Tag Archives: Michael Shannon

Nocturnal Animals (2016)

I thought Tom Ford only made suits? Well, it seems the fashion icon can make a wicked movie too. Nocturnal Animals, Ford’s second film after 2009’s A Single Man, is a damn masterpiece of a thriller.

With an intriguing storytelling structure that features a story within a story and well-timed flashbacks, Nocturnal Animals revolves around the character Susan Morrow (played by Amy Adams), an art gallery owner who receives a novel manuscript dedicated to her entitled “Nocturnal Animals” from her ex-husband, Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal). Susan seemingly has the perfect life, living in a luxury mansion in LA, mixing with the sophisticated crowd and married to the dashing Hutton (Armie Hammer), and yet she feels rather empty. When she reads the manuscript, we are transported into the world of the novel, in which Tony Hastings (also played by Gyllenhaal) and his wife (Aussie Isla Fisher) and teenage daughter (Ellie Bamber) are on a road trip through Texas when they encounter a group of troublemakers led by Ray Marcus (played by an unrecognisable Aaron Taylor-Johnson).

The film thus jumps back and forth between the real world and the fictional world, and as Susan begins to ponder the imagery and parallels in the manuscript — as well as Edward’s intentions in sending the novel to her — she also begins to have flashbacks that reveal why their marriage collapsed in the first place. It’s a rather complex narrative structure that somehow works thanks to Ford’s brilliant script and storytelling. What I found most amazing about it is that the impact of the story in the fictional world was never muted or lessened by the fact that we know it’s just a novel. To the contrary, it almost felt more real than the real world, which had a hollow, surreal edge to it.

In any case, Nocturnal Animals is a fantastically controlled piece of cinema. You could tell Ford knew exactly what he wanted and what he was doing, from the portrayal of the characters to the costumes to the beautiful cinematography of the Texan landscape and the parallel images in the two worlds. The tension in the fictional world is incredibly crafted and is one of the most harrowing and devastating cinematic ordeals I’ve ever sat through. It was an absolute gut punch that had me wondering what I would do in the same situation and has been haunting me even days after watching the movie.

Much of the credit should go to Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s performance as Ray Marcus. To be honest, I couldn’t even tell it was him until nearly the very end of the film. From Kick-Ass to Savages to Godzilla to Avengers: Age of Ultron to now, he has proven himself to be one of the best chameleons of this generation, and it’s a travesty he was overlooked for Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination (though he did win a Golden Globe). Instead, the only Academy Award nomination Nocturnal Animals garnered was for Michael Shannon, who plays a detective in the fictional world. Yes, he’s very good in it, but I don’t think Shannon was any more deserving of a nomination than Adams or Gyllenhaal, both of whom delivered excellent and nuanced performances.

Kick-Ass (2010)
Savages (2012)
Godzilla (2014)
Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
Nocturnal Animals

There are 9 films nominated for Best Picture this year (out of a possible 10), and I think it’s a shame Nocturnal Animals isn’t part of that list. Apart from a narrative that expertly weaves multilayered stories together, edge-of-your-seat tension, and having a distinct visual flair and powerful performances, I also love how the film leaves a lot of room for interpretation all the way through to the end, which really makes you think about everything you’ve watched and what it could mean. It could have been so easy for Nocturnal Animals to fall into pretentious arty-farty territory, but what we ended up with instead was undoubtedly  one of the best films of the year.

5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Man of Steel (2013) (2D)

man-of-steel-poster

Every Superman movie comes with unreasonable expectations. We already saw how the 2006 Superman Returns directed by Bryan Singer and starring Brandon Routh (whatever happened to his career?) turned out when it tried to reboot the franchise with a more serious, thoughtful take on the Superman mythology. It wasn’t as bad as everyone said it was, but no matter which way you look at it, the film was a bitter disappointment.

And so I was somewhat apprehensive about yet another reboot, the long-awaited Man of Steel headed by Zack Snyder, the man who gave us 300 and Watchmen, two flawed films  I really enjoyed. Snyder is supposedly a massive Superman geek who knows the universe inside out. Coupled with his unique visual flair and penchant for relentless action, it seemed like a good fit. Indeed, the initial trailers and the pre-release word of mouth were promising.

Having now watched the film and given some time digest, I have to admit I still found Man of Steel a disappointment — albeit one that was very interesting (especially in the first half) and had a lot of positives going for it.

One of the biggest positives is Henry Cavill, formerly the unluckiest man in Hollywood (having just lost out on the lead role in Superman Returns to Brandon Routh, Casino Royale to Daniel Craig, and Twilight to Shovelface Pattinson),. Cavill is perfect as Clark Kent/Superman. Apart from being superhumanly handsome and buffed out of his mind, he exudes a vulnerability that at times reminded me of Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. Nolan, by the way, served as a producer on Man of Steel.

Secondly, a problem with any Superman movie is that everyone knows the plot, so kudos to Snyder for making an origins story that covers some things we have not seen before, or at least not done in a way we’ve already seen before. I’m no Superman expert, but I understand there are quite a few subtle adjustments to the story, characters and narrative progression that made the film feel familiar but fresh.

The best parts of the film, surprisingly (or not surprisingly), are where Superman is out of his suit (which made the controversial decision to keep the underwear inside this time), the bits where he is learning who he is and how to control his powers. Kevin Costner and Diane Lane do a magnificent job as Clark Kent’s parents, stealing the show with the most human and emotional portions of the movie.

So the first half of Man of Steel is brilliant, dare I say almost Nolan-esque. The second half, when the villain, Zod, played by the brilliant Michael Shannon, arrives on Earth — well, that’s when things start to unravel and the film morphs into your more conventional superhero affair…except that it goes on for far too long and the carnage is so overboard that it all becomes numbing and dull. OK, maybe “dull” is taking it too far, but the tension and excitement was certainly not commensurate to the number of buildings being blown to pieces.

That said, the special effects were very good, and it wasn’t easy distinguishing between what’s real and what’s CGI. Some of the Krypton technology was pretty cool too, a clever divergence from the typical alien technology you might have seen in the past.

I like Amy Adams, but I never really liked Lois Lane in this one. Her relationship with Superman didn’t feel close enough to warrant some of the interactions between them. It was like we had to accept that there was chemistry between them (when there wasn’t) just because she’s Lois Lane. Adams is good, but the character felt lacking.

As for Russell Crowe as Jor-El, I have to admit he is pretty good in a “I’m Russell Crowe, the greatest f*&%ing actor in the world!” kind of way. I didn’t expect he’d have so much screen time either.

I sound more negative about Man of Steel than I should be, but only because my expectations were so high. The cast and the first half of the film were super but for whatever reason the storytelling in the second half lacked the emotional depth that would have made it a great film. And it was unnecessarily long. All things considered though, it is a solid Superman flick that is clearly better than Superman Returns, but not quite what I believe it was trying to achieve — ie, Dark Knight territory.  Perhaps the planned sequel(s) can get there.

3.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Runaways (2010)

The Runaways is the best movie starring Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning since Twilight: New Moon!

I’m ashamed to say I had never heard of The Runaways, the revolutionary all-girl rock group from the 70s.  Nevertheless, this was a much anticipated screening for me because it featured Kristen Stewart NOT as Bella Swan, plus her Twilight co-star Dakota Fanning in her first “adult” role.

The Runaways tells the story of the two key members of the band, Joan Jett (Stewart) and Cherie Currie (Fanning), and how they were “discovered” by rock impresario Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon from Revolutionary Road).  Together with three other girls, The Runaways became an international sensation.  For those who don’t know what happened to them, good for you.  It’s always better to watch a “based on a true story” movie without knowing how it ends.

I really wanted to like this film directed by Floria Sigsimondi, who also adapted the screenplay from Cherie Currie’s book “Neon Angel”.  However, it didn’t quite get there for me.  The Runaways is essentially a coming of age story about how a bunch of young girls fell into outrageous success, how fame seduced them, and how it eventually consumed their lives.  It’s a familiar rise-and-fall story that we’ve seen far too often, even if it is based on true events.  Accordingly, there was a predictable trajectory to the film that took some of the freshness out of it.

I was never bored during the 106-minute running time, but it did feel like a rather long movie where the pace sagged towards the back end of the film.

However, my two main problems with the film are more subjective than objective.

First, the hard rock music wasn’t my thing.  Those who enjoy this type of music will really get off on it, but it was just too loud for me!

Second, it was the kind of film that makes you feel like you need a shower after watching it.  It was just…loud, dirty and messy — which was most likely intentional and served a purpose, but it was uncomfortable to watch.  The main reason for this is probably Dakota Fanning, who gives an absolutely stunning performance as 15-year-old Cherie Currie.  But the problem is, even though I know she is growing up very quickly, she still looks like a 6-year-old to me.  And watching a little girl dress and dance so provocatively and do all sorts of nasty stuff just felt so wrong!

Kristen Stewart does a decent job as Joan Jett, who takes a bit more of a back seat to Currie despite having almost equal screen time.  However, it wasn’t a performance that showed much range beyond Bella Swan — it was still all angst and insecurity — the exact same thing she does in every other film I’ve seen her in thus far.

Ultimately, The Runaways is what I would describe as an “either way” movie.  I don’t regret watching it, but if I missed out on it it wouldn’t bother me either.  At least I can say I got to see Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning make out.  Having said all that, it’s still the best movie starring Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning since Twilight: New Moon (ie better than Eclipse…but just!).

3 out of 5 stars!

“The Runaways” commences in Australia on 15 July 2010