“Nocturnal Animals” movie review

nocturnalanimalsA meta-thriller that is equally shocking, seductive, bizarre, and beautiful all at the same time. Tom Ford’s adaptation of the best-selling novel Tony and Susan (1993) will either repulse or intrigue you from the opening credit sequence. There is definitely a pronounced shock value in this cinematic erotic mystery that includes an incredible amount of symbolism and theming just eager to be interpreted and dissected. Not typically found in mainstream cinema, the avant-garde seems to be the inspiration for many films this year. Nocturnal Animals is one of those films that is destined for discussion in a film or media studies graduate class. With solid acting, writing, and cinematography, you will be sucked into this twisted mystery within the world that the wealthy live in and the real world that most of us live in. You will likely find yourself thinking about what everything means, how it might apply to you, or simply appreciate non-linear storytelling. Although the film certainly rests upon the flashback as a chief storytelling method, Ford plays his cards right and creates a film in which all three stories are equally interesting. You may have heard it said–even by me–that some good movies are poor films; but, this is a case of a good film but a poor movie. That is usually the case with films that fall into the artistic or avant-garde stylistic way of conducting a visual story that contains a strong emotional impact.

Susan Morrow (Amy Adams) is an incredibly successful art gallery owner in Los Angeles. However, the marriage to her second husband is not nearly as successful. He’s often away on business trips to New York. One evening, Susan receives a manuscript written by her first husband (Jake Gyllenhaal)–a once struggling writer and graduate student turned college professor and now professional author. She finds the novel gripping and disturbing. As she continues to pour over the pages dripping with intrigue, she is impacted on a personal level as she uses the world of the novel as a mirror on her own life. Taking her to dark places in her past, Susan finds herself on a path of self-evaluation as she is presently going through emotional and financially hard times.

Cognitive cinema. Focus Features’ Nocturnal Animals is one of those films that requires higher thinking in order to truly appreciate the symbolism and theming. Not that it cannot be enjoyed as a beautifully dark and disturbing story, but there is so much that can be analyzed in this film. From the sequence of obese nude females dancing with sparklers, ringmaster hats, and cheerleader regalia to the reoccurring imagery of crosses and death–both in terms of emotional and physical–director Tom Ford provides audiences with a film that can only be characterized as a mystery that is meta-thriller meets hints of erotica. Even now, I am analyzing the symbolism and theming as I write this review. There are so many elements to talk about. And I think that is the best part about a movie like this. Don’t watch it alone. Not because it is too intense or scary but because you will want to talk to someone about the theming or emotional commentary. I find myself with a deep desire to analyze the film with someone, but none of my friends or colleagues have seen it yet. Visually driven. Even without the dialog, Ford’s Nocturnal Animals can be understood through the imagery in and of itself. Trace amounts of Tom Ford’s legacy as a high fashion designer can easily be seen in the design of this film. And I am not just talking about Adams’ stunning wardrobe and hair/makeup. In many ways, this film–as a whole–is symbolic of high fashion clothing. It can be read in some of the same ways fashion is read and appreciated. Because this is only the second feature length film from Ford, there are elements of the story that give the impression that his talent for visual storytelling is still in the development process as there are times that his method of directing is that of an observant student or scholar of cinema.

There are three distinct narrative threads in this film. (1) is the main story that we open up to at the interpretive and conceptual art exhibit establishing Susan, her gallery, her husband, and lavish lifestyle (2) is the narrative of her first husband Edward Sheffield (Gyllenhaal)’s novel Nocturnal Animals and (3) is the story of the rise and fall of the relationship between Susan and Edward. Juggling three plots is no easy task. Contrary to how it may appear, the narratives are not confusing or incoherent. Each plays an important role in the overarching theme and story of the film. The incoherency is found in the interpretation and analysis of what everything means. It’s as if the film is providing the audience with puzzle pieces that can be arranged to depict something different for everyone. Perhaps you want to read the film as commentary on the relationship between Susan and Edward. Maybe you view it as symbolic of the estranged relationship between Susan and her current husband. Or maybe the novel is self-reflexive of the life Susan has created for herself.

Each story is stylized in such a way that they complement one another–do not necessarily correlate or match each other, but the narratives are complementary. Although the audience is asked to draw their own respective conclusions to the story, presumably Susan’s once lavish and charmed life will continue to rot and crumble as her husband is likely cheating on her just like she cheated on Edward. Still, there is a lot left up to interpretation in the best possible way. The Roger Ebert website review of this film commented that there are parallels between this film and Alice Through the Looking Glass. Fascinating take on this film. That is probably the best analogical interpretation of Nocturnal AnimalsLooking at the film in such a way that Susan is Alice and the two other narrative threads are her adventures in Wonderland opens a whole new window through which to view the events as they unfold. On the surface level, there is a clear theme of revenge woven throughout the plot. This is indicated by a painting that catches Susan’s attention on her way to a board meeting. The metaphysical thrilling aspect to the subplot of revenge is the revenge the past has on the present and the present on the past. In a manner of speaking, Susan is listed by ghosts of her past, present, and future. Okay, perhaps not in the same way Scrooge was visited, but there are certainly some commonalities.

If you enjoy films that make you think, then this is definitely one to watch! As it was on a limited release until this weekend, you may not have heard of it but look for it at your local movie theatre. Fans of Blue Velvet will likely enjoy this film as well. Intriguing writing, solid acting, and beautiful cinematography make this a fascinating movie to prompt deep discussions afterwards.

 

“Arrival” movie review

arrivalposterYou’ll want to see it again. Prepare yourself for an extraordinary cinematic journey in this science-fiction thriller complete with commentary on the human condition. From the exhilarating cinematography to the incredible awe-inspiring visual effects, Arrival will have you hooked from the very beginning. Based on the book Story of Your Life and Directed by Denis Villeneuve (SicarioPrisoners), Arrival boasts an outstanding cinematic experience that is as much cerebral as it is visceral. Your very perceptions of time and memory will be questioned and force you to open your mind to endless possibilities. Poignantly, this film takes you on a journey that will show you that we need to change and that we can change. On the verge of avant-garde, Arrival pushes the limits of traditional visual storytelling and creates an innovative method for conveying social commentary within the science-fiction genre. Following the final fade to black, you’ll want to discuss this film with your friends. Reignite your sense of wonder. Arrival is more than a story; it’s an experience!

After twelve egg-like unidentified objects land on earth, the U.S. Government calls upon expert linguist Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) and theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) to crack the mystery and develop a means of communication with the homogenous alien species. While much of the world is on the brink of an all-out assault on the aliens, Banks is determined to establish a rapport and open communications with the species. Starting with basic words and working up to complex sentences, Banks knows she has to learn the aliens’ language in order to better understand why they have come. When things take a turn for the worst, Banks and Donnelly have precious little time to stop countries from engaging in battle with risk of war. With so little time to unravel the mystery of why the aliens are here and what they want, Banks will find herself on a mind-blowing journey of her own.

You’ve just got to see it. There is so much that I want to talk about, but it would spoil so much of the film. I’ve mentioned before that there are great ‘movies’ that are mediocre ‘films,’ but this is a prime example of an excellent movie AND brilliant film. The brilliance of this film is not in the stunning visuals, although that is certainly part of it; the brilliance lies within the cinematic and experiential storytelling. During the big reveal at the end of the film, your mind will be blown. You’ll find yourself wanting to watch it again to more clearly understand the strategic placement of the pieces of the puzzle. During a time in which the country appears so incredibly fractured, this film will provide audiences with a renewed sense of wonder and appreciation for that which one may not fully understand. Making the tough calls and putting one’s life at risk of what is right is also woven throughout this story. The theme of Arrival is not fully realized until the latter half of the film. More than a surface-level story about that which I cannot mention without giving it away, this film possesses a dynamic range of themes just beckoning for interpretation. As this film bares much similarity to avant-garde cinema in the reimagining of traditional storytelling, it will evoke a powerful emotional response.

Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner deliver outstanding performances in the lead roles. Taking center stage for most of the film, Adams breaks new ground as an actor in this role that is nearly a complete departure from most of her other roles. Both Adams and Renner display excellent chemistry in their respective characters. Although Adams is the central character and responsible for the drive of the plot, Renner is strategically placed to reinforce the affects Adams’ character has upon the plot. Forest Whitaker also plays a strong colonel and was an excellent choice for his role as well. The success of the cast can be attributed to both the outstanding direction from Villeneuve and the incredible screenplay by Eric Heisserer. Bradford Young’s cinematography is so simple but yet so beautiful and profound. It is of no surprise that this film is being touted as one of the best movies of the year and has a nearly unprecedented 100% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Whether you are a linguist yourself or just enjoy an exhilarating cinematic journey, Arrival is definitely the film to catch this weekend. For the Star Trek TNG or Voyager fans out there, you will find that Arrival possesses some of the same great content that sets Star Trek apart from other science-fiction shows due to the human condition being central to the overall plot. If you enjoy movies that prompt you to revisit how you perceive your life, time, or space, then you will not be disappointed. There are so many levels to this film. You’ll likely find yourself wanting to see it again after fully realizing the innovative plot. Hopefully this film receives some Oscar noms in the upcoming award season.

“Batman v Superman” movie review

BMvSMBetter brush up on your comics before watching this movie. If DC set out to produce a movie that was completely different than the Marvel movies, then they succeeded. Batman v Superman leaves you feeling like you are watching a sequel without an original movie. And no, Man of Steel does not sufficiently set up this “sequel.” Imagine if you will, opening a book and starting to read. You are a few pages in, and you realize that there are situations, characters, settings that are unfamiliar or seem out of step. Oh, duh, you started on chapter two by mistake. Just as you flip back to find chapter one, you discover that the pages are missing. DC’s attempt to setup an entire comic universe (Justice League), in one movie, failed miserably. However, you will be hard pressed to find another superhero action movie that is more cinematic than this one. The sound and visual effects blew my mind–exponentially more impressive than anything that Marvel (Disney or Fox) has produced; but that’s Zack Snyder for you. Unfortunately, the man should have assisted a director in crafting a visual story, not attempted to tell it himself. If DC was fighting a losing battle up a hill, now it is fighting that same battle up a mountainside.

Look! Up in the sky. It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s a box-office bomb. Two years following the epic battle between Superman (Henry Cavill) and Zod, Metropolis is still recovering from the mass devastation. Affected by this infamous battle, crime-fighting billionaire Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) is fully convinced that Superman is a threat to humanity and must be contained or destroyed. Although he is not as young as he used to be, Affleck once again dawns the Batman uniform and sets out on his personal vendetta against the god-like Kryptonian. Feeling the growing threat of Batman, Superman will stop at nothing to defeat Batman and save the city. In an effort to save their respective cities from destruction, Batman and Superman vow to kill one another. While each superhero has it in for the other, Lex Luther (Jesse Eisenberg) is cooking up something in his research park that can defeat gods and titans. It’s a good thing that Metropolis and Gotham are closer together than Tampa and St. Petersburg are (LOL).

Film is a visual storytelling medium, but storytelling nevertheless. The only other more visual medium, one could argue, is comics. And, you better have studied your Justice League universe comics before buying your ticket to this attempt at a Springtime/Easter blockbuster. But unfortunately, that’s all that this movie has going for it–its unparalleled use of phenomenal visual and sound effects to create a fantastically stimulating experience. One problem: where’s the story??? I thought that this was (to borrow from Star Wars: the Force Awakens) “supposed to make things right“? Ironic how Easter is a holiday and season which represents rebirth; and as hard as DC Comics and Zack Snyder tried to rebirth this struggling universe, it still remains in the ground. All the water and fertilizer in the world could not help this Easter lily, for the farmer forgot to plant the bulb. There is little to no exposition in the entire movie. If you are unfamiliar with the story from the comics, you will most certainly feel dazed and confused. DC really needed this movie to tell an excellent story in order to continue to compete with the Marvel movies that are coming from Disney and Fox. After this travesty, there is almost no competition any longer. One can only hope that the next installment fixes things. But, it’s highly unlikely at this point.

Sometimes poor writing can be covered and masked by flashy graphics and stunning cinematography, other times, it can be assisted by an excellent cast. Well, fail once again. The casting only aided in highlighting the fallacies in the plot structure and nearly non-existent, poorly setup story. Before I negatively criticize the majority of the cast, I need to point out what worked for the film in terms of cast. Although I have been informed that he did not portray the Lex Luther from the comics, I firmly hold to that Jesse Eisenberg played the Lex Luther that this film needed and benefitted from. The quirky, psychopathy, childlike, socially awkward, intellectual Lex Luther works for this universe. He was probably my favorite part of the whole movie. He was quite the juxtaposition to other villains that have been in Marvel and DC movies–a refreshing new take. Amy Adams also plays a great Lois Lane. Since I am not familiar with the comics, I am not going to try to compare and contrast her portrayal to that of past Lois Lanes or the ones from the comics. Still, Adams brought about a fantastic charm to the character and she fit in well with Henry Cavill’s Superman.

Sadly, the rest of the principle cast was terrible. Since when did Alfred (Jeremy Irons) become nearly Bruce’s age??? Maybe he is ten years his senior, but that’s pushing it. Alfred is supposed to be a lovable and endearing old man, and Batman’s Jiminy Cricket, so to speak. Neither does Irons fit the age nor the personality traits of Alfred. I sure missed Michael Caine and Michael Gough’s Alfreds. There was a lot of concern when Affleck was chosen to become the caped crusader; and as it turns out, these concerns were valid. He has demonstrated that he cannot fill the cape in the manner in which Michael Keaton and Christian Bale were so successfully able to do. It’s entirely possible that Holly Hunter’s Senator Finch and Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman/Diana Prince could have been the much-needed support that the film lacked, but their respective characters were severely under-developed. Also, not so much cast as he is character but where did the Kryptonian deformed creature come from??? I think the film tried to explain, but again, it failed. Who cares, though? He made the climax shocking and exciting. A solid match for Superman.

If you want to have your eyes and ears stimulated beyond what you have likely experienced in superhero action movies in the past, then this is the movie for you. Just don’t expect much beyond the mesmerizing surface. Already having a 33% on Rotten Tomatoes, most likely the grade will continue to drop. That being said, I DO believe that if you are a follower of the comics and know your stuff, then you will most likely thoroughly enjoy this film. I warn you; be prepared to be your group’s personal Wikipedia after the movie.

Big Eyes

Big EyesOver the decades, there are movies produced that act as commentary on the state of politics, socio-economics, and sometimes humanity itself. And that is exactly what visionary director Tim Burton has done with the artful film Big Eyes. If you have ever had your creative work stolen by someone else, or taken part in or perpetuated a lie for so long that you begin to believe it yourself, then this is a movie for you! Although not blatantly “Burton” production style, the subtleties of his genius are meticulously woven throughout the film. Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz are brilliant together and genuinely sell their respective characters. For fans of Don’t Trust the B!&@h in Apartment 23, Krysten Ritter makes several cameo appearances that are reminiscent of Chloe. Not a deep story, but this is a narrative that is extremely well executed, funny, and is a testament to authenticity and honesty. For those who have ever felt vulnerable or helpless, then you will likely find inspiration in this film.

Based on a true story, the movie Big Eyes depicts the the evolution of one of the most popular art empires during the mid 20th century. “In the late 1950s and early ’60s, artist Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz) achieves unbelievable fame and success with portraits of saucer-eyed waifs. However, no one realizes that his wife, Margaret (Amy Adams), is the real painter behind the brush” (IMDb). A double-edged sword, Walter’s discovery of Margaret’s works would be both a blessing and a curse. Although Margaret is first horrified to learn that Walter is passing off her work as his own, she is too meek to protest too loudly; but she actually helps to perpetuate the lie and even begins to believe it herself. It isn’t until the the Keanes’ marriage comes to an end and a lawsuit follows that the truth finally comes to light. Follow Margaret on a journey that takes her from vulnerable single-mother to protective mother and finally proud artist.

When coming to the theatre to watch a Tim Burton film entitled Big Eyes, one might expect that there would be crazy big eyes throughout the film and the production design would reek of abstract impressionism. But, that is definitely not the case with this movie. There is only one scene that reeks of the classic Tim Burton style we have all come to expect most of the time from such a visionary. The overall production design is quite simple and typifies what middle and upper class life was like in the U.S. in the 1950s and 1960s. Everything from the Edward Scissorhands neighborhood in the opening to the retro A-frame house design later on in the film is reminiscent of architecture in the mid 20th century. The use of vibrant colors in the production design helps to set the artistic mood of the narrative. The colors also assist the visual storytelling of the film by matching the mood of various scenes.

Probably the best parts of the film are the casting and acting. Adams and Waltz are absolutely perfect for their respective roles. The degree to which Waltz sells his charming, manipulative, manic, psychopathic character is outstanding. There is even a moment in the movie where he totally goes “Jack Torrence” on his wife and step-daughter. This moment is right out of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. But, my favorite scene has to be the one in which he is both the defendant and attorney in the court-case that is the center of the movie’s showdown. His antics are crazy, funny, and extremely entertaining. Adams plays her mousy, meek, vulnerable, motherly role with excellence. Although her character lacks the charisma of Walter, she plays her character so convincingly. She possesses the skill to both communicate her acceptance and reluctance to perpetuate the lie that is the crux of the film. Krysten Ritter shines as Margaret Keane’s best friend DeeAnn. She really was the perfect choice for the role that harkens back to her character of Chloe in Apartment 23. All the characters have amazing chemistry on screen, and it truly supports the creative narrative.

The movie is also a strong depiction of commentary on humanity in and of itself. It shows the audience how a small and innocent lie can snowball into a lie so large that it is eventually the undoing of an entire empire. Often times, a lie has to be told to cover up a previous lie, and if one does this long enough, one can very well begin to believe the lie to be true and lose sight of reality or the truth. Interestingly though, it is easy to see and understand why Walter does what he does in the film. It can be argued that if he hadn’t stepped in to sell Margaret’s artwork, that she would still be an undiscovered artist underselling her art on the sidewalk. At one point in the movie, it is quite apparent that even with celebrity, Margaret still cannot sell her artwork and is dependent on Walter’s smile, charisma, and brilliant sales mind. I still find myself thinking about character backstories, rationale, and decisions long after the movie is over.

Perfect for art lovers and anyone who loves to create, sell, or critique. This movie is a wonderful addition to the list of movies you may want to see this holiday season.