Tag Archives: Kathy Baker

Jeff Nichols’ Take Shelter

Making films about mental illness is always tricky because of how sensitive, subjective and all too easily misunderstood and misrepresented the subject matter can be. Take one wrong turn and your script can be hokey, let one performance have an ill advised timbre and the whole thing feels hollow and under researched. With all that in mind I can say that Jeff Nichols’ Take Shelter is one of the most moving, mature, heartbreaking and realistic portraits of an ailment I’ve ever seen, not to mention an overall superb piece of filmmaking.

Michael Shannon shines bright in another deeply felt, wonderful performance as Curtis, a blue collar Ohio family man with a loving wife (the always amazing Jessica Chastain) and deaf daughter (Tova Stewart). He has what his best friend (Shea Wigham, seriously is this guy even capable of a wrong note? He rocks) describes as a “good life”, until things go wrong. One day Curtis begins to have dark, threatening and very realistic nightmares. He imagines massive, menacing lightning storms on the horizon that begin to rain a thick, oily substance and his reality becomes an anxiety laced, constant source of panic. How does one deal with it? Well in a lesser film things might become rote or sensationalistic but instead we see him visit his estranged mother who was once diagnosed with schizophrenia, pick up books at the library to understand mental illness and rationally try to process his dreams. But his delusions are strong, and soon he has spent money his family doesn’t have on feverishly landscaping a tornado shelter into his property to weather the oncoming storm, a storm that seems to exist only for him and causes anger and confusion from his wife.

There’s always two sides of the coin in stories like this, the literal and what’s perceived internally by the protagonist. Certainly in many cases it’s up for debate what’s really going on but for me this was a story of him losing his grip on reality, teetering on the edge of a psychotic break and honestly what better use of metaphor for that than a giant incoming storm? There are two scenes that stand out to me as some of the best directed, acted and overall crafted sequences I’ve ever seen in cinema. The first takes place at a company lunch for Curtis’s job, where he and Wigham get into a heated argument and it escalates into him having a full blown, wide eyed meltdown, ranting like someone who’s lost it which, naturally, he almost has. It’s painful because his wife and daughter are standing right there and this is hard for them to see but what lifts the scene up is instead of her storming out, retorting or going numb she simply walks over to him, puts her hand on his face and tries to comfort him, to calm him down. Talk about using one’s intuition in a scenario like that. The other is the final scene of the film which I can’t say much about without spoilers but it’s a brilliant way of illustrating acceptance, understanding and the willingness to move forward when a family member becomes ill and needs love and support. I could go on for paragraphs about this one but I’ll close in saying that few films approach this material with the tact, careful imagination and reverence for humanity that we see here. Masterpiece.

-Nate Hill

The Glass House

The Glass House is one of those silly, sensationalist, bombastic pieces of melodramatic domestic turmoil branding itself as the slickest thriller on the block. It thinks it’s a lot smarter, more suspenseful and shocking than it actually is and despite the fact that it’s a total riot of bad movie cliches and overcooked hoo-hah, I still had a bit of fun with it. The main reason it kind of works is casting; Diane Lane and Stellan Skarsgard are just watchable in anything no matter the quality, and here you get to see them play the world’s worst foster parents to two wayward orphans (Leelee Sobieski and Trevor Morgan). They at first seem like nice, caring folks: they’re rich, well put together, hospitable and live in a big old house atop a hill that’s just secluded enough to come in handy later when things go wrong. Soon it becomes apparent these two are whackos though. Skarsgard’s Terry is a dangerous manipulator who is hellbent on nabbing the kid’s four million trust fund left by their parents, while Lane’s Erin is an unstable junkie prone to weird outbursts and scary behaviour. It’s tough since no one really believes these kids and the whole thing circles the drain to one of those hilariously over the top forgone thriller conclusions that has a chase, several implausible fights, some cat and mouse stuff and plenty of villainous posturing from the two leads. Sobieski is always solid (see Joyride for a much better thriller starring her), Skarsgard no stranger to playing unhinged psychos and Lane although cast against her sweetheart type rocks the batshit chick aesthetic well. They’re all just stuck in such a formulaic, dull ass, waterlogged script that doesn’t step an inch out of line or do anything different than we’ve seen loads of times before. The only thing that really stands out beyond being adequate is the lighting, which really cracks on blu Ray. Other than that and the game performances it’s a trip through mediocrity town.

-Nate Hill

Bruce Robinson’s Jennifer 8

‘Darkness descends on a small town’, the tagline of Bruce Robinson’s Jennifer 8 warns us. No kidding, this is one rained out, bleakly lit, forbiddingly gloomy thriller. Although not without noticeable editing and pacing issues, I love it for the thick, nightmarish atmosphere it produces, the drab northwestern small town feel and a well rounded cast of leering character actors who all may be suspect in the harrowing central murder mystery. Andy Garcia is big city cop John Berlin, called in by his veteran detective buddy Freddy (Lance Henriksen, almost incapable of not stealing every scene) to investigate possible serial killer after a woman’s severed hand is found at the local dump. Talk about your rainy movie scenes, the part in the scrapyard seems like they set up sixty rain towers in a circle and ran them full blast for a deafening monsoon that almost drowns out the dialogue. From there on in it’s a murky whodunit populated by cops, reporters, coroners and and other skeleton crew occupants of this understaffed town, many of whom have skeletons of their own in the closet or just may be the killer. Clues lead to a young blind girl (Uma Thurman, radiant in one of her very first roles) who attracts the killer like moth to a flame, as well as Garcia who acts as guardian angel and love interest to her. I guessed who the murderer is way before the final twist, but that’s not to say it’s a dead giveaway or lazily written, I just have a knack for recognizing actors anywhere right down to the bit players and saw traits in a brief physical reveal, but the mystery is still decently shrouded and pretty much plays fair against scrutiny. Garcia, Henriksen and Thurman are supported by a thoroughbred roster including Paul Bates, Kathy Baker, Kevin Conway, Graham Beckel, Nicholas Love, Bob Gunton, Jonas Quastel and Twin Peak’s Lenny Von Dohlen as the local newspaper scribe. Oh yeah, and John Malkovich weirdly shows up out of the blue as some eccentric, obsessive Fed who has it in for Garcia and puts him through a hilariously faux intense interrogation monologue. Director Robinson (the famed Withnail & I) apparently only wrote and directed this one in hopes of whipping up a mainstream commercial hit to raise dough for more brooding artsy stuff, but the joke was on him because from what I hear, this royally tanked and even went direct to video across the pond. Well it ain’t a perfect film but I love it anyways, there’s too much eerie rural atmosphere and too many stalwart actors to write it off, it fits squarely in amongst my top serial killer mysteries.

-Nate Hill

The Age Of Adaline

The Age Of Adaline shouldn’t work as well as it does or be as great as it is, but there you go. What really holds it together are two spectacular, well thought out performances from Blake Lively and Harrison Ford, who take material that could have come across as hokey and do something really special with it. The lush, garden themed cinematography by David Lanzenburg doesn’t hurt either. Adaline Bowman (Lively) isn’t your average one hundred year old woman. Due to some quasi-cosmic rift in reality, she has been stuck at the age of 29 for going on 80 years, and has amassed both a wealth of worldly knowledge and a charismatic gravitas one might imagine would accompany such an odd life path. When she meets and reluctantly falls for handsome Ellis (Game Of Thrones’s Michael Huisman), it’s a predicament as love has never seemed to really work out, given her condition. When she meets his parents (Ford and Kathy Baker) things get downright weird; decades ago, Ford and Adaline were lovers and the aghast look on his face when he sees her waltz in not only with his son but not a day older than he remembers, is truly something to see. Speaking of aghast, the guy they got to play young Harrison Ford in flashbacks is so uncannily similar to the actor in look and voice that I feel like the director just stole a time machine from the government for the film. It’s kind of like the world’s weirdest love triangle built upon a fantasy concept that’s thrown in from hard left field, and as ridiculous as it all sounds, it’s actually quite the subdued, affecting experience. Her name should be Blake Lovely because she’s just that, always a force of radiance in any role she takes (even as the Boston gutter slut in Ben Affleck’s The Town, an angelic vibe snuck through the smeared eye makeup and hoop earrings), she gives Adaline a dignified independence and occupies every second of frame with the character. This has to be one of Harrison Ford’s finest hours too, ditching the smirky roguish charm and going straight for the heart in a turn that’s both vulnerable and rooted in emotion. Ellen Burstyn does fine work too as Adaline’s daughter, now looking freakishly older than her. The story has none of the silliness you’d expect upon reading a synopsis, and if anything is more down to earth than most romantic films thanks to Lively and Ford, as well as the world’s gravest narration from Hugh Ross. The San Francisco setting is actually a cleverly disguised Vancouver, but plays a quaint role in the setting too. This one is a treat.

-Nate Hill