Premium Rush

August 24, 2012 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Shannon, Dania Ramirez
Directed by: David Koepp (“Ghost Town”)
Written by: David Koepp (“Ghost Town”) and John Kamps (“Ghost Town”)

There is an obvious reason the name of the main character played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt (“Inception”) in the new bicycle action/thriller “Premium Rush” is Wilee. With a couple of references to Wile E. Coyote from Looney Tunes, a narrative built around a 90-minute chase scene, and always-eccentric actor Michael Shannon (“Take Shelter”) over-exaggerating every bit of his awkward dialogue, the whole thing plays out like a caffeinated cartoon. It’s unfortunate, however, that no one gets tossed off a cliff or smashed with an oversized mallet.

“Premium Rush” rides hard, but without much direction. It’s the sort of movie Google Maps would make if they could cinematize their website. In the film, Gordon-Levitt plays Wilee, a New York City bike courier being pursued by Det. Bobby Monday (Shannon), a corrupt cop who is after a mysterious envelope Wilee is delivering across town. Up to his neck in debt with an underground gambling ring, Det. Monday must intercept the envelope to earn the cash he owes. It takes screenwriters David Koepp and John Kamps far too long to explain why Wilee getting to his destination is so important. When the big reveal comes, you’ll wonder why it took a whole hour to explain such a messy storyline.

While there are effective bike stunts featured throughout the movie and some kinetic camerawork that will make you feel like you’re riding on these characters’ bike spokes, “Premium Rush” wears out its welcome with close ups of peddles spinning, traffic lights blinking and a screenplay that allows anyone to get anywhere in NYC in five minutes. It’s true, these bike messengers are fast, but not Roadrunner fast.

Take Shelter

November 11, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Michael Shannon, Jessica Chastain, Shea Wingham
Directed by: Jeff Nichols (“Shotgun Stories”)
Written by: Jeff Nichols (“Shotgun Stories”)

The storm clouds are spinning out of control in both the sky and trouble mind of Academy Award-nominated actor Michael Shannon in the psychological drama “Take Shelter.” It’s a story filled with emotionally terrifying moments that bend between dreams and reality. As the storm rolls in, the sense of dread director/writer Jeff Nichols (“Shotgun Stories”) delivers in only the second feature film of his career is suffocating.

Shannon plays Curtis LaForche, a Midwestern sand miner who decides to build a storm shelter in his backyard much to the chagrin of his wife Samantha (Jessica Chastain) who worries how they’re going to pay for something they don’t even need.

But Curtis thinks it’s extremely necessary since visions of a terrible storm brew each day in his head. Not only are storm clouds forming, Curtis watches a flock of birds fly in eerie patterns and witnesses as oil drizzles upon him. With a schizophrenic mother, Curtis wonders if he, too, is crazy or if his mind is only playing tricks. Or maybe he really does have the power to foresee apocalyptic events that are coming near.

Was is so interesting about Curtis as a character is that he is incredibly conscious of his mental instability, but also vulnerable to the forces he can’t control. Whether they’re dreams or hallucinations, it’s all very ominous as he stabs the earth with a shovel and spirals into a deep, dark place that he can’t escape.

Metaphorical, poignant and heavy on biblical references, “Take Shelter” will speak to the same audience who found “Martha Marcy May Marlene” both disturbing and intriguing. As the possible storm torments Curtis, so does Nichols with his pitch-black tone and unnerving take on a reality that may or may not exist.

Machine Gun Preacher

October 7, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Gerard Butler, Michelle Monaghan, Michael Shannon
Directed by:  Marc Forster (“Stranger Than Fiction”)
Written by:  Jason Keller (“Big Shot: Confessions of a Campus Bookie”)

When you hear the title “Machine Gun Preacher” paired with the phrase “starring Gerard Butler,” you probably imagine some pulpy, mindless B-movie wherein Scottish beefcake Butler plays a squared-jawed man of God, automatic weapon in hand, turning to righteous violence as a last resort in an effort to protect, I don’t know, some poor villagers or something. And you’d be right, except instead of “pulpy, mindless B-movie” it’s actually “drama based on a true story” that also features numerous people leaping away dramatically from RPG explosions.

Butler stars as Sam Childers, a low-life biker/drug dealer/all-around criminal just released from prison for charges unknown. Despite giving him some brief post-slammer car sex, Sam’s wife Lynn (Michelle Monaghan) immediately becomes the target of his rage after he learns she’s stopped stripping and found God. Sam storms out of the trailer and hooks up with old friend/partner in crime Donnie (Michael Shannon). They use a little heroin, rob a crack house at gun point, and speed around town while simultaneously shooting up. It’s during this drug-fueled joyride that they decide to pick up a hitchhiker. Not surprisingly, he turns out to be a stabbin’ hobo and his knife is soon at Donnie’s throat. Sam distracts the bum and ends up turning the blade on him, leaving the drifter for dead on the side of the road.

Nearly killing a man ends up being the last straw for Sam. He begins attending church with Lynn and their young daughter, and a baptism sends him down a path toward redemption. Sam sets about making an honest living, starting his own construction business, building his own modest church and rescuing Donnie from the clutches of drugs and alcohol. When a visiting pastor speaks to the congregation about the struggles of orphans in Sudan, Sam takes a new mission and jets off to Africa, finding more than he bargained for and transforming from missionary to mercenary in the process.

Despite being based on a true story, director Marc Forster (“Quantam of Solace”) never elevates the material to the realm of believability, what with Butler and his good looks and ripped physique looking nothing like a drugged up biker, or a scene featuring Butler’s character blowing a hole in the floor of his trailer with a shotgun and using his body as a shield to save his family from a tornado. And any mildly affecting drama the movie stumbles upon is always undone by Butler blasting away bad guys in the next scene Rambo-style, complete with headband. “Machine Gun Preacher” strives to be an action movie with a message. Too bad that message gets mowed down in a hail of gunfire.

The Runaways

April 10, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Dakota Fanning, Kristen Stewart, Michael Shannon
Directed by: Floria Sigismondi (debut)
Written by: Floria Sigismondi (debut)

There’s more to a music biopic than just the music. While music video director Floria Sigismondi captures the look and sound of the 1970s, the story of the all-girl punk band portrayed in “The Runaways” never stands out as more than an average narrative about a musical group’s rise to fame and fall from grace.

Despite its script’s flaws, actresses Dakota Fanning and Kristen Stewart are well cast as bandmates Cheri Currie and Joan Jett. The story follows the band’s formation at the hands of devious manager Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon), who realizes he’s sitting on a gold mine when he brings a group of misfit girls together to create something no one else had ever successfully done before. He does it mostly by exploiting them as sex kittens.

“This isn’t about women’s lib, it’s about women’s libidos,” he says as the group practices in an abandoned trailer in the middle of nowhere.

Based on Currie’s book “Neon Angel: Memoir of a Runaway,” most of the story is hers mostly because she was the one that ended her time with the band only two years after it formed in 1975. We watch Currie’s troubles at home with an alcoholic father, but where the film needed to focus more of the drama on was the band and how it fit into the era and broke ground for other female musicians that came after.

While most music biopics have jealousy and drugs at the center of a band’s demise, that doesn’t necessarily make up this specific group’s real downfall depending on who you ask. No matter what the real reason the Runaways lasted only four years, Sigismondi plays the story safe. It almost feels like director Mary Harron’s “The Notorious Bettie Page” about the 1950s pin-up girl. When it’s pussyfooting along, it’s not very affecting. When it attempts to break into darker territory it feels like it’s posing instead of letting the story come naturally.

It’s one thing to watch Fanning taking drugs, it’s something else when she smashes a pill with the heel of her boot and subsequently kneels to the ground to snort the residue off the ground. All we can say to that is, “How very punk.”

Revolutionary Road

December 28, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Michael Shannon
Directed by: Sam Mendes (“American Beauty”)
Written by: Justin Haythe (“The Clearing”)

Married with a house and a mortgage and 2.5 kids. It might sound like the standard version of the American Dream for any conventional couple, but for the characters of Richard Yates’s best-selling novel, it is their prison.

In “Revolutionary Road,” directed by Academy Award-winner Sam Mendes (“American Beauty”), Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet (their first film together since 1997’s “Titanic”) give life and discontentment to Frank and April Wheeler, a seemingly happy husband and wife living in a Connecticut suburb during the mid-1950s.

It’s a peaceful facade from the outside, but like Mendes’s “Beauty,” there are unseen thorns under this bed of roses. Although they seem like the perfect couple to their friends, Frank and April are miserable. Frank is stuck in a job in office sales and having an empty affair with a naïve young girl at the company, while April, who once dreamed to become an actress, is trapped at home caring for her two children and making the best of a life she finds unfulfilling.

Despite the Wheeler’s marriage coming to an obvious end, April believes it can be saved if they just had a change in scenery. One night, she spontaneously proposes to Frank that they pack up and move to Paris to start over. She sweetens the deal by telling him that she will be the one to work and provide for the family while he discovers what it is he wants out of life. The plan sounds illogical, but Frank and April know that if it doesn’t work out their marriage won’t survive by simply “playing house” and accepting their apathy for each other as natural relationship wear-and-tear.

Through emotionally draining and depressing scenes, DiCaprio and Winslet scrape away at each other until both become fragile and feel worthless. Both are astonishing in their roles. The X-factor in this devastating story comes from supporting actor Michael Shannon, who plays “certified lunatic” John Givings, the manic son of one of the Wheelers’ neighbors who cuts the couple down to size and expresses opinions to them as if he was reading their minds. He talks to the Wheelers unlike anyone has ever dared to before. At first, the his candidness is appreciated, but when John finds his way into the heart of their problems, the confrontations become frightening.

Just as Frank and April keep each other on the brink of madness so will “Revolutionary Road” do to the audience as they watch the couple refuse to resign from life. Scored by “American Beauty” composer Thomas Newman and shot by “No Country for Old Men” cinematographer Roger Deakins (both should get Oscar nods), small town suburbia becomes a story of psychological survival between two self-delusional lovers backed into a corner.