Nocturnal Animals (2016)

WHEN YOU LOVE SOMEONE YOU CAN’T JUST THROW IT AWAY.

Susan Morrow receives a book manuscript from her ex-husband – a man she left 20 years earlier – asking for her opinion of his writing. As she reads, she is drawn into the fictional life of Tony Hastings, a mathematics professor whose family vacation turns violent; a horrifying thriller she interprets as a symbolic revenge tale.

This review may contain spoilers.

A Man Sends His Ex a Novel -- About a Character, Resembling Himself, Having His Wife and Daughter Murdered -- as Groundless but Glorified Revenge for Her Rightfully Choosing to Get an Abortion in the Distant Past, which Helped Lead to the Disintegration of Their Relationship: the Movie.

Could your metaphor simultaneously be more on the nose, and harebrained & halfwitted, Tom Ford? He describes this as a "cautionary tale," but... of what? Be cautious about being pro-choice, guys; we wouldn't want women to be able to do with their own bodies exactly what they think is best for them (regardless of who they choose or choose not to tell).

If this film is, in Ford's words, about "[a woman that] has made the mistake of letting go of her true soulmate, and by reading his novel, it not only makes her fall in love with him all over again, it's his way of making her realize what she did to him," then it's a tale of unreasonable & gratuitous vengeance, one of wrongful retribution that I cannot get behind.

-Eli Hayes

Manchester by the Sea (2016) [5/5]

After his older brother passes away, Lee Chandler is forced to return home to care for his 16-year-old nephew. There he is compelled to deal with a tragic past that separated him from his family and the community where he was born and raised.

Manchester by the Sea...more like Manchest I had to Pee because I was laughing and crying so much that I urinated in my jeans and the stream leaked down my leg and onto the floor, gradually and narrowly flowing down the aisle until a theater worker approached me and asked me if I spilled my drink, and I whispered to myself, "yeah if I'm the cup and the drink is bodily fluids spilling out of my eyes and genitals as a result of being so emotionally eviscerated by this film that I've lost complete control of my bladder and general command over my muscles, including my tear ducts," and then the theater worker hesitantly started to wipe it up and, upon getting an eventual whiff of the liquid, gave me a look that spelled out, "I know this isn't soda you nasty ass motherfucker, we both know that you left me a piss and salt water potion to scrub up, you sad excuse for an adult."

-Eli Hayes

Split (2017) [4.5/5]

KEVIN HAS 23 DISTINCT PERSONALITIES. THE 24TH IS ABOUT TO BE UNLEASHED.

Though Kevin has evidenced 23 personalities to his trusted psychiatrist, Dr. Fletcher, there remains one still submerged who is set to materialize and dominate all the others. Compelled to abduct three teenage girls led by the willful, observant Casey, Kevin reaches a war for survival among all of those contained within him—as well as everyone around him—as the walls between his compartments shatter apart. 

Such a beautiful, emotive and important work to come out of a culture so focused on the notion of identity and all that it represents within the human psyche. Don't judge a book by its cover; don't be fooled by the fact that this film is titled Split, e.g. "split personality disorder" which, by the definition of the DSM, is an improper and non-comprehensive label. For this is one of the most intimate, precise and realized portraits of dissociative identity disorder ever projected onto the big screen (as well as a few extraneous subject matters that I can't get into without detracting from your experience) and, even more so, one of the most genuine contemporary investigations of the skeptic culture surrounding such disorders (and mental illness as a whole) in the modern psychological community. An immediately major piece in the realm of cerebral cinema.

-Eli Hayes

American Honey (2016) [5/5]

A teenage girl with nothing to lose joins a traveling magazine sales crew, and gets caught up in a whirlwind of hard partying, law bending and young love as she criss-crosses the Midwest with a band of misfits.

Upon re-watching American Honey, I came to the realization that it's my second favorite film of all-time -- just behind Mommy, the most personal narrative that I've ever experienced in the realm of cinema, and just ahead of Beasts of the Southern Wild, the film that I saw a few weeks following my father's death, and the piece of art that almost singlehandedly got me through the period of grief following his passing. My only complaint about American Honey is that its sprawling 163 minute runtime isn't three or so hours longer, clocking it at something like 330-360 minutes.

I never wanted it to end; I want to live inside this film. I almost wish that certified queen of cinema, Andrea Arnold, would pull a Zac Snyder and release some sort of Ultimate Cut, but I know that's not going to happen, so I guess I'll just have to settle for re-watching it and re-watching it, on repeat, for days on end, until I notice that I haven't eaten or drunk anything in approximately a week, and that my body has been reduced to a skeletal state.

And then I'd probably just say fuck it to nutrients and watch it again, because it's the last construction of images that I'd want to see before being reunited with my father again anyway.

-Eli Hayes

Arrival (2016) [4.5/5]

WHY ARE THEY HERE?

When mysterious spacecrafts touch down across the globe, an elite team - lead by expert linguist Louise Banks - is brought together to investigate whether they come in peace or are a threat. As mankind teeters on the verge of global war, Banks and the team race against time for answers - and to find them, she will take a chance that could threaten her life, and quite possibly humanity.

More filmmakers should (follow suit and) go full Tarkovsky in wide release form. Villeneuve had already proven himself to be one of the most versatile filmmakers in the medium -- as if we needed any more proof -- and it goes without saying that Bradford Young is a complete colossus with the camera.

Why didn't anybody warn me about Max Richter's 'On the Nature of Daylight' bookending the film? I can't even listen to that piece (in absence of a heartbreaking cinematic context) without tearing up; imagine what the introductory and concluding sequences herein did to me.

If you could see beyond the boundaries of your vision and comprehend the entire vastness of your environment -- all that is before you, beside you, behind you -- would you still traverse the same trail, or would you tour time through disparate doors?

-Eli Hayes

The Neon Demon (2016) [5/5]

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BEAUTY IS VICIOUS.

When aspiring model Jesse moves to Los Angeles, her youth and vitality are devoured by a group of beauty-obsessed women who will take any means necessary to get what she has.

This film hates me. It hates you. It hates us. It hates everything, and everyone. Okay, not everyone -- but it loathes both superficial, soulless, almost metallic men and women alike. It's bitter, it's cynical, it's angry and it's pessimistic. It portrays these altered women as products of a patriarchal environment, zombified and conditioned by authoritative and systematically powered men to value their exterior, they're individual beauty, over all things spiritual and non-material. And it despises, it downright detests these self-absorbed men even more so, these men shifting the flesh and blood of people into forcibly vacant, money-producing machines. These men, the crafters and creators of said system, the exploits, the hollowing and the dehumanization of the female victims -- of a culture that treats women as objects, as currency, as recyclable, as a shallow shell meant to be placed and perform, to be observed for their genes and even their genetic altercations, their superficiality. It doesn't execrate all human beings -- no, not those who have avoided the manipulation of a materialistic and extraneously dominated reality -- but it certainly does execrate a hateful, male-molded industry, and culture, deserving of all the abhorrence it receives.

-Eli Hayes

Kids (1995) [5/5]

A controversial portrayal of teens in New York City which exposes a deeply disturbing world of sex and substance abuse. The film focuses on a sexually reckless, freckle-faced boy named Telly, whose goal is to have sex with as many different girls as he can. When Jenny, a girl who has had sex only once, tests positive for HIV, she knows she contracted the disease from Telly. When Jenny discovers that Telly's idea of "safe sex" is to only have sex with virgins, and is continuing to pass the disease onto other unsuspecting girls, Jenny makes it her business to try to stop him.

Larry Clark's Kids is exploitative, certainly, but it exists in the realm of effective exploitation: exploitation for the sake of exposure, e.g. exposing an underrepresent segment of culture (especially back in 1995) to a world in which said culture was not previously explored, to much extent, at least in American media. There are so many young people dying every day from overdoses/substance abuse -- I've lost numerous close friends to opiate overdoses -- and while I hear the common complaint that this subject matter is too often explored within the independent film world (especially now, in 2016), I still believe that it's still quite underrepresented, at least in terms of the true-to-life nature of those thrown into the universe of chemical dependence and then lost, falling pale and breathless far too soon, due to their ever-expanding addictions. There may be a great number of films which portray drug use/abuse, but few do it with the unfortunate and uncomfortable genuinity that we see here in Kids and, for another recent example, Heaven Knows What (though chemical dependence is, of course, not even close to the only psychological disorder or societal issue examined in Kids). I almost want to make the argument that in order to really find something of extraordinary value in Kids, you have to have grown up in a certain pessimistic, narcissistic, lotus eating environment, surrounded by individuals who care less about the fears and concerns of their loved ones than they do about satisfying the craving for their next hit, but I'm not going to make that argument. I think that, having spent my adolescence around self-centered teenagers who wasted away their high school years torturing their parents and friends with drug-fueled misadventures probably contributes to the reason why this film hits so close to home for me, personally, but I know many people that haven't been through what I've been through and still have a strong admiration for the film, most likely due to their fascination with a section of culture to which they were never exposed (and thus the curiosity is understandable). The cinéma vérité/documentary-esque shooting style, the lack of psychological investigation (how can you -- the parent or friend of the troubled teen -- comprehend the irrationality of such a lifestyle, unless you've lived it?) and the absence of a distinctive narrative progression only add to the haunting realism of Clark's directorial debut; paired with Harmony Korine's commentative screenplay, I can't praise its alarming authenticity enough. 

-Eli Hayes

Moonlight (2016) [5/5]

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The tender, heartbreaking story of a young black man’s struggle to find himself, told across three defining chapters in his life as he experiences the ecstasy, pain, and beauty of falling in love, while grappling with his own sexuality, and growing up in a rough neighborhood of Miami, FL.

The hype has never, ever, ever been so real. And the best birthday present that I ever could have asked for. A marvel -- a modern masterwork of unadulterated understanding. Understanding of isolation, of idiosyncrasies; understanding of care, of compassion; understanding of darkness & disparities, of spectrums, of sexuality; understanding of memories & maliciousness, of (forced) numbness, of nostalgia; understanding of catharsis. Catharsis. The third act of this film is nothing short of the purest shaping and structuring of cathartic cinema. One of, if not the finest sophomore feature of the last half-decade. A miracle of a film... an experience which we are blessed to have exist in our current, rapturously unsympathetic reality.

I've gotta say -- now that I've seen this a second time -- that despite how little of the film he's in, André Holland is MVP for me. And if you loved him in Moonlight, or American Horror Story, or Selma, or 42, or Black or White, or Miracle at St. Anna, or just love him in general, and have yet to check out Steven Soderbergh's The Knick (containing what is, for me, Cliff Martinez's close-to-best score, second only to his work on The Neon Demon), do yourself a favor and watch it ASAP because (it's not only one of the top shows of recent years, but) he gives one of the greatest performances of the decade in it (with regard to television or film). And yes, André, I do, most definitely, want the "Chef's Special." (;

-Eli Hayes