Review: Nocturnal Animals

For the engaged cinephile, right from the opening credit sequence of Nocturnal Animals, you will know you are in good hands. Hyper-glossy and daringly un-commercial in the same breath, it puts some fine Lynchian bonafides on the table early. Then the camera pulls back from this tone-setting overture to reveal that these seemingly context free images (which will remain unspoilt by me, but might prevent the film from playing in a multiplex near you) are very much present, and in fact are part of the gala launch of a Los Angeles art gallery.

The curator and architect of the exhibit (but, tellingly, not the artist) is Susan, played by Amy Adams in heavy make-up, and chunky jewelry. The deep lighting makes her red hair stand out like smoldering coals in the dark. Forget for the moment director Tom Ford’s penchant for enhancing surfaces, Adams delivers an understated inner-performance entirely with her eyes and posture. Mere seconds on screen and you can immediately deduce she is unhappy with the not only the exhibit but with her many if not most of her life choices.

Later that evening, Susan is abandoned to stew in her own juices by her husband (Armie Hammer) who is the kind of high-stakes businessman that is required for a cross-continental flight upon a moments notice. Nocturnal Animals is a film about we process our thoughts when alone, versus reacting in the company of others.

It is also a master-class in ‘show-don’t-tell’ filmmaking. A brief domestic conversation, prior to her husbands exit from the film, is practical and efficient. We learn that their glass and concrete mansion and designer lifestyle is on the verge of bankruptcy, but again, the body language and framing suggest that money, in and of itself, is the least of their problems, matrimonially.

The very same evening, Susan receives a package in the mail from her previous husband, whom she has not spoken to in nearly two decades. The manuscript of his soon-to-be published novel is included with a personal note thanking her for the inspiration (and life experience) provided finally write something significant. The book shares the name of the film, but the film is adapted from Austin Wright’s 1993 novel, “Tony and Susan.”

Tony is the name of the character in the book that Susan reads, a man whose family is threatened and jeopardized on a lonely West Texas highway by a gang of good ol’ boys led by an extraordinary effective, and completely unrecognizable Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who has come a distance from Kick-Ass and wins the Tom Hardy award for chameleon-like disappearance into a part.

It is exceptional that Ford has made a film about a woman that spends the bulk of the runtime sitting on her couch (or bed, or in the bath) reading a book, into one of the most compellingly ‘lean-in’ films of the year. Half of the film is devoted to the novel, which is anchored by a Zodiac or Nightcrawler calibre performance from Jake Gyllenhaal, and a scene-stealing Michael Shannon as a cancer stricken Texas Sheriff who is endearingly funny, and yet, simultaneously scared the absolute shit out of me. The remainder is split equally between Susan’s languorous present, and flashbacks to her optimistic courtship with her first husband and youthful writer, Edward; also played by Gyllenhaal.

The cross-cutting and transitional matching shots (note a certain red couch, for instance) provide an invigorating road-map to what the movie is actually about. The editing in this film, the fimmaking in general, is among the best films of the year. And, it is in a genre, the psychological thriller, that is so radically absent, presently, that make this is a breath – a gale? perhaps a tempest – of gloomy air.

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Toronto After Dark Review: The Lure

Mermaids are apparently popular again. Disney is currently remaking their animated hit as an expensive live-action feature, and Stephen Chow’s, The Mermaid ended up being an epic-sized cash-machine of a blockbuster in his native China. But whoa there now, here is a first feature, and one of the most confident film debuts, particularly for a style this tricky, to come along in some time. If you love weird yet meticulous filmmaking that is simultaneously both classic and fresh, then you are going to want to remember the name Agnieszka Smoczynska. Her deeply unorthodox adaptation of the Hans Christian Anderson classic fairy tale, The Little Mermaid, as a Polish period musical he has given the original title Córki Dancingu, literally translated to Daughter of the Dance, for domestic release, but for the rest of the worlds as simply called, The Lure, comes with a wheelbarrow full of superlatives: shocking! sexy! subversive! sublime! entertaining! visionary! And just plain catchy.

Smoczynska takes the classic, literal, fish-out of water tale, and places it in a burlesque club in 1980s Poland. When a family of musicians (whose main gig is to play back-up for the strippers at a night-club) discover two mermaids in the water while drinking and singing on the beach, they bring them aboard as part of their act. Sort of like adopting two new children, and drop them right in to soft-core sex trade. This hardly sounds like it could be the beginning to a mainstream Hollywood film, but trust me, it kind of is. However, I doubt, if it were, there would be the scene where the owner casually examines the ‘tail-vagina’ on the one of the ‘maids and declares, ‘it is fishy, but I like it.’ Nudity and sexual hunger, both casual and intense, are rampant in The Lure, but because of Smoczynska’s acute sense of how to stage-dress, light, and shoot the film like an Blondie video on steroids, these things are not off-putting or controversial, they are part of the films sense of style and sensibility. Somewhere in Iceland, Bjork is going to see this movie, slap her forehead and say, “Shit! How did I never make this movie?!” Furthermore, if in 2016 you still need an argument for more women directors, well, here is another great one to put on the pile.

Michalina Olszanska (a major rising actress in eastern Europe, who for lack of a better explanation is a blend between Juno Temple and Kristen Stewart) and Marta Mazurek (here exquisitely channeling Sissy Spacek) play the pair of mermaids, Golden and Silver. They are, in essence, the aquatic version of twenty-something party girls looking for shits and giggles up for a quick stop in Poland before swimming onward to America. But Silver beings to fall in love with their blonde young band-mate, Mietek. She is strongly warned by her ‘sister,’ as well as another air-touring underwater creature named Triton, who looks like the Kurgan and rocks a riotous punk act in Warsaw. Unsurprisingly, Mermaids and Mermen are obviously great, charismatic singers-of-songs, and The Lure has a seemingly endless capacity for incorporating classic mer-mythology among the drama and the musical numbers. The crisis of the films (after a quick rise to fame) is that if Silver falls in truly in love, but the love is not returned, then she will cease to exist. In an honest, if not particularly wise, sacrificial gesture to earn the love of her bright young thing, she decides to remove her tail and become a human. (Wait for that set piece! It’s a serious OMG bit of genre craft!) The mermaids may want to fall in love human-style, but they are vicious, cunning, and selfish creatures when they want to be. They make no bones about it, and neither does the filmmaking.
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Cinecast Episode 459 – De-Scarify

Some differences of opinions on this week’s episode. Because Gamble is not here, we are civil about it and it never comes to blows – sorry about that. We might try to step things up a notch on the tension scale for future episodes, but perhaps we will stay in casual discussion mode for a while. At any rate, this week we are reviewing Benna Fleck, Anna Kendrick, J.K. Simmons, et. al. in Gavin O’Connor’s The Accountant. Next up, we pre-cover a little bit of Toronto After Dark Film Festival with their Friday screening of The Lure.

For The Watch List, both of the guys look back a month or two at previous 2016 releases. Kurt is hopeful that there is an extended version of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children out there somewhere to enjoy, while Andrew is kind of wishing that Nerve never existed in the first place. As a quick side tangent, Kurt relished Thirteen Days after last week’s discussion. Andrew secretly watched most of it again too.

As always, please join the conversation by leaving your own thoughts in the comment section below and again, thanks for listening!

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Toronto After Dark Review: In A Valley Of Violence

In Sergio Leone’s classic The Good The Bad And The Ugly, one of many iconic scenes involves a gunfighter sneaking up to murder Eli Wallach’s Tuco in the bath-tub. The anonymous heavy lost his arm in a shootout with Tuco in the opening scene of the film, and seeking bloody revenge, as is par for the course in so many westerns, he stops first for a smug monologue about how it took months to learn how to shoot with his other hand. As the grimy Italian blonde savours the reversal of fortune (again, a staple of this superb film) with words, Tuco turns the table because he has his pistol in the bath-tub. He blows away the smug, would-be killer through the soap suds. To the corpse, he lectures, “When you have to shoot, SHOOT. Don’t talk.” It would not surprise me in the slightest, if it was this scene alone that inspired Ti West to make In A Valley of Violence, a film that seems a full featured examination of what amounts to a throwaway 2 minutes in a 179 minute film. More recently, HBO’s Deadwood, The Coen Brothers’ True Grit remake, and the recent pair of Quentin Tarantino gunslinger film have set out to prove that excessively loquacious, but nevertheless savoury, dialogue is a wholesome part of the Western that bears at least some consideration.

Ethan Hawke plays civil war deserter Paul, who, after a Shakespearean styled prologue with a drunken Irish priest (Burn Gorman doing what he so wonderfully does) about the nature of where he finds himself, ends up nevertheless caught up in the local toxicity of a friable futureless village-slash-movie-set called Denton. He tries to keep his head down and sip his drink at the bar as the local blowhard and sadistic bully, Gilly (Generation Kill & The Wire‘s oily-but-wide-eyed James Ransome), who also the deputy and son of the town’s sheriff, picks a fight with him for no reason other than that Paul a stranger in a place that, you guessed it, don’t like no strangers.

Pestered to the point of violence, and equally important to the point of speaking (mainly to the audience) he says that he just wants to hang out with his preternaturally cute, Lassie-like, dog and make for Mexico to forget the horrors of the war. Anyone who has ever seen a western, hell anyone who has ever seen some movies, can spot what is coming a mile away. Don’t get me wrong though, the point of the film seems less about realistically defined characters or completely reinventing the wheel (West even shoots on 35mm film, although he favours 1.85:1 over cinemascope to keep things somewhat small) and more about playing with familiar tropes of the western. This auto-critique of the genre, whose often deadpan and straight-up approach to many familiar situations is sure to be abrasive to some.

Paul being forced to deal revenge to many of the denizens of Denton is without question a given in this sort of thing. As Paul reluctantly returns to town with guns a-blazin’, it is more through dialogue than gunfire that the showdown at high noon takes place. If there is a mission statement to In A Valley of Violence it is (as stated above) when to speak and when not to speak.

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After the Credits Episode 198: VIFF Dispatch #3

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That’s a wrap! VIFF has come and gone in a whirlwind. It’s hard to believe two weeks of movie watching is already gone and though this year I didn’t manage to see quite as many movies as I’d hoped for, I mainly managed to make good choices and didn’t see too much I didn’t like.

In this final dispatch from the festival I’m (@themarina) joined by regular festival correspondent Bill Harris (@soundjam69) of Green Screen of Death, and friend of the show Lisa (who has appeared on our last few VIFF wrap shows) to count down our favourite movies of the festival.

After the Credits Episode 197: VIFF Dispatch #2

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We actually recorded this show earlier this week but things have been so crazy, it’s only going up today. Lucky for you, the festival is almost over at this point so we’ll be returning to our regularly scheduling posting in the coming weeks. Anywho…

In this dispatch, I’m (@themarina) joined by festival corespondent Bill Harris (@soundjam69) of the Green Screen of Death to talk about some more movies.

We’ll be coming at you with one final show in the coming days to wrap up the fest and count down our favorite films. Until then, be sure to follow-us on twitter, follow the festival hashtag #VIFF and check out the festival website for screening information – VIFF repeats have been announced and screenings will continue into next week!

After the Credits Episode 196: VIFF Dispatch #1

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Festival season has officially landed in Vancouver with the kick-off of the Vancouver International Film Festival last week.

As has become tradition, I’m ((@themarina) joined for our first dispatch from the festival by Bill Harris (@soundjam69) who is now also part of a really awesome podcast we’ve talked about in the past Green Screen of Death.

The intent was for this to be posted yesterday so it’s already a day late however, most of the discussion is still relevant as some of these movies are screening again over the next week + left of the festival, and because talking about movies just never really gets old.

We’ll be coming at you with another dispatch after the weekend of heavy movie watching but until then, be sure to follow-us on twitter, follow the festival hashtag #VIFF and check out the festival website for screening information.

Rowthree Staff Summary of TIFF 2016

Our traditional round-up of impressions and reactions to the massive slate of Toronto International Film Festival has arrived in its ninth edition here in the third row. A always been the case, Row Three staff and contributors along with a few a regular reader or two provide a tiny capsule, a postcard if you will, of all the films that they saw at the festival, accompanied by an identifier-tag: [BEST], [LOVED], [LIKED], [DISLIKED], [DISAPPOINTED], [FELL ASLEEP], [WALKED OUT], [HATED] and [WORST].

Collectively we – Kurt Halfyard, Matt Brown, Bob Turnbull, Mike Rot, Ariel Fisher and Sean Kelly – saw a sizable chunk of the 300+ films shown at the festival. Hopefully this post can act as a ‘rough guide’ for films that will be finding distribution on some platform, whether on the big screen, or small internet enabled screen, in the next 18 months.
 
 

THE SHORT VERSION:

Personal BEST: MOONLIGHT [Mike Rot], [Ariel] & [Matt B.], MANCHESTER BY THE SEA [Bob], NOCTURNAL ANIMALS [Kurt], and LA LA LAND [Sean].

Personal WORST: Several folks were not willing to truly hate anything they saw this year (and that’s cool) but the low-lights were: THE DUELIST [Kurt], ONCE AGAIN [Bob], and DOG EAT DOG [Sean].
 
 
Other Consensus Picks: PATERSON, PERSONAL SHOPPER, CERTAIN WOMEN, AFTER THE STORM, RAW, LOVING and GRADUATION.
 
 
The ‘MASSIVE’ version is below. All our thoughts and impressions from offerings of the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival.

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Cinecast Episode 456 – So Far So Good…

The summer of 2016 officially winds down to a stop (thank the maker) as The Toronto International Film Festival comes to a close. Kurt spends a good chunk of this episode going through the best of the fest (from his perspective) and one or two things that didn’t work out quite as well as one would hope. Before we get there, we join Antoine Fuqua and his Magnificent Seven as they attempt to defeat the evil, mining industrialist, Peter Sarsgaard. It’s as close to an A-list cast as one can hope for these days, so does that pay off on the IMAX screen as it once did for the Western Blockbuster (if there ever was such a thing)? Lastly, Andrew has clearly had some time away from recording and producing to see quite a fair number of films. And breezes through a half-dozen of those before the boys call it a done deal. Regrets for not tying off the DePalma retrospective with a Scarface ribbon this week as promised; though that is in the works for next episode.

As always, please join the conversation by leaving your own thoughts in the comment section below and again, thanks for listening!

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