Friday Movie Roundup: Calm Before the Storm Edition

Nov 4, 2011 at 5:07 pm
click to enlarge Michael Shannon in 'Take Shelter'
Michael Shannon in 'Take Shelter'

With the rollout of fall's higher-profile “prestige” pictures still a week away (including Clint Eastwood's J. Edgar Hoover biopic with Leonardo DiCaprio as the notorious FBI director), a pair of lesser-known films open here this week that are worthy of your attention. —-

Armed with awards at both Sundance and Cannes, Jeff Nichols’ Take Shelter is a creepily effective, if sometimes overly earnest, drama about a blue-collar, rural Ohio man (an uncommonly and impressively restrained Michael Shannon) who has visions of an apocalyptic storm that will wash away his home and family. Is he going mad? Or is his odd behavior — which includes the expansion of an underground shelter that he can’t afford in his backyard — prophetic? If Nichols’ story channels our current anxiety-riddled zeitgeist a little too perfectly, there are worse things to be guilty of.

UPDATE: Cleveland-based Take Shelter producer Tyler Davidson will attend the 2:30 p.m. Saturday (Nov. 5) showing of the film at the Esquire Theatre and partake in a post-screening Q&A. First question for Tyler: Is Michael Shannon that creepy in real life?

And Ace documentarian Steve James — whose Hoop Dreams is one of the great docs of the last 20 years — returns with The Interrupters, an incisive look at how some people are trying to combat Chicago's soaring crime rate.

Finally, there are a pair of mondo-marketed comedies — one featuring Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy, the other a couple of guys named Harold and Kumar — itching to compete for your attention. Resistance is likely futile.

Opening films:

THE INTERRUPTERS — Filmmaker Steve James is apparently incapable of making an uninteresting documentary, even when his subject matter might presumably be thoroughly played out. James, who has already garnered enough film-festival awards (and an Oscar nomination for his breakthrough 1994 doc Hoop Dreams) to merit multiple mantelpieces, tackles Chicago's soaring crime rate, and in particular the work of CeaseFire, a community-based interventional program founded by epidemiologist Gary Slutkin. (Read full review here.) (Opens today at Esquire Theatre.) — Marc Savlov (Not Rated) Grade: B+

TAKE SHELTER — The now-ubiquitous Jessica Chastain stars as Samantha, the uncommonly understanding wife to Michael Shannon's psychologically disturbed husband in writer-director Jeff Nichols' drama, which has gathered festival acclaim at Sundance, Cannes and Toronto. (Read full review here.) (Opens today at Esquire Theatre.) — tt stern-enzi (Rated R.) Grade: A-

TOWER HEIST — Fast paced and fluffy, Tower Heist is a spectacle-laced comedy with widespread appeal. Even Alan Alda's Bernie Madoff-styled antagonist gets a soft treatment so as not to offend the "1 percent" of potential audience members his evil character represents. You can practically hear a chant of "rich people must share more" roiling under the clamor of nonstop hijinks. (Read full review here.) (Opens wide today.) — Cole Smithey (Rated PG-13.) Grade: B-

A VERY HAROLD AND KUMAR CHRISTMAS — The bud-smoking buds (John Cho and Kal Penn) are back in this 3-D-enhanced holiday tale that finds the duo frantically looking for a Christmas tree in New York City on Christmas Eve. Todd Strauss-Schulson directs a cast that also includes Danneel Harris, Eddie Kaye Thomas, Patton Oswald, Danny Trejo and Neil Patrick Harris. (Read full review here.) (Opens wide today.) — tts (Rated R.) Grade: B