Nocturnal Animals


Viewed – 13 May 2017  online rental

How could I pass up a movie starring two of my favourites?  I tend to enjoy almost anything with Amy Adams or Jake Gyllenhaal and consider them two of the best around right now.  This latest effort has Adams as a high society, somewhat pretentious art gallery owner who when we meet her has just held her latest exhibition (something to do with overly obese women dancing around naked).  One day she receives a manuscript off her ex (Gyllenhaal) who she hadn’t heard off in a while.  Adams is currently in a rather loveless relationship with Armie Hammer (The Man From U.N.C.L.E.) but quickly finds her own past with Gyllenhaal echoed in the pages of the violent thriller he’s sent her.

Nocturnal Animals

Director Tom Ford’s highly atmospheric drama has a great noir-ish mood with an eerie style not unlike something by David Lynch or Alfred Hitchcock.  This is aided well by a haunting orchestral score from Abel Korzeniowski.  However the structure … the fact the movie jumps back and forth from Adams’ present circumstances, her past with Gyllenhaal and the story within the manuscript, which plays out like a revenge thriller … is all it’s own and makes this not your average movie.  It’s an intelligent study of a relationship, about regret, revenge and bitterness but done in such a way that I found particularly gripping.

Michael Shannon (Man of Steel, Boardwalk Empire), increasingly an actor I’m impressed with lends the movie a degree of intensity as a character in the manuscript, and Gyllenhaal is again convincing even if we mainly see him in the manuscript setting (I’d have liked a bit more explored of his motives in the real-life segments but that aspect is mostly left to your imagination).  Amy Adams is again very good and particularly nuanced making a generally unlikable character sympathetic as the movie draws to a close.  The point that is reached felt a little ‘…and?’ but that’s small thing for what is otherwise a clever and engrossing experience.

Not for everyone, but I came away rather impressed.

Verdict: 4 /5

Arrival


Viewed – 17 November 2016  Cinema

I went into this in the hope of something a bit different.  The trailer promised a more realistic version of say, Independence Day with less bombastic action and more character and believability.  Well thankfully that’s exactly what I got … and more.

Amy Adams

Amy Adams, easily one of my favourite actresses right now plays a linguistics professor who following the arrival of a series of immense objects at various locations across the globe is called in by the military to help communicate with the ‘aliens’.  The opening scenes of this movie were very well done, memories of a baby, who grows into a little girl, interspersed with the stark reality of the arrival, news footage, global panic and a incredible feeling of dread … gave this a different, more human feel than what I’d normally expect from such material.  It clearly was focusing of Amy Adam’s character and how her experiences might guide her through a very challenging and uncomfortable experience.  Jeremy Renner, another favourite plays a scientist on hand to assist Adam and help her figure out a strange language.  Now I’ll admit I was never fully on board with how they start communicating and translating what is basically a series of circular shapes, but well … Hollywood.  Yet the performances here, suitably ominous direction and some clever-ass writing made this a great deal more than I was anticipating.  The first half of the movie is a tad slow and I was thinking this was getting a bit boring … but then a twist changes all of that and made me re-think much of what I’d seen and well, brought in comparisons to Interstellar … which is all I’ll say on that.

For an intelligent, at times poetic alien invasion movie, and with strong performances across the board with only the translation thing my only nit-pic then I’d say check this one out.

Verdict:  4 /5

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice


Viewed – 29 March 2016  Cinema, 19 August 2016  Blu-ray

Theatrical & Ultimate Edition

(Updated: 20/08/2016) Not for a long time has a concept made me so nervous.  Two of my favourite comic book heroes of all time, pitted against each other?  Why?  I couldn’t understand the need for it other than an excuse to bring Batman back after the Christopher Nolan trilogy wrapped.  I was a big fan of the last Superman movie, Man of Steel and I felt it was exactly the movie we deserved in the modern era, with the shuddering memory of Brian Singer’s Superman Returns pushed from my mind.  The casting of Superman with Henry Cavill was also a work of genius.  Where did they find this guy?

Batman v superman

So we come to the expected sequel and this time the stakes are increased after the fall out from the devastation and destruction at the end of the last movie.  Unbeknown to us at the time a certain playboy millionaire was in town by the name of Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) who witnesses the destruction.  Unaware who this new hero is and witnessing what he is capable of, he vows to step in when a media and government backlash sets out  to discredit the man of steel’s name.  On hand to further blacken Superman’s image and raise awareness of ‘what if this man was to turn against us?’ is local tycoon Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) who gradually manipulates everyone including Wayne / Batman until both caped heroes are forced into a confrontation.

WonderWomanSitting down to the extended ‘ultimate edition’ a few of my issues with this movie got fixed, with more light shed on how Superman becomes so disliked and how Luthor manipulates public opinion against him.  However not much has changed as far as the script is concerned and on a second viewing some of those pivotal lines are even more cringe-worthy (‘do you bleed?’ for example…).  Also despite more evidence to support Batman wanting to actually kill Superman, it still doesn’t ring true for the character as we have come to know him.   However in the hands of director Zack Snyder the whole deal looks incredible and the action throughout is superbly executed with stand outs being a great Batmobile chase and of course the eventual smack down does not disappoint and plays out well … until that is they find a reason to stop.  Yeah once you see it it’s pretty corny (even more so on a second viewing ‘why did you say that name?’).  Also casting throughout is decent with Holly Hunter on hand as a conflicted Senator, yummy Amy Adams again perfect as Lois Lane and newcomer Gal Gadot damn sexy and bad-ass as Wonder Woman.  Jesse Eisenberg is also having a ball as Luthor … but proves rather annoying and overly pantomime.

batman-v-superman-ben-affleck

But the movie still has problems.  It’s jam-packed with characters which causes it to feel bloated.  A wealth of flashbacks and dream sequences throw in some confusion and just feel lazy.  Also the writing stumbles in key areas such as the main narrative and how Luthor seems to know everything (including certain people’s alter-egos), which is not explained (even in the longer cut).  There’s also a bit too much setting up for Justice League.  With that said … production, style, action, encounters, performances (with a surprisingly spot-on Affleck) and a few bold plot developments still impressed.

The original theatrical cut battled against plot issues for everything it did right.  The ultimate edition only slightly improves things with some welcome details helping it all work better – but that doesn’t make for a great movie … just an entertainingly flawed one instead.

Verdict:  3.5 /5

Big Eyes


Viewed – 25 April 2015  Online rental

I wouldn’t say I have been following the career of acclaimed director Tim Burton all that much of late, having once been a big fan and loving his movies (especially Beetlejuice & Edward Scissorhands), yet his reliance on casting Johnny Depp in everything he does had begun to grate.  So it seemed refreshing to see a movie by him that departs from the weird fantastical world he’s known for and yes, no Depp!

big-eyes

This true story tells the tale of a painter in the 1950’s called Margaret Keane who’s paintings of doe-eyed girls became a huge thing even though they were credited as being painted by her husband, Walter Keane.  It was a big money-making scam that I can’t say I’ve ever heard of but Burton’s movie tells it in that magical, sugar-coated 50’s style that brings to life an otherwise fairly mundane topic.

Amy Adams is good as Margaret even if I found it hard to sympathise with how she goes along with husband Walter’s plan, and with Christoph Waltz we once again get a very showy and enjoyable turn, even if after seeing this acclaimed actor four times now, it’s becoming clear they’re all slight variations of the same, charming / potentially-dangerous character.   Also I found it hard to believe that Margaret’s daughter would be equally duped by the couple’s scheme, considering she had been her mother’s muse prior to meeting Walter.  Nit-picks aside, this was still enjoyable and whimsical.  Burton’s visual flair, although not as elaborate is still here and the setting, houses, streets, beaches etc. are presented beautifully.  Regular collaborator Danny Elfman also deliver’s a suitable, if not particularly memorable score.

For Burton this was a nice diversion, and for Waltz’ growing fan-base, another entertaining performance.  Yet along with a plot that get’s very predictable, I found little else to make me recommend this one beyond Sunday afternoon viewing.

Verdict:  3 /5

American Hustle


Viewed – 02 May 2014  Blu-ray

Kind of a blind purchase this one.  I won’t automatically leap to watch a movie based on it’s awards or nominations or general buzz … been there before and came away disappointed (The Life Of Pie, anyone?).  Yet with a cast consisting of Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner – it seemed an invitation very hard to turn down.

AmericanHustle

Bale is professional con man Irving Rosenfeld, who along with girlfriend Sydney Prosser (Adams) go about scamming art dealers, accountants and pretty much anyone else to make a lot of money.  Business is good until FBI agent Richi DiMaso (Cooper) busts them and offers them a deal – whether go to jail, or have them use their expertise at conning people to help him nail a group of corrupt politicians.

The late 70s setting, the costumes and the atmosphere, all set the tone for an energetic, detailed and very absorbing tale of cons, relationships and who is back stabbing who.  Bale, an actor I’ve felt was starting to get a bit old news these days, is superb in the lead role, sporting what appears to be a very good Robert DeNiro impression (hopefully intended), which is fitting considering this has the pace, the feel (and the narration) of a Martin Scorsese picture.  The cast all get a chance to shine, especially Cooper’s over-eager, charismatic FBI agent … and Adams’ dangerously-sexy Sydney really marks her out as one of the best (and hottest) actresses’ around.  For a hustle movie, despite initial fears I was never left confused as to what was going on, loved every bit of the plan and every comical development … it just all sucked me in like a perfect hustle might, but at least didn’t leave me feeling conned by the end.  No, this was quality filmmaking, with a great cast, a superb soundtrack (Donna Summers’ I Feel Love, Wings’ Live & Let Die…) and genuine name-making direction from the mostly underrated David O Russell.

Essential.

Verdict:  5 /5