“Life”

LOUISA: 3 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

“Life” is a movie about death, a strange sci-fi / horror hybrid that is certainly not destined to be a crowd pleaser. This dark, bleak film provides a few suspense-filled thrills but not nearly enough, and the paper-thin “Aliens” rip-off (or is it homage?) story feels all too familiar.

It’s predictable with far too much hokey dialogue and mildly schlocky scares, but at least the film is grounded with commendable performances, particularly from Jake Gyllenhaal, Hiroyuki Sanada, Rebecca Ferguson, and Ryan Reynolds as the ill-fated astronauts trapped onboard a space station with a killer alien. As the deaths begin to pile up, the bloody killings become repetitive and lose all impact (with the exception of the very first victim’s death scene: it’s effective, horrific, and upsetting). The film quickly becomes a bit of a snore when it’s made clear that the audience is in for more of the same for the next 90 minutes, and it ends with a twist that’s so predictable you’ll see it coming early on.

The special effects are wholly mediocre, which proves to be a significant problem because one of the film’s stars is an animated alien named Calvin, and there are plenty of exterior shots of the space station that look unsightly and very, very fake. Even worse, the hostile alien life form turned brilliant murderer plot is just plain dumb.

If you are a fan of science fiction and horror, you could do much worse, but you’d be better served by just re-watching “Aliens” instead.

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“Nocturnal Animals”

LOUISA: 4 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

Tom Ford is quickly cementing himself as one of my favorite film directors, a man with such an impressive, original eye for visual beauty that it’s almost unfair to others who work in the medium. His gorgeous direction is filled with unparalleled finesse and ingenuity, making his films true works of art; it’s amazing how a clothing designer can so flawlessly shift from the world of fashion to the world of film. Ford is a true visual artist with not only an impeccable eye for stunning moving portraits, but he’s a talented screenwriter as well.

Ford effortlessly and skillfully balances two very strenuous narratives within one lurid, complex tale. The film, based on the Austin Wright novel “Tony and Susan,” tells the story of divorced couple Susan (Amy Adams), an art gallery owner, and Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal), a writer. When Edward sends Susan a copy of his latest manuscript (the novel titled “Nocturnal Animals”), she begins to discover a somber truth about herself, her previous relationship with Edward, and the torment from consequences that fester after a decade of resentment and regret.

Ford seamlessly weaves three different timelines for his characters: the early years of their relationship, present day disappointment, and the fictional story within the story. The constantly shifting timeline is sure to leave many viewers confused, as this is a smart film that’s made for moviegoers who pay close attention and relish every seemingly insignificant detail on display. Fans of Refyn and Lynch will love this film.

The most dark, suspenseful tale is the actual plot of the novel: a man named Tony (Gyllenhaal) is traveling on a deserted road with his wife and daughter (Isla Fisher, Ellie Bamber) when a group of hillbilly punks and their alpha trash leader Ray (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) run them off the road. Something painfully tragic occurs, and Tony enlists the help of morally ambiguous West Texas detective Bobby Andes (Michael Shannon) to track down his family.

Shannon is absolutely magnificent in this role; he’s unusually subdued, dynamically forceful, and incredibly powerful. In fact, every single performance from the ensemble cast is a true standout, from Adams’ hauntingly cold artist to Gyllenhaal’s dual role as a weak charmer as well as a desperate, grieving family man.

The cinematography (by Seamus McGarvey) is provocative and visually dazzling, filled with textural images that you’ll want to reach out and touch. This is a dark, haunting and insanely gorgeous film. The remarkable original score by composer Abel Korzeniowski is appropriately macabre and angry yet elegant, a fitting complement to this very grim mystery.

“Nocturnal Animals” is a stylish revenge thriller that’s violent and shocking, but it’s not pointless or careless with its characters or subject matter. This is an intensely distressing and disturbing tale of brutality that blurs the line between reality and fiction.

The constant shift in tone, story and timelines can be a bit messy at times, but it’s also what makes this film so compelling. It’s a striking, bleak exploration of the human condition and the ways we find to cope with our massive failures in life and love, as well as our role as a protector of what’s important in both.

“Demolition”

LOUISA:   5 STARS   MATT:   5 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

“Demolition” is an offbeat movie that delves deep in its exploration of grief and human relationships. It’s a decidedly adult drama about self-discovery, at times considerably emotional and slightly subversive. This is complex filmmaking at its finest, and this movie spoke to me. There’s a lot going on here; so much that I can’t wait to watch the movie again. I’m sure it will get even richer with subsequent viewings.

After his wife Julia (Heather Lind) is tragically killed in a car crash where he’s in the passenger seat, Davis (Jake Gyllenhaal) begins to fall apart. His father-in-law Phil (Chris Cooper) watches as Davis’ life unravels (and weighty secrets are gradually unearthed). A handwritten complaint letter to a vending machine company over a $1.25 refund for a pack of peanut M&Ms leads to Davis’ path crossing with pothead Karen (Naomi Watts) and her sexually confused son (Judah Lewis). Soon after, a strange friendship ensues and Davis literally begins to tear apart his former life. He becomes obsessed with dismantling everything in site, from espresso machines, bathroom doors, clocks, and ultimately his own memories.

This film is completely self-aware yet not cliched. (Believe me, I was ready to start rolling my eyes when Davis drives past an uprooted tree, but then we hear his voice-over blurt out that “everything has become a metaphor”). This is just one of the many perceptive aspects of the movie that thoroughly worked for me. I found it easy to relate to the story and there was something in each of the characters that rang true in my own personal experiences. Nothing feels forced — even the overt symbolism — because it’s presented in a way that elicits empathy and is wholly engaging. The authenticity keeps the story from sinking into a commonplace melodrama.

The main reason I loved this film is due to the brilliant screenplay. It’s wordy, insightful, intelligent and hands-down gets my vote for my favorite (and best written) screenplay so far this year. (I can’t believe it was written by Bryan Sipe, the same writer who adapted the Nicholas Sparks novel “The Choice” for the screen).

There are so many things that worked in this film: the killer soundtrack, the all-around solid performances from the cast (Gyllenhaal continues his streak as the new master of the edgy performance), the style of the poignant vignettes of pleasant memories of the lead character’s former life, and especially the story exposition through letter writing. When Davis begins unloading his grief and life story in his letters, the truth begins to emerge. When he writes “I don’t think I really knew who she was” about his dead wife, you get a real glimpse of honesty about his marriage and his character. I loved, loved, LOVED the storytelling device of letter writing.

Hat’s off to director Jean-Marc Vallée (“Dallas Buyers Club,” “Wild”); he’s created a fantastic work of art. Memorable scenes are everywhere, from a cathartic solo dancing bit on a bustling New York City street to the actual bulldozing of a window-heavy house to a very moving (and funny) scene about gender identity in a hardware store. One of my favorite scenes is when Davis, numb with grief, volunteers to do some work with a demolition crew. While working he steps on a nail. At first Davis howls in pain but his screams quickly turn to gleeful laughter as he realizes that yes, he still can feel pain. There are so many affecting scenes just like this, many filled with gratifying emotional surprises. It’s painfully beautiful.

“Demolition” excels in telling its narrative of loneliness, self-destruction, shock, grief and emptiness in a tender and realistic way (and even adds a bit of dark humor to the mix). The movie feels raw, gut-wrenching, believable and authentic.

As I finished writing this review, I actually just said aloud: “damn, I really loved this movie.”

MATT SAYS:

“Repairing the human heart is like repairing an automobile. You have to take everything apart, just examine everything, and then you can put it all back together.”

This advice – given to Davis Mitchell (Jake Gyllenhall) by his father-in-law, Phil (Chris Cooper) – is the engine that drives “Demolition,” the newest film from director Jean-Marc Vallée (“Wild” and “Dallas Buyers Club“). Davis is a successful investment banker working for Phil’s company who seemingly has it all: the Porsche, the flashy modern house in the suburbs, the beautiful wife, the designer clothes, and an impressive office perched high up in a gleaming skyscraper. In an instant, a car accident takes the life of his wife, Julia (Heather Lind), and suddenly, Davis doesn’t know how to act. As a human being, Davis knows that he should be grieving for his loss, but in truth he can’t feel anything. His co-workers, parents, and in-laws all expect him to be overcome with sadness, but he isn’t. He’s numb, and he admits to himself and to his doctor that he’s felt that way for a long time. Davis wants to feel something about Julia’s death, and he feels like he’s broken because he doesn’t.

Part of Davis’s problem is that he realizes that he never really knew Julia. He married her because – in his mind – that’s what society expected of him and it was the easiest thing to do. Now that she’s gone, he doesn’t miss her but he’s trying to. So he takes Phil’s advice quite literally and begins “taking apart his marriage” by disassembling or destroying the shiny things he and Julia accumulated during their marriage. Along the way, he strikes up a unique friendship with Karen Moreno (Naomi Watts) who is drawn to Davis and his soul-searching honesty. It is through his new relationship with Karen and her teenage son Chris (Judah Lewis) that we see Davis begin to find again what he feels that he lost.

“Demolition” is an expertly-crafted reflection on the nature of marriage and the value we give to our lives and our loved ones. Who is this person we’ve chosen to live our life with? Are we appreciating our spouse for who she or he is, or do we see that person as another thing we’ve collected; a status symbol, a way to signify to ourselves and others that we’ve made it and that we matter? And even if we married for the “right” reasons – for love – what will happen to us if we don’t take care of that love? It is these very human questions that “Demolition” explores and attempts to answer, and I adored every minute of it.

Jake Gyllenhaal isn’t just cast well as Davis. He OWNS this role. I’m not sure anyone else could have pulled it off as well as he did: Davis’s mien may be inscrutable, but he’s not; he may appear cold-hearted, but he’s not; he may seem unaffected by his wife’s death, but he’s not. He’s struggling with his humanity in a world where he’s learned to place far too much value on facades and the trappings of success without learning what it means to live richly. Gyllenhaal’s nuanced performance perfectly captures the dichotomy between how the world views him and how he views the world. This is expressed not only through what’s been left on the screen for us to see, but also through his inner monologue, which we hear expressed as a series of letters written by Davis to a customer service department for a vending machine company. This technique for expressing voice-over narration may sound gimmicky on paper, but in execution it works beautifully.

As Karen and Phil, Watts and Cooper are also excellent as usual. But apart from Gyllenhaal, the other standout in this movie is Judah Lewis. As Chris – a young adult confused about his own life, sexuality, and place in the world — Lewis serves as Davis’s mentee and partner-in-crime. Take it from me: this young man is an actor to watch.

In its contemplation of big ideas about marriage, society, love, and the ways in which we seek to define ourselves to others, “Demolition” acquits itself admirably. It’s interesting, it’s thought-provoking, and it’s very, very human.