Shotgun Stories (10/5/12)

Shotgun StoriesMovie Two Hundred Twenty Two

In Shotgun Stories, a feud erupts between two groups of half-brothers after the death of their father.

Son Hayes (Michael Shannon) is getting dressed and we see the pockmarked scars of a shotgun blast on his back. He goes to meet his younger brothers, Boy and Kid (Douglas Ligon and Barlow Jacobs), who are living outside in a van and a tent, respectively. Son invites them to move inside since Son’s wife, Annie (Glenda Pannell), has left him due to his gambling. One night, the boys’ mother stops by informing them that their estranged father has passed away. The boys visit the funeral, where we see that their father had another family, a family that seems to hold him in high esteem. When Son speaks at the funeral and belittles his late father, the other Hayes boys take offense and a lifelong feud between the two sets of siblings boils over.

Shotgun Stories is the debut film by Jeff Nichols, whose sophomore release, Take Shelter, was one of the best movies of 2011, in my opinion. Shotgun Stories has a similar feeling to it, and also has Michael Shannon, one of my favorite actors. Where Take Shelter had a throbbing sense of despair and tension to it, Shotgun Stories is more of a dull ache. Take Shelter has the events unfolding at a rapid pace, much like Curtis’ break from reality, whereas Shotgun Stories introduces things slowly and with care, since much of the pain of the characters is long gone and scarred over, both physically and metaphorically. There is still a distinct level of tension to Shotgun Stories, it’s just a much slower, more deliberate build.

That slow build is something that I could see putting some folks off of Shotgun Stories so I have a difficult time recommending it to anyone. Jeff Nichols creates a great slice of Arkansas culture here, but the movie seems to crawl along in places if you aren’t looking at character development. The three main Hayes boys the film follows, Son, Boy, and Kid, all have their own things going on throughout the movie, most of which we only get cursory glances at instead of having them fleshed out. I know this sort of narrative doesn’t jibe well with everyone, but fans of indie cinema should know about what to expect out of Shotgun Stories and should appreciate the intricacies built below the surface.

If there’s one positive takeaway for Shotgun Stories (there are many, but if I could just pick one), it is Jeff Nichols and Michael Shannon make a fantastic pair. While I love watching Shannon on-screen, his performances in Shotgun Stories and Take Shelter are some of my favorites of his. The actor/director team also have a new film coming out soon entitled Mud that I’m greatly looking forward to. As for Shotgun Stories, it may not be a film I revisit again anytime soon but it has certainly stayed with me long after the credits have rolled and I consider that a hallmark of a good movie.

I give it 4 I didn’t mention there is a character named ‘Shampoo’ out of 5.

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Ebertfest Day Four – Take Shelter

Take ShelterTake Shelter is a film I waited to see once I knew it would be at Ebertfest and I’m so glad my first experience with it was on the big screen. We were joined by writer/director, Jeff Nichols, and actor, Michael Shannon for easily my favorite Q&A session of the entire festival.

Take Shelter is a hard film to describe. In presenting the film, Jeff Nichols said that it is very much a snapshot of the state of the United States economically which took me by surprise at first. After watching it, I very much agree.

Curtis (Michael Shannon) and his wife, Samantha (Jessica Chastain), and their young, deaf daughter live in a blue collar town in Ohio. Curtis works at a quarry, or something like that, and Samantha sells pillows at flea markets to make ends meet. The film begins with Curtis having a dream where there is a storm rolling in and the rain is thick, like motor oil. His dreams get more and more bizarre, and he takes them as being prophetic. We soon learn that his family has a history of mental illness, so we are left wondering what is really happening.

With the mindset of America’s economic turmoil over the last 5 years, it’s very easy to connect some dots to certain things in the film. Even without having that seed planted, you can easily side with Curtis as he worries about the future. While Curtis’ dreams are extreme, they are easy to relate to in most ways.

During the dream sequences, the entire theater of 1600 people was holding their breath. After reality picked back up there was always an audible sigh because the dreams are incredibly tense, verging on a horror movie. In fact, Jeff Nichols would go on to say that The Shining was one of Take Shelter’s main influences. I cannot recommend this movie enough and it likely rewards multiple viewings. In fact, as soon as the lights came up, I got on my phone and ordered a copy of the Blu-Ray on Amazon.

As for the Q&A session, it’s very hard to do justice in describing it. Jeff Nichols is new to directing, but I truly believe he is the next Christopher/Jonathan Nolan wrapped into one. He has huge potential, and I am going to be tracking down his first film, Shotgun Stories, very soon. Michael Shannon, who is one of my favorite actors currently working, was surprisingly profound and funny. If there is one Q&A session that you stream, please let it be this one (the link is below), but be warned there will be spoilers if you haven’t seen the film yet.

After the Q&A session, we stuck around to try and meet Michael Shannon…and we did! Please ignore my half-smile (I’m on the left) and Julian’s look like he just woke up. I guess we were both so excited that we couldn’t control our facial expressions.

Us with Michael Shannon

Michael Shannon is a very nice guy considering there were about two dozen of us following him around trying to get pictures with him and the poor guy was just trying to leave…But I regret nothing.

As for Take Shelter

I give it 5 out of 5.

Some interesting Ebertfest links:

The festival’s main site: http://www.ebertfest.com/
Stream the interview sessions for free: http://ustre.am/JauL

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Ebertfest 2012 Announcements!

Roger Ebert’s Blog – With the Ebertfest announcement

Allow me to give a brief history lesson to set up this post…

I am from the greater Chicagoland area and have been a movie lover for as long as I can remember. Growing up, my family would watch Siskel and Ebert At the Movies religiously. My father wouldn’t see a movie without hearing the opinions of both Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert. I have literally grown up with Roger Ebert as the film critic and I’ve enjoyed reading his work my entire life.

For those of you unfamiliar with Ebertfest, here is the official site, here is the Wikipedia page. It pretty much exactly what it sounds like, a film festival helmed by Mr. Ebert. It is held near the University of Illinois campus and unlike other film festivals where submissions are welcome, Ebertfest choices are handpicked.

I am incredibly excited to get to be going this year and a good friend of mine is flying up from North Carolina to share the experience. It’s my first time going, but hopefully not my last.

Now, onto the film choices…

  • Kind Hearts and Coronets – Not only is this a great movie, but Patton Oswalt (Young Adult) picked it and will be the host for the night. Alec Guiness is simply amazing in this.
  • Big Fan – Another great movie, starring Patton Oswalt as a rabid NY Jets fan. Obviously Oswalt will join for this
  • Joe Versus the Volcano – An seemingly odd choice but one of Ebert’s favorites. I’m always up for classic Tom Hanks movies.
  • Phunny Business: A Black Comedy – Totally unaware of this documentary but it is about an all black night club and the owner. The owner of the club, Raymond Lambert, will be joining us.
  • The Truth About Beauty and Blogs – Short film, hadn’t heard of it before but it looks like it will tie into Phunny Business. Joined by Kelichi Ezie, the comedienne and filmmaker. Joined by the writer-director, actors and some crew.
  • Kinyarwanda – I have heard many things about this and if it’s as heart-wrenching as it sounds it will be mesmerizing.
  • TerriHey, I blogged about this! Star Jacob Wysocki and director, Azazal Jacobs, will join.
  • On Borrowed Time – A documentary about the past two years of Paul Cox’s life after getting a life-saving kidney transplant. Should be a fascinating watch. Cox and Nate Kohn will join.
  • A short film collection accompanied by The Alloy Orchestra including Georges Méliès’ Trip to the Moon, which you may recognize from Hugo. Alloy Orchestra members will join the discussion.
  • A Separation – This Iranian film (and Oscar winner!) is something I regret not having already seen so I greatly look forward to it. Director, Asghar Farhadi, is hoping to join.
  • Special effects techniques from the wizards that worked on The Tree of Life.
  • Higher Ground – Not the stoner comedy that its name makes it out to be, this is a film about how religion shapes a woman’s life. Screenwriter Carolyn S. Briggs will join.
  • Patang – I don’t believe I had heard of this film before. The director’s father was one of Ebert’s old film students. Director Prashant Bhargava will join along with his father and assorted cast and crew.
  • Take Shelter – A movie that has ranked very high on my ‘to-watch’ list and I couldn’t be more excited that Michael Shannon will be there along with director, Jeff Nichols. So very excited for this one.
  • Citizen Kane – Not only is this one of the best movies ever, but Ebert recorded a commentary track for the DVD release some years ago and that will be playing along with the movie. It is a fantastic commentary to go along with an incredible film.

More details can obviously found in the source link at the top of this post but I must say again…I am EXTREMELY excited for this. I will be posting from the event, so expect more to come!