The Woman in the Window (2021)

womwindwIf you’re going to steal, steal from the best. Well, maybe that’s not fair. Its possibly not this film that was doing the stealing (one has to point a suspicious finger towards the original novel written by A.J. Finn that this film is based on) but that being the case, visually this film is so wholly indebted to a certain directors filmography its almost brutal; there is no subtlety at all. They even have clips of some Hitchcock films playing on the in-movie television screens as if there’s some knowing in-joke that might escape us. Don’t worry, we get it.

There’s also something sad about A-list Hollywood talent, in front of and behind the camera, slumming in a C-list movie (I write that with all due respect to Liam Neeson). It generally results in a very pretty, stylish, visually sophisticated film with high production values with very good actors in very underwritten roles uttering banal dialogue from  a derivative, seen-it-all-before-in-better-movies script. Which so entirely sums up The Woman in the Window that I really don’t need to write anything more. Amy Adams tries, I guess, although her better roles seem to threaten to fade into obscurity considering some of her later role choices, and Julianne Moore is really good, but the rest, most notably Gary Oldman who clearly seems to be wishing he was someplace else (we’re with you on that, Gary), well, its pretty dire stuff on the thespian front. 

Most damning of all… well, if you’re going to steal, come up to the bat and offer at least one reason why you think you’re worthy of stealing from a classic like Rear Window, some modern twist other than changing the sex of the protagonist. You don’t just put Amy Adams in the Jimmy Stewart role with agoraphobia instead of a broken leg and think that’s twist enough, in a film as redundant as the Christopher Reeve 1998 Rear Window tv-movie remake (albeit I’ll always give Reeve his a pass), and think that your modern production tricks can supplant Hitchcock. Because it can’t and you won’t. 

A Nocturnal Vertigo

noct12017.44: Nocturnal Animals (2016)

This film may not be perfect, and it may not completely reach for what it strives for, but goodness me, I have to salute the ambition behind it, which is a rare enough thing to find in film these days. If anything it is this very ambition that may undermine it- crafted like a work of art as much as a mainstream movie, the film is exquisitely shot and framed but there’s a sterile coldness to much of it -likely deliberate- that distances the viewer from it (although it’s certainly not as emotionally detached as a Christopher Nolan film, say). Just getting through the main title sequence would be too much for some (and what it even adds to the film, or says, is a matter of conjecture).

Suffice to say that this film is no less than a modern-day Vertigo; a romantic, psychological thriller laced with awful sadness, regrets and loneliness that may leave you thinking about it for days. To complain that it doesn’t reach the heights of Vertigo (sic) is of course nonsense- Vertigo is a timeless classic that we may never see the likes of again. At least Nocturnal Animals aims high enough to deserve comparison – a fine compliment as it is.

noct2Nocturnal Animals is structured as a film within a film within a film- a fascinating puzzle to explore and obtain meaning from. In a sterile environment of empty spaces, Amy Adams is Susan, who lives a life of wealth and comfort as an art dealer, with a luxury home, beautiful (if increasingly distant) husband, servants and personal assistants. She seems to have it all- but seems to be realising she lacks fulfillment. A package arrives one morning containing the proof copy of a book written by her ex-husband, Edward, entitled Nocturnal Animals, which is dedicated to her. Having a quiet weekend whilst her husband leaves on business to New York (we soon learn this is a cover for his affair with a mistress), Susan reads the book, and we witness her minds-eye picture of the book as a film within the film. This book/film is a noir-ish pulp potboiler of tragedy and revenge in which she pictures her husband as the protagonist and her younger self as his wife. Bookended throughout all of this are her recollections, triggered by reading the book, of her past relationship with her husband -how they met, their affair and how their marriage painfully (for him) ended,  a timeline which is almost third film in itself. The difficulty in weaving these three timelines so well, so each informs and reveals things about the others, is something that deserves some consideration, and it’s  quite a feat that it works so well and that we always seem aware of ‘when’ things are happening, what is real and what is the book’s fiction. Actually, now that I think about it, that ‘real’ is pretty much subjective in itself, as the reality is Susan’s reality, the past as she sees it, just as the book is how Susan sees that. Revelations slowly unfold until we arrive at a painful finale that is both discomforting, frustrating and yet somehow perfect. There is a revenge in the real-world just as there is in the novel.

Amy Adams. What can I say? Another amazing performance which, like the same years Arrival, deserved but somehow didn’t get a nomination. Perhaps there is some truth to the theory that having two deserving performances actually did her a disservice by spitting her vote?  Nonetheless these two films have raised her to some kind of remarkable level of craft and leave me keenly anticipating any film she appears in.

Special mention to Abel Korzeniowski’s beautiful, soulful score- as major a character in this film as Herrmann’s score is to Vertigo, performing much the same function. It’s a haunting work that is sparse but incredibly powerful. Korzeniowski is some kind of genius at this kind of stuff, whose romantic, haunting and yearning music served similar duties in the excellent Penny Dreadful tv series. It reminds me of John Barry as well as Herrmann. If only this quality of music was the norm and not the exception to film-scoring these days! This is of the quality we used to get in the 1970s, richly emotional, layered scoring. The film would be much lesser without it.

 

 

Arrival’s painful Oscar snub

arr5

“And Amy Adams? If this film doesn’t reward her with an Oscar nomination, there is no justice. She manages such a powerful, understated performance it will likely be under the Oscar radar (Oscar loves the big loud and melodramatic ‘Look At Me I’m Acting’stuff). There is so much going on in just her eyes, its breathtaking really.”

I wrote the passage above as part of my review of Arrival back in November. Alas, I have been proved right. The Oscar nominees have been revealed this week for the 2017 Oscars, and while Arrival has done extremely well, garnering several nominations, in my eyes the most deserved was not forthcoming. Clearly it was not a traditionally showy  ‘look at me I’m acting’ performance that easily grabs attention, it was much more subtle and nuanced, so I would not expect her to win the Best Actress statuette but certainly a nomination was surely deserved.

Okay, we all know the Oscars is nonsense and shouldn’t be taken seriously, there is far too much politics and studio/career maneuvering at work to really consider it a balanced award based on actual merit, but really, this snub for Amy Adam’s work in Arrival is still pretty shocking. Its not as if Arrival was a dumb sci-fi blockbuster (the genre always struggles to be taken seriously by the arthouse crowd full of their own self-importance) This was a serious and adult film with performances and story worthy of praise from most critics, and even managed to do well commercially at the box-office too.

If by some miracle Arrival actually wins Best Picture… well, there’s no chance really- Oscar just ignored the heart and quiet soul of a film-carrying performance, so it hardly going to recognise that film, is it?

Something certainly went wrong here. Nevermind, I’ll just snub Oscar right back.

Arrival (2016)

arrival2016.89: Arrival (Cinema)

Film of the year.

Yes, its that good. Everything you may have heard from reviews/word of mouth since those September previews is true. Good grief this film is something special. I actually think it is also one of, perhaps the most intense emotional cinematic experiences of my life. I almost staggered out of the cinema, fighting back tears, feeling like my heart had been pulled out of my chest. Just thinking about it now, hours later, almost breaks me up. I feel like an emotional punchbag, a wreck. Its been such a long time since a film connected with me so profoundly.

To be fair, this film clearly can’t and won’t have this effect on everyone. Its just one of those rare cinematic experiences that came at just the right moment, just when I have been personally going through such a rough time these past few months, in order for it to connect with me in such a profound way. Its almost like Denis Villeneuve made this film just for me, as if it was speaking just to me, striking me right between the eyes. Its a beautiful film.

With it being a new release just out at the cinema, I won’t go into spoilers, I’ll leave that for the disc release next year. This is really a film that needs to be seen with as little foreknowledge as possible. I’m certain everyone knows the premise of alien ships arriving on Earth and the attempts at First Contact that follow. Its the story behind that story that is so profound and which I will not go into here. I’d read the short story Ted Chiang ‘Story of Your Life‘on which the film is based, so I knew it would be a heady brew of cerebral science fiction, but good lord, Villeneuve nailed the emotional heart of that story too. Its so rare for such an intelligent piece of serious, adult science fiction to be put on screen as it is, but to nail the emotional side, to make it so achingly sad and tragic and beautiful, its… well, words fail me. This film is everything Interstellar wanted to be.

I could understand the title change to Arrival making the film an easier sell, but its clear that ‘Story of Your Life’ would indeed have been a more fitting title. Its the story of all our lives, of how we live them, experience the joy and pain. Its powerful film-making, its a work of art. This guy is making Blade Runner 2049 even as I type this. My God my expectations for that film are going to be going through the roof now.

And Amy Adams? If this film doesn’t reward her with an Oscar nomination, there is no justice. She manages such a powerful, understated performance it will likely be under the Oscar radar (Oscar loves the big loud and melodramatic ‘Look At Me I’m Acting’stuff). There is so much going on in just her eyes, its breathtaking really. The rest of the cast is sublime, the cinematography is beautiful while also rather subtle, and the music score is such an alien-sounding, other-worldly and intense experience its like another character in the film, quite extraordinary.

I’m afraid I may be hyping this film too much, that it can never hope to live up to this praise for most other people. It just connected with me, I won’t apologise for that. Sadly the cinema screening I attended had only a dozen people in there other than my wife and I. I do hope this manages to find its audience. I urge anyone reading this to go see it big and loud on the big screen.

Maybe come back and talk about it in the comments. We can do spoilers in the comments, yes? Cool.