Nocturnal Animals: A Great Revenge Tale

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Written by Nelson Cumming

If you can get by the first minute of Nocturnal Animals which contains four naked clinically obese women strip-dancing, you will be rewarded (and not in THAT way). This is the second of Tom Ford’s directorial efforts (The first being A Single Man). This time, Ford actually deals with a bit of blood and dirt in addition to his usual clean and tidy environment and costume design. It pays dividends.

In time, I hope people know director Tom Ford by name because he makes great movies that are high art but accessible to casual moviegoers and cinephiles. He gets an actress who fits that category as well. Amy Adams plays the “lead” in this role (she gets not a whole lot of screentime) and she plays a successful costume designer who is married to a successful ivey-league businessman (Armie Hammer).

She gets a copy of a novel called “Nocturnal Animals” a detective western novel written by her ex-husband. She quickly gets immersed in the graphic nature of it. However, the book gets both larger than life and too close to home, making Adams question why she left her ex in the first place.

The Unromantic Couple

 

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In 2016, Adams portrayed either a damsel (Batman vs Superman) or a heartbreaker. She has been good in her portrayals. But if I were associated with her characters in real life, I’d run away.

 

Nocturnal Animals is a great film. I got immersed into the novel as much as Adam’s character was. The main character in the novel is played by Jake Gyllenhaal. He plays his character with both ferocious anger and fragile vulnerability. He plays a father who gets carjacked with his family by psychopaths and is shaken by the experience. He then has to learn how to deal with it. Compared to Adam’s, my first thoughts were “There’s no way he can top her”. He did. I want him to get award nominations for his role.

The person who was alongside Gyllenhaal was, of course, Amy Adams. In this movie, I am still yet to determine if her character was a victim of circumstance or she was just cold hearted. I am leaning toward the latter because she explicitly admitted it in the film. However, it is implied throughout the film that she is a victim of circumstance.

Like in Arrival, she knows how to crush the heart of her significant other. It makes me miss the naïve and innocent princess of purity she played in Enchanted. She was better in Arrival because she gets more screen time there. There wasn’t enough of her in the movie to win anything for this role but she plays the most important role in the story.

Nocturnal Animals does deliver the goods. I think it is better that Arrival. I may re-evaluate if I see Arrival again. Like The Revenant, there were long stretches where I was immersed in the film despite the abrupt scene and location changes. With it’s non-linearity and multiple story arcs, Tom Ford was performing a high wire act and he succeeded in doing so. ****1/2

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

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Written by Nelson Cumming

J.K. Rowling has decided to make the transition from an author to a screenwriter, at least for her own book. Is she as good a screenwriter as she is an author?

Well, I think she is a good comedic writer no doubt. I mean that with sincerity. Everything that is meant to be funny is, in fact, funny. The slapstick with the animals (specifically the gem seeking Niffler) provided some comic relief which is backed up by Dan Fogler who plays the only no-maj (a muggle) in the wizarding world who blunders his way through the wizarding world. Fogler was the best performance in the film bar none.

Rowling is also a good writer in expressing the themes and ideas she wishes to explore. A lot of the themes in this movie revolve around political powerplay, divided societies, isolation and repression. She presents that aspect of the story during the first third of the film. I was highly anticipating how it would progress and conclude.

…and then the cliff came.

The one major letdown this film has is that it never comes full circle. All the themes I have mentioned Rowling illustrates. But she doesn’t really progress those ideas further and with all the separate elements of the plot, they never come together.

The subplots: An outline

Without spoiling it. The first thirty minutes is basically plot progression which illustrates the society of witches and no-majs and how divided they are. There no-majs want to eradicate wizards and break their wands. Wizards are forced underground to practice their magic and live with each other.

After that there are comedy skits with the beasts and that element of the story is barely mentioned again. That was disappointing. A subplot involving a boy called Credence and the main antagonist Percival Graves (Colin Farrell) That plot element focused on powerplay, manipulation, isolation, and fear. Yet that subplot doesn’t get a proper emotional payoff by the conclusion.

Rowling also wants the kids to have a good time as well because she wants to show all the beasts that get released and the comedic elements in catching them. The goes for the cuteness factor as well with all the animals. Expect girls and kids to say “awwww”

An Archery Analogy

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Arrows represent the themes and elements to every film. Left is a 5 star movie that hits you to the core. Right was Fantastic Beasts. Yes, they hit, but the elements are never together.

So you can imagine how frustrating it is when all these elements appear in their own scenes but never really come together. This also affected plot progression, traveling from one idea, leaving it behind, and moving on to the next.

All the elements that Rowling decides to dabble into works. That is enough for me to be entertained. But what Fantastic Beasts really suffers from a lack of putting all the plot threads and thematic elements together. That was disappointing for me. It wasn’t about what the story did, it’s what it didn’t do. ***1/4

P.S. The final reveal sucked. It didn’t make sense in both the story and the internal logic in the story.

Norm of the North: As Bad As It Looks

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Written by Nelson Cumming

Norm of the North is that movie you find at a Go-Lo or The Reject Shop that only the most desperate parent will buy just to distract the kids for two hours. It will actually sedate them. I honestly believe a nine-year-old will be able to tell the movie is terrible. It is so ineptly made and struggles to tell a single joke properly.

The Pitch

Could you possibly imagine any enthusiasm from a board meeting when the ideas man suggested this:

“We are going to have Rob Schneider play Norm: A twerking polar bear”

That idea was worth 18 million dollars.

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How the hell did Norm of the North bypass the Gruen Transfer?

I may even consider Norm of the North some twisted form of ironic meta humor. The reason being that I am currently studying for a marketing degree and this movie dabbles on about marketing jargon. The movie talks about approval ratings, statistics, re-postings, legalities and investors. Didn’t everyone involved in this realize this is a kids film?

If you account for the marketing budget (which is normally about the same as the production budget), It’s possible that the film didn’t break even. Part of the marketing campaign was advertising a trailer on Youtube. The trailer has a worse likes percentage than Ghostbusters.

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Left: Chris Stuckmann’s reaction to Norm of the North. Right: My reaction to watching Norm of the North

Why is this received so negatively you may ask, well a lot what is wrong with Norm of the North is slapped onto the animation. It is lazily done. The character movements are not naturally smooth and the textures are very basic without much detail to them. It’s like watching a kids TV computer animation. It’s very cheap B-grade looking.

There is also an over reliance of showing popular music and animals and people dancing to it. It served as pure filler that didn’t add anything to the story. It was like the movie was saying “Hey kiddies we know the business-speak can be terribly boring so we are going to entertain you now with more nothing!”

Perhaps another problem is the gags. The gags don’t have much humour in them at all. It goes down to pee and fart jokes that weren’t funny. The filmmakers obviously didn’t think so as they repeated the same unfunny jokes over and over again.

The one and only positive thing about Norm of the North is that it’s material is inherently harmless. Kids won’t be scarred for life and soccer moms won’t complain to classifications board about the movies PG rating. But a lot of adults will see just how aimless the execution is.

At one point, Norm of the North makes a dated Titanic reference and I wrote in my notes “A Titanic reference? That’s because Norm of the North is a sinking ship”. I have not seen a film where the animation was so poor and ineptly made. Watch the trailer and tell me if you have ever seen animation so poorly done on a feature length film that was releases in theaters. I really want to know.  -**

Fifty Shades of Black: Fewer Laughs Than The Original.

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Written by Nelson Cumming

This movie is Wayan’s World. If only it was as funny as Wayne’s World. That joke I just made up was funner than any gag in in Fifty Shades of Black.

It started off with jokes on chlamydia and ended with Marlon Waynes getting a giant dildo up his asshole. Like the fate of Marlon Wayne’s character Christian Black, I found watching it was painful and hurt insides felt like white hot lead.

Fifty Shades of Black is a “spoof” of Fifty Shades of Grey. The only difference is the woman is called Hannah (Kali Hawk) and the man Christian Black (Marlon Waynes) and the majority of the cast is black. Fifty Shades of Black follows nearly shot-for-shot the movie they are trying to poke fun of. The end result for me was myself poking fun at it.

Painfully Unfunny Characters Abound

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Jenny Zigrino (Kateesha) playing a sassy black girl despite the fact that she is white. It is as bad as that sounds.

There are so many characters that are so annoying and unbelievable even for a spoof movie. Jenny Zigrino plays Kateesha who is a white woman being the most stereotypical black woman imaginable and it’s hard to hear what she is saying with the loud sass in her voice. It got so bad I hated her every time I saw her.

Do you want another bad character? How about a character called Jessie played by an actor called King Back (I am not making this up) He plays a black photographer who unflatteringly tries to hook up with Hanna only to do the “you misheard me” routine to cover himself when Hannah is repulsed. Oh and you realize he knows karate when he’s threatened. He sounds like Chris Tucker on cocaine.

Broke-ass Poor Dialogue.

What could possibly be worse than the actors you say? How about the dialogue. It is as painful as waiting in line for a prostate exam. Five minutes of the dialogue felt like an eternity. The dialogue in Fifty Shades of Black is worse than London has Fallen and that is saying something.

Such lines like “You look like a thumb that was yanked out of an asshole” were one of the better ones; In reference to a woman’s breath: “That’s the smell of (Christian Black’s) balls after two hours of racketball” was another. The worst line also had blatant product placement “A Mac? I licked seven guy’s assholes and only got a Dell!”

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There were two more lines that were hilariously ironic. When Black recites the Fifty Shades of Grey novel he says “This is fifty shades of fucking terrible, Who wrote this a third grader?” The other one had to do with Black not knowing Osama Bin Laden was dead for five years. He says “I don’t keep up with current events” when the movie continuously lampoons on recent movies, product placement and contemporary culture.

The Set Design. A Minor Breath of Relief

Despite the poor acting and the horrible, laughable dialogue, there are two redeeming things about the movie. The first one is the set designers as I could tell they meticulously got all the equipment and locations to near-perfect detail. I saw effort in there that I needed to acknowledge.

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You can tell the set designers actually watched Fifty Shades of Grey and made it look authentic. If I took out all the characters, you wouldn’t be able to tell which is which.

The second moment was when Black is told to give Hannah the worst in the form of domination. The camera pans across the whips with labels like “Glory” “12 Years a Slave” “Django Unchained” before finally going to the “Joseph Jackson” belt. That was the only time I smiled, laughing with the movie and not at it.

Those two things obviously could not redeem the movie. I could not believe I wasted money on it. This is another film to Marlon Waynes inglorious canon of films such as “A Haunted House” and “White Chicks” I’d rather watch Fifty Shades of Grey. I’d rather watch almost anything again. DUD

Arrival- A Thematic Pool

Written by Nelson Cumming

Arrival had a lot of promise. So much so that I paid a lot extra to see it on a wider screen, thinking I would get overwhelmed by the grandiose mis en scene. That didn’t happen. Despite this, Arrival is a very interesting and highly original film.

Oddly, the movie it reminded me of was The Tree of Life by Terrance Malick although it is not anything like it. To use a book title from Douglas Adams, The Tree of Life concerns itself with “Life, The Universe and Everything” whereas Arrival explores the inner-workings of communication, language and pre-determinism. The latter of which I didn’t get until much later after I saw it.

Unpacking the Plot- A headache that was worth it

Adam’s using her linguistic powers to understand the alien language. Initially this was my favorite part of the film.

I’m gonna be honest. I didn’t get the subplot of the movie at all until I did a bit of research. After looking it up I thought “Damn, Arrival was going for the gold” The main plot and subplot are completely non-linear (like The Tree of Life) and I was wondering why the subplot even existed for a while. I’ll outline both the plot and subplot before explaining further.

So the main plot involves Amy Adams who plays a professional linguist sent by the US military to communicate with these aliens that have bordered earth. A lot of the film involves Adams and Jeremy Renner (who plays a theoretical physicist) decoding the language and understanding why the aliens have come to earth.

As Adam’s learns of the aliens language, Adams has visions of her daughter which serves as the subplot of the film. When the twist comes, I was wondering why she was having visions of her child in the first place. The movie raised more questions than it answered for me. It didn’t seem to add up.

That is a broadly specific as I can be without ruining it. You need to know the subplot to fully understand the meaning of the film.

The Tree of Life analogy

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The subplot felt a little spinny to me. It messes with time and space. Only after I saw it did I understand it.

I saw Arrival as more of an atmospheric film about how the intricacies of communication changes meaning and how you need to get both linguistics and the meaning behind language to reach understanding. The best moments for me were when Adams were decoding the alien language, trying to understand their purpose of existence.

Only until after I saw it I realize I was only scratching the surface. It’s like the Tree of Life in that both the plot and subplot are non-linear and one of the plots have to do with the world around us and the other side of the story revolves around a family and with Arrival, the two didn’t stories did not connect well enough for me to understand.

That was until I realised why Adam’s character has all these visions. Once I knew that all of Arrival’s ideas just seemed to connect and fall into place. It really is a thinking movie and I might like it more if I saw it again. It explores the philosophical concept of pre-determinism vs. fate. Unlike most films, Adams choose with her final word in the film when she is asked a very abrupt (almost comical) question.

However, I can only judge based on what I saw initially and I liked it for the cinematography, Amy Adams performance and how the lead characters slowly develop an understanding with the aliens. If I see it again, now knowing the movie fully, I would like it even more. That I am certain of. However, I must rate it based on what I was feeling at the time and while I liked it overall there were a lot of moments I was scratching my head on how she has the conceived of her visions in the first place ***1/2

Amateur Night: No. Just No.

“Based on a true story… mostly” is the subtext of the Amateur Night title card. Once I saw that I knew they were going to use creative license so much that it’s not even funny. I later found out that the story is directed by the people who have involved in the true story themselves.

The key question I asked myself about Amateur Night wasn’t “Is most of this story really based off a true story?” it was “Why did this story need to be told?” because, to tell you the truth, I wish I hadn’t seen it.

So anyway the story is Guy (played by Jason Biggs whose career is in freefall) is an architect who is struggling to find a job and with a baby on the way. He gets a job on Craigslist to drive prostitutes to bachelor parties and acting like a pimp in his pink salmon shirt.

In come the sight gags.

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One of the cleaner scenes of the Biggs cleaning dildos. I decided for the view not to show the zip-lock bag all the dildos came in

So Guy does these things for the prostitutes that only a desperate man would do. He cleans all their dildos and there are a lot; he gets squirted in the face (You can imagine the source of the squirting) and collects all the money and the panties from the floor during the bachelor party.

This is one-half the problem with Amateur Night. They just settle for gross. When an R-rated sex comedy decides to go for the easy laughs it is just so tasteless. A note to filmmakers: the more tasteless you are, the smarter you have to be. When you are tasteless and stupid, your movie becomes horrible and it turns into a pissing contest to see how horrible you can be.

When a sex comedy decides to dabble in bodily fluids just for shock value you get no winners but the most morbid of people. There are piss, vaginal fluid, and lube gags in this movie. None of it comes off as funny. Some scenes like when Guy is cleaning all the dildos are elongated, cringeworthy and painful to watch.

Despite all the unfunny and lazy sight gags, it wasn’t the worst part of the movie.

Yes, you heard me.

The most hateful performance of the year: Janet Montgomery.

Montgomery is just lucky this movie is so small and so forgettable that it won’t damage her career irreparably.

Nikki (Janet Montgomery) is the lead prostitute and I absolutely hated her. From the time she is introduced to the very end, I hated her. I hated her so much. There is a scene in which she blackmails Guy into continuing being the host of the bachelor party. From that moment on I had a seething hate to the point of no return. At the end, the film embodies the “hooker with a heart of gold” cliche in a sad and pathetic attempt to care for her. She was completely mean-spirited with no leanings that she was anything but.

It wasn’t that Montgomery was a bad actress but just her character embodied vile manipulation to the point where I not only detested her but the whole movie. She crossed the line from dumb raunchy comedy to dumb and hateful raunchy comedy. With the combination of dumb sex jokes, bodily fluids, and Montgomery’s performance, Amateur night reminded me of Dirty Grandpa and that’s really saying something.

In my eyes, Amateur Night was merely a vanity project created by a couple to tell their own story and the actors are there so desperate for a paycheck. Biggs hasn’t made a movie in four years and the directors Lisa Addario and Joe Syracuse are a real life couple retelling their own experiences living in Hollywood in this hot mess.

At the end of Amateur Night, I thought of a song called “Lost in Hollywood” where the main line was “All you maggots smoking fags on Hollywood Boulevard” because sometimes I wonder how some movies in Hollywood get made. This was just the epitome or a bad sex comedy turned horrible -*1/2

Cafe Society: A Half Decent Woody Allen Film

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Written by Nelson Cumming

Café Society is pretty much the same movie as Hail, Caesar!. Sure Café Society is more romanticized and pretty than Hail, Caesar! but both movies hit the same notes, they are both love letters to the Hollywood of the past and the directors from both movies decided to let their hair down and embrace themselves in the nostalgia of a place in time from a place they used to love (and maybe still love, I don’t know)

For Woody Allen, filmmaking, young love, and comedy are his passions. Yes, you can tell he loves to make movies because he is 80 years old and still writing and directing one film per year since Annie Hall in 1975. That is over half his lifetime. Café society shows us that the love of filmmaking is still there.

Very Warm and Very Pretty

 

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If you think this is pretty you should see the inside. 

 

Allen’s love for cinema is are in the shots and the scenery more than anything else. Throughout the movie, there is warm golden lighting with light jazz music and exquisite locations and set design but nothing is oversaturated or overdone. He used light, whimsical subtly to immerse you into the picture of the Hollywood lifestyle of the 30’s. Even the way he transitions through scenes adds a bit of light heartedness to the performance.

This lavish but inviting atmosphere is backed up by the chemistry between Kristan Stewart and Jessie Eisenberg as well as Steve Carrell. The three are in a complicated love triangle. Stewart falls for both of them but there are complications to both of them

 

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Stewart and Eisenberg representing two-thirds of the love triangle 

 

Carrell is an agent to the stars (Like Bead Whitlock in Hail, Caesar!) who ends up hiring his nephew (played by Eisenberg) out of nepotism. Eisenberg falls in love with Stewart’s character the first time he meets her. The problem is Carrell is also in love with her but Eisenberg dosesn’t know that because Carrell’s character had been happily married for over twenty and struggles to find the courage to ask his wife for a divorce. You can see how complicated it gets. Despite the complexity of the love triangle it is easy to understand when you see it.

The one thing that is annoying about Café Society is the narration. At first, I liked it because I thought it added to the story. Then it’s done far too often and it starts to feel like a narrative crutch. Allen is the narrator and he is good at exploring beauty, style, decor, scriptwriting and wit. What he lacked was brevity this time. The narration just sprawls on and on and on and it did get boring.

Nevertheless, Café Society gave me an odd character experience at the end. The end shows sadness and beauty together where at the end I felt heavy but oddly relaxed. It was a strange but satisfying emotive feeling. There are not many morals to Café Society but it wants to appreciate the scenery and the story and the former was great and the latter was good. It’s not one of Allen’s finest works but one that works if you are a fan of his catalog ***1/4