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

The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers review

The Lord Of The Rings series continues with the 2nd entry, The Two Towers as the fellowship, now split goes about its separate ways, Sam and Frodo continue on to Mordor, following Gollum, meanwhile Isengard prepares for war and martials its forces as it prepares to face Rohan, the film stars Elijah Wood, Orlando Bloom, Jonathan Rhys-Davies, Ian Mckellan, Andy Serkis, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Bean, Liv Tyler, Hugo Weaving, Billy Boyd, Sean Astin, Christopher Lee, Cate Blanchett, Miranda Otto, Karl Urban.

The epic story of Middle Earth continues in The Two Towers, now in a bit of a darker tone than Fellowship with the returning main cast plus a few new additions, we now see the story go back and forth between travelling parties from the fellowship as the plot progresses, a more or less equal amount of time being given to the characters with some literally following others e.g. Aragon, Legolas and Gimli following Merry and Pippin. The great thing is that even with the story being split in three, the different parts are still all as interesting and engaging and as is the norm with a lot of sequels, we get an expansion on the world we’ve been introduced to with the introduction of Rohan,Ents,  Isengard, Saruman and Helms Deep, all key players and important parts to the film, this makes for a more compelling story as we see the far reach of Sauron and his evil magic, even affecting normal men and we really understand why the ring needs to be destroyed.

Rohan brings an interesting key aspect to the story as we get to see a big faction of men and how they react to evil, the ring and how they take action, interacting with Gandalf, Aragon, Legolas and Gimli and driving the story forward, if the Fellowship of the ring was an introduction to the story and the start of an adventure, The Two Towers is a war film first and foremost, focusing quite heavily on war and showing what it looks like in Middle Earth. I like that the films don’t shy away from showing the horror of war and loss, not being explicit on gore or blood but you still see the casualties of war, men, elves, orc alike (and so on), even in a world of fantasy and magic, death is still gruesome and prevalent and this makes for an interesting aesthetic for a fantasy film that has a fair amount of magical creatures and beings.

The series as a a whole grounds things to a degree, not overly relying on magic or special spells to save the day for the good guys but good old fashioned tactics and force of will… and a little but of good fortune as well. The Two Towers takes the story to an interesting middle point, involving the main characters in a lot more peril which makes things all the more engaging as we’re fairly empathetic towards the characters at this point as we want to see what happens to them as the story progresses and the film amazingly manages to juggle its multiple ongoing stories to a good degree, giving each of them enough screen time to stay interesting.

9/10

. Interesting expansion on the lore of Middle Earth, interesting introductions of Rohan, Isengard

. Great balancing of different ongoing stories

. Gritty depictions of war and death, even in fantasy makes for compelling viewing

The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring review

Peter Jackson directs the opening entry in the classic LOTR trilogy, as we follow Frodo Baggins, a hobbit from the shire that sets out on a journey with his companions as commissioned by a wizard – Gandalf, with the aim to take the ring of power to Mordor and destroy it, the film stars Elijah Wood, Orlando Bloom, Jonathan Rhys-Davies, Ian Mckellan, Andy Serkis, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Bean, Liv Tyler, Hugo Weaving, Billy Boyd, Sean Astin, Christopher Lee, Cate Blanchett.

The film that kicked it all off, The Fellowship Of The Ring is a wonder, being tasked with bringing a whole world of fantasy to modern audiences that may have been unfamiliar with it, having not read the books or heard of Lord Of The Rings even, Peter Jackson had a monumental task on his hands in simply adapting the massive story for the big screen but he managed to do it and to do it rather well at that. First off by getting a great cast for the film and for the roles of the main characters that we’ve now come to know and love, a mix of actors from around the world that perfectly fit their role and play up well to the theatrical, near play like drama that encompasses the story, down to the characters actions and their dialogues, casting choices like Ian Mckellan as Gandalf and Christopher Lee as Saruman – 2 wizards on opposing sides were brilliant choices and they brought gravitas to the film.

Fellowship, like the other 2 films in the trilogy has some fantastic elements to it that make the world of Middle Earth feel and look real, from the set designs to the character costumes, characters and races look distinct and unique, elves being tall and slender, dwarves short and stout – orcs rather ghoulish and dirty, these details go some way to help suspend disbelief and engross you in a fantasy world as a viewer, you also have to mention the fantastic vistas and locations present in the film as a lot of the films were shot on location in New Zealand. The mountain ranges, open wild trails etc are great to look at but also help to emphasise the sheer size of Middle Earth and the distances in between locations that the characters have to travel to.

The film has a nice sense of whimsy and adventure to it as we see the fellowship set about on their journey together as a group of 9 and it’s great to see the characters interact for the limited amount of time we see all 9 together, chased by the ghastly Nazgul all the way and because they’re so different to each other, it makes the journey more enjoyable to watch, that coupled with them running into enemies along the way makes things more interesting – as them simply trekking across Middle Earth does feature quite heavily. Fellowship isn’t all sunshine and roses though, having a mixed tone that reminds you that this is a fairly adult story of loss, death and friendship and the story has you empathise with the characters to a degree that losing one carries real weight, even though this is the first film in the series. This is due to small moments that reveal aspects of the characters, from fears to doubts and so on that show that they’re multi-dimensional and interesting. Another great aspect of the film is the score, one of the best in any film series – ever in my opinion, fitting certain scenes perfectly and making the trek across Middle Earth for the fellowship feel all the more epic, Fellowship is a brilliant starting point to one of the best film trilogies in cinema history and a great introductory piece to the Lord of The Rings story.

8.5/10

. Great casting choices, fantastic, convincing acting

. Brilliant visuals, great shots of landscapes to represent Middle Earth

. Engaging and engrossing story told well

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge Of The Sith review

George Lucas directs the concluding chapter of his prequel trilogy in Revenge Of The Sith, starring  Ewan Mcgregor, Hayden Christensen, Natalie Portman, Samuel L Jackson, Christopher Lee, as the story has progressed, Anakin has grown closer to reckless, violent side, while a secret plot involving the republic comes to the forefront.

Revenge Of The Sith kicks things off right away with a fantastic scene above the planet Coruscant, following Obi-Wan and Anakin as they’re tasked with retrieving the wanted Count Dooku, it’s a great looking scene for one and a good barometer of things to come with a fairly action packed film as a whole, though Episode III also manages to mix a fair amount of drama in it as well. A high point of the film is its visuals, the best in Star Wars to date with some good action sequences and great special effects and up to that point, Star Wars had never looked this good and it makes for some pretty epic set pieces, particularly the opening sequence for the film.

The tone of the film is markedly darker and logically so as the plot goes on, with this being the most emotional film in the prequels and the more emotional moments do work for the most part with some better acting performances, some improvement from Hayden Christensen and a good performance from Ewan McGregor. Seeing the height of the power of the Jedi in this period and then seeing its decline is an overall great unfolding plot point and the twist that is sprung by the film was predictable, but still impactful (ugh the Jedi kids) and importantly, the film doesn’t simply stray into and remain in a completely dark, depressing mood. As we come to learn there’s always hope, pun intended, the prequels were an… interesting foray into politics and how ideals and beliefs can become corrupted and even fascistic – presented in how the Galactic republic slowly becomes the Empire, an basic measure of this is very visible in the clone troopers and how their design and look changes over the prequels to closely resemble the traditional stormtroopers, as the capital ships also change to resemble Star Destroyers. Touches like this are small and may be missed entirely if you don’t look for them but I find them interesting in relation the lore of Star Wars as a whole.

And while supporting characters played by Natalie Portman and Samuel L Jackson are also decent but not spectacular, the journey of Anakin and his eventual transition to the dark side is what the story ultimately rides on and you have to buy into it, empathise and sympathise with the character for it to really work. And for the most part it works, despite Hayden Christensens’ less than stellar performance, simply because the remaining elements of the film all work well, from a great soundtrack which fits the film, good action and visuals and the feeling of a satisfying conclusion to the prequel story, which you already know continues into the original trilogy.

7/10

. Has some great visuals, fun set pieces

. Has some of the better performances from the prequels

. Manages its overall tone well – dark yet hopeful

The Dark Knight Rises review

The epic Nolan Dark Knight trilogy came to its conclusion in The Dark Knight Rises, following a veteran Bruce Wayne who steps back into the Batman mantle to face a new menacing threat to Gotham in Bane, starring, Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway, Gary Oldman, Marion Cotillard, Joseph Gordon Levitt, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine.

The Dark Knight Rises, so much to talk about, Nolans trilogy comes to an interesting in a movie that was far from the beloved masterpiece that The Dark Knight was, firstly we get a reluctant Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) who has hung up his cape and hasn’t been Batman for 8 years after facing off with the Joker Bruce is in poor physical shape as well and Gotham has for the most part been doing okay. That is until Bane (Tom Hardy) shows up and threatens Gotham with unintelligible mumbling and an atomic bomb, of course, this brings Bruce back into the game and is the inciting incident of the story.

One thing that has to be noted off the bat (no pun intended) is the cast, none of Nolans’ Batman films have a bad cast at all but the casting this time around is so, so on point, featuring some returning characters from the previous two films, as well as some brand new ones in Bane (Tom Hardy), Blake (Joseph Gordon Levitt), Catwoman (Anne Hathaway), Bale still gives a good, memorable performance though not his best in the trilogy. But Tom Hardy is easily the MVP of the film and fully envelopes himself as Bane, bringing an impressive physical presence and a menacing aura about him and onto the not so great, Marion Cotillard brings a lacklustre performance as Nyssa in an otherwise impressive roster of actors while Anne Hathaway is also great as Catwoman and captures the feeling of mischief, fun and rule breaking the character has been known for.

Nolan is brilliant at crafting fictional worlds of great scope and it’s no different this time around, Gotham feels like a real city with some questionable Police decisions and people in power making mistakes – which happens. And a maybe less noted but important thing about the film is the costumes which are all great, Bane ‘looks’ like Bane albeit not 8 feet tall like his comic book character but Hardy still cuts an imposing physical figure and he has a great screen presence in scenes, hearkening back to Nolans’ gritty depiction of Batmans’ over the top world.

Action wise, the film isn’t as focused on it as much as it was a feature in Batman Begins and The Dark Knight with more of a focus on the main conflict between Batman and Bane but the existing action here is done well, the set pieces in the film are big in scope and also look great, shot beautifully on HD cameras to give great visual detail and and a grand scale to certain set pieces, Gotham has never looked this good on the big screen and it the visuals are fantastic. The things that let The Dark Knight Rises down as a Batman fan can be perfectly summed up in 3 words – needs more Batman, also there’s some bland acting and plot threads that seemed rushed to their conclusions.

And while not being the Batman film to satisfy a lot of Nolan or Batman fans, The Dark Knight Rises is still an impressive cinematic effort, very well shot and well acted, it’s a showcase of its directors ambition and dedication to his work, the film has its prominent low points but they are mostly overshadowed by an overall good story and satisfying conclusion.

7/10

. Brilliantly cast and equally well acted

. Well shot fil, great visuals

. Some unavoidable plot holes that draw you out of the story a bit