5 Phenomenal Movie Storms

movie_theatre - Phenom 5

Think about this, how many movies in some way, shape, or form use some type of storm in their story? I bet there are a lot more than you think. So just for fun I thought it would be cool to look five great movie storms. I’m going for variety here so there may be some you expect to see that didn’t make it. Still, I’m quite excited about these five movie storms and I have no problem calling them phenomenal.

#5 – “Hard Rain”


In the cheesy but personal guilty pleasure “Hard Rain”, a small Indiana town is flooded during the midwest’s worst recorded rainstorm. Christian Slater is an armored truck driver tasked with getting the bank’s money out of the abandoned town. Little does he know that Morgan Freeman and his band of baddies have their eyes set on the loot. This starts a heated chase through flooded streets, flooded schools, flooded churches, you name it. The storms presence is there throughout the film and the filmmakers utilize it in some crafty and inventive ways. This isn’t the smartest of films but it is a lot of fun. It also features one of the most significant movie storms you’ll find. I just had to sneak it on this list.

#4 – “Take Shelter”

Take Shelter1

In Jeff Nichols’ 2011 film “Take Shelter” Michael Shannon plays a man named Curtis who frequently experiences troubling dreams involving a massive approaching storm. This storm is unlike any of the others listed because it represents some important symbolism. These horrible visions impress upon him the need to spend what little savings he has to build a storm shelter for the tempest that’s on the way. There’s real danger approaching and Curtis must protect his family. But is the storm coming from the clouds or from him? Again, this isn’t a typical storm like the rest but it’s essential to this tremendous film.

#3 – “Shutter Island”


In Martin Scorsese’s underappreciated gem “Shutter Island” there is a destructive storm that hits which changes the landscape of the island housing a hospital for the criminally insane. It also helps trigger several events which are key to this wonderful psychological thriller. Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo play federal marshals investigating the disappearance of patient. While there the storm hits preventing them from returning to the mainland. During the chaos of the storm’s aftermath they are able to sneak in and investigate parts of the hospital they were previously not allowed to see. This provides some key pieces to this twisted puzzle.

#2 – “Portrait of Jennie”


In the 1948 fantasy drama “Portrait of Jennie” the great and underrated Joseph Cotten plays a struggling painter who is hungry for inspiration. He finds it in a mysterious young girl named Jennie and I’ll leave it at that. In one scene the artist heads out to sea to find her but encounters a violent storm that smashes his boat on a rocky shore. What really makes this storm special are the tremendous ahead-of-its-time special effects. There are sweeping shots of almost mythical cloud formations and stunningly realistic scenes showing the storm tossing the boat around. We also get clever uses of color tints and sound. The amazing visuals won the Academy award that year and the storm plays a good part in this fantastic movie.

#1 – “Key Largo”


Humphrey Bogart and director John Huston teamed up several times and one of their best collaborations was the 1948 classic “Key Largo”. Bogie arrives at a hotel in Key Largo, Florida and finds it occupied by a group of gangsters posing as fisherman. After a tropical storm hits he ends up trapped inside with the mob boss, his henchmen, and the owners. The storm is key to framing the narrative. It’s buildup, the moment it hits, and the aftermath all play big roles in the film. It’s ominous and menacing and it provides a perfect setting for this compelling story. I’m a huge Bogie fan and “Key Largo” is a favorite of mine.

So what do you think of my list? So many other great movie storms come to mind. “The Wizard of Oz”, “Cast Away” just to name a couple. I’d love to hear your thoughts or picks. Please share them in the comments section below.

Small Roles, Big Performances Blogathon

Fellow movie-oholic Ruth at FlixChatter has thought up a great idea for a blogathon. It’s simply titled “Small Roles, Big Performances”. The idea is to draw some attention to great supporting performances from actors or actresses that seldom get the love that they deserve. These are performers who haven’t received a lot of notoriety or major awards but nonetheless are incredible talents. I love it! FlixChatter will be highlighting many contributors to the blogathon so be sure to check there regularly. I know I will.

This project really took a lot of thought because there are so many actors and actresses known for their small roles that I adore. I mean these are the people who often times provide the backbone of a picture. I just had to figure out which person I wanted to single out. After much thought, it came to me – Ray McKinnon. Anytime I see Ray McKinnon appear in a scene, he gives a sensational performance. Well, maybe with the exception of “The Blind Side”. His feature film career dates all the way back to a small role in “Driving Miss Daisy” all the way to his performance in Jeff Nichol’s “Take Shelter” from 2011.

But the performance I want to focus on is his incredible work in the 2009 film “That Evening Sun”. It’s a story of Abner Meecham, an elderly man (Hal Holbrook) who feels forgotten by his family after being placed in a nursing facility. He escapes the home and heads back to his farm only to find that his son has sold it to a young family. Abner will have none of it and makes himself at home in the small cabin right next to the farm house. McKinnon plays Lonzo Choat, the new owner of the farm. He doesn’t take kindly to Abner’s presence on his property which triggers several confrontations that soon get way out of hand.

McKinnon is wonderful at creating a character that we don’t know what to make of at first. He has every right to the property since he bought it fair and square. But he’s also a boozer who verbally abuses his wife and even physically assaults his daughter. McKinnon sells this guy perfectly and you can’t help but to hate him. The movie is set in small town Tennessee and McKinnon’s deep and true southern accent, course mannerisms, and rough redneck appearance is absolutely perfect for the part and key to making many of the film’s strongest scenes work. He and Holbrook square off multiple times and it’s McKinnon who often steals the scenes. He’s detestable and frightening – a perfect movie antagonist and you’ll never doubt the authenticity that McKinnon brings to the role.

Ray McKinnon can be seen next year in Jeff Nichols’ next film “Mud”. In the meantime, check him out in “Driving Miss Daisy”, “Apollo 13”, “O Brother, Where Art Thou”, and of course “That Evening Sun”. Thanks again Ruth for providing a forum for talent like Ray McKinnon to get a little love. And as I mentioned, visit FlixChatter to learn hoe you can join in on the blogathon.

REVIEW: “Shotgun Stories”

I was a huge fan of the 2011 movie “Take Shelter”. In fact, it was easily one of my top five favorite movies of the year and it featured two of the very best performances of the year. “Take Shelter” was written and directed by Arkansas filmmaker Jeff Nichols and it was only his second feature film. Since I loved the movie so much, I thought it would be worth it to check out Nichols’ first film “Shotgun Stories”. Boy am I glad that I did.  Like “Take Shelter”, “Shotgun Stories” stars Michael Shannon, an actor who is perfect for the type of rural, working class movies that Nichols is drawn to making. It also shows the amazing writing ability of a director who is clearly passionate about his material.

“Shotgun Stories” is set in the small rural town of England, Arkansas. It’s a part of the country that Nichols obviously knows well and that familiarity really shows itself on screen. Michael Shannon plays Son Hayes, a husband, father, and the oldest of three brothers. Son works at a local fish farm with his youngest brother Kid (Barlow Jacobs). Kid has no house or vehicle and lives in a tent in Son’s backyard. Having her fill of Kid’s presence and of Son’s gambling, his wife Annie (wonderfully played by Glenda Pannell) leaves with their young son and moves in with her mother. While she’s gone, Son has his other brother Boy (Douglas Ligon) temporarily move in to give him a break from living in his van. We quickly are introduced to the three brothers and Nichols does a fantastic job of showing us each of their personalities, shortcomings, and quirks.

One day while the brothers are hanging out at Son’s house, their estranged mother shows up to notify them that their estranged father has died. We learn that when they were young their father left them to be raised by a mother who Son described as “hateful”. Their father remarried and started a new family completely leaving Son, Boy, and Kid behind. The boys crash their father’s graveside funeral service which infuriates their half brothers, especially Mark (Travis Smith), the oldest. Mark swears payback and this sets off a series of encounters, some violent, between the two sets of brothers.

“Shotgun Stories” has a pretty drastic change of tone close to half way into the picture. But where many movies have handled it in a clunky and jarring fashion, Jeff Nichols makes a near flawless transition. During the first part of the film there are some genuinely funny, laugh out loud moments. Nichols’ region-specific dialogue is perfectly done with a clever mix of humor that would work for those completely foreign to the rural Arkansas area or to those who are very familiar with the local nuances that Nichols plays with. The movie generates several understated laughs through the brother’s southern banter and peculiar circumstances. I found it to be quite funny at times.

By the tone changes when we see the friction between the two sets of brothers. Nichols shows us a deep-seated resentment that’s been hidden in the hearts of the brothers, especially Son. “Shotgun Stories” really builds a sense of tension and suspense and as you watch you just expect the pot to boil over at any second. The change in tone feels natural and appropriate and I was completely caught up in Nichols’ cleverly structured story which revolves around Michael Shannon’s performance. While some of the supporting performers aren’t all that good, Shannon is nothing short of brilliant and much like in “Take Shelter”, I was blown away by what he was doing on the screen.

With “Shotgun Stories”, Jeff Nichols shows that with the right skills in writing and filmmaking and with a phenomenal lead actor, you can make a strong movie even with a minuscule budget. This may be a movie that many have missed and some may not have even heard of it. But it, combined with “Take Shelter”, solidifies my position as a bonafide fan of Nichols and Shannon. “Shotgun Stories” is wonderfully written, brilliantly conceived, and cleverly crafted. Is that enough overused adjectives to prove that I really liked this film? You should check it out.

VERDICT – 4.5 Stars


Movies have always been blessed with an assortment of wonderful actresses and it’s no different now. Amazing acting talents are springing up and making names for themselves. I thought it would be fun to consider 5 Phenomenal actresses that you should keep your eye on. These ladies aren’t exactly “seasoned” in the traditional sense but they have enough on their resume to prove that they are remarkable performers. Now I didn’t want this to be an up-and-coming list. Instead I’m wanting to give props to five ladies who I think have huge careers ahead of them. Now as always I wouldn’t call this the definitive list. But there’s no denying that these 5 actresses to watch out for are absolutely phenomenal.


At only 22 years of age, Mia Wasikowska has already tackled a variety of great roles. She’s shared the screen with big names such as Johnny Depp, Michael Fassbender, Glenn Close, and Daniel Craig and she’s more than held her own. She’s made some great film choices and the future looks promising. She’s already lined up to be in “Lawless”, a film where she will co-star with big names such as Gary Oldman, Tom Hardy, and Guy Pearce.  Wasikowska is never overpowered by the material and her ability to handle challenging roles at such a young age is very impressive. Expect to see a lot from this phenomenal young talent.


Emily Blunt as an example of a very talented actress who is still looking for that one big role. She starred in several films that I’ve enjoyed and several that I haven’t but yet she’s always delivered a strong and steady performance. She’s clearly comfortable with comedy or drama and her assortment of films show that to be true. She was in several smaller but entertaining films before really drawing attention for her work in “Young Victoria”. From there she has starred in everything from family films, quirky British comedies, sci-fi thrillers, and romantic comedies. Through them all she has shown an amazing range and an ability to handle any material she has given. She’s a magnetic actress who will be around for a long time.


An even younger but equally talented actress is Saoirse Ronan. At 18 years of age she has steered clear of some of the movie traps that many young performers fall into. She first gained major attention for her wonderful work in “Atonement”, a performance that earned her an Academy Award nomination at the age of 13. She was also very good in Peter Jackson’s “The Lovely Bones”, a film that doesn’t hold up well despite her fantastic performance. I was really impressed with her work in “The Way Back”, a very underappreciated film. And in 2011 she showed what kind of range she has by playing a trained assassin in “Hanna”. Ronan has a wonderful screen presence and has grown with each performance. She’s certainly one to watch.


While her resume may not be as plump as the other actresses on this list, Jennifer Lawrence has blown me away by her work so far. Lawrence has never been to acting school or taken an acting class yet she has what seems to be a natural ability. It was her starring role in 2010’s “Winter’s Bone” that immediately caught the attention of the movie world. She gives a tough and gritty performance that earned her a Best Actress Oscar nomination. It was a performance that still amazes me today. She had a great role in “The Beaver” and she was also very good in “X-Men: First Class”. Most recently she’s been seen starring in a little movie you may have heard of, “The Hunger Games”. The movie has catapulted her into the more mainstream spotlight. And while the film isn’t perfect, there’s no denying that Lawrence is brilliant in the lead role. She has several projects in the works and, of course, more Hunger Games sequels. Expect to hear Jennifer Lawrence’s name for a while.


2011 can officially be called a break-out year for Jessica Chastain. After a small career in television, Chastain made her feature film debut in 2008. But it was last year that she truly made her mark on the film industry with some amazing work. She was really good in “The Help” and received a Best Supporting Actress nomination for her performance. But that wasn’t even her best work of the year. She was mesmerizing in Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life”. She was even better alongside Michael Shannon in the underappreciated film “Take Shelter” and it’s there that she gives what I felt was the best supporting work of the year. She was also fantastic with Ralph Fiennes in “Coriolanus” and this year she will be in the above mentioned “Lawless”. Chastain has a grounded and almost natural grace about her and it translates so well on screen. With all of the attention she’s getting for her recent work, you can count on good director’s wanting to work with her even more.

And there they are. Do you agree or disagree with my list? Do you know of someone I missed? Please leave a comment and share your thoughts.



When I look back on 2011, it will be a year where the performances actually outshined the finished films. While several movies became favorites of mine, it was the wide range of high quality acting work that really impressed me. Since we have talked about the ladies, let’s get to my top 5 male leading performances for 2011. Again, it was hard to leave a couple of names off this list, but this is one solid group of actors.

#5 – Owen Wilson (Midnight in Paris)

I’m as surprised at this as anyone else. I’m not the biggest Owen Wilson fan. I’ve often times found him over the top and just too goofy for my taste. But while we get hints of the Owen Wilson we’ve seen in past movies, in “Midnight in Paris” he seems more controlled and tempered while still being genuinely funny. I really liked Gil Pender and appreciated how Wilson brings him to life. Woody Allen’s influence can certainly be seen, but Wilson makes the character his own and sells him beautifully.

#4 – George Clooney (The Descendants)

I wasn’t as crazy about Alexander Payne’s “The Descendants” as most people, but there’s no denying the brilliant work from George Clooney in the lead role. Clooney honestly makes everyone else who shares a scene with him better. He doesn’t dominate the scenes or call unmerited attention to what he’s doing. It’s a very real and organic performance and one that definitely deserves the attention it has received.

#3 – Mel Gibson (The Beaver)

I was a bit surprised to see Mel Gibson shunned this awards season. Hollywood and the Academy are extremely selective in terms of forgiveness regardless of how much hypocrisy their selectivity exposes. I’m not trying to be a Gibson sympathizer, but his performance in “The Beaver” is not only one of the best performances of the year, but some of the best work of his career. Obviously Gibson knows what it means to be a damaged man but to see it played out with such authenticity on screen was truly stirring. More people should give “The Beaver” a chance. If you do, Gibson’s performance can’t help but be appreciated.

#2 – Jean Dujardin (The Artist)

From the first moment you see Jean Dujardin on screen in “The Artist”, you know you’re seeing something special. His precision and detail in bringing a silent movie character to life goes well past nostalgia. He brought more life to his George Valentin character with the handicap of no voice work than nearly every other performance of 2011. He certainly pays homage to a bygone era of filmmaking. But he also conveys the humor and drama from his character in a way that blew my mind. A truly brilliant performance.

#1 – Michael Shannon (Take Shelter)

Even with such great acting as I’ve already mentioned, no one effected me more than Michael Shannon in “Take Shelter”. He undoubtedly delivers one of the most painfully tragic performances I’ve seen in years. His depiction of mental illness is unique in that his character sees what’s coming. He has seen it in his mother and his biggest concern is on how it will effect his own family. It’s a crushing and emotional performance that was head-amd-shoulders above anything else I saw in 2011. It’s such a shame that he has gone overlooked.

Agree or disagree? Please leave a comment or share your top 5 of 2011.



We’ve talked about the men, now let’s switch over to the women. Here are my 5 favorite female supporting performances for 2011. It was hard to narrow it down to 5 but I don’t see how any of my choices could be frowned upon. It was a strong year for women and two of the ladies on the list could have qualified for two different performances. But for sake of variety, I’ll just stick to 5 different but wonderful actresses.

#5 – Charlotte Gainsbourg (Melancholia)

While I wasn’t as thrilled with the overall product that was “Melancholia”, the performances were superb especially from Gainsbourg. We see a metamorphosis of sorts with her character and the range of emotion and distress that Gainsbourg conveys is nothing short of brilliant. Kirsten Dunst has gotten most of the press for the film but for my money it’s Gainsbourg that steals the show.

#4 – Octavia Spencer (The Help)

Spencer is sweeping this category at every movie award ceremony and with good reason. Her performance in “The Help” is a wonderful mixture of heart and humor. While the material sometimes leads her close to caricature, she maintains a steady appeal throughout the picture. “The Help” isn’t a perfect movie by any means, but Spencer’s performance is one of the best things about it.

#3 – Chloe Grace Moretz (Hugo)

One of the most charming performances of 2011 was from Chloe Grace Moretz in Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo”. Moretz’s performance is gentle and spirited and I was completely drawn to her character. Her lovely and adventurous Isabelle is one of the main ingredients in bringing the two stories of “Hugo” together and you can’t help but to love her. It’s easy to overlook her performance in the midst of such acting heavyweights, but for me Moretz helped make “Hugo” one of my favorite films of 2011.

#2 – Marion Cotillard (Midnight in Paris)

It was a nice year for Marion Cotillard. She starred in two of my favorite movies of 2011, “Contagion” and “Midnight in Paris”. While I liked them both, it’s her work in “Midnight in Paris” that I keep coming back to. She’s beautiful, elegant, fun, yet mysterious and she turns out to be one of the key characters in Woody Allen’s wonderfully crafted picture. She develops and sells a character that looks right at home in 1920’s Paris and her charm is magnetic. It’s just impossible not to love her.

#1 – Jessica Chastain (Take Shelter)

Jessica Chastain is getting plenty of love for the amazing 2011 she had. Unfortunately most people are overlooking her strongest, most memorable work. I loved her in “A Tree of Life” but her performance in “Take Shelter” is the best of the year. Everything in her performance is perfect from her tone to her subtlety. She’s so genuine and authentic and I never found a scene where she didn’t draw out everything from her character. She’s perfectly cast and an amazing compliment to Michael Shannon. You may agree that Chastain is a good actress, but you won’t know how good until you see her in “Take Shelter”.

Agree or disagree? Leave your comments and share your top 5.