Movie Review: “Nocturnal Animals”

Starring
Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Armie Hammer, Isla Fisher, Ellie Bamber
Director
Tom Ford

It’s been seven years since fashion designer Tom Ford made his directorial debut with “A Single Man,” and although that movie was an impressive showcase for Ford’s visual panache that netted Colin Firth a much-deserved Oscar nomination, it left audiences wondering if he would be able to replicate that success. It may have taken a little longer than expected (after all, he has a fashion empire to run), but Ford confirms his debut was no fluke with a more ambitious and confident follow-up that’s every bit as stylish. Based on Austin Wright’s 1993 novel “Tony and Susan,” “Nocturnal Animals” is a dark and disturbing adult thriller that gets under your skin and stays there, and while it’s not always a pleasant experience, that’s what makes it so effective.

The film opens in truly shocking style with a montage of obese, mostly naked women dancing in a shower of glitter that turns out to be part of an art show curated by Los Angeles gallery owner Susan Morrow (Amy Adams). Susan has everything she could possibly want – a dashing husband (Armie Hammer), a luxurious mansion and a supportive group of wealthy friends – but she’s not happy, trapped in an unfulfilling career and a loveless marriage that’s on the verge of falling apart. One day, Susan receives a package containing a manuscript from her ex-husband Tony Hastings (Jake Gyllenhaal), whom she left 20 years earlier when he was still just a struggling writer, and is surprised to discover that the unpublished novel, titled “Nocturnal Animals,” has been dedicated to her.

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Movie Review: “Arrival”

Starring
Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg
Director
Denis Villeneuve

Canadian-born director Denis Villeneuve makes movies that block out the world. From the first to the last frame, his films keep you engaged and, more often than not, transfixed. Building on the success of past movies like “Prisoners” and “Sicario,” the director’s latest film, “Arrival,” is arguably the most emotional, thought-provoking and visceral experience he’s crafted yet.

Based on Ted Chiang’s short story, “Story of Your Life,” “Arrival” is a grounded alien invasion tale that poses the question: If first contact was made, how would we communicate with extraterrestrials? That becomes a terrifying reality when mysterious ships begin to land around the world. It’s an unsettling day full of fear and paranoia, but some believe that the aliens may be a symbol of hope and not terror. To find out the aliens’ motivations, Linguistics professor Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is brought in by the U.S. government to interpret their language and find a way to communicate. At the start of the film, Louise is tired and haunted by visions of her dead daughter, but with the world at stake, she’ll do everything she can to maintain peace between Earth and these beautiful and sparsely designed extraterrestrials, working with mathematician Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) and U.S. Army Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) to form a plan before China declares war on the visitors.

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Movie Review: “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”

Starring
Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Jesse Eisenberg, Amy Adams, Gal Gadot, Jeremy Irons, Scoot McNairy, Laurence Fishburne, Holly Hunter, Diane Lane
Director
Zack Snyder

It’s an idea that sounds like a slam dunk on paper: Pit two of the world’s biggest superheroes against one another in a cinematic battle for the ages and force the audience to choose sides. But while we all wait to see how that fight unfolds in “Captain America: Civil War,” moviegoers can get their fix sooner by trudging through the similarly themed “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” a disjointed mess of a movie that is occasionally exhilarating, but mostly disappointing. Though it’s scary to think that Warner Bros. is betting the future of its entire DC Comics film slate on this highly-anticipated clash of superhero icons, the real loser is the audience itself.

The warning signs were there for everyone to see in the movie’s convoluted title, but even diehard comic book fans will be surprised by just how overlong, overstuffed and unfocused the film is for such a seemingly straightforward affair. This is Batman versus Superman, for crying out loud – it doesn’t require any extra dressing, and it certainly didn’t need to be turned into a moody rumination on the responsibilities of power that nearly sucks the fun out of its killer premise. After all, didn’t director Zack Snyder already make that movie?

Eighteen months have passed since Superman (Henry Cavill) destroyed half of Metropolis fighting General Zod (Michael Shannon), and while some people have embraced him as a god-like hero, others believe that he’s a dangerous alien who should be held accountable for his actions. Having witnessed the collateral damage first-hand after one of his company’s buildings was destroyed in the battle, Gotham City industrialist Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) – now a seasoned crime-fighter who spends his nights dealing out justice as the vigilante Batman – is terrified of what Superman could do with that kind of power and becomes obsessed with stopping him by any means possible. Meanwhile, billionaire tech genius Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) is building his own weapon to combat the alien threat using a piece of Kryptonite uncovered at the bottom of the Indian Ocean. But when Bruce steals the green rock in an attempt to level the playing field against Superman, Luthor decides to use Batman to do his dirty work for him.

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Movie Review: “Big Eyes”

Starring
Amy Adams, Christoph Waltz, Danny Huston, Krysten Ritter, Delaney Raye
Director
Tim Burton

If you were to show somebody a painting of a Campbell’s soup can, chances are that they could identify it as the work of Andy Warhol. But show them a piece from Margaret Keane’s equally popular Big Eyes series, however, and although they’d admit their familiarity with the kitschy paintings, they’d be less likely to name the artist, let alone know the strange-but-true story behind them. That’s the subject of Tim Burton’s latest movie, his first live-action feature to not star Johnny Depp in over a decade. But while it’s a bit of a departure for the oddball director, “Big Eyes” is his best film in years, even if that comes off like a backhanded compliment considering some of the garbage (“Alice in Wonderland,” “Dark Shadows”) he’s released.

The year is 1958, a time when it was still fairly unheard of for a woman to leave her husband, but Margaret Ulbrich (Amy Adams) has done just that, escaping the boredom of suburbia with her daughter Jane (Delaney Raye) for a fresh start in San Francisco. It’s there that she meets smooth-talking artist Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz) at a local art fair, and after hitting it off, the two don’t waste any time getting married. Though Walter hasn’t found much success with his uninspired paintings of Parisian street scenes, he notices something special in Margaret’s wide-eyed waifs and rents some space in a nightclub to show off their artwork. When a couple patrons mistakenly credit Walter with painting one of Margaret’s Big Eyes (after all, they both sign their art “Keane”), he doesn’t bother to correct them in order to close the sale. Margaret gets furious when she finds out that Walter has been passing off her work as his own, but he insists that they’re a team, and before she knows it, the lie has grown so big that she’s unable to stop it in fear that the whole Keane empire, and her life’s work, will be tarnished in the process.

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Movie Review: “American Hustle”

Starring
Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Jeremy Renner, Louis C.K, Michael Peña
Director
David O. Russell

David O. Russell’s “American Hustle” opens with a title card that playfully states: “Some of this actually happened.” But considering that the movie was originally titled “American Bullshit” and is populated with characters who are bullshit specialists, it’s meant to be taken with a fairly large grain of salt. Loosely based on the ABSCAM scandal of the late ’70s and early ’80s, Russell has adapted what was an already outlandish story into a ’70s-styled farce filled with a flying circus of conmen, feds, politicians and casino mobsters. Immensely entertaining, impeccably structured and featuring excellent performances from its entire cast, “American Hustle” is one of the year’s absolute best films and a serious contender for every major award.

When we first meet Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale), he’s seen carefully assembling his elaborate comb over with a combination of a toupee, glue and lots of hairspray. But what the paunchy conman lacks in good looks, he makes up for with confidence and intellect, which is what’s made him so successful at ripping people off. Everything changes when he meets Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), a former stripper who partners with Irving under the guise of a British businesswoman with royal connections named Lady Edith. Their business practically triples overnight, drawing the attention of ambitious FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), who catches the pair red-handed and forces them to work undercover for the bureau. Richie wants to make a name for himself by taking down some white-collar criminals, and his first target is Camden mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner), a family man so desperate to revitalize the New Jersey economy that he’s willing to get his hands a little dirty in the process. It quickly turns into a game of who’s conning who, and yet the one thing that threatens to bring the whole thing crashing down isn’t their mistrust in each other, but Irving’s unpredictable wife, Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence).

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