Monday, January 27, 2014

Gimme Shelter

Sometime, I'm going to have to go back over what I thought about specific movies and see if going to see something because of the supporting cast has ever really ended well. That is, after all, what got me into the theater for Gimme Shelter - I like me some Rosario Dawson, Brendan Fraser, and James Earl Jones - but I'm starting to think that going to a movie because you like the stuff on the periphery but not the big thing at the center may not be the wisest choice.

Going to movies based on those cast members is kind of odd, I gather, especially since the first two are folks that I feel really should be bigger stars and aren't for kind of opposite reasons. One of the things I noticed about Dawson in this movie that didn't seem right is that for a woman who is probably an addict of some sort, she looks pretty damn solid, and it makes me wonder why the heck she has never really been given a chance to carry an action movie before. She's been the love interest or the authority figure in one, and she's actually co-written comics in order to try and create a franchise for herself, but she's never been the star, which is crazy; she's attractive, charismatic, and looks like she could believably kick someone's butt. It's a crying shame that there aren't many superheroes that match her ethnically (Storm's taken and Vixen & White Tiger are both pretty B-list), though I say cast her as Carol Danvers or Jessica Drew and let people freak out. Or at the very last, someone get Luc Besson to build a small movie to her strengths.

Brendan Fraser, on the other hand, is all too ready to do stuff that really does him no good but which is within his easy comfort zone. I can't necessarily blame the guy; money's money and, let's face it, there really aren't very many people as good at being a live-action cartoon or interacting with stuff that isn't there as he is. The thing is, he can be pretty great given good material and direction; he was a fine complement to Ian McKellen in Gods and Monsters (even if I do kind of think he was cast for how well his head fits the Frankenstein profile in the last shot) and pretty darn fantastic in the Phillip Noyce adaptation of The Quiet American. I half-wonder if he just doesn't get this material, so he grabs onto the likes of this or Extreme Measures when he can, even if he knows it probably won't work out.

And as to James Earl Jones... I would love to see him on stage, and I'm not a big live theater guy. He just seems built for it, though - the voice that projects, the almost exaggeratedly expressive features - and I got the sense during this movie that the performance that's too big, too much aimed directly at the viewer, would be wonderful live. It's something I'll have to remember the next time I decide to check and see if there's anything interesting playing in New York.

Then there's Vanessa Hudgens. She is in this movie too, and I've got no idea what her fanbase thinks of this.

All in all, it's not a bad movie, but it's one where you have to remind yourself that, yes, young women who have been through the wringer do occasionally name their daughters "Hope", even if it does seem a bit much when you see it in a movie.

Gimme Shelter

* * (out of four)
Seen 25 January 2014 in AMC Boston Common #6 (first-run, DCP)

There was applause in the theater at the end of Gimme Shelter, and even if I don't think it's a particularly impressive movie, I don't begrudge anybody that reaction. Who doesn't want to applaud a shelter that helps pregnant teenagers who feel like they have nowhere else to go? It would be nice if its story could be told in a way that seems less rote, but this is the movie it got, and it could have gone worse.

It starts out in Philadelphia, where 16-year-old Agnes "Apple" Bailey (Vanessa Hudgens) has had enough of living with her mother June (Rosario Dawson), and it's hard to blame her; June is all drugs, alcohol, and violent mood swings. She manages to find her way to the father in New Jersey whom she had never met (Brendan Fraser), but she's obviously not an easy fit into Tom's life... And when Tom and his wife Joanna (Stephanie Szostak) discover she's pregnant, she's soon out on the street again and then in a hospital, where the pastor (James Earl Jones) can at least refer her to Kathy DiFiore (Ann Dowd), who runs Several Sources Shelters, a home for girls in Apple's situation.

Writer/director Ron Krauss makes absolutely sure that the viewer knows that Gimme Shelter is based on a true story, and that's often a sign that the filmmakers lack confidence in their work, whether they should or not. In this case, it often feels like Krauss is trying to excuse things that we wouldn't accept in a work of fiction, whether it be how Apple's parents are exactly calibrated to give her no place to go at the start but a potentially perfect happily ever after or an excuse to stop and quite literally preach about Kathy's mission. It may have been this way, but that doesn't prevent it from feeling oddly tidy when dramatized.

Full review at EFC.

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