Nocturnal Animals

Tom Ford’s garish and gritty movie within a movie pushes and pulls between high and low art

Nocturnal Animals PosterPerhaps no one other than fashion designer Tom Ford (“A Single Man”) could’ve nailed the beautiful, perverse, bizarre blend of high and low art he attains in “Nocturnal Animals.” Equal parts alluring and sickening, sexy and bleak, lush and trashy, Ford’s film within a film is deliciously silly pulp, but also stylishly deep and smart in its examination of psychology and privilege.

The disturbing dichotomy between each of those polar opposites starts as soon as the movie does, when Ford stages a perplexing, bordering on exploitative opening credits sequence. Morbidly obese women dance fully nude except for some Stars and Stripes hats and streamers. They’re dancing in front of a bold, deep red backdrop and writhe and gyrate endlessly in slow motion. Ford sees them as grotesque and trashy, but also as sensuous, hypnotic, beautiful and human.

The dancing turns out to all be part of Amy Adams’s art gallery, where she glides detached and unaware through the garishness on display. Her life is perfect and extravagant. Her home is luxurious and empty. Her husband (Armie Hammer) is a perfect specimen, but also lifeless and barely hiding an affair. She’s delivered a manuscript written by her ex-husband (Jake Gyllenhaal) called “Nocturnal Animals,” a pet name he used to describe her ambition. Continue reading “Nocturnal Animals”

Nightcrawler

Jake Gyllenhaal has turned in a slimy good performance in Dan Gilroy’s darkly funny noir.

Jake Gyllenhaal’s character in the pulpy, dark noir “Nightcrawler” behaves like he belongs to another world, let alone another movie. He’s like a lost puppy who might just kill you, cluelessly getting in the way and causing trouble, or an alien just looking to acclimate into the seedy underground. Watching him slowly weasel his way into this world is comically cathartic and strange, and his performance recalls Travis Bickle as one of the better oddball anti-heroes the movies have seen.

“Nightcrawler” is a film of cold people acting well beneath their own morality and facades. It’s a critique on the modern day journalism that sensationalizes crime and explicit content in light of the people at its center, and Director and Writer Dan Gilroy stakes his claim on his creepy, near parody of a lead character. Continue reading “Nightcrawler”

Side by Side: The Double and Enemy

Two films were released this year about people who look identical, but they’re highly different films.

“You’re in my place.” That’s the opening line to “The Double,” and it’s the on-the-nose thesis to both that movie and a similar film also released this year, “Enemy.” In each film, a timid and lonely protagonist comes face to face with a more confident doppelganger, causing the original’s life to unravel.

Two copycat movies in a given year is a jarring coincidence, but to call them doppelgangers of each other would be a misnomer. However, it certainly doesn’t help that both are based off books called “The Double” and that neither is particularly good.

More so than a replica of “Enemy”, “The Double” is actually a pastiche of Orwellian dystopias, most notably Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil”. Director Richard Ayoade’s first film was yet another cinematic pastiche (or homage if you prefer) called “Submarine” that reimagined the French New Wave with its own dark comedy turns. This new film owes Gilliam a lot, with drab colors and cold, boxy, ‘80s machinery and technology filling every part of the set design. Continue reading “Side by Side: The Double and Enemy”

Prisoners

“Prisoners” floors you by depicting the unclear nature of evil.

There’s a woman in Denis Villeneuve’s “Prisoners” who lost her son 26 years prior to this film’s events. She shows Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) the one tape she watches of her missing son each morning and dejectedly declares, “No one took him. Nothing happened. He’s just gone.”

Detective thrillers and crime procedurals have conditioned us into always expecting an answer and motivation behind the terrible things that happen in the world. We’re left unsatisfied when we don’t get the answer we were looking for, if the puzzle pieces don’t paint a complete portrait or if the ending isn’t nice and tidy.

Rarely in life is this ever the case, and like David Fincher’s cryptic “Zodiac,” “Prisoners” attains intense thrills and gravitas through scattered clues that seem to be everywhere and answers that are nowhere. It’s a studio film that minimizes on the action set pieces, the family melodrama and the pretentious psychology to show that evil is not only omnipresent, but it’s the real mystery.

The two young daughters of the Dover family and the Birch family go missing much like that first boy 26 years earlier; they just disappear. On Thanksgiving Day the two girls go across the street, we get a close-up of a barren tree outside their suburban home, and they’re gone.

Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) suspects the timid loner Alex Jones (Paul Dano) swiped his daughter. With flat, stringy hair, thick glasses belonging to another decade and a junker RV, he certainly fits the description, but when Detective Loki is brought in to interrogate, Alex is clean and seems incapable of anything so sinister. When Alex is let go without charge, Keller intervenes and abducts Alex himself, demanding the answer he knows must be there.   Continue reading “Prisoners”

End of Watch

The most obvious thing to notice about “End of Watch” is that the whole movie looks like it was put through a tumble dryer. Even in calm, dialogue driven moments, the found footage cinematography is as erratic, lopsided, messy and claustrophobic as any movie I’ve ever seen.

But “End of Watch” is an interesting film, one that rings true in its shoptalk and streetwise mentality. It’s a shame director David Ayer had to add this cinematic gimmick to a story and characters that already feel very real.

“End of Watch” is a buddy cop drama that plays more like behind the scenes vignettes in the vein of “COPS” than a typical genre picture. It follows two beat officers in South Central Los Angeles, Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavala (Michael Pena), on their day-to-day patrol as they slowly become the unsuspecting enemies of a prominent Mexican drug cartel.

Their immediate difference from most movie cops is their honor. The pair of them are exemplary officers, and an opening monologue by Gyllenhaal gives the job a new level of profundity that deems them more than protectors of the law. They go about their job with a love for their work, explaining how paperwork is the lifeblood of their career or showing respect for their superior officers. They address the camera directly about the procedure of a house call to the point that the film feels like a training movie. It is so much a movie about respecting an officer of the law that when Zavala fights someone man to man and lets him off easy, the movie gives us a scene of the same gangbanger saying that these cops are “straight up gangsta.”

And yet the common tropes associated with cop movies, like justice, honor and morality: all these things take a backseat to the idea that being part of the police is like being part of a family, a brotherhood.

More so than a cop movie, “End of Watch” is a bromance. Its best moments are casual, joshing conversations in the front seat of the cruiser between Taylor and Zavala about girls, the difference between Latinos and whites, sex stories and whatever else might come up between two bros. Gyllenhaal and Pena have such wonderful chemistry together. When they get in that cop car, they’re brothers. No one understands them better.

I think cops might see themselves in the camaraderie of these two characters, even if they don’t believe the extent of some of their crime scenes. Not all of the film is badassery. There are the moments inside the station and waiting for hours as the detectives wrap up that pepper these officers’ lives.

But then there’s that damned camera. Taylor pins two spy cameras to his shirt pocket and to Zavala’s, but the movie has cameras everywhere, on the dashboard, in Taylor’s hand, in the criminals’ hands, and all of them are jostled upside down and in every direction to no end. Later the film turns into a lame POV, first person shooter video game, and we’re denied a single, coherent wide shot or proper lighting. I hate that this is what digital cinematography has become. It’s not getting us any closer to reality by turning the camera on its head and not showing us what’s going on.

That’s what is so irritating about “End of Watch.” Ayer’s pacing is delicate and suspenseful, but he spoils the moment with his vigilante journalism style. His characters are likeable and true, but they’re occasionally insufferable frat boys without something more interesting to say than a string of four letter words (the movie probably sets a new record for f*ck and motherf*ckers). It’s the honorable cop story we should have but the indecipherable movie we shouldn’t.

2 ½ stars

Source Code

Certain films beg comparison of others. “Source Code” screams out to be a hybrid of “12 Monkeys,” “Vantage Point,” “Eternal Sunshine,” “Unstoppable” and of all things, “Groundhog Day.” But Duncan Jones directs the film with such flair and vigor that it supersedes all comparisons.

On paper, the story begins to show its flaws, and the science of the Source Code apparatus that governs the events of the film fails to indicate how complex first time screenwriter Ben Ripley’s work is. Continue reading “Source Code”