Wednesday, October 29, 2014


Tonight I screened Nightcrawler, starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Rene Russo.

Lou Bloom (Gyllenhaal) is an aspiring breaking-news photographer in Los Angeles who covets a relationship with Nina (Russo), a news director at a local station that's suffering in the ratings.

Though he has no formal training, Bloom is confident that he's a quick study, and begins to apprentice professionals already on the job—without their permission. He soon becomes good enough to get some clips on the air and hires a homeless assistant, Rick (Riz Ahmed), who is as desperate for employment as Bloom is for success.

The trouble is, Bloom doesn't seem to have a conscience when it comes to reporting. Ethics aren't what advances a photographer's career, so he focuses on the things that do: bloody crime scenes and accidents in suburbia. His methods cross the line of appropriate and his negotiating tactics, for more money and more recognition, are beyond reproach.

Scene after scene, Gylenhaal impresses us as the dangerous kind of narcissist that can't see beyond his own ego. His hollow smile coupled with his sharp, yet condescending lectures show a level of crazy that we haven't seen before in the actor. Perhaps what's so frightening is that he seems such a natural fit.

Russo matches his level of energy as the boss who will risk everything to keep her job, even if it means rewarding reprehensible behavior.

To add to the fun, the dialogue will make you angry at yourself for partially appreciating Bloom's wit, and oddly (sometimes) even rooting for him to get to the story first. After all, he's working hard for it.

Of course no matter of warped charisma or set of brass balls can excuse the evil that sneaks out when anyone puts humanity second to their own pursuits.

It's just a shame that our society is presently so twisted, none of this seems too far-fetched to be believable.


Sunday, October 05, 2014


This morning I saw Annabelle, starring Annabelle Wallis and Ward Horton.

The year is 1969 and the world has gone crazy. Charles Manson and his "family" of murderers are terrorizing Southern California and Mia (Wallis) just wants to start a happy life with her doctor husband John (Horton).

The couple lives in Santa Monica, near the beach, in an idyllic house with attentive neighbors and a friendly church where they faithfully worship. They're expecting their first daughter and preparing the home for her arrival.

John knows of Mia's fondness for collectible dolls and buys her one, which she immediately treasures, giving it a place of honor in the nursery.

Before long, tragedy strikes and members of a satanic cult get to the couple in the middle of the night. Though not everyone survives, the pair and their unborn baby emerge with only minor injuries ... at least physically.

Strange things begin happening not long after, and Mia attributes the hauntings to the doll, which was symbolic of that horrific night. Determined to make a fresh start, John accepts a position in nearby Pasadena and gives the family hope for a fresh start.

Cue the slamming doors and stereo that turns itself on—we now have a horror film.

Though the directing is quite good (Leonetti is undeniably skilled in creepy shots), the story falls short. While The Conjuring didn't give every surprise away, this one does, and there's much less peril for the stars.

Annabelle is indeed based on a true doll (that now resides in Ed and Lorraine Warren's paranormal museum), but the story here, with few exceptions, is purely fictional.

I would've been much more interested in seeing a documentary of the actual events than attempt to be startled by a plot that's too conventional to be frightening.


Friday, October 03, 2014

Gone Girl

Tonight I saw Gone Girl, starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike.

Remember when Scott Peterson's attorney called him a 'cad' for having an affair with Amber Frey, but implied that didn't make him a murderer? That his wife Laci's disappearance wasn't necessarily connected just because of his bad behavior?

Well, Nick Dunne (Affleck) has found himself in a similar situation.

Without giving anything away about what his character is actually guilty of doing, Nick's wife Amy (Pike) has gone missing and his judgment has been admittedly poor as the small Missouri town where they reside rallies to search for her.

On his side are his hot-shot attorney Tanner (played to perfection by Tyler Perry) and his twin sister Margo (Carrie Coon); both think he's a certain degree of idiot, but neither thinks him a murderer. Sure, his wife is/was an uppity, cold New Yorker with few—if any—friends to speak of, and he's an out-of-work writer, numbingly co-owning the town bar with his sister, but for all their typical married couple problems, he had no reason to kill her.

And that's about all I can tell you about the story.

Those who were fans of the book for which the film is based won't be disappointed in how the original author, the amazing Gillian Flynn, adapts it for the big screen. The characters gain even more dimension, and smaller players emerge stronger and more visible in the chaos.

I wasn't surprised I loved this film, but I was shocked at how long it was since it felt like it went so fast (it's actually well over 2 hours). I loved being on the edge of my seat, though I knew (generally) what was going to happen. I adored seeing the state where I went to college re-capture all of its small-town charm with endearing cops and annoying neighbors amongst the flood of do-gooders. I relished in the graphic scenes of sex and violence; none of which felt gratuitous.

I appreciated the way the men gasped more than the women did in my theater, and no matter how unlikeable the characters became, I still ended up rooting for them in some weird, warped, dark way.

The world needs more satisfying twisty thrillers like this one.