Chastain Day: Take Shelter & Interstellar

By chance circumstance pulled a Jessica Chastain Double Feature, so let’s do two in one!

Take Shelter

What a beautiful movie. Do you know what movies can be really wonderful at, and this one is? Sensitively drawn character/relationship studies, and storms.

I like the way open space is used here. The camera gently tumbles you out into surprisingly vast stretches under clear or troubled skies — almost equally overwhelming, each. It’s astonishing that things can still come up on you so suddenly in a landscape that open, but that’s kinda the trick of those places. There is something uncanny about storms, the roll of them, the rain sweeping like sheets across the sky, mythic in scale.

Take Shelter deals in lightning and so it needed to be grounded, and it is. It’s one of the most well-realized portrayals of mental health struggles I’ve ever seen. This movie cares deeply about its characters, and allows them space (there’s that space again!) to breathe and try and live.

I found Take Shelter in the Suspense section of my local video rental store, and yes I did watch most of one scene through my fingers because I was very nervous. But this isn’t a thriller, with the eager thriller pace. It’s a meditation about anxieties, and true to the “meditation” part, no one’s trying to build up your own anxiety with staccato violins or anything like that. It’s about trying to manage brewing fear, and how, and where, we can find shelter.

And the ending lifted goosebumps all up and down my arms like I was facing a coming wind, the first raindrops hitting my skin.


And then a much less good movie, which I also deeply enjoyed in a very different way!

After this one came out a few years ago, what I remember taking up the bulk of the chatter was people arguing about whether or not the science was sound. What I do not remember is people arguing about what they should have been arguing about, which is how our most self-serious blockbuster filmmaker managed to turn out another truly spectacular comedy. The most mind-bending thing about Interstellar has nothing to do with relativity or worm holes, but that it was apparently not intended to be hilarious, and is in fact: VERY HILARIOUS.

Listen there’s not enough time to go over all the details in this that made me break into peals of happy laughter, because this movie tells a story about time and used up almost all of it in the process (it is so long!! eventually I was laughing simply at how long it is!!), but just know that if you also find Inception to be a true hoot, this too is more exposition than action and peopled entirely with caricatures of human beings running around being heroic and crying amazingly.

Oh Chris Nolan, no one makes ridiculous, dumb cerebral shit half as entertaining to me as yours.

Sorry To Bother You

I mean obviously go see Sorry To Bother You. There has never been anything quite like Sorry To Bother You. You know how it feels utterly lacking when people call David Lynch weird? That’s how I feel about Boots Riley’s first feature film, but on an entirely different plane. Here’s some other words I will say to try to build up a picture here, hopelessly aware that I won’t be able to capture just the ineffable quality of the thing: a bitingly conscious laid-back off-the-wall racial-social-political-economic satire in which you wonder at first if maybe critics have mistaken magical realism for “sci-fi/fantasy” but they have not, at all.

Sorry To Bother You has the feel of an internet video that crashed your local cinema like a party, and I mean that as a big compliment, and also a specific critique that we’ll get to. It’s huge on creativity and fearless, radical vision. It has ideas and point of view and young idiosyncratic humor. You drag all your friends around to watch it. It feels punk, renegade, special, something made outside the movie machine, for The People. And…the construction’s a little green and clunky. You know that “George Washington” animation on YouTube? How it’s insane and maybe brilliant, and only two and a half minutes long but somehow feels like it drags a bit? Sorry To Bother reminds me of that. For a movie that clocks in at a clean hour forty-five, it shouldn’t feel as long as it does. But there are internet videos that don’t fall into that trap, and what I think they highlight is how much an almost dangerously economical editing speed makes these hyper-creative, no-fucks projects sing. I want Boots Riley’s radical fire with the rapid-fire pace of those aughts BriTANick sketches — and anyone who has seen this and also that oeuvre knows exactly why I first drew this connection, and is already laughing. But beyond THAT, you know what I mean, right? I think this movie would love a little Vine vibe, a little Daveed-Diggs-in-Hamilton spitfire punch.

That said, holy balls was I enamored with so many details in this movie. There’s recurring gags, send ups of “creative workspaces”, a character who wears an eyepatch whose name is always bleeped out. Speaking of, the imminently likable puppy-eyed stringbean Lakeith Stanfield leads this anti-capitalist parable playing a character literally named Cassius “Cash” Green. His girlfriend is a rising-from-the-rundown artist literally named Detroit are you kidding, played by charismatic godsend/shooting star Tessa Thompson. Terry Crews is in this movie. Steven Yeun is in this movie. Armie Hammer, who could coast forever as a leading man, gleefully signed up for the character actor role of an unhinged villionaire he plays as if he has a man bun just, in his soul. Worn out, bewildered Cash at once point finds him in his den ensconced in front of a print of The Nightmare, and readers I lost it. Meanwhile, Cash’s photograph of his dad updates in each scene to reflect a new mood and commentary, like Cash has wandered over to just-a-bit-more dystopic Oakland from Bryan Fuller’s Wonderfalls. And Detroit’s looks!! Just, the art direction alone in this! 

Is Sorry To Bother You a well-made movie? It’s getting there! Is it a good movie? Hell yeah hell yeah. Show up at the ticket counter for this one. Vote. Boots Riley has some points to make and I want to hear what he has to say.

A Bigger Splash

I don’t know how I can manage to read widely enough in the indie movie scene to know ones I want to see, and still manage to go into them unaware of their tonal shifts and reveals. It’s a treat for me, I love surprises, but it does make me feel a little like I’m robbing you all of something when I then turn around and talk vague circles around it.

I can’t help it though, because when done right these turns are rocking and stabilizing at once, what *makes* the picture. Is this turn done right? Maybe. It sure as hell packs a lot more thoughts in. I think if the runtime had run out on what I thought for sure was the final image, this would have been a lighter but stronger movie, with the TABLEAU-and-cut-the-lights feel of a bold stage play finish. Concluding that way would still throw some commentary back on what came before, but everyone would just call this version an artsy hedonistic romp with a dark ending. Instead, A Bigger Splash keeps spooling out for quite a bit longer, and while it probably ends up less sound as a film, it does wrap up having delivered a whole lot more interesting ideas about privilege and relationships. So what IS good art? Art that makes you think? Art that’s well made? Art that entertains? What if someone said you could only pick two at a time?

Some movies do all three at once of course. A Bigger Splash I’m not sure always does, but just blows right out of the turquoise water all the movies out there only doing one. And as for the entertainment value, you are all hopefully aware that this movie features Tilda Swinton as a vacationing rockstar with a closet of custom Dior, and a pinned scene that’s just several minutes of Ralph Fiennes enthusiastically dancing around a sun-struck villa to ‘Emotional Rescue’.

Anyway let’s talk about Luca Guadagnino. I love Luca Guadagnino, because he makes cinematic mood poems that happen to also have plots. I’ve just completed his self-described “Desire trilogy” with this one, and while they carry over no characters and are thematically linked only by pools and perhaps the most common subject in film, they are still a trilogy, because Luca made them. I Am Love, A Bigger Splash, and Call Me By Your Name have different feels and different looks, but they all have Feel and Look, piles of it, swaths, songs. You can feel the clothes, which are, to the last character, perfect. You can feel the architectural spaces of it. You almost feel you could catch a tan from the tangibility of the bright Italian sunlight pouring over skin.

So A Bigger Splash is that Luca thing, but like, the more manic, rich-trashy version of it. The sun might be a little too hot white. The perfect costumes are frequently coming off. It still has that languid, hang-out pace (and length), but what’s contained in those summer beats is spikier. It’s casually erotic, it’s vacation, it’s dramaz, it’s funny until-it’s-not, and then it is again but different, more horror to it. I think ultimately I’m writing it down as “mixed” but I want a lot more like it.