Due to a technical snafu, there will be no HomeVideodrome podcast this week. We’ll back in full swing next week, so be sure to check The Film Thugs for updates.
Jessica Chastain had the best year of any actress this year, turning in excellent performances in films like Terrence Malick’s audacious” Tree of Life” as well as “The Help,” an audience favorite of last year. While Chastain’s admirable performance in “The Help” snagged her an Oscar nomination, it’s her turn in Jeff Nichols’s unsettling “Take Shelter” that deserves recognition above all the films she was in last year.
But the real standout in “Take Shelter” is Michael Shannon, who delivers a haunting portrait of mental illness that trumps his own turn in Werner Herzog’s “My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done?” His is one of the great performance of last year, one that unjustly goes unrecognized by the Academy, all while yet another standard George Clooney performance receives the highest of accolades.
Shannon plays a blue-collar family-man named Curtis who begins to lose his grip on reality when he becomes plagued by apocalyptic visions in his dreams. Every night he is visited by black rain, vicious animals, and malevolent human apparitions, and every night they become more and more vivid. Worried that he is experiencing the beginnings of the schizophrenia that his mother suffered from when he was a child, Curtis nonetheless cannot shake his fear that something horrible is going to happen soon, compelling him to build an elaborate storm shelter to protect his family from the coming calamity, despite the financial and psychological burden it places on his wife (Chastain) and daughter (Tova Stewart).
“Take Shelter” has the surface of a psychological horror film, with surreal dream sequences that draw blood even though you’re aware what Curtis is experiencing isn’t real. But what makes “Take Shelter” a great film is that the movie’s frightening surface takes us deeper into the collective American consciousness, reflecting the fears and insecurities that plague everyday working Americans during the seemingly endless recession we have found ourselves in.
Curtis’s dangerous visions are rooted in an uncertain future, and he seeks to eliminate luxuries like the family’s annual beach trip in favor of ensuring their protection from the encroaching darkness. While his family was quickly becoming prosperous, they soon find themselves struggling because of Curtis’s affliction, but the darkness he sees in the movie isn’t garden-variety insanity. It’s a part of every day life in a time when people are struggling to make ends meet.
Other Noteworthy Releases
The Rum Diary: Johnny Depp coaxed Bruce Robinson, the director of “Withnail and I,” out of retirement to direct this adaptation of one of Hunter S. Thompson’s early novels. My co-host of the HomeVideodrome podcast calls ” Withnail and I” “the ‘Gunga Din’ of drinking movies,” so the material here seems appropriate.
The Human Centipede 2 – Full Sequence: I’m a fan of the first “Human Centipede.” It’s got a solid B-movie mad scientist plot and a truly nasty concept that’s content to let fester in your imagination. The sequel seems like it’s everything people thought the original would be: a really nasty film that goes for scatological shock. The concept seems like an interesting comment on horror sequels, but the movie itself looks too ugly to endure.
Woody Allen – A Documentary: I missed this one when it aired on PBS, but what was amusing was how movie blogs reacted to the news that a Woody Allen documentary was going to be airing on TV. The DVD releases for Allen’s films are always bare-bones affairs, so lazy fans of his work seem to be under the impression that he’s some kind of mysterious recluse when it comes to giving interviews, as though he’s a prolific version of Terrence Malick. It’s a shame that movie fans often forget books exist. If you want some brilliant insight into Allen’s creative process, check out Eric Lax’s “Conversations with Woody Allen,” a running interview spanning decades that explores his approach to filmmaking as it evolves from his early comedies to his later works.
Three Outlaw Samurai: I’m a sucker for the chambara films from the sixties, so mark this new Criterion release as a must for fans of the Japanese cinema.
Tiny Furniture: It’s always interesting when Criterion chooses to distribute a new release that isn’t a Wes Anderson film. “Tiny Furniture” is the feature debut of Lena Dunham, who cut her teeth making films on YouTube.
All Quiet on the Western Front: Another Best Picture winner comes to Blu-ray. I saw this one when I was a kid and was way too young to appreciate it.
Available on Blu-ray/DVD combo
Elite Squad – The Enemy Within: The sequel to the Brazilian crime thriller “Elite Squad,” which was one of the biggest hits to come out of Brazil, and it features a script by the writer of “City of God.” The first film is a bit like “Death Wish” in that a leftist protagonist’s methods of dealing with crime evolves into something more…direct. This sequel further explores those themes.
Nude Nuns With Big Guns: This exists.
This post originally appeared over at Parcbench