REVIEW: Take Shelter

Take Shelter
Directed by: Jeff Nichols
Written by: Jeff Nichols (screenplay)
Starring: Michael Shannon, Jessica Chastain, Tova Stewart and Shea Whigham

Madness and the movies have an unprecedented history in front of and behind the camera, from the institutional insanity of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest to Francis Ford Coppola’s infamous filming nightmare during Apocalypse Now.  Madness inhabited the whole of both of those productions, but the writer/director Jeff Nichols takes an individual approach with his new film Take Shelter.

Take Shelter has much more in common with Melancholia (another apocalyptic vision from 2011) than it does with either of those 70s hysteria classics, though.  Its focus is individual madness by way of the apocalypse.  Pairing the two together, however, makes the madness justified.  Curtis (Michael Shannon) is plagued with frightening nightmares in his sleep and in reality; his dog attacks him, zombie-like strangers abduct his deaf daughter and a menacing swarm of birds zip around the cloudy sky.

Nichols restrains those visions though, holding back on gore in favor of mood and tension. Take Shelter is a fairly basic “Why doesn’t anybody believe me?!” story on the surface, but Nichols throws a wrench in those proceedings by alienating the audience from Curtis as well.  Not only do his wife (Jessica Chastain) and co-workers slowly drift away from him, but the audience privy to his disturbing hallucinations do as well.  Depending on how you read the ending, though, Curtis may have the last wicked laugh.

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BEST PICTURE NOMINEE: The Tree of Life

The Tree of Life
Directed by: Terrence Malick
Written by: Terrence Malick
Starring: Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain, Hunter McCracken, and Sean Penn

You always look at nature a little differently after you see a Terrence Malick film.  This is a man that you suspect has spent a great deal of time wandering through its various forms, envisioning ways to capture its essence.  Of course, all of us outside his friends, family and colleagues can ever do is suspect.  Malick creates his films, and then stays out of the spotlight.

The Tree of Life, his latest meditation on nature by way of the Big Bang, won the Palme D’or at the Cannes Film Festival this year, and the one who was there promoting it was Brad Pitt.  In a way this is fitting since he and Sean Penn are all the marketing team behind this movie will have to promote it with.  It’s likely that countless Americans will attend this film to see Pitt and then be outraged.

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REVIEW: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Directed by: Tomas Alfredson
Written by: Bridget O’Connor & Peter Straughan (screenplay), John le Carré (novel)
Starring: Gary Oldman, Tom Hardy, Colin Firth and John Hurt

If you’re not prepared to donate every ounce of your attention to this film, then do not bother watching it.  Tomas Alfredson’s adaptation of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is one of the twistiest films to come along in years.

Like he did in adapting the vampire thriller Let the Right One In, though, he takes those narrative thrills and restrains them within his deliberately arranged frames until the tension boils over.  There is only one “action” sequence in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and it’s the rather clumsily constructed assassination of a spy (Mark Strong) sent to Hungary to find out the identity of a mole within MI6 (the British equivalent of the CIA).

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Our Favorite Movies of 2011

1. The Tree of Life– Terrence Malick’s epic tone poem weaves in and out of the life of a typical American family in 1950s Texas, zig-zagging between the creation of the universe and the afterlife in the process.  By placing the location of his own childhood at the center of these celestial events, he puts a very personal spin on his warring perceptions of creation; the way of nature and the way of grace.  As his camera weaves in and out of the O’Brien family’s lives (a three son household run by Brad Pitt’s nature and Jessica Chastain’s grace), the element of visual improvisation makes their everyday life and afterlife beautiful.  Even if you hated it, you’ll never forget it. Read our review.

2. Certified Copy- Unexpected in every way, the romance film by Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami follows two strangers as they meet up in Tuscany one afternoon and divulge into their passionate opinions on art, originality, philosophy and love. Over the course of a single afternoon, their relationship takes twists and turns, leaving the audience in awe of the puzzle laid out before them and clinging to the aesthetic beauty of its settings and characters to reveal clues. Sophisticated filmmaking technique brilliantly interlaces heavy academic, multilingual conversation with a flowing narrative to sculpt this as one of the most unique and thought-provoking films of the year. Read our review.

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Our Favorite Performances of 2011

1. Kirsten DunstMelancholia– In Lars von Trier’s apocalyptic new film, Dunst creates one of cinema’s most fully realized portraits of numbing depression.  In all of her performances, Dunst has shown a skill sometimes greater than the films she is in.  Here, she takes the role of Justine, a woman who self-destructs on her wedding night and takes shelter with her sister as the planet Melancholia goes on a collision course with Earth.  Key Scene: In the deepest part of her depression, Justine even needs help getting down to the dinner table.  Her sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) made meatloaf, her favorite dish.  When Justine tastes it, her face crumbles, and she says it tastes like ash.  That’s all that will be left of the planet in a couple days, and she can’t wait.

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REVIEW: Certified Copy

Certified Copy
Directed by: Abbas Kiarostami
Written by: Abbas Kiarostami (screenplay)
Starring: Juliette Binoche and William Shimell

Romance in the movies typically unfolds or unravels before us; there are Meet Cutes and ugly break-ups.  Certified Copy, a masterful film from Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami, is both of those things, and then inevitably neither of them.

The film chronicles the relationship between Elle (Juliette Binoche) and James (William Shimell), two people who seem to meet in Tuscany for some kind of gathering while James is on a book tour, and then as the movie progresses, you realize the true depth of their relationship.  At first it shares much in common with Richard Linkletter’s Before Sunset, but the true challenge of this film is filling in the back story, whereas Linkletter’s film was a sequel of sorts.

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REVIEW: Young Adult

Young Adult
Directed by: Jason Reitman
Written by: Diablo Cody (screenplay)
Starring: Charlize Theron, Patton Oswalt, Patrick Wilson and Collette Wolf

Mavis Gary is one of the most fully realized movie characters in recent memory, and certainly of 2011.  In the span of Young Adult’s 90 minutes, Diablo Cody’s writing, Jason Reitman’s directing and Charlize Theron’s acting fuse together seamlessly to show us her demented, delusional inner workings.

In an early scene, Mavis is going to meet up with an old flame from high school named Buddy (Patrick Wilson).  She enters this small town bar with a tight, skimpy black outfit.  As she looks around the bar, judging every other patron there, the camera shifts to a POV shot as if asking us to judge them too.  When the waiter comes to her table, she rudely tells him to take back the silverware and bring her a drink. Buddy enters, and she lights up with a grotesque fakeness that she dons almost as often as her snide glare.

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