“Take Shelter” – 2011 Dir. Jeff Nichols

With Michael Shannon, Jessica Chastain, Tova Stewart, Shea Whigham and Kathy Baker

“Is anyone seeing this?”

    “Take Shelter” seemed to follow the trend of the 2011 spectacle films like “The Tree of Life”, “Melancholia”, and Abel Ferrera’s “444: Last Day on Earth”. I missed this movie in theaters and I was really excited to rent this movie, considering it currently trends with a 94% on Rotten Tomatoes and much critical appraise for Michael Shannon.


    I did not dig this movie. While the premise of this film, Curtis (Shannon) having premonitions of an apocalypse, and we can’t decide weather (get the pun?) or not they are actual foreshadowings, or if it is a hereditary mental illness (his mother, played briefly by Kathy Baker, is held up in an assisted living place because she’s mentally ill).

    The first act of this film builds really nicely, and Curtis is a very complex character. He has a loving and beautiful wife, played by the remarkable Jessica Chastian, and an adorable as well as deaf daughter. Curtis takes out a loan, borrows construction equipment from his work to construct a very big storm shelter in his back yard. The dreams that Curtis has are very frightening, but by the time unwinds, and then spins to a “gotcha” ending, I could have cared less about Curtis, or his family or especially the movie.

    Michael Shannon was good in the movie, but he wasn’t anything remarkable, and wasn’t anything that you wouldn’t have expected him to be. He essentially plays the same character he plays in “Revolutionary Road” and “My Son, My Son What Have Ye Done?”. I don’t mean to take away from Shannon’s performance, it was very good, but a lot of bloggers and Oscar Sayers keep sighting his performance as the biggest Oscar snub since (insert name here).


    It’s really not. Albert Brooks not getting nominated for “Drive” is the biggest Oscar snub since (insert name here).

    After the film closes with its “gotcha” ending, it just didn’t make much sense to me, not that I didn’t understand the ending of the movie, it’s obvious, but the events and dreams Curtis’ had had leading up the ending that just don’t make a lot of sense, it really doesn’t add up.

    “Take Shelter” is a very good effort by writer/director Jeff Nichols, but it comes up very short, and it isn’t daring, or anything particularly special, it’s just rather bland.

Rating: 6/10

    

“X-Men: First Class” – 2011. Dir. Matthew Vaughn

With Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy, Jennifer Lawrence, Rose Byrne, Jason Flemyng, Zoe Kravitz, January Jones, Nicholas Hoult with Oliver Platt and Kevin Bacon

“Peace was never an option” – Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender)

    This marks the fifth X-Men movie that’s come out, and this time we get brought back to the basics – the origin of the X-Men. The film mainly focuses on Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender), who becomes Magneto, and Charles Xavior (James McAvoy), who eventually leads the X-Men as Professor X.

    This movie is good, and bad.

    Let’s focus on the positive aspect first. Michael Fassbender. Nough said.

    For most of the first act, we follow a very James Bond looking Lehnsherr as he travels the globe, killing escaped Nazis who were responsible for the German death camps in WW2. He’s in search for one specifically, a pseudo Josef Mengele played by Kevin Bacon, who killed his mother. Odd I know, but it kind of works.

    The way director Matthew Vaughn shoots Michael Fassbender in this film is as if he’s sending in an audition tape to Sony, showing them that he and Fassbender are capable of making a James Bond film. It’s honestly the best part of the film.

    James McAvoy is very charming and smooth as the young Professor X, but to me, it felt forced. I don’t believe that Charles Xavier was a partier when he was younger, spending time in Pubs, picking up girls – does that sound right to you?

    Where the film really falls flat, is introducing a slew of under developed characters. After X and Magento join together, the film ensues into a montage of the duo finding mutants and asking them to join the X-Men (which includes a scene stealing cameo by Hugh Jackman).

    Once the “first class” is gathered, they’re just a bunch of young kids that aren’t funny, don’t have good chemistry, and aren’t very good actors (minus Hoult and Lawrence, who in all honesty, don’t really add too much into the film).

Really?

    The actors and characters are almost laughable to me; the effects and actor that they used for Banshee are pretty ridiculous, and almost an unforgivable mistake by Vaughn to let it happen. The veteran character actors, or as I like to call them, the Heavies bring a bag of mixed swill to the movie.

    Oliver Platt plays The Man in Black, who works for the Government and is really excited about forming a group of mutants that would be “good guys”. It seems to me that Platt is supposed to serve the purpose of Clark Gregg’s role in the Marvel Universe as the S.H.E.I.L.D contact, but since Marvel (Disney) own the rights to X-Men, and Fox does – we’re left without a Marvel/Avengers tie ins – which in all honesty, serves the film better. Plus, Oliver Platt and his tremendous talent are very much underused in the film.

    Kevin Bacon, who plays Sebastian Shaw (same character as the Mengele inspired character at the opening), is the most powerful mutant in the film that is capable of harboring any energy that is thrown at him, and he makes for a wicked villain, but even his character isn’t given a whole lot to do, aside from looking cool.

    In the end you’re left with the two main characters that are unevenly developed. McAvoy and Fassbender are supposed to be equals in the film, yet they just aren’t. While they share about the same amount of development, I feel like Vaughn spent so much more time on Fassbender, and put forth all of his effort whenever his character was on screen, and he got kind of lazy with the rest of the film. Maybe not lazy, but he certainly didn’t put forth as much effort.

    I believe this film would have been a lot better, if the same cohesive and taught filmmaking were brought to the rest of the film, and not just solely on the thick and juicy plot marrow that we get to relish in between McAvoy and more so Fassbender. My initial thoughts of the film were very, very high, but after I digested this, I realized that Christopher Nolan really has spoiled the whole comic book movie fetish that I used to have, by making his Batman films so fucking great.

Rating: 6.5/10

“Bloodworth” – 2011. Dir. Shane Dax Taylor

With Kris Kristofferson, Val Kilmer, Hillary Duff, W. Earl Brown, Frances Conroy, Reece Thompson and Dwight Yoakam

Music by T. Bone Burnett

“I’ve been shot at more times than I’ve been hit. I’ve always considered myself ahead of the game. I just never knew how to quit.” – E. F. Bloodworth (Kris Kristofferson)

 

    The new Indie film “Bloodworth” may lead you to believe it’s in line with “Crazy Heart” since it’s about a country singer E. F. Bloodworth (Kris Kristofferson) coming home after abandoning his wife (Frances Conroy) and his three children Warren (Val Kilmer), Boyd (Dwight Yoakam) and Brady (W. Earl Brown) fourty years ago for a life on the road as a country western musician. He’s come home not to reconcile with his children or his wife, not to explain himself, but to die.

    This film is the furthest thing for “Crazy Heart”.

    E. F. Bloodworth is unapologetic. He doesn’t feel the need to explain himself to anyone. He’s hard, he’s mean, and he’s real. What makes this film very effective is that it’s not the typical pappy crap you’d expect from a film like this. This film deals with, for lack of a better phrase, a history of evilness.

    Each one of Bloodworth’s sons is a bad man. Not just bad, but truly evil men. Warren owns a bar, he’s a drug addict and a womanizer. Boyd is a disgruntled ex husband, who travels to Nashville to look up his ex wife, because Warren had told Boyd that he’s seen her with another man, and that she just signed a record deal. Warren isn’t telling this to Boyd to help him, but to be sadistic.

    Brady, the oldest of the boys, looks after the matriarch of the Bloodworth family, played by an ever-so-fragile Frances Conroy. Brady believes that he can put curses on people, and each curse he puts on a person is to kill them. He believes he has a special bond with God, and that by putting curses on people, he is serving the Lord.

Take that Sarah Palin!

    The only sense of normality in the Bloodworth family is Boyd’s son Fleming (played very effectively by Reece Thompson). Fleming is a bring young thing, he’s an avid reader, and dreams of being a writer, but everything is holding him back – his father, his new found girlfriend Raven (Hillary Duff) who gets pregnant by another member of the Bloodworth family.

    Kris Kristofferson absolutely nails the part as E. F. Bloodworth. He’s a man who’s filled with wisdom, but who also protects himself with a lot of hard bark that he’s accumulated over the years. I know it won’t happen, but it’s for damn sure that Kris Kristofferson should get a nomination for Best Actor in a Lead Role at this year’s Academy Awards.

    Dwight Yoakam, who usually brings his A game to the roles he plays, is excellent in this film. It seems to me that Yoakam usually takes on roles that were meant for Billy Bob Thornton, doesn’t it? The most impressive thing about this film, too me, is the fact that Val Kilmer is actually really, really, really good. I’m talking “Tombstone” good. What happened to you Val Kilmer? Your ass used to be beautiful. I miss you, boo.

    This is a film that takes you on a strange and bizarre journey. It’s honest and unapologetic, and while watching this you may feel like the story doesn’t have a direction too it, once the end of the film closes – everything comes together perfectly – at least in my mind.

Rating: 8.5/10

    

“The Tree of Life” – 2011. Dir. Terrence Malick

With Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain, Hunter McCracken, Tye Sheridan, Fiona Shaw and Sean Penn

“Guide us. To the end of time.”

    I was fortunate enough to see Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life” today. Anything I could try and articulate about the film, would fail it in every way possible. I don’t know whether or not I’ll ever muster up the courage to write a review, or even my thoughts/interpretation of the film, but this is for sure: “The Tree of Life” is not only “the greatest movie ever made”, but – it is the most profound thing that I have ever seen.

“Too Big To Fail” – 2011. Dir. Curtis Hanson

With William Hurt, Ed Asner, Paul Giamatti, Billy Crudup, Tohper Grace, Cynthia Nixon, with Michael O’Keefe, Tony Shalhoub, Matthew Modine, James Woods, Dan Hedya, Evan Handler and Bill Pullman

“You want too big to fail!? Here it is!”

    In the wake of all the pseudo fictional representations of the 2008 financial crisis, HBO pulls out all the stops with an amazing cast and a great director. If only Aaron Sorkin wrote the screenplay.

    I do believe that most people should know the story of the events that lead up to the market crashing. If you don’t, you’re either an imp or you’re more apathetic than Detective Sommerset from “Seven”.

    The cast for HBO’s “Too Big to Fail” is great. William Hurt (who already won the Globe and Emmy) takes the lead as Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, followed by Paul Giamatti as Ben Bernanke and a slew of excellent middle aged character actors making up the CEO’s of the financial industry.

    Enter: Bill Pullman as Jamie Diamond of JP Morgan, James Woods as the ‘oh-so-evil’ Dick Fuld of Lehman Brothers, Matthew Modine as John Thain of Merrill Lynch, Michael O’Keefe as Chris Flowers, Tony Shalhoub as John Mack and rounding out the financial gurus are Ed Asner as Warren Buffet and Billy Crudup as Timothy Geithner.

    Impressive. Most impressive.

    Wait! Hang on! There’s more!

    Topher Grace plays John Wilkinson, aide to Hank Paulson. Really? Cynthia Nixon plays the PR person of the Treasury Department, and her sole purpose for being the film is to attract the women who still float around HBO waiting for “Sex and the City” reruns. Also, she’s there to dumb down the information that the film spit out.

    “Explain this to me like I’m an 11 year old.”

    “Too Big to Fail” sinks where “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” thrives. The closed door meetings inside the Federal Reserve where the CEO’s are all locked inside together and forced to figure a way out of the mess that they created. It’s a little lackluster considering the talent of actors sitting in that room.

    As to where “Money Never Sleeps” pitted Frank Langella against a sinister Josh Brolin in a very dangerous and even volatile chess match – here we are left watching extremely talented actors wallow in a very average script.

    “Too Big to Fail” lacks the dramatic powerhouse of a human emotion that “And the Band Played On”, HBO’s film that came out in the early 90’s had. I’ve always considered “And the Band Played On” to be the finest TV movie ever made. It also had Matthew Modine take the lead, in another ensemble of very, very talented actors.

    The meatless script is what keeps “Too Big to Fail” from being great. The steady reinforcement of director Curtis Hanson and the remarkable cast is what really makes the film too big to fail.

Rating: 8/10

“Passion Play” – 2010. Dir. Mitch Glazer


With Mickey Rourke, Megan Fox, Kelly Lynch with Rhys Ifans and Bill Murray

“Normal? Fuck normal! When the hell has normal ever won a goddamn prize!?”


“Passion Play” is an interesting little film. It’s currently peaked at a 4% on Rotten Tomatoes and has been bashed by everyone who has seen it. Well, I decided to check this movie out last night, to actually see how bad it is – and wouldn’t you know it – “Passion Play” is the best film I have seen so far this year.

Don’t make fun. It’s just like my opinion, man.

The cliché overly stylized film noir movie follows Nate Poole (Mickey Rourke), a three time loser who is on the lamb from a mobster Happy Shannon (Bill Murray), because he slept with Happy’s wife.

    Nate passes through a carnival, and meets Lily (Megan Fox) who’s a sideshow attraction. She’s a beautiful girl who has wings. Yes. Wings. Literally. Nate wants to rescue Lily from the carnival where she is held by a very flamboyant and sneering man named Sam (Rhys Ifans).

Nate has an ulterior motive to saving Lily. He wants to pitch an idea to Happy. He wants to set up an attraction to display Lily and her wings. He figures that he can share the profits with Happy in return for his life.

The film is fascinating. It’s very corny and cliché, but it works and the writing is amazing. The actors are given very juicy and pulpy lines of dialogue to bounce off one another. This noir in this film feels very much like a John Huston film. And when Rourke and Murray interact with one another, it very much reminds me of the chemistry Humphrey Bogart and Edward G. Robinson had in “Key Largo”.

    Mickey Rourke is perfectly cast as the washed out trumpet player. The oxymoron of style and patheticness that Rourke brings to these roles feel so authentic and so real. The vulnerability and poise that Rourke brings is great, and this performance should be high on the list of his career best.

I’ve never seen Megan Fox in anything that I know of. She’s fine as the innocent tart (which begs the question, can a tart really be innocent). She’s a lot better than I expected. I suppose she plays her character rather vaguely – which is perfect.

Bill Murray has turned into quite an interesting actor. Ever since his ego explosion that was “Lost in Translation” I think he has carefully picked his roles. Which is why “Ghostbusters 3” hasn’t been made yet – I can’t even imagine what a nightmare of a script that is.

    As Happy Shannon, Billy Murray gives us a very subtle and subdued performance that I think could be his very best. Murray isn’t funny. Nothing he says is funny, though he has the opportunity to put a twist on it, and give a wickedly good performance as a gangster named Happy Shannon.

Everything about Murray’s performance is calm and cool. I never really thought Murray could give a straight performance. Think of his best, “Groundhog’s Day”, “Lost in Translation”, “Rushmore” – he’s very good, but he’s still Bill Murray.

Alright, I’ll just say it. Bill Murray is perfect in this movie. He gives such a small performance, but the progression his character makes is pretty amazing, given the limited screen time and development we get of his character. Bill Murray is going to win an Oscar yet. Just you wait and see.

I mean, my little Cinnamon Girl is going to see this. So you should too.

“Passion Play” is a very offbeat and bizarre movie. If “Passion Play” were directed by David Lynch, David Cronenberg or even the Coen Brothers, critics would have loved the shit out of it. Sometimes people just hate a movie to jump on the bandwagon. “Heaven’s Gate” ring any bells?

Rating: 10/10

“Sucker Punch” – 2011. Dir. Zack Snyder

 

With Emily Browning, Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone, Vanessa Hudgens, Jamie Chung with Carla Gugino, Jon Hamm and Scott Glenn

“If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.” – The Wise Man (Scott Glenn)

Zack Snyder’s latest (and original) film “Sucker Punch” has met critics with a lot of poor reviews and was beat in the box office by that “Whimpy Kid” movie. There are things I will never understand, and I’ve accepted the fact that I’ll never fully understand them. Why are did all the Little Ceasar’s pull out of K-Mart. Why do you need to keep bamboo out of direct sunlight when in nature, it exists in direct sunlight, and if there is a God – why would he/she create something like Sarah Palin?

All these questions seem to have the same answer as to why critics hated “Sucker Punch”. I’m not quite sure what the answer exactly is, but all I know is that “Sucker Punch” is a pretty damn good movie with mind blowing visuals.

Is this film as epic as Snyder’s previous film “Watchmen”? Absolutely not. This film is disjointed and a little incoherent, which I think it’s supposed to be. There are five girls lead by Baby Doll (Browning), Sweet Pea (Cornish), Rocket (Malone), Blondie (Hudgen) and Amber (Chung) who are trying to escape a mental institution that’s run by the evil Blue Jones (Oscar Isaac).

The mysterious Dr. Vera Gorski (played by the ever so erotic Carla Gugino) essentially teaches the girls the escape into a world that their mind creates. Baby Doll, who accidentally killed her younger sister while trying to protect her from their molesting stepfather (Gerard Plunkett), just arrives at the asylum, and her evil stepfather pays Blue Jones a little extra to get her lobotomized by the High Roller (the ever so fucking cool and dashingly handsome Jon Hamm).

As Baby Doll escapes into her mind with the other girls, they are mentored by The Wise Man (Scott Glenn). The Wise Man tells Baby Doll that she needs to retain five items in order to successfully escape from the asylum.

Each time Baby Doll enters her dream sequence – she and her posse of badass chicks kick the shit out of whatever monsters/beasts lie in their path to achieve the item to escape. They need to act fast, because the High Roller is only three days away from his visit to lobotomize Baby Doll.

The dream sequences are where the film triumphs – although the opening of the film which shows us Baby Doll’s back story which is queued up to a contemporary version of “Sweet Dreams” is pretty spectacular. The dream sequences are so imaginative. It was very exciting to see what Snyder could concoct for his next dream sequence, waiting to see if he could out do the previous one.

Once again Snyder displays that his use of popular music is impeccable. He’s hitting Scorsese/Tarantino/PT Anderson status with his use of popular music to not carry a scene, but to reinforce the sheer awesomeness of it. The opening sequence of the film is amazing.

The group of girls are fine in the film. They serve the purpose that they were designed for – to look good and kick ass. None of them are distracting with poor acting skills, they play off one another well.


What really bridges the film between its fantasy dream sequences and its stylization are the strong performances by the “heavies”. I have never really cared for Carla Gugino. I always resented the fact that she was just packed into a movie because she’s good looking and not afraid to take her clothes off. I was won over by her in “Watchmen” and this past season of “Californication” – and in “Sucker Punch” I thought she did a pretty damn good job. Her character is mysterious enough to where you can’t decide if she’s helping the girls or just another trap for them to get stuck in.

Oscar Isaac plays a pretty damn good bad guy. I haven’t seen him in anything prior to this film, so it was a treat for me to experience him for the first time. He’s very seedy, and very filthy – he seems like a character that should be one of Harvey Ketiel’s underlings in “Taxi Driver”.


I absolutely love the fact that Jon Hamm is in this film. To me, Jon Hamm very much has the look of a silver screen icon (which is probably due to the fact that he’s the star of “Mad Men”). He’s handsomely mysterious like Bogart was. His limited role in this film doesn’t show off any acting chops, but instead offers a small treat to seeing Hamm play a bad guy in a way cool movie. The one thing that I think is very, very interesting is his reaction shot towards the end of the film. If you see the film, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

Scott Glenn is my biggest mancrush. Nough said. His character seems to be the perfect character for Liam Neeson to play, you know, the mentor. But since Neeson hit it big with “Taken”, he gets his own vehicles now. Glenn is cool in the film. He’s just that old badass who helps these girls wreak more havoc then you could possible imagine in this film. Glenn anchors the film.

I liked this movie very much, and I am surprised at the harsh reception and its underwhelming box office production. This may not be as good as I had hoped for. That being said, this movie really does kick ass.


Review: 8.5/10