NOCTURNAL ANIMALS

The London Film Festival came and went and left in its thrall, quite a few memorable films – for whatever reasons – good or bad.

They are all very different films in genre, as well as storyline, so I think it is a really good mix which should give a lot of ‘food for thought’.

nocturnal_animals_police-2NOCTURNAL ANIMALS

An art-gallery owner is haunted by a violent thriller novel written by her ex-husband.

2016/USA/Universal/117 mins/Thriller, Drama, Crime/15

Release date: 04/11/2016

Director: Tom Ford

Cast: Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon

Tom Ford certainly knows how to make an entrance and the opening credits do just that.  They are completely outrageous and bizarre – very David Lynch meets Pedro Almodóvar – but after the initial visual ‘shock to the system’, you are left with admiration for the man’s artistic genius …

This noir-melodrama is Tom Ford’s second directorial outing, and is an adaptation of Austin Wright’s 1993 novel, ‘Tony and Susan’. There is a multi-stranded narrative running throughout; a fictional story, alongside present and past events, with all levels interrelated.

Susan Morrow (Amy Adams) has abandoned her own artistic ambitions and now manages an art gallery which specialises in provocative pieces and none is more bizarre than the opening sequence, which we later find out is part of an art installation she is curating.

One day she receives a manuscript (Nocturnal Animasl) from her ex husband, Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal) and intrigued, she begins to read it. The plot starts to draw her in and in her mind the story vividly comes to life …

Tony (Gyllenhaal again) and his wife, Laura (Isla Fisher), together with their teenage daughter, India (Ellie Bamber) are setting off on vacation.  Along a lonely stretch of freeway, they are forced off the road by a car driven by rednecks. The leader, Ray (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) gets out under the pretense of blaming them for the run-in. It becomes more and more evident to Tony and his family, that they are going to be lucky to get out of their unscathed.

Tony finds himself unable to help his family as he watches the women being terrorised and finally driven away.

Meanwhile, we are drawn back into the ‘real world’ and Susan’s reaction to what she is reading is bringing back memories of how she treated her ex-husband and the guilt she has long buried within.  It also highlights her current feelings of isolation and unhappiness in her second failing marriage.

We move back to the ‘novel’ and his wife and daughter’s bodies have been found and he turns to a cowboy Detective, Bobby Andes (Michael Shannon) to help him find the twisted perpetrators of the brutal crimes.

There is no doubt that Tom Ford has done it again.  By his own admission, he had very little training in fashion and absolutely none as a Director of films.  However, it does prove that the knowledge he has gained over the years within the fashion industry, has given him more of an exceptional eye for detail, use of colour and composition.  It goes to show, though, that nothing is impossible and if you have a mind to do something, with enough work and effort, you can achieve what you yearn for.

The casting, in all respects, is perfect.  Amy Adams is a very versatile actresss and this is one of her more multi-facted roles to date. She manages to portray Susan as a woman who appears to be confident and in control of her life (to the outside world ) but when alone, her vulnerability appears to be simmering just under surface.

Jake Gyllenhaal, as I have mentioned in other reviews, is one of my favourite actors – I have a small stable of them (if only!)  His ‘double role’ is perfectly played.  Firstly, as the ex-husband who unwittingly bears a grudge against his wife for not believing in his writing abilities when they were married and secondly, as the impotent husband who can only watch as his family is driven away to a fate of which he is unaware.

Michael Shannon’s performance, as always, is riveting. He is another actor who can do no wrong in my book.  His laconic and under-stated interpretation of the dying Detective is no less than mesmerising.

In the role of Ray, Aaron Taylor-Johnson has gone up in my estimation and his performance is probably the best I have seen from him.  It is a chilling portrayal of an obdurate bully who needs to have an audience to back him up but, as with all bullies, he is a coward who backs down when threatened in return.

Seamus McGarvey’s cinematography contrasts beautifully between the homogenised perfection of the LA environment and the expansive panoramic views of Texas.

Since I mentioned the opening credits to this film, I think I should also mention the closing ones – only because it shows Tom Ford’s ‘pull’.  Only he could have end credits that are choc-a-bloc full with every fashion designer known to man and contemporary American art panjandrums.

On a personal note, I came out of this film feeling exhilarated and wanting more.  Everything, to me, was perfect and had the trademark Ford touches – elegance, wit, beautiful sets, excellent script (penned by Ford) and totally absorbing.

All I can say is please don’t let him wait another seven years before his next film.

A ‘must see’ for many reasons … it will not disappoint.

Twitch Factor:  Sub, Sub, Sub Zero.

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image006MANCHESTER BY THE SEA

An uncle is forced to take care of his teenage nephew after the boy’s father dies.

2016/USA/Studio Canal/135 mins/Drama

Release Date: 13/01/2017

Director: Kenneth Lonergan

Cast: Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler

No, this is not a story based in good old Manchester in the UK (to my knowledge, nowhere near the sea) though I am given to understand there are ‘revitalised’ dockyards.  This is Manchester by the Sea in Essex County (confusing, I know) in Massachusetts.

Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) is a taciturn caretaker/handyman, whose daily duties include being at the ‘beck and call’ of the tenants in the block – some nicer than others.  Consequently, with his patience wearing very thin, he finds it harder and harder to ‘bite the bullet’ until he is no longer capable of keeping up an act.  One particular tenant forces him to lose his temper, but we are all on his side. However, it is patently obvious that the man is harbouring what appears to be a major chip on his shoulder or some dark secret which keeps it firmly there.

After the death of his older brother, Joe (Kyle Chandler), he is informed that his brother left explicit instructions that he should be made sole guardian of his son, Patrick (Lucas Hedges) in the event that something happens to him.  As we are already aware, he has always had a very warm and loving relationship with his nephew and we cannot begin to understand why he is so traumatised by this request.  He reluctantly returns to Manchester by the Sea and at this point, we are shown flashbacks which are creeping closer to the event which turned Lee from a loving uncle to a monosyllabic individual with a penchant for starting fights in bars.

When eventually all is revealed, we begin to sympathise with him.  It is something that no-one should have to live with.  His marriage to Randi (Michelle Williams) has inevitably broken down and he is but a mere shell ‘sleep walking’ through life.

Patrick is very aware of his uncle’s reluctance to be his guardian and does all he can not to become a burden to Lee.  There are some funny and touching scenes here which help to raise the film out of the doldrums and to this end, it does succeed only to be brought back down again, when the inevitable meeting with his wife, Randi, takes place.  There is one ‘gut-wrenching’ and emotionally charged scene between them, which will leave you gasping for breath such is its impact on the viewer.

Albeit that the storyline is quite dire, there are moments of lightness and perhaps hope.  But there is no cathartic ending.  Cinema audiences have to understand that real life doesn’t always work that way, and that is something that American audiences are just beginning to understand.  For too long now, they have been subjected to ‘happy-ever-after’ endings where reality has taken a back seat, as opposed to films made by many other countries.

To my mind, this is Kenneth Lonergan’s best work to-date and will surely make him a household name.  Not only has he written the screenplay but he has also directed, which was not his original intention.  He was only going to write the screenplay with the proviso that his friend, Matt Damon would be directing.  However, Damon became unavailable and he ended up doing both and I have a feeling he is going to be happy that he did.

Casey Affleck is one of those actors who seems to inhabit the roles he plays.  His performances are always truthful and believable and none more so than this.

Michelle Williams gives a nuanced performance and brings a raw vulnerability to this role, from which it must have been very difficult to disassociate at the end of each day’s filming.   

Definitely a contender for upcoming awards whether for Best Film or Best Actor/Actress. We shall see.

Be warned, it pulls at the heartstrings and is a tear-jerker, but ‘schmaltz’ it is definitely not.

Twitch Factor:  Sub, Sub, Zero

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tiny-city-of-lights-1CITY OF TINY LIGHTS

In the teeming, multicultural metropolis of modern-day London, a seemingly straightforward missing-person case launches a down-at-heel private eye into a dangerous world of religious fanaticism and political intrigue.

2016/UK/Icon Film Distribution/109 mins/Crime, Drama, Thriller

Release Date: Spring 2017

Director: Peter Travis

Cast: Riz Ahmed, James Floyd, Cush Jumbo, Billie Piper, Roshan Seth 

Tommy Akhtar (Riz Ahmed) is a cynical, London-based private detective with a penchant for bourbon and cigarettes.  One day he is visited by a prostitute, Melody (Cush Jumbo) whose Russian flat-mate and fellow prostitute has gone missing.  Whilst working the case, he stumbles across the corpse of a prominent Pakistani businessman, Usman Rana, in a hotel and is immediately pulled into a web of intrigue which threatens both his life and that of Melody whilst also, relating to a tragedy that took place in his youth.

Once again, flashbacks are put to good use as his teenage years come to life and we are able to piece together some of Tommy’s ‘back-story’.

As Tommy delves deeper, he uncovers corrupt property deals and radical Islam.  His journey leads him into the murky undertow of modern London and deeper still into his own past as a member of the ‘Churchill Massive’, a gang of friends growing up at the height of the late 90s.

His best friend, Haafiz ‘Lovely’ Ansari (James Floyd) was at the heart of the gang; he had it all, good looks, charm and cool parents – everything which was missing in Tommy’s life.  Now, he still has it all – he is a successful entrepreneur, married with a beautiful wife and is also held in high esteem within his community.  But Lovely is also Rana’s business partner …

After a 20 year absence, Tommy is also reunited with his ‘first love’, Shelley Stevens (Billie Piper) a fellow member of the ‘gang’ and even after all these years, he is still looking for answers to their quasi relationship.

There is a ‘Chandler-esque’ quality to this film.  Travis and cinematographer Felix Weidemann give the film a sleek look with a seedy undercurrent and some beautiful, shadowy nighttime settings.  The melancholic score by Ruth Barrett enhances the atmosphere too.

This is yet another film which uses intermittent flashbacks to tell a story – something I am getting used to and I wonder if it is a ploy used by some Directors to make sure that the cinema-going audience isn’t going to go to sleep during the performance.  In my case, it appears to be a ploy which works, since I was wide awake during all the films, apart from ‘Autopsy’ where there was no need for flashbacks and I only nodded-off for a couple of minutes (I think!)

Riz Ahmed is one of our best and fastest-rising young British talents and is about to ‘hit the big time’ with the release of ‘Star Wars: Rogue One’ (which is due for release on 15 December in the UK). As Tommy, he gives a naturally understated performance and the sarcastic dialogue seems to trip off his tongue with apparent ease.  His shaven head and swagger give him an overall ‘hard’ look and perhaps this film was made immediately after ‘The Night of’?   

Roshan Seth as Tommy’s cricket-loving Bangladeshi-born father brings some light entertainment to the film.

Billie Piper’s performance was mediocre and could have been played by one of many actresses, although admittedly, this role does not allow her to show the audience the full scope of her talent.

Cush Jumbo’s on screen chemistry with Ahmed was palpable, more so than Piper’s performance. You will probably remember her as Lucca Quinn in The Good Wife and she will soon be returning to the small screen in the spinoff entitled, The Good Fight’.

I enjoyed the film and I can recommend it but, to be honest, you could also wait until it comes out on DVD.

You can currently catch up with Riz Ahmed in The Night Of a brilliant 8 part series and I am given to understand that there is a Series 2 on its way.

Twitch Factor:  Zero

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image0011THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE

Father-and-son Forensic Pathologists enter a world of terror when they receive a mysterious homicide victim with no apparent cause of death.

2016/UK/99mins/Horror

Release date: 21 December 2016 (USA); Early 2017 (UK)

Director: André Øvredal

Cast: Emile Hirsch, Brian Cox, Ophelia Lovibond, Michael McElhatton, Olwen Kelly, Jane Perry.

‘Autopsy’ is André Øvredal’s first foray into an English-language feature, having previously enthralled us with his mockumentary ‘Trollhunter’ (2010) a mock-documentary along the lines of The Blair Witch Project.

The film opens with the police investigating a bloody crime scene in a small-town Virginia home. There are four bodies who all appear to have been trying to flee the house, but the most disconcerting thing is, that there appears to be no evidence of a break-in or an intruder.  A fifth body of a naked young woman (Olwen Kelly) is found half buried in the cellar …

With the sheriff (Michael McElhatton) under pressure to deliver a statement to the press by morning, he turns to Tommy Tilden (Brian Cox) and his son, Austin Tilden (Emile Hirsch) who run the local Tilden Morgue and Crematorium, to perform a forensic analysis.

As Tommy starts to examine the body, it becomes increasingly obvious that all is not what it seems:  there are no visible signs of trauma or cause of death and rigor mortis does not appear to have reared its ugly head.

As soon as Tommy starts cutting, the mystery deepens and slowly the fun begins …

For me, the only strange phenomena was the ‘now you see it’ and ‘now you don’t’ disappearing ‘muff’.  For those of you unfamiliar with the intricacies of the English language or rather, the proverbial slang, this is a term used for a woman’s pubic hair.  I hasten to add that it appears to be a ‘hairpiece’ – the equivalent of the rumoured toupée worn by Sean Connery – since ‘bald as a badger’ would seem to be the way to go these days and the film makers probably thought it would be too much for the unsuspecting cinema goer to behold.  However, what begins as a 1970s full throttle, in-your-face mound, ends up scuttling off the screen as fast as it can scamper!  One minute ‘it’ hits you between the eyeballs and the next?  Well, your guess is as good as mine.  ‘It’ probably wasn’t being paid full Equity rates or was just plain bored and sick and tired of sitting around on set …

The film starts off so well and then gradually descends into almost farcical proportions.  Such a shame, since both Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch are fine actors and make the most of the material they have been given. There is a definite chemistry between them which adds to the viability of the film, up to a point.

Olwen Kelly – like Patricia Hastie before her in The Descendants (2011 – deserves an award for remaining ‘motionless’ and being the perfect corpse and a beautiful one at that, although Hastie – I hasten to add – (sorry, I couldn’t help myself) was actually in a ’coma’.  However, I do think there should be some recognition for ‘playing dead’ or comatose – it could be called ‘The Patience of Job Award’.  Now there’s a thought …

The set design (Matt Gant) added greatly to the spooky atmosphere, as did the music (Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans).

I watched this film at 9 o’clock in the morning and whilst I did expect more – I did actually enjoy the film, even with the farcical take-over.  I may have laughed here and there (where I shouldn’t have) and no-one else did but, you know, freedom of expression … and all that …

This is almost a ‘must-see’ for various reasons, the most prominent of which is the first half of the film and secondly, for the ‘runaway beaver’.

Twitch Factor:  Zero

Do try and catch, The Hunt for the Wilderpeople – cannot recommend this film highly enough; Trolls 3D – colourful imagery, great fun and an amazing soundtrack; The Light Between Oceans – beautifully acted and a must for those who like a good cry!

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