Superb ‘Shelter,’ Misguided ‘Musketeers,’ Carbon-copy ‘Thing,’ Cliché ‘Footloose’

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“Take Shelter”

Curtis (Michael Shannon) cradles his daughter Hannah (Tova Stewart) as he is assailed by apocalyptic visions in “Take Shelter.”

An Ohio construction worker begins having apocalyptic visions of tornadoes that threaten his family.  Are they signs he’s descending into the schizophrenia that afflicts his mother, or premonitions of imminent disaster?

That’s the premise of “Take Shelter” (Magnolia), Jeff Nichols’ astonishingly confident, coolly deliberate thriller, as unsettling a depiction of a person’s self-destructive mental turmoil as any that Roman Polanski ever managed.

Michael Shannon, who’s given outstanding performances of unhinged types before in films like “Bug” and “Revolutionary Road,” outdoes himself here, capturing both the man’s seething fear and his periodic outbursts of anger as he becomes so obsessed with building a storm shelter in his backyard that he loses his job and nearly destroys his marriage in the process.  It’s a portrait so rich, intense and detailed that if there’s any justice in the cinematic world, he’ll be recognized for it when Oscar time rolls around.

This “Shelter” is hardly designed for comfort.  It’s the sort of serious film that’s sometimes difficult to watch, but is both engrossing and thought-provoking.
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“The Three Musketeers”

Alexandre Dumas’ popular swashbuckler – centered on Cardinal Richelieu’s efforts to dethrone King Louis XIII and the swordsmen that foil his plot – has been adapted for the screen too many times to count, and often very loosely, but the latest version of “The Three Musketeers” (wide release) is so egregiously wrong-headed that it resembles its source less than “Pirates of the Caribbean.”

Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson in the same over-the-top style he brought to the “Resident Evil” franchise, this “Musketeers” showcases not just opulent sets and costumes but an orgy of special effects, mostly involving anachronistic airborne war machines, part ship and part dirigible, supposedly constructed from blueprints of Leonardo da Vinci.  And the action sequences involve the sort of

“Matrix”-inspired slow-motion leaps and bounds familiar from the “Resident Evil” series – many also performed here by Milla Jovovich, though she’s shed her leather suits for seventeenth-century finery.

The heroes are turned into modern-style action types as well, particularly young D’Artagnan (Logan Lerman), who comes across like a figure from a video game with a style so contemporary that you half-expect him to call his comrades “dudes.”

Dumas’ book hardly merits being treated like Holy Writ,  but it certainly didn’t deserve this sort of manhandling.
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“The Thing”

The latest version of “The Thing” (wide release) – about an alien encountered by Antarctic explorers – is advertised as a prequel to the 1982 film by John Carpenter, and technically it deals with events immediately preceding that grisly but effective thriller.  But once the plot kicks in, it’s practically a copy of the earlier picture – though an inferior one.

Like Carpenter’s picture, this one relies on extravagant effects for impact.  But though good enough, the CGI-based shape-shifting lacks the tactile immediacy of the model-and-makeup trickery employed by Carpenter, and it’s made even less potent by the decision to shoot the movie in dark, murky settings that might conceal the technical imperfections but gives the result a phony look.  (By contrast Carpenter shot his effects in bright light.)

“The Thing” is the third film made from John W. Campbell, Jr.’s “Who Goes There?” and it’s inferior to both Carpenter’s and its 1951 predecessor, which naturally didn’t feature effects of similar scope but had atmosphere to burn.
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“Footloose”

Ren McCormack (Kenny Wormald) brings dance back to a small town in “Footloose.”

A more energetic but no more imaginative rebooting is “Footloose” (wide release), which updates the 1984 flick about a high school kid who rebels against his small town’s ban on dances in terms of setting, but little else.

Despite a few references to cellphones and other electronic gadgets, the movie basically recycles the earlier one, down to lines of dialogues and songs.  And it’s just as absurdly wholesome and unthreatening as the first picture.

As a trip down memory lane for viewers of a certain age, “Footloose” certainly suffices.  And for those who hanker for another helping of “High School Musical,” it may do.

But the makers certainly haven’t loosened up the material sufficiently to make it of much interest to anyone else.

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