“Nocturnal Animals”: a Story-within-a-Story of Weakness and Betrayal

Nocturnal Animals is fashion designer Tom Ford’s second feature film as both writer and director, and once again he has delivered a nuanced film full of emotion, sadness, and intrigue.  Starring Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal, the film is a peculiar mixture of crime thriller and relationship melodrama, married through an inventive “story-within-a-story” structural device:   the main character reads a manuscript of her ex-husband’s novel, and the film’s narrative ping-pongs between the real world and the world of the novel.  As the procedural story unravels in the novel, we learn more about the relationship between these two characters in multiple flashbacks.

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“Jack Reacher: Never Go Back” to This Parched Well

Can a well be dry after a single successful trip?  Because if Jack Reacher:  Never Go Back is the best this franchise has to offer after its surprising debut, then we might as well be drinking sand.  None of the new characters are likable, the acting is hollow, and the writers deprive Jack Reacher himself of any real interest.  The plot is derivative and full of generic bad guys that make Jai Courtney look like Anton Chigurh.  The screenplay is written by three people, none of whom are named “Christopher McQuarrie”, and is populated by wooden groaners and extreme plot conveniences.  The plot is generic, and its associated “twist” is lazy and telegraphed worse than the death of Han Solo.  This is a film that is completely bereft of technique, subtlety, and intrigue.

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“The Accountant” Merges Dry Comedy and Calculated Action to Solid Effect

Gavin O’Connor’s The Accountant is an entertaining thriller that sports a peculiar mix of black ops action and wry humor.  It focuses around a high-functioning autistic man named Christian Wolff who handles advanced ballistics just as well as he does advanced calculus.  The story is told through multiple flashbacks, and follows multiple characters in the present day as they interact.  Not everything gels together perfectly, and the underlying themes are fairly under-developed in favor of a simplistic action sequences, but The Accountant does far more right than it does wrong.

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Luke Sabis Blunders through his Microbudget Thriller “Missing Child”

We’ve seen one person manage the duties of a writer, director, and actor in the past, and sometimes it goes really well.  Missing Child, the brainchild of Luke Sabis, is not one of these times.  Nearly every aspect of this droll thriller falls flat.   It sports a confusing story that never really feels focused.  There are only three real characters, all of which lack clear motivation at various points and are portrayed by actors that are in over their heads (especially Sabis).  There is a kernel of an interesting story here, and by squinting one could come to admire the intention behind this mess.  But, mostly we’re left with a paint-by-numbers “disturbing thriller” that can never hone its focus long enough to accomplish much of value.

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The Empty Store Problem: The Familiar Story of “Jason Bourne”

Add another “L” to the campaign of sadness that is The Year of Movies: 2016 Edition.  Once again, a film has been released in an attempt o revive and further a long-dormant franchise, and like seemingly every cheap cash-in of this year, Jason Bourne fails to elicit any emotion beyond longing for the original property which it is based upon.  This isn’t to say that there are not stirring sequences or solid performances in the film, but there is not a single aspect of this film that was not accomplished better by a previous Bourne film.  Paul Greengrass and company certainly do not need to re-invent the wheel, but they should at least drive the car somewhere new.

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“Jack Strong” – A Nearly Perfect Cold War Spy Film

Quietly and without fanfare, Polish writer/director Wladyslaw Pasikowski has crafted an historical spy film for the ages.  Jack Strong rivals the very best spy films of the decade – from Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy to Skyfall.  The film dramatizes the life and actions of one of the most high-impact spies during the Cold War, the polish colonel Ryszard Kuklinski, who over the course of a decade provided over 35,000 pages of sensitive Soviet information to the Americans.  Impressively,  Jack Strong isn’t simply a circuitous celebration of tradecraft and cloak-and-dagger, either.  It delves further into the emotional and personal costs of the spy life than almost any spy film I have ever seen, detailing the damage that Kuklinski’s actions have on his family, friends, and colleagues.  The end product is a three-dimensional spy film that doesn’t resort to action set pieces or large explosions to capture the attention of the audience.  Thus, despite being relatively unknown, Jack Strong is an unequivocal example of the perfect Cold War spy film.

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