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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.

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Review – Man of Steel (12a) [2013]

Man of Steel - title banner

Star Rating: 2.5/5

Director:

Producer:

  • Christopher Nolan – The Prestige, Inception, The Dark Knight I-III, Transcendence

Cast:

Music Composer:

Zack Snyder, who became a major film director following 300, is renowned for making movies that are pleasing on the eye, but have little by way of substance. Watchmen attempted to be profound without much success, and the less said about Sucker Punch the better. But could the input of the exceptional Christopher Nolan give Snyder the tools to change his ways and make the reboot of Superman, Man of Steel, a masterpiece?

Clarke Kent (Henry Cavill) working as a blue-collar worker, unsure as to who he really is or where his life is taking him.

Clarke Kent (Henry Cavill) working as a blue-collar worker, unsure as to who he really is or where his life is taking him.

  Man of Steel begins with Jor’El (Russell Crowe) sending his baby son, Kal-El to Earth before Krypton implodes. On Earth, Kal-El grows up as Clarke Kent (Henry Cavill) in America, aware of his strengths, yet uncertain as to who he is.

However, when General Zod (Michael Shannon) threatens Earth with destruction unless they hand over the ‘alien among the people,’ Clarke learns of his past and that he must confront his father-on-Krypton’s enemy.

Man of Steel begins in an interesting way by briefly showing audiences the politics on Krypton and why the planet foundered. It is accompanied by some stunning special effects to give viewers a true feel for the nature of the planet itself, including how babies are born, which bears a striking resemblance to how people are formed in Aldous Huxley’s A Brave New World.

Following the prologue of Krypton’s self-destruction, the film goes back and forth, illustrating Clarke Kent’s confusion throughout his life, in the wake of him becoming Superman. The most interesting aspect of this development is when Clarke’s father-on-Earth, Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner), asks/advises Clarke on the sort of man he wants to grow up to be. This attempts to give Clarke a third dimension, as well as some much needed depth to Man of Steel.

General Zod (Michael Shannon) declaring his strategy on Krypton.

General Zod (Michael Shannon) declaring his strategy on Krypton.

Alas, the movie otherwise lacks complexity and has the feel of Snyder’s Watchmen and, particular, Sucker Punch. Worse, as Snyder makes his eponymous character to be a God-like superhero, there is no sense of peril when watching Superman fight. Consequently, the half-dozen Matrix-style action scenes go on for far too long they become repetitive and boring quickly.

Length, in general, is a problem for Man of Steel. At 143 minutes, it is tediously long, especially as the plot only really starts when General Zod threatens Earth about an hour and fifteen minutes into the movie.

Furthermore, Man of Steel is not assisted by the characters. Although they’re all derived from the comic books, none of them are particularly interesting. That is not to say that the actors do a bad job with what they’re given, but the material does not allow them to excel. Henry Cavill fits the build and is adequate as Superman. But Superman lacks the charisma of Tony Stark/Iron Man or the multi-faceted personality of Bruce Wayne that Nolan superbly exploited in his Dark Knight Trilogy. Superman, in short, is just a traditional (ordinary) hero. The good, moral hero has been done to death, and viewers are right to demand more from filmmakers on this matter, even if the character is strictly in accordance with the comic books.

Similarly, Michael Shannon does a decent job as General Zod. Yet, Zod is more or less an old school, stereotypical villain, which is not interesting anymore. Kevin Costner and Russell Crowe playing as Clarke’s two fathers have the simplest roles in the film, but they are the most interesting characters by a distance (although Crowe’s part for much of the storyline is a deus ex machina, which is very frustrating).

Superman, flying in to save the city and the people from General Zod.

Superman, flying in to save the city and the people from General Zod.

Unusually, however, Amy Adams does not do herself justice as the journalist, Lois Lane. Whenever Lois speaks about Clarke’s supernatural/alien powers, Adams does not look like she believes in what she is saying, even though she attempts sincerity. (Then again, it is hard to criticise Adams on this matter, since the more serious one tries to be when talking about supernatural forces or aliens, the more laughable it appears.) And, strangely, the music by Hans Zimmer sounds average and unmemorable, which is most unusual for him, and that probably sums up Man of Steel.

Over-all, Man of Steel has a few stimulating ideas and some fantastic CGI that is worth seeing alone. However, the ideas are under-employed, and much of the film, including the major fight scenes are monotonous and boring. Thus, Man of Steel lacks what made Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies so engrossing, and it disappointingly bears the hallmarks of Zack Snyder’s films: all gloss and no substance.

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Review – Take Shelter (15) [2011]

Star Rating: 2.5/5

Often, when it comes to a descent into insanity, one is clueless that he/she is no longer behaving in a ‘normal’ way (whatever that means); it is only those around the ‘crazy’ individual that are aware of his/her madness. This is apparent in films like Shutter Island and Black Swan. The drama Take Shelter, despite being lame in comparison to those aforementioned movies, deals interestingly with the opposite.

Curtis (Michael Shannon) looking at some dark storm clouds with concern. This is what convinces him to build a storm shelter, even if he cannot afford it.

Based in a small town in Ohio, Curtis (Michael Shannon – Vanilla Sky, Machine Gun Preacher, Man of Steel), a man in his middle-thirties, is a construction-site worker. He may live in a decent-sized house and his life might ostensibly look like it is going well, but behind the scenes things are not so rosy. Curtis’s relationship with his wife, Sam (Jessica Chastain – The Debt, The Help, Coriolanus), has become strained due to some financial difficulties, as well as emotional stresses concerning their deaf daughter, Hannah (Tova Stewart).

Soon, Curtis starts having apocalyptic nightmares and visions of a gas storm that will destroy the town and its inhabitants. Fearing for his family, he builds an impenetrable storm shelter. The trouble for Curtis is that no-one else is concerned about this impending storm, and his mother, Sarah (Kathy Baker – Edward Scissorhands, Machine Gun Preacher, Against The Wall), was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia in her early thirties. Curtis is aware of this and worries that he is suffering from the same mental illness. But is this the case?

Sam (Jessica Chastain) makng breakfast for her family. She wonders why her husband has become so distant to her in recent times.

The plot for Take Shelter is simple and easy to follow. Audiences will have little difficulty in differentiating when they’re watching reality and Curtis’s dreams, since the dreams tend to be darker than real world (yet surprising not disturbing). However, as a result of needing to fix the film round Curtis, the director, Jeff Nichols (Shotgun Stories, Mud), focuses too greatly upon Curtis at the expense of the other main characters, Sam and Hannah. Indeed, neither Sam’s nor Hannah’s problems are even touched upon, which has the consequence of making them virtually irrelevant to the storyline. This is bizarre and undermines the movie’s realism.

Furthermore, Take Shelter is slow-paced and some parts of the plot go by the way side, such as Sam’s need for (breast?) implants (which would have been a good opportunity to delve into some of Sam’s insecurities), whilst the ending is a cheap stunt to make one rethink the entire movie. Also, considering the music throughout is either an ominous, yet anticipatory, beat or a boding-doom thud, one waits expectantly for the climax, like in Black Swan, or for the revelatory twist, such as in Shutter Island. But it never arrives, which is extremely frustrating.

Viewer’s frustration is likely to be exacerbated by the film’s length. At 121 minutes Take Shelter is quite long, and the movie feels longer still because of the artistic style that Nichols has employed. In theory, there is nothing wrong with this style, but for a film about psychological disorders it may not have been the most sensible method to choose. Too many scenes have little action or dialogue, and when there is dialogue it can often have prolonged gaps and be devoid of emotion. The lack of outburst from any of the two main adult characters seems odd too (and perhaps improbable) considering the emotional strains and financial pressures that they’re under. Maybe if Nichols had taken inspiration from the emotive drama, Revolutionary Road, Take Shelter would have been considerably better.

The family in the shelter after hearing the storm siren. Such is Curtis’s paranoia that he even bought his family the most up-to-date gas masks in the case of a storm.

In Revolutionary Road, Frank (Leonardo Dicaprio) and April (Kate Winslet) had depth and the power to make audiences empathise with their respective feelings and predicaments. In contrast, here, Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain perform with a remarkable lack of intensity, plus there appears to be no love or antipathy between the married couple (even though they constantly remind us of their love for each other). The acting is not poor and it gets better as the film goes on; yet, it is a far cry from the exceptional performances in any of the aforementioned movies.

Over-all, Take Shelter shows us that people with psychological disorders can realise, to a limited extent, that they are veering towards ‘insanity.’ It is just irritating that the film is quite uneventful, tedious and lacks the strong performances necessary to put it on a par with Black Swan or Revolutionary Road.

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