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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2012 Oscar Nominations: Matt’s Picks

I don’t really take the Oscars seriously, though they are interesting to look at and fun to lambast.  This year’s nominees are chock-full of the typical awards-seeking fodder (War Horse, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close) and the usual pleasant surprises (Tree of Life, Gary Oldman) and snubs (DiCaprio, Dunst).  These are my picks for this year’s ceremonies, though like I said, I don’t particularly care.

Best Picture

Nominees: War Horse, The Tree of Life, Moneyball, The Artist, Hugo, Midnight in Paris, The Descendants, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, The Help

Will Win: The Artist.  It’s a cute gimmick that should’ve been a short film, but I was sold on it winning as soon as people started bringing up that if it won it’d be the first silent to film to win since the actual Silent Era.  Blah blah blah.

Should Win: The Tree of Life was the most ambitious and beautiful film to be released last year, though it was lucky to score a nomination.  I also wouldn’t mind seeing Hugo take top honors.  It does what The Artist tried to do so much better.

Left out: Melancholia, A Dangerous Method, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Certified Copy and Young Adult are all more worthy than most of the nominees.

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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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SPOTLIGHT: Kirsten Dunst

Kirsten Dunst is so much more than Mary Jane Watson.  Yes, Spider-Man’s muse is her most famous role, but Dunst gives terrific performances in several other lesser-known films.  She uses her expressive facial features to convey unbearable sadness as well as inescapable joy.  Though her career is thought to have ended when the Spider-Man franchise went up in flames after the third installment, she’s been doing some of the best work of her career since then.

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REVIEW: Melancholia

Melancholia
Directed by: Lars von Trier
Written by: Lars von Trier (screenplay)
Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Kiefer Sutherland and Alexander Skarsgard

When Lars von Trier announced “No more happy endings,” after the premiere of his last film, Antichrist, people were a little dismayed.  Had any of his movies actually had a happy ending in the traditional sense?  Bjork dangling from a rope at the end of Dancer in the Dark, an entire village (and America by extension) facing a woman scorned at the end of Dogville, a man walking through the woods and then being overcome by persecuted female ghosts (or something like that) in Antichrist- he’s not exactly Disney material.

His latest, Melancholia, certainly contains a grim conclusion whether or not you subscribe to the “more” part of his proclamation.  This is a film in which the world ends and everyone on it perishes, but not before a young woman succumbs to crippling depression during her wedding.

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Eleven movies to watch for in ’11

Sure, there will be plenty of crap released this year just like any other.  We all have another delightful Transformers installment to look forward to in the summer, and the coming winter months are when Hollywood dumps its crap that wouldn’t make money during prime Christmas season.  So, while the award contenders from last year and the buzz-kills duke it out in January and February, here are our picks for what to watch for the rest of the year.

The Tree of Life (May 27)– Terrence Malick has made some of the most visually stunning movies ever to grace the screen.  Film-wise, he hasn’t made as many as other auteurs his age, but his mark is no less indelible.  With The Tree of Life, he will most likely twist audience expectation for what a “summer blockbuster” with A-list stars is.  Brad Pitt and Sean Penn are headlining in this tale about a young boy in the 50s who “witnesses the loss of innocence.”  The hypnotic trailer is almost as vague as that description, but infinitely more beautiful.  It draws you in without ruining it.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (December 21)- Fresh off his hot streak with The Social Network, David Fincher attempts to Americanize the already explosively popular book series and its Swedish film adaptations.  It will be hard for him to do worse than the original Dragon Tattoo movie, which captured the atmosphere but gutted the story of Stieg Larssonn’s original.  The story, about a hacker and a disgraced journalist teaming up to hunt down a serial killer, is the perfect fit for Fincher.  Here’s hoping Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara are also up for the dark twists and brooding revelations.

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