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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Trailer #2 for Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals

The second trailer for Tom Ford’s sublime sophomore feature, Nocturnal Animals is cut out of order compared to the actual film, but feels like it is more ‘in order’ than the first trailer. If that makes sense. There is a lot of editing trickery going on here, which is par for the film itself. If you want big dollops of Jake Gyllenhaal, Amy Adams and Michael Shannon, well, then this ought to do the trick for you. See this movie when you can, it is one of the best films of the year.

Nocturnal Animals opens in NY & LA on November 18th and goes into wider, but still limited release in other markets on November 23rd.

Trailer: Nocturnal Animals

Tom Ford’s sophomore film, Nocturnal Animals is among the best films I have seen this year! This trailer is both hauntingly accurate and subtly misleading. In other words, it is a good way to advertise a great film! There are too few psychological thrillers made these days, and of them, even fewer are as excellent as this one. Based on the 1993 novel, “Tony and Susan,” by Austin Wright, the story follows An art gallery owner (Amy Adams) who is haunted by a violent and vaguely threatening novel written by her ex-husband (Jake Gyllenhaal).

I caught this at TIFF this year, and it was the best thing I saw at the festival.

Nocturnal Animals opens in NY & LA on November 18th and in limited release in other markets on November 23rd.

TIFF 2016 Review: Nocturnal Animals

 

If you are an honorable 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 runtime 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 both funny, and yet, simultaneously scared the absolute shit out of me. The remaining half 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.

Would you like to know more…?

Review: Her

Her

Bad design causes stress and discomfort; whether it is typography in a document, or unfettered suburban sprawl or too many buttons on a mobile phone. Life and relationships, which invariably happen in a haphazard fashion by their nature are bad design, and even the happiest of marriages, or most well adjusted of families and such are nevertheless full of tensions and misunderstandings, but virtue of design being non-controlled, that we learn to live with and accept, or we move on. Storytelling, autobiography, blogging and other personal narratives are an attempt to put some good design on something as chaotic as ‘a life.’ Technology, from ink and paper, to the printing press and eventually the internet have enabled our capacity to do this on an individual level. The landscape of modern social media platforms and the specialized subset of dating websites, while far (very far) from perfect, are a significant step to projecting some ‘design’ onto how we present ourselves to the world. Ultimately, though we have to find a way to be comfortable in our own skin and headspace, while alone in a room, and this includes whether or not another person or persons are present. Comfort and confidence can be driven by good design, but finding some truth and understanding in the messiness is essential.

Spike Jonze has been surveying and navigating these strange lagoons and very often uninviting rocky places with his music videos, short films and of course, his accomplished trio of feature films, Being John Malkovich, Adaptation., and Where the Wild Things Are. In collaboration with an eclectic gathering of intuitive but articulate ‘philosophers,’ Charlie Kaufman, David Eggars and Maurice Sendak, Jonze sets out on his own to great effect writing and directing his fourth feature.

Her, serves up a beautifully designed world. It is perhaps the best film on design outside of the more literal-minded “Design Trilogy” documentaries by Gary Hustwit. Here a near-future Los Angeles (or erstwhile Shanghai) is rendered skyward with clean glass towers, minimal advertising, and plenty of wide vistas and inviting space. In terms of cinematic depictions of America’s richest and most forward-thinking domain (California in itself the world’s 12th largest economy), we have come a long way from Ridley Scott’s septic, tactile and dizzying dystopic Blade Runner full of belching flames, corporate ziggurats and effluent pedestrian clutter. Architecture and aesthetics aside, there is more than a little common ground as a science fiction conceit; the questions being considered are somewhat in alignment: Can we love something ‘artificial’ if that thing can and will evolve to be more human than human? How do we interact with pervasive and ubiquitous ‘technology?’ Despite this concept being explored in may ways even in the infancy of this new millennium (From Soderbergh’s Solaris to Niccol’s S1mOne), this is the first true cinematic Pygmalion of the information age.

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Trailer #2: Her

“You’re dating an OS! What’s that like?”

While I feel it has been a drip-drip-drip flow of quality releases this fall/Oscar season, easily one of the most anticipated films (along with the new Coen Brothers and new David O. Russell) is Spike Jonze’s near-science fiction romance, Her. The images here are extraordinary, along with the emotion, earnestness and above all, very timely ideas. This trailer showcases also what appears to be a very committed cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Scarlett Johansson, Rooney Mara all look great here. In particular though, it is Pheonix who is playing very much against type, and yet he is so naturally engaging here that you’d never, ever know that he did any other type of role. In a word, this whole thing looks marvelous.

Friday One Sheet: American Hustle

In terms of glossy Hollyood genre fare that screams “Let’s just put on a goddamn show!” The fall film to beat is Ridley Scott’s The Counselor. But the dark horse is most certainly David O. Russell’s equally star studded heist drama American Hustle. Annapurna and their distributor Columbia (Sony) Pictures have put out some high-photoshop but still damn sexy showcases of their great looking cast in swanky period attire. Clean, simple, glamorous. I offer Academy Award winner Jennifer Lawrence above, but the rest of them are tucked under the seat.

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Trailer: Spike Jonze’s Her

The silky, inflected tones of Scarlett Johansson as a Siri-ish Operating System allow her owner, nebbish Joaquin Phoenix in a moustache, to fall in love and proceed from there. This is the premise, one brilliantly executed in the trailer (below) for the film which is simply titled Her and directed by Spike Jonze. The director has always done these offbeat films on the ‘human condition,’ (Adaptation, Being John Malkovich) and has made a few short films about robots recently, it looks to culminate in his first feature since the deeply empathetic Where The Wild Things Are. Amy Adams (her second recent pairing with Phoenix, here playing his sister), Rooney Mara and Olivia Wilde round out the cast.

Expect this film to make some waves when it gets released in November. For now, watch this trailer a half a dozen times and fall in love.

Friday One Sheet: Mondo Master

Mondo Tees ads another unique and interesting design to the plethora of quality poster artwork for P.T. Anderson’s The Master. Highlighting the both the charisma and processing techniques of Lancaster Dodd, but fully acknowledging the sexual and power influence of Peggy Dodd (note the placement of the arm, the ripple ghost and Amy Adam’s credit.) The familiar, net quite novel poster is nevertheless visually baffling and just a bit weird, kind of like the film. Bravo.

Review: Trouble with the Curve

Trouble with the Curve Still

Director: Robert Lorenz
Screenplay: Randy Brown
Producers: Clint Eastwood, Robert Lorenz, Michele Weisler
Starring: Clint Eastwood, Amy Adams, Justin Timberlake, Matthew Lillard, John Goodman
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running time: 111 min.


Early into Trouble with the Curve we meet “Peanut Boy” (Jay Galloway) a Latino youth that throws a bag of peanuts at Bo Gentry, a cocky hitter at the top of the draft list and who all the scouts are there to check out, including Clint Eastwood’s Gus. Problem is that Gus is losing his vision so he’s depending on his daughter Mickey (Amy Adams), named after the baseball legend, to help him figure out if the Gentry kid is as good as the computers say he is.

It’s important to note this scene because from the moment it plays out, I expected the story to meander in his direction. It eventually goes the way you’d expect it to though that bit of plot doesn’t take centre stage until much later in the movie and the farther the plot meanders from that scene, the clearer it becomes that Trouble with the Curve isn’t really a movie about baseball. Sure, there’s a lot of baseball in it and it takes place in the heat of a baseball road trip (complete with tailgaters) but at its core this is a family drama and a romantic comedy brought together by baseball.

Gus is a stubborn and independent guy, the best scout in the business. Bo Gentry is the up-and-comer everyone’s talking about so the Braves send Gentry out to make sure that the kid is solid. But Gus’ boss and good friend Pete (John Goodman) knows Gus isn’t doing so well so he calls up Gus’ daughter Mickey and essentially convinces her to help out dad by going with him on this scouting trip which could likely be his last. Reluctantly she agrees, a decision that will affect both her personal and professional life. While on the road she and her father finally come to terms with their broken relationship, Mickey falls for a former player turned scout (Justin Timberlake) and she eventually saves the day by discovering that Peanut Boy is an exceptionally gifted pitcher.

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Teaser #2 for P.T. Anderson’s The Master

They sure know how to cut a teaser trailer over at the Anderson camp. The second look at the upcoming film The Master is a great showcase of the very, very L. Ron Hubbard-ish character – Philip Seymour Hoffman looks to be astounding – as he works his charisma on the hapless (but awesome) Joaquin Phoenix in a tour-de-force bit of overlapping audio. Also, a first look at Amy Adams, but all eyes are on the Hoffman/Phoenix dynamic. This movie cannot hit the cinema soon enough.