3 new films, Arrival, Nocturnal Animals and a new Storyville.

Arrival.

Arrival.

Arrival divided critics when it reached cinemas this autumn, with some hailing it as a strong contender for film of the year and others wondering what all the fuss was about. It’s a scifi film from Canadian filmmaker Denis Villeneuve in which Amy Adams is given the task of trying to decode the alien language of the visitors who arrive here from outer space.

It is just about worth seeing, but only because of the subtle twist it has in its tail and the less you know about that the more pleasantly surprised you’ll be by it. But it’s a very conventional film. One to put your feet up to with a calming cup of cocoa on a rainy winter’s eve.

Amy Adams in Nocturnal Animals.

Amy Adams in Nocturnal Animals.

Nocturnal Animals is the second film from Tom Ford after his impressive debut with A Single Man in 2009. The latter, as well as being as exquisitely crafted as everyone assumed it would be, it being a Tom Ford film, was also a quietly moving film with significantly more in the way of emotional depth than many had expected.

His latest offering however is exactly the sort of vapid exercise in surface style that everyone had feared would be the result first time around. Amy Adams stars again, this time as a privileged gallery owner in LA whom we’re clearly meant to sympathise with. She gets sent a novel written by an ex and the film morphs into a neo noir tale of southern revenge.

Colin Firth in A Single Man.

Colin Firth in A Single Man.

It all looks impeccable of course, but all Seamus McGarvey’s sumptuous photography does is to further emphasise how little there is here beneath the surface. Whether Nocturnal Animals is an aberration, and the real Tom Ford is the man who brought us A Single Man, or whether in fact that film’s success had more to do with Colin Firth and the source material provided by the Christopher Isherwood novel, only time will tell.

James Foley.

James Foley.

I promised myself that I would force myself to watch all and any Storyville docs that were screened on BBC4, but I really wasn’t looking forward to what I presumed would be a dull but worthy film on James Foley, the American photo-journalist executed by Daesh. Once again, I couldn’t have been more wrong.

p01q1kmxJim – The James Foley story was a riveting window into what life was like for the nineteen other journalists who were imprisoned with him in Syria, and an incredibly moving celebration of a life cut short. In a dignified and measured way it was absolutely devastating.

If you’re not familiar with the Storyville strand, I reviewed it and three or four of its remarkable films earlier here. And if you can, watch the James Foley Story. You can see the trailer for Arrival here and the trailer for Nocturnal Animals here.

Sign up for a subscription right or below, and I shall keep you posted every month on All the Very Best and Worst in Film, Television and Music!

Subscribe here for regular updates. And get your FREE GIFT of the first 2 chapters of my book, A Brief History Of Man.

Atom Egoyan’s unfairly overlooked film “The Captive”.

"The Captive"

“The Captive”

Whatever happened to Canadian film maker Atom Egoyan? During the 1990s, he proved himself to be one of the most exciting directors working anywhere in the world.

After Family Viewing (’87), Speaking Parts (’89) and the criminally overlooked Calendar (’93) he won international acclaim with the brilliantly intricate Exotica in 1994, which was one of the films of the decade.

He followed that up in 1997 with The Sweet Hereafter which was almost as impressive. It won the Grand Jury prize at Cannes and saw Egoyan nominated for an Oscar for Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay.

Felicia’s Journey was something of a misstep in 1999, but he seemed to be back on song again with Ararat in 2002.

So what has happened since? Well, there was an attempt at a relatively big budget film in ’05 with Where The Truth Lies, staring Colin Firth and Kevin Bacon. Which was all right, if somewhat pedestrian.

Then there was Adoration in ’08, which felt strained and effortful. And, again, pedestrian. The “erotic thriller” Chloe followed in ’09, and then in ’13 the unnecessary and bafflingly straight Devil’s Knot.

So The Captive, which was screened last year at Cannes, is very much something of a return to form. Eight years after their daughter is abducted, her parents Ryan Reynolds and Mireille Enos discover evidence that she might still be alive.

'Exotica"

Exotica

All of Egoyan’s usual preoccupations surface. That sense of insidious intrusion that we all feel living in a world where everyone is being watched. And where the nature of an event and the search for truth is somehow warped when that event is seen captured on a screen.

And how the same events appear in a different light and present layers of conflicting truths, when they are viewed at one remove on a screen, as those viewing the events are themselves watched by us, on ours.

Some people have complained that the story stretches credulity. And it certainly would have been a pleasant surprise if the villain hadn’t been so visibly lascivious. The banality of evil is much more interesting and much more credible than the sight of man twiddling his moustache with such theatrical relish. And casting Rosario Dawson as a social worker was always going to be a stretch in any universe.

But the film nonetheless maintains a wonderfully taut sense of tension throughout, and is I fear a much more realistic and better researched portrayal of paedophile rings and their sophisticated network of virtual warrens than many would like to believe.

Rosario Dawson looking more exotica than social worker.

Rosario Dawson looking more exotica than social worker.

It’s not hard to understand why it was so completely overlooked at Cannes last year and after its release subsequently, given how far from grace Egoyan has fallen of late. But don’t be fooled by that recent form. The Captive is a tense, intricately woven thriller that delves into the darkest crevices of the human psyche with verve and intelligence.

You can see the trailer for The Captive here. And for The Sweet Hereafter here. The Exotica trailer is quite simply pants. So here’s a taster that someone’s posted up as an alternative.

Sign up for a subscription right or below and I shall keep you posted every month on all the very best and worst in film, television and music.

Subscribe here for regular updates. And get your FREE GIFT of the first 2 chapters of my book, A Brief History Of Man.