MOVIES: 'Anonymous,' 'The Way' & 'Take Shelter'
Following are Susan Granger's reviews of the latest movies in area theaters.
Who wrote Shakespeare's plays? Could it have been an ordinary man like William, an itinerant actor whom some say was illiterate? Or was it a nobleman with royal connections, like Sir Francis Bacon, poet/playwright Christopher Marlow, William Stanley, the 6th Earl of Derby, or as this story postulates, Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford. Over the years, controversy about who the Bard of Stratford-on-Avon really was has intrigued literati, including Charles Dickens, Henry James, Mark Twain, Sigmund Freud, even Helen Keller.
German director Roland Emmerich explores Orloff's outrageous conspiracy theory, focusing on Edward de Vere (Rhys Ifans) who was so well connected in court that he may have been young Queen Elizabeth's lover, fathering her illegitimate child. Because of various political and social constraints imposed by his domineering Puritan guardian/father-in-law, William Cecil (David Thewlis), advisor to the queen, de Vere pays a cheeky, narcissistic actor (Rafe Spall), to pretend he's authored the provocative manuscripts which acerbically reflect the nefarious intrigue and blatant manipulations to maintain Tudor power within the English Court.
Best known for apocalyptic sagas ("Independence Day," "2012") Emmerich offers up lots of intriguing eye candy in this opulent 16th century costume drama, set in London, as he clumsily -- and confusingly -- transitions back-and-forth in time with Joely Richardson as young Queen Elizabeth and her real-life mother, Vanessa Redgrave, playing the frustrated, aged queen, who discovers to her horror from Cecil's sinister son Robert (Edward Hogg) that one of her lovers might actually have been her grown son.
Problem is: Edward de Vere died in 1604, before "Macbeth," "King Lear" and "The Tempest" were first produced.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Anonymous" is a speculative 7, a far-fetched, alternative-history curiosity, continuing the mystery.
Grief and the reconciliation of a father/son relationship are the crux of Emilio Estevez's spiritual journey along the historical Christian route known as "El Camino de Santiago."
Dr. Thomas Avery (Martin Sheen) is an ophthalmologist in California. He's a widower whose only son, Daniel (Emilio Estevez), has decided to abandon his dissertation as a doctoral candidate in order to travel around the world, studying people in real life and not from behind a desk.
As he explains to his father: "You don't choose a life. You live one."
But soon afterwards, Tom receives a phone call from a police officer in small French village in the Pyrenees. Caught in a blizzard, Daniel died while hiking "El Camino de Santiago" or "The Way of St. James," a 780-kilometer trip (nearly 500 miles) from the French side of the border, across the mountains to the tomb of St. James at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia in northwestern Spain. After having Daniel's remains cremated, Tom impulsively decides to finish his son's trip, placing the ashes in his backpack and joining other "peregrinos" who are making the picturesque pilgrimage for various personal reasons.
Often visualizing Daniel as he encounters various experiences, Tom is trekking to honor his son's intentions, scattering his remains along the way. A surly loner at first, Tom is reluctantly befriended first by a gluttonous, gregarious Dutchman (Yorick van Wageningen), who is trying to lose some girth before his brother's wedding, and then by a chain-smoking, emotionally ravaged Canadian woman (Deborah Karen Unger). Completing the foursome is a hard-drinking Irish writer (James Nesbitt), who decides to chronicle Tom's story.
Sensitive without being sentimental, writer/director Estevez ("Bobby") allows the simple, if contrived enlightenment story to unfold slowly, as the characters reveal themselves more through their actions than their words. The ensemble acting is superb, as Estevez's real-life father, Martin Sheen, delivers a subtly nuanced, compelling performance.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "The Way" is an uplifting 8, as the mystic destination is worth the arduous trip.
This bizarre psychological thriller revolves around a man suffering from premonitions of disaster who systematically destroys his life when he starts to believe that the end of days in imminent. Curtis LaForche (Michael Shannon) seems like an ordinary Ohio construction worker. He's a loving husband to his devoted wife, Samantha (Jessica Chastain) and attentive father to his hearing-impaired 6-year-old daughter, Hannah (Tova Steward), who is awaiting a cochlear implant.
But then he begins to have delusions of doom -- amid rustling leaves, ominous flocks of birds gather in strange formations in the sky and storm clouds hang heavy with horrifying portents of disaster. Usually laconic, he's plagued by persistent nightmares and hallucinations in which he's attacked by the family dog or nameless, faceless adversaries.
Intolerant and unable to communicate the source of his supernatural, apocalyptic visions and rising dread, he briefly considers evidence that he might be mentally ill, since his mother (Kathy Baker) was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia when she was his age and has remained confined in an assisted-living facility ever since.
Determined to save his family, Curtis takes out a risky bank loan to expand the subterranean storm shelter in back of his house, borrowing his employer's heavy equipment on a Saturday and enlisting the help of a dubious co-worker/friend (Shea Whigham). Eventually, he convinces his wife and daughter to move into that underground bunker for safety, seeking salvation from annihilation through isolation.
Writer/director Jeff Nichols ("Shotgun Stories"), working with cinematographer Adam Stone and Hydraulx for visual effects, makes the weather and topography of America's heartland an integral part of the apocalyptic family drama, arousing the free-floating anxiety and pervasive economic insecurity that dominates people's minds these days -- and not only in Midwestern America.
Michael Shannon delivers an anguished, intensely realistic performance, complemented by another memorable turn from Jessica Chastain ("Tree of Life," "The Help") for whom 2011 has been a break-through year.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Take Shelter" is a relentlessly sinister 7, filled with an eerily ambiguous sense of unease.