Nocturnal Animals (2016) starring Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, & Michael Shannon

A (revenge) story inside a story follows LA-based 40-something art curator, Susan Morrow (Amy Adams), who receives a (soon to be published) book manuscript from her ex-husband, Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal), who she left 20 years earlier. The second element follows the book itself (titled Nocturnal Animals) which revolves around a family man, Tony Hastings (also Gyllenhaal), whose vacation turns violent after his car is run off a rural Texas road. Tony, his wife (Isla Fisher), and their teen daughter India (Ellie Bamber) come face to face w/ a trio of dangerous young men. As Susan reads Edward’s engrossing book, she finds herself recalling their marriage, her loss of idealism, and confronting some hard truths about herself.

The first thing you notice re: this stylish (yet not shallow) thriller (directed by famed American fashion designer Tom Ford) is its look- it’s beautiful! The cinematographer is Irishman Seamus McGarvey; he also worked on Atonement. The costumes, hair, makeup, set decoration, etc, add to the richness of the story; however, sometimes the symbolism is too obvious. The score was inspired in Philip Glass and Bernard Herrmann; there is something familiar, yet also mysterious about the music. This tale also has something to say re: the art world (which Ford is familiar w/ being among the wealthy).

The acting is also quite good, starting w/ (Oscar nominee) Michael Shannon, who portrays a gruff Texas deputy- Bobby Andes- who’s not afraid to bend the rules to catch the bad guys. He’s a magnetic screen presence (bringing to my mind Gene Hackman). Gyllenhaal does a great job (as usual) in both his roles, esp. as Tony- the more interesting character. Laura Linney is only in once scene- she’s fabulous! Armie Hammer plays Susan’s second husband- Hutton- who is cold, distant, and worried re: the failing art gallery. Critics also loved to hate the villain- Ray (Aaron Taylor-Johnson, husband of director Sam Taylor-Johnson); I hadn’t seen him before. As for Adams, pay attention to the quiet moments (she spends a lot of time reading).

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Game of Thrones: Season 8, Episode 1 (“Winterfell”)

WARNING: This post is dark and full of spoilers!

1.Winterfell is yours, Your Grace. -Sansa says to Daenerys

Sansa is cold (& unimpressed) by Dany and her crew, incl. the 2 dragons. As the Lady of Winterfell, she’s worried about the management of her household (incl. these new allies). Of course, we know that the Starks and Targayens have a difficult history- Aerys (The Mad King) killed Brandon (Ned’s older brother) and their father more than 20 yrs ago. Did you notice the little moment between Grey Worm and Missendei? They shared a look as the common people of the North stared coldly at them; these are probably the first POC they’ve ever seen. Been there, honey!

2. We don’t have time for this! -Bran to all (re: niceties) 

This moment was funny, yet also very real! As the Three-Eyed Raven, Bran knows what’s up (as well as what has been). Even when Jon kissed Bran’s forehead upon arrival to Winterfell (call-back to S1 again), Bran showed no emotion. He ain’t got time for that!

3. I’m standing up for our family. -Arya to Jon (when he’s surprised by her standing up for Sansa)

This was a fine (& touching) moment; Arya and Jon hugged and compared swords. They last saw each other in S1 (when he gave her Needle, her little sword). Jon and Arya both felt like outsiders in the Stark family; they were very close as kids. Arya and Sansa now have a mutual respect for each other (unlike in S1); recall the moment in S7 E7 when they talk re: supporting each other (as Ned taught them growing up).

4. You want a whore, buy one. You want a queen, earn her. -Cersei declares to Euron (when he asks for some affection)

I know this will probably be the most popular line of the ep! However, Cersei (now queen) does get together w/ Euron in the next scene; I was expecting her to keep him at a distance. Now that Jaime is gone (to fight w/ the Northerners), perhaps she is a bit lonely. Or this is her way of thanking him for bringing The Golden Company to Kings Landing.

5. Respect is how the young keep us at a distance, so we don’t remind them of the truth. Nothing lasts. -Varys explains to Tyrion & Davos

This was a nice little scene where the three men talk matchmaking (rather unexpected, but I liked it). They all think that Jon and Dany would make “a handsome couple” and also “just” and “honorable” rulers. Awww, why cant I find anyone to fix me up?

6. You’ve completely ruined horses for me! -Jon to Dany (after riding the dragon)

I liked this (funny) line after the (cool) dragon riding scene. These actors have “playful chemistry” (as Joanna Robinson commented on A Cast of Kings podcast). The dialogue was rather cheesy though- yikes! It reminded some viewers of A Whole New World (Aladdin); others were missing Ygritte (Jon’s first love).

7. As you wish, m’lady. -Gendry says to Arya (when she tells him not to call her Lady Stark).

Arya and Gendry are older now, so they’re a bit awkward around each other, yet still cute. These two actors have great chemistry- hope there is more to their story! Arya presents him w/ a drawing of a weapon she has designed; Gendry can forge it from dragonglass. Joanna Robinson really liked this part of their “courtship.”

8. I’m waiting for an old friend. -Bran tells Sam (the night before Jaime arrives at Winterfell)

In the last scene, we realize that the “old friend” is Jaime (who pushed Bran out of the tower in S1 E1)! This time, Jamie is dressed in dark, simple clothes, and under his black hood has short/dark hair. When he was last in Winterfell, he was wearing the ornate gold armor of the Kingsguard w/ blonde hair.

9. You’ve never been a bastard. You’re the true heir to the Iron Throne. -Sam explains to Jon 

Finally, Jon learns the truth of his parentage (thanks to the book Sam read, as well as Bran’s knowledge)! Jon didn’t believe it at first, b/c Ned was the kind of man who never lied. He has more of a claim to the throne than Dany (who is his aunt). Sam is no fan of Dany (after learning about what she did to his father and younger brother, Dickon); he thinks Jon will be a better ruler. Who hasn’t has a pal who didn’t like their significant other?

10. I’ve always had blue eyes! -Tormund yells at Ed & Rangers (running into them in the dark).

This is a funny moment before the creepy scene (w/ the young Lord Umber at the Last Hearth). Recall (also creepy little girl) in S1 E1; she scared the Night’s Watch guys who ran into her in the woods. One of these men escaped alive, but was executed by Ned.

Birds of Passage (2018): Shortlisted for Academy Award – Best Foreign Language Film

It’s set in a community that doesn’t belong to you, but it speaks about us. This is a family film… We talk about the conflicts between the traditional community and modernity. We also talk about the conflicts between women and men, and the real and the spiritual world, and this is something that touched us in a very deep way. -Cristina Gallego, co-director/co-writer

We wanted to make a genre film, but this gave us the opportunity to put a twist on the genre film- a genre like the gangster film or noir film… which has developed into the glorification of criminals, a celebration of violence. -Cirro Guerra, co-director/co-writer

Few films have captured quite so powerfully the tension between the old and new worlds — a feat “Birds of Passage” accomplishes while simultaneously allowing audiences to channel the Wayuu’s surrealistic view of their surroundings, where spirits walk the earth, and wise women interpret their dreams. -Peter Debrige (Variety)

What first comes to mind when you think of Colombia? Aside from the actors and beauty pageant winners turned models, I bet it’s the drug trade! This movie, set between 1968 and 1980, is mostly spoken in the Wayuu language of the indigenous people of Colombia’s northern Guajira peninsula. Spanish is also spoken, as well as bits of English. The filmmakers are a young (under 40 y.o.) formerly married pair from Colombia, Cristina Gallego and Cirro Guerra. They worked with a team of about 80, incl. 30% of Wayuu actors, non-actors, and crew.

We are first introduced to Zaida (Natalia Reyes), a beautiful young woman of a high-standing Wayuu clan (which is a matrilineal society). When Zaida leaves her traditional one-year seclusion and is ready for marriage, she catches the eye of Rapayet (Jose Acosta). He’s a confident young man who has been working among the alijunas (outsiders, incl. those who speak Spanish and are non-indigenous) and comes from a less prominent family. He was raised by his highly respected uncle, Peregrino (Jose Vicente), a “word messenger.” In this society, it is forbidden to cause harm to a messenger. Rapayet and Zaida do a fast-paced mating dance; he declares: “You are my woman” at the end. We suppose that he could be thinking of family prestige and also genuine attraction.

Ursula (Carmina Martinez), Zaida’s formidable mother, explains that Zaida’s hand will only be available w/ a large dowry (incl. cattle, goats, and 5 necklaces). Ursula looks down on Rapayet, thinking he can’t come up with it. Rapayet sees the chance to get the dowry fast by selling marijuana to a drug-dealing American, Bill (who may or may not be connected to the Peace Corps). Rapayet’s business partner/best friend is a jovial, hard-partying Afro-Latin man, Moises; previously, they smuggled alcohol and cigarettes only. It turns out that (high in the hills) is a big crop of marijuana; the land is owned by a cousin of Rapayet’s, Anibal. When he sees just how much money can be made from the gringos, he’s up for the (dangerous) business.

[1] The landscapes of the film are stunning, and I particularly appreciated the cinematography. But perhaps my favourite thing about the film was it’s heavy use of spirituality and what I can only describe as “magical realism” transposed into film. I thought it was brilliantly done.

[2] It is very easy to look at cultures in real danger of extinction and place them in a pedestal, but “Birds of Passage” very intelligently avoids this by portraying these Wayuu people as greedy, ambitious, lustful and definitely not above using their cultural norms to get their own sinful way, as any other group.

[3] It is gripping and intense and handles its subject material in the best of ways. It is obvious that the creator of the film did everything he could so that the movie feels realistic and interesting to the viewer. Its beautiful and colorful visuals, the exceptional sound design and the strong and immersive soundtrack made you feel as a part of a whole and the film never felt boring or cliche. It is masterfully crafted and really well-paced.

-Excerpts from IMDB comments

 

Lured (1947) starring Lucille Ball & George Sanders

In this film noir (directed by Douglas Sirk), a serial killer in London is murdering young women he meets through personals columns of newspapers. He announces each murder to the police by sending them a poem. Research carried out by Inspector Harley Temple (Charles Coburn) reveal that the killer’s verses are strongly influenced by Baudelaire who saw a link between beauty and death. After a taxi dancer disappears, her concerned American friend/co-worker, Sandra Carpenter (Lucille Ball), comes to Scotland Yard (the police), looking for answers. Sandra came from NYC to dance in the chorus of a London show (which closed early). After speaking w/ Sandra (a fiesty, sarcastic, and pretty young woman), Inspector Temple is impressed. He quickly enlists her to answer personal ads, in hopes of luring the killer. Sandra is given a police ID and a small handgun!

There are moments of humor in this movie (which is a remake of a French film). Boris Karloff adds humor to this (rather dark) tale, giving a brief performance as an insane dress designer. Officer H.R. Barrett (George Zucco) is the veteran cop assigned as back-up for Sandra; he and Ball make a fun team w/ good chemistry. While waiting for her mystery date at the opera, Sandra meets sauve and wealthy Robert Fleming (George Sanders). I think Sanders is fun to watch in ALL his roles, MOST notably in All About Eve. In no time, Robert and Sandra develop feelings for each other; she becomes less guarded and he drops his playboy ways. The streets are NOT safe; Sandra is put in danger more than once. Who is the killer? Could it be Robert?

[1] This is a very enjoyable film. What you get here is a lot of talk and character studies. Lured is a good, old-fashioned mystery yarn. The killer is painfully obvious about halfway through, but the actors go through the motions with obvious relish. 

[2] For a serial killer film, this one must rank as the most reserved and dignified ever made. No blood nor gore, just urbane and sophisticated dialogue throughout, and especially from the killer…

[3] The emphasis in making this film was clearly on producing an upbeat thriller which has many of the characteristics of a routine whodunit (e.g. numerous red herrings) and judged purely on this basis, it is very successful and entertaining.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews


House of Cards (Netflix): Season 6

DO NOT WATCH THIS SEASON… BUT if you already did (like me), you “wasted 6 hours of your life” (as my lil bro complained over Thanksgiving)! The writing is beyond bad, some plotlines go nowhere, and (new) characters are underdeveloped. Annette (Diane Lane) and Bill (Greg Kinnear) Shepherd are billionaire tycoon sibs hell bent on taking down Pres. Claire Underwood (Robin Wright). As girls, Claire and Annette grew up together in rural Texas, so there is a natural rivalry; we also learn that Annette once had a fling w/ Frank. Some of you may wonder who could be the father of Annette’s 20-ish son? 

Spacey is out, so MUCH so that we don’t even hear his voice on recordings (which Doug Stamper discovered). Doug is back and in (potential) danger in the early eps from Claire; Michael Kelly (he liked one of my tweets- YAY!) does a fine job, as expected. I was esp. happy to see Janine (Constance Zimmer) back, BUT she doesn’t get much to do. Tom (Boris McGiver, now diminished in his job (formerly he was “The Hammer”) gets a few scenes; he laments the downfall and conglomeration of the news biz. Campbell Scott is back (he’s now VP) and so is Patricia Clarkson (an indie movie darling, BUT totally misplaced on this show). Claire wants the former spy around as a gal pal /confidante/roomie. A few characters return in brief scenes, incl. former VP Linda (Sakina Jaffrey). 

As for Robin Wright, she does what she can w/ the (bad) material. Of course, she looks incredibly fit and gorgeous (DUH!); this season her wardrobe is more militaristic in style and coloring. Claire projects coldness, resilience, cunning, and strength- even becoming more violent! But as I’ve noted before, strong actors (no matter how much they try), can’t save a series or movie that is poorly written and laughably implausible.