Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Take Shelter (2011) Review

It’s an apocalypse movie, but not one centered around the actual apocalypse or its aftermath. Rather, it looks into the events leading up to the cataclysmic event, and that build-up of suspense makes the story that much more riveting. Jeff Nichols’s primary cast of Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain have an undeniably strong chemistry in this movie. You’ll have a hard time differentiating them from people in the real world.

That’s not to say the performances aren’t without flaws. Though Shannon give an amazing performance, he seems too understated at times, like he’s detached from the movie. I acknowledge that it IS his character, but when taken slightly past a certain level, it becomes something else entirely. Secondly, the supporting cast wasn’t nearly as strong as Shannon, though all of the characters did mix well together.

The fact that the movie has had me giving it so much thought after the credits (much like Inception did, but in a way that doesn’t feel as cheap or inconclusive) owes to the masterful direction. Throughout the movie, you see that Curtis, Shannon’s character, is plagued with sleeplessness and terrifying dreams accompanied by audio-visual hallucinations, all of which he attributes to his declining psychological health. This main plotline builds up nicely, gradually worsening until Curtis decides to build a storm shelter to protect his family against the tragedy from his nightmares. His obsession with this project leads him to becomes the talk of the town – and not in a good way. The way Nichols builds tension is realistic and stunning. Accompanied by incredible visuals, this film leaves a remarkable impact on you.

There are some other plots that at first seemed unnecessary to me. The one in particular I want to talk about is Hannah, Curtis’s deaf daughter. She wasn’t always deaf so she’s still in the process of learning sign language, and throughout the movie, Curtis and his wife work to train her in it. Watching the movie, I was thinking it was simply padding on to the run time – which, for what the movie is, makes for a grueling two hours – but the more I think about it, the more it seems that she was more of a symbol to sees the world through visions – and that causes a communication barrier. She wasn’t always deaf, and Curtis wasn’t always having nightmares. The two are one and the same in a way. That relationship comes under stress for a powerful, emotionally-driven scene near the end, though I won’t spoil it.

The movie does run a bit too long, and somewhere in the middle, I looked something like this. Granted it gets dull and boring from time to time and many scenes well expire their welcome, Take Shelter does manage to accomplish something that many movies simply can’t. It pushes us into a cloud of uncertainty and leaves us alone to judge for ourselves what is and is not real in the world around us. It teaches us to trust our instincts and to keep those who we treasure the most closest to us. Here is a movie that won’t soon be escaping us…primarily because we’ll see it at the Oscars.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Lion King II Isn't Entirely Bad...

If you didn't know, I'll say so now: I'm skeptical of sequels. Every sequel has potential to be something great, but a lot of that potential typically isn't tapped. There are good franchises out there that are consistently good all the way through (The Bourne trilogy, Lord of the Rings, etc.), but most sequels tend to be watered down successors to the original. Surely you read the title of this post and are aware that my focus here will be one of those watered down sequels. The Lion King II: Simba's Pride. Anyone who hasn't seen the original Lion King is not human. Anyone whose seen the sequel should have taken more after those who neglected to see the first. It's not good. For the sake of not rehashing what's already been said, my review of Simba's Pride follows here.

Those points aside, there are some good things I can say about it.

  1. While no one can surpass Scar as the ultimate badass of the lion kingdom, some creatures can rise to meet him. Kovu doesn't quite make it there, but he gets close enough. From his off color to the beard on his elbows (and later, the scar), his physical appearance is enough to evoke memories of the past tyrant, and that's really all he needs as a character. I don't think he was meant to be particularly deep or riveting; he was meant to be compared to Scar. Everyone who watched the movie made comparisons throughout, and Kovu wasn't quite adequate. This shortcoming defined his character, and its prevalence served its purpose well.
  2. How many supporting characters do you know who have been able to carry their own show? Not many, I presume. Timon and Pumbaa were two of those few. From the original movie into the second, they were a consistent duo from which you could always expect a good chuckle or a smirk at the least. They weren't quite as witty in the second installment, but they never seemed washed out. Even their cartoon managed to keep the flavor alive through three seasons of misadventures.
It's only two points, yeah, but I just want to point out that there were some positive aspects of the movie even if they numbered in the few. I don't entirely hate Simba's Pride; in fact, I could rewatch it several times. Of course, that's not always a good thing.