Thursday, October 30, 2014
Elements of Peeping Tom, Network, Taxi Driver and a powerhouse performance by Jake Gyllenhaal are all fused together by veteran screenwriter Dan Gilroy in his directorial debut, the jittery, sleazy Nightcrawler. A gaunt-looking Gyllenhaal plays Louis Bloom, a twitchy bottom-feeder with aspirations, but for what? Even he's not certain. At the start of the film, he is busted by a security guard as he steals copper wiring, scraps of metal, and even the guard's wristwatch after he manages to overpower the man. But a transaction for the stolen items sets Bloom on a different path after his polite eagerness isn't enough to convince the buyer to overlook his thievery and hire him, even for free. Before long Bloom has a chance meeting with Joe Loder (Bill Paxton), a scumbag who scans police airwaves to arrive first on the scene and shoot video he sells for top dollar to bottom-rated KWLA's news team. The entrepreneurial Bloom is soon teaching himself how to shoot and edit ratings-grabbing news packages for KWLA's ambitious director, Nina Romina (Rene Russo).
Monday, October 27, 2014
In recent years, the American independent film has become as much a genre onto itself as it is a label distinguishing it as a work made outside the Hollywood system. The Sundance Festival movie in particular was burdened with all sorts of expectations which over time created a stereotype called the "indie." Featuring a cast of young up and coming actors, peppered with a few veterans working for little pay in the hopes of breaking out of some sort of career rut, the worst kind of indie generally recalls a special moment in a young man or woman's life, weighted with a deep, life altering lesson, all under an acoustic score by some folkie/emo instrumentalist who possesses enough street cred to sell some soundtrack albums. Where "independent" once connoted originality, "indie" now simply means lo-fi. That's why Whiplash is so refreshing. 2014's Sundance U.S. Audience and Grand Jury Prize winner is a vibrant, jazz-inflected drama that's also an anti-indie. As it goes into general release this week, Whiplash is poised to take awards season by storm.
Friday, October 24, 2014
"Believe nothing you hear, and only one half that you see." That's a piece of advice offered in Stonehearst Asylum to the film's ostensible hero, Dr. Edward Newgate (Jim Sturgess). It's also the most important suggestion made by author Edgar Allan Poe to his reader in the droll short story that the movie is loosely based on, "The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether." Directed by Brad Anderson (The Call), Stonehearst Asylum is more clever than scary. But there's a lot to be said for a well plotted thriller in a time when too many horror movies hinge more on shocking their audiences instead of getting under their skin.
Wednesday, October 22, 2014
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is a rare and unexpected delight from director Alejandro González Iñárritu, a filmmaker who has made a habit of producing dense, multi-plot storylines that converge in their final moments to offer some Great Truth. Birdman somehow feels both narrower and more transcendent. When the score's percussion takes over, a stifling anxiety sets in. When its symphonic sounds take precedence, Birdman soars. There is no need to clumsily converge at the conclusion because the linkage between Birdman's subplots is already baked into its script, a tale of the backstage chaos that ensues when former blockbuster action star Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) mounts a serious comeback in a new venue, Broadway.
Friday, October 17, 2014
Many years ago, I made the mistake of dismissing The Nightmare Before Christmas as a visually spectacular but hollow animated musical. Yeah, I didn't get it. It isn't that nostalgia has made the movie feel closer to a classic or that over time its style has eclipsed its substance. In a fundamental way, I've come to realize, its style is its substance. I shall not make the same mistake with The Book of Life. While not the animation game-changer that The Nightmare Before Christmas may have been, The Book of Life perhaps has even more room to grow into a classic in the coming years. And curiously it has a similar pedigree.
Thursday, October 16, 2014
Writer-director David Ayer crafts another fine look at the way shared violent experiences form a tenuous brotherhood among men with Fury. Set in the final days of World War II's European Theater, the movie follows a Sherman tank, christened "Fury," and its battle-hardened crew led by Staff Sergeant Don "Wardaddy" Collier (Brad Pitt). Among Wardaddy's crew are the God-fearing "Bible" (Shia LaBeouf), wisecracking "Gordo" (Michael Peña), and the crude "Coon-Ass" (Jon Bernthal). After losing one of their drivers, the tight-knit unit is saddled with a virtual rookie plucked from the clerical corps, Private Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman). Norman is our way into this predictably episodic depiction of the horrors of war, one that becomes a surprisingly stylish and at times contemplative suspense film punctuated by short, intense bursts of violence.