by Coop Cooper
“Nocturnal Animals” (feature film in theaters) – Susan (Amy Adams), a pampered socialite and art gallery owner trudges through her loveless second marriage with her wealthy, yet uninterested husband (Armie Hammer). When her writer/teacher first husband, Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal) sends her a manuscript for his new novel, she takes it as a peace offering. Their bitter divorce left them estranged for nineteen years and she reminisces fondly and with regret as the words in his book move her. Eager to reconnect, she reaches out to him, but the story in the book hides an allegory for their failed relationship that could dig the knife in even further.
If “Gone Girl” is widely considered a masterful achievement in storytelling, then “Nocturnal Animals” merely feels like a moderately successful writing experiment. While it starts out like a tense Hitchcockian thriller, it loses momentum and becomes merely an ironic relationship drama.
Since the story follows three different timelines/storylines, so much of the story feels lost and neglected. Many details in the are sidestepped for the more important moments, something that denotes good, active writing, but will frustrate a general audience. I can already imagine somebody whispering to the person next to them, “Hey, what happened to Michael Shannon’s character?” While people used to analyzing narrative structure will no doubt figure it out, it might prove consternating to those who prefer to have all dangling plot threads neatly tied up.
“Nocturnal Animals” might be up for a few awards, especially due to the strong writing and performances of the leads, but it wasn’t satisfying enough for me to recommend it. The stakes that were so high in Edward’s fictional story didn’t translate well enough to the low-stakes story of his embittered former marriage. While it was a neat structural twist, it felt like a missed opportunity and I almost wish we had stayed entirely with the fictional storyline within the novel.
Rating: 2 and ½ out of 5 stars
“Travelers” (Netflix series) – Present day: At the exact moment of their deaths, the bodies of citizens are secretly being rescued and and their minds are replaced by soldiers from a dystopian future where the world has been all but destroyed. One team of these imposters, lead by FBI agent Grant MacLaren (Eric McCormack), carries out clandestine missions in an attempt to change the future in order for the human race to survive. Unfortunately, their activities are seen by law enforcement and the military as terrorism so they must operate in opposition to those who protect and serve. Further complicating matters, they must continue to live the everyday lives of the bodies they inhabit, many of which have families and important jobs, in order to avoid suspicions.
This fascinating sci-fi series dabbles in many interesting concepts that slowly unfold as the series progresses. Viewers aren’t given much information to work with at first, but each episode introduces new reveals that explain who these characters are, how their operation works and a little about who they used to be. For instance, one soldier’s mind is mistakenly transferred into the body of a mentally handicapped woman and must reconcile with others perceiving her sudden gain of intelligence as a ‘miracle’. Another is transferred into the body of a heroin addict and must deal with constant withdrawals he has never experienced before. Yet another is a 100+ year-old science genius transferred the body of a seventeen year-old athlete/bully.
All of these ‘Travelers’ are completely overwhelmed by the fresh food, plants and animals of the present – none of which exist in their time period. One of them has had all of recorded history downloaded into his mind in order to prognosticate deaths, disasters and to predict things like horse races to help keep them well funded. There are many other teams like them spread across the globe and they all take their orders from ‘The Director’, a shadowy figure from the future who sends messages/instructions back to them by temporarily possessing the minds of nearby children.
The concept is absolutely fantastic, with a rich and detailed mythology. I was hooked from the very first episode and although many plot holes exist, it is satisfying to see most of those become slowly plugged up and explained as the episodes progress. This series definitely qualifies as ‘binge-worthy’ and all twelve episodes of the first season are currently available on Netflix.
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars