Nightcrawler

DIR/WRI: Dan Gilroy • PRO: Jennifer Fox, Tony Gilroy, Jake Gyllenhaal, David Lancaster, Michel Litvak • DOP: Robert Elswit • ED: John Gilroy • DES: Kevin Kavanaugh • MUS: James Newton Howard • CAST: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Bill Paxton

Nightcrawler is a despicable underdog story, a deluded and hazy, trance-like dream that glides through the fluorescent streets of Los Angeles. It has a kind of sister kinship to the works of Paul Schrader in the ’70s and ’80s. It’s as if writer/director Dan Gilroy sucked out whatever dark juices there were pumping through Schrader’s brain, gargled, and spat out onto the big screen.

 

Similar to Schrader’s Taxi Driver (1976), the city plays a character, this time round its L.A., shot wonderfully by P.T. Anderson collaborator Robert Elswit. We also have a social outcast for the lead character, Lou Bloom, played by Jake Gyllenhaal in an exuberant performance. He plays Lou Bloom as a more socially apt Travis Bickle, cheeks sunken and eyes within an inch of popping out onto the audience’s lap. Gyllenhaal is magnetic here. Bloom is either carrying an anti-social or sociopath disorder, while performing reprehensible duties as an immoral freelance crime journalist, working by night and watering plants by day. However, even while possessing these unsavory qualities, we can’t help but admire him.

 

He’s charming, dedicated and determined to pursue his career path by any mean necessary. On the surface he is exactly what any mother could ask for – polite, confident, continuously speaking in a frank and honest tone. His pattern of speech is almost lyrical, easy to fathom and encourages one to succumb to his charm. Lou Bloom feels like a hybrid of various Hollywood characters: Travis Bickle, Norman Bates or Jim Carrey’s “Cable Guy”. In many ways he’s a sweetheart, but bubbling under his exterior is a demented, anti-social monster ready to pop at the drop of a pin.

 

As we follow Bloom’s nocturnal pattern we could easily compare him to a hawk scoping out his prey through the neon passages of Los Angeles. When he discovers his new hobby in crime journalism, he watches, learns and adapts to its seedy culture and thrives in it, not before we get to see a few slip-ups on his first outings, like the dullness of a Breathalyzer test or his clumsy camera skills. His instinct and lust for gore are what propel him into the media industry and into the presence of local television editor, Nina (Rene Russ), who is just as cutthroat as he is. Her character is a definite nod to Paddy Chayefsky’s Network (1976) and Faye Dunaway’s character, Diana Christensen. She encourages him to bring footage of urban crimes seeping into the wealthy suburbs. As proclaimed by Bloom’s nemesis freelance contemporary “if it bleeds, it leads”, and this is the code of this underground culture.

Aside, from Gyllenhaal’s intensity, Dan Gilroy still continues to keep us on the edges of our seats by staging marvelous action sequences with high-speed car chases through the night and extremely realistic gun shootouts all to the pleasure and excitement of Lou Bloom. For a directing debut, Mr. Gilroy has really outdone himself proving that he has the skill and audacity of a writer/director and I certainly hope to see more of him behind the camera.

Unlike Network, there is no definitive opposition to the exploitive and immoral manners of Lou and Nina’s work, except for us, the viewers. This film isn’t a full-blown satire of the media as Chayefsky’s work, but is a character study of the life of a crime journalist. It’s dark, it’s twisted and it’s very funny. And it also get’s the point across that this form of media can be immoral, but without ramming it down our throats and leaving a sour taste in our mouths.

Nightcrawler certainly borrows much of its themes and tone from previous movies such as Network, Taxi Driver, Peeping Tom, Drive, but Gilroy recycles those ideas and places them in a contemporary setting and allows us to examine one of society’s more questionable career paths, while also taking a glimpse at our human nature in relation to crime and violence.

 

Cormac O’Meara

16 (See IFCO for details)

117 minutes

Nightcrawler is released 31st October 2014
Nightcrawler – Official Website

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Million Dollar Arm

million-dollar-arm-jon-hamm-636-380

DIR: Criag Gillespie • WRI: Thomas McCarthy • PRO: Mark Ciardi, Gordon Gray, Joe Roth • ED: Tatiana S. Riegel • DOP: Gyula Pados   DES: Barry Robison   MUS: A.R. Rahman • Cast: Jon Hamm, Bill Paxton, Lake Bell

Million Dollar Arm is a near sterling swing for the Disney team. The film is a sports drama centred around a struggling sports promoter, JB Bernstein (John Hamm) whose career has taken a nose dive since he became  self employed. The wild glory days of working for an agency seem firmly set behind JB. This stark reality is seemingly confirmed when all star basketball player Popo refuses to sign with him. JB’s lavish lifestyle of shiny porches, big houses and busty blonde models is being overshadowed by failure, bills and broken washing machines. There’s a hollowness to JB’s materialist dream, and this is really the thematic core of the film.

JB’s clutching at straws as to how he can maintain his lifestyle, he has an epiphany while flicking channels between X-Factor and cricket. The desperation in Hamm’s eyes as he flicks furiously between Simon Cowell’s face and a team of Indian cricket players is a a sight to behold. Sheer determination. Raw American competitiveness. It’s at this moment that an idea strikes home with JB, what if an Indian cricket player could be made play baseball? JB immediately recognises the potential, that by signing Indian players to American baseball teams he could create a vast baseball market in India. On the basis of this seemingly radical idea JB secures funding for a year and sets off to India on a steadfast mission to bring baseball to India.

JB and his team, which includes a former talent scout Ray (Alan Arkin), hold baseball trials all over India as part of a competitive campaign entitled ‘Million Dollar Arm’. Ray reluctantly sleeps his way across India from trial to trial, listening to hordes of Indians hopefully throwing baseballs in search of fame.  However, Ray is anything but hopeful, overcome with lethargy, distaste for Indian cuisine and dissatisfaction for the climate. As the campaign spreads there are no credible developments and the pressure builds for JB, he finds some comfort in a blossoming Skype relationship with his friend Brenda (Lake Bell).

But JB’s anxiety and Rays lethargy turn to cynical amusement when Rinku (Suraj Sharma) stands in a mongoose marital arts like poise. The absurdity of this image seems to encapsulate the futility of JB’s efforts in successfully finding any baseball candidates. But any doubts come to a crashing halt when Rinku, swings a speeding baseball. JB’s faith is renewed and the competition continues. Rinku and Dinesh (Madhur Mittal) win and get the opportunity to train in LA for baseball try outs.

In LA the boys are put under the tutelage of experienced baseball coach Tom House (Bill Paxton). As Rinku and Dinesh struggle with challenges of training and being away from home, JB is contacted by Popo who now expresses interest in signing with JB. JB shifts his attention from the boys to focus on Popo and consequently Rinku and Dinesh feel rejected. JB is forced into a position where he has to choose between honouring his responsibilities to Rinku and Dinesh or sacrificing them in favour of his business success.

Overall, Million Dollar Arm is a decent family drama, of which there has been a deficit of in recent times. However, it did have notable flaws – aspects of the script are highly derivative and clichéd  reinforcing the commercial quality of the”true” story aspect of the story. These perhaps diminish a sense of integrity which it could otherwise have borne. In addition to which, the representations of Indian people in the film were, by and large, little more than crude cultural stereotypes, something which could have been avoided by more research. Ultimately, an average script was saved as a result of the wholesome performances by experienced actors and the high quality production values.

Michael Stephen Lee

PG (See IFCO for details)

123 minutes

Million Dollar Arm is released 29th August

Million Dollar Arm –  Official Website

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EiC8o7i_ZqE

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Edge of Tomorrow

tom-cruise-edge-creditmovietone

DIR: Doug Liman • WRI: Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth • PRO: Jason Hoffs, Gregory Jacobs, Jeffrey Silver, Erwin Stoff • ED: James Herbert • DOP. Dion Beebe • DES: Oliver Scholl • MUS: Christophe Beck • CAST: Tom Cruise, Bill Paxton, Jeremy Piven, Lara Pulver

There’s an old Rich Hall routine that sums up every Tom Cruise movie as; Tom Cruise plays an X, a very good X, but has a crisis of confidence and then meets someone who will teach him to be a good X again. Little has changed.

Tom Cruise plays Cage, the face of the propaganda machine for the global war effort that’s badly losing a war with the Mimics; a race of tentacled aliens that almost seem to know what the humans are going to do before they do it. He’s a pretty good propagandist until he has his identity and rank removed by Brendan Gleeson and is tossed onto the frontlines with no combat experience. Soon though, he realises that he seems to be Groundhog Day-ing the big invasion day anytime he dies and only Emily Blunt as the stoic, impossibly-skilled, war-vet Rita, believes him. So Rita has to train him to be a good soldier so he can be pretty good at that too and save the day. Also, there are robot-suits in this film for little obvious reason outside of the fact that anything in proximity to the words Iron Man makes all of the money and any film that doesn’t look like a videogame simply won’t get green lit anymore.

Cast-wise; Emily Blunt is the standout, Cruise is impressively bearable, Bill Paxton is a huge amount of fun as the hard-ass sergeant that these films always have to have at least one of and Brendan Gleeson looks hilariously bored as General Plot Device. He has literally two proper scenes; the first is to justify demoting Cruise’s character and sending him into battle in order to cover his own ass (somehow) and thus set the story in motion, and the second is to give Blunt and Cruise the MacGuffin when they finally decide that they’ve been faffing about for long enough and should probably get act three started.

What’s truly impressive about the film is that it shows promising signs that the end might be in sight for the Holy War fought in the name of Christopher Nolan that has seen so many blockbusters’ sense of fun sacrificed at the alters of ‘realism’ and ‘grittiness’ (cough, Man of Steel, cough). The trailer gives the impression of a very dour and portentous war movie that happens to involve a time-travel gimmick, robot-suits and aliens. It’s pleasantly surprising then that this tonally ends up as more Run, Lola, Run than Source Code and embraces its sillier elements. The explanation of the time-travel is the key to this. Another film might contort itself into a tangled mess of exposition (see previous ‘cough’) in order to explain something like this ‘realistically’ but here it is explained in pretty simple terms, doesn’t bog the film down and things move on swiftly. Now, that’s not to say the explanation doesn’t immediately start raising endless questions in your head as soon as you begin to think about it too much but why bother? Just sit back and enjoy it; sometimes an alien with a biological affinity towards temporal transmogrification is just an alien with a biological affinity towards temporal transmogrification.

So in addition to the fun that is to be had at the sight of Tom Cruise being repeatedly beaten, crushed, run-over, shot, exploded and just generally killed over and over again, the screenplay manages to find (or rather, make use of) all the sardonic humour that just naturally comes with this situation. Both leads have a surprising amount of fun in the various montage sequences as the dull routine of repeated Tom-Cruise-icide takes hold. Blunt is tailor-made for the straight-faced delivery of pithy one-liners and exasperated sighs as she’s forced to shoot Cruise, yet again. Given the tone that the promotional materials present, these sections in particular were a great surprise.

Outside of this, the plot is on the whole interesting enough to keep your attention and the film is quite well-paced. Since you’re going to be seeing the same action scenes again and again, the film is smart enough to know when they’ve outstayed their welcome and to move onto the next stage. Said action scenes are decent, if a little grey and the CGI is quite good on the alien creatures even if you’ll never forget that what you’re looking at is very clearly CGI. It is a minor disappointment that they don’t make more of the WW2-parallels that are so apparent and in Cruise and Gleeson’s first scene together it seems like the film might almost be about to have an undercurrent of social commentary on war culture but this is sadly dropped quite quickly.

Aside from the god-awful ending, which is completely expected given the premise but still a massive cop-out nonetheless, the only other issue of note is the sound-design. Now this may only be a persistent issue with IMAX screenings but the sound is very piercing. The sound-design itself is fine but given how many times we’re going to see Tom Cruise shot in the head, close to the camera, said gunshot sound being as sharp and loud as it is begins to hurt after a while. See also: the aliens’ high-pitched screams, all the metallic objects that get crushed and the entire final sequence which takes place within an area filled with wrecked cars and all the eardrum-stabbing sounds of scraping metal and smashing glass that it entails.

Since peak blockbuster season is upon us and this is just one of the many films vying for attention at the moment, it’s definitely one of the better ones. A solid, fun action-film that doesn’t take itself too seriously, makes the most of its gimmick to give the film a great visual sense of flow and is only hampered by a few minor quibbles. It never reaches the same heights of delirious entertainment that, say, Godzilla’s final act does but it also doesn’t suffer from the long stretches of boredom that film was afflicted with. Perhaps it could be considered a little unambitious in that case but it’s consistently fun throughout.

Richard Drumm

12A(See IFCO for details)
113 mins

Edge of Tomorrow is released on 30th May 2014

Edge of Tomorrow– Official Website

 

 

 

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Cinema Review: Haywire

thems' fightin' words

DIR: Steven Soderbergh  WRI: Lem Dobbs  PRO: Gregory Jacobs, Alan Moloney, Michael Polaire,Tucker Tooley  DOP: Peter Andrews  ED: Peter Andrews  DES: Howard Cummings  Cast: Gina Carano, Michael Fassbender, Ewan Mc Gregor, Channing Tatum, Michael Douglas, Bill Paxton, Michael Angarano, Antonio Banderas

Director Steven Soderbergh has averaged a film a year since his acclaimed 1989 debut Sex, Lies & Videotape, an incredible work rate by modern filmmaking standards especially for one who frequently works within the political vagaries fof the studio system. A slippery stylist, Soderbergh’s films hop from genre to genre with creative restlessness appearing to be his defining characteristic whether filming glossy,  expensive star laden confections such as the Oceans series or experimenting with digital video and unknown actors on low budget conceits such as Bubble or The Girlfriend Experience.

With Haywire – his 23rd full length feature – he takes another stylistic left turn this being an independently financed, relatively low budget B-movie style action film of which a large portion was filmed in Dublin back in 2010. Mixed martial arts star Gina Carano portrays Mallory Kane, a covert operative for hire who performs certain ‘tasks’ for shady global organizations such as rescuing a Chinese journalist held hostage in Barcelona  which is the first instance in the film that we witness Carano’s and Mallory’s athleticism and asskicking skills as she fights her way out of a corner.

After a successful mission, Mallory is then dispatched by her handler Kenneth (Ewan Mc Gregor) to Dublin. Her mission is to assassinate an Iranian ambassador with the help of a suave British operative portrayed by Michael Fassbender but things go awry and she soon finds herself doublecrossed and left for dead. On the run, she flees back to the States where she devises a plan to exact revenge on those who’ve betrayed her.

The  generic plot of Haywire could have been lifted from any ‘international’ action thriller stretching back from 1960’s to the present day. In fact, one could easily imagine Lee Marvin, Charles Bronson or James Coburn or on the lower end of the scale Jean Claude Van Damme or Steven Seagal inhabiting Carano’s role in decades past.

What makes Haywire stand out from the pack? Well probably the only thing for this reviewer were the fight scenes which crackle with realism, vigour and fluidity meaning there is none of the fast editing/shakycam technique that has become the signature style of Hollywood action films since the success of the Bourne franchise. Obviously the fact that Carano is quite a formidable physical presence in her own right  adds to the believability of these expertly choreographed confrontations and we get a sense of the sweat, the struggle and pain of close combat in Soderbergh’s long takes.

The film makes light use of  a fairly heavyweight cast: Michael Douglas and Antonio Banderas  in particular come and go, act in a couple fo scenes and then leave without making much of an impression. Of course, Carano is the star here and Soderbergh is subverting a male dominated genre so maybe the point is to make these iconic actors subservient so that their mere presence doesnt detract or overwhelm the female lead. Fassbender makes the strongest impression but then he does get to take on Carano in a violent hotel room one on one.

So as a showcase for Carano’s natural abilities, sultry good looks and relaxed screen presence, the film is enjoyable but outside of the action, the film feels rather lethargic, which is only exacerbated by the rather flat dialogue and understated David Holmes score. It feels like a detached exercise rather than a project which the director was passionate about, a chance for him to develop his skillset in another genre and while there is certainly nothing wrong with a stripped down action film too often Haywire feels diffuse and perfunctory.

Derek Mc Donnell

Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)
Haywire is released on 20th January 2012

Haywire – Official Website

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lU_v6Wl3tBw

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