Nocturnal Animals review

Nocturnal Animals is a thriller/drama directed by Tom Ford, following an art curator in a troubled relationship, who comes back into contact with her ex-husband after he sends her a seemingly cryptic novel, the film stars Amy Adams, Jake Gylenhaal, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Isla Fisher, Armie Hammer.

This isn’t quite your typical thriller and the premise of Nocturnal Animals is an interesting one, sort of a tale of vengeance but not quite, the plot makes more sense as it goes on but initially may seem quite confusing but it follows art curator Susan Morrow, who often reminisces of the past as she seems to have doubts over her husband Huttons’ faithfulness. Susan (Amy Adams) makes for an interesting character, somewhat conflicted and thrown into a bit of a loop after her ex husband Tony sends her a novel seemingly out of the blue, more or less kicking off the main part of the story, he’s also brilliantly portrayed by Jake Gylenhaal, almost entirely in the novel that he sends Susan, which makes for an interesting turn of events. Also in the novel is Aaron Taylor-Johnson who’s pretty fantastic and does a great job at portraying a bit of a scumbag lowlife, playing opposite to the morally ambiguous Michael Shannon.

We see events taking place part in the novel and in real life, which is an interesting narrative choice but with a fair amount of time devoted to visualising the novel – as we see in Susans’ head, going back to real life can seem a bit dull in comparison, maybe a bit of a subtle commentary on novels and fiction in general in relation to the real world that we inhabit – or this is me reading into things a bit.

Generally speaking Gylenhaal represents the high calibre that the film takes on, a well shot and clearly well produced film that doesn’t quite expand enough on its story in any meaningful way unfortunately and ironically, I found the fictional story in the novel a lot more compelling and engaging than the actual story of the film, with a bit of an imbalance in the time spent in each area to the films detriment. That being said, there is an interesting subtext present in the film, with the novel from Tony possibly being some sort of message to Susan, though whether you care about that or not will be entirely based on how your react to the films premise as a whole and I particularly wasn’t that captivated, it’s an interesting high risk approach to a film narrative that can work wonderfully i.e. Big FishThe Hobbit but it doesn’t quite work that well here.

Nocturnal Animals is a curious film, with an interesting premise and a strong cast that’s mostly wasted I feel, though Amy Adams, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Jake Gylenhaal bring some strong performances and there are some good elements to the whole but the result is a fairly weak and disjointed product that didn’t quite resonate with me due to a rather bare bones overall narrative.

6/10

. Unbalanced narrative, doesn’t quite go anywhere interesting in the real world

. Feels a bit uneventful

. Has some strong performances

Hacksaw Ridge review

Hacksaw Ridge is a biopic and dramatisation of conscientious objector Desmond T Doss, who served as  a medic during the Pacific theatre, notably at the battle of Okinawa in WWII, refusing to fire or use any weapons but saving several of his comrades, the film stars Andrew Garfield, Hugo Weaving, Sam Worthington, Vince Vaughn.

The story of Hacksaw Ridge is quite an incredible one, one that’s almost too good to be true but yes, it really is and love him or hate him, Mel Gibson has a good eye for intense, visceral period dramas as it turns out and this is no exception, the cast is quite strong overall, with an A+ performance from Andrew Garfield who disappears into the role of Desmond Doss, nailing his devotion to his faith and will to not use any arms and from his general mannerisms to his cadence in talking, you can tell Garfield put a lot of effort into the role. Meanwhile the supporting cast is also quite good, Vince Vaughn (Sgt Howell) surprisingly is great as your typical WWII drama hard ass sergeant that the soldiers grow to love to hate and he’s actually not even that annoying but even more surprisingly is the much maligned Sam Worthington as Captain Glover who’s actually very solid in the role for what he gets to do. While Hugo Weaving is great as Tom Doss, Desmonds’ alcoholic father who doesn’t want to lose any more of his sons – namely Desmond to war but respects Desmonds choices in life, Weaving portrays an complex three dimensional character – as a depiction of a real person, just like Desmond was and simply seeing these characters interact makes for interesting viewing.

Desmond is so unwavering in his beliefs that it borders on frustrating to watch but you can’t help but admire his charm and passion, something Garfield adds to with his charisma and boyish like appearance and persona. The plot flows pretty naturally as we follow the 96th division (Desmonds’ division) as they go to Hacksaw Ridge in the attempt take it over and push the Japanese back, though we see this is no easy feat and a lot of ferocious fighting had been taking place. And the action itself is…. gritty, brutal and uncensored with quite a lot of interrupted action, really drawing you into how chaotic and violent the theatres in WWII were and importantly, the gore – while present is never really the focus or gratuitous in my opinion, we see it and the action moves on as does the battle and the soldiers involved, highlighting how brutal and traumatising being in the war was as soldiers see friends and comrades die around them yet they have to keep fighting.

What makes Hacksaw Ridge a bit better than your average WWII film is the profound nature of the true story around Doss, a story that was ripe for a dramatisation on the big screen, seeing his religious and moral conflicts but desire to still go to war to help others but more than that, with some great performances, certain scenes may be seen as bit of a glorification and over done to some but I was never bothered too much by the dramatisation of some events. Garfield puts in a great shift among some other great supporting actors to bring a compelling true story to life.

7/10

. Strong performances, especially Garfield, Weaving, good portrayal of Desmond Doss

. Great true story handled with care, engaging plot

. Action is uncensored but doesn’t err on the side of being gratuitous, gives combat an authentic feeling

February film preview

We did it guys, we’ve made it through the rather abysmal January – for films among other things and we’re onto the next month, hopefully we’ll have a few better films in store to come in the next 4 weeks! Here are a few, US release dates by default.

 

Rings – released on the 3rd of February

Directed by F. Javier Gutierrez.

Starring: Matilda Lutz, Alex Roe, Johnny Galecki, Aimee Teegarden, Vincent D’onofrio.

Sequel to the popular Rings films, set 13 years after the last film in the series as Julia becomes worried after her boyfriend – Holt, delves into the legend of the Ring video and the mythos surrounding it.

 

Fifty Shades Darker – released on the 10th of February

Directed by James Foley.

Starring: Jamie Dornan, Dakota Johnson, Kim Basinger, Luke Grimes, Bella Heathcote, Elose Mumford.

Erotic drama and sequel to the… controversial Fifty Shades Of Grey as we follow Anastasia trying to move on from Christian Grey, though they reconcile and attempt a normal relationship, which comes with its own surprising baggage on Christians’ part.

 

John Wick: Chapter 2 – released on the 10th of February

Directed by Chad Jahelski.

Starring: Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Common, Ruby Rose, John Leguizamo, Ian McShane.

Follow up to John Wick, we follow Wick as he reluctantly comes out of retirement and travels to Rome in order to help an associate, whose guild is under attack.

 

The Lego Batman Movie – released on the 10th of February

Directed by Chris McKay.

Starring: Will Arnett, Zach Galifinakis, Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson, Ralph Fiennes, Mariah Carey, Jenny Slate, Billy Dee Williams.

Comedy/drama set in Gotham as Batman goes on a personal journey, facing off against the menace of the Joker as he tries to take over the city.

 

The Great Wall – released on the 17th of February

Directed by Zhang Yimou.

Starring: Matt Damon, Jing Tian, Pedro Pascal, Willem Dafoe, Andy Lau.

Fantasy period drama set in China during the Song Dynasty as European mercenaries become entangled in an effort to protect China and the great wall of China from monstrous attackers alongside Chinese warriors.

 

Tulip Fever – released on the 24th of February

Directed by Justin Chatwin.

Starring: Alicia Vikander, Dane DeHaan, Zach Galifinakis, Judi Dench, Christoph Waltz, Jack O’Connell, Matthew Morrison, David Harewood, Cara Delevingne.

17th century period drama, as a painter falls in love with a married woman after he’s commissioned to paint her portrait by her husband. The two people get involved in the tulip market in the hopes of growing closer.

Passengers review

Passengers is a sci-fi drama directed by Morten Tyldum, on a generational spaceship – the Avalon, travelling on a 120 year journey, 2 passengers are awoken 90 years early, the film stars Chris Pratt, Jennifer Lawrence, Laurence Fishburne, Michael Sheen, Andy Garcia.

The central premise of Passengers is a quite interesting one, a sort of solitary space faring drama in the vein of Solaris but quite a bit different, with two sole survivors…. or passengers rather with Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) and Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence), trying to cope and come to terms with the fact that they woke up 90 years early on their journey and can’t go back to sleep. Close, intimate dramas like this are built on the performances of the main characters and fortunately for the film, you have two of Hollywood’s most charismatic and likeable actors in Pratt and Lawrence and in truth either of them could have lead the film more or less on their own.

But together, they make for quite a good, believable pairing and have some good chemistry, which plays a fairly important role in the plot in how the characters relate, they aren’t quite the only characters present though and android waiter Arthur (Michael Sheen) also around, providing the passengers with some companionship at least. Unfortunately for the film, the plot just never quite gets to any interesting degree until the final third of the film imo so that leaves for 2/3 of a rather uneventful affair, despite Pratt and Lawrence being great in their roles, they aren’t left with enough to do and not enough really happens to them to make their ordeal captivating enough. And though some interesting moral and ethical questions are raised here, they’re barely explored in favour of furthering on the plot, Solaris this is not (though a lot of people think that’s boring as well) though I didn’t necessarily expect it to be, I feel the themes present could have been explored in a little bit more depth, what would you do on a spaceship you were doomed to die on? How would you think? Would you wake up other people if you could? The questions are fascinating and while they are explored through Chris Pratts’ action and psyche, this plays second fiddle to a somewhat forced romance angle.

The film also follows a pretty by the numbers twist as well which turns a fairly interesting premise into a more generic one, which is a shame and ultimately this is bubblegum mainstream sci-fi, not particularly that interesting or well thought out, with an intriguing premise that just acts as a background to a drama that itself isn’t really that interesting. Passengers tries to be unique and interesting but fails in its attempt, suffering from a fairly dull and lifeless plot despite its two strong leads and seriously, there is barely any actual plot present aside from the inciting incident of the story, just not a lot happens and it’s a waste of a potentially good story. And true to form, watching the film, you definitely do feel like a passenger – on some form of public transport, along for the ride but barely engaged and wanting to get off.

5/10

. Dull and by the numbers plot, could have had interesting plot developments

. Interesting ethical and moral themes are barely touched on

. Has good performances and chemistry between Pratt and Lawrence

My 2017 Oscars predictions

So while I’m not huge on awards season nowadays generally speaking, I’ll watch them but I’m not hugely enamoured by them any more (taste changes I guess), I thought I’d still chime in on the Oscars for this year as I tend to with the nominations coming out earlier in the week though I’m a bit late! Anyway here are my thoughts on who’ll be picking up gold in February and some reasons on my choices….

Best picture

Arrival
Fences
Hacksaw Ridge
Hell or High Water
Hidden Figures
La La Land  – Winner
Lion
Manchester By the Sea
Moonlight

La La Land just has to be a lock at the moment coming off of so much hype and praise and is the obvious choice imo but we may well see an upset this year… but I doubt it, I’m sure a lot of academy folks love Manchester by the sea and Lion as well but the musical may just take it.

Best cinematography

Arrival – winner
La La Land
Lion
Moonlight
Silence

More of a wishful winner but out of the choices, I do think it has the best cinematography by a margin with some pretty great visuals, which play some role in the films narrative as well, the most interesting film on the list too imo.

Best supporting actor

Mahershala Ali (Moonlight)  – Winner
Jeff Bridges (Hell or High Water)
Lucas Hedges (Manchester By the Sea)
Dev Patel (Lion)
Michael Shannon (Nocturnal Animals)

Hard category here with some strong choices but Mahershala takes it for me with some great buzz and with him generally being a great actor, Michael Shannon – also great but didn’t do too much in Nocturnal Animals imo, Dev Patel is also a big choice and may well be a top pick for people.

Best documentary

Fire at Sea
I Am Not Your Negro
Life, Animated
OJ: Made in America – winner
13th

I’m picking at random to be honest, I haven’t seen any of these.

Best foreign language film

Land of Mine
A Man Called Ove
The Salesman  – winner
Tanna
Toni Erdmann

Another category of things I haven’t seen, The salesman sounds kinda… nice I guess?

Best actor

Casey Affleck (Manchester By the Sea)  – winner
Andrew Garfield (Hacksaw Ridge)
Ryan Gosling (La La Land)
Viggo Mortensen (Captain Fantastic)
Denzel Washington (Fences)

Strongly contested category as ever, Gosling may not win the best actor award imo due to some strong competition and Casey Affleck may just get this, the academy seems to adore Manchester by the sea so I see it picking up some awards, I think it’ll be close between Affleck and Garfield in the end though.

Best costume design

Allied
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – winner
Florence Foster Jenkins
Jackie
La La Land

Interesting category here, Allied had some decent costume design but Fantastic Beasts wins this for me with its world of wizardry/30s era New York style that you just can’t quite beat for ‘cool’.

Best score

Jackie
La La Land – winner
Lion
Moonlight
Passengers

Can’t see past La La Land for this, a musical getting best score seems pretty logical.

Best song

Audition (La La Land)
Can’t Stop the Feeling! (Trolls)
City of Stars (La La Land) – winner
The Empty Chair (Jim: The James Foley Story)
How Far I’ll Go (Moana)

Again another strong chance for La La Land to win, with 2 nominations, this should be an easy sweep.

Best sound editing

Arrival – winner
Deepwater Horizon
Hacksaw Ridge
La La Land
Sully

Bit of a different choice for me,  Arrival is a film not really noted for its score/music but I think it had a pretty strong score overall, so I think it may just win this category, I expect Arrival to get a few of the technical wins generally.

Best sound mixing

Arrival
Hacksaw Ridge
La La Land – winner
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
13 Hours

Sound mixing, a popular musical, go figure right?

Best documentary short

4.1 Miles
Extremis – winner
Joe’s Violin
Watani: My Homeland
The White Helmets

I haven not seen any of these.

Best production design

Arrival
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – winner
Hail, Caesar!
La La Land
Passengers

Interesting category here, Passengers and Fantastic Beasts have the most grand and out there production design but Beasts wins it for me with its sheer spectacle, great costumes and great looking sets, though Hail, Caesar! is also a potential choice with some nice period costumes and a look at Hollywood in the golden age, Hollywood tends to like films about Hollywood and its history so you never know, it could win.

Best original screenplay

Hell or High Water
La La Land – winner
The Lobster
Manchester By the Sea
20th Century Women

La La Land will be sweeping the Oscars going by my predictions and probably a lot of other peoples’ but yeah, this should be another win for it, close runner up will be Manchester by the sea.

Best adapted screenplay

Arrival
Fences
Hidden Figures
Lion
Moonlight – winner

I’d hate to see Moonlight get shut out and I think it may pick this win up, also being a favourite among critics, Arrival is the film I want to win but y’know, the Academy and sci-fi, not the best relationship in film history.

Best animated feature

Kubo and the Two Strings – winner
Moana
My Life As a Zucchini
The Red Turtle
Zootopia

Actually a fairly strong category here, two popular Disney films and no Finding Dory…. but I think Kubo may take it as the more dramatic tale, not being as mainstream as some other choices, it’s also pretty good, so there’s that.

Best animated short

Blind Vaysha
Borrowed Time – winner
Pear Cider and Cigarettes
Pearl
Piper

Also haven’t seen any of thsese…..

Best supporting actress

Viola Davis (Fences)
Naomie Harris (Moonlight)
Nicole Kidman (Lion)
Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures)
Michelle Williams (Manchester By the Sea) – winner

I can see Williams getting this, though she has tough competition, Nicole Kidman is an academy darling and may be a top choice for many though.

Best film editing

Arrival
Hacksaw Ridge – winner
Hell or High Water
La La Land
Moonlight

I always find this category a bit weird, good editing is something you don’t really notice so… how do you note it? Good transitions between scenes, seeing scenes, action and characters clearly I suppose… Hacksaw Ridge may get this with good cinematography in general and serious, emotional subject material.

Best live-action short

Ennemis Interieurs
La Femme et le TGV
Silent Nights
Sing
Timecode – winner

I have not seen any of these either!

Best actress

Isabelle Huppert (Elle)
Ruth Negga (Loving)
Emma Stone (La La Land) – winner
Natalie Portman (Jackie)
Meryl Streep (Florence Foster Jenkins)

Big, big category, Meryl Streep is the tour de force and anyone beating her outright is big but I dunno… I think Emma Stone may just win this, my thinking is that Florence Foster Jenkins just isn’t in the zeitgest the way La La Land is now, so Stone gets this.

Best director

Denis Villeneuve (Arrival)
Mel Gibson (Hacksaw Ridge)
Damien Chazelle (La La Land) – winner
Kenneth Lonergan (Manchester By the Sea)
Barry Jenkins (Moonlight)

One of the big categories, always hotly contested…. I’d love Villeneuve to win this but I’m doubtful, it’s between Chazelle and Lonergan for me with Gibson being a close outside choice, to more or less round up La La Lands sweep, I give it to Chazelle, a passion project for him and a generally well loved film.

Best visual effects

Deepwater Horizon
Doctor Strange
The Jungle Book – winner
Kubo and the Two Strings
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – won’t win but I’d love it to!

really, really want Rogue One to win something and especially this but the academy doesn’t much care for sci-fi or mainstream films so it’s doubtful, a well loved Disney film with some great CGI isn’t too much of a stretch for winning this.

Best makeup and hairstyling

A Man Called Ove
Star Trek Beyond
Suicide Squad – winner

Bit of an interesting category here, Suicide Squad will actually win this for me and it will be hilarious, yes Suicide Squad will win an Oscar, love it, hate it or really hate it, it had some great costume design and make up for the characters, Joker, Killer Croc and Harlie Quinn to name some so, fair enough.

Some predictable choices here in what will be a fairly predictable Oscars imo, 7 wins for La La Land and I can see that happening, if not more, though if it gets shut out that would be one of the biggest Oscar shocks in years, Hacksaw Ridge or Manchester by the sea may end up doing a lot better than I predict but I guess we have to wait and see! The 89th Oscar awards are on 26th of February.