A family man begins having visions of catastrophe and prepares.
Directed by Jeff Nichols
Starring Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain
Review by Jon Kissel
The world as we know it came extremely close to dramatic changes a mere decade ago. During the fall of 2008, it was a very real possibility that there was going to be no cash in ATM’s, that paychecks wouldn’t clear, and that the spiraling panic would destroy the global economy and produce the violent aftershocks that economic calamities always produce. We escaped that outcome in the immediate, though the same results may still be coming on a slower timeline. In the intervening years, a liberal canard has emerged in the idea of ‘doing everything right,’ and still struggling to stay ahead of disaster. While some portions of the American public, usually the minority portions, have long dealt with this uncertainty, it’s a new feeling for many. What is it like to constantly have the Sword of Damocles hanging over you, to know that a health emergency or a layoff caused by macro forces beyond one’s control can move a family from their home to a week-by-week hotel room? The brilliant Take Shelter places that dread within the context of mental illness, of a schizophrenic bread winner who senses calamity even when the skies are clear. Jeff Nichols, cinematic chronicler of the rural American male, makes his masterpiece by tapping into the psychic undercurrents rippling through the 21st century US and bringing them to the surface.
Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron returns to his homeland for Roma, an autobiographical film about an upper class family in Mexico City. Cuaron last filmed in Mexico for Y Tu Mama Tambien, an all-timer that also backdropped Mexican political strife against regular people living their lives. Roma features less horny teenagers than his first masterpiece, and instead focuses on the family maid caught in the throes of her own personal drama, the family’s dissolution, and protests in the streets. Like the best films, Roma gives the impression that concurrent stories are happening around the one being told here, and I went into this film sure that it would knock me out. However, Roma somehow never breaks through my emotional barriers, leaving me to praise and admire it but not exalt it as the modern masterpiece that so many critics have hailed it as.
If a theme had to be forced onto the films that just happen to have been released in 2018, despair comes to mind. It’s been present in works ranging from arthouse indies like Eighth Grade and You Were Never Really Here to the big-budget spectacles of Avengers: Infinity War and Deadpool 2. Nowhere is despair more prevalent than in Paul Schrader’s haunting First Reformed, where all forms and all scales of dread are encapsulated by another of Schrader’s ‘god’s lonely men.’ Calling to mind the spare, religious-inflected introspection of mid-century masters like Robert Bresson, First Reformed is a bleak rebuke of hope and a dense treatise in search of it.
This review’s being written on Black Friday, an event that the protagonist of Buster’ Mal Heart surely loathes. He would see people lining up outside of a Target and deride them as sheep at the trough, and that’s before we get to the dual-sphinctered inversion that they’re all missing out on. Iconoclastic stances like Buster’s/Jonah’s are attractive, especially when his is framed against the empty Big Sky mansions of the decadent rich. Sarah Adina Smith’s film acknowledges this attraction for the working class, but ultimately has little patience for it as her addled lead hurtles towards destruction in pursuit of freedom.
It’s an easy and somewhat lazy impulse to lament humanity. I do it all the time in spite of myself. It doesn’t require much to read a news article or watch a pessimistic film and resign oneself to eventual extinction, as opposed to the much harder work of actually talking to people or even working to improve our oft-dire state. That’s my introversion talking, a trait that I doubt dominates the teaching profession, but it’s not like extroversion is keeping The Kindergarten Teacher’s protagonist from feeling cynical. In Sara Colangelo’s American adaptation of an Israeli film, a culturally-hungry woman finds genius in a place she does not expect to find it, and, feeling trapped by her family and her own lack of insight, blows her life up to be close to a true prodigy. The film does a great job in portraying an obsessive self-regard that clouds out consequential thinking, even as it does a lesser job portraying the object of the obsession.
JUST SOME IDIOTS GIVING SURPRISINGLY AVERAGE MOVIE REVIEWS.