Review – Denial (12a) [2017]

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Star Rating: 4/5

Director:

  • Mick Jackson – The Bodyguard, Volcano, Temple Grandin

Cast:

Music Composer:

  • Howard Shore – The Lord of the Rings I-III, A History of Violence, The Departed, The Hobbit III & III, The Spider

If 2016 determined anything, it was that we now live in a Post-Truth era. In such an era, facts do not matter since there are ‘alternative facts’ that just have to sound real to be true. Yet, does that mean there are no incontrovertible facts at all? What about the existence of gravity, or that the Earth is round, or whether Henry VIII had six wives, or whether the Holocaust happened? In 2000, the High Court of England determined at least one of these facts. Director Mike Jackson’s Denial brings the libel case that the antisemitic, Neo-Nazi propagandist David Irving brought and lost against the American academic, Deborah Lipstadt, to the big screen.

Deborah Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) addressing students on Holocaust denial in 1994, where she asserts that David Irving is a liar.

Deborah Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) addressing students on Holocaust denial in 1994, where she ass that David Irving is a liar.

Denial is based on the case and the book, History On Trial, by Deborah Lipstadt. The film opens pretty much with the scene in the trailer where Deborah (Rachel Weisz) is addressing students about the Holocaust in 1994. No sooner does she say that David Irving is a liar and that she will never debate with Holocaust deniers, when Irving (Timothy Spall) stands up and mocks her. Deborah refuses to speak with him or deny her accusation. Subsequently, Irving takes legal action against her. Deborah responds by getting together a legal team, consisting predominantly of barrister Richard Rampton (Tom Wilkinson) and solicitor Anthony Julius (Andrew Scott), and they set about uncovering Irving’s ‘facts’ for the lies they are.

Denial is a slick legal thriller. It goes through the different stages of the case very well, so that viewers understand the sheer amount of work the lawyers had to do at the pre-trial stages and during the trial itself. The movie shows all of this with efficiency, particularly from Lipstadt’s side; Irving’s less so, but that is because he did not have a lawyer to represent him in court. (Irving claimed that no-one could represent him better than himself. Lipstadt and her legal team believed that he could not afford the legal fees.)

David Irving (Timothy Spall) stands up to Deborah's accusation and urges her to argue with him on the 'facts' that the Holocaust did not happen.

David Irving (Timothy Spall) stands up to Deborah’s accusation and urges her to argue with him on the ‘facts’ that the Holocaust did not happen.

Irving is portrayed with relish by Timothy Spall as a vain, headline grabbing, publicity-seeker. At times, it is almost comical watching him pander to the cameras (or the cameras to him). Yet, at other times, one just wants to ask him: don’t you realise how stupid you are going to look at the end of this? And this is not just because we know he is going to lose the case. It is because, as is typical with bigots, antisemitic or otherwise, they let their prejudices distort their realities to the point where the differences between black and white, night and day, and fire and ice no longer exist. Regardless, Spall makes Irving entertaining to watch, which is quite an achievement since the man is a Hitler lover.

Irving’s opponents are played well too. Rachel Weisz turns in a (very) strong New York accent and portrays Lipstadt as passionate and uncompromising in her belief to take down an odious Holocaust denier. Andrew Scott illustrates Anthony Julius aptly as a cold and pugnacious borderline sociopath. And Tom Wilkinson does a good job as Richard Rampton, showing him to have a soul to go with his professional façade.

Denial is driven by its protagonists. It is just as well too, as the film does not have much else going for it. For one, one feels no tension as the case builds up to its verdict. Considering the protagonists keep stressing how massive the case is and that it will determine if the Holocaust happened (as absurd as that sounds), it is startling that one feels nothing. And before one argues that it is impossible to feel anything as viewers know the outcome before going into Denial, let us remind ourselves that we felt euphoric after King George VI gave his speech in The King’s Speech; that we felt endangered when Batman and Bane first went to blows in The Dark Knight Rises; and that we felt heart-broken when Alice gained Early-Onset Alzheimer’s in Still Alice, despite knowing what would happen by the end in those movies. This indicates that director Mike Jackson’s sense of timing needs improvement.

The real Deborah Lipstadt with her legal team, back in 2000, after her victory.

The real Deborah Lipstadt with her legal team, back in 2000, after her victory.

Second, the film misses out a noteworthy (and hilarious) moment in the case, which is astonishing. And, three, Howard Shore’s music score is hugely disappointing. Like the film, his score becomes mawkish and sentimental when it needs to crank up the tension. For a man who once wrote the wondrous, engrossing music for The Lord of the Rings, one knows he can do better. Indeed, one knows that courtroom drama can be done better. Watch the recent National Treasure, starring Robbie Coltrane.

All-in-all, Denial is a nicely put together legal thriller. It has a good cast that perform well and it does a decent job at portraying the case that David Irving brought against Deborah Lipstadt. More significantly, though, the movie forensically examines the evidence we have to prove that the Holocaust happened and surgically debunks Holocaust denial. Thus, like gravity, like the Earth is round, and like Henry VIII having six wives, the Holocaust’s occurrence as a historical fact is incontestable. Bearing in mind the era we live in currently, that is vital.

PG’s Tips

Review – La La Land (12a) [2017]

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Star Rating: 4.5/5

Director:

Cast:

Music Composer:

Damien Chazelle announced himself to the world two years ago with aplomb. Since Whiplash left cinemas, viewers have waited patiently to see what he would do next. Well, now, Chazelle has returned with La La Land and it is another masterpiece.

Mia (Emma Stone), an aspiring actress, working as a barista in between auditions at a coffee shop along the Hollywood boulevard.

Mia (Emma Stone), an aspiring actress, working as a barista in between auditions at a coffee shop along the Hollywood boulevard.

La La Land is predominantly about Mia (Emma Stone) and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling). Both live in Hollywood and are struggling to make their dreams come true. She is an aspiring actress, working as a barista to pay bills; and he is a jazz piano player, doing the odd gig here and there to make ends meet. They bump into each other a few times and a romantic relationship blossoms. But is their relationship compatible with their careers?

  La La Land is a delightful musical drama. It is an unashamed throwback to Hollywood’s lost golden era and it is full of radiant joy. Everyone is happy and they frequently break into song and dance to show the world how happy they are. (If anything, the characters are too happy and this grates on the nerves. Nothing is seriously wrong in their lives and money is never a problem, even though both of the main characters lack funds.)

Bill (JK Simmons), the owner of a restaurant, telling Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) to just play Christmas themed piano pieces and not the jazz tunes that Sebastian likes to play.

Bill (JK Simmons), the owner of a restaurant, telling Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) to just play Christmas themed piano pieces and not the jazz tunes that Sebastian likes to play.

In many ways, La La Land is the polar opposite of Whiplash. Whereas Whiplash was intense, with the passion and pace of a boxing thriller, La La Land is laid back and blissful. Yet, it shares the jazzy elements of Whiplash as well as the desire of its characters to fulfill their ambitions, regardless of the price. The issue of compromise is key throughout both films, and it is interesting to see which direction the characters decide to go in La La Land when they are confronted with the junction of their careers on the one hand and their relationship on the other.

The reasons we have no idea which way the characters will go is, one, because of the tone of the film; and, two, because of the acting and chemistry of the two main characters: Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. The good-looking pair have worked well together before in Crazy, Stupid, Love and Gangster Squad, but La La Land is undoubtedly their best collaboration to date. Their characters are clichéd, but Emma Stone shows a solid range of emotional skills and also that she can sing decently too (Gosling less so).

However, the two real stars of La La Land are Justin Hurwitz and Damien Chazelle. First, hats off to Hurwitz: his score is wondrous. The music he created for Whiplash was terrific, but this is another level; especially, as the range of jazz in La La Land is extraordinary. Even if one does not like jazz in general, one will love it in this film thanks to Hurwitz.

Sebastian and Mia happily dancing (as everyone is wont to do in La La Land), while looking lovingly into each other's eyes.

Sebastian and Mia happily dancing (as everyone is wont to do in La La Land), while looking lovingly into each other’s eyes.

And then there is director Chazelle. What can one say? He is proving himself to be quite a talent. His understanding of directing, editing, cinematography and choreography is exemplary. He also seems to love what he does and this shines through in every scene. Long may it continue!

Over-all, La La Land is a spell-binding musical drama. It is happy-clappy, but it is charming and its two leads perform really well together. Additionally, the music is gorgeous. Nevertheless, it is Damien Chazelle who steals the limelight. More than anything, he proves with La La Land that Whiplash was not a one-off marvel and that, at the tender age of 32, he is on the right road to a distinguished career.

PG’s Tips

Review – Assassin’s Creed (12a) [2016]

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Star Rating: 2.5/5

Director:

  • Justin Kurzel – The Snowtown Murders, Macbeth, Haven

Cast:

Music Composer:

  • Jed Kurzel – The Snowtown MurdersThe BabadookSlow West, Alien: Covenant

Films based on video games have not been well received, historically. Super Mario Bros, House of the Dead and BloodRayne were atrocious; Street Fighter was rubbish, even if it had moments of unintentional hilarity; while Warcraft was bad, but tolerable mainly due to the visuals. This raises two questions: one, can video games be successfully adapted into movies? And, two, could Justin Kurzel, reuniting with his Macbeth co-stars Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard, buck the trend of bad video game adaptations with Assassin’s Creed?

Rikkin (Jeremy Irons, left) telling Cal (Michael Fassbender) about the purpose of his institution.

Rikkin (Jeremy Irons, left) telling Cal (Michael Fassbender) about the purpose of his institution.

Assassin’s Creed is based on the video game franchise of the same name. The film goes back and forth between fifteenth-century Spain and the present day. Cal (Michael Fassbender) is a descendent of Aguilar de Nerha, an assassin in 1492. He is recruited by a scientist, called Sofia (Marion Cotillard), who needs him to go into a machine and become his ancestor. That way, they can discover what happened to the Apple of Eden. For the Apple was the source of sin in the world and, with it, Sofia and her father, Rikkin (Jeremy Irons), can rid the world of evil. The only problem is that the Knight’s Templars stand in their way…

Assassin’s Creed has a lot going for it. The CGI is very good. Justin Kurzel has done his homework with regards to what Spanish cities looked like in 1492, so the art and architecture are fantastic. Michael Fassbender puts in an admirable, physically-demanding performance that Jason Bourne would be proud of. And the film is full of fight scenes and action sequences that are well choreographed.

Yet, for all the above, Assassin’s Creed is boring and head-bangingly silly. The storyline makes no sense (not that it was ever meant to) and the movie has a superfluous amount of overly long (and amateurishly sped up) fight scenes. Indeed, the film has so much action, one wonders if the fleeting bits of (incoherent) dialogue are sprinkled in here and there to give viewers respite before the next action sequence begins.

Cal in the machine that connects him to his ancestor, Aguilar.

Cal in the machine that connects him to his ancestor, Aguilar.

Furthermore, the performances of Marion Cotillard and Jeremy Irons leave a lot to be desired and both deserve their Golden Raspberry nominations. Cotillard, at least, looks like she is trying (at times), only to be let down by the nonsensical script. Irons, on the other hand, is just going through the motions. His laziness is on a par with Liam Neeson in Battleship, which means Irons is in Assassin’s Creed solely to pick up the cheque and visit some historic locations while he’s at it. (Come on, Irons, you can do better than this. You have won an Oscar, voiced Scar with banal menace, and earned yourself a golden globe nomination for your portrayal of Pope Alexander VI as recently as 2012. Put in some effort for heaven’s sake.)

Nevertheless, as bad as Irons’ acting is, Jed Kurzel’s music is worse. God knows why, but he decided against using Assassin’s Creed’s awesome video game theme tune for the film. (Seriously, it is so awesome DB Weisz and David Benioff used it as background music for the second trailer for Game of Thrones, Season Five.) No, instead, Jed Kurzel has written an awful score that is so loud it cannot be heard and gives one a thumping headache. Plus, what was Jed Kurzel thinking when he decided to use loud, electric guitars to be at the heart of his score for the Medieval/Renaissance Spain scenes? It simply does not work!

Aguilar the Assassin fighting men of the Knight's Templar.

Aguilar the Assassin fighting men of the Knight’s Templar.

Over-all, Assassin’s Creed is a shambles of a film, but it is not an atrocity to cinema. Sure, it is dull; the script and the dialogue are incomprehensible; some of the acting reeks of a disinterest; and the music is horrible. But the movie also has several positive elements, such as the CGI, cinematography and Michael Fassbender’s acting. These give the film cre(e)dence and make it marginally watchable.

But does Assassin’s Creed buck the trend of bad video game adaptations? Not really. And if a video game adaptation with as much talent as Assassin’s Creed cannot turn the tide in the right direction, perhaps video games should remain on their consoles rather than be adapted for the big screen.

PG’s Tips

Review – A Monster Calls (12a) [2017]

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Star Rating: 4.5/5

Director:

  • JA Bayona – The Orphanage, The Impossible, Untitled Jurassic World Sequel

Cast:

Music Composer:

  • Fernando Velázquez – The Orphanage, The Impossible, Mama, Crimson Peak, The Invisible Guest

In medieval and early modern times a series of fairy tales came to the fore in European folklore. Based on true or quasi-mythical events, fantastical stories like Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, and The Little Mermaid taught children simple, moral lessons that could be adapted to all eras to help them deal with their problems. JA Boyena’s brilliant, A Monster Calls has a similar moral to its tale.

Conor (Lewis MacDougall) looking at the old yew tree in the distance, which is fabled to be a tree that can cure people.

Conor (Lewis MacDougall) looking at the old yew tree in the distance, which is fabled to be a tree that can cure people.

The film is based on the book by Patrick Ness, which itself was inspired by an idea by Siobhan Dowd. The movie centres round lonely, 12-year-old Conor (Lewis MacDougall). His mother (Felicity Jones) is suffering from a terminal illness and he is being bullied at school. With so much going on in his life, Conor needs to find an outlet. One night, while at drawing at his desk, the old yew tree near his house comes alive (voiced by Liam Neeson) and advises him on how to deal with his problems.

A Monster Calls is a wonderful, yet heart-breaking fantasy drama. It is a folktale in all but name, since it handles very real issues and enables our protagonist to confront the unfairness of his situation in a constructive and tender way. Also, narratively, the movie links every element of the story together. By the end, viewers understand why Conor sees this particular monster, why the Monster has its voice, and the significance of the Monster’s advice, among others. This makes A Monster Calls all the more moving to watch.

Conor with his ailing mother (Felicity Jones), who is trying to reassure Conor that she will be all right.

Conor with his ailing mother (Felicity Jones), who is trying to reassure Conor that she will be all right.

The movie is delivered with great sensitivity. JA Bayona’s directing is top class and the fantasy parts of the film are always appropriate and never over the top. The script is down to earth and delivered with the right amount of anger, compassion, and bluntness, depending upon the scene. The cast must be commended for this; especially, young Lewis MacDougall. He spends much time on screen alone (or with a CGI monster) and he manages to hold the audience’s attention due to the strength of his acting. This is no easy feat (one need only watch Jayden Smith’s awful performance in After Earth to realise how talented an actor must be to keep viewers interested when he/she is alone on screen). If he continues to perform so well in the future, MacDougall will be a star.

But MacDougall is not the only one who shines. Felicity Jones gives a genuine and heart-felt performance, putting a good spin on her diagnosis for her son despite looking worryingly worse as the film progresses. Similarly, Sigourney Weaver performs splendidly as a grandmother locked in a bygone era, trying to come to terms with losing her daughter and having to look after her grandson. Toby Kebbell, too, does a good job as a man who is not the sharpest pencil in the packet academically, but has emotional intelligence and is trying to do his best for Conor, in spite of his character’s impossible predicament.

If the circumstances aren’t enough to touch people, Fernando Velázquez’s music will do enough to induce lumps in viewers’ throats. His score is subtle and tugs at the heart, thereby giving an added dimension to the pain that our protagonists are suffering, particularly Conor.

Conor facing the (Liam Neeson-voiced) Monster, which looks like a cross between Treebeard from Lord of the Rings and Arnie's terminator, urging it to save his mother.

Conor facing the (Liam Neeson-voiced) Monster, which looks like a cross between Treebeard from Lord of the Rings and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator, urging the Monster to save his mother.

Nevertheless, what is it that Conor is actually suffering from? If A Monster Calls has a flaw, it is that the film vocalises Conor’s pain. This comes across as tell-heavy and unnecessary. Just as the timeless fairy tales did not spell out the moral message of their stories, the movie would have been better served if it would have let audiences infer its message. Yet, this is nip-picking as the film should be enjoyed for the wonder that it is.

All-in-all, A Monster Calls is a fabulous, tear-jerking movie. It has a splendid plot, a cast that fulfil their roles superbly, and it finely blends reality and fantasy. What’s more, A Monster Calls has a strong moral message. This is what makes it a twenty-first century fairy tale, comparable to the classic folklore stories. The film offers children a coping mechanism for when they are confronted with a horrible reality.

PG’s Tips

Review – Arrival (12a) [2016]

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Star Rating: 4/5

Director:

  • Denis Villeneuve – Prisoners, Sicario, Untitled Blade Runner film

Cast:

Music Composer:

  • Johann Johannsson – Prisoners, The Theory of Everything, Sicario, The Mercy

Aliens invading Earth is not an original idea. Since 1996, there has been an overabundance of alien invasion movies. From the entertaining (Independence Day I and Men in Black I); to the risible (Mars Attacks! and Battlefield Earth); to the Tom Cruise saves the day flicks (War of the Worlds, Oblivion and Edge of Tomorrow); to a board game adaptation (Battleship, starring deserved Golden Raspberry winner Rihanna); to comic book adaptations (The Avengers I and Man of Steel); to the dull (Battle: LA and Independence Day II), audiences have seemingly seen it all when it comes to this genre. So how can Arrival differentiate itself and stamp its own mark?

One of the twelve UFOs. This one has stopped in rural Montana, with beautiful fields and mountains for scenery.

One of the twelve UFOs. This one has stopped in rural Montana, with beautiful fields and mountains for scenery.

Arrival is based on the short story by Ted Chiang. Twelve UFOs (shaped like giant contact-lenses) station themselves on random locations in the world. Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) of the US military asks Louise (Amy Adams), an expert linguistics lecturer, to use her philological skills to help the US government. Louise agrees and together with Ian (Jeremy Renner), a scientist, they try to work out what the aliens are saying, why they have come, and what their intentions are.

Concurrently, Louise keeps thinking of her daughter, Hannah. Somehow, Louise’s interactions with Hannah have a link to the aliens. But what is it?

Arrival is an interesting and original sci-fi film. Unlike the movies listed above, this one has no action sequences. Indeed, it is anti-action and does not depend on mass special effects either. Rather, the movie stresses the need for dialogue between the humans and the great other. This is most refreshing as guns, explosions, and the annihilation of aliens has long since become a sci-fi trope.

The stress for dialogue also enables viewers to comprehend the nature of our own languages and how they have shaped societies, which is interesting. Furthermore, the film gives us insight into a lost past in which peoples who had no common language made peace and worked with one other: for example, when the Spanish and Portuguese invaded Latin America in the late-fifteen century, and when the British began forging an empire in India in the seventeenth century. (Granted, the Spanish, Portuguese and British killed their fair share of the indigenous populations. But they still had to communicate and work with those they didn’t kill.)

Louise (Amy Adams) looking up in awe at the aliens. Her big blue eyes are so expressive and hint at a plethora of emotions running through her to add depth to her character.

Louise (Amy Adams) looking up in awe at the aliens. Her big blue eyes are so expressive and hint at a plethora of emotions running through her to add depth to her character.

Yet, as interesting as it is watching humans trying to work a new language, it is not particularly stimulating. At times, it is like watching someone untie a bunch of tangled wires or put together a complex, multi-piece puzzle. Both of which are fascinating, but become tedious after a while. Arrival does, however, do its best to keep viewers attentive. Principally, this is done by Forest Whitaker’s character (repeatedly) urging Amy Adams/Louise and Jeremy Renner/Ian to find out the intentions of the aliens because the US, Chinese, Russian and Sudanese(?) governments are preparing to launch military assaults on the UFOs/aliens. It is a good method, but one that becomes cheap and wearisome after a while.

Moreover, Arrival’s ending has two elements: one is very clever and satisfying; the other, though, streams into wishful thinking. This leaves audiences with a peculiar feeling. One wants to praise the finale, yet one cannot help but feel that it weakens the film as most of mankind (realists) understand that international diplomacy does not work the way the movie illustrates; self-interest being one of the many reasons for this.

But for all the plot’s problems, the actors perform well; especially, Amy Adams. Her character is multifaceted since Louise is witty, successful and hardworking, but also insecure and in grief. The pressure of trying to understand the Alien’s language rapidly gets at her, as well, and the way it manifests itself makes for curious viewing.

Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) telling Louise and Ian (Jeremy Renner) to find out why the aliens have come and what they want. And fast. Otherwise, there will be war.

Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) telling Louise and Ian (Jeremy Renner) to find out why the aliens have come and what they want. And fast. Otherwise, there will be war.

Unusually, the male characters are marginalised. Normally in Hollywood, it is the other way round. But Arrival has smartly inverted this cliché. Renner’s character/Ian is a good support for Louise and they work well together. Whitaker’s character/Colonel Weber is less so. He has one purpose and it is a relief that his character does not stray into the puffed-up general bad-guy trope, like Steven Lang’s villainous army man in Avatar. This is a good thing too for two reasons: one, Whitaker/Weber is not a villain (on the contrary, he is just a man who is afraid of the unknown); and, two, it helps to make Arrival something different.

Arrival is a brave and admirable alien invasion drama. It is distinctive as it refuses to go down the action and CGI route. Instead, it relies on its characters and the quest for dialogue and peace. The movie achieves this with success. For sure, the movie has issues, notably its ending. Nevertheless, Arrival must be commended. It stamps its own mark in a genre that has otherwise become generic and braindead.

PG’s Tips

Review – Nocturnal Animals (15) [2016]

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Star Rating 5/5

Director:

  • Tom Ford – A Single Man

Cast:

  • Amy Adams – Catch Me If You CanThe FighterThe MasterHerMan of SteelBig EyesBatman v Superman, Arrival
  • Jake Gyllenhaal – The Day After Tomorrow, Source Code, Prisoners, Southpaw, Stronger
  • Armie Hammer – Gossip Girl, The Social Network, Edgar, The Man From UNCLE, Jackpot
  • Isla Fisher – Wedding Crashers, Confessions of A Shopaholic, Now You See Me I & II, Keeping Up With The Joneses
  • Michael Shannon – Revolutionary Road,Take ShelterMudMan of Steel, Batman v SupermanElvis & Nixon
  • Ellie Bamber – The Falling, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms
  • Laura Linney – The Truman Show, Love Actually, John Adams, The Dinner
  • Andrea Riseborough – Shadow Dancer, Oblivion, Birdman, National Treasure, The Death of Stalin
  • Michael Sheen – Frost/Nixon, Twilight II & IV(i)-(ii), Alice In Wonderland I & II, Passengers
  • Karl Glusman – Love, Stonewall, The Neon Demon, Above Suspicion
  • Robert Aramayo – Game of Thrones, The Empty Man, Lost In Florence
  • Aaron Taylor-Johnson – Nowhere Boy, Kick-Ass I & II, Godzilla, The Wall

Music Composer:

  • Abel Korzeniowski – A Single Man, W.E., Romeo & Juliet, Penny Dreadful

The Light Between Oceans (TLBO) looked like a film that, at first glance, was Oscar material. It had the cast, the ideas and the cinematography to be a great film. But it was a total mess of a movie and a real disappointment. By way of contrast, Nocturnal Animals has similar components. Only, it is brilliant.

Susan (Amy Adams), alone in her mansion, drinking whiskey. She has such sad eyes that are full of the deepest of emotions.

Susan (Amy Adams), alone in her mansion, drinking whiskey. She has such blue and sad eyes that are full of the deepest of emotions.

Nocturnal Animals is a film based on the 1993 book, Tony and Susan, by Austin Wright. Susan (Amy Adams) is a modern-art gallery owner. One day, as her second husband, Walker (Armie Hammer), goes off on a ‘business trip,’ Susan gets a package in the post. It is from her first husband, Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal), whom Susan left twenty years ago. He has sent her a manuscript of his new book, entitled ‘Nocturnal Animals,’ and wants to hear her opinion.

Alone in her beautiful mansion overlooking LA, Susan picks up the manuscript and begins reading it. However, as she reads it, she is forced to relive and confront some demons from her past. Notably: her marriage to Edward and why it broke down.

Nocturnal Animals is full of suspense, tense and gripping. It is a phenomenal story within a story movie, in which both stories are fascinating for very different reasons: the first is about Susan/Amy Adams, who lives the high (empty) life in LA, but is deeply unhappy; the second is about a good family, consisting of Tony (Jake Gyllenhaal), Laura (Isla Fisher, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Amy Adams), and India (Ellie Bamber), on their way to a vacation that goes violently wrong, and a thirst for justice/vengeance ensues. Both stories could be feature films in their own rights. Yet, Director Tom Ford links them together superbly so that the second story enhances our understanding of the first and is a metaphor for it.

Tony (Jake Gyllenhaal, who also plays Edward) and detective Bobby (Michael Shannon) in the rocky plains in the middle of nowhere in Texas, searching for the scene of the crime.

Tony (Jake Gyllenhaal, who also plays Edward) and detective Bobby (Michael Shannon) in the rocky plains in the middle of nowhere in Texas, searching for the scene of the crime.

Like TLBO, Nocturnal Animals deals with a plethora of complex issues, such as love, regret, people turning into their parents, justice, revenge, and actions having consequences. But unlike TLBO, Nocturnal Animals gives substance to these issues and the result makes for a deeply satisfying watch.

Suffice to say, the whole cast excels. Amy Adams is the standout performer as the successful but emotionally broken main character, who became everything she did not want to be; Jake Gyllenhaal fits seamlessly into both the sensitive Edward and the traumatised Tony; Michael Shannon feels genuine as the detective tracking down the sick thugs who commit the heinous crimes on Tony’s family; and Aaron Taylor-Johnson is unrecognisable as the leading hillbilly hoodlum.

Furthermore, Ford’s style of directing and the music heighten the tension throughout the movie. Ford holds onto scenes (particularly the horrific ones) for longer than audiences would like. This induces fear and an unnerving sensation into viewers. The music augments this with pulsing thuds and plucky string noises to further unsettle audiences.

Ray (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) looking like he is about to break into sadistic laughter.

Ray (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) looking like he is about to break into sadistic laughter.

And if that weren’t enough, the locations add an organic terror. Nocturnal Animals lacks the beauty of landscapes such as those seen in The Way Back, The Revenant and TLBO. But the fine-looking houses have a dangerous edge, as if they suck one into a vacuous void that one cannot get out of; and the deserted planes of the Deep South, the long highways, and the abandoned dusty shacks in the middle of nowhere (where one imagines unspeakable crimes occurring in the real world) ramp up the tension to intolerable levels.

All-in-all, Nocturnal Animals is an outstanding movie. It is an arresting thriller that is absolutely flawless both narratively and in its execution. While TLBO looked like Oscar material but failed to live up to its own (high) standards, Nocturnal Animals looks the part and succeeds in the most impressive and profound ways.

PG’s Tips

Review – The Light Between Oceans (12a) [2016]

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Star Rating: 2/5

Director:

  • Derek Cianfrance – Blue Valentine, The Place Beyond The Pines, Metalhead

Cast:

Music Composer:

There are some films that look like Oscar material. They have stellar actors in the main roles, a seemingly interesting plot, and wondrous cinematography. Yet, the film remains in post-production for longer than it should and, upon viewing, the movie simply does not work. 2014’s Serena was one such film. The Light Between Oceans (TLBO) is another.

A stunning view of the lighthouse and the ocean from Janus Rock.

A stunning view of the lighthouse and the ocean from Janus Rock.

  TLBO is a film based on the novel with same title by ML Stedman. It is December 1918 and Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender) has returned to Australia from the Western Front. World War I (WWI) has taken his toll on him. To recuperate, he applies for a job as a lighthouse keeper on a remote Australian island, called Janus Rock.

After getting the job, he meets Isabel (Alicia Vikander). The two marry and go to live on the island. Life is going all right for the happy(ish) couple, until a baby and a dead man wash up on a lifeboat one day. Tom and Isabel are presented with a dilemma: one that will have consequences for the both of them.

Let’s deal with the good elements of TLBO first. The scenery is spectacular. The producers have chosen a beautiful island to represent Janus Rock and the cinematography captures the wonders (and dangers) of this isolated island. Enhancing the sense of isolation is Alexandre Desplat’s beautiful score. It tugs at the heart at times and makes us feel the eerie remoteness of the place at others.

Additionally, Alicia Vikander and Michael Fassbender, with Rachel Weisz in the chief supporting role, are attractive and perform decently. But their Australian accents are glaringly non-existent and their characters are bafflingly boring.

The happy couple, Isabel (Alicia Vikander) and Tom (Michael Fassbender), dancing at their wedding. This photo may be genuine show of affection from the two actors since they are a couple in real life as a result of this film.

The happy couple, Isabel (Alicia Vikander) and Tom (Michael Fassbender), dancing at their wedding. This photo may be genuine show of affection from the two actors since they are a couple in real life as a result of this film.

Nevertheless, actors can only work with what they are given. Even the finest of our current crop of actors cannot make something out of a poor script and a frustratingly uninteresting plot. It does not help that at 140 minutes TLBO is a long film. Nothing of significance happens for the first 45 minutes when finally the moral dilemma (i.e. the turning point of the story) arrives. That is at least 30 minutes too late. And even when it does arrive, the conundrum is handled in a woefully sentimental manner, well beyond the point of incredulity. It could even be argued that TLBO trivialises child abduction and Stockholm Syndrome, since the former is dealt with as well-meaning and the latter as a non-issue. Director Derek Cianfrance really should have done more research into these highly sensitive subjects as then the reactions of the characters would not be perplexing. Either that, or Cianfrance got the wrong end of the stick, completely.

But these are merely the start of TLBO’s problems. The film feels badly disjointed. This is despite the director’s best efforts to stitch scenes together that bear no link, using the trick of fading one scene into the next. But it does not make the movie flow any easier and makes one realise that TLBO has some fundamental storyline issues. This could explain why the movie spent more time than it should have done (near two years) in post-production.

The issues regarding the storyline are not helped by the movie trying to cover a plethora of topics, including love, grief, trauma, moral dilemmas, and the consequences of one’s actions. All of these can make for fascinating viewing if they are done well. Yet, none of them are properly fleshed out and there is too much telling and not enough showing in the film. This all makes for a recipe of unsatisfying viewing.

The parallels with Serena could not be more apparent. That film had an attractive cast, starring Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Toby Jones and Conleth Hill (better known as Lord Varys from Game of Thrones); it had gorgeous cinematography; and dealt with a lot of interesting subject matters, such as starting up one’s own business in North Carolina during the Great Depression, law enforcement, corruption, and mafia. But it was a mess of a movie. This led to questions of what director Susanne Bier had initially wanted from the film, what she had cut out in the editing room, and how she had come to release the final draft of the film because Serena was a muddle that did not know what story it was trying to tell.

A distraught Hannah (Rachel Weisz) looking for her husband and daughter. They disappeared at sea and no-one has seeing them since to her knowledge.

A distraught Hannah (Rachel Weisz) looking for her husband and daughter. They disappeared at sea and no-one has seeing them since to her knowledge.

TLBO is not on the same scale as Serena. But many of the questions that applied to Serena apply for TLBO. It would be nice if, one day, Cianfrance spoke about what he set out to achieve with TLBO, what he succeeded on, what he failed on, and why he failed on them. Ironically, that would make for a much more interesting tale than the one consisting of Alicia Vikander, Michael Fassbender and Rachel Weisz.

Over-all, TLBO is a disappointing movie. It has the cast, the setting, and the ideas to be an Oscar contender. Yet, it is a dysfunctional tangle of half-baked plots that go in directions that aren’t plausible. If that does not vex viewers, the movie’s sentimentality will take them over the edge. Indeed, soppiness of the movie will make them wish that The Light Between Oceans had remained in post-production permanently.

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