Nocturnal Animals

For F*** Magazine

NOCTURNAL ANIMALS 

Director : Tom Ford
Cast : Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Isla Fisher, Ellie Bamber, Armie Hammer, Laura Linney, Michael Sheen, Andrea Riseborough
Genre : Drama
Run Time : 1h 57min
Opens : 1 December 2016
Rating : M18 (Nudity)

nocturnal-animals-posterTom Ford shows off his night moves in his second directorial effort, a neo-noir psychological thriller. Susan Morrow (Adams) is a wealthy L.A. art gallery owner, whose relationship with her second husband Hutton (Armie) has soured. Susan receives a manuscript from her ex-husband Edward Sheffield (Gyllenhaal), titled ‘Nocturnal Animals’ after Edward’s nickname for Susan and dedicated to her. The novel centres on Tony Hastings (also Gyllenhaal), a mild-mannered man whose wife Laura (Fisher) and daughter India (Bamber) are abducted after a violent encounter with local ruffians during a road trip through Texas. Detective Bobby Andes (Shannon) helps Tony track down the culprit, handyman Ray Marcus (Taylor-Johnson), in the hopes of finding Laura and India. The brutality and rawness of the story shocks Susan, who reflects on the circumstances that led to the dissolution of her marriage with Edward. With Edward back in town and Hutton away on business, old wounds are reopened as Susan plans to meet with Edward for the first time in years.

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Nocturnal Animals is based on Austin Wright’s 1993 novel Tony and Susan. In addition to directing, Ford adapted the novel for the screen and produced the movie, meaning that his stamp is all over the film. Ford’s directorial debut A Single Man was critically acclaimed and netted star Colin Firth and Oscar nomination. Critics and audiences were curious to see what Ford would follow the period piece with. While it is reductive to say that Nocturnal Animals is a case of “style over substance”, that’s essentially true. Ford has a distinct vision, but much of the imagery can’t help but come off as pretentious. We realise we’ve dug ourselves a hole by trucking out the ‘p’ word, but bear with us. Nocturnal Animals is at once subtle and overwrought, and we have a feeling that this was intentional. Ford appears to enjoy toying with the form and the ‘story within a story’ structure, but it’s difficult to get at what the film really is about.

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Two stories sit side-by-side and gradually intertwine. The ‘real world’ is cold and manicured, while the world of the novel is earthy, gritty and raw. The transitions which jolt us out of the book’s narrative and back into Susan’s reality are effective, and there are moments of intensity which reel the viewer in. However, the larger approach seems designed to hold the audience at arm’s length, and there’s the sense that Ford is playing a game of pushing us away then pulling us close as he pleases. Individually and stripped of the atmospherics provided by Seamus McGarvey’s cinematography, neither of the two stories is all that riveting. There’s some satisfaction to be derived in seeing how they fit together, but one can almost feel Ford dancing about behind the camera, shouting “isn’t this all very artsy? Isn’t that delightful?”

As Nocturnal Animals parcels out information about Susan and Edward’s marriage, there are heart-rending scenes and the film approaches being relatable. In a flashback, Susan’s obnoxious mother Anne (Linney) haughtily cautions against marrying Edward. Anne warns her daughter that as a writer, Edward won’t be able to make a stable living, and the qualities she’s drawn to will soon be the things she hates most about him. This is a scene straight out of this reviewer’s nightmares. The film conveys the tumult of the creative process, how difficult it is to make a living as an artist and the price one has to pay for falling in love with a creative type. Its portrayal of heartbreak rings true, but this is buried beneath layers of posturing and overblown metaphors.

The performances contain glimmers of shattering power, but many scenes are also stilted and over-directed. Adams has proven herself to be an actress of considerable depth, getting across the war that roils within Susan without resorting to histrionics. Clad in Arianne Phillips-designed costumes, Adams is the picture of glamour – this is, of course, a façade.

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Gyllenhaal plays both Edward and the author’s surrogate within his novel, Tony. The violent revenge tale set against the dusty, desolate west Texas landscape is reminiscent of True Detective or Justified, and Gyllenhaal does enough to differentiate Edward and Tony. Tony is the physical manifestation of Edward’s angst, a vehicle for the author’s catharsis. It’s a moving turn from Gyllenhaal, but it can also be perceived as a romanticising of the “tortured artist” archetype.

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Shannon is at his best when he gets to be nuanced, since he is often typecast as blustery villains. Bob Andes is the archetypical crusty small-town sheriff helping the stranded outsider, a southern-fried seeker of justice. Shannon brings what could have been a cartoon character to three-dimensional life. In the meantime, Taylor-Johnson’s Ray is equal parts pathetic and menacing, though he does have trouble with the accent.

The aloof, handsome and ultimately unfaithful husband, Hammer’s Hutton Morrow is a walking plot device. Linney, Andrea Riseborough, Michael Sheen and Jena Malone all show up for one scene each, filling out Susan’s social and professional circle. Ford has some fun in casting with a metafictional eye – Adams and Fisher are often called looklikes, and Fisher plays Adams’ surrogate in the story-in-a-story. In Tony and Susan, Tony and Laura’s daughter was named Helen. In the film, Helen is renamed ‘India’. Susan’s adult daughter Samantha is played by India Menuez. It was fun tid-bit to discover.

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Like the contemporary art that fills Susan’s gallery, some will laud Nocturnal Animals as deep and wise, while others will dismiss it as showy and hollow. The striking visuals and impactful vignettes make this worth a look, but the film’s refusal to arrive at a point and its flights of arthouse fancy are often alienating.

Summary: If you’re prone to using “artsy-fartsy” as a dismissive term, Tom Ford’s sophomore work as a filmmaker will leave you cold. However, there are moving performances and heart-rending statements about love and art that resonate.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Sully

For F*** Magazine

SULLY

Cast : Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, Laura Linney, Anna Gunn, Autumn Reeser, Holt McCallany, Jerry Ferrara, Sam Huntington
Genre : Drama
Run Time : 1h 36min
Opens : 8 September 2016
Rating : PG13 (Some Coarse Language)

sully-posterClint Eastwood takes us behind the ‘Miracle on the Hudson’ in this biopic. On the morning of January 15, 2009, US Airways Flight 1549 is making a routine trip from New York City to Charlotte, North Carolina. When bird strikes cripple both engines, the plane comes in for an emergency water landing on the Hudson River, with all 155 souls on board miraculously surviving. At the controls are pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger (Hanks) and First Officer Jeffrey Skiles (Eckhart). Sully is vaunted in the press as a hero and becomes an overnight sensation, but the attention and scrutiny prove overwhelming for him and his wife Lorraine (Linney). The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) concludes that according to simulations, Sully could have safely landed the plane back at LaGuardia Airport, calling his judgement into question and putting his career and reputation on the line.

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It’s easy to see why the public gravitated to the story of the Miracle on the Hudson: it was harrowing but ended well, it was a glimmer of good news amidst the usual barrage of negativity, and an endearing everyday hero was at its centre. But is there enough to the story to sustain a feature film? As it turns out, barely. At 96 minutes, Sully is shorter than your average ‘based-on-a-true-story’ drama, but even then, it feels padded out. The film quickly becomes repetitive, and the portrayal of Sully’s self-doubt lacks nuance. Todd Komarnicki’s screenplay trades in caricatures, and while we see what he’s going for with a scene in which a bartender excitedly pours Sully a cocktail he’s concocted in the pilot’s honour, it makes the true story come off as cartoony. A few passengers are highlighted in a folksy ‘aw shucks’ manner; these moments feel like they belong in a TV movie than an awards season film.

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The main selling point of the film apart from its director and star is the re-enactment of the dramatic water landing. The sequence, shot with the new Alexa IMAX cameras, has an appropriate graveness and tension to it, even if the moment of impact itself looks a little like it’s a cut-scene in a video game. Eastwood does an effective job of putting the audience in the cockpit as the situation unspools, but perhaps there’s something questionable about taking an almost-tragedy and turning it into big-screen spectacle. There’s merit to the argument that because it all ended well for everyone on board, nobody will take offense with this depiction, but it can also be argued that Sully is trading on disaster in a similar way to Titanic. Beyond that, there are distasteful, oblique visual references to 9/11 that seem manipulative in trying to elicit emotion through association with the terrorist attack.

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It’s hard to go too wrong when Tom Hanks is the de-facto heart of your movie. The actor brings his trademark affability to bear as an unassuming pilot whose world is shaken by a close call on the job, followed by equal amounts of hero worship and second-guessing. The world fell in love with the earnestness, graciousness, work ethic and humility displayed by Sully in the aftermath of the Hudson landing, and moviegoers in general have already fallen in love with Hanks. He suits the role despite bearing only the slightest passing resemblance to the real-life Sully, even with the white hair and moustache. It’s something of an obvious casting choice and while it might have been more interesting to see an actor who isn’t as established a ‘likeable everyman’ as Hanks take on the role, Hanks does an expectedly fine job with it.

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The conventionally-handsome Eckhart is a different brand of all-American than Hanks is, and they end up complementing each other nicely. Skiles received what some might say is a disproportionately small amount of the credit, but the working relationship and friendship between the two does brim with positivity. Because Eckhart looks more like the hero who would be landing the plane in a Hollywood action movie, it further accentuates the ‘unlikely hero’ quotient Hanks’ Sully has going for him.

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Linney’s abilities as an actress aren’t stretched very far, with Lorraine portrayed as little more than the stock worried wife back home. By design, the NTSB panellists are faceless suits, bureaucracy incarnate, their impersonality serving as a contrast to Sully’s humanness.

Sully is respectable in its own right, but the emotional heft present in the best biopics is lacking here. As the story was extensively covered by the media, we’re familiar with the broad strokes. While there’s some insight to be gleaned from the film and the procedural aspect is easy to follow, it’s nothing that’s remarkably revelatory. Sully is more like a single-engine Cessna than a commercial jetliner: airworthy but slight.

Summary: Tom Hanks’ dignified and likeable performance lifts Sully above the waters of mediocrity.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars    

Jedd Jong

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows

For F*** Magazine

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: OUT OF THE SHADOWS

Director : David Green
Cast : Pete Ploszek, Alan Ritchson, Noel Fisher, Jeremy Howard, Megan Fox, Stephen Amell, Will Arnett, Brian Tee, Tyler Perry, Gary Anthony Williams, Stephen “Sheamus” Farrelly, Brad Garrett, Brittany Ishibashi, Laura Linney, Danny Woodburn, Tony Shalhoub
Genre : Action/Adventure
Run Time : 1 hr 52 mins
Opens : 2 June 2016
Rating : PG (Some Violence)

The world’s most fearsome fighting team has returned to fend off threats old and new – and now, they’re at least a little frustrated that they can’t take credit for it. The brothers Leonardo (Ploszek), Raphael (Ritchson), Michelangelo (Fisher) and Donatello (Howard) have remained in the shadows after defeating Shredder (Tee) a year ago, knowing they will be branded as monsters and reviled. Instead, former cameraman Vern Fenwick (Arnett) is getting all the glory as a New York hero. April O’Neil (Fox) discovers that scientist Baxter Stockman (Perry) is in cahoots with Shredder. After helping Shredder escape from custody, Stockman helps him create mutants of his own: warthog Bebop (Williams) and rhinoceros Rocksteady (Sheamus). Adding to the imminent danger is the alien Krang (Garrett), who plans to open a portal above New York to invade our world. It’s a good thing then that April and the Turtles have a new ally in the form of Casey Jones (Amell), corrections officer by day, hockey stick-wielding vigilante by night.

            2014’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was not exactly well-received by critics or fans, but a follow-up was inevitable. This time, Dave Green (Earth to Echo) has replaced Jonathan Liebesman in the director’s chair, though the lack of a discernible difference is a sign that the producers, led by Michael Bay, have a particularly strong hand in the proceedings. The tone and style remains pretty much the same from the 2014 movie, with the incorporation of fan-favourite characters and elements of Turtleslore in the hope of winning back the shellheads who were spurned by the previous outing. It’s hard to criticise something like this for being ‘silly’, since it can be argued that the silliness is intentional. However, Out of the Shadows frequently crosses the line from ‘silly’ to ‘stupid’. As we said in our review of the previous movie, Guardians of the Galaxydemonstrated how to do an exuberantly tongue-in-cheek sci-fi action flick loaded with pop culture references while not being embarrassingly juvenile. Guardians of the Galaxy, this most certainly is not.

            The Turtles’ designs haven’t grown on us, we’ve just gotten a little less bothered by it over time. The computer-generated characters are integrated into the live-action environments nicely enough and the visual effects work, while sometimes conspicuous, is generally good. The interpretations of Bebop, Rocksteady and Krang do look acceptable. The action sequences will entertain younger viewers and the involvement of second unit director/stunt coordinator Spiro Razatos (the Fast and Furious movies, Captain America: The Winter Soldier) is a plus. However, nothing strikes us as particularly memorable and the climax with aliens invading New York is quite the yawn, at once too similar to the conclusion of the 2014 movie and to the ending of The Avengers – not to mention any other movie in which extra-terrestrial invaders have seized the Big Apple.

            Perhaps the most positive thing about this film, as with its immediate predecessor, is that our heroes have fun saving the day. Sure, Raph is prone to brooding, but on the whole, they enjoy saving the day and at least a little bit of that is infectious. Characterisation remains paper-thin – the conflict that brews between the brothers is predictable, as is its eventual resolution. While they are sufficiently distinct from each other, not much of an attempt is made to flesh these characters out. It sounds absurd to ask for depth from TMNT, but several of the cartoons, including the current show on Nickelodeon, have succeeded in giving the characters personalities past the single-line descriptions from the theme song.

            Fox remains a poor choice for the role of April O’Neil, and while it is a silly thing to whine about, the character doesn’t even have her signature red hair. There’s a lot of unnecessary leering at Fox and the abbreviated school girl get-up she dons early in the film is a cringe-worthy moment of fan-service. Even the most ardent fans of Arrow would be hard-pressed to deny that Amell isn’t a particularly skilled actor, and his turn as Casey Jones is pretty stiff when the character should be effortlessly cool. He does handle the action beats well, having years of playing a comic book hero under his belt. Perry hams it up as Baxter Stockman, playing him as little more than the, well, stock dweeby scientist. Perry ignores anything interesting about the character, instead becoming yet another comic relief sidekick. It’s also not like he needs the money. Finally, it is truly disheartening to see three-time Oscar nominee Laura Linney absolutely slumming it here.

            Several of the casting changes are nominal improvements – Brian Tee steps in for Tohoru Masamune as Shredder while Brittany Ishibashi replaces Minae Noji as his chief henchwoman Karai. Alas, Shredder does very little and Karai even less.William Fichtner was set to reprise his role as Eric Sacks, though it appears his scenes have been left on the cutting room floor. If you’re able to either overlook or revel in the childishness that runs through most of the movie, it is occasionally entertaining. However, if your tolerance for clunky dialogue, embarrassing jokes and generic action is particularly low, Out of the Shadows will try your patience to no end.



Summary: About on par with the 2014 film, Out of the Shadows is immensely silly and difficult to get into, but its titular heroes are intermittently endearing and the introduction of key players from the comics and cartoons is a half-step in the right direction.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars
Jedd Jong 

Mr. Holmes

For F*** Magazine

MR. HOLMES

Director : Bill Condon
Cast : Ian McKellen, Laura Linney, Hiroyuki Sanada, Hattie Morahan, Patrick Kennedy, Milo Parker
Genre : Drama/Mystery
Run Time : 104 mins
Opens : 6 August 2015
Rating : PG

Sherlock Holmes – he’s the greatest detective who ever detected, the greatest sleuth who ever sleuthed and the greatest crime-solver who ever, uh, solved crimes. In this film, we find Sherlock (McKellen) in his twilight years. It is 1947 and a 93-year-old Sherlock has long since retired from detective work, living in a remote farmhouse in Sussex with housekeeper Mrs. Munro (Linney) and her young son Roger (Parker). Holmes has taken up beekeeping, harvesting royal jelly in the hopes of improving his failing memory. He makes a trip to Hiroshima, meeting up with plant enthusiast Matsuda Umezaki (Sanada) in search of the fabled prickly ash, which Sherlock hopes will prove more effective in staving off senility than the royal jelly. In the meantime, he revisits his final case, the case that brought about his self-exile, a case involving the mysterious married woman with a peculiar obsession (Monahan).

The Guinness Book of World Records lists Sherlock Holmes, originally created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, as the “most portrayed movie character”. The iconic detective has been played by over 70 actors in more than 200 films and to call Sir Ian McKellen a worthy addition to that pantheon would be an understatement. The character has been through myriad interpretations in his nearly 130 years of existence and Mr. Holmes can stand alongside the recent contemporary re-imaginings of the character, each take bringing something different to the table. This film is based on Mitch Cullin’s novel A Slight Trick of Mind, adapted by screenwriter and playwright Jeffrey Hatcher. Modern audiences have grown enamoured with the BBC series featuring Benedict Cumberbatch’s mercurial, misanthropic Sherlock paired with Martin Freeman’s harried everyman Dr. Watson. Here, we find that Sherlock and Watson’s partnership has dissolved and that Watson has been writing fictionalised accounts of Sherlock’s cases. This is Sherlock at a point of his life that we don’t see too often, but he is by no means less interesting a character.

The film is slowly paced and while there is an element of mystery, it is intended that the audience be captured not by a whodunit but by the enigma of the title character himself. There is a sense of scope to the tale, which sees Sherlock visit a post-Second World War Japan. A moment in which he sees a woman scarred by radiation poisoning and stops in his tracks, shaken, is effectively haunting. A good deal of the film is spent on the bond the elderly Sherlock forms with the precocious Roger, played by Milo Parker, a child actor very much in the Thomas Brodie-Sangster mould. This relationship is given meaningful development rather than being superficially twee. The primary conflict arises from Mrs. Munro’s concern that her son is spending too much time with Sherlock and chasing intellectual pursuits when she means for him to live and work at an inn her sister runs. This feels believable and earned.

The film also takes a meta-fictional look at the cultural impact of Sherlock Holmes, with Sherlock directly addressing the depiction of him wearing a deerstalker hat and smoking a pipe, calling these mere embellishments of Watson’s illustrator. In an amusing scene, Sherlock goes to see a movie based on a book Watson has written about him – the actor playing Sherlock in this film-within-a-film is portrayed by Nicholas Rowe, who played Sherlock in 1985’s Young Sherlock Holmes. There is the sense that Sherlock himself is struggling to parse where the legends end and the real person begins. McKellen is able to bring out many colours in his portrayal of Sherlock, fleshing out the character rather than presenting a mere assemblage of tics. Because the use of his mind has been so important to him all his life, it is all the more heart-rending to see Sherlock come to grips with his waning faculties. 



Director Bill Condon paints a picture of Sherlock in which whatever cases the character is working on are secondary, with Sherlock Holmes, “the man beyond the myth” as the tagline puts it, at the fore. For those itching for a whodunit and who derive satisfaction at seeing the great detective unravel labyrinth mysteries, Mr. Holmes won’t quite do the trick. However, as a character study and commentary on the cultural impact of Sherlock Holmes, it is intimate, well-acted and emotional. 

Summary: Once you’ve come to terms with the fact that Mr. Holmes is a character piece rather than a thrilling mystery, it’s easy to embrace Ian McKellen’s stirring portrayal of the iconic detective. 

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars 


Jedd Jong