Weekly Wilson - Blog of Author Connie C. Wilson

Welcome to WeeklyWilson.com, where author/film critic Connie (Corcoran) Wilson avoids totally losing her marbles in semi-retirement by writing about film (see the Chicago Film Festival reviews and SXSW), politics and books—-her own books and those of other people. You'll also find her diverging frequently to share humorous (or not-so-humorous) anecdotes and concerns. Try it! You'll like it!

Tag: ” Michael Shannon

Celebrities Walk the Red Carpet in Chicago at 55th Chicago International Film Festival

Chicago actor Michael Shannon greets the crowd at the AMC Theater in Chicago at the premiere of “Knives Out.” (Photo by Connie Wilson)

The Chicago premier of “Knives Out” took place in Chicago at the AMC Theater and Writer/Director Rian Johnson (“The Last Jedi”) attended, along with cast member Michael Shannon, who has a longstanding connection to Chicago. The film was well-received in its Wednesday premiere and a Q&A was held following the film.

On Saturday night, Gael Garcia Bernal (Mozart in the Jungle), actor-turned-director, received a special Artistic

Director Rian Johnson at the Chicago premiere of “Knives Out.” (Photo by Connie Wilson).

Award and screened his second directorial effort, “Chicuarotes.” The crowd was very enthusiastic about Bernal’s attendance at the festival and presented him with a Mexican flag, while one entire row wore tee shirts that bore the name of his new film. (His first film was also screened at the festival some years ago, and he shared that the first award he ever won was given him by the Chicago International Film Festival.)

Gael Garcia Bernal on the Red Carpet in Chicago on October 26th. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

Michael Shannon as General Zod in “Superman” Showcases an Actor with “Nerves on the Outside.”

Michael Shannon as General Zod in “Superman.”

If there were two young actors, back in the day, whose work was revered by their peers (and whose onstage turns drew a crowd of other actors to watch them perform), those two were Mickey Rourke and Sean Penn. Another equally intense but more mature actor (who just won acclaim as Best Actor at Cannes in “Nebraska”) is Bruce Dern, who nailed such parts in “Coming Home” and “Black Sunday.” And, of course, you can’t forget Christopher Walken in “The Deer Hunter” and other films when discussing film portraits of personally conflicted protagonists that are delivered with ferocious intensity.

Today, the name on everyone’s lips for such roles—especially after the release of “Superman,” in which he plays the evil General Zod—is Michael Shannon. Michael Shannon’s first stage work began at age 15. Born in Lexington, Kentucky at Good Samaritan Hospital on August 7, 1974, his parents divorced and remarried five times. His mother, Geraldine Hine, is a social worker who stayed in Kentucky (reported by some other sources as “a lawyer.”)

His father, Donald Sutherland Shannon, who died November 19, 2008, took a position teaching economics at DePaul University in Chicago where he was much-honored during his 25 year tenure. Michael moved to be with his father, attending New Trier Township in Winnetka for two years. He moved back to Kentucky for his junior year. Then he attended Evanston Township High School for one semester before dropping out of school entirely.

It is ironic that Michael Shannon’s grandfather was famed entomologist Raymond Corbett Shannon, because one of the first stage roles Shannon inhabited was as the lead in 1996’s “Bug.” Shannon was cast in the stage version of the Tracy Letts play and then reprised the role in the film version in 2006, playing unhinged war veteran Peter Evans. In the film, directed by William Friedkin (“The Exorcist”), Shannon and Ashley Judd hole up in a spooky hotel room in Oklahoma and begin to hallucinate about a bug infestation. They definitely reach tin-foil hat levels of insanity. Shannon and playwright Letts played opposite one another in a pair of one-act plays, “Fun” and “Nobody,” at Evanston’s Next Lab when Letts was twenty-five.

Shannon’s acting teacher in Chicago, Jane Brody, commented in a Chicago Tribune article (June 30, 2013), “Mike once told me being onstage was the only place where he could be as angry as he felt and it was still acceptable.” As Shannon himself explained to interviewer Christopher Borrelli regarding his return to Chicago from Kentucky, “I’ve been an only child, a middle child, and an oldest child. I felt guilty because I wanted to help out, but at that age? My mother was dealing with other people’s problems all day, and then came home to a house of children. I had to leave.”

Shannon has become typecast as the intense, brooding guy steeped in pain. His role on “Boardwalk Empire” as Agent Nelson Van Alden catapulted him into viewers’ consciousness as a weird, freaked-out agent who becomes a bootlegger. He was equally riveting in a small part as a dinner guest (an outpatient from a mental institute) in “Revolutionary Road” in 2009.

In fact, Shannon received an Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actor, but did not win. He says of the experience, pointing to a certificate that confirms he was an Academy Award nominee, “Which is what I have to show for that experience. That, and a sweatshirt saying ‘Academy Award nominee,’ which I do wear.”

Just as with the Kings of Intensity, Penn and Rourke, co-stars give telling insights into the actors by relating their interaction(s) with Shannon. Chicago actress Shannon Cochran remembers the New York run of “Bug” onstage: “I was standing over Mike (in the scene) and he was hunched down. Then, suddenly, he stood up and screamed into my face at the top of his lungs.” Adds Cochran: “OK, so, do I react? I ignored it, then spent the rest of the show assuming he was mad at me. Later, I got this note apologizing, saying he shouldn’t lose control like that, but he gets so mad when audiences don’t concentrate. We never really talked much offstage, but eventually I did end up with a little pile of notes.”

Zack Snyder, who directed Shannon in the summer blockbuster “Superman,” relates that when General Zod is sentenced to eternal prison and is vowing to destroy Superman, he is to shout, “I will find him!” once. Said Snyder, “In the script, it’s once, but Michael hemorrhaged the line.”

Co-star Paul Rudd, who appeared with Shannon in “Grace” on Broadway and is a longtime friend, says of him: “He is extremely kind, with a completely unique sense of humor. Yet other times, you realize how guarded he is…that you have no idea what he is thinking. He always leaves you guessing a bit.” His acting teacher Jane Brody would agree with Rudd. Her take? “He liked to be a mystery.”

Liatt Kornowski at the Huffington Post wrote an article entitled “15 Reasons Why Michael Shannon is the Coolest Effing Person Around.” (June 14, 2013). Not so much an article as a video tribute to the intensity of Shannon’s eyes and the eccentricity of his onscreen characters and his offscreen persona, as well. She also mentioned his intense reading of an inane sorority girl’s letter that has garnered millions of hits on YouTube, done as a favor for a Columbia College (Chicago) graduate.
When Christopher Borrelli of the Chicago Tribune interviewed Shannon , prior to the start of his star turn opposite his best friend, actor Guy Van Swearingen, in Sam Shepard’s “Simpatico” (which runs through August 25 at the Red Orchid Theater in Chicago), the duo strolled around Shannon’s Red Hook Brooklyn neighborhood with Shannon clad only in socks. Shannon helped co-found the Old Town-based Red Orchid Theater 20 years ago.

Kate Arrington, who lives with Shannon and with whom Shannon has a 5-year-old daughter, Sylvia, says of him: “Mike has a high level of anxiety. He might seem chill, but he is anxious, as anyone would be who grew up as he did, always worried about others, angry. He hates that view of himself as a guy just a bit off, playing guys a bit off. But the thing is, Mike is off. He is not a normal person! He sees the word differently.”
Two of the best films this year, so far, were “Mud,” in which Shannon had a small part as the Uncle who is raising “Neckbone,” one of the young boys who helps the stranded Matthew McConaughey and “The Iceman,” a film about Mafia hitman Michael Kuklinski. Shannon’s performance as the cold-blooded killer was spot-on. One scene in which he merely sits at the top of a flight of stairs as his secret life is about to collide with his private family life is masterful. The entire film is one of the best films of the year, so far, with such co-stars as Wynona Ryder, Ray Liotta, Stephen Dorff, Robert Davi, David Schwimmer, and Chris Evans.

Like Christopher Walken before him, Shannon has mastered the art of conveying a certain humanity to even the most depraved of men. It’s clearly his forte. Does he like that? As Shannon told Borrelli, “And so now you’ve seen that I’m a normal person. I clean the house. I take care of my family. I’m exhausted by this perception that I’m a lunatic.” But, later, when asked about the many projects he has on the docket, including “Boardwalk Empire,” “Simpatico” on stage in Chicago, maybe a small film in Chicago in the fall, he adds, very gravely, “But overall, I find myself uncertain about the future.”

What’s not uncertain about Michael Shannon’s future as an actor is that he will continue to garner much-deserved accolades for his intense portrayals. Next time, maybe he’ll get more for his pains than a sweatshirt and a certificate.

“Mud” is a Movie Well Worth Seeing

Matthew McConaughey.

My name is Mud is a familiar cliché we all know. In the new Jeff Nichols’ film (“Take Shelter,” “Shotgun Stories”), Mud is Matthew McConaughey. Nichols has been quoted as saying the film is “as if Sam Peckinpah had directed a short story by Mark Twain.”

The quote fits, because this is a film about two boys living and having adventures on the Mississippi in Writer/Director Nichols’ home state of Arkansas. Small towns like Crockett’s Bluff and Dumas were used for location shooting. (Dewitt is the name on the town water tower). Tom Sawyer is Ellis, played by Tye Sheridan (“The Tree of Life.”) Ellis’ side-kick, Huckleberry Finn to his Tom, is Nick, aka Neckbone, played by Jacob Lofland in Lofland’s film debut.

Apart from McConaughey—who turns in another interesting performance in the tradition of his more recent roles in “Magic Mike,” “The Paper Boy,” “Killer Joe” and “The Lincoln Lawyer”—Reese Witherspoon portrays Juniper, the woman for whom Mud will do anything. Sam Shepard plays an ex-CIA assassin and river rat, the closest thing Mud has to a father. Joe Don Baker lends some gravitas as King, who comes to town to supervise a team of eight men out to murder Mud. Other fine performances are turned in by Sarah Paulson (television’s “American Horror Story”) as Ellis’ mom Mary Lee and Ray McKinnon as his dad. (“O, Brother, Where Art Thou?”, television’s “Deadwood”), as well as Michael Shannon as Nick’s Uncle Galen.

Shannon appeared in Nichols’ “Take Shelter” and has forged a career playing crazies in the Bruce Dern mold, including his role as John Givings in “Revolutionary Road,” (for which he was Oscar-nominated), crazed FBI agent Nelson Van Alden in “Boardwalk Empire,” and his current starring role in “The Iceman” as real life hit man Richard Kuklinski. Shannon—who got his start in theater in Chicago— has become a sort of good-luck charm in Jeff Nichols’ films.

This is a coming-of-age movie; Ellis and Nick are 14-year-olds. But it is also a parable about the nature of love and marriage, ethics and moral growth and change. Some original music was contributed by David Wingo ,but the key theme song for “Mud” is “Help Me, Rhonda” by the Beach Boys (“Help me, Rhonda. Help me get her out of my heart.”) As Nick tells Ellis, early on, “That’s his doin’ it song,” meaning that “Help Me, Rhonda” signals that his Uncle Galen (Michael Shannon)—who is raising the young boy who never knew either of his parents— has a woman in the bedroom and Ellis should steer clear. Galen later explains to the two teenage boys experiencing normal adolescent lust, “Help Me, Rhonda is about a guy who wanted to get a piece to get over a girl who dumped on him.”
This crass explanation of the Beach Boys classic tune ties in with the emerging feelings that Ellis has for an older classmate (May Pearl, played by Bonnie Sturdivant).

It also intersects with the marital problems Ellis’ parents are experiencing, and augments the romantic love story of Mud and Juniper. Ellis’ dad comments, “Marriage just don’t work for some people.” Concerning the undying romantic love that Ellis wants so badly to believe exists, his father (Ray McKinnon) says, “I don’t know about that any more.” His dad also tells him, “You can’t trust love, Ellis. If you’re not careful, it’ll up and run out on you. Women are tough. They’ll set you up for things.”

That thought is echoed by Sam Shepard’s character, Tom Blankenship, who, speaking of Juniper, says, “The trouble is, she don’t care about nobody but herself.” Tom thinks that Mud’s only chance is “to cut her loose,” saying, “Those two are set for failure.”

Despite these bleak views of eternal romance, Nick and Ellis are deeply involved in trying to help Mud reunite with Juniper, even though he is marooned on an island, hiding out there after killing a man in Texas who mistreated Juniper. They are helping Mud rebuild a cabin cruiser improbably stuck in a tree, left there by flooding. The boat not only has to be brought down from the tree, it needs a new motor and Mud also needs food and supplies while he struggles to restore it. Then—Mud tells the boys—he will collect Juniper with their help, and they will ride off in the sunset to live happily ever after. Unless the eight ruthless men collected by the shooting victim’s father (Joe Don Baker) and his brother, James (Michael Abbott, Jr.) find Mud first.
Along the way in this interesting and original film, we learn from Mud himself that, “I don’t traffic in the truth too often.” But we see that Mud can be a good guy. He risks his life to save Ellis after Ellis is bitten by a cottonmouth snake. And his true love for Juniper shines through all his actions, past, present and future—-if he has one; Juniper, too, seems to truly love Mud, but seems too weak to endure what running away with Mud (again) will mean in her life.

When Ellis tells Mud, “My dad says that you can’t count on women lovin’ you. You can’t trust ‘em,” Mud has a different point of view. The boy, deeply affected by the spectacle of watching his parents’ marriage disintegrate around him and also experiencing their riverboat home being dismantled (“It’s the law!”) has angrily confronted his father regarding the looming divorce, “You gave up on her, just like she gave up on you.” But, by film’s end, there is a feeling that the reality of the future will not be as bleak as Ellis initially feared.

Juniper’s inability to stay strong and committed to her true love (she doesn’t show up when the young boys attempt to collect her for the romantic rendezvous and subsequent planned get-away) is paralleled by Ellis’ father. Mary Lee says to her husband, “You’re a man who doesn’t have the strength to support his own life.” Could the same not be said of Juniper? The idea of a couple being set for failure and needing to cut someone you love loose isn’t confined to just Juniper and Mud in this intricately plotted tale, which Director Nichols also wrote.

The moral and ethical issues emerge when Ellis’ father finds out Ellis and Nick have stolen a boat motor from a salvage yard to deliver to Mud on the island. In an angry confrontation with his son, while Mary Ann looking on, he says of his wife, “She’s raising her a snake just like herself” Ellis, too, is angry at himself. He’s angry that Mud is using him and encouraging him to violate his family’s moral code. He yells at Mud, “You made me a thief!” But, it is Mud who tells him, (while relating the dramatic story of how he avenged Juniper’s brutal mistreatment at the hands of another man), “There are things you can get away with in this world and there are things you can’t.” Of one’s work ethic in life, in general, Ellis’ dad tells him, “I work you hard ‘cause life is work.”
In 1974, Jon Voight made a movie, “Conrack,” which reveled in the river. The recent “Beasts of the Southern Wild” also captured the special people who spend life in close proximity to the Mighty Mississippi. In this film, life on the river, (photographed beautifully by cinematographer Adam Stone), is a metaphor for a life of less nobility, a different kind of existence. Ellis exclaims at one point, “I ain’t no townie.”

There is far more going on in this film than just pretty shots of the river; contrast the true beauty of nature with Piggly Wiggly stores on Plastic Menu Avenue and signs along it reading “God Bless America.” Natural beauty is treated reverentially, even when it is dangerous. The townsfolk and life there seems trite, corrupt, less pure, by comparison.

If you’re thinking of taking in a truly worthy film that will hold your attention and provide much enjoyment and thought-provoking material, from a writer-director (Jeff Nichols) bound for greatness, the best closing line to sum up the experience of watching “Mud,” (with its expert ensemble cast), is from the film itself: “Enjoy this river. Enjoy it while you can.”

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén