I finally made time to catch them both the other day at the Arclight Cinemas in Pasadena, where I tortured myself with the lovely scent of freshly made popcorn that I can't eat yet because of some recent dental work. I was able to eat an overly salted soft pretzel, though, which I'm sure gave me about a week's worth of sodium in one bite.
First, there was Nocturnal Animals, written and directed by (I Don't Pop Molly, I Rock) Tom Ford, adapted from a novel called "Tony and Susan" (which has now been retitled after the film because, well, money). The Triple A plays Susan, a well-off art gallery owner who is married to The Lone Ranger from The Social Network and has a daughter in college, but clearly she's not happy, despite living in an awesome house that's clearly populated by the damning evidence that the person occupying it has nothing but Good News in her bank account. But at least she's aware. Susan tells her friend that she feels bad about feeling bad, because she knows she has it good.
The scene where Susan confides in her friend? They're having a dinner party in that scene, and one of the guests is this young woman who is being cheerfully vulgar to the crowd, and we find out she's a famous actress. I'm going right ahead and assuming that character was a kind of swipe at Jennifer Lawrence, at least because she appears to be the Hot Actress Who Is Such A Regular Joe Like The Rest Of Us du jour, that's who I was reminded of. There is the occasional moment like that in this film -- all of them during the Susan art-world scenes -- that made me want to laugh out loud and e-mail Mr. Ford the Catty Motherfucker award.
Anyway, Susan receives a package in the mail from her ex-husband, containing the proof for his new novel. The name of the book is "Nocturnal Animals" and what's better than having the title of the movie said by someone in the movie? I'll tell you: having the title of the movie show up during the movie.
You mean, like in the credits?
Bitch, you know what the fuck I mean.
So she's reading the book, right, and luckily we don't follow each word she reads but instead we see it played out. The story begins with Donnie Darko from Nightcrawler taking his family on a road trip through West Texas. His wife is played by Isla Fisher aka The Australian Amy Adams, and that right there is why Tom Ford is my dude: he knows what's up. There's also a daughter played by quite possibly someone who was created in a machine using both Adams' and Fisher's DNA. He and his two Amys end up in a horrifying situation that took me off guard. I hadn't seen any trailers or ads for this on purpose, I just knew it was a Tom Ford joint and The Adorable Amy Adams was in it, all I expected was that it would probably look good.
Darko's family end pissing off a group of the kind of angry/cruel/irrational rednecks that would probably feel more at home angrily F-wording up the proceedings in a Rob Zombie film and you can tell these assholes are just looking for an excuse. It's possibly the most worked up (in a negative sense) I've gotten watching a film this year, I was feeling both tensed up and enraged. I swear a couple times I wanted to scream at the fucking movie screen. Plus, I was thinking, what the fuck, this is Texas and nobody has a gun? Isn't that the whole point of that fucking place -- that they're like their own little country that plays by its own rules and shit?
Ford's almost as sadistic as those characters, because right when you're all worked up and ready to see what's about to happen, the film cuts back to Susan taking a break from reading because the events in the book are working her up in a negative way too. (Also, she's seeing a lot of parallels between the characters in the book and Susan & Ex-Husband.) The novel then turns into something that feels like some Cormac McCarthy shit written in between chapters of "No Country for Old Men", and that's when Michael Shannon shows up and he is, to nobody's surprise, great in this.
Everybody is great in this, like Mr. Jake Gyllenhaal; this poor guy has been really putting himself out there every year to good notices and nothing else. The Academy finally gave an Oscar to DiCaprio, now they need to give it to Jakey G. here before he does something rash like cine-torture himself for Alejandro G. Innaritu. I don't know if it's going to happen for him this year, but Jesus, at least give him a Supporting nod because I think the dude deserves it for his work here.
I would be surprised if Amy Adams gets any kind of award recognition here. Because her character is more internal, that means all her beats have to be subtle, so hers is not a particularly showy performance and you know Oscar is kinda deaf and vision-impaired; they'll probably be able to make out Gyllenhaal but they'll be squinting their eyes and cupping their hands to their ears going "Whaaa?" at poor Amy. Whatever, she's always been bringing the quality goods to these proceedings, which is all that matters.
(Until she eventually wins, of course. Then it will be all that matters. Suddenly Oscars will mean everything.)
The film cuts between the novel, Susan reading it and doing her art gallery/unhappy-well-off-woman-in-her-40s thing, and flashbacks to when Susan and her ex-husband (also played by Gyllenhaal) were in their early 20s. That last part, the early 20s stuff, really tripped me out because there is some kind of movie magic being used here to make them look like they just finished promoting Junebug and Jarhead in '05. If there's CGI de-aging being used, then it's not as heavy as when they young'd up Robert Downey Jr. in Captain America: Civil War -- either that or the technology has improved that much over these past few months, because it looks a lot more natural.
I'm thinking it's a combination of aging up Adams (black clothes and caked on makeup) and Gyllenhall (thick ass beard) in the beginning, and then cleaning them up in the flashbacks with some light CGI work. Whatever the case, it's not just the wow factor of that shit that got me, but it worked because it really hit me how much happier and fresher the characters look because Life hadn't bent them over yet.
This is Ford's second film, following 2009's A Single Man (which I rambled about somewhere here) and like that film, this one is pretty goddamn good. (Like that one, this one isn't the feel good movie of the year either.) He wrote the screenplay adaptation and knocked that out, he gets good performances from his actors, he is clearly a big part of the visual look for this film -- a film so beautifully set designed and shot-composed, one could freeze-frame a random moment and frame it on a wall.
And man oh man, you can tell a Tom Ford joint from the others just on the fact that everybody here is so impeccably dressed and groomed. (Even the West Texas stuff gives everyone an artfully disheveled kind of look.) They all look like they stepped out of ads from a fashion magazine; as soon as I saw Armie Hammer step in for a giant glass of iced coffee in this movie, I'm thinking Fuck I Need That Suit I Need That Haircut.
LATE BREAKING UPDATE: EFC believes Tom Ford would make a stylish-as-fuck James Bond movie if they're cool with an American/Texan directing a 007 movie.
Also, there's two instances of Girls Wearing Glasses here, and in case you didn't know, that's like a thing I have. It's not a fetish, no sir, I don't need glasses to get hard or achieve orgasm, it's not that kind of party. I'm just saying it ups every lady's attractiveness quotient by like 10 percent for me. I can't explain it, it just is, dude. Like, if I had directed She's All That, it would've been about Laney putting those glasses back on after her makeover. Anyway, Susan puts on glasses sometimes to read the novel and then later on Jena Malone shows up in a pair of thick frames and that put a smile on my penis -- FACE! I MEAN IT PUT A SMILE ON MY FACE!
(The rest of you Gyllenhaals and Hammers can stick to contacts and laser eye surgery. No glasses for you. Nobody wants to see that shit. My eyes are Exit Only, bro.)
I hate this motherfucker Tom Ford, this man who already won at life long ago but then decided to become a filmmaker -- and he's great at it! At least so far he's great at it. Maybe next time he'll fall on his face and get to feel what it's like to be loser for once HAHAHAHAHAHA SUCK IT FORD
If you're into seeing naked obese women jumping around with firecrackers but you're not really interested in this film, then show Amy your support by buying a ticket for this movie, and then sit down and watch the first five minutes of this, then get up and walk over to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and watch that shit. I mean why not? They don't need your money, they're gonna make like 20 years worth of sequels for that shit. But I want to see more movies directed by Tom Ford and starring The Triple A, and that shit ain't happening unless some fuckin' cash is flowed into their current projects.
I then flowed some more money Ms. Adams' way while dealing out ducats in Denis Villeneuve's direction; the second half of my Triple A Double Feature was the aliens-are-here movie Arrival. Look, I get it -- there was no disrespect intended towards David Twohy and Charlie Sheen by giving their film the same title as theirs, they shot this as Story of Your Life which is the title of the Ted Chiang's short story it was based on. But I'm sure the studio suits were like Nah, Bro, Nah and so now we have these dueling Arrivals.
Except I think some respect was paid here, because the original film is titled The Arrival while this one eliminates the The. The filmmakers are saying "It's cool, we're Arrival but you guys are THE Arrival and no one will forget that." It's kind of like what they did with the Evil Dead remake a few years ago; they were Evil Dead but Sam Raimi's will always be THE Evil Dead.
Had I not known that this was from the director of Sicario and Prisoners, I would've thought this was a Terrence Malick joint early on. It has that same handheld shallow-focus personally close/personally distant look thing going on with narration over it, and I'm thinking, wow, has his style become like a thing now? Like I see even dudes like Zack Snyder and Christopher Nolan taking this style, and I'm afraid I'll get sick of it, the way I'm sick of zombies now. Meanwhile, much like George A. Romero, it seems like Malick is getting props as the originator while everybody else makes bank off of it. It's not fair, but whoever said this shit was?
So yeah, it opens with our Amy as Dr. Louise Banks, she's a linguist but she works for a living as a professor at a college, she's probably too busy to correct your grammar and all that shit online or at least I don't think she does. Or maybe that's just an English major thing, I don't know what Dr. Banks majored in, so who knows if she would correct your tweets and e-mails if she knew you.
Come to think of it, I don't even know if she has any friends, she just has a nice house by the lake -- oh shit, that reminds me, both her character in this film and her character in Nocturnal Animals share similarities in that they both hang their hats in nice pads and both have trouble sleeping. So there you go, it's the Amy Adams Lives In A Nice House And Can't Sleep double bill, ya'll,
Anyway, she lives alone in this nice lake house -- well, she lives alone *now* because in the beginning we watch her raise a kid until the kid becomes a pre-teen who then dies of some disease, so we're dealing with that heavy shit too.
But yeah, she lives alone, and she's so into her bubble that one day she's walking through the university while people around her are looking all weirded and freaked, but she doesn't notice this. She then walks into her class and wonders why there's like five people in this big room, then everybody's phones start to ring and she's like "Huh?" until she turns on the giant flat screen television behind the dry-erase board and that's when I went HUH?!
Bro, I missed all this good shit. In schools primary, secondary, and post-secondary, if we were gonna watch television for something in class, that shit had to be carted in on some big metal tv-stand shelf cart-thingy. And it was the square tube tv, too. Man, these kids today now have giant flat-screens to watch the world go ape-shit on? Lucky motherfuckers.
Or maybe not, because I was talking to my niece and nephew and they told me that at their schools they got rid of soda machines and sugary snacks and all that shit. The food is all health conscious stuff, and part of me is thinking that's a very good thing because we need to wean the future generations off of garbage that does nothing for you other than give you a brief moment of joy in this overcrowded sinking ship of a planet. And the other part of me is like, damn, so you kids missed out on insane lunches like Rice Krispies Treats washed down with a Dr. Pepper, which was one of my go-tos in high school. I'm really surprised I still have all ten fingers and toes, to be honest with you.
Anyway, so she finds out on the tv that giant spacecrafts have materialized out of nowhere, 12 in all, and they're hovering over different spots in the world. There's one chilling out over a field in Montana, USA and that's why Colonel Ghost Dog shows up to recruit her to join the Devil's Tower-meets-Tent City festivities out in that field to help them figure out how to communicate with the things inside and figure out what they want. She's joined by Marvel's Hawkeye, playing a scientist who's all about the math, so fuck that guy -- because math is the fastest way to remind me how stupid I am.
What your usual sci-fi action-adventure would spend about a couple minutes on, Arrival devotes its entire running time; the movie is all about trying to figure out how to figure out what these aliens are saying. They just want to be able to ask these things what is the purpose of their visit, business or pleasure? Of course, you have different ideas from different kinds of people; a couple of educated libtards like Dr. Banks and Hawkeye think it's more of a peaceful let's-help-each-other type of visit, while shadowy creepy CIA types like the dude from A Serious Man (not to be confused with Tom Ford's A Single Man) think these aliens are on some Independence Day type shit. Then you have Colonel Ghost Dog who is more of a I Don't Question Orders, I Just Follow Them type who just wants good enough answers from Banks and Hawkeye to give to his superiors. (He's also from a part of the country I haven't figured out yet; based on his accent here, he's either from Boston or Texas.)
Upon finding out that I was going to see this film, a buddy of mine who had already seen Arrival told me that he liked it and then we had the following text exchange:
See, my Good Friend here has my Amy Adams admiration figured out incorrectly, but I indulge him by responding in kind because that's what Good Friends do. You talk to me about Amy Adams like that and I'll indulge you too, you son-of-a-bitch bastard.
(To be honest, I felt like Ms. Adams needed to cover herself up during the bathtub scene in the Batman/Superman movie because there were plenty of men in the audience who were going to get the wrong idea about her. And we most certainly couldn't have that. She's a nice girl! Plus, I didn't want her to catch cold.)
I'm a sucker for scenes of Smart People Figuring Shit Out, like, my favorite scene in Apollo 13 was when all those nerds are gathered around a table and they're told they have to find a way to get one device to connect another device using only the various tools and junk on the table and Arrival is kinda like that scene. It's a slow-moving film but not boring, it's just they're taking baby steps in this one; the funny thing is even with a deliberate pace the film takes more than its share of shortcuts.
Like early on, when Banks and Hawkeye are taken on-board the ship to talk to the aliens, they go through this whole process of getting on a scissor lift that elevates them to the ship's entrance, then they hop off and let the ship's anti-gravity thingy carry them the rest of the way, where they then begin walking the rest of the vertical path like it ain't no thing. Then they get to this glass wall where the aliens are on the other side -- by the way, kudos for finding a way to give us aliens that don't follow the usual humanoid shape with big eyes and all that. They're kinda spider-y, kinda octopus-y, and they're both cool and scary at the same time.
By the time our scientists are boarding the ship for the first time, Ghost Dog and company have already gone through all of this, to the point that Ghost Dog shows no signs of excitement or tension or anything. He seems kinda bored by it. And I'm thinking, holy shit, that's a whole movie right there! Imagine what these guys went through at the very beginning of this -- and how long! -- how long did it take them to figure all that shit out about how to board the ship and deal with the anti-gravity and all that shit, before being all nonchalant about it by the time Banks and Hawkeye arrived? If I remember it right, it was about two days before Team Banks arrived. Two days! These boys had to have been working around the clock. And who was the lucky son-of-a-gun who took that first step onto that ship?
(They do carry a bird with them in a cage with every visit, placing it a few feet ahead of them. So maybe they should give that bird a medal of some kind. Or some quality newspaper for its cage.)
Anyway, that's what I mean by shortcuts. We'll never know that or how even in the brief period of time they are able to make the advances that they make and then I remind myself that it's a movie and that they only have so much time to tell this story before losing us all in the minutiae. Besides, that Cleveland Show-looking motherfucker Neil Degrasse-Tyson would shit all over it on Twitter (if he hasn't already) on how much they got wrong while never understanding that all the degrees and smarts in the fucking galaxy will not help him reach the self-awareness required to step back for a couple seconds and say to himself "Neil, you are doing a lot of good for humanity by stressing the importance of knowledge -- in particular in the fields of science and reason. We need a lot more of that in a world drowning in superstition. But dude, you are a thin-skinned asshole who thinks he's fucking hilarious, and that, sir, is not a good combo."
No sir, a good combo is Amy Adams and Denis Villeneuve. Arrival is a heavy-on-the-science sci-fi joint with some surprising emotion popping up here and there. It features a great performance by The Triple A, but, oh Amy, I'm sorry but you're probably not getting any Oscar gold with this one either. I'm thinking about it, and I'm realizing that she ends up doing a lot of acting by herself, which has to be one of the hardest things for an actor. I think I mentioned this on the blog a while back, but there is what I call the Robert Forster school of acting, named after one of my favorite actors who will never win an award because his stuff is so subtle and within and I already told you how the Academy gets down with performances like that. And I think for these two back-to-back performances, she took a brush-up course at that school.
Also, it does that movie thing that Kiss Kiss Bang Bang made fun of, where if a shot lingers on a nameless character a little too long after the fact, like the cook in The Hunt for Red October, you can bet the fuckin' Brinks truck that Chekov's Extra is going to pop up in some plot-changing shit later, you just fucking know, bro!
As for the ending, I liked it but I can see how it would piss off others. It's not a twist, by the way, at least not in my book (pre-orders available now!), just a revelation that some people have issues with, either for logical reasons or whatever else they have a bug up their asses about. I dug it. It kinda reminded me of the ending to -- well, shit, it reminds me of the endings to a lot of things, to be real with you.
OK, I'll mention one of them -- Runaway Train, and I feel comfortable saying that one without feeling that I spoiled something because you will not be able to figure out the connection. You would need to invite me to an expensive dinner that you will pay for, and it would have to be after I've had at least half of that meal before I explain to you how I feel that both this film and Runaway Train have similar endings. They all have to do with Free Will, I'll give you that much/little.
(Also, they are both similar in that this film also features a scene where Amy Adams is shouting out of a runaway train screaming at an evil warden in a helicopter above her while sticking her middle finger at him, in between taking slugs out of Eric Roberts' flask, saying "sucka" in every other sentence.)
It was a morning/afternoon well spent at the Arclight Pasadena. I don't know if they do this for all the movies at the Arclight, but for both Arrival and Nocturnal Animals there was a clip before each film telling us that after the credits there would be some extra behind-the-scenes stuff. They were each about five minutes or so; the Nocturnal Animals one featured Gyllenhaal and Ford and it focused on how the ending could be interpreted, while the Arrival one featured Ms. Adams doing her impersonation of her French-Canadian director -- which I of course found delightful. I appreciated these little extras, called "Arclight Stories" because they allow you to stick around after the credits for other reasons aside from finding out if there are any hints about what the next Marvel film is going to be about.
Nocturnal Animals or Arrival? You can't go wrong with either one, whether you're an Amy Adams fan or a fan of good movies. But I get it. You have kids, or just like Dwayne Johnson so much, you just have to see Moana, right? It's cool. I mean, you can go fuck your mother, but it's cool.