movie review

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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Blue Valentine, nobody baby but you and me

Like most females I know, if Ryan Gosling is credited to a film I’m drawn to it. Moth to a flame, red rag to a bull etc etc. But, unlike most of the other films he’s starred in over the past five years, I did have my reservations about Blue Valentine. Purely because it looked like an advert for the ‘all style and no substance’ movie movement. Even like something an art student has conjured up that’s designed to look pretty but not pack much punch besides that.

My initial reaction was, I don’t want anything to do with this. And stubbornly I  stuck with this stance for a good two years after it was first in cinemas.

Well trust me kids as important as it is to go with your gut instinct, but when it comes to movies it’s equally important to let your friends persuade you. After getting sick to death of my best mate harping on and on about Blue Valentine — and everyone reblogging stills and gifs from the movie on tumblr, I caved in. I caved in and loved every second of it.

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I felt such a fool — this wasn’t a pretentious attempt at creating a kooky movie about love, this was a no-frills story about emotion. Being the voyeur that I am, the opportunity to have an uncensored and unguarded glimpse into the lives of every day people is too good to pass up.

The film follows the evolution of Dean and Cindy’s relationship by cross-cutting from how they meet to them coping with the breakdown of their marriage. The cross-cutting is seamless and quite beautiful in how it weaves through their lives before and after they meet — especially when it effortlessly overlaps between the two time periods and they almost start to melt into one. This is something I appreciated even more the second (and third) time I watched it.

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My favourite thing about this movie is the direction — the way Cianfrance uses extreme close ups, often from awkward and unusual angles, at the most tense moments is what gives it its intense and claustrophobic feel. Which, of course, emphasises the stress in their fractured relationship. It makes for quite uncomfortable viewing, but in this context works well.

Their stay in the Future Room, with its sterile decor and blue hue, embodied the tension in their relationship  — and, it’s touches like this in a film that excite me. This part of the story was definitely hard to watch because you’ve got yourself front row tickets to the crumbling of what was once a beautiful and exciting relationship.

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The script is a dream — and trust me, it’s not your typical love story. It’s intelligent with warm moments, depressing scenes and genuine surprises. It will stay with you for a while, and give you plenty to gnaw over.

And as for my worry that it was going to be (a lot of) style over (little) substance, I was completely wrong. There is a lot of attention and focus over the overall image — and as a result it is a beautiful film, sometimes shot with soft focus and lighting that take away some of the hard edges of the story, that captivated me from the beginning.

And as for Ryan Gosling… Well, he was just an added bonus!

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!