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By Michael Calleri

"Anonymous" is a bawdy look at the authorship of William Shakespeare's plays. It's a period costume comedy that looks terrific, is acted with breathtaking brio by a stellar cast, and at times makes absolutely no sense. In fact, the movie twists the facts so fast and so often that it's practically begging you to blame Shakespeare for every ill, past and present, known to humankind.

It's directed by Roland Emmerich, most famous for his epic disaster films such as "Independence Day," "2012" and "The Day After Tomorrow."

According to Emmerich and his screenwriter John Orloff, Shakespeare was a lazy, drunken actor of dubious reputation. Edward De Vere, also known as the Earl of Oxford, wrote brilliant plays that delighted audiences, but he couldn't put his name on them because nobility was not allowed to hang out with theater people. Or write plays. They had to be stuffy puritanical prigs.

So, at the start of the picture, a soused Shakespeare is shoved onstage to take a bow as the author of one of De Vere's works. The ruse sticks. He never writes a word.

But that's not the entire movie. That's only the zany first half-hour. You see Emmerich and Orloff actually have made a madcap satire about Elizabeth the Virgin Queen. According to them, she wasn't a virgin at all, and may have been incestuous. We move back and forth between old Elizabeth (Vanessa Redgrave) and young Elizabeth (Joely Richardson). By the way, these ladies are real-life mother and daughter.

Rafe Spall, son of actor Timothy, is Shakespeare.

We also have young and old Edward. They are played by Jamie Campbell Bower and Rhys Ifan. Most of you know Ifan. He was the weird flatmate to Hugh Grant in "Notting Hill."

There are also actors portraying important characters of the time, some of them great writers and some of them rebellion plotters. Sebastian Armesto and Trystan Gravelle are authors Ben Jonson and Christopher Marlowe. Sam Reid is the conniving Earl of Essex who wants Elizabeth's head on a platter.

"Anonymous" is exceptional on every technical level. I do advise you to pay very close attention at the beginning of the often hilarious film when the many characters are introduced and paraded before your eyes. The British accents and time changes may throw you. You'll relax into it.

Ultimately, it may not matter if you believe anything the movie delivers. It's not fully history, it's mainly fiction. But it's a heck of a good time.

"Tower Heist" is a generic caper comedy, a sporadically amusing tale about a group of apartment building employees who set out to get even with the penthouse-dwelling billionaire who stole their retirement funds.

The movie has holes in the plot through which you could push a Ferrari. In fact, that's exactly what the angry workers do, push a red Ferrari out a window at the top of the high-rise, and leave it dangling over the crowd at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade, a product placement of dubious distinction.

The Macy's employees holding down the giant balloons are always looking up at the balloons, but not one of them sees the automobile. Are they dumb or dumber? Of course, neither do the folks watching the parade, nor the cops, nor Matt Lauer.

Alan Alda is the bad guy here, a Bernie Madoff type who plays chess with Ben Stiller, the tense supervisor of the employees. It was his idea to give Alda the pension funds, so he feels especially guilty.

The contrived story is ridiculous, because Stiller has to get fired before he can rob Alda. His team includes Casey Affleck and an elevator operator. (Do modern high-tech apartment buildings still have elevator operators?) Stiller is all wrong for the part of caper king. He's too bland here.

Anyway, Stiller gets fired and recruits a jive-talking black street criminal to help out. Of course, he has to be black, because in the stereotypical world in which the movie exists, there are no white street criminals to ask for advice.

Eddie Murphy is the thief, and he does nothing very exhilarating. He essentially duplicates his persona from "Beverly Hills Cop," which may have been fresh and funny in 1982, but plays as dated schtick today. Times have definitely changed.

Gabourey Sidibe (Precious herself) is thoroughly unbelievable as a Caribbean maid. You laugh at her, but it's more out of pity than anything else.

Four writers are credited with the trite story and dull screenplay, including Ted Griffin, Jeff Nathanson, Adam Cooper and Bill Collage.

The movie has a few pluses. Matthew Broderick is excellent as an evicted tenant. His delivery of the weak comic lines is best. An oily Alda is also good. And a superb Stephen Henderson, portraying a man brought to his knees by the loss of his money, is the doorman who gives the picture its only empathy. Henderson is a professor of theater at SUNY Buffalo and a Tony Award nominee.

Brett Ratner directs with help from countless other heist movies. It's as if he bought a new blender and threw in everyone else's ideas. Ratner is a blustering kind of guy, and the previous sentence could anger him.

But come on, Brett, give me a break. I've seen the much better "The Anderson Tapes," also about an apartment heist -- and, I'm thinking, so have you.

In the powerful and excellent "Take Shelter," which is part apocalyptic thriller and part spiritual odyssey, Michael Shannon plays family man Curtis, a married construction worker, who thinks he is going crazy. He has a good job, a loving wife (Jessica Chastain), and a sweet daughter who has overcome a sad roadblock. She's deaf. Curtis lives in fear of losing everything, and he begins to have nightmares about fierce storms that will destroy not only his Ohio house, but also, perhaps, the entire planet. What brought this on? What damaged his psyche? His manic fear causes him to renovate an unused storm shelter on his property, a project that grows exponentially.

Shannon is pitch-perfect as the man questioning his own sanity. Chastain is also quite good. Writer-director Jeff Nichols expertly tells the story about a world settling into anxious times. The unnerving film is an allegory that may throw you for a loop with its conclusion. "Take Shelter" is unique and worth seeing.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com Nov. 7, 2011