Movie review: Nocturnal Animals

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to another Amy Adams movie review. A few back, I discussed Arrival and today, I’m giving you my thoughts on Nocturnal Animals.

IMDb summary: An art gallery owner is haunted by her ex-husband’s novel, a violent thriller she interprets as a veiled threat and a symbolic revenge tale.

In short, I would describe Nocturnal Animals as Hell or High Water and The Neon Demon put together. The more glamorous parts of the film (the bourgeoisie and the art scene), as well as the stylistic look of it, reminded me of The Neon Demon (plus, Demon was about the fashion world, Animals directed by a fashion designer), while the grittier parts – the book’s plot – were reminiscent of Hell or High Water both visually and thematically.

The fashion designer Tom Ford both wrote, directed, and produced Nocturnal Animals. This was his second attempt at making a feature film . I’ve not seen his first movie – A Single Man – but he impressed me a lot this time around, so I will most likely check out his debut movie. He successfully transitioned from designing to filmmaking and I’m excited to see what he will come up with next.

Writing and Story

I absolutely loved the clever and intriguing narrative of the film. All the different storylines – the reality, the book’s plot and the flashbacks – were separately interesting and distinctive but I also liked how they were combined and how they mirrored each other. In general,  I would say that the fipm was based on  thematical dichotomies – Texas vs. LA/NY, parents vs. children, felons vs. victims, past vs. present, and book vs. reality – and all of them were super engaging. I also liked the fact that the movie did not take sides: it critiqued both the southern traditional way of life and the uber modern and stylish world of the urban high classes.

Nocturnal Animals also appealed to me because it explored my biggest anxieties: the most obvious one was, of course, all of the events of the book (kidnap, rape, and murder). However, the fear of becoming like my parents and the anxiety which surrounds the uncertainty of my future are both very familiar and deeply personal to me as well. 

The movie had a very open ending and left some questions unanswered. Three theories immediately sprung up in my mind. 1. Maybe the film’s message was that one cannot truly change the past and it might sometimes be too late to say sorry, so that’s why the ex-husband didn’t show up. 2. Maybe, the novel’s events were just the main character’s way of dealing with the past mistakes a.k.a. putting ideas into a narrative and the ex-husband wasn’t actually a real person. 3. Maybe the book was just one big suicide note and that’s why he didn’t show up?  I’m probably totally wrong but it is fun to speculate and think about it.

Directing and Visuals

Nocturnal Animals had an interesting blend of visuals: it mixed urban lights with rural desserts. I especially loved all the landscape shots – the framed stills would make for some amazing photographs. The way modern art was used in the film was also interesting. I, personally, don’t get modern art but I can appreciate it. However, I got to say – I was a bit weirded out by the opening of the film (nudity) and wasn’t entirely sure if I was even in the right screening. However, I think that that was the point of the scene – it was meant to shock and to showcase the eccentric world of art that the film’s main character inhabited.

Nocturnal Animals was a perfect example of a successfully and tastefully stylized movie. Tom Ford’s design background and eye for textures and colors really assisted him in the choice of visuals. In addition, he dealt with the pacing of the picture very well: it was slow but never dragged – it was suspenseful and mesmerizing without beeing cliche.

Music and Soundtrack

Abel Korzeniowski did the soundtrack for the film. I really liked the instrumental score: it fit both the visuals and the narrative nicely. My favorite track was the one that sounded like the sextet from the movie Cloud Atlas. That particular track accompanied a variety of scenes and was also played during the credits.

Acting

The film had a stellar cast. Amy Adams was magnificent – I liked her performance even more than the Arrival one. Her eye-acting was mesmerizing. I also loved the way the movie played with the fact that Amy Adams’s and Isla Fisher’s look very similar. Jake Gyllenhaal was also brilliant – he lost himself in the role as he usually does. Michael Shannon was also a stand-out – loved his cool yet realistic portrayal of the detective. Lastly, Aaron Taylor-Johnson completely surprised me – this was probably his best role that I have seen yet just because it felt like the most challenging one. He was so good as the crazy, cocky, and eccentric felon. Armie Hammer also appeared in the film in his signature role of  ‘a white privileged businessman’.

Cast’s movie recommendations:

In short, Nocturnal Animals was beautifully stylized film, which also had important themes and interesting narrative ideas to match its gritty and glamorous visuals. The acting was also top-notch.

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: Nocturnal Animals trailer

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Movie review: Arrival

Movie reviews

Hello, my dear readers!

An original sci-fi flick – Arrival – has landed in cinemas, so let’s review it! Since I hadn’t seen an inventive science fiction film in theaters for quite some time (I did, however, only recently watched an original sci-fi movie on Netflix, called ARQ – it was quite entertaining), I was super excited to see Arrival. Plus, I’ve also really enjoyed the previous work of the director as well as the cast.

SPOILER ALERT

IMDb summary: A linguist is recruited by the military to assist in translating alien communications.

Writing

Eric Heisserer, who has mostly written horror films, penned Arrival’s script and did an absolutely spectacular job. This movie’s narrative was so refreshing – it never went where I expected it to go.

To begin with, I appreciated the fact that this movie focused on a linguist and on the subject of languages and communication. Sci-fi films usually tend to have scientists or military personnel front and center, but this time, these types of characters were relocated to the supporting positions. As someone who studies art and humanities, I was extremely happy to see these subjects as useful in a sci-fi scenario, since usually after watching a science fiction movie, I would regret not studying physics or biology. But now, I can imagine that my language and anthropology skills can also be useful.

On the topic of anthropology, last year, in my symbolic anthropology class we studied the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis that this movie took and made true. The hypothesis states that one’s language determines one’s culture, behavior, and thinking and Amy Adams’s characters mind was heavily impacted by the alien language. On the topic, of Adams’s character – I loved how the plot played up her backstory. Those ‘flashbacks’ were not only a story-telling technique but a part of the actual story. That was amazing and mindblowing.

Like other science fiction films, Arrival explored the topic of humanity. Some of the ideas and dialogue lines sounded a bit ironic and skeptical, especially in the post-Brexit and post-U.S. election context. The notions that the world needs to work together and that peaceful communication come first rather than violent attack/defense are wonderful ideas, but I highly doubt their real-life application. The plot-points about protecting humanity by not talking to other humans seemed like a more realistic outcome of the situation. The media’s role in all of this mess was also a great and topical inclusion for the modern context. Lastly, showcasing the panic as the biggest threat to humanity was also good writing! These thematical parts of the film frustrated me quite a bit, but then again, these kinds of things frustrate me IRL, so I guess the movie just represented the contemporary world and explored its negative aspects and shortcomings really well.

Arrival, like a lot of other sci-fi films, started as a grounded science movie but then quickly escalated into the fiction territory. It asked questions and didn’t answer some of them. With these type of movies, there is always a debate going on whether there was some kind of deeper meaning and I was just too stupid to notice it or whether the film was just badly written and didn’t make much sense. Having said that, I think this debate is part of the beauty of making and writing about motion pictures – they always mean something different to different people. I also believe that Arrival is a brilliant and intriguing film to watch and discuss.

Directing

Denis Villeneuve, who is best known for making 2013’s Prisoners and last year’s Sicario, directed the film and did a wonderful job. The visuals were spectacular: the design of the ships – so simple yet so cool and the long tracking shots – awe inspiring. At first, I wasn’t completely sure about the design of the aliens, but when we got to see them whole, I was pleasantly surprised. The way the communication aspect was visualized was super cool too. I also liked all the inventive and innovative camera angles. On a personal note, I loved Amy Adams’s character’s home – would love to have a house with such a stunning view myself.

I also really liked the pacing of the film – it was slow and suspenseful and did not need some big and over-the-top 3rd act action piece to be memorable and entertaining. The music choices (by Jóhann Jóhannsson) were great as well and really helped to build thrilling, frightening and yet curious type of atmosphere.

Acting

  • Amy Adams as Dr. Louise Banks, a linguist was at the center of the film and delivered a really subtle performance. I do believe that these smaller, more indie-like films showcase her talent much more than big blockbusters (BvS). So, I suggest you check out Amy in Nocturnal Animals, American Hustle, and Big Eyes.
  • Jeremy Renner as Ian Donnelly was also great in his role of a scientist. Renner is also one of those actors that is on everyone’s radar and is constantly working but is not a complete A-lister which he should be. He is equally enjoyable to watch in popcorn flicks like Marvel movies and Mission Impossible films and in more serious pictures like The Hurt Locker, The Town, and Kill The Messenger.
  • Forest Whitaker as Colonel Weber and Michael Stuhlbarg as Agent Halpern provided great support and presented a more stereotypical government perspective to the movie. Whitaker still has Rogue One to be released in a month, while Stuhlbarg just had a small role in the recently released Doctor Strange.

In short, Arrival was a visually stunning picture, with an extremely clever and interesting story and some nice thematical concepts and great acting. It is a great conversation starter of a movie.

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: Arrival trailer

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Movie PREVIEW: Alice Through The Looking Glass

Movie previews

Hello!

Welcome to another movie preview, this time for a live-action fairytale sequel – Alice Through The Looking Glass. At first, I conceived the following passages as parts of the film review but then the draft became too long, so I decided to publish it separately. So, let’s discuss Tim Burton’s previous work as well as Alice’s story in various mediums.

Burton’s filmography

Tim Burton is known for working with certain actors again and again, including Helena Bonham Carter, Sacha Baron Coen, Alan Rickman and, of course, Johnny Depp (all of these actors will also be part of Alice 2). He is also one of the most distinct filmmakers/auteurs when it comes to style (which can only be described as cartoonish yet dark, cook-y, theatrical, over-the-top and plain weird). Let’s do single sentence reviews of his previous films:

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Edward Scissorhands (1990): a sweet love story (+), that explores people’s differences and our need for home (++), and stars Anthony Michael Hall in his most annoying role (-).

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Batman (1989) and Batman Returns (1992): Burton’s Batman and its sequel paved the way for the modern superhero movies (+). Although both films are full of 90s cliches, they are still enjoyable and fun to watch (-/+). Their mise-en-scene and style resemble the Gotham TV series, which, most likely, was inspired by Burton’s films (+). Speaking about acting, the role of Batman helped Keaton a lot and is still positively affecting his career to this day – Birdman would not have been that successful of a film without the real life similarities between the character and the actor (+).

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The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) : Halloween/Christmas classic and a musical (+), a stop-motion animation – the hardest to create but the most spectacular to watch (++). I can’t believe that it wasn’t directed by Burton, only produced by him (!).
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Planet of the Apes (2001) : I watched this movie way too young and had a lot of nightmares afterwards (same with 1997’s Mars Attacks!) (-), nowadays, it doesn’t really stand up to rewatching (-), but at least this film’s lack of success inspired a great reboot franchise (+).

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Charlie and The Chocolate Factory (2005): childhood favorite (+), has a wide appeal –  who doesn’t love sweets? (++), and one of more colorful films by Burton (+++).

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Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007): bloody musical – literally (+), Victorian gothic/steampunk-ish (++) and stars Jamie Campbell Bower – one of my favorite musicians/actors (+++).

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Big Eyes (2014): one of the most interesting biographical films when it comes to the subject matter (+), features amazing performances by Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz (++), and is also the most ‘normal’ film by Burton (+/-).

Alice in Wonderland: 1951 and 2010

1951’s Alice in Wonderland is a classic example of old school Disney: the movie has a simple story, runtime of a little over an hour, colorful hand-drawn graphics, catchy songs, talking animals (and plants) and tons of pure childish wonder.

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The 2010 version is way darker and much more adult. It’s also more modern in that the visuals were created with CGI. The story also received an update in a form of additional plotlines. Sadly, this did not make the movie better or more original. I can’t believe that the feature premiered 6 years ago and I also don’t understand how the Hollywood took so long to make the 2nd film, especially when the sequel’s sole purpose was/is to capitalize on the first film’s success a.k.a. the box office haul of 1 billion dollars. The only thing that I remember from the first movie is actually the theme song by Avril Lavigne. Don’t think that that’s a good thing.Alice_in_wonderland_poster_2_1_original1

Alice Through The Looking Glass

From the trailer, the movie seems fine – more of the same stuff that we saw in the first film, although the sequel seems even darker. I, once again, like the theme song from the trailer – White Rabbit by Pink. The inclusion of Sascha Baron Cohen is also an interesting choice – it reminds me of Scorsese’s Hugo. I really like Baron Cohen in theatrical roles like this one, but I can’t stand him in comedies like Bruno or Borat. Burton will only be producing Alice’s sequel, but his creative influences will definitely be felt. In September, Burton’s directorial work for 2016 – Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children – will premiere

Books

Back in the 19th century, Lewis Carroll published two books about Alice:  Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, its sequel Through the Looking-Glass. Although the movies share their names with the books, the motion pictures are not direct adaptations of these stories. Both films have taken bits and pieces from the two books while also adding some original material. As a child, I remember reading Carroll’s first story and I still have my edition of Alice in Wonderland.

What are your hopes for the film? Are you even going to see it? Is the market over-saturated with live-action fairytales?

Bye!