I haven’t done a movie binge weekend like this in a while, and as you can imagine, I had a blast. Not saying everything I saw was good, but it was fun to be in five theaters with decent-sized audiences (and a few surprises). I’ll put them in the order I liked them most, so last one is last place.
Nocturnal Animals – My one trip to AFI Silver this weekend (everything else I saw at Regal 20 Silver Spring). This was the most “filmic” film I saw (read “artsy”). You may already know that the director and screenwriter (based on the novel Tony and Susan by Austin Wright) and producer is the fashion designer Tom Ford. I know nothing about fashion and haven’t seen Ford’s other film A Single Man (2009), but I will definitely check it out. You get hit in the face at the beginning with a Lynchian credit sequence, then slide into style (beautiful sets and costumes, dim lights, Amy Adams wearing a lot of eye makeup, overhead canted angles). This is a story within a story. The frame is that Susan (Adams) is an art dealer, and her husband Hutton (Armie Hammer) is some sort of business man. There’s some financial strain between them (and even more issues, as the film reveals), and Hutton must leave town for the weekend. Conveniently, Susan is sent a draft of her ex-husband Edward’s (Jake Gyllenhaal) first novel to read. He’s going to be in town this weekend, and maybe they could get together? What happened in Susan and Tony’s past eventually comes out, as the audience is given pieces of the frame story as Susan begins reading the novel.
The story of the novel, which is far more interesting than the frame story (but also more straightforward and intense), is a family (the dad [Tony – also played by Gyllenhaal], mom [Laura – played by Isla Fisher] and young teenage daughter [India – played by Ellie Bamber]) is driving through West Texas when they are forced off the road by three men. The men kidnap Laura and India, leaving Tony out in the middle of the desert. Tony makes it back to a town and gets in touch with the local law enforcement. The rest of the novel’s story is Tony and Bobby (Michael Shannon) trying to bring the men to justice.
I don’t really want to say too much else about the movie, in case you want to go see it. I recommend not reading or watching any reviews of the film because I don’t think you’d find it as interesting if you knew what was going to happen. I will say that Michael Shannon is the best part of this film. There’s a lot of stereotypes masquerading as characters in this movie, which is probably its biggest weakness, and sometimes the ambiance can stray a little too far to pretentious, but it’s still the best thing I saw all weekend. And, while I didn’t have any problem with the ending, apparently some people do. I had one person in the theater I saw it in (which was over half full) actually say out loud “That’s it? Retarded!” when the credits started rolling. Classy.
Manchester by the Sea – 2 of the 5 movies I saw (this one and Nocturnal Animals) were about people who had really bad things happen to them in the past, 2 of the 5 had bad things happening in the characters’ present time (Moonlight and Allied), and 1 of the 5 dealt with bad things that would happen in the future (Arrival). None of these films are going to send you home lighter on your feet than when you arrived. Out of all five, this film imparted the most emotional damage. It also had the best acting. Casey Affleck really deserves serious attention for what he did in this film. It’s a very honest film. However, I got so annoyed watching it. This goes back to something I talk about in Film 101 about the use of soundtrack. The two schools of thought are that either the music should not be intrusive or be very present and aid what is happening. All too often, music is used to intensify the emotions on the screen at that moment. And in some cases, it will hammer what you are supposed to be feeling into your skull. The saddest piece of music ever is Adagio in G Minor for Strings & Organ by Tomaso Albinoli. The way it is used (and the whole thing is used) in this picture was over-the-top ridiculous. It didn’t need to do that. This film would have been the top spot if it hadn’t been for this.
Moonlight – This barely edged out Arrival. I’ve heard the comment made that this film did a better job at portraying the growing up of a boy than Boyhood (2014). While I like Richard Linklater, I couldn’t stand Boyhood. However, comparing that film with this one is ludicrous. There’s plenty of films that deal with growing up. This is the story of Chiron, a boy growing up in the ghettos of Miami. Chiron is small (he is nicknamed Little) and gay (though how he gets pegged with this so early on is a mystery to me – his mom says it’s because of the way he runs?), so he gets bullied relentlessly. Oh, and also, his mom is a crack addict. Chiron takes refuge in a crack house, where he encounters Juan (Mahershala Ali), a drug dealer who treats him like a lost puppy, feeds him and takes him home. At home is Teresa, who will continue to intermittently offer Chiron a stable environment he occasionally stays at into high school. I want to like this film more, but there’s two big issues with it. One is a similar issue with Nocturnal Animals. There are no characters here – only stereotypes. Instead of a hooker with a heart of gold, we have a drug dealer with a paternal bent. Mom’s a crack addict who takes Chiron’s money and pawns household appliances for drugs (in one scene, Chiron must boil water to take a bath, because the hot water’s been turned off). Later in the film, when he visits her in rehab, you get the standard “I’m so sorry, I done you wrong” speech. Reminiscent of Pearl Jam’s “Jeremy,” Chiron finally snaps one day and breaks a chair over the main bully’s back, which lands him in juvenile detention and eventually jail. He makes contacts in jail and ends up doing the very same thing that Juan did, running traps in Atlanta. The only thing that sets this film apart slightly is that Chiron is gay, so you add more tragedy into the already tragic circumstances. Two, this is poverty porn with a LGBT twist. Last year, with the Oscars So White Movement, I was hoping to see more diversity in the types of stories we see on screen. And while there may be more creeping through, we are still seeming to get two extremes: Boo: A Madea Halloween and Almost Christmas or Moonlight. I’m hoping films like Hidden Figures and Fences are the beginnings of turning this trend around. But seriously, there are more than two stories to tell in the African American community. I’m still worried that the people who control the money haven’t gotten the message yet. Just throwing Forest Whitaker in a film is not a sufficient enough move, Hollywood.
Arrival - Speaking of Forest Whitaker (and he’s going to be in next week’s Rogue One, along with Donnie Yen and Diego Luna – all boxes checked, including having a female lead), he’s in this one. Out of the two Amy Adams movies I saw, her performance in this one is way better (in fact, comparing the two, I’m fairly sure she was probably bored with what she had to do in Nocturnal). To be up front with you, I’m not a very big fan of sci-fi, mostly because there are plot holes and leaps of faith one must do to buy what’s going on. This one’s no different. So, twelve alien ships come to Earth around the globe to make humanity work together. That’s their whole goal. And, it comes dangerously close to not working. But luckily, Earth has Amy Adams (sorry, I mean Louise Banks) to figure out alien communication. And, when she is able to figure out language, it unlocks time. It allows Louise to see into her future. The upshot of this is that the Chinese general that is dead set on blowing up the aliens in his part of the world tells her at a party in the future (which, since she figured out the language, she can see really specific things), she’s able to speak the general’s wife’s final words, proving that he really needs to listen to her (something he says he doesn’t even do with his supervisors – how does that work in Communism?). Anyway, the downside is that she can see that she will marry Jeremy Renner (sorry, Ian Donnelly), have a baby together who will get cancer. She sees this and knows this but chooses to do this anyways. So, is this a film about how aliens help humanity to work together and join us all in a kumbaya future so that we can help the aliens out in 3,000 years? Or, is this a film that asks, as Louise asks at the end of the film, “if you could see your life from start to finish, would you change anything?” With Louise, this is a very serious dilemma, since it will involve her falling in and out of love with Ian and having a wonderful daughter that dies young. The thing is, it sometimes looks like the movie is trying to make the decision about what it wants to be during the film. The pacing is pretty slow. I know it bored the guys next to me, as they were popping out their cell phones all throughout (that was the only audience that did that while the film was playing, and there was a pretty full audience for Arrival, which surprised me, given it is now in its fifth week of release). It’s not a bad film, but it’s very deliberate, like it’s trying not to lose you.
Allied – Ugh. To share a text message I had with my friend, I told her she could skip this film, and she said “looks like Mr. and Mrs. Smith Redux.” I wrote back, “with Nazis.” This is not a bad plot. These are not bad actors. I have to blame two things: Robert Zemeckis and the editors. Dear Robert Zemeckis: Back to the Future was a long time ago. So was Who Framed Roger Rabbit. I’m sorry, but I think your freshness date has expired. This film was so flat. And boring. Someone in the row behind me actually snored. It did get good towards the end, but then when Marianne is writing the letter to her daughter at the end, I was like “was this necessary?” Any comparisons of this movie to Casablanca (1942) is foolhardy (just because the first part is set in Casablanca during WWII doesn’t mean the two should be set side by side). I will say the costumes were quite nice.
I’m planning to watch Moana some time this week, and I’ve got my ticket for Rogue One Thursday night. I’m pretty sure that catches me up to what I want to see. But, some good films are in the pipeline in the upcoming weeks. Once I get my final grades in, it’s back to the theater!