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Nocturnal Animals • La La Land

Collateral Beauty

December 15, 2016

Nocturnal Animals (** 1/2) 

Celebrated designer turned filmmaker Tom Ford stumbles a bit with his second cinematic foray, the much anticipated Nocturnal Animals. This is a film that pulses with Ford’s stylish directorial flourishes but ultimately does not deliver on the promise of its revenge themed plot, unless your idea of revenge is standing someone up for dinner. It’s an admittedly good looking package on the surface to be sure. That may be enough for some viewers but those looking for the beating heart that was ever present in Ford’s debut feature A Single Man will be most disappointed.

Amy Adams turns in her usually flawless performance in the film as art gallery owner and socialite Susan Morrow, who years ago left her husband, Edward Sheffield (an equally good Jake Gyllenhaal) and is now having second thoughts. Especially since her second husband (Armie Hammer) is turning out to be a philanderer and Edward seems to be well on his way to a career as a successful novelist.

Amy Adams in Nocturnal Animals

Susan has just received an early copy of Edward’s latest novel at the film’s onset, a brutal tale of rape/murder and revenge. The story thread toggles back and forth between Susan and Edward’s marriage­­-told in flashbacks-and the story he’s written which she feels may be payback for an injustice she committed during their relationship.

The biggest problem is that the two story threads in the film never really congeal as one. It’s as if we’re watching two separate films that really have nothing to do with each other. This may be a stylish affair but it’s also much ado about nothing when it finally comes down to it.
La La Land (*** ½)

I loved director Damien Chazelle’s second film, Whiplash, from two years ago. In fact, it was my favorite film of its year. It’s no surprise, I suppose, that I would respond so strongly to his bittersweet and wistful musical concoction La La Land, which happens to be only Chazelle’s third film. He has shown quite a nice creative growth curve over the course of only three pictures and this one continues his streak of crafting engaging films that are as tailored for mainstream audiences as they are for the art house crowd. It’s certainly likely to please both.

The film is both an ode to movie musicals of a certain time period and a valentine to the famed City of Angels, which is very evident in the film’s title.

Emma Stone & Ryan Gosling in La La Land

The biggest influence, and one that will be readily apparent to any film fan, are the films of French director, Jacques Demy. In particular, Demy’s 1964 film, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, whose influence figures prominently in the denouement of La La Land. In fact, the last ten minutes are a direct homage to that film and that sequence is so moving that it brought tears to my eyes.

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, in their third screen pairing together, exhibit palpable chemistry as a pair of career minded souls who fatefully meet in a dance number set on the LA freeway at the beginning of the film. The story follows their ups and downs as he tries to make it as a jazz pianist and she attempts to crack the film business and make it as an actress. There’s an undercurrent of sadness and melancholia that runs through the film that serves as an excellent counterpoint to the song and dance numbers sprinkled throughout the film.

If there’s a quibble in regards to the film it would be that the actual songs aren’t as strong or as memorable as one might like. Still, there’s enough great stuff going on here to almost guarantee a good time at the movies. 

Collateral Beauty (* ½) 

I just can’t help but wonder what a visiting race of extraterrestrials might make of the way that human grief is depicted in the new Will Smith drama Collateral Beauty. Since this film and the way it depicts grief is about as rooted in reality as, say, the latest Star Wars film, I would hope that an advanced race might look elsewhere if they were to attempt to find a clue to the experience of being human and the losses we must face.

It certainly isn’t anywhere on display here.    Smith plays an ad executive whose six-year old daughter died of a glioblastoma (i.e., a brain tumor) and he can’t seem to move on.

Will Smith & Helen Mirren in ‘Beauty’

We know she died of this because the characters repeat the term roughly a dozen times during the film as if to alert the audience that they really aren’t smart enough to know what this is so they’ll have characters make mention of it every ten minutes to make sure audience members know.

The whole movie is an insult to anyone who’s lost a child with its annoying, platitude heavy dialogue. Come to think of it, it’s also an insult to any self-respecting moviegoer.     Smith’s colleagues in the film (Kate Winslet, Edward Norton, Michael Pena) make attempts to shake him out of his doldrums by enlisting some member of a local acting ensemble, which includes Keira Knightley and Helen Mirren. It all rings hollow and there’s not a character to be found with any depth, making it hard to connect with anyone in the film on a human level. As a consequence, the whole cast is wasted, having been saddled with sub par material. If this is Smith’s attempt to nab an Oscar nomination he’s got a big surprise coming when the nominations are announced in roughly a month.    

Nocturnal Animals is playing in Charlotte. La La Land is set to open soon in Hickory, and Collateral Beauty opens this Friday in Hickory.

Questions or comments? Write Adam at



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