Friday, July 21, 2017

REVIEW: THE BEGUILED

"I'm wild again,
beguiled again,
a simpering, whimpering child again..."

goes the 1940 show tune from the musical "Pal Joey. Going into this movie, to be shamefully honest, I was more familiar with the director's body of work than the actual title. Sofia Coppola was one of the filmmakers I studied this past year in college for my Film Studies minor. Distinctive in her slow burning, female-centric film style, Coppola's been called an auteur director, and if she keeps making movies like these, I'll be on my path to forgiving her for Godfather III and that unfunny Bill Murray Christmas special from a couple years ago.

"Beguiled" basically means smitten, but said in the 1864 Virginian (represent!!!) accent, it's a much more fun synonym to say. Of course, no one actually says the word on film, it's not Coppola's style to be that on the nose. But the term is certainly written on the faces of the women in Miss Farnsworth's girls school, which is mostly vacated. Farnsworth herself (Nicole Kidman) is the film's symbol of repression, a beautiful woman hidden under the oppressive dress of the era with an absent sense of humor and overwhelming hints of repression. It's no coincidence the women, including fellow teacher Edwina Morrow (Kirsten Dunst), blossoming adult Alicia (Elle Fanning) and lovingly naive Amy (Oona Laurence, whose performance hasn't been talked about enough) wear white. When Yankee soldier Corporal McBurney (Colin Farrall) limps his way back to the girls' school with Amy's help, the pent-up girls begin loosening up. But then things take a fall...

At her least interesting, I wanted to fast forward through Lost in Translation and The Bling Ring, not because they were terrible movies, but to alleviate the agony of the molasses pace. In this film, it unfolds beautifully. I was surprised to see no one adapted The Beguiled into a play, because the film's minimal setting of location and characters could easily lend itself to a stage version. But Phillipe Le Sourd's muted cinematography perfectly compliments the quiet, if spooky southern plantation house. Especially for Dunst's Edwina, who itches to be away from this isolated world. McBurney is a completely neutral agent for the better first half of the movie; he gets attributed traits from the psychology from each woman. To repressed Alicia, he's a heartthrob, to Edwina, he's an escape, to Farnsworth, he provides needed levity into her tightly restricted world. Because of the lack of a huge ensemble, no actor can afford to feel out of place, and they don't. Kidman is a great foil to Dunst, Fanning (though her role isn't that sizable here) is fast developing into one of indie's greatest talents, and I think this might be the best I've seen Farrall since In Bruges. There's no fast-talking Irishman here, just a very layered man who begins to show his true character much later in the movie.

At only a little over 90 minutes, the film snuck up on me how fast it went, and through seeing much of Coppola's filmography, let me just say that that...is not typically the case. There's no gimmicks here, just honest, straightforward storytelling that pays off after the slow burn of introducing McBurney to the school. I was informed that the trailer to this lets on a little too much, so I would avoid it if possible before going in. If the studio had a little more faith it could've been a contender for the Oscars if a November release date had been planned, but I still think the Academy should consider this film when they're filling out their ballots, because the ending has definitely burned itself into my memory.

Rating: 3.5/4 stars

Thursday, July 13, 2017

REVIEW: BABY DRIVER

It seems to me Edgar Wright is incapable of making uninteresting films, and the film he tried to make interesting, 2015's Ant-Man, well, he got let go of. Peyton Reed did a serviceable, if anonymous job on the project, a true Marvel crowd-pleaser, but one can't wonder what hyper-fast superhero treat Wright could have served to the masses. But if it means he keeps making films like Baby Driver, let us all hope Mr. Wright never makes another big studio movie.

First off, kudos to was involved in the casting of this film, because budding talent Ansel Elgort alongside villainous turns by Kevin Spacey, Jamie Foxx and Jon Hamm was a stroke of genius. Perhaps it was just the inner cinephile in me yelping for joy, but this is one of the best ensembles all year. In a nutshell, Baby (Elgort) is a getaway driver for Doc (Spacey), who masterminds heists in sometimes very dangerous plans. Baby has tinnitus, resulting from an injury when he was a child, and listens to an audiofile's dream smorgasbord of music to drown out the ringing. For no good reason, other than many of the criminals Doc enlists are hot-headed and temperamental, this leads to a distrust of Baby, a conflict that lasts throughout the film that he's better than them. This includes Jon Bernthal as Griff, said hot-head who interrogates Baby after a perfect getaway...and then disappears for the rest of the movie. After watching the second season of "Daredevil," it was disappointing to get five minutes of Bernthal after seeing him work wonders as a much better hot-head for twelve episodes.

And that's really where the critiques stop. Editors Paul Macliss and Jonathan Amos should be splitting an Academy Award come the top of next year, because it absolutely makes the movie. After watching Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, the whipfast cutting and stylish transitions made for quick, rapid-fire comedy, but here it elevates the pace of Baby Driver to where you're nearly breathless with trying to keep up...but that's how you should feel! Baby is trying to balance escaping from Doc's crime world, take care of his deaf foster father Joseph (a wonderful CJ Jones, who hasn't been talked about as much as he should be) and peruse a possible romance with waitress Debora (Lily James, who has wowed me over since I haven't seen Pride and Prejudice and Zombies or the latest Cinderella reboot). Baby and Debora have palpable chemistry, even if their desire to "leave with nothing but the road and music" is painful movie idealism, but you learn to see past those flaws since Wright is trying his hardest to wow us.

So, consider me wowed. The playlist and the A-list actors (Jamie Foxx and Jon Hamm round out some wildly memorable and charismatic villain turns) could've ballooned this movie to $100 million in a studio's hands, but at a modest $32 million, I don't know how Wright got licensing to the onslaught of songs that drown out Baby's demons and keep the audience enthralled. Sony (no surprise) is already having sequel talk with Wright, but Baby Driver is perfect as one-off, pulpy entertainment, edited and choreographed to the T. It's box office success has already prevented it from being labeled as "the most underrated movie of the year," so go see it and help contribute to its success.

Rating: 3.5/4 stars

Thursday, June 29, 2017

REVIEW: ALL EYEZ ON ME

In his heyday, before being slain in still-mysterious circumstances, the legendary (and thoroughly, posthumously overexploited) Tupac Shakur declared only God could judge him. Since his death Shakur has become a god of sorts, or at the very least a Christ figure, crucified by an unknown opponent and destined to be hip-hop's savior that left too soon. Despite the negative reviews surrounding the film before I saw it last week, I was still insistent on seeing it; 2Pac (note the name change to differentiate the man from his music) is certainly one of the greatest rappers, but he was a very flawed god if he ever was one. Instead of healing the blind he had rape allegations, and this clip I found a few years ago shows his famously hot temper when he comes across a New Yorker bootlegging his music. With George Tillman Jr.'s Notorious, concerning Biggie Smalls, a big fault of the movie was exploring the rapper's faults, his downfall. I was afraid they might polish his image to appeal to the crowd of Pac worshippers. I'm glad to report that isn't an issue, but alas, the film is as flawed as its protagonist.

Demetrius Shipp Jr. bears an uncanny resemblance to the late rapper, more so than the Coachella hologram that debuted a few years back. I eagerly hope Shipp Jr. gets remembered for this performance. Besides being a dead ringer for the man, Shipp Jr. captures a lot of Tupac's hotheadedness. Early in the film, while creating "Brenda's Got a Baby," a definitive ghetto anthem, Pac screams at the producer to get it just the way he wants it. It's an unflattering moment for the character, who up until then was shown to be a victim of circumstance; an eventually crack consuming mother, a move to the non-touristy part of California, getting the lead in the school play. Up until then I fretted director Benny Boom was going to risk canonizing Tupac just to risk demonizing him, but Shipp Jr. carried a lot of weight on his shoulders successfully. Unfortunately, the flaw lies within the structure of the film.

I'll wait for the Pac-Jada spinoff 
The movie is framed as Tupac recalling life behind bars to an anonymous interviewer. This is the equivalent of listening to a 2Pac Greatest Hits album versus listening to his chronological catalogue; you get the highlights that would be featured on a Behind the Music special, but you don't get to dive too deep. For the three or so scenes they share, Shipp Jr. and Kat Graham have some bubbling chemistry as the famous friendship of Pac and Jada Pinkett(-Smith). Writing this I wonder if the movie couldn't have just been about their friendship. Focusing and digging into one specific slice of Shakur's life would have been more rewarding than All Eyez on Me, which aims to capture this extraordinary man's twenty-five years. With such a goal, it's a shame the movie devotes a sizable section about his rape allegation, definitely choosing what side it is on. If you've ever wanted to see a reenaction of Tupac Shakur receiving a sexual favor...I guess this is the movie for you? Additionally, as nice as it is to see Jamal Woolard, who I haven't seen since Notorious, the sensational East and West Coast beef is barely touched upon, and the Notorious B.I.G. ends up in the film's peripherals.

One of the biggest compliments I can give the movie is its attempts at reconstructing reality. Before getting slain in Las Vegas, Pac performs for a crowd that know all of his words, and if the movie could've copied this electricity outside of the stage it would have been all the better for it. Dominic L. Santana looms large as Suge Knight, one of music's most despicable characters. Danai Gurira overcooks it as the late Afeni Shakur, but then again, I have no idea what the real woman looked/sounded like. I compare Gurria's raving, screaming mother to Naomie Harris' heartbreaking portrayal of a crack-addicted mom in Moonlight, and nuance seems to be all but absent. Together, it's hard not to see why the movie has been panned by critics; the structure is fundamentally flawed. But perhaps it is watchable just to see America's favorite martyr rapper explode with charisma, reciting the "California Love" verse we all still get down to. Tupac, if you are in Cuba, the Illuminati's HQ, anywhere, we miss you. And sometimes we still make movies about you just to fill your void.

Rating: 2/4 stars

Sunday, January 22, 2017

OSCAR NOMINATION PREDICTIONS 2017!

#OscarsSoDiverse? I'm hoping the Oscars will set the correction straight on this one, hopefully rewarding the actions of people of color like Barry Jenkins, Ruth Negga and Mahershala Ali. That's just amidst others, Ali and Fences frontrunner Viola Davis are on their way to supporting actor glory. Octavia Spencer and Denzel Washington, already Oscar-winners, are poised to be nominated once again! But the film that I predict will get nominations in the double digits goes beyond color to deliver one of the century's finest musicals; I've called it since I saw it on December 27th that La La Land will make a clean sweep, hold for Ryan Gosling, who'll deservedly lose to Casey Affleck in Manchester by the Sea. Check out the rest of my picks for this coming Tuesday morning in all the major categories.

BEST DIRECTOR: Chazelle is the clear frontrunner, but it'll be nice to see Jenkins, who might be only the fourth black director nominated in this category. Let's hope the Academy doesn't pull an Ava DuVernay.
  • Damien Chazelle- La La Land
  • Barry Jenkins- Moonlight
  • Kenneth Lonergan- Manchester by the Sea
  • Denis Villenueve- Arrival
  • David Mackenzie- Hell or High Water
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: Whit Stilman's Jane Austen adaptation certainly deserves to be here, and has been getting some love in the critic's circles. Love and Friendship should be getting more attention than just that, including Kate Beckinsale's diabolically polite performance. The rest have been staples in this field, including the late August Wilson for Fences, Tom Ford for his Hitchcockian yarn and Barry Jenkins' innovative script, that was deemed adapted from Tarell Alvin McCraney's play earlier this year, leaving the Original field more wide open.
  • Fences
  • Arrival
  • Nocturnal Animals
  • Moonlight
  • Love and Friendship
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: My heart wants Manchester by the Sea to win, for the way it unraveled a devastating story, but after the Globes sweep I don't doubt that Chazelle's take on the Golden Hollywood musical will take the prize. Lobster and HOHW are the indie favorites, and Toni Erdmann might be that wacky foreign movie that'll get nominated for this and Best Foreign Film, and my money is for this movie to win the latter.
  • Hell or High Water
  • The Lobster
  • Manchester by the Sea
  • La La Land
  • Toni Erdmann
BEST ANIMATED FILM: Zootopia has been cleaning up here, and I predict its inevitable victory on February 26th. But the Oscars love picking these oddball, left-field foreign cartoons along with the Disney mammoths. Brazil's Boy and the World and Japan's When Marnie Was There was that last year. Now I'm thinking the French-Swiss Zucchini and the Japanese-French-Belgium co-production Red Turtle will be those picks.
  • Moana
  • My Life as a Zucchini 
  • Kubo and the Two Strings
  • The Red Turtle
  • Zootopia
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: I thought Ali had a lock on this until the Globes turned a 180, rewarding Taylor-Johnson for his menacing turn as the white trash Ray Marcus as the best supporting actor of the year. Coupled with a BAFTA nomination, I think the tides have turned from Michael Shannon's role as a determined lawman getting nominated to Taylor-Johnson getting his first nomination. I still think Ali will win, but I wouldn't call him a frontrunner anymore.
  • Mahershala Ali- Moonlight 
  • Jeff Bridges- Hell or High Water
  • Aaron Taylor-Johnson- Nocturnal Animals
  • Dev Patel- Lion
  • Lucas Hedges- Manchester by the Sea
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: It's mostly been this group of five ladies throughout the campaign, with three women of color likely to get nominated. Much has been said of Williams' performance, but I thought it was substantially shorter than what the advertisement promised!
  • Nicole Kidman- Lion
  • Naomie Harris- Moonlight
  • Michelle Williams- Manchester by the Sea
  • Viola Davis- Fences
  • Octavia Spencer- Hidden Figures
BEST ACTOR: Like Leo before them, the rest of these nominees must know that this nomination is just brownie points, because it's been Affleck's gold from the start. This is the cateogry I'm least sure about; it was a strong year for leading men. These men have garnered lots of attention, but so as Tom Hanks in Sully, Joel Edgerton in Loving and Jake Gyllenhaal in Nocturnal Animals (who just got a BAFTA nomination in a really underrated role).
  • Casey Affleck- Manchester by the Sea
  • Viggo Mortensen- Captain Fantastic
  • Ryan Gosling- La La Land
  • Denzel Washington- Fences
  • Andrew Garfield- Hacksaw Ridge
BEST ACTRESS: Hupert pulled off one of the night's biggest surprises at the Golden Globes, beating Hollywood favorites like Adams and Portman. But, despite the latter getting major attention for Jackie, she's already won in this category before, and everyone is talking about Emma Stone's performance. It's not that it's star-making, because we already knew she had the talent. It's star-solidifying, a role that may go down in history as her signature. Rewarding a role about one of the world's most celebrated woman is easy, rewarding a female leading role in an original musical would be stellar, something that hasn't been achieved since Julie Andrews won for Mary Poppins.
  • Ruth Negga- Loving
  • Natalie Portman- Jackie
  • Isabelle Huppert- Elle
  • Emma Stone- La La Land
  • Amy Adams- Arrival
BEST PICTURE: What do a sci-fi, a western, a musical, a war movie and two all-black cast movies have in common? They're a part of a diverse, eccentric and strong list of potential nominees. La La Land will dance away with the trophy, but 2016 was a fine year for the movies, and this year will prove it. My only iffy one here is Scorcese's Silence, which I'm throwing in just to round out the ten nominees, which of course never get used to the full potential. I've bolded the ones I think would be nominated if this were back to the simpler times of 2008, when five was the norm.

Check back on Tuesday to see how I did!
  • Arrival
  • Fences
  • Hidden Figures
  • Hell or High Water
  • La La Land
  • Lion
  • Manchester by the Sea
  • Moonlight
  • Nocturnal Animals
  • Silence

Sunday, January 1, 2017

MY TOP 5 FAVORITE FILMS OF 2016!

It's been a hard year, y'know? Nothing made me happier than to ring in the new year last night with friends and family. I know what you may think: years are arbitrary markers of time, what difference does it make? Even if 2017 isn't an automatic clean slate for us all, it's what it represents, isn't it? And that's all the cinema is, life represented. This year offered a lot of hope...and superhero movies. In my personal selections of the five greatest films released this year (1/1/16-12/31/16), you'll see reoccurring themes of grief, family, hope, identity. It was a stellar year for the movies, and the fact that I had to leave gripping films like Love & Friendship, Nocturnal Animals, Hacksaw Ridge and Sausage Party (my ultimate guilty pleasure) off the final cut. And I still haven't movies I've been dying to see like Fences, The Lobster or Hell or High Water. Revel in the new year with me and enjoy my list!

5. SING STREET
I nodded knowingly when I saw that this Little Indie That Could was helmed by John Carney, whose previous effort Begin Again had the same folksy, looking-for-love bittersweet flavor Sing Street has. It even has original songs, another Carney staple, while not being full-musical like perhaps another film you'll catch on this list. Despite its predictability, you can have a blast with Conor, aka Cosmo, as he and his little band of Irish schoolboys serenade their way into your heart, and show you how wonderful it is to have youthful dreams that will never last forever.

4. CAPTAIN FANTASTIC
Viggo Mortensen has picked up a Golden Globe and a SAG nomination for his stirring performance in this film, another low-on-the-radar indie, and I'm hoping Uncle Oscar will invite him to the party come February. It was one of my biggest regrets of this blog this year; for whatever reason I was too lazy to review this quirky, inspiring film that, until the winter came around was my favorite film of the year. Ben Cash, a man who lives off the grid, takes his six hyper-intelligent children back into society to go to his wife's funeral. A simple premise that is at once a critique on modern society, an examination of nontraditional family and an ultimately heart-warming picture.

3. MOONLIGHT
I never understood it when critics called a movie "haunting"...until I saw Moonlight, and the glow of this movie bathed over me like only one other film did this year. Besides shining a spotlight on faces that don't usually get screen time, Barry Jenkins' haunting triumph about the life of young Chiron and the people he meets during his life in modern Miami, is just plain good cinema. Three chapters, all mostly of equal strength, reveal a complex young man who aches to be himself in a world where all the cards are stacked against him, who desperately wants to answer the question "Who is you, Chiron?". We needed Moonlight in this year of boiling racial violence, and the avalanche of awards it's been pulling in confirms my thoughts.

2. LA LA LAND
My review of this Technicolor dreamscape of romance and creativity will be out later this week, as I just caught it so I could see what all the fuss is about. Please, please believe the hype, and go support the enormously talented Damien Chazelle, who I would go so far as to say surpasses his 2014 effort Whiplash, and I don't say that lightly. Gosling is wonderful, but it's Emma Stone, who does much more than flaunt her doe eyes, that deserves all the attention for her role as Mia. They're both dreamers in Los Angeles, and as corny as that may sound on paper, its execution is perfect. The songs are infectious, the production is A+, and Chazelle doesn't litter his musical with a huge ensemble of characters, because we call came for the Gosling/Stone romance. And though it doesn't end like your grandfather's musical, I wouldn't want it to. This is a musical for my generation, an urge to never stop dreaming.

1. MANCHESTER BY THE SEA
I'm afraid this will be the only time Manchester by the Sea bests La La Land (the clear Best Picture frontrunner) but even if it's just in my books, that's okay. I don't know why I always choose movies that make me weep as my number one pick (see: Inside Out, Fruitvale Station). Perhaps because they represent how powerful the art of cinema can be, how these made-up characters played by overpaid famous people can still make you well up because you see yourself in them. Casey Affleck stars in the performance of the year as Lee Chandler, a shell of a man entrusted with the son of his dead brother. The script couldn't be tighter if it was vacuum-sealed, balancing devastating drama with gallows humor and revealing the whole story to us in just the right way. I'll probably watch La La Land ten more times before I die, but Kenneth Lonergan's Manchester by the Sea is the movie of a lifetime, and one you need only see once in yours.

Read on to see my picks that would be there if I saw enough movies to constitute a top ten, and my picks that left me wanting much, much more as I left the theaters!

Thursday, December 29, 2016

REVIEW: JACKIE

Say the words "First Lady" to anyone over about 30, and the next two words they associate with that will probably be "Jackie Kennedy," or if they really know their history, "Jackie Onasis." Anyone around my age will probably say Michelle Obama, and while I anticipate a movie made about her legacy in the decades to come, Jackie is surely the most iconic in modern history. The last memorable depiction of a First Lady was in Spielberg's Lincoln, where Sally Field played Mary Todd Lincoln as an unhinged, witty partner to her husband's more calm figure. Field lost the Oscar that year to Anne Hathaway crying, but Natalie Portman looks poised to win her second Best Actress Oscar as the widow who captured the hearts of a generation.

The film follows Lincoln's outline of effective biography: focus on one aspect of this person's enormous life and dissect it, find out the key players, and examine the conflict that made them who they are. In that film, it was Honest Abe's successful attempt to pass the 13th Amendment. Here, in somewhat smaller stakes, we get a behind-the-scenes glimpse of how Jackie handled herself following her husband's assassination, right until she walked with many others at his funeral procession. Perhaps a mini-series would be fit to try to encapsulate this extremely complicated woman's life, but just this one particular week works well under Pablo Larraín's direction.

Portman is heavy on the accent and heavy on the stress as Jackie Kennedy, conversing with Bobby Kennedy (Peter Sarsgaard) about their shared loss, delves into faith with a priest (William Hurt), all while being interviewed by a journalist (Billy Crudup, who delivers a strong performance despite his limited role/screen time). The journalist and priest are billed as just that, representations of combinations of figures in Jackie's life. I've heard complaints about Sarsgaard's performance, mostly due to his lack of looking/sounding like his real-life counterpart. I'm not knowledgable enough to be informed about that, so I thought he was serviceable in the role. While the accent gets a little grating, Portman gives a strong performance here, in a role that certainly does not make its titular character look good. Her Jackie is a strong, determined, poised woman who knows exactly how people see her and exactly how she wants to be seen. She shares a fictional First Lady's knack for controlling self-image; Claire Underwood in "House of Cards."

I'd be remiss not to mention the greatest supporting character in the ensemble: Stéphane Fontaine's camera. Fontaine shot one of my favorite films this year, Captain Fantastic, but his cinematography is exceptional in Jackie. The camera is always close-by: the film is in her perspective after all, and it's rare we get a shot without her point of view. Sebastián Sepúlvada's editing is also commendable. At first the jumpiness of the scenes were distracting, but then I realized this is a memory film. It all made sense. The costumes were gorgeous, the production design, primarily the 1963 White House was gorgeous. Technically speaking, Jackie fires on all cylinders. It's theme concerns legacy and posterity: how will JFK (portrayed but not shown for very long) be remembered, how will Jackie be remembered? Characters are very aware of the impact their decisions will have on American history, not just their own.

Story-wise, the film did lose me at times. I'd be lying if I said I didn't fight consciousness in the middle of it, which I also did in Arrival, but I don't think I 'fessed up to that one. In that film is what circumstantial, the theater was warm and I had on a comfy jacket, but Jackie just bored me in parts. While Noah Oppenheim's plot structure is unique, its dialogue can feel a bit dry. Ever since I heard someone make a comment on how Lenny Abrahamson's Room would be better as an HBO TV movie because it wasn't "cinematic enough," I've asked myself, "does this film deserve to be shown on the big screen?" Would it serve better as a play or a TV special? I wavered back and forth on this, which is a shame since Jackie is such a fascinating woman, and deserves a cinematic treatment as big as she was. But points to Larraín, his crew, and probably soon-to-be double Oscar-wining actress Natalie Portman for putting a spin on what is a usually predictable sub-genre of biopic. You're better off reading a book about the First Lady if you want facts, but Jackie is still fine entertainment.

Rating: 3/4 stars

Monday, December 26, 2016

REVIEW: NOCTURNAL ANIMALS

The importance of a film's opening scene can't be stressed enough. In my favorite film, which most people watch around this time in the holidays, It's a Wonderful Life, we see a slew of people in the wee town of Bedford Falls praying for the life of George Bailey. Immediately know something is wrong, that the film will tote a sentimental sentiment, and who is George and why does he need these prayers? A great opening scene should ask all of those questions...and in Nocturnal Animals you will have a lot of questions, and it's not indicative of the movie you are about to watch. Please don't Google it, and, review spoiler alert, I liked this movie a lot, so I encourage you to go see it. I want to say Ford wanted to be sensationalistic but it doesn't fit with the theme. It must be experienced, with a crowd as full as many people as you can, so you can all collectively stew in the awkwardness.

The movie actually revolves around Susan, played by Amy Adams, who receives a finished manuscript from her ex-husband Edward, called "Nocturnal Animals." All is far from well for Susan; her arm(-ie Hammer) candy husband is always busy, possibly adulterous, and as she reads the manuscript she gets more and more uneasy. It's about a man, Tony (Jake Gyllenhaal) who sets out on revenge after a trio of hicks does something horrible to his family. With the help of a chain-smoking Texas cop (Michael Shannon), he tries to obtain justice. Meanwhile, Susan has flashbacks to her short-lived marriage with Edward.

With three stories going on at once, I thought for a while that Nocturnal Animals might be getting too muddied for me. However, editor Joan Sobel deserves an Academy Award for being able to balance the story lines so well, I was never left confused. While Adams could be seen as the main character, most of the film is depicting the contents of Edward's novel. I'm glad Tom Ford, the writer and director of this film, felt more compelled than to just adapt that one story. The film feels literary in its approach, jumping between "fiction" and "non-fiction." Gyllenhaal pulls double duty as Edward the writer and Tony the character; a parallel that makes perfect sense when we find out that Edward laments "he can only write what he knows."
Expect to see Shannon get an Oscar nomination

Casting is crucial and clever here: who represents who in the book vs the real world; there is a very clever wink to who is cast as Tony's wife in "Nocturnal Animals." Adams doesn't get a ton to do here, especially considering her lead star power exhibit in the recent Arrival. Many a time we just see her reading/lounging in bed (which believe me, I'm not complaining about). Gyllenhaal gets more to sink his teeth into, in both roles playing mild men pushed to their limits; one emotionally and the other, in Tony's case, in every way possible. Aaron Taylor-Johnson plays the ringleader of the Texan redneck trio, and he pulled a surprise Golden Globe nomination for it earlier this month. It's deserved: he doesn't bring anything new to the psychopath trope, but he does it well. Shannon is rock solid as disgruntled, driven cop Lieutenant Andes; charismatic as all get out, you'd trust your case in his hands.  

A review on one of the posters saw described it as Hitchcockian. Perhaps the elements of unknown danger Susan faces when she sees the novel as some sort of threat towards her life since she left Edward nearly decades ago. There's that tension and uncertainty of the unknown present that fueled so much of Hitch's work. The suspense mostly comes from the "Nocturnal Animals" plot, and Tony's quest for revenge. Somehow a greater theme seems to be missing: why does all this matter, ultimately? It's a great thrill ride but as gorgeous as the film is it can feel a little empty. But the ending finishes strong, a bold choice, and will encourage many a dinner conversation. Not a bad bookend for a movie with the year's strangest opening.

Rating: 3/4 stars