It was the baby-monitor jump-scare that lost me. Intriguing backstory open before the movie changes directions, centering on Amy Adams (far less electric here than in Arrival, and given much less to do) reading the rape-murder-revenge novel written by her ex Jake Gyllenhaal, visualizing it starring him with Michael Shannon as a dying cop who doesn’t play by the rules. I suppose the ending should be cynically satisfying, as Adams becomes obsessed with the novel, contacts Jake to meet him and talk about it, and gets stood up. By that point though, who could care about Amy and Jake’s old relationship problems (she got an abortion without telling him, and dumped him for Armie Hammer) or his elaborate literature-based revenge plot, when the bulk of the movie has become the novel itself, a grimy, joyless, desert desperation story? And who can say why Adams gets so sucked in, to the point where she starts seeing jump-scare monsters inside her assistant’s baby monitor, a moment that felt so outrageously cheap that I optimistically figured it would be justified later, or at least be the beginning of a series of visions?

Also it opens with naked fat women dancing in slow-motion. And hey, here’s Love star Karl Glusman and Donnie Darko‘s Jena Malone, both of them returning from another 2016 movie I found ugly and misguided. Standard dialogue scenes were filmed in a flat and boring manner (and the movie is mostly standard dialogue scenes). Diana Dabrowska in Cinema Scope and David Ehrlich on Letterboxd both compliment the camerawork, so maybe I missed something there. At least Jake G. is very good in his role, and Shannon is always pleasant to watch.

I’d never heard of Steve McQueen (the Hunger director, not the actor) or Tom Ford before their latest movies came out, but I sure expected to enjoy the work of “acclaimed visual artist” McQueen more than fashion designer Ford. So as usual I like all the wrong things, because I thought Hunger was alright and this was excellent. Shame about the ending though – Firth decides not to kill himself then has a fatal heart attack moments later, the kind of twist that would’ve seemed well-worn in 1962 when the film was set. But hell, that’s probably from the novel (from the writer of Cabaret, though I didn’t see that mentioned on the posters). Katy says it sounds like a typical literature ending.

Tom Ford (whose IMDB photo looks like a digital mash-up of Keanu Reeves and Kevin Spacey) is fond of jump cuts, slow-mo and focus tricks. He keeps the colors desaturated only to pump them up when his lead character’s emotions are sharp, plays with focus, edits whenever he damn well pleases, and throws in subjective fantasy scenes (like the bomb shelter above), but it all hangs together well, never calling dramatic attention to technique. I guess I could credit cinematographer Eduard Grau (the upcoming Buried) and editor Joan Sodel (Glass House 2) for the technique, but I’m surely not going to. Shout out, however, to Shigeru Umebayashi, whose music grabbed me right from the start (but only returned rarely – he’s just the “additional” composer, damn it).

Firth goes to work on the last day of his life (because he plans to kill himself), teaches his class and inspires spooky student Nicholas Hoult (the boy About a Boy was about) to stalk him. He also wishes death upon his whitebread next door neighbor (Ginnifer Goodwin of that awful movie) and her family, gives some free cash to a hustlin’ Spanish dude (Jon Kortajarena) he meets in the liquor store parking lot beneath an awesome huge Psycho poster, talks to longtime boyfriend Jim (Matthew Goode of Match Point) who died months ago in a car crash, and has a private party with old friend Julianne Moore who’s always had a crush on him. Lots of people have crushes on Colin Firth in this movie.

Shades of American Beauty… the period suburbs (actually Los Angeles but it felt like suburbs) featuring women with perfect hair while solitary men with hidden pain were threatened by gun violence and creepy young men with pointed eyebrows (Wes Bentley/Nicholas Hoult) lurked. Firth was up for an acting oscar but lost to The Dude. I thought the movie was nominated for best picture, but even after having seen both of them, I’m still confusing it with A Serious Man.

Julianne Moore gets down: