films

Nightcrawler, steady hands

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Meet Lou Bloom, an unemployed thirty-something with a penchant for stealing shiny things, and enough charisma and self-belief to power the whole of Los Angeles.

After stumbling across a late night crime scene he becomes enthralled by the excitement and immediacy of watching the Nightcrawlers at work — seeing them get in, get the shot, and get out.

It becomes obvious that in order to be great at this job you need to park your emotion at the door and stop looking at victims of crime as real people but instead as a meal ticket, which we soon learn is no big deal for our wide-eyed sociopath. He was made for this job — and so, off he goes into the night on his quest for breaking news with his home-movie camcorder, and a hapless intern…

In this age of austerity, recession, and job losses you can’t help but empathise with Gyllenhaal’s Bloom — infact, you can’t help but admire him, his resilience, his determination, and his bravery. He is a man willing to do whatever it takes to find his foothold in a world that has, until now, stretched and worn useless thin around him.

Speaking of Gyllenhaal, he is exquisite as cinema’s latest (and greatest) anti-hero. A midnight misfit with misinformed motives, He’s unrelenting, unhinged and unstable and the feeling that he may switch into something quite dark and sinister is always there, bleeding through the screen. But his witty salesman-esque approach to dialogue balances out that creepy edge endearing him to us more with every scene.

Sharp writing made for an interesting character base but the spellbinding performance from Jake Gyllenhaal provides the layers to rival the Travis Bickles, the Alex DeLarges and the D-Fens of the movie world. Lou Bloom is discomfort personified, haunting the screen with his giant blue eyes suspended on a gaunt face that is both alluring and terrifying. This movie belongs to him, he is the beating heart, and pumping blood of this diamond in the rough.

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Nightcrawler, quite fittingly, is a visual feast serving up plenty of wide-angle sweeps of the LA skyline to sink your teeth into, as well as uncomfortable up-close-and-personal shots of the saturated underbelly of the crime world. In short, the cinematography is stunning. And the direction is just as good, with one scene in particular that details the technical breakdowns of constructing and presenting live news using Bloom’s explosive, and morally questionable, footage that would be worthy of wearing out the tape for rewinding it so much — it gives us a no holds barred insight into the seedy world of breaking news that leaves you not knowing whether to shudder or applause.

Originality is almost an impossible feat to achieve in the seen-it-all-before age of cinema, but Nightcrawler might have just achieved it. It has the leading man, the production, and the screenplay to rival any Hollywood blockbuster but it is it’s charm, modesty, and the ‘je ne sais quoi’ quality that will lifts it into a category of it’s very own.

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I just wish I could watch it with fresh eyes all over again…

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You couldn’t ignore me if you tried

Thirty years ago today, The Breakfast Club met for detention.

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In honour of this gorgeous fact, I’m going to dedicate my afternoon to curling up with a cup of tea (or three) and basking in the gloriousness ’80s teen drama that is The Breakfast Club. And if you ask me, there’s no better way to spend a dreary Monday…

Reflecting on what makes a Maniac

The horror genre has been, excuse the pun, butchered so much lately. As a self-confessed Horror nut I’ve been left feeling frustrated so many times over the past few years when directors have heavily relied on over-the-top gore for cheap thrills instead of crafting terror through twists you don’t see coming, characters loaded with depth and mystery, and chilling cinematography.

Maniac, is a remake of the 1980 slasher movie by William Lustig, starring Elijah Wood as a troubled and creepy mannequin store owner by day who gets his kicks by mutilating girls on the street by night. He kills and scalps girls before attaching their scalps to his own private collection of mannequins, which he then interacts with as if they were alive. So, on the surface it sounds like your average freaky, gore fest but at its core it’s so much more than that.

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Considering how much of a mad crush I’ve got on Elijah Wood, I was surprised by how much I dig him in a role where he is playing such a disturbing and unnerving character. The dialogue was stilted and eerie which certainly carved a sense of terror in me from the moment the film started and reinforced the idea that this guy was off the freakin’ rails. Big time.

Filming it almost entirely from his point of view was a genius move, as we only get to see his face as a reflection in mirrors, windows, and car doors, which ramps up the creepy factor by a few notches. Plus, as Elijah Wood is, let’s face it, totally beautiful it makes sense not to let us indulge in his beauty too much purely because it’s distracting and the last thing we want is to be attracted to him. And mirrors are a really powerful tool because they open up and explore that idea of self image and how we see ourselves compared with the facade we’re putting on for the world. So, that element of the film just rocks and I loved it. It’s not the first time I’ve ever seen this technique but it’s certainly one of the better uses of it, for sure.

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During and after watching this film I felt myself wanting to know more about Frank as I was super intrigued by his character and some of the suggestions that he was maybe dealing with a multiple personality disorder as well as clearly being traumatised by his childhood — and in particular, his relationship with his mom. He has flashbacks of some of the most pivotal moments of his upbringing that could have triggered his bloodlust and psychotic behaviour as an adult.

What I loved so much were the obvious references to Silence of the Lambs, one of the greatest Horror stories of all time, especially with its choice of music —THAT Goodbye Horses song, eurgh! — which completely transcended the film because what Silence of the Lambs does so well is lulls you with suspense and draws you in to a dark, and sinister place and that is exactly what Maniac needs. It needs for you to be captivated and terrified from the beginning so it can pummel you with fear to create that overwhelming sense of distress and anxiety, and nothing does that better than a not-so-friendly reminder of another sick lunatic who also gets his kicks from skinning his victims — albeit it for totally different reasons, but hey let’s not split hairs here.

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I won’t pretend I didn’t watch this movie purely because of Elijah Wood, but after a few seconds I completely forgot about him and was absorbed into a new, frightening world that was almost too much at times. It’s so intense, partly down to the direction, but mainly because it is gruesome and unrelenting. It’s access all areas as far as the violence goes, so if you’re squeamish this is not the movie for you. Sorry.

In the end, it is quite a tried and tested structure and without wrecking the plot I’ll just say I wasn’t satisfied or blown away with the ending but I did enjoy (if that’s the right word to use when watching a man scalp innocent women in the street) the path it took to get there. For originality and creativity I can’t fault this movie, and that’s good enough for me. It’s engrossing, and has a lot more lurking beneath the surface for you to sink your teeth into — if you can move past the (enormous amount of) blood.

Go watch it, and keep a sick bucket close by just in case!

Prisoners, pray for the best but prepare for the worst

With only one day to go until The Academy Awards 2014, there’s only a few movies getting talked about. I do love the Oscars, but I try not to take them too seriously — It’s an exciting night of glitz and glamour, ego stroking, and talent spotting but it’s a fact that time and again some of the best performances and films of that past year get snubbed. And for me, one of the biggest snubs at this year’s Oscars is Prisoners.

Jake Gyllenhaal is an actor that I’ve always liked. But that’s about it. He was great in Brokeback Mountain, and fantastic in Zodiac but after watching him as Detective Loki in Prisoners, I couldn’t stop thinking about his acting. I went back and re-watched some of his old performances and appreciated them even more. In Prisoners he was jaw-droppingly good — I can’t even tell you how many times I wished I could rewind his scenes just to see them again, but that’s just not an option in the cinema. His performance achieved the rare feat of being transparent and hard-hitting yet subtle.

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I was absolutely captivated by him each time he appeared on screen and was always left wanting more. The way he delivered his lines was understated and, most importantly, believable. He was workin’.

His performance wouldn’t have been half as good had he not had such a delicious script to work with. The writing was spot-on from the word go. One thing I love is when writers respect their audience enough to give us room to let our own imaginations run wild — and for us to use our brains to piece the puzzle together. We’re all grown ups, we don’t need spoon feeding and Prisoners certainly gives us our own creative freedom.

An obviously tortured and troubled character, I was desperate to know more about his history but we never got it — sometimes this might be frustrating, or come of as lazy writing but in this case it was just right. In fact it was perfect. Just knowing that there was more lurking beneath the surface was enough. And Jake Gyllenhaal was truly tantalising and real.

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Not only do I think his performance in this movie has been snubbed, but the screenplay should also be recognised. It’s a real slow burner of a film, but at it’s core it’s explosive and terrifying and the writers gave us something dark and gritty to sink our teeth into. I felt every emotion that was being carved out on screen as if it was happening inside me — I came away from the cinema feeling a total wreck but still desperate to go back and watch it all over again. How morbid, I know!

The thing is if a film is great it will still be great and fit into DVD collections around the world in years to come whether it cleaned up at the Oscars or didn’t receive a single nomination. It’s just a shame that Prisoners didn’t get the credit it deserved from the critics. But don’t let that put you off. Go watch it, and get ready for a white knuckle ride of tension and despair.

Reservoir Dogs, you’re fuckin Beretta!

There is something so fantastically bizarre about Quentin Tarantino’s movies that when I first discovered them it felt like, what I can only imagine, a kid who has been forbidden from eating candy all their life feels upon accidentally chowing down a piece of the sweet stuff and unleashing an outrageous explosion of taste inside their cute little head. Incredible.

Although I refuse to do this in real life, if someone asked me to choose which one of his movies is my ultimate favourite — in blog life, I’d go with the dogs.

It was the second Tarantino movie I saw, a couple of hours after experiencing Pulp Fiction I was desperate to soak up as much of this new found goodness as possible. From the moment it started — that iconic diner scene, I was hooked. I got Tarantino in my blood work.

It’s the simplicity of the story juxtaposed with the intensity of the characters — and the depth with which he creates them. His extraordinary, and rare, talent of being able to describe the entire psychology and personality of a character with one line — or one look — is out in full force in this film. The notorious opening scene is a classic example of that.

It’s the dialogue. It’s always the dialogue with QT, but Reservoir Dogs is a total goldmine when it comes to smart-ass one-liners. I reckon that 80 per cent of his dialogue has nothing to do with the movie’s plot, or the characters in it but that’s why it’s real. That’s why it’s honest.

It’s the relationships he forms between the characters — and how intelligently, and tantalisingly, he develops them and weaves them into the film.

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It’s the brutal, bloody violence alongside genuine humour. And the super-sounds-of-the-seventies soundtrack that contrasts so loudly with the film’s content. And it’s the genius direction of not showing the audience the truly violent moments — the camera pans away when the sadistic-yet-so-cool Mr. Blond slices poor old Marvin’s ear off.

And, of course, it’s Mr. Orange. The character that my twelve-year-old self thought was the coolest cat in town. And my twenty-one-year-old self still thinks is the greatest character ever thunked up. It’s the ‘you’re fucking Beretta’ moment that sealed the deal.

Tarantino knows how to write a weird and wonderful story that we can all sink our teeth into, that’s a given, but what’s so obvious is his unrivalled ability to create characters that stick.

After watching Reservoir Dogs at the cinema, on it’s 21st anniversary, I spent a freezing cold hour outside discussing the psychology of his characterisation with a handful of strangers, and fellow Tarantino nuts. We all agreed that he is in a class of his own when it comes to inventing wholly unique characters in fucked up situations.

If you want gratuitous entertainment, he’s your guy. If you want one hundred minutes of adrenaline busting perfection, the dogs is your film.

Watching the Detectives, It’s definitely you

You’re the nicest guy I’ve ever met and I’m a terrible person.’ 

Look at me saying I’m not a huge fan of romantic comedies, and then I go and write about two of them in a row. Well, when you’re on a roll, you’re on a roll…

I don’t know many people who have seen this film, but it’s one I always recommend purely because it is an hour and a half of fun. Not all films need to leave your jaw on the floor — but just because a film isn’t powerful, doesn’t mean it isn’t fantastic. And just because a film is romantic doesn’t it has to be soppy.

Watching The Detectives is a deliciously quirky story about Neil, a vintage video store owner & movie geek (who could certainly give me a run for my money), who meets Violet, a happy-go-lucky girl, who injects some much-needed excitement into his life. So much so, that his own life becomes just as exciting and entertaining as the ones he’s used to watching on a TV screen.

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Well, you know what they say? ‘Be careful what you wish for’ and all that, and as Neil gets a little more excitement than he bargained for with Violet when his mundane life becomes a whirlwind ride of exhilaration and, sometimes, danger.

And if you’re anything like me (obsessed with movies, that is) you’ll love Cillian Murphy’s (swoon) character for his unrelenting film knowledge — even dumping his ex-girlfriend because she’s ‘not enough like Katharine Ross in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid!’ Hey, t’s certainly an original break-up line I’ll give him that!

It’s a gorgeous depiction of how one person can totally flip our lives upside down — as well as being a great reminder that we shouldn’t spend too much time living our lives in front of the TV screen (easier said than done, in some cases). Don’t worry, the irony of this is not lost on me.

So, next time you’re renting a movie why not give this baby a try — I don’t think you’ll be able to wipe the smile off of your face for days after…

Ruby Sparks, ‘I love your mess’

It’s no secret that I’d pick a gory ’80s slasher, or even a kung-fu flick over a romantic comedy any day, but that’s not to say I don’t think they’ve got their time and place.

I do like my love stories a little unconventional though, so when I first heard what Ruby Sparks was about it was always going to be a winner with me.

I’ve seen this movie three or four times, and I’ve always found it to be beautiful and entertaining — but the other night I watched it and had a totally different experience.

As a writer, I’ve always been interested in words, so a movie’s screenplay is a big deal for me. And I’m always one for wanting to know everything about a film’s writer from where they got their inspiration from what they drank while writing, but for some reason I never bothered to find out anything about Ruby Sparks. But five minutes into watching it the other night, I felt compelled to find out the who, where, what and why of who wrote it right then and there. Thank Zeus for the speediness of modern technology as I discovered it was in fact Zoe Kazan aka ‘Ruby’ who wrote it.

This filled me so much joy because there is nothing I love more than seeing female writers kickin’ ass! As someone who dreams of writing screenplays, it inspires me hugely!

If you haven’t spent a magical couple of hours watching Ruby Sparks yet, I won’t spoil it for you by giving you a sypnosis as I think the best way to go into this movie is by not knowing a thing about it. Just jump in and enjoy the ride. All I’ll do is implore you to do it sooner rather than later.

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