Nocturnal Animals

GoMovieReviews Rating:
Rated: MA15+Nocturnal Animals

Director: Tom Ford

Screenplay: Tom Ford

Based on: Tony and Susan, written by Austin Wright (first published in 1993).

Starring: Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Isla Fisher, Armie Hammer, Laura Linney, Andrea Riseborough; Michael Sheen.

A dark emotive story within a story that’s sometimes confronting and always thought-provoking.

Susan Morrow (Amy Adams) is living the life she thought she always wanted: a successful gallery owner married to a handsome husband.  But as her marriage begins to disintegrate she begins to think of her first husband, Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal), often.  When she receives a manuscript from Edward, dedicating the novel to her, the film shifts from the life of Susan Morrow to the story written in the novel.

There’s a stark simplicity in both tales here, yet together they create a delicate knot of tragedy.

The garish setting and understated elegance of costume and character is how director and screenwriter, Tom Ford, shows the reality of Susan Morrow.  Art can be trash – ‘It’s trash’ states Susan.  A statement of regret and a hint of her feeling of loss.  Yet the second story, the novel, is a stark crime novel, set in the desert of Texas.  A tale of family, murder, revenge; of the simplistic reality of life. A gut wrenching story compared to her quiet grief and disbelief of the life she’s currently living.

Nocturnal Animals shows the emptiness found in life where priorities made outside ourselves lead to choices that are later realised as mistakes.  And living with those  mistakes creates an emptiness.  What was so important is no longer what life is.  Sometimes, it leads to so much trash.

There’s an influence of the superficial world of fashion here, stemming from Tom Ford’s past life as a fashion designer.  But he uses the contrast the two stories (the life of Susan Morrow against the story written by her ex-husband), of the beautiful house and extravagance of the successful against the dust and murder in the novel, together, to combine both stories into the complex emotion of loss.

Jake Gyllenhaal plays the ex-husband and character in the novel as a sensitive, complicated yet good man, well.  There’s just the right touch here, a subtle and realistic tone.

I remember first seeing Amy Adams in the film Junebug (2005) – those soulful eyes used by director Tom Ford so well here.  It’s remarkable how well she plays tragic torn sadness.

And the highlight, Michael Shannon as the down-at-heal Detective Bobby Andes.  A likable character.  The only truly likable character which makes the story all the more real because the characters are complicated.

The film is based on the novel, Tony and Susan, written by Austin Wright.  The novel unsuccessful at first because thought to be too literary, but then enjoying critical acclaim when released in the UK.  Then taken up and written for the screen by Ford.  An ambitious project.  Yet the cast, pacing, orchestral soundtrack (Abel Korzeniowski) and setting frame the story beautifully.  But this isn’t a beautiful story, this is a thought-provoking tale, shown to confront the audience because the truth is fragile and delicate.

It’s difficult to rate this film as I didn’t particularly enjoy watching.  Yet, the film resonates. It’s not about the enjoyment, but capturing the emotion of regret.

‘I have no right to be unhappy because I have everything’, says Susan Morrow (Amy Adams).  ‘Happiness is relative,’ replies her friend at a dinner party.  A bourgeois luxury.  Yet grief and loss equalises all.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

GoMovieReviews Rating:
Rated: MFantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Director: David Yates

Script Written By: J. K. Rowling

Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Alison Sudol, Dan, Fogler, Colin Farrell, Samantha Morton, Ezra Miller, Jenn Murray, Faith Wood-Blagrove, Jon Voight, Ronan Raftery; Josh Cowdery.

‘Worrying means you suffer twice,’ says Magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne).  Which is another way of saying, Why worry, when there’s no point.  If something bad is going to happen, suffer through it once, not twice!  What a gorgeous way of treating life, the sentiment setting the tone of the film.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is J. K. Rowling’s debut as a screenwriter.  The inspiration from the Hogwarts textbook of the same name, written by her character, Newt Scamander.

It’s difficult not to compare Fantastic Beasts and the previous Harry Potter films as there’s a similarity in vision; not only writer, Rowling, being the creator of both worlds but David Yates returning after directing the previous 4 ‘Harry Potter’ films.

But this is America, not England.  There’s a new language where Muggles are now called No-Maj (humans without magic).   Where the American’s have the Second Salemers – fanatical No-Maj’s who want to get rid of wizardry for good.

Terrified of exposure, Director of Magical Security at MACUSA (Magical Congress of the USA), Percival Graves (Colin Farrell) makes short work of anyone who threatens the fragile hidden world of magic.  Until Newt arrives with his suitcase full of fantastic beasts.

Instead of Harry Potter and his young friends battling their way into adulthood, with an exploration into all the dark corners of life in magic and life as neglected children, we have adults running through 1920s New York trying to re-capture cute magical creatures.  Instead of a darker adult outlook, I found Fantastic Beasts to be more childish in its tone.

There was a lack of depth, the feeling of a beginning, a building of a story rather than a whole which was disappointing after the Harry Potter introduction of J. K. Rowling’s magical world.

But what lacked in story was somewhat off-set by the magical creatures, the Niffler, reminding me of a platypus with a keen eye for all that glitters and all that’s gold.

I couldn’t help but grin and giggle at the behaviour of these creatures, and that brings me back to the childish tone of the film.

Eddie Redmayne as the protagonist, Newt, was likeable and I could relate to his awkwardness, which was essential as I felt if you liked Newt, you liked the film.

But I admit I wanted more from this film, from this story.

The characters were likeable, the creatures adorable, but the story didn’t have that darkness that make the Harry Potter films such a surprise.

Fantastic Beasts is a M-rated film that I’d take my nephews to watch for some fun entertainment.  Which doesn’t make it a bad film just not thought-provoking.  The Harry Potter films were an adaptation with more thought to the themes like good versus evil and all the inbetween.  Whereas Fantastic Beasts felt more like a glossing over of the story.

I’m expecting a series here.  A series that will get deeper and darker as the story progresses.

 

Arrival

GoMovieReviews Rating:
Rated: MArrival

Directed by: Denis Villeneuve

Screenplay by: Eric Heisserer

Based on the story: “Story of Your Life” written by Ted Chiang

Starring: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker and Michael Stuhlbarg.

Without giving too much away, Arrival is a unique movie experience where language is viewed as more than communication; where learning a different language changes our neural pathways to change the way we see, feel and think.

Director, Denis Villeneuve has given his Midas touch to a film that really could have fallen flat.

With the space ships, or Shells in the sky used as the only marketing tool,  I admit, I was worried.

But Arrival had a unique flavour that bent the mind in unexpected ways.

Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is a linguist contracted by the US government to attempt communication and translation of alien language.  With 12 Shells hovering over cities across the globe, each country attempts to figure out the purpose of the aliens’ visit.

I know, I know, not another alien movie.  But Arrival isn’t just an alien film.  The word, ‘alien’ was used once with Dr. Banks asking, ‘am I the only one using this word?’

And that gives you an idea of the beauty of this film.  There was a distinct lack of drivel.

I love how Villeneuve can get you right up with the characters, to feel the tension and emotion.

Anxiety is shown so well in this film.  And Amy Adams is to be commended.  Her strength, intelligence and femininity shone – Denis making the most of Amy’s blue-eyed goodness.  The insight Villeneuve has managed to show of Dr. Bank’s character is astounding.  If only for this aspect, I enjoyed the film.  Then combine the incredible story, soundtrack and pace with that extra flavour that makes the characters so believable, you’ve got a winning film.

The real surprise for me was Jeremy Renner as the physicist, Ian Donnelly.  I admit I’m not a fan of Renner.  He has played so many cringe worthy characters, I shudder to think.  But in the role of Ian Donnelly, and handled with the skill of Villeneuve, this quiet, thoughtful character resonated well as a support to Dr. Louise Banks.

This isn’t an action film, nor your typical sci-fi, and Arrival isn’t scary.  But the subtleties and suspense of the story kept me completely absorbed.

Arrival isn’t so much an alien film as an exploration into language and how it affects our view of the world.

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The Accountant

GoMovieReviews Rating:
Rated: MA 15+The Accountant

Directed by: Gavin O’Connor

Screenplay: Bill Dubuque

Starring: Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, J. K. Simmons, Jon Bernthal, Jean Smart, Cynthia Addai-Robinson, Jeffrey Tambor and John Lithgow.

Based on a screenplay written by Bill Dubuque, The Accountant is one complicated, cracker of a story: flash backs, fight scenes, number crunching montages, loud shots from military grade riffles to the quiet of an accounting office to the chink of cutlery in a jail cafeteria; wry humour, Crime Enforcement agents to stone cold killers to the dynamics family.  All combined with the overriding discussion of autism.

There was so much going on it was hard to keep a handle on all the threads.

On the one hand, this is a character driven story about family and autism; on the other, The Accountant is an action-packed crime thriller.

Chris Wolff (Ben Affleck) is an accountant, but not your everyday H&R Block style, CPA certified accountant – Chris is a high functioning autistic who’s a savant when it comes to numbers.  He also works for drug dealers and assassins; criminals who call in a guy who’s clean and can uncook their books to find any missing money.

With heat coming from the Treasury Department’s Crime Enforcement Division, Chris needs an above-board job.  He needs to get under the radar.  So when a job to find missing funds from a robotics company comes up, his handler sends him to meet Lamar Black (John Lithgow).  But there’s more going here than the ordinary.  And Chris shows himself to be more than an accounting whiz – he’s an autistic action hero.

I was pleasantly surprised by the attention to sensory detail: colours of paintings, an eye disappearing through a crack in a door that’s slowly closing; flashes of light and loud music…

Epileptics with a photic sensitivity be warned: the flashing light is bright and about 3Hz – a dangerous but effective addition to the film.  But yeah, there should be a warning here!

So, the sensors were certainly entertained and the association with autism and the effect of sensory stimulation on the character were cleverly worked into the story.  What I did miss was Ben Affleck’s cheeky grin.  There’s a deadpan humour that works well, but the constant blank face of Chris felt a bit forced.  People with autism do smile.

I really wanted to love this film as I’m always looking for that thriller that surprises, giving so much more than expected.  And although complicated, director Gavin O’Connor did tie the whole story neatly together, but the main character, Chris, was just too incongruent at times.

A strong performance from J.K. Simmons helped pull the story together, but aspects of the film just didn’t quite fit.  Putting such emphasis on The Accountant having autism was dangerous territory and requires getting it right.  And some aspects of the character grated as they didn’t feel authentic.

I don’t want to give too much away as there’s a lot going here and this is a great story with an interesting message, but getting all the moving parts right felt like a stretch.  Everything was there from story to characters to time spent on delivery.  And I know it sounds like I’m bagging this film but I’m being harsh because I love a good crime/thriller.

As a series, The Accountant would have been perfection.  As is, a cracker of a story that’s so close but not quite for me.

And a grin from Chris would have gone a long way.

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