Daily Streaming Guide: March 21st Edition

My Daily Streaming Guide rolls along today with three new movies worthy of your binge watching consideration:

Amazon Prime

From 2007, David Fincher’s Zodiac finds the filmmaker in his dark and visually stylish wheelhouse. The man behind Seven and Fight Club meticulously details the case of the Zodiac Killer in the late 1960s and early 1970s with a top-notch cast including Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, and Robert Downey Jr. (one year before his first appearance as Tony Stark in the MCU).

Netflix

Speaking of stylish, Nicholas Winding Refn’s Drive from 2011 has it in spades. It also defies genre placement. Ryan Gosling doesn’t have much dialogue, but this is one of his finest roles as a stunt performer who moonlights in underground criminal circles. A contemplative pic with violent outbursts, Drive is a stunner.

Hulu

On the cinematic front, J.J. Abrams is best known for revitalizing the Star Trek and Star Wars series. His stand-alone 2011 effort Super 8 has a Stranger Things vibe before that landmark show existed. With a heavy Spielberg influence, it would have been right at home being released in 1985. It’s a lot of fun and there’s a humdinger of a trash crash sequence.

And that does it for now, folks! Until next time…

Nocturnal Animals Movie Review

Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals is centered on a woman living in a fancy world surrounded by her own boredom and regret at certain life choices. The film is an often fascinating mash-up of Hitchcock, a little De Palma inspired Hitchcock, and most surprisingly, a West Texas crime tale that looks and feels like this year’s earlier Hell or High Water. We also have a more conventional tale of a romance gone astray and the emotions involved with that. It’s a concoction that sometimes is a little messy, a tad campy at moments, veers in tone shifts, and is also directed a fashion designer who seems to know exactly what he wishes to fashion.

L.A. art gallery owner Susan Morrow (Amy Adams) is living a wealthy life in an unhappy marriage and a career she’s grown to believe is purposeless. One day, she receives a manuscript. It’s from her ex-husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal) that she was only married to for a couple years around college. The novel grabs her. It’s the aforementioned High Water looking story of a remarried Edward on a West Texas road trip with his wife and daughter when they are terrorized by bad guys led by a disheveled and effectively menacing Aaron Taylor-Johnson. Their encounter takes a dark and tragic turn and soon Edward is teaming up with a ranger (Michael Shannon, in a terrific performance) to deal with its aftermath.

The story cuts back and forth between the actions of Susan’s ex-flame’s West Texas narrative (is it real or not?) and her unhappy life on the West Coast. We also witness the courtship of them in college. This juxtaposition creates an often dream like quality (a little David Lynch thrown in for good measure) and it’s rather intoxicating. We basically get to know everything we need to know about Susan’s character in a great short scene with Laura Linney as her debutante mom. Other key characters and their motivations don’t become clear until later.

Nocturnal Animals looks gorgeous as you might expect from a designer that Jay-Z made a song about. The cinematography is stunning and the musical score is often reminiscent of something we’d hear in an old Hitch pic or perhaps De Palma homage. There are moments that recall Nicolas Winding Refn’s The Neon Demon in plot had that movie actually succeeded. Tom Ford wears his influences proudly and unabashedly in his sophomore effort. It’s anything but boring.

***1/2 (out of four)

The Neon Demon Movie Review

Five years ago, Nicolas Winding Refn made Drive, one of my absolute favorite pictures in years. The ultra stylish and occasionally extremely violent action thriller was light on plot, but heavy on atmosphere. I found it hypnotic. I was less enamored with Only God Forgives, the filmmaker’s follow-up two years later. Violent and fascinating to look at? Indeed it was and it had some good stuff in it. Yet I wrote at the time that it lacked soul and that’s something Drive had with the relationship between Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan.

Now we arrive at The Neon Demon and that whole soulless thing pervades this experience even more so. Elle Fanning stars as Jesse, fresh out of some small town and in Los Angeles to become a model. She’s sixteen, but tells everyone she’s 19. Jesse is stunningly beautiful and knows it. So does everyone around her and it infects them with feelings of jealousy and lust. This includes two other models (Abbey Lee and Bella Heathcote) and a makeup artist (Jena Malone) who befriends our wide eyed beauty for a while. Then there’s the photographer (Karl Glusman) who has the hots for her and the manager of the fleabag motel (Keanu Reeves) she’s staying at that might, too.

The central concept of The Neon Demon is that being gorgeous can get you somewhere in life, but it can be dangerous as well due to how it affects others. We pretty much get that within the first 15 minutes and then Demon just keeps going. And going. Anyone familiar with the director knows he favors style over substance and there are some technically pleasing shots to behold. Drive had an interesting enough story to go with the tone and visuals. Forgives did some of the time. This mostly doesn’t. It’s an ugly film about beautiful people.

I found myself simply not caring where the plot went and atmospherics weren’t enough to hold my attention. Nor were the performances. None are bad, but none really rise above the material. The final act gives us a tone shift that may you have you either rolling your eyes or trying to keep your lunch down. We’ve come a long way from the thrill I felt awaiting Refn’s next picture after Drive. With Demon, he seems stuck in reverse.

*1/2 (out of four)

Oscar History: 2011

For the Academy Awards, 2011 will forever be known as the year when a French black and white silent film came out of nowhere to win three major categories, including Best Picture. That would be The Artist and it picked up momentum over its rivals, becoming one of the more unlikely recipients of the prize in some time.

During that year, the number of Picture nominees was nine and it beat out The Descendants, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, The Help, Hugo, Midnight in Paris, Moneyball, The Tree of Life, and War Horse. 

As for some others I may have considered, my favorite film of the year was Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive. Another personal favorite: David Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Furthermore, the expanded list of nominees could have given the Academy a chance to nominate some of the better blockbusters that year: Rise of the Planet of the Apes or Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol for example.

The Artist‘s auteur Michel Hazanavicius would win Director over stellar competitors: Woody Allen (Midnight in Paris), Terrence Malick (The Tree of Life), Alexander Payne (The Descendants), and Martin Scorsese (Hugo). Again, Mr. Refn and Mr. Fincher would have made my cut.

The Artist love continued in Best Actor where Jean Dujardin took the prize over Demian Bichir (A Better Life), George Clooney (The Descendants), Gary Oldman in his first (??) nomination (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), and Brad Pitt (Moneyball).

I may have found room for Ryan Gosling’s silent but strong work in Drive or perhaps even Steve Carell in Crazy, Stupid, Love – in which he showed off real dramatic acting chops coupled with his comedic abilities for the first time.

Awards darling Meryl Streep took Best Actress for her portrayal of Margaret Thatcher (no relation) in The Iron Lady. Othern nominees: Glenn Close (Albert Nobbs), Viola Davis (The Help), Rooney Mara (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), and Michelle Williams (My Week with Marilyn).

The Academy’s penchant for ignoring comedy was shown here as Kristin Wiig should have merited consideration for her megahit Bridesmaids.

Beloved veteran Christopher Plummer won Supporting Actor for Beginners over Kenneth Branagh (My Week with Marilyn), Jonah Hill (Moneyball), Nick Nolte (Warrior), and Max Von Sydow (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close).

Two others I may have made room for: Albert Brooks in Drive and especially the brilliant motion capture work of Andy Serkis in Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

Octavia Spencer was victorious in Supporting Actress for The Help over her costar Jessica Chastain, as well as Berenice Bejo (The Artist), Melissa McCarthy in the rare nod for comedy in Bridesmaids, and Janet McTeer (Albert Nobbs).

Two other comedic performances worthy of consideration: Rose Byrne in Bridesmaids and Jennifer Aniston’s scene stealing work in Horrible Bosses. I also would have found room for Shailene Woodley in The Descendants.

And that’s your Oscar history for 2011, folks! I’ll have 2012 up in the near future.