*NEW* LIVE BY NIGHT REVIEW *NEW*

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Alright, alright.

The pace may have been a killer and we might have seen it all before BUT Affleck’s crime caper still packs a punch.

A group of Boston-bred gangsters set up shop in balmy Florida during the Prohibition era, facing off against the competition and the Ku Klux Klan.

The opening 20 minutes didn’t mess about. It set up Joe’s (Ben Affleck) past and got straight to business as he worked through the ranks from a petty thief to a bootlegger.

Being a noir nut, I was always going to be a little biased. It helps when some of Affleck’s better works; The Town, Gone Baby Gone (and now Live By Night) are heavily influenced by that very genre.

I’ve been impressed with Affleck’s transformation as a director. A maturity from his 90s blockbuster phase. And yes, I do think he will be a good Batman! Enough of these sad Affleck memes.

It was everything I expected from an Affleck penned gangster flick. I was already ticking noir traits off my imaginary checklist; embittered war veteran (check), disillusioned with the law (check), falling for a girl that can only mean trouble (CHECK! CHECK! CHECK!).

I say Affleck penned. He did have a little help from Dennis Lehane’s crime novel (Thank you @TheMarckoguy). A noir author I intend to read up on. A man that has penned such works as: Shutter Island, Mystic River and The Drop.

I was engrossed in Joe’s game. Playing off the Irish against the Italians in their turf war. Just to get a piece of the action and stay out of the cross-hairs. BUT it wasn’t long before the protagonist had to make a choice.

Always felt that Robert Glenister was a very underrated TV actor. Just watch BBC’s Hustle. I didn’t expect to see him feature as Albert White, the Irish kingpin. He was brilliant. I wish he was in this more. A callous adversary if ever there was one. A ticking time bomb.

The fuse? A woman, of course. Sienna Miller (Foxcatcher) wasn’t in the film as much as I thought. Especially after all the interviews and heavy advertising.

She delivered a good performance as the moxy Emma BUT somehow I think if she had more screen time with that strange Irish accent, she might have overstayed her welcome very quickly.

Brendan Gleeson made a much more memorable impression as Joe’s father. A relief after his dire cameo in Assassin’s Creed (The less we say about that, the better). Sheesh.

Another character I would have been happy to see more of. His fractious relationship with Joe was an interesting angle that wasn’t explored enough. A copper desperate to see his criminal son on the right path.

“So you’re threatening me with people that are more powerful than you? So who am I talkin’ to you for?” Affleck was fantastic. Another powerhouse performance. He looked like a tank with that Bat bulk.

The pace did meander in parts with the middle act taking the biscuit BUT thankfully that was relieved by cracking dialogue, great action pieces and fantastic cinematography.

No, really. Robert Richardson’s cinematography was something else. The sweeping shots across Miami were breathtaking alone.

The car chases were brilliantly shot. It felt like you were in the car with the robbers as they evaded capture. And of course, no gangster flick would be complete without bodies being bullet ridden by Tommy guns.

I was a little disappointed with the female roles. Miller didn’t really come across as a strong femme fatale and Zoe Saldana (Guardians of the Galaxy) was completely wasted in her role.

The pair had good chemistry BUT there just wasn’t enough drama. Affleck missed an opportunity for sparks to fly when an old friend from Joe’s past crept out of the woodwork. Shame.

At first, I kept wondering why Elle Fanning (The Neon Demon) was reduced to such an unnecessary cameo as the sheriff’s daughter. However, there was an interesting turning point with her character that took me by surprise and allowed the actress her moment to shine. A good performance.

Despite my niggles, Affleck perfectly captured a gritty criminal underworld full of rich and dark characters. Chris Cooper (American Beauty) played the holistic sheriff with aplomb. Happy to turn a blind eye on Joe’s “business affairs”. Appropriately calling him, “The Mayor of Evil”.

The tense encounters with the KKK saved a labouring middle act. The suspense and heated exchanges soon brought me back into the fold. The only problem with a noir is that the end game is always the same.

The fiery final act was worth the wait. Nail biting, gripping and action packed. Even if Affleck gave us umpteen false endings. Seriously, I kept thinking the film had finished. Only for something else to pop up.

A little predictable, long at the tooth BUT tense, gritty and still a bloody good watch.

3/5

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*NEW* NOCTURNAL ANIMALS REVIEW *NEW*

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Strange, hypnotic, tense, nail biting, different. Certainly one for the books.

An art gallery owner (Amy Adams) is haunted by her ex-husband’s novel (Jake Gyllenhaal), a violent thriller she interprets as a veiled threat and a symbolic revenge tale.

I hadn’t even sat down and got comfortable before I was wondering what the hell I was getting myself into.

I never like to read too much about a film. All I had to go by was the hype. The endless promotion and tweets. I had to seek it out. The eye popping opening sequence certainly grabbed my attention as a bunch of morbidly obese elderly naked women gyrated and flaunted their money makers across the giant silver screen.

I kid you not. I have to admit I wasn’t overly impressed with the first 15 minutes BUT director Tom Ford’s (A Single Man) hypnotic visual style (aided by Seamus McGarvey’s beautiful cinematography) and Adam’s (Arrival) presence kept me going.

Abel Korzeniowski’s musical score was something else. Perfectly balanced against the haunting backdrops.

It was only when Susan (Adams) received a mysterious manuscript from her ex husband that my interest was peaked. A dual narrative set with Susan’s (Adams) cynical lifestyle and unhappy marriage to Hutton (Armie Hammer – The Man from U.N.C.L.E) running alongside Edward’s (Gyllenhaal – Demolition) story.

Gyllenhaal was superb. He really excelled in playing both the author and his fictional counterpart Tony. Nightcrawler certainly marked a turning point in ol’ Darko’s impressive career and he delivered yet another sterling performance. Oscar?

The film flicked back and forth from Adams’ past to Tony’s fictional struggle. The only problem was that I was found myself more interested with the fictional world than the real one. I’m sure that was supposed to be the point BUT it was a little frustrating watching the talented Ms Adams become increasingly more passive. A mere spectator in her own narrative.

The cut backs conveniently appeared at the tensest moments of Tony’s traumatic journey in the desert as his family crossed paths with some unsavoury characters.

Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Kick Ass) was superb as the demonic Ray. A complete change of role for him. A revolting creature lurking in the darkness. Dare I say, a nocturnal animal waiting to strike. I really detested him. A great performance.

The suspense had me on tenterhooks as the family feared for their lives. BUT every time we cut back to Susan dealing with her empty and frustrated life, I was urging the film to get back to Tony.

The questions piling up. Why is Susan so captivated with this story? Did this happen to her? Is this why she is no longer with Edward?

The supporting cast were impeccable. Michael Shannon (Midnight Special) was equally good as Bobby. The cop with nothing to lose. Ready to do anything to help Tony get justice. Made a change to see him play something less sinister.

I was a little disappointed at the lack of Michael Sheen (Frost/Nixon) and Anne Riseborough (Birdman). Reduced to passing cameos as Susan’s gallery friends. Shame. Laura Linney (Mystic River) made more of an impression in her minute role as Susan’s controlling mother.

Despite that bizarre opener, I was hooked to the very end as you began to peel beneath the layers and realize that there is more than meets the eye. Gyllenhaal and Adams had good chemistry as we finally delved into Edward and Susan’s relationship.

My only qualm on first watch was the ending. It was a little abrupt and left me baffled. I actually looked around the cinema, wondering “Did I miss something?”. Perplexed, I went to forums and discussed heavily on Twitter about the ambiguous finale.

BUT for the first time in a while, I was left talking about a film for days. It actually made me have to think. I actually wanted to watch it again. An impressive feat in itself. Especially if you look back on my last months review backlog.

It was suspenseful, engaging and brilliantly acted. There was even a moment that took me completely off guard and made quite a few people jump in the screen. One chap actually yelped in surprise (No, not me!)

If you’re in the mood for something a little different to the norm, I would heavily recommend.

4/5 (Just)

THE DROP REVIEW

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Tom Hardy’s performance certainly got the drop on me.

He proves yet again why he is one of the most versatile actors going.

So what’s it all about? Bob Saginowski (Hardy) finds himself at the centre of a robbery gone awry and entwined in an investigation that digs deep into the neighbourhood’s past where friends, families, and foes all work together to make a living. No matter the cost.

Penned and adapted from a short by Dennis Lehane, I knew I was in for a treat. Lehane has been responsible for some of the better crime dramas and thrillers of the last few years; Gone Baby Gone, Mystic River and Shutter Island.

It was also a fantastic and fitting endnote for the career of another talented actor who left us too soon. I’m looking at you, Big T. Mr Soprano himself, James Gandolfini.

BUT despite the fantastic casting, the pace leaves a little to be desired and the story? Considering the hype about killer twists. I found it all a little too simple and predictable.

Lehane’s work us very much in touch with my favourite genre, the film noir. The characters and seedy underworld were certainly captured perfectly by director Michael R. Roskam. Complimented by the grainy cinematography of Nicolas Karakatsanis.

BUT the convoluted, multi-layered story line? Not so much.

It did leave me wanting a little afterwards. All that promise and a twist that I saw coming a mile off. A shame.

BUT that’s not to say it isn’t worth checking out. Hardy is a charismatic lead, who has great chemistry with the equally talented Noomi Rapace (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo).

Rapace played the anxious and hesitant Nadia perfectly. Her role and motive questionable throughout.

The pair worked well together and I didn’t mind following them as their relationship inevitably blossomed.

Their bonding was helped by the discovery of an abused puppy that Bob finds in a trash can.

Rocco the puppy was adorable (What? He was. Losing man points like crazy). It lightened up the dark, gritty undertones bubbling beneath the surface which killed the atmosphere a little bit.

BUT if the little pup didn’t appear, there wasn’t much else going on to begin with.

It also allowed for Bob to break his shy demeanour and pry into his background a little.

Oh! James Gandolfini was superb. To be honest, there wasn’t enough of him. I couldn’t help but feel that his character Cousin Marv was nothing more than a “What If . . . Tony Soprano went in Witness Protection and became a bar owner”.

His presence and delivery stole every frame. No, not like that. His one liners just made me want to go back and watch The Sopranos all over again. Marv’s fractious relationship with Bob was an interesting one to watch.

The tension slowly building as tempers rose. The pressure mounting from their business interests under the vague title of “The Armenian Mob”.

However, as the mayhem ensued, I felt Gandolfini’s character took a back seat. Understandably to an extent, without spoiling any content BUT still a little disappointing.

Matthias Schoenaerts (Bullhead) was also fantastic. A nasty piece of work. Chewing up every bit of suspense. A ticking time bomb. His predatory stalking was a masterclass in suspense.

First toying with Bob by asking for an umbrella and gradually making his presence known more and more. The kitchen scene with Rapace was nail biting stuff.

Morgan Spector and Michael Aronov played the roles of the Armenians quite well. BUT at the same time, despite putting pressure on our sparring bartenders, I felt they were a little wooden and by the end, nothing more than stereotypical foreign mafia guys. Shame.

The closing 20 minutes HOWEVER were tense, suspenseful and brilliant. Double crossing and backstabbing galore. I just wish there was more of this throughout.

I won’t divulge too much information but perceptions are changed. The slow burning tension did meander and sizzle a little too much for the 106 minute running time.

I felt John Ortiz’s (Silver Linings Playbook) role was completely unnecessary. Nothing more than a suspense catalyst. And a poor one at that.

Re-appearing when the film seemed to lull or asking rather mundane questions after a nasty bit of business had gone down. Even his covert dark alleyway rendezvouses with fellow officers led nowhere.

Merely relaying information we already knew from Big T but with a much flatter and duller delivery.

I kept hoping his character would go somewhere (Preferably out of this movie). BUT nope! Not even the final exchanges in the closing minutes were revelatory or needed. Weak.

Suspenseful, tense and brutal (in parts) but also a little predictable and long at the tooth. However, Hardy has certainly established himself in the big leagues and with performances like these, he will continue to do so.

And farewell Big T. One final – CUT TO BLACK.

3/5