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VINE VOICEon March 8, 2012
Jeff Nichols and Michael Shannon have accomplished a portrait of paranoid schizophrenia which is the most accurate (to those who have known these sufferers) to date with the exception of a far bleaker film: Clean, Shaven (The Criterion Collection).

The difference here is that Nichols wants to show how deeply linked the hallucinations, dreams and daily disturbances of a schizophrenic are to daily reality, in particular to our global feeling that the next shoe might drop at any time. If anyone watching imagines that Curtis' behavior is unrealistic or that Shannon's natural ability to be eccentric and frightening are exaggerations of what these people (and their loved ones) go through, think again. Having worked with the homeless/mentally ill (unfortunately a lot of men and women like Curtis simply fall through the cracks) I have always made it a policy to keep apocalyptic material AWAY from them. The miracle Nichols pulls off here is to reflect so expertly what happens when these symptoms first start developing through Curtis' mind.

A blue collar construction worker and generally an average man (Officer Van Alden from Boardwalk Empire: The Complete First Season is absent here) Curtis has a wonderful wife (Jessica Chastain who resembles Mia Farrow to an almost disturbing degree) and a sweet little girl who is handicapped (Tova Stewart). His buddy on the construction site (Shea Wigham)is the first one to really notice that something's just not right with our man. As the result of exactly one simple rainstorm, Curtis begins to develop brief but very potent hallucinations involving thunder, rain, and his dog. Since thunder can make certain canines so scared they turn vicious I'm pretty sure Nichols is not setting Curtis up as a prophet proper. He is trying to communicate the subtle and explosive panic developing in Curtis' mind.

The first move that lets you know this guy is hurting is when he makes a financially risky move on a tight budget, taking out a home improvement loan for an old tornado shelter. He puts his dog in a wire rimmed fence in the backyard though he's done nothing to deserve this punishment.

He then begins to stock up food, has his buddy help him steal equipment from work to dig a bigger tunnel in his yard, and gets laid off. His explosion at the Community Benefit Dinner is the most representative of the character's struggle, screaming about a storm that is coming with the zeal of a Pentecostal preacher from the work of Flannery O' Connor. The misery that mental illness of this kind inflicts on families is reflected almost perfectly here. His wife makes ends meet only after realizing her husband is disturbed.

The ending is what people are arguing about. It really could be anything--a shared subjective vision, a hallucination Curtis has when he is asleep and about to leave for the beach on the doctor's orders. I think Nichols was borrowing from The Last Wave (The Criterion Collection) and a quote in that film: "A dream is the shadow of something real."

This deserves the attention it's getting because it puts into mainstream view what severely mentally disturbed people suffer everyday. Not everyone can afford doctors, medication, and not all these stories have a happy ending. The best movie I've seen concerning this subject along with Bug (Special Edition) and Clean, Shaven (The Criterion Collection).
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on March 7, 2012
****This review contains spoilers****

This movie is scary, and I can honestly say it shook me to the core. I'm chalking the 1-star reviews up to just mistaken expectations: this is NOT an action film, and it's not paced like an action film. If you expect that, prepare for disappointment. Sad to say, many people (myself included, at this point in the "review") confuse reviews for meandering expressions of baseless opinion. In the interest of injecting this review with some protein. I want to begin with a bit of an aside:

Why does it seem like everyone insists on assuming the climaxes in movies are dreams? Is this the Lost effect? The Inception effect? Isn't claiming it's all a dream merely a cheap fix for an ending that doesn't tie up neatly with our notion of endings?

This movie is about love and loss (of mental health, of family, of a way of life); it's about the epic Real that we cannot explain with our frames of reference but only with silence. It's also a movie about an event that does or doesn't happen. I'm going to discuss certain aspects of the film: the use of minor characters to develop and texture that of Curtis, the main characters, and the interplay between husband and wife during their vacation (the final scene).

Mental illness is capable of being an apocalypse. Specifically, mental illness and natural disaster take us outside of civilization and behavior. Acting along prescribed behavioral lines in both cases is either impossible and/or difficult and not what the situation calls for. We see Michael Shannon's character as someone who first plays it off, then attempts to reject it with modern medicine, and only finally embracing it. They will never understand, I imagined him thinking.

At first I was skeptical of introducing "sideline" characters for one or two scenes (the mother, the brother), only to never mention them again. On second thought, though, the brother showing up out of concern and leaving with the dog was interesting and very well done. Here's why: sometimes having characters come in and out and then totally disappear from the plot annoys viewers because this leaves behind loose ends and questions. In this case, it wasn't a loose end at all: people come in and out of our lives. And in a family fractured by a mother's mental illness, the distant relationship of the brothers is awkward and palpable. It's here we see Shannon's character chase away his brother, his dog ("man's best friend"), then his best friend. He's left at the end to fend for himself and his family precisely because he's severed ties in order to save himself and his family. The ending on the deck shows us a picture of desperation in the face of catastrophic disaster which "ironically" (only insofar as we expect nothing to go wrong on vacation) happens during the vacation taken to get away from his shelter and illness. And yet the catastrophe is always near. Nature knows: the birds always know; the daughter knows, and she feels it. Her signing on the beach illustrates this. She's just felt the earthquake. She didn't feel the storm while they were in the shelter, and it's what gives the father strength to open the door: the moment is expressed with silence, because there's no explanation why they're alive. Just luck. I've written on imdb that this could be a father's wish that his hearing impaired daughter "join the world" and interact with the same "normative" organic interconnectedness that our senses bring about, except that even the minor characters in this film struggle with alienation and uncertainty. Minor characters mention how lucky the family is to have good health coverage, a good job. Several times we hear about risks "in this economy." For the main character and his family, things are pretty good. Until the illness. Letting go and getting away from the shelter, only to have our need to rely on our "illness" come rushing back into focus -- two water spouts, tidal wave, brown rain -- is probably not how we envision a partner or spouse regaining trust in our mental acuity.

The wife's face in the final scene reflects the disbelief that the main character struggles with until he embraces his illness as something more than illness. For a moment, we see the projection of his confusion and "can this really be happening?" in her expression. Who can't relate to the feeling of beginning to understand while simultaneously questioning whether we're not the ones losing our grasp on reality? Coming to this realization is textured by the gravity of what came before: that while being supportive, the wife hasn't understood the husband's illness because to understand it would mean to know that your vacation would lead to your death. There is no *actual* way to prepare and take shelter because disaster is sudden, much like the onset of the husband's illness. So the wife can only frame her husband's dreams as indicative of an illness. She can only do that, until the end. It's this last scene's switch (the disbelief in him to now what we're witnessing) that makes it necessary. I found myself wishing at first that they had just ended it with the family looking toward the ocean, like the blinding light when Shannon's character opens the shelter door earlier on, but my wish seemed even more exaggerated (like the "event" that occurs outside in the beginning of The Road, for example) and leading at this point. Ending it this way, Nichols downplays the event and instead opens the dialog about just how little we know about mental illness. What a mesmerizing film!
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on December 31, 2012
Take Shelter is a psychological drama about a man Curtis, and his family. Curtis begins having these awful dreams at night that depict a strong storm that ravages all life seen in the movie. Curtis has to choose between his instinct, and his family. The movie is based upon the great split between following instincts and abandoning instinct for social acceptance. The movie is very slow paced, but it works well to make you feel closer to Curtis, like you understand exactly how he feels. This movie is remarkable on many levels. The screenplay is excellent, it strays as far away from cliches as possible, and boasts an epic, and intense climax that will leave you thinking about our society, and how we sometimes have to abandon instinct to be accepted by others, even loved ones. Critics praise this movie for it's intensity and it's epic feel, but I like this movie because it sends the viewer many messages about many topics that we deal with in our lives. This movie is very well acted, and many were surprised that Michael Shannon (Curtis) won no Oscars or Golden Globes for his performance, despite many very respectable critics such as Roger Ebert saying he deserved an Oscar. He carries this movie on his shoulders and holds it to glory.
Story- 10/10
The story is very intense, and very well written. There are almost no predictable moments, and this movie contains little to no cliches, which together, is an accomplishment for modern film. Very slow moving, and certain scenes seem to drag on, but it doesn't hinder the great screenplay.

Acting- 5/5
The movie is very well acted. Michael Shannon delivers a powerhouse performance better than many of those that win the Oscars every year. Michael Shannon provides a believable, and touching performance that leaves you feeling like you actually knew Curtis. Jessica Chastain co-stars and also does an amazing job with her role as Curtis' wife, and in depicting how someone would act if their significant other was beginning to sound like he/she is crazy to you. The daughter also does an unbelievable job, and there is no doubt that she also contributed to the depth of the acting.

Effects- 5/5
The effects are astounding. Breathtaking even. Most of the effects used were during the dreams that help paint out a huge apocalyptic storm. The effects were used seamlessly without being overused or overdone. Very good use of lighting to set mood as well as an astounding soundtrack that touches the soul, giving it an intense, slightly mysterious, and epic feel to it. All effects of all sorts were used here to the best I have seen in any movie in a while.

Presentation- 4.5/5
Take Shelter is presented beautifully, and perfectly. There is no better way it could have been presented. The acting was phenomenal, the effects were stunning, but not overdone, the cinematography was well done and the writing is a masterpiece. However one small thing takes away a half a point, and that is the pace. The pace is agonizingly slow. It serves it's purpose well, but to some it may be just too slow. To me it is personally not bad, but to someone else it may mean a lot to their opinion of this movie.

Overall- 19.5/20
Take Shelter is a masterpiece. Plain and simple. It has no flaws in my eyes with the exception of pace that will only bother some, not all, which is sadly, the only thing keeping this movie from a perfect score. This movie boasts superb acting, phenomenal effects, brilliant writing and a lot to think about afterwards. I highly recommend this movie to all. It is a low budget, not very well known movie that deserves sooo much more credit for it's accomplishments in film making. In my eyes, this is one of the greatest films ever made, and coming from me, a movie connoisseur to the definition, is saying a lot. Do yourself a favor and watch this movie.
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on December 19, 2011
"Take Shelter" is a movie about courage - not physical courage, which is so easy to film, but emotional courage, a much more difficult kind of courage. That we wonder if our protagonist is really courageous or just crazy adds dimension and depth as Michael Shannon and the rest of the ensemble confront choices and chances, trust and doubt, while trying to keep their precariously comfortable lives from toppling into an abyss.

Superb storytelling with an especially strong an subtle performance from Shannon.
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on April 11, 2012
Jeff Nichols' new film, "Take Shelter" is a marvelous example of what happens when a group of talented people come together to tell a smart story and make a good film, despite the fact that few will see it and even fewer will appreciate it. I already know not everyone likes this movie, there are other comments right here that in no uncertain terms say so, some even yell so, this is, of course, because the movie is something of a challenge for many viewers. It plays out as a mystery, we've already lost many people here brought up on Hollywood effects driven blockbusters that explains it all in the trailers, a psychological drama and a character study, it is what is missing so often today at the multiplex or new on Netflix, an adult thriller aimed at a willing audience.

Written and directed by Jeff Nichols, a relative newcomer with only one other film under his belt, Shotgun Stories which played at Roger Ebert's Overlooked Film Festival a few years back, Nichols writes a compelling script that translates into a gripping movie where things may not be what they seem, or as we the audience begin to care, we fear that they are what they seem and we don't like what we see. This works largely because of the fine acting of Michael Shannon, a great actor giving one of his greatest performances as the central character, Curtis. Curtis is a working class midwesterner who as the movie begins is plagued by a continuing series of nightmares about a coming near apocalyptic storm. Jessica Chastain is equally good, just how many good performances did she give in 2011, as Samantha, Curtis' loving wife, she gives the character the proper empathy to emote reactions from the viewer, we can see through her that sometimes being the witness can be the harder thing to have to be.

The only major flaw I can find with the movie is that it is perhaps drawn out a little bit too much. There are those who will, and do find the leisurely way the film unfolds to be boring, I think a lot of these people are too caught up in the modern era of instant gratification. When one is brought up on video games and movies based on such or easily transformed to the medium, expecting patience is difficult, if not all together futile. However, I do think that a small amount of tightening up in the center of the film might have made it's flow a little more gripping.

The ending is the kind that I normally hate in a movie like this, it is ambiguous, I don't have a problem with ambiguity, but the way it is played sometimes can test a viewer's tolerance. Here though, I don't believe that to be the case. The ending seems to me to be the exact right conclusion, and it knows when to stop. I had a strong emotional reaction to this film, in no small part due to the near brilliance of the movie's final ten minutes or so.

For the right audience, this is one of the best films of 2011. It is also the best thriller in a long time, period. I hope beyond all hope it finds a good audience, critical reaction has been up to this point, mostly favorable. In fact, many were surprised by Shannon's omission from the Oscar race. I say see it and I look forward to future films from this talent new filmmaker.

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on February 14, 2012
Every year, there are a handful of films that enter and leave theaters very quietly, then pop up out of nowhere to appear all over critics' year-end lists. Take Shelter premiered last year at Sundance and ran the festival circuit, picking up a handful of awards along the way, before opening in limited release back in September. Though it failed to make enough money to recoup its already modest $5 million budget, critics raved about the film and its central performance by Michael Shannon. Shannon plays Curtis LaForche, an Ohio family man who begins dreaming about an apocalyptic storm. Deciding at first to keep the dreams to himself, Curtis pours all of his energy into building a storm shelter in his back yard; his obsession with the shelter eventually strains all the meaningful relationships in his life. A piece of subtle, nuanced filmmaking, I feel Michael Shannon's performance alone made the film worth seeing, but the film itself is a perfect blend of drama and dread. It's a slow-burn psychological mindbender that builds tension gradually, so it's not for everyone, but you can be sure you'll be witnessing some top notch filmmaking if you watch it.
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on February 5, 2012
Hard to believe that this film didn't garner a Golden Globe or Oscar nomination! The performance of Michael Shannon (Curtis)is simply amazing. He's a quiet blue collar worker, displaying increasing paranoia as he has visions of an impeding apocalypse. Or is it a slow descent into mental illness? Even as his family and world are falling apart, Curtis calmly tries to make sense of incomprehensible. The story moves slowly but builds to a stunning but ambiguous finish. This movie will stick in your soul for days.....easily my favorite film of 2011.
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VINE VOICEon March 25, 2012
Michael Shannon delivers an outstanding performance as Curtis, a working class Midwesterner overcome by a disturbing, foreboding sense of impending doom in "Take Shelter," a menacingly brilliant film in which every scene intensifies the mounting tension of Curtis' life. As horrific dreams disturb Curtis, we witness his devoted wife Samantha (played, in another astounding performance, by Jessica Chastain, who seems to be cornering the market on suffering middle-class wife roles) desperately trying to maintain some sense of normality in their lives by selling her wares at a swap meet and taking care of their young deaf daughter. Curtis witnesses coming storms that only he seems to see. He begins exhibiting bizarre behavior that threatens his relationship with his wife, jeopardizes his job, and undermines his credibility in the community. Writer-director Jeff Nichols masterfully weaves a complex tale of one man's apparent mental collapse and its consequences on those around him--but strong undercurrents of uncertainty permeate throughout this film. Is Curtis really losing his mind? Are his visions and dreams really omens of what is to come? Never before have I rooted so hard for a character's sanity. The tension mounts to an almost unbearable climax--only to yield to a truly remarkable final scene. See this movie--it is a powerful and majestic work of cinematic art.
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on February 20, 2012
If everyone in the room thinks you are crazy , maybe you are, or they just don't know what you know. Your crazy till it happens, and then your the sanest person in the room. Sometimes you just got to loose your mind to deal with reality, or see what is really going on. Is one crazy for being prepared for what might come, no, but one thing is for certain, it's not going to do you any good, if your miles away from where you are prepared for a desater. If the end of the world does come, do you really want to be the last one standing. Who are you gong to tell, I told so, talk about a lost moment.

It is a little slow, but it did keep me interested, which isn't easy with all of the slow moving train wrecks they put out any more. The train don't have to cost a lot of money, it just has to go somewhere, and you have to be able to stay on it. Bad acting, bad writng, bad story are all like bumps on the track, to many bumps and and I'm not staying on the train. This track was pretty smooth, the ending was a bit of a dead end, but the train got to where it needed to go, but I would have liked to have seen what happened next, but I guess that's what your imagination is for. Use it. I did, and it was't good.

I rented it. I think it was worth a $3.99 rental.
Call me crazy, but I'm thinking of buying it.
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There is a lot of food for thought in this movie. In prior times, a man like Curtis would not be assumed to be mentally ill. The fact that he is having visions would be respected by both the bible and in native folk lore as he would be seen as a possible prophet in their midst. Curtis's mother has been in long time care since she was diagnosed as a schizophrenic. However, when we meet her, the question is really open as to her as well. We live in an age where science has decreed that things like portents, omens, seers, prophets and the like are impossible. That anyone who deals in this matter is just plain loco.

Curtis begins turning his storm shelter into more of an atomic bomb like shelter and runs into one person after another who is teed off at him, from his employer to his colleague to his wife. Yet he persists. What he sees is supported by reports which have been filed around catastrophes. For example, when tidal waves come in, birds do go crazy. They swarm and take off and some, in their hurry to get out, drop dead from the sky to the ground.

So the big question is whether Curtis is having a psychotic break with reality or if he is a seer who feels and sees a disaster coming. I know most people are going with the mental illness interpretation. Personally, I think since this this kind of person has been chronicled for thousands of years that it is possible that such a person could exist but does not want to broadcast his visions for precisely the reason that people will think he is insane.

Michael Shannon as Curtis and Jessica Chastain as his wife are both terrific.

One caution about this movie: it is very slow. If you are looking for a quick paced movie, this is not it.

Visit my blog with link given on my profile page here or use this phonetically given URL (livingasseniors dot blogspot dot com). Friday's entry will always be weekend entertainment recs from my 5 star Amazon reviews in film, tv, books and music. These are very heavy on buried treasures and hidden gems. My blogspot is published on Monday, Wednesday & Friday.
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