Saturday, November 26, 2011

Take Shelter

"Take Shelter" is the second time that Writer/Director Jeff Nichols has worked with Michael Shannon. Together they provide a powerful film that showcases the talents of each as well as a strong supporting cast. Jeff Nichols presents the story through a series of snapshots that move between the normal life and the stages of mental illness. In doing this it is difficult at times to decipher what reality is the truth, which is true for someone that is struggling with mental illness. The script that Jeff Nichols has written and brought to life through his delicate vision is one of the best for the year.

The story centers on Curtis (Michael Shannon) who is riding the ups and downs of mental illness that begins with visions of a storm and painful acts that are difficult to separate from reality. The visions include his loved ones attacking him from his wife, Samantha (Jessica Chastain), to his best friend Dewart (Shea Whigham), that contributes to the struggles with separating the visions from reality. The story of the daughter, Hannah (Tova Stewart), living in a world without sound and unable to connect socially with the other children parallels the struggles that Curtis is battling understanding mental illness. While Hannah lives in a world without sound her parents adjust their way of communicating to show compassion for their daughter. Similarly, Samantha desperately tries to understand and help Curtis. The visions that Curtis is having cause him to believe that a storm is coming that will be devastating to all and leads him to build an underground shelter. The storm has rain like motor oil, dead birds falling from the sky, and deadly gasses.

Michael Shannon is one of the most under rated actors. He has been shining recently on the HBO series "Boardwalk Empire" along with Shea Whigham. However, it is Michael Shannon's ability to convey the emotion of his characters without saying any words that makes his performance so impressive and deserving of a best actor nomination. Jessica Chastain has been a very busy woman ("The Help", "Tree of Life", "Coriolanus" and "The Debt") and continues to show that she is one of the best actresses of her generation and every bit deserving of a supporting actress nomination.

The film asks powerful questions that at times may even resonate with the audience. Is Curtis psychic or are the apocalyptic visions related to their daughter's loss of hearing? "Take Shelter" is a true indie film, so you will need to put a little effort into finding this film. If you are able to find it you should make the time to see this 4 Quack film.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A Trip to the Moon

In honor of the film "Hugo" I wanted to present to everyone the inspiration for the story. The audio has been cooked up by the folks in the youtube universe, but the movie making of Georges Méliès is most impressive considering it was filmed in 1902.

Monday, November 21, 2011


"The Invention of Hugo Cabret" written by Brian Selznick is the inspiration for Martin Scorsese in the film "Hugo". Brian Selznick has described the book as "not exactly a novel, not quite a picture book, not really a graphic novel, or a flip book or a movie, but a combination of all these things." Martin Scorsese has taken this book that shows appreciation for Georges Méliès, a French Filmmaker famous for leading many technical and narrative developments in the earliest cinema, and presents the story with modern techniques and equipment that invites your to dream. Georges Méliès most iconic film "Trip to the Moon" is used throughout "Hugo" and provides a refreshing viewing for a new audience.

The story centers around twelve-year-old Hugo (Asa Butterfield) who is an orphan, clock keeper, who lives in the walls of a busy Paris train station. He is desperately seeking to complete the project that he started with his father before his mysterious death of repairing an automaton and in doing so steals extra parts from a toy booth in the train station owned by Georges Méliès (Ben Kingsley). After getting caught, his path becomes interlocks with the god-daughter of Georges Méliès who is a very eccentric girl (Chloë Grace Moretz).

Hugo finds solace in maintaining the clocks within the train station, and in repairing toys. He finds sadness in the broken machines and finds it as his purpose to repair them. Hugo feels that machines don't come with extra parts; they have the exact pieces they need. If we live in a machine then we all have a purpose and none of us can be extra. We just need to find out purpose.

Scorsese does a brilliant job presenting the silent films of Georges Méliès as the backdrop to the story being told in 3D. Film making began as a sideshow novelty that turned into a way to tell stories. However, today film making brings our dreams to life with amazing lighting, digital cameras, special effects and 3D technology. The performances from the adults and the wide-eyed children are all very well done. Ben Kingsley stands out along with the smaller roles from Emily Mortimer (also seen in "My Idiot Brother"), Michael Stuhlbarg (best known from "Boardwalk Empire"), Christopher Lee and several actors that fans of "Harry Potter" will recognize.

"Hugo" very well might be a sleeper selection for the Oscars as a best picture, but more realistically Scorsese will deserve a nomination along with some technical awards for editing. The story provides an excellent background to the film "The Artist" that will be coming to theaters soon. Overall the film starts slow, but finishes very strong and is worthy of a 4 Quack rating.

Friday, November 18, 2011


Pariah (puh-rahy-uh) is a person without status; a rejected member of society; an outcast. Pariah is the debut film from Dee Rees who wrote the film from her own experiences. The film addresses difficult socially conscious themes that are rarely addressed in pop culture. In true independent film style, the filming took place in only 18 days. The art of film making is seen within the cinematography. The choice of camera angles and lighting provide subtleties to the emotion of the characters.

The film isn't about a young woman coming out as being gay, but rather coming into her own. She is being pulled in two directions, but struggles with defining who she is. The story centers around a nuclear family with Kim Wayans and Charles Parnell are solid parents. However, the performance from Adepero Oduye absolutely stands out in how she offers the amazing emotions in her face as well as her words.

Alike (Adepero Oduye) is a teenage Brooklyn girl who is struggling to live up to her mother's expectations while trying to figure out who she is. Alike is insecure about who she is as a young lesbian woman and in search of her voice as a writer. She is caught between a controlling, disappointed and worried mother (Kim Wayans) and a disillusioned, tired and caring father (Charles Parnell).

I was lucky enough to read the script before viewing the film and the poetry is beautiful. There are two poems read during the film, and both delicately address the emotions of a person struggling with defining themself.

A butterfly, briefly
Suffocated on the mucous of its own change,
Imprisoned by the membranous chaff of its own underdeveloped wings;
Cramped in the darkness of the too-tight cocoon of its own creation;
Thinking death inevitable, prepares to die in the absolute solitude of swollen husk.
A crack appears, a thing jagged light connecting the inner to the outer world;
A butterfly, briefly,
Paralyzed by the imminence of death
Discovers life is possible.

Heartbreak opens onto the sunrise
For even breaking is opening, and I am broken, I am open
Broken to the new light without pushing in.
Open to the possibilities within pushing out.
See the love shine in through my cracks.
See the light shine out through me.
I am broken, I am open, I am broken open.
See the love-light shining through me.
Shining through my crack through the gaps.
My spirit takes journey, my spirit takes flight
Could not have risen otherwise.
And I am not running, I am choosing
Running is not a choice from the breaking
Breaking is freedom
I am not broken, I am free.

As an independent film it may be difficult for everyone to find this film, but if you do see it offered at a theater you will not be disappointed. Please share this 4 Quack movie review with any friends/family that are members of the LGBT community.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

My Week with Marilyn

"My Week With Marilyn" is based on two books by Colin Clark taken from his diaries about his experiences during the filming of "The Prince and the Showgirl" (1957), which starred Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams) and Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh). The film focuses on the week in which Marilyn Monroe spent time being escorted around Britain by Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne), after her husband, Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott), left the country.

"The Prince and the Showgirl" was considered a moment in movie history where American acting royalty, Marilyn Monroe, met British acting royalty, Laurence Olivier. However, at a deeper level it was a moment where a great actor that wanted to be a film star was confronted with a film start that wanted to be a great actor. The film shows how Marilyn Monroe was desperate to escape from the pressures of her own stardom and the competing personalities and career guided agendas of those surrounding Marilyn Monroe.

Michelle Williams completely inhabited the emotions of Marilyn in all of her complexity: her vulnerability, her guile, her sweetness, and her insecurity. Her ability to display the emotions of a character was every bit as impressive as she was in "Blue Valentine" (2010). It is unfair to say that Michelle Williams didn't physically deliver the role, but by comparison she was outshined in the film by Kenneth Branagh who perfectly delivers his performance and very much looked like Laurence Olivier. Having recently re-watched "The Prince and the Showgirl", he also does a terrific job with the Grandduke Charles character. Eddie Redmayne was wonderful as Colin, the narrator and main character of the story, but is easily forgetable by being surrounded by such talent. Judi Dench was her wonderful and of all her performances that I have seen this year (Jane Eyre and J. Edgar), this could be her best. In one of the first performances for Emma Watson since "Harry Potter" she was regrettably forgettable. Not to be forgotten however is Dominic Cooper, who provides another solid performance following "The Devils Double".

The film reminds us that first love at times comes with sweet despair and that sometimes a heart needs to be broken before someone can open themselves up for the right person. Director Simon Curtis has been working on this film since the death of Collin Clark in 2002 and did a wonderful job capturing the essence of 1950's England. The wardrobe department deserves a nomination, as do the writers. I could see Michelle Williams, Kenneth Branagh and Judi Dench all receiving nominations. I am a bit apprehensive on my rating, but it is still a 5 quack film.

In a way this film runs parrelel to J. Edgar as the initial production of "The Prince and the Showgirl" was delayed due to Arthur Miller being investigated as a communist after "The Crucible" opened on Broadway in 1953.

The Descendents

Alexander Payne is the writer/director of some of the best films to depict the everyday man. He finds amazing source material and brings characters to life in a way that goes beyond the written word. Whether it be the estranged father performed by Jack Nicholson in "About Schmidt" (2002) or the middle-aged failure performed by Paul Giamatti in "Sideways" (2004), the everyday man is not perfect and neither is his life.

The beginning of "the Descendents" starts with a monologue by George Clooney discussing how even in the perceived paradise of Hawaii nothing is perfect, nothing is what it seems. People from the mainland think that living in Hawaii is a permanent vacation and that the people living there are drinking Mai Tais, shaking their hips and catching waves. "Paradise can go fuck itself". Despite appearances of luxury, simplicity and beauty, life in Hawaii is like anywhere else, the realities of poverty, unhappiness, despair and the rest of it just happens.

"The Descendents" is a novel written by Kaui Hart Hemmings about a father that has a unique and dramatic situation where two important events in his life are crossing paths and coming to an end that is difficult to cope with. The story focuses on Matt King (George Clooney) who is a lawyer with two young girls and a wife, Elizabeth, in the hospital on life support following a boating accident. The family is coping with the quality of life decisions to take Elizabeth off life support. He is also the trustee of an estate that includes the largest undeveloped land in Hawaii that he and the other descendents inherited from Princess Margaret, one of the last direct descendants of King Kamehameha, who fell in love with her haole (Hawaiian for white or foreign) banker, Edward King who was Matt King's great-great-grandfather. The descendents are holding a vote to sell the land as the trust is set to expire in the near future. As difficult as these two events are for Matt King, they are only compounded by the rebellious nature of his daughters Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) and Scottie (Amara Miller); and the discovery of an affair that his wife was having. The business dealings and drama with the other descendents also complicate the decisions being made.

The performances in the film are all very good. The simplicity of George Clooney helps provide a genuine nature to the difficult events that his character is living. Shailene Woodley steals the film with an emotional and private moment in the backyard pool and with her conversations with George Clooney that are beyond her years and experience. With the serious tones in the film a comic relief is provided by the slacker boyfriend (Nick Krause) and the cousin (Beau Bridges) and the grandfather (Robert Forster). With all the positives in the film, I do have some issues with the way the story is told. The use of voice over to advance the story, or to provide background, is annoying to me. Additionally, with the story centering on the hospital and Elizabeth being in a coma there are many moments where the inner dialogue is voiced to express the emotions that the character is feeling. The combination of the voice over and these inner dialogue moments made the film feel a bit forced at times.

This film will easily be nominated for adapted screenplay, best actor (George Clooney), and even a supporting actress nomination (Shailene Woodley). Combined with a solid directorial performance by Alexander Payne and this film could even get nominated for best picture. Another solid 5 Quack film for everyone to enjoy.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

J. Edgar

The image of J. Edgar Hoover has been portrayed in film, TV and on stage many times, and in vastly different ways. This is partially due to his lengthy career that ran from the 1920s and into the 1970s leading up to his death. The early years of J. Edgar Hoover have been portrayed by Kevin Dunn in "Chaplin" (1992) and by Billy Crudup in "Public Enemies" (2009) where he would build files against radicals and criminals. Bob Hoskins portrayed the later years of J. Edgar Hoover in "Nixon" (1995) and his political involvement. In each of the films, J. Edgar Hoover was feared and admired, reviled and revered. However, they do not provide enough clarity to his personal life, a life where his secrets would have destroyed his image, his career and his life. A problem with the previous depictions of J. Edgar Hoover is highlighted in this film. Historians write from the present perspective, forgetting context. This film attempts to deliver us beyond the present perspective and provides the context to the events that took place.

Clint Eastwood's latest biopic "J. Edgar" starring Leonardo DiCaprio balances Hoover's personal life with his accomplishments overseeing the FBI. The film uses flashback storytelling to highlight the significant events during his nearly 50 years with the FBI. The film starts in the 1970s as J. Edgar Hoover (Leonardo DiCaprio) is dictating to an assistant his autobiography. The make-up used to age our principal characters is immediately brought to the forefront, but as the movie progresses the visual becomes more believable. From an early childhood we see the powerfully influential relationship that J. Edgar Hoover had with his mother (Judi Dench). His career started to develop in the 1920s during a time of the Great Depression. He realized that information is power and that in order to succeed in the fight against crime that one needed to have at a minimum the same level of expertise to forensically detecting the crime as those committing the crime.

Influential to J. Edgar Hoover was his relationship with Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer) and his personal secretary Helen Gandy (Naomi Watts). These three play the most pivitol role in the film and their make-up is difficult at times as they age from being in their 30s to 70s, but grows with the film. The performances from each are very well done and deserving of a nomination. The very personal relationship with Clyde Tolson is of the most interest as the illusion to their sexuality is very obvious and the offering of the Associate Director position seemed more like wedding vows than a promotion.

The rest of the cast includes Josh Lucas (Charles Lindbergh) and Jeffrey Donovan (Robert F. Kennedy). I won't even bother identifying the role of Nixon in the film as the performance was laughable. By comparison, Jeffery Donovan actually did quite well with Bobby Kennedy.

The buzz surrounding this film has been growing, and I would like to fan the flames by saying that Clint Eastwood has done a spectacular job with this film and is deserving of a Best Director nomination. Leonardo DiCaprio will likely receive a nomination for his performance, but I don't think he will win. Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress nominations will likely be given to Armie Hammer and Judi Dench. All are very deserving and contribute to a 5 Quack rating for the film.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas

You look at the title of the film and probably are thinking that 3D has jumped the shark. There have been so many films that have come out this year in 3D that viewers have started to recognize the difference between filming in 3D as compared to post production 3D effects. However, the writing duo of Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg are together once again for "A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas". Not often does an R-rated comedy push the technical aspects of film making, but the 3D in the film is possibly the best of the year. Sit back and take it all in with the "Winter Wonderweed" and amazing sight gags sticking the proverbial 3D tongue in the proverbial 3D cheek. Morgan Spurlock would even be proud of the 3D TV product placement. You will have everything coming at you from eggs, bong smoke, ping pong balls and vulgarity that take advantage of the R-rating liberties. Unlike other 3D films, this film even penetrates the imaginary fourth wall.

The plot picks up several years since Guantanemo Bay, leaving Harold (John Cho) and Kumar (Kal Penn) estranged from one another with very different families, friends and lives. Kumar is busy indulging in his usual “not low” activities while Harold (now Harry) is trying to move forward with his adult life. But when a mysterious package addressed to Harold arrives at Kumar's apartment the two friends are thrust together. In an effort to save the Christmas traditions, Harold and Kumar embark on a mission through New York City to find the perfect Christmas tree, once again stumbling into trouble at every single turn. Every possible joke about John Cho being Sulu from Star Trek and Kal Penn working at the White House is made during the film. One of the best moments in the film for those of us in our 30s is a rant from Kumar about the difference between Beer Pong and Beirut without the stupid rollback rule.

The favorite side characters from previous films make returns with Neil Patrick Harris stealing the show as he always does. Only in a film like this could the sexual ambiguity of NPH be made clear. It was also nice to hear NPH make a comment to Harold and Kumar that he will see them in the fourth film. Eddie Kaye Thomas and David Krumholtz make a guest appearance as well. New members of the supporting cast include Patton Oswalt as a mall Santa with holiday themed marijuana and Danny Trejo as Harold's father-in-law.

Certainly many might be wondering if a Christmas film coming to the theaters nearly a month before Thanksgiving is too early. However, at midnight when the holiday shopping officially starts, I will be looking for a WaffleBot because I agree that pancakes are gay. While it is absolutely too early to be hitting the holiday themes, the comedy delivers regardless and you won't be disappointed. This is absolutely a must see film in the theaters for the creative 3D effects and is a 4 Quack film. You might be surprised that this film could even received some awards.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Tower Heist

After watching the trailer, you probably think you have already seen this film; and for good reason as it is written by Ted Griffin who also wrote the 2001 remake of "Ocean's Eleven" or other heist films like the 2003 remake of "the Italian Job". Anyone could have directed "Tower Heist", but instead we get Brett Ratner who is best known for the "Rush Hour" trilogy. With an ensemble cast that runs this deep there really isn't much direction needed.

"Tower Heist" is a comedy caper about working stiffs at a luxury Central Park condominium who seek revenge on the Wall Street swindler (Alan Alda) who has stolen their retirement, they plot the ultimate revenge - a heist to reclaim what he took from them. This all sounds familiar to those following the news the last decade with Bernie Madoff providing the Ponzi scheme. Unfortunately, the connection to reality ends there as the comedy requires very little thinking or believable recourse taken by the victims.

The plot is straightforward and formulaic. The plan is smoothly engineered with few consequences culminating with the Thanksgiving Day Parade. The heist crew consists of Eddie Murphy, Ben Stiller, Matthew Broderick, Michael Peña, Gabourey Sidibe and Casey Affleck. Ben Stiller avoids his normal over-the-top character. Eddie Murphy avoids the silicone and CGI characters he has been attached to recently. Matthew Broderick is regrettably forgettable. Michael Peña is the Puerto Rican Mahican providing the stupid humor. Casey Affleck is the overly cautious straight man. A shining light is the casting of Gabourey Sidibe, who is best known for her performance in "Precious" (2009). In this film, she steps away from the serious and into a very funny performance allowing for her personality to freely display itself. Alan Alda plays a perfect villain, hiding a stone cold personality behind that warm smile and an evil wink.

If you are looking for mindless goof-ball gags and some over the top visual antics with a familiar plot, then this film is for you. Perhaps a bucket of popcorn and 64 ounces of cola will satisfy those that go to this film with higher hopes. Keep your expectations level and you will walk away feeling like this was at least a 3 Quack film.

What is invisible and smells like worms?
(look below the trailer for the answer)

Bird Farts
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