Nocturnal Animals (2016)

Rating: 7 of 10

movie poster Nocturnal Animals (2016)A dark and depressing story within a story, yet also triumphant and empowering.

Synopsis: “An art gallery owner is haunted by her ex-husband’s novel, a violent thriller she interprets as a veiled threat and a symbolic revenge tale.” (source)

My thoughts: NOCTURNAL ANIMALS will resonate most with viewers who:

* have been dumped for the very thing that first attracted their ex (e.g., sensitive, creative, loyal);

* broke up with someone because, whether consciously or subconsciously, they knew it’s what their mother/ father/ family/ society wanted them to do;

* threw away a great partner on a whim, only to years later realize that person was “the one”; or,

* had their heart broken and used their writing to exact revenge.

Be warned: The opening credits will likely cause discomfort. Keep an open mind about what Susan (Amy Adams) is trying to convey with that exhibit. From that point forward I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen. Tom Ford is an excellent storyteller, and he uses the story-within-a-story frame to tell us everything we need to know and understand about Susan and Edward. I’ll admit, the ending left me…conflicted. On the one hand, I was like “Dammmmmn!” On the other hand, I was like “Awwwww!”

If you’re someone who can see the same situation from different sides, you’ll understand why I was left somewhere in the middle of satisfied and dissatisfied. But, as the credits rolled, I walked out of the theater with a big smile on my face.

Highly recommended if you enjoyed movies like MR NOBODY or MEMENTO.

Check out NOCTURNAL ANIMALS official website and trailer on Focus Features | on IMDb | on Twitter

(Watched at AMC Lennox 12/7/2016)

Arrival (2016)

Rating: 10 of 10

movie poster Arrival (2016)At whatever point you’re at in your life right now, if given the opportunity, would you do it all over again? You’d experience all the highs, every low, the moments of pure bliss, and the situations you didn’t think you’d survive.

Synopsis: “When mysterious spacecraft touch down across the globe, an elite team — led by expert translator Louise Banks (Amy Adams) — races against time to decipher their intent. As tensions mount between fearful governments, Banks discovers the aliens’ true purpose and, to avert global war, takes a chance that could threaten her life, and quite possibly humanity.” (source)

My thoughts: The only movie, of 261 movies watched in 2016, that I gave 10 stars. I had to make myself not buy another ticket and watch it again immediately.

Normally, if someone I know in real life hasn’t seen a movie yet, I keep my opinions to myself so as not to taint their expectations. There was no way I could do that with ARRIVAL. I told everyone I knew they HAD to see it *cough* andloveit *cough* or else I would shun them. Only half serious…

Unfortunately, I can’t share much in the way of specifics; one of the things that makes ARRIVAL a spectacular film is learning the truth right along with Louise. All I’ll say is, if you enjoy sci-fi movies that wrinkle your brain and punch you in the feels, you won’t be disappointed. Not since JUNEBUG and SUNSHINE CLEANING has Amy Adams given such a deeply affecting performance. Her portrayal of Louise Banks reminded why I adore her as an actor and why I watch all her movies.

I wanted to read the short story on which ARRIVAL is based before watching the film, but I couldn’t resist; the trailer just looked too damn good! It’s on my to-read list for 2017, though. “Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang, available in the collection, Stories of Your Life and Others, published by Small Beer Press. Those I know who’ve read it tell me it’s excellent.

Check out ARRIVAL Why are they here? | official website and trailer | on IMDb | on Facebook | on Twitter

(Watched at AMC Lennox 12/5/2016)

I Am Not a Serial Killer (2016)

Rating: 7 of 10

movie poster I Am Not a Serial Killer (2016)An insouciant thriller that’s more character study than edge-of-your-seat, whodunit.

Synopsis: “Sixteen-year-old John Wayne Cleaver is not a serial killer—but he has all the makings of one. Keeping his homicidal tendencies and morbid obsessions with death and murder in check is a constant struggle that only gets harder when a real serial killer begins terrorizing his sleepy Midwestern town. Now, in order to track down a psychopath and protect those around him, John must unleash his darkest inner demons.” (source)

My thoughts: Years back I read the young adult book on which this movie was based. It was a solid story, one I knew had the potential to be an entertaining movie.

Happily, this adaptation didn’t let me down. Where I think the movie sets itself apart from the book is its atmosphere and grittiness. Add to that Christopher Lloyd, an impressive performance by Max Records as John, and you have one of the best indie horror movies I’ve seen in 2016.

Highly recommended if you enjoyed movies like NIGHTCRAWLER, STOKER, or HARD CANDY.

Check out I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER official website and trailer on IFC Midnight | on IMDb | on Twitter

(Watched on Amazon 11/18/2016)

Equals (2015)

Rating: 7 of 10

movie poster Equals (2015)Feelings complicate just about everything in life. So what would happen if people permanently suppressed their emotions? Everyone would function as thought-based beings motivated by logical actions and rational behaviors. The result of which would be widespread peace and harmony, right?

Synopsis: “Kristen Stewart and Nicholas Hoult play Nia and Silas, two people who work together in a futuristic society known as “The Collective.” A seemingly utopian world, “The Collective” has ended crime and violence by genetically eliminating all human emotions. Despite this, Nia and Silas can’t help noticing a growing attraction between them, leading them to a forbidden relationship—at first tentative, but then exploding into a passionate romance. As suspicion begins to mount among their superiors, the couple will be forced to choose between going back to the safety of the lives they have always known, or risk it all to try and pull off a daring escape.” (source)

My thoughts: EQUALS presented its technologically advanced future with a sterile aesthetic rendered through a suffusion of cold hues and modernist architecture. I recall very little, if any, natural elements like trees or wildlife. Or anything lending a softness to its surroundings. Everyone and everything is controlled, evaluated, moderated. Its atmosphere was one of isolation within forced cooperation. Like most “utopian” societies, in reality, it was more of a dystopia for its inhabitants. And, while the premise isn’t groundbreaking, there was still much to think about.

But I’ll admit, for me, the reason EQUALS succeeded was Silas and Nia. Their chemistry was palpable, and both showed a lifetime’s worth of emotion without the physicality of those feelings; e.g., facial expressions or intonation. When they finally risk it all to touch, just the edge of his hand to hers, I was captivated. If I hadn’t liked Silas, who we meet first, and then Nia, the movie wouldn’t have affected me much. Their self-discovery and pursuit of an existence beyond what they’re told is right, pushed this film beyond the standard genre fare.

Highly recommended if you enjoyed movies like THE GIVER, EQUILIBRIUM, or GATTACA.

Check out EQUALS official website and trailer | on A24 Films | on IMDb | on Facebook

(Watched DVD on 10/5/2016)

The Invitation (2015)

Rating: 8 of 10

movie poster The Invitation (2015)A slow-burn psychological thriller, during which you might predict one, or maybe even two of the twists, but the ending will leave you breathless.

Synopsis: “A haunted man attending a dinner party at the house he once called home becomes gripped with paranoia that his ex-wife and her new husband are harboring an insidious agenda.” (source)

My thoughts: We enter the movie as Will (Logan Marshall-Green) who’s accepted a dinner invitation from his ex-wife, Eden (Tammy Blanchard), and her new husband, David (Michiel Huisman). So all of the evening’s events unfold through Will’s eyes, and that’s the key to THE INVITATION’s brilliance!

Right away we can feel the tension in the room; Will may be at the dinner but he certainly doesn’t want to be, and even the hosts don’t seem all that happy that he accepted the invitation. We’re on edge almost as soon as Will walks in the door: what exactly happened between Will and Eden? Why did they get divorced? And, if the divorce was as contentious as it appears, why was Will invited? Then we watch, from the edge of our seats, as a group of people so programmed to be polite, actively ignore their sense that something’s off.

Will’s the only person who asks the questions we, the audience, are thinking, and he’s constantly told to calm down.
Until the very end, we’re never sure if what our gut is telling us is actually Will’s reality, or just his paranoia.

Highly recommended if you enjoyed movies like CREEP or SOUND OF MY VOICE.

Check out THE INVITATION official website and trailer | on Gamechanger Films | on IMDb | on Facebook

(Watched on Netflix 9/7/2016)

The Lobster (2015)

Rating: 8 of 10

movie poster The Lobster (2015)Part satire, part fable, and most definitely not for everyone. This weird little gem of a sci-fi/ fantasy movie will charm the hearts of its target audience.

Synopsis: “THE LOBSTER is a blackly funny love story set in a near future where finding love is a matter of life or death.” (source)

My thoughts: Set in a dystopian near future where single people have 45 days to “fall in love” or else be turned into an animal, which they’ve chosen ahead of time, and then released into the woods, where they will inevitably be hunted and killed at some point. So beautifully strange and ridiculous, but also a poignant reminder of just how powerful quests for love and individuality can be.

For all the single peeps who find absurd the amount of pressure – spoken or not – on everyone to be partnered up. Highly recommended if you enjoyed movies with unconventional love stories like ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE, ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND, or LARS AND THE REAL GIRL.

Check out THE LOBSTER What animal would you be? (official website) and trailer | on A24 Films | on IMDb | on Facebook

(Watched DVD on 8/23/2016)

Hello, My Name Is Doris (2015)

Rating: 7 of 10

movie poster Hello, My Name Is Doris (2015)It’s never too late to live the life you always wanted.

Synopsis: “After a lifetime of being overlooked and ignored, a woman of a certain age finds her world turned upside down by a handsome new co-worker and a self-help seminar that inspires her to take a chance on love in Hello, My Name is Doris, a witty and compassionate late-life coming-of-age-story.” (source)

My thoughts: Sally Field plays Doris, a single women in her sixties who still lives in her childhood home, now alone in that house following the death of her mother. Oh, and she’s a hoarder. Quirky is one word to describe Doris. She’s quiet, prone to daydreaming, socially awkward, and yet she’s unafraid to wear whatever she wants and her sense of style is…different. While it’s slightly uncomfortable to watch Doris navigate life, especially after the self-help seminar motivates her to go after that which is most likely unattainable, there’s also an excitement to the story, wondering just where Doris will end up. The interactions between Doris and the hipsters are hilarious!

A coming of age story that proves you’re never too old to start living the life you always dreamed of.

Highly recommended if you enjoyed films like GARDEN STATE or RUSHMORE.

Check out HELLO, MY NAME IS DORIS official website and trailer | on IMDb | on Facebook

(Watched DVD on 7/30/2016)

Midnight Special (2016)

Rating: 8 of 10

movie poster Midnight Special (2016)The mystery will reel you in; the climax will swallow you whole.

Synopsis: “What starts as a race from religious extremists and local law enforcement quickly escalates to a nationwide manhunt involving the highest levels of the Federal Government. Risking everything, Roy is committed to helping Alton reach his ultimate purpose, whatever that might be and whatever it costs, in a story that takes audiences on a perilous journey from Texas to the Florida coast, while exploring the bonds of love and trust, and the nature of faith.” (source)

My thoughts: Roy’s devotion to Alton is the kind of parental love often lacking in modern cinema. I’m not sure if it’s a “sign of the times” or if it’s filmmakers’ commentary on the ever-expanding chasm between parents and kids (especially teenagers); the way kids have become an “Other” in a world where adults ostracize the Others because they misunderstand them and, by extension, fear them. Regardless, the heart of MIDNIGHT SPECIAL is the relationship between parent and child, and it shows just how high a child can reach when that parent supports them but also knows when to let them go so that they may fulfill their destiny on their own.

Highly recommended if you enjoyed films like TAKE SHELTER or KNOWING.

Check out MIDNIGHT SPECIAL official website and trailer | on IMDb | on Facebook | on Twitter

(Watched DVD on 7/28/2016)

The Hallow (2015)

Rating: 6 of 10

movie poster The Hallow (2015)A dark fantasy inspired by Irish myths and folklore that’ll make you extra vigilant the next time you go wandering in the woods.

Synopsis: “When a conservationist is sent to Ireland with his wife and infant child to survey an area of forest believed to be hallowed ground by superstitious locals, his actions unwittingly disturb a horde of demonic creatures who prey upon the lost. Alone and deep within the darkness of the remote wilderness, he must now fight back to protect his family against the ancient forces’ relentless attack.” (source)

My thoughts: When mainstream audiences, especially those who don’t read a lot, hear “fairy tale,” they think Disney and cute characters and poofy skirts and happily-ever-afters for everyone (except the “villains,” of course). The truth is, fairy tales are dark, scary, and often filled with all sorts of horrible goings-on. And that’s not even taking into account stories with actual faeries, based on the ‘Fae’ or ‘Fair Folk’ as they’re sometimes called.

So I was pleasantly surprised to discover THE HALLOW, which I at first took for a run-of-the-mill creature feature. Turns out this is one terrifying supernatural horror movie! Outstanding effects made the “creatures” even more ghoulish and frightening, and I especially enjoyed the depiction of changelings. The isolated setting and the mysterious “fungus” evoked such a feeling of claustrophobia and suffocation that I felt their influence right along with Adam and Claire. The ending says, to me, that no matter how much we tear down and destroy, nature will always fight back.

Highly recommended if you enjoyed films like PAN’S LABYRINTH or NEVERLAKE.

Check out THE HALLOW on IFC Midnight | on IMDb | on Facebook | Watch the trailer

(Watched on Netflix 6/10/2016)

Howl (2015)

Rating: 7 of 10

movie poster Howl (2015)Hmm, where’s the worst possible place for a commuter train to break down? Oh, I don’t know: in the middle of nowhere, at night, surrounded by werewolves?!!

Synopsis: “A new psychological werewolf creature feature…” (source)

My thoughts: Wasn’t I just saying not too long ago that there weren’t enough werewolves in modern horror movies? Well ask and ye shall receive. While I did relate to Joe and his difficulties in having to work with the general public, most of the train’s passengers weren’t all that likable. So where HOWL succeeds brilliantly is in amping up the uber creepy atmosphere and delivering stellar creature effects. Plus, these werewolves seem the type based more on folklore than cinematic history.

Highly recommended if you enjoyed films like LAST PASSENGER or THE DESCENT.

Check out HOWL on IMDb | Watch the trailer

(Watched DVD on 4/22/2016)