Nightcrawler (R)

10 Stars

Oddity is an antidote for the jaded.

The off-putting, unsettled feeling of irksome circumstance.

The exploits of nightcrawlers, independent salesmen collecting footage of post-crime carnage, bear much estranged fruit.

Second only to Gone Girl, Nightcrawler is the best motion picture released in 2014.

That distinction, however, is ultimately subjective. Both are must-see.

Govern expectations accordingly, because it seems folks are hoping for more action-packed horror.

Nightcrawler’s a dark dramatic thriller.

Expect twisted spookery, but in a more subtle and realistic manner.

Overall, this film is very smart.

It’s a tale of moral ambiguity about the mysterious creepsters who provide found-footage for nightly television news.

It’s set in L.A and completely divorced from the creative filming industries.

The very setting, albeit typical, is oddly off-type.

Which is similar to the pacing and scene construction. Dan Gilroy, the writer/director, displays an exquisite proficiency at defying narrative conventions.

Along with montage, time lapse and alternative credits sequencing, breaking cliché is a cinematic theme of 2014.

Another setting-based narrative strength is the relative lack of sunlight. The protagonist’s eyes are never naked to unfiltered rays.

The infrequency is certainly purposeful.

Another example of the writing strength is the humor: Subtle, unexpected and consistent.

This film’s success is also due (in part) to the spectral visual style.

The shooting, editing and cinematography is masterful.

On the flip side of sense perception, the sound mixing and score is excellent.

Nightcrawler owes a hefty portion of its success to the acting.

Jake Gyllenhaal’s unseemly characterization is fantastic.

Jake is one of our finest actors working today. Source Code, Donnie Darko and last year’s Prisoners are three of the best in cinematic history.

Here he crafts an original antihero in Louis Bloom.

[Quick side note: The similarity between the name of the protagonist in James Joyce’s Ulysses, Leopold Bloom, must be purposeful, no? Especially if one considers the nickname antics involved in the two stories.]

Louis Bloom embraces his role as an opossum, monetizing the carrion of human sophistication with the utmost efficiency.

In the strangest way, his attitude is highly admirable.

For example, his belief in honest negotiation and dedicated apprenticeship endears the viewer.

On the other hand (which I won’t spoil) some of his behavior may be considered reprehensible.

Who knows?

See it and find out.

As a final note, Bill Paxton is terrific. He plays a completely different character from his role in Live, Die, Repeat: Edge of Tomorrow, a July release which still remains one of my top ten movies of 2014.

Pax tears it up no matter what.

With too many great movies in his filmography to mention (including a number of classics from great directors like James Cameron, Kathryn Bigelow and John Hughes) I’ll just say he first debuted in 1974.

So he’s been killing it for forty years. Keep it up, Bill!

Check out Nightcrawler if you dig smart flicks.

By the by, there’s an homage to The Usual Suspects.

High-fives for those who notice.

Haywire (R)

9 Stars

This film satisfies.

Specifically the urge to watch a female protagonist square off with a male in hand-to-hand combat, and realistically win.

I’ve never considered how ill-equipped women are for fist-fighting. But that’s probably a good thing.

With the long hair, the unstable shoe heels, and simply the lack of body mass for throwing punches; in reality, most male vs. female altercations won’t result in sophisticated brawls.

And I suppose that’s why we rarely see it in film. When reviewing Captain America: The Winter Soldier I mentioned how we never get enough combat from Black Widow, played by Scarlett Johansson.


Haywire is great.

The writing, directing, editing, casting, soundtrack/scoring and acting is fantastic. The fights are awesome.

Steven Soderbergh may be my favorite director. His movies never disappoint.

Side Effects podiums amongst the top three films of 2013. You may know him from the Oceans Eleven franchise, Traffic or Out of Sight.

Gina Carano’s biography on IMDB claims Soderbergh, “wrote the role of Mallory Kane specifically for her,” though the screenplay’s written by Lem Dobbs (who also wrote The Limey, another famous Soderbergh flick.)

I knew I recognized Gina C. She plays a great character in Fast & Furious 6!

Others may know her as the famous MMA fighter.

If you see the movie, you’ll understand why Soderbergh’s such a great director. The action is entirely more riveting without stunt doubles.

I dig that Gina Carano. She’s charismatic and lovable as the protagonist. Let’s hope we see more of her in future films.

The chase scenes are quietly spectacular. The plot moves along at a break-neck pace so you have to pay attention.

There’s something about the on-foot chase scene that’s gripping. When it really feels like the characters are sprinting for long periods of time, it’s so engaging.

Haywire’s stylishly edited and utilizes innovative storytelling techniques. One scene cuts between three different types of footage to show a trio of plots developing simultaneously. Plus, there’s no in-scene sound or dialogue, just the musical score.

It’s very cool! And slightly confusing. So pay attention!

The supporting cast is spectacular.

Channing Tatum never disappoints.

Ewan McGregor doing quality Ewan.

Bill Paxton doing quality Paxton.

Anotonio Banderas. Michael Douglas.

Michael Fassbender!

Come on. What more do you need?

Haywire is a top-notch action thriller available for HD rental through Xfinity OnDemand, Amazon or iTunes for $3.99.

There’s nothing special during the credits.

But it’s 93 minutes, and it’s an R-rated flick that men and women will both enjoy.

You might call it a great ‘date movie’.

Edge of Tomorrow (PG-13)

9 Stars

If you see one flick all summer then look no further.

It’s not only the best of the season, Edge of Tomorrow is the top release so far this year. It’s still playing in some theaters so catch it before it completely leaves the big screen.

Whether you’re a film buff or just the occasional theatergoer, you’ll love this science fiction thriller. It’s riveting, smart, inventive and fun.

With a massive budget, a strong supporting cast of knowns and unknowns, and top-notch special effects; the cinematic experience doesn’t get any better.

But it’s the story you’ll dig most. EoT is similar to last year’s Ender’s Game by offering an original take on extraterrestrial invasion. The ‘mimics’ are organic, menacing and wildly compelling.

To pile on top, the plot fiddles with time travel in the smartest way.

Let’s discuss discouraging numbers.

Edge of Tomorrow pulled $28 million for third place in the box office opening weekend, behind Maleficent in 2nd place, and The Fault in Our Stars which made $48M.

According to budgetary estimates on IMDB, TFIOS cost $12M to produce, and EoT cost $178M. So far EoT grossed almost $95M, but still tails behind its wretched usurper (TFIOS) at nearly $120M.

EoT is making up for it overseas, but the statistics speak for themselves: American moviegoers reward bad dromantic quirkedies over well-crafted science fiction.

This disappoints me.

Anyway, back to the film.

A common criticism regards the title. I’ve heard four separate voices speak out about it. But there’s a trend: Nobody ever suggests a better one, or explains why it’s poor.

It’s certainly better than the title of the novel the screenplay’s adapted from, “All You Need is Kill” by Hiroshi Sakurazaka.

Perhaps ‘Precipice of Yesterday’ is better? ‘Threshold of Today’ is definitely a downgrade.

Now. If the argument regards the title’s inadequacy in capturing the attention of the American viewing audience, I’m listening. It’s got to be more than just, “Edge of Tomorrow is a bad title.”

Tom Cruise never gets enough credit. He stars (as two different characters named ‘Jack,’ ironically) in two great movies from last year, Oblivion and Jack Reacher. He’s acted in at least fifteen fantastic films (and no, this doesn’t include Jerry Maguire) most of which he’s the leading role.

Quick T.C. top five: Rain Man (1988), Magnolia (1999), Minority Report (2002), Risky Business (1983) and Eyes Wide Shut (1999).

He’s one of our finest, most accomplished actors working today. You can add yet another fantastic film to the list and consider him adequately credited.

Emily Blunt’s acting is perfect, but we don’t get enough combat out of her.

Although she’s often wielding an awesome futuristic sword, she doesn’t dispatch many mimics with it. Probably due to the unfortunate PG-13 rating.

There’s a shot of Blunt as she gets up out of a yoga pose. As enjoyable as it is, it happens three or four times and it’s one too many.

Another undesirable moment occurs when Nance (played by Charlotte Riley) uses the phrase, “Could I trouble you for a glass of shut the hell up?”

It’s a jarring cliché and her phrasing’s not realistic. She’d choose a stronger curse word.

As irksome as it is, one can argue it’s a nod to the Nursing Home Orderly played by Ben Stiller in Happy Gilmore. This interpretation’s a stretch, but it’s preferable.

All in all, these are small scratches on a fresh finish; unworthy of dwelling upon.

What’s worthy of dwell is the ending. (Beware, a spoiler follows.)

Something doesn’t add up. According to screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie the filmmakers only solidified the ending while shooting was underway. Some of the backlash responds to the ‘happiness’ of the movie’s conclusion.

I’m more concerned with the pre-established rules of the fictive universe, and how the time reset could work in such a way on the mimics’ final day. There’s no precedent to suggest the time interval would increase upon the aliens’ destruction.

Again, this is neither here nor there.

Whichever way you slice it, Edge of Tomorrow is terrific.

I can’t wait for Edge of the Day After Tomorrow, where the mimics rise again and develop flight capabilities. Let’s get Blunt in jet-propelled boots, and give her a second sword, just in case.