces them to scapegoat someone else and give Nascimento an intel position as head of wiretap surveillance.  Meanwhile, his ex-wife's (Maria Ribeiro) husband Fraga (Irandhir Santos), an academic and left-wing human rights activist, tries to make a difference by entering the political arena, much to the sneering dismissal of the far-right Nascimento, who resents the influence Fraga has on his teenage son.  It's inevitable that the crusading Fraga and the increasingly disillusioned Nascimento are taking different paths to the same place, considering that Rio is riddled with rampant corruption on every level.  The police steal from the drug dealers before wiping them out, then mark their newly-acquired territory by shaking down the slum dwellers themselves.  Politicians don't serve the people, they serve themselves, concerned only with re-election and acting only on the demands of bloviating right-wing political TV personalities.  Sound familiar?   Padilha does a superb job not just with the pervasive sense of paranoia, but also with his handling of many riveting action sequences.  It's easy to see why he was tapped to direct the still-in-development remake of ROBOCOP. (Unrated, 113 mins)

(US - 2011)

Can someone gently break it to Johnny Depp that he's not really Hunter S. Thompson?   To be fair, Depp keeps his Thompson mannerisms mostly in check for this adaptation of his friend's novel, written in 1960 but unpublished until 1998.  For the majority of its duration, THE RUM DIARY maintains a loose, freewheeling feel that's infectiously fun and often laugh-out-loud hilarious.  Hard-drinking ("the high end of social") failed novelist and Thompson surrogate Paul Kemp (Depp) arrives in 1960 Puerto Rico to work for a failing newspaper amid violent strikes and protests.  He finds a pair of fast friends with fellow miscreants Sala (Michael Rispoli) and the disheveled, squawking Moburg (Giovanni Ribisi, who steals every scene he's in), and gets caught up with scheming land developer Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart) and his sexy girlfriend Chenault (Amber Heard), when Sanderson tries to bribe him in exchange for favorable news coverage.  In between all of this, Kemp and Sala drink to excess, get thrown in jail, and enrage their badly-toupeed editor Lotterman (Richard Jenkins) to no end.  It moves along breezily and briskly, but starts sputtering when it takes a serious turn maybe 3/4 of the way through.  THE RUM DIARY goes on far too long and WITHNAIL & I writer/director Bruce Robinson, helming his first film since the 1992 thriller JENNIFER 8, doesn't seem to know how to wrap it up.  Depp, Rispoli, and especially Ribisi make a great team, though Eckhart, a fine actor, seems miscast and comes off like a dot-com era douchebag inexplicably dropped into 1960.  The $45 million film was completed in 2009 and spent two years on the shelf before bombing in theaters, grossing less than 1/3 of its cost.   Flaws and inconstencies aside, I enjoyed THE RUM DIARY a lot more than the trailers led me to believe I would.  The most interesting aspect of the film is that Robinson, a recovering alcoholic with six years of sobriety at the time of filming, intentionally fell off the wagon to get in the proper frame of mind that the story required (he's since resumed sobriety).  So, regardless of the uneven results, you can't question Robinson's risky (some may even say "foolish") dedication to the project.  (R, 120 mins).

No comments:

Post a Comment