I took a break from writing film reviews, working on other interests. Still tweeting though.  I’ll be back here some day soon for more movie analysis.

Posted in General | 1 Comment

My Blog in 2011: Stats Courtesy of WordPress

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.


Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Syndey Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 20,000 times in 2011. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 7 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Posted in Entertainment, Film, Movie Reviews, Movie Topics, Movies | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

‘Take Shelter’ (Movie Review) *** 1/2

take shelter 2011

The coming storm in "Take Shelter"

Powerful, tense, subtle, touching, realistic, hyper-realistic and beautiful. These are the words that come to mind when describing “Take Shelter,” the recent film written and directed by Jeff Nichols. “Take Shelter” is Nichols’ second feature film (a follow-up to 2007’s well-received “Shotgun Stories”), and it is among the best films of 2011.

The story unfolds in Ohio where Curtis LaForche and his wife, Samantha, both in their 30’s, live with their six-year-old daughter, Hannah. Curtis is a foreman with a sand mining company. Hannah is deaf and the couple is hoping to get her hearing implants. Times are tough economically. Samantha does seamstress work on the side to help make ends meet. These are real people with real life concerns–but they are a loving couple, a good family.

Take Shelter

"Take Shelter"

Soon Curtis begins having disturbing visions and dreams. He says they are more than dreams; they’re feelings of impending doom. He envisions people attacking his family, swarms of birds, rain that feels like slick oil on his hands and fierce storms. He can’t sleep. He begins to seek psychological help, but his anxiety drives him to clean up the storm shelter in their backyard to prepare for the coming apocalypse.

In “Take Shelter” we witness either an anxious man’s slow descent into madness or real life impending doom. The film is intentionally dubious in its meaning. Nichols has crafted a smart and emotional indie/art film, but also imbued it with tension and technical elements that one might find in a more mainstream thriller–or even in a classic Hitchcock film. No small accomplishment. The film alternates between quiet midwestern realism and riveting psycho-drama. At it’s heart, though, the movie is about a couple working to stay together–working to be on the same page, so to speak.


A scene from "Take Shelter"

The greatest beauty of “Take Shelter” is the performance by Michael Shannon. It is perhaps the best acting by a male actor I’ve seen since Javier Bardem in “Biutiful”. Shannon plays Curtis as a strong, sensitive, family man, rooted in real-life, yet who is also appropriately over-the-edge for this material. If you enjoy good acting, you owe it to yourself to see Shannon in “Take Shelter.” According to director Nichols, Shannon required little coaching or rehearsal, and they shot the film in 4 weeks completely out of sequence. You would never know this when you see the film, because Shannon’s characterization is spot-on. The film is wonderfully supported by Jessica Chastain as Samantha, along with Tova Stewart who plays Hannah. There are also good performances from Shea Whigham as Dewart, Curtis’ co-worker and friend, and Ray McKinnon seen only briefly as Kyle, Curtis’ brother.

The film isn’t perfect. (The dialogue in a couple of scenes felt contrived to me.) Despite this minor item, “Take Shelter” is a great film from a promising, talented, young American director.

2011, Rated R, 120 minutes, Drama
Rating 3.5 out of 4 stars

Posted in Entertainment, Film, Movie Reviews, Movies | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

‘The Thing’ (Movie Review) **

The Thing 2011

A scene from "The Thing" (2011)

Antarctic explorers have discovered an alien space craft. Doctor Sander Halvorson (Ulrich Thomsen) brings a team in to investigate, which includes graduate student Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). The team removes the ice-encased creature from a glacier and brings it back to camp. They soon discover that the alien isn’t dead. It has simply been waiting.  Now everyone is suddenly in a fight to survive as the alien wreaks its destruction.

Sound familiar? We have actually heard this story a couple of times before. In 1952 the great Howard Hawks produced (with his friend and co-director Christian Nyby) “The Thing from Another World.”  The film is considered a sci-fi classic now, and not a cheesy one either. Hawks is known for his sharp, fast dialogue. The film is a bit of a talker, a thinking man’s sci-fi scary film. The acting was good too. One of my favorite scenes is when they discover the alien craft under the ice.  The explorers, standing on the ice, form a circle in the perfect shape of a saucer.  Good stuff.  But alas, when one watches the movie today, it doesn’t quite hold up when it comes to real horror.

The Thing from Another World

"The Thing from Another World" (1951)

Then along came John Carpenter. Carpenter remade “The Thing from Another World” in 1982 as “The Thing.”  The film wasn’t received especially well at the time.  But now, John Carpenter’s “The Thing” is considered by many to be his best work. The film holds up very well today, and it’s a bit of cult classic.

Jogn Carpenter's The Thing

John Carpenter's "The Thing" (1982)

Now Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. in his first feature film has remade the story again.  I enjoyed this new version, though it can’t really stand up to its two predecessors.

The makers of “The Thing” (2011) have called it a prequel to the 1982 version. For me, the only thing prequel-like was the final scene during the end credits (and which aptly sets up the beginning of Carpenter’s film). The rest of the film was effectively an update of the previous two movies. In fact, many sequences seemed like virtual copies from the 1982 film, and some of the original music was re-used.  One twitter user (@devincf) commented: “The Thing must be feeling such déjà vu throughout John Carpenter’s The Thing.”

The special effects-created alien seemed real to me about 70% of the time and a fake CGI distraction the rest of the time. Similarly, the filmmakers opt for lower-brow jump scares in the film. Jump scares typically utilize abrupt and loud sound to, well . . . make audiences jump. The technique has been used effectively since forever, but it has evolved to be a lazy version of a thrill.  (When the material itself isn’t thrilling, throw in a loud bang and audiences will jump, every time.)  I much prefer to be creeped out, to be freaked out or to be genuinely thrilled.  That was one of the dubious charms of Carpenter’s movie.  When audiences watched the creature effects in the 1982 film, they were freaked out. It was gory, but we asked, “Am I seeing what I think I’m seeing?”  There’s none of that in this remake. Instead, you’re simply bombarded with the monster.  There’s no subtlety, no mystery, no art and little of the same nail-biting intensity that Carpenter achieved.

The Thing movie 2011

"The Thing" (2011)

I liked the fact that the movie’s protagonist is a female (Winstead). I would have liked it better if she had a personality. I enjoyed the cast portraying the Norwegian workers, most of whom did have personality. Thomsen also makes a good evil doctor with an ego problem.

I don’t want to be too negative on the film. For a movie of this genre, with a relatively low budget, “The Thing” is enjoyable. I would call it good but not great, medium-grade entertainment. Of course, one can’t help but compare the movie to its two predecessors. Such a comparison yields that Carpenter’s film is the best of the three. Will we be talking about 2011’s “The Thing” in 60 years? in 30 years? Probably not so much. 

2011, rated R, 103 Minutes, Horror, Mystery, Sci-Fi
Rating 2 out of 4 stars

Posted in Entertainment, Film, Movie Reviews, Movies | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

I Joined Up On Empire Avenue

In case any of you are into social media . . . I’m still figuring out this Empire Avenue site, but I joined then linked my blog and social media, in case anyone else is interested: http://empireavenue.com/?t=5smqn0ry  (That link will attribute you joining to me!)  : )

Aside | Posted on by | Tagged , | Leave a comment

‘Contagion’ (Movie Review) ***


Kate Winslet in "Contagion"

“Contagion,” the film from director Steven Soderberg, immerses audiences into a realistic and quietly terrifying pandemic.  It starts with a cough.  I’m speaking about both the opening seconds of the movie before you even see anything on the screen and the actual symptoms people experience when they are infected with the virus in the film. Beth Emhoff is in a bar at Chicago’s O’Hare airport, waiting between a flight from Hong Kong and another one which will return her home to her husband and child. She’s speaking on the phone to her lover with whom she just had a rendezvous. She coughs. And so it begins.

Beth (portrayed by Gwyneth Paltrow) is the first person we meet who has the disease.  After she returns home from her business trip, she’s in her kitchen, disoriented; she falls to the floor and has a seizure.  Her husband (Matt Damon) tries to help her as her son (Griffin Kane) looks on with fear. At the hospital, Beth dies. It was just that quick. She was healthy and full of life, and within a few days, her body succumbs to a virus which no one can explain. How did she contract the virus?

There are online reports. Other people around the world are dying from a mysterious disease. The Centers for Disease Control, governments and the media begin to take notice.  They have no idea what they are dealing with, but the virus is spreading. Is it airborne? Is it spread by touch, from a door handle, an elevator button?  The contagion multiplies quickly out in front of the experts. They desperately need to understand the virus so they can combat it. Meanwhile hundreds, thousands and more are dying.

Chin Han and Marion Cotillard in "Contagion"

“Contagion” is skillfully directed, beautifully filmed and well-written.  Soderbergh who is also the film’s cinematographer took great care to compose the shots in the film. There are deftly executed camera sequences in motion, through glass windows or simply stationary in rooms as people talk.  But the images on-screen are never stale.  He also liberally plays with the film’s focus, giving things a very modern and stylish look.  The movie’s color palette ranges from warm hues (hot, actually) when we flashback to Beth in Hong Kong, to grays and blues elsewhere, representing cold and fear.  I recommend seeing the film on an IMAX screen if you can.  In addition, the music by Cliff Martinez is amazing.  It is reminiscent of the music in “The Social Network,” but it stands on its own.  While much of the film is quiet with no score, the music is used to great effect to move the plot along, to transition from one scene to the next and to add suspense and tension.


A scene from Steven Soderbergh's "Contagion"

“Contagion” features as stellar cast, including Kate Winslet, Laurence Fishburne, Jennifer Ehle, Marion Cotillard, Elliot Gould, John Hawkes, Chin Han and Jude Law (in addition to the previously mentioned Paltrow and Damon). A criticism of the film is that in a few scenes (not many) the acting and some of the dialogue falls a little flat. I won’t harp on this, because in general the acting and script are quite good. I especially enjoyed Winslet’s and Ehle’s performances. Another issue is that the depth of focus camera work used by Soderbergh borders on being overused.  But these are minor issues when you look at the film as whole.  “Contagion” is a taut, thinking-person’s thriller. You’ll be mesmerized, and henceforth,will be eternally weary of germs lurking on door handles, elevator buttons and on the hands of others.

Rating 3 out of 4 stars
2011, Rated PG-13, 105 minutes, Action, Sci-fi, Thriller

Posted in Entertainment, Film, Movie Reviews, Movies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments