Posts Tagged ‘Armie Hammer’

If there were any questions left on Tom Ford’s directorial skills, Nocturnal Animals has answered them all. After his 2009 debut, A Single Man, the 55-year old fashion designer-turned-director comes back to Venice with Nocturnal Animals, a poignant and gripping tale that feels like something in between a thriller and a brutal satire of modern-day Los-Angeles’ socialites, shot with a confidence one would hardly expect from a director’s second feature.

But Ford is known for his ability to take everyone by surprise, and after his memorable entry into the world of film-making, he writes, directs and produces yet another visually mesmerising film that conveys a mixture of angst and nostalgia that stays with the viewer until the very last shot.

Susan (Amy Adams) is a Texas-born thirty-something year-old who works in an art gallery in LA. She is married to a successful business man (Armie Hammer) and lives in a dream-house overlooking Los Angeles’ skyline. Yet we know from the start hers is not a happy life. She hobnobs with LA artists who appear to be more concerned with their latest plastic surgeries than the art they make, a world which, in the memorable words of a colleague of hers, may be empty, but surely feels a lot less painful than the real one. Things change the day she receives a gruesome thriller freshly written by her former husband Tony (Jake Gyllenhaal), and the novel makes her realise just how much she gave up to live the comfortable existence she now enjoys.

To some extent, Nocturnal Animals is neither revolutionary nor experimental. There are countless of films that deploy the catalyst which Ford uses to set the drama in motion: someone writes a book, that book becomes part of the film, and eventually the characters on the big screen end up relating with what was written, so that the book and the film become two intertwined worlds. But we do not know, and will only found out as the movie goes on, whether the book tells a story that Susan and Tony lived through during their years together. We do not know just what it is that attracts Susan so spasmodically about the novel and whether the book will reveal an abominable truth about her own life.

Ford is deliberately elusive about the subject, and this helps to keep the audience stuck to their seat until the film’s heart breaking ending. The camera shifts from the book to the movie effortlessly, and the transitions make for some visually stunning shots. All throughout Nocturnal Animals, Ford skilfully plays with the geometry of each scene, so much so that there are some that feel like movable paintings, in which the characters’ bodies look like perfectly crafted statues in a museum.

But this does not turn Nocturnal Animals into a collection of beautifully designed images, or – worse still – a celebration of the artificial world Susan inhabits. Far from it, LA’s arts scene and its inhabitants are constantly mocked, as Ford’s screenplay shifts back and forth from thriller to satire, ridiculing the junk-culture which Susan and her colleagues feed upon. It is this eclecticism that helps turning Nocturnal Animals into a remarkable film. Ford has written, produced and directed a film that is a joy to watch, and leaves you longing for more. It took him seven years to come back to Venice with his second feature. Hopefully the third will arrive much quicker.

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Few contemporary directors walk the line between the sublime and the ridiculous as closely as Tarsem. Mirror Mirror sees the artsy Indian director, whose previous credits include The Cell, The Fall and Immortals tackle the potent but unsettling fairy tale Snow White (which tells the story of a young princess, cast out by her vein stepmother only to be saved by a group of dwarfs and the prince she loves) with a campy sarcastic comedic style; a welcome approach given the story’s old fashioned subtext, hinging on the value of pale skinned youthfulness.

Combining laughs with Tarsem’s meticulous surrealistic aesthetic might seem a little odd, but it works surprisingly well. However, the film gets off to a something of an uneasy start with the narration by the evil Queen (Julia Roberts). Tarsem plays with the idea of whose story Mirror Mirror actually is, the Queen’s or Snow White’s (Lilly Collins). The Queen insists the story belongs to her, but we all know it is Snow White’s – this gives us a feeling akin to starting off on the wrong foot.

As soon as the Snow White character is established though Tarsem gets the storytelling on track. Lilly Collins, for what its worth, is charming as Snow White and refreshingly she doesn’t possess a sickly facade of innocence – this bolsters the film’s self-knowing irony. Collins also plays counterpoint to Roberts’ vein and frankly annoying Queen, giving the dynamic an essential sense of balance.

In line with his tongue in cheek interpretation Tarsem turns the ‘prince saves the princess’ cliche upside down; Collins’ Snow White becomes the motivating hero of the story, saving Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer). This is a significant choice as it undermines Snow White’s beatific innocence and makes her a much more robust female lead. This creates substantial laughs for the female section of the audience, at Armie Hammer’s expense.

Despite its sardonic modern wit Tarsem’s take on Snow White still leaves us feeling slightly uneasy, as we remember that the story’s ultimate horror is to become anything but youthful and pale skinned. It is strange to see that the film doesn’t tackle the plot conclusion with ridicule, while the majority of the film is gladly tongue in cheek. With this said the film does end on a slightly bizarre and unexpected high with a fun Bollywood-style credit sequence – a unmistakable nod to Tarsem’s Indian contemporaries.

Feeling like a mashup of slapstick comedy, Bollywood excess and surrealist pastiche Mirror Mirror is a film that just about comes together stylistically. However, in its treatment of the Brothers Grimm’s irrefutably dark story it would have still benefited from a more acidic kind of wit. It will be interesting to see how this film compares to Snow White and the Huntsman, Rupert Sanders’ darker cinematic take on the same story, due for release in the summer.

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