originally published in the Raleigh News & Observer

Curtis LaForche is having bad dreams.

"Take Shelter"

Really bad dreams – the kind where approaching storms of apocalypse threaten to destroy everything in their wake. Where birds wheel through the sky in ominous portent, and shadowy strangers come in the night to steal his child.

As portrayed by the powerful actor Michael Shannon in director Jeff Nichols’ superior thriller, Curtis is an anguished man caught in a terrifying downward spiral. His visions are so real to him that he digs an underground storm shelter in the yard, hoping to protect his increasingly concerned wife (Jessica Chastain) and their deaf little girl (Tova Stewart) from the coming cataclysm.

But Curtis is also facing another terrifying possibility: His mother (Kathy Baker) was swept away by schizophrenia at around the same age Curtis is now. Disturbing daytime incidents at work – he’s a crew chief for a construction outfit – have Curtis doubting his own faculties. Are the dreams just rumblings of a different kind of approaching storm? Is the real danger to the family actually Curtis himself?

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Film review: Restless

November 25, 2011

As a film project, “Restless” would seem to have all the ingredients for a successful indie drama.

"Restless"

You’ve got the radiant Mia Wasikowska (“Alice in Wonderland”) sharing the lead with Henry Hopper – son of the late, great Dennis Hopper. Veteran director Gus Van Sant is at the helm, and Danny Elfman is on the musical score.

There is, unfortunately, the matter of the script.

“Restless” tells the story of young Annabel Cotton (Wasikowska), a terminally ill cancer patient who makes the acquaintance, one gloomy evening, of the gaunt and mopey Enoch Brae, who likes to crash funerals and dress like Morrissey circa 1989.

It seems that Enoch recently lost his parents in a car crash and was in a coma himself for several months. Together, the two teenagers have a proximity to death that young people simply shouldn’t have. Read the rest of this entry »

The heroine of the sprightly French comedy “The Names of Love” has an inventive solution to an old political dilemma.

"The Names of Love"

As a hardcore left-wing activist, Baya Benmamoud – her dad is Algerian – is forever getting into arguments with right-wing “fascists.” Rather than debate them or attack them, Baya sleeps with her political opponents to convert them to her cause. Since Baya is portrayed by the beautiful French actress Sara Forestier, this literal reading of “make love, not war” principle proves to be enormously successful. Everybody wins!

“The Names of Love” is a rare beast – a French sex comedy that’s actually funny. Director Michel Leclerc has clearly studied his Woody Allen films, and the movie plays out like a Gallic “Annie Hall” with lots of political jokes and plenty of full frontal nudity. Read the rest of this entry »

In the harrowing suspense drama “The Whistleblower,” Rachel Weisz plays the role of the real-life Kathy Bolkovac, the U.N. peacekeeper who exposed widespread sex trafficking in postwar Bosnia in the late 1990s.

"The Whistleblower"

The film begins with Bolkovac navigating a divorce and working too hard at her job as a cop in Nebraska. Desperate for money so she can resolve child custody issues, she accepts a six-month contract with a private security firm in Bosnia.

Bolkovac soon discovers that postwar Bosnia is a desperate place indeed, and that the international police force administered by the U.N. is rife with neglect and corruption. Nevertheless, Bolkovac takes her duties seriously. She initiates the first successful prosecution of domestic violence and is eventually appointed head of the U.N.’s Gender Affairs bureau. Read the rest of this entry »

Film review: The Guard

November 25, 2011

originally published in the Raleigh News & Observer

It’s like the old Irish proverb says: Nothing can ruin a good cup of tea like running afoul of an international cocaine smuggling ring.

"The Guard"

In the often funny, often indecipherable Irish comedy “The Guard,” Brendan Gleeson plays Sergeant Gerry Boyle, the unorthodox but honest cop who patrols rural County Galway in Ireland. Boyle is no saint – he has a standing arrangement with the local escort service and enjoys sampling the occasional clubs drugs he pulls from the pockets of delinquent teens. When a local crime figure is found with a professionally placed bullet in his head, Boyle regards the death as a proper comeuppance, more a paperwork nuisance than a crime.

But as played by Gleeson in a rich comic performance, Boyle also has a shaggy nobility and a rigid code of honor. He protects the local kids, visits his ailing mum, and stubbornly defies his better-dressed, on-the-take superiors down at headquarters. Boyle’s routine is disrupted, however, with the discovery of a major cocaine smuggling operation in sleepy Galway. Read the rest of this entry »