Friday, September 30, 2011

take shelter

Take Shelter by writer / director Jeff Nichols is a cinematic attempt at capturing these uneasy American times by focusing on the mental deterioration (or just psychic apocalyptic visions?) of a blue collar Ohio construction worker named Curtis (played by Michael Shannon).  His wife Samantha (Jessica Chastain) has a small needlework business.  Both are trying to make ends meet and are caring for their young hearing impaired daughter (Tova Stewart).  Curtis becomes increasingly paranoid from violent, unsettling dreams and hallucinations which leads him to curious decisions like taking out a lavish bank loan to build a fallout shelter in the backyard.  Because his mother (Kathy Baker) suffered from schizophrenia, Curtis is worried this may be happening to him as well.  The movie clumsily juggles between being a serious movie about mental illness and an almost-horror movie (CGI flocks of birds) about paranoia of fantastical doom.

While Nichols shows some visual flair, the film is a study in bland America.  The dream sequences are the best assets--including a great shot of a dripping-wet Chastain about to pick up a knife--but all of them become increasingly repetitive.  What ends up being the scariest aspects of the movie are the struggles of everyday life: insurance, gas prices, losing work.  They are reminders of what most of us have to go back to after leaving this picture.  Shannon is certainly believable but I felt a bit detached from his performance, especially in a calculated, overwrought meltdown scene.  Detached would describe Chastain's character who doesn't respond with much urgency to her husband's bizarre behavior.  Both are interesting actors and do the best they can with the stilted material.  In a minuscule part as a therapist, I found Lisa Gay Hamilton to be the most authentic and a breath of fresh air.  The film has some relation to Polanski's vivid Repulsion, Aronofksy's Black Swan and Steven Spielberg's epic Close Encounters of the Third Kind where an every man goes to great, odd lengths to get to the bottom of his obsessive visions.  And while there's much to admire with what Nichols can do on a small budget, for a two hour film about dread, it doesn't offer much thrill.  There is little going on with the soundtrack (the sparse score is derivative) and it arrives at a frustratingly weak conclusion. Disappointingly it ends up being too restrained, an overlong Twilight Zone episode, almost Shyamalan-lite. **

-Jeffery Berg

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Monday, September 26, 2011

"have you ever been properly alone?"

Weekend feels like the first gay movie that never hits a false note and that is no small feat.  It's the antithesis of all the bright-eyed (and brightly-lit) romances (there's an obvious dig to Notting Hill) and of gay films where sex and romance are portrayed as fulfilling and sustaining.  Tom Cullen plays the reticent Russell, a lifeguard, whose existence is summed up in one of the film's incredibly precise shots: him standing alone at the edge of the pool, uneasy and bored, a clock ticking above his head.  Russell meets Glen (Chris New) at the local gay bar (amusingly named Propaganda) and takes him home.  Instead of having the usual one night stand, Russell and Glen hit it off and the two share an intimate weekend.  The characters are full of contradictions: Russell likes old things, like his hodgepodge of second hand teacups but he likes his new kicks.  He's closeted to many around him but persuades Glen to ride on his bike with him in the middle of the street.  Glen is outspoken, forceful, quite loquacious about his sexual escapades (he records the tales of his sexual partners as a sort of artistic project... though the reason for that becomes somewhat ambivalent by the film's end) and he's not a fan of gay marriage (" feeds into the system").

The intimacy between the two is very involving and sensitively played.  It helps that they aren't generic stereotypes or typical generic beauties.  The inherent differences between the two can also speak, intentional or not, of larger frictions within the gay community at this moment in time.  The long takes, somewhat off-kilter hand-held shots (framing from behind a fence or between train seats or above from a 14th floor window), dull dialogue, banal settings (the obnoxiously noisy bars, Russell's bland concrete apartment complex) illustrate a sort of urban angst.  There isn't the philosophical banter in the golden-hued Before Sunrise and Before Sunset and there are no veiled daggers as in Who's Afraid of  Virginia Woolf? and Sunday Bloody Sunday, (films which seem like influences on, or at least comrades with Weekend).  The climax occurs during a coke-fueled argument which brings about their insecurities and painful realizations. The movie wanders languidly but arrives at an ending that's quietly haunting.  It isn't a cinematic journey I'm eager to repeat though overall I deeply cherish how Haigh's film deals with the uneasiness of being gay in a way I don't think any film I've seen before has been able to communicate.  Hopefully there will be more as good as this to follow. ****

-Jeffery Berg

'drive' soundtrack review

I'm still addicted to the music from this movie.  Check out my music review for the Drive soundtrack on Frontier Psychiatrist.

And my review of the film is here.

Sunday, September 25, 2011


I like that Moneyball is an unorthodox sports movie about an unorthodox way to assemble a team.  Both have mixed results, but in the end, are a success.  Brad Pitt inhabits washed-up major leaguer Billy Beane who runs the scrappy Oakland A's.  When the team loses to the multi-million Yankees, and a few of its top players, Beane decides to make a risky move--hiring brainy Yale-grad Peter Brand (Jonah Hill).  Beane and Brand build a new roster based not on the usual criteria but upon the statistics of player behavior.

Baseball fans and readers of Michael Lewis's Moneyball may know what happens along the way, but it was a particular thrill for me not to know, so I won't spoil it.  The highs and lows are all masterfully handled by Aaron Sorkin and Steven Zallian's script, a good cast, and director Bennett Miller (Capote).  Miller's Capote was a somber, appropriately cold, almost clinical study of a writer's ethics.  It's hard to believe that the same director made this warm, uplifting movie.  Both films show Miller's elegant craftsmanship, an ability to spotlight good performers, and a knack for the biopic.  Sorkin's dialogue is appropriately less grandstanding than the computer geek banter in The Social Network but still has lots of funny moments (David Justice complaining over paying for soda is one of them). Interestingly enough, the brainiest characters, Brand, is also one of the quietest.  The film is less snappy too, with a simpler structure and almost languid pace.  In one of his most charismatic performances, Brad Pitt displays his character's bouts of frustration, isolationism (he barely tunes into watch or listen to the games), and his charm.  I've gotten tired of Hill's doe-eyed pothead shtick but here Hill is finally given a character that shows he can be an insightful, emotional human being. Aided by a script that knows what to do with them, the two make a memorable team.  The rest of the cast is believable including Philip Seymour Hoffman as the coach, Stephen Bishop as an aging but tough Justice and Chris Pratt--stunned and nervous at being one of the new picks.  Even if the movie runs long and even if I found Beane's daughter's song too cloyingly perfect, the movie is one of the more interesting and compelling sports movies this non sports fan can think of. ***1/2

-Jeffery Berg

Friday, September 23, 2011

Thursday, September 22, 2011

70s eco horror fashion

If you're going to battle the terrors of mother nature, you might as well look good doing it.  Here are some fun fashions from 1970s eco horror pictures.

Judy Pace looking fly in Frogs (1972)

Cool denim shirt, cool headscarf & shades & yellow terrycloth: Sam Elliott and Joan Van Ark in Frogs.

Joan Collins in Empire of the Ants (1977) - I love how her giant shirt collar matches her head wrap.

Tiffany Bolling's super cool shades and neckscarf from Kingdom of the Spiders (1977)!

In Piranha (1978) Heather Menzies shows how wavy hair and a tied shirt are done.  And Bradford Dillman's Texas belt buckle, plaid shirt, and fisherman's vest are choice.

Looking Amity chic in Jaws (1975).

Denim coat & fisherman's hat.

Tartan plaid in Grizzly (1976).

Charlotte Rampling's wetsuit and Richard Harris's cableknit cardigan and newsboy cap in Orca (1977).  Love.

Elsa Lanchaster's pretty floral blouse in Willard (1971).

Roughing it in the rural south in Squirm (1976).

I like Michael Caine's jackets in The Swarm (1978).

More big collars & denim in Day of the Animals (1977).

Shelly Winters in Tentacles (1977).

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

what the living do

Marie Howe's 1998 poetry collection What the Living Do is a favorite of mine.  Her reading of this moving poem at last night's Wilde Boys gave it a sudden immediacy.  It's addressed to her brother who died of AIDS.

What the Living Do

Johnny, the kitchen sink has been clogged for days, some utensil probably fell down there.
And the Drano won't work but smells dangerous, and the crusty dishes have piled up

waiting for the plumber I still haven't called. This is the everyday we spoke of.
It's winter again: the sky's a deep, headstrong blue, and the sunlight pours through

the open living-room windows because the heat's on too high in here and I can't turn it off.
For weeks now, driving, or dropping a bag of groceries in the street, the bag breaking,

I've been thinking: This is what the living do. And yesterday, hurrying along those
wobbly bricks in the Cambridge sidewalk, spilling my coffee down my wrist and sleeve,

I thought it again, and again later, when buying a hairbrush: This is it.
Parking. Slamming the car door shut in the cold. What you called that yearning.

What you finally gave up. We want the spring to come and the winter to pass. We want
whoever to call or not call, a letter, a kiss--we want more and more and then more of it.

But there are moments, walking, when I catch a glimpse of myself in the window glass,
say, the window of the corner video store, and I'm gripped by a cherishing so deep

for my own blowing hair, chapped face, and unbuttoned coat that I'm speechless:
I am living. I remember you.

- Marie Howe

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

the driver's threads

Costume designer Erin Benach on her choices for Ryan Gosling's beautiful, iconic look in Drive.

"I read the script and I knew we needed something iconic - something that people would never tire of watching throughout the film. Driver wasn't going to be changing his clothing very much - it's not one of those movies. The character is really more of a superhero than he is a person - although we wanted people to think he's a real person so that they would feel attached to him."

"I'm always facing the jacket question in films. There's something about men and style and how the jacket is such a piece that they love, because it's easy and they can wear it with everything. Ryan was really inspired by these Korean souvenir jackets from the Fifties. We got to this idea of a white quilted satin jacket with a scorpion on the back. The scorpion came a little later - that was inspired by this Kenneth Anger video "Scorpio". We built the jacket from scratch. We used a tailor in Los Angeles: Richard Lim of High Society. He was really wonderful - he was able to work with the satin, and used real wool for the cuffs and the collar. We had maybe ten different styles tested: we had a baseball cut for the shoulders, then we had a regular sleeve cut. We tried so many styles to nail the one that fitted and looked the best. Then there was the whole issue of the colour. A white satin jacket set the alarm bells off for the director of photography. It's a really hard thing to light, because it can blow out every scene. So we went through many iterations of the tone to get the actual colour we used, which is almost more like silver. At one point we just thought, 'Let's go back and make it olive green or red' - but in the end we all fought for saving the white jacket because we loved so much."

"The denim jacket was a vintage Levi's that we tailored a little bit for Ryan."

"The boots are by Stacy Adams - I think you can buy them for $60. They are these really unfashionable, non-expensive boots, but they've got this great, low-profile shape to them. They don't have a big heel, they're not chunky, and what we did to them - and why they don't look anything like what you would go and buy - is we really broke them in. We took special acetones and dyes and sandblasters to break them in so that they started to peel."

"A specialty glove-maker in LA made the gloves for us. We made only a couple of styles, because I always knew what we wanted. I was very inspired by Steve McQueen."

Check out the full article from GQ UK.