Michael Shannon in “Take Shelter”

“The Rum Diary” (R) — Adapted from an early novel by madman journalist Hunter S. Thompson, this romp doesn’t seem to live up to the absurdity of its story and characters. Johnny Depp plays Paul Kemp, an American writer who dives into the lush paradise of 1960s Puerto Rico with the intention of becoming a respected newsman at a local paper. An American big shot (Aaron Eckhart) picks Kemp to polish the story of his shady land deal. Things (are supposed to) kick off when Eckhart’s blond bombshell of a fiancee takes a keen interest in the journalist, who already has his own ideas about how to portray the hungry capitalists circling the island.

What was shaping up to be a wild ride of debauchery and righteous anti-imperialism never hits full speed. The plot plods along as even the most outrageous acts of Kemp and his fellow burnout journalists seem tamed by lazy filmmaking.

“Paranormal Activity 3” (R) — The franchise jumps into prequel mode and takes the found-footage poltergeist story back to 1988. Like the previous films, this one takes the angle of homemade tapes made by a family trying to catch a glimpse the thing that goes bump in the night. Though there’s only so much gas left in the tank at this point in the series, “Paranormal Activity 3” produces the startling jumps and creepy chills that audiences come for.

“Take Shelter” (R) — This chilling drama about a man and his fears is quiet, slow, gripping and hard to forget. Curtis (Michael Shannon) is a husband and father in small-town Ohio who starts having apocalyptic nightmares. The sense of dread seeps into his waking life as he quietly becomes obsessed with rebuilding an old tornado shelter in the backyard. Turmoil surfaces as his wife, his friends and his community start to doubt his sanity and his ability to care for his daughter.

Shannon knocks it out of the park, playing a good man with a quiet demeanor who is unable to cope with what’s inside. The audience is pulled into his uneasiness as the man who is acting on intuition and compulsion goes further down the rabbit hole.

“American Teacher” (NR) — Through the lives of four different teachers, each encountering a career milestone, this documentary examines the American education system as it stands today. Interviews with students, teachers and experts are supplemented with statistics and charts to paint a broad picture rooted in human stories. The view isn’t a rosy one; fundamental issues dog the system and leave some students tragically underserved. Anybody who wants to look behind the curtain at just what’s going on with our schools should pick up this heartbreaking documentary.

“Family Matters: The Complete Second Season”
“Beavis and Butthead: Volume 4”
“Hawaii Five O — First Season” [Blu-ray]
“Storage Wars, Volume 2”
“Overland Trail — The Complete Series”

© 2012 King Features Synd., Inc.