Nightcrawler movie review

Featuring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Riz Ahmed, Bill Paxton
Director/screenwriter: Dan Gilroy
Movie website: www.nightcrawlermovie.com.au/
Australian release date: Thu 27 Nov

Reviewer: rolanstein
Verdict: Based on a premise of great potential that is not fully realised, but an absorbing thriller nevertheless.

Review:
Sensationalist tabloid TV news thrives on blood-and-guts and celebrity. Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) obliges with both in his newly chosen career as a “nightcrawler” (crime and catastrophe photo-journalist), scouring the roads and suburbs of nocturnal LA in the hope of arriving at a grisly murder or accident site before his competitors – and ideally, the cops. Having impressed and secured the backing of TV news director Nina (Rene Russo) through persistent self-promotion and footage of ratings-grabbing carnage, he produces scoop after bloody scoop, quickly establishing a reputation within the industry, and graduating from lone wolf to director of his own company.

Lou gains an edge over other nightcrawlers by manipulating and sometimes initiating crime scenes, like an evil, hidden horror movie director with a real-life cast of dead and maimed trauma victims, cops and paramedics. With his phenomenally sustained run of spectacular first-on-scene splatter footage, his acclaim grows exponentially and he creates his own celebrity.

The tremendously compelling premise that powers the narrative promises much but doesn’t quite deliver. While a gaunt, bug-eyed Gyllenhaal does well in the lead role, his character’s psychopathology renders him morally one-dimensional, immune to the ethical dilemmas inherent in his gore-peddling work; a socially responsible character might have offered more dramatic potential in grappling with the morality of his position.

Further, in making the psychopathic Lou the primary focus, the filmmakers have missed the opportunity to broaden the philosophical scope of the film. The premise afforded an opportunity to illuminate the ethical twilight zone occupied by today’s tabloid media organisations and the news gatherers that feed them – and perhaps to consider the cultural implications of the rapacious audience demand for their product.

Nevertheless, Nightcrawlers is an absorbing and at times high-octane thriller with the power to shock. Worth a look.

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Maps To The Stars movie review

Featuring: Julianne Moore, Mia Wasikowska, John Cusack, Robert Pattinson
Director: David Cronenberg
Screenwriter: Bruce Wagner
Movie website: mapstothestarsfilm.com/

2014-15 Lotterywest Perth Film Festival season dates:
Somerville: 8-14 Dec, 8pm
Joondalup Pines: 16-21 Dec, 8pm

Reviewer: rolanstein
Verdict: A savage, hateful, slash-and-burn satire targeting Hollywood that will appeal to the like-minded, while likely repulsing others.

Review:
Unsurprisingly in a film satirising Hollywood, Maps to the Stars features a conga line of dysfunctional characters. It’s a telling irony that of these, Agatha (Mia Wasikowska), a burns-scarred schizophrenic pyromaniac, is the most balanced (or rather, least unbalanced) – and the only one remotely likeable.

After a long period of enforced institutionalisation, she has come to Hollywood to track down her family, from whom she has been estranged since endangering their lives by starting a house fire while they slept. Puzzlingly, with little money and in desperate need of a job, she spends her first few days being chauffeured around in a limo by an aspiring actor (Robert Pattinson). The only “normal” character in the movie, he is nevertheless afflicted by Hollywood values, declaring that he is considering becoming a Scientologist “for career reasons.”

Agatha’s father, Doctor Stafford Weiss (John Cusack), is a creepy eyeliner-wearing celebrity shrink who spouts pseudo-poetic pop psychobabble on his TV show and practises dubious massage-based reversion therapy on the rich and famous. The real star of the family, however, is obnoxious Beiber-like 13 year old brat Benjie, who has cracked the bigtime as lead actor in a box office smash. Managed as a precious commodity by his dominating mother, he is just out of rehab, unable to cope with the fame and obscene money that has come with his success.

Then there is messed up neurotic ageing movie star Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore), haunted and enshadowed by her more famous actress mother, now deceased, whom she claims sexually abused her as a child. She is a patient of Doctor Weiss’s, and when she hires Agatha as a personal assistant it is only a matter of time before he gets to know that his exiled daughter is in town.

The narrative is structured around two quests: Agatha is seeking redemption and reconnection with her family, and Havana is obsessed with being picked for the lead role her mother played in a re-make of her most famous film, and presumably outshining her.

Despite some sharp dialogue and terrific performances from Julianne Moore and Mia Wasikowska, there is a hateful savagery and extreme nastiness to this film that is off-putting, because it is to no good end. Hollywood and its tinsel-souled denizens, with their falsities and insincerity, bitchiness, insecurities, obsession with fame and glamour, youth worship, wallowing in material excess and deficit of meaningful values is easy pickings for satirists – too easy. What is there to say that is not already a given? The purpose of satire is to shine a cynical light into dark corners of society, to expose the pompous, ridiculous and vacuous as such by defamiliarising the familiar. But what if there is no need for such exposure? What if the targets and their flaws are already obvious, writ large on the public consciousness, as in this case?

Director Cronenberg’s solution to this problem is to go over the top, to introduce absurdist elements (such as a silly Oedipal aspect to a central relationship), and to mount a furious slash-and-burn offensive, spiking his satire with cruelty and horror. There is a self-immolation, a most vicious parental beating resulting in possible sterility on the part of the victim, a bloody killing with a movie award as the murder weapon (nice bit o symbolism there), incest, suicide… The result is that the characters – apart from poor Agnes – are rendered so thoroughly repulsive and inhumane that their basic dramatic credibility is undermined. Worse, the much-needed humour of the piece, a saving grace of satire and used with enormous skill and flourish by masters of the form such as Swift and Waugh, is compromised. The sense by the end is of being dumped on. Cathartic for Cronenberg, hopefully, but not such a great trip for the viewer.

If you hate Hollywood with a passion, you’re probably going to love this. Otherwise, likely the opposite. Either way, you won’t be bored!

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The Dark Horse movie review

Featuring: Cliff Curtis, James Rolleston, Miriama McDowell, Kirk Torrance, Wayne Hapi, Te Ahorangi Retimana-Martin
Writer/Director: James Napier Robertson
Movie website: www.thedarkhorsefilm.com/

2014-15 Lotterywest Perth Film Festival season dates:
Joondalup Pines: 25-30 Nov, 8pm
Somerville: 1-7 Dec, 8pm

Reviewer: rolanstein
Verdict: A feel-good flick with edge that charms, shocks and packs an emotional wallop. The lead performance by Cliff Curtis is a tour de force.

Review:
Kiwi movie The Dark Horse kicks off the 2014-15 Lotterywest Perth Film Festival at Joondalup Pines on November 25, and what a superb opener it is!

Cliff Curtis (Whale Rider, Boy) is mesmerising in his portrayal of real-life bipolar chess champion Genesis (“Gen”) Potini. This is an instance of that ideal commonly cited but rarely realised of an actor “becoming” his character, and in the case of the complex, brilliant but burdened Gen, struggling under attack from demons of the mind, this is no mean feat. Curtis captures the dignity and inspirational courage of a deeply humane and sensitive man who rises above a debilitating and isolating mental illness in the service of empowering at-risk Maori youth, while finding personal meaning and purpose and a measure of stability through his mission.

Previously institutionalised and now homeless and heavily medicated, Gen becomes involved with a community chess club for local kids. There he finds acceptance that is denied him by the greater community, and soon emerges as an inspirational leader, reconnecting the kids with their cultural mythology in the course of mentoring them in chess, with the unlikely objective of having them compete in the coming national youth chess championship.

Gen fears for the welfare of his troubled nephew Mana (compellingly played by James Rolleston), who lives with a biker gang, The Vagrants, headed by his father – Gen’s brother, the intimidating, warrior-like Ariki (Wayne Hapi). Mana is subjected to humiliating initiation abuses by the gang as he nears his 16th birthday, when he is due to be patched as a full-fledged Vagrants member. At Gen’s encouragement, he secretly begins attending the chess club. With the chess championship approaching and coinciding with Mana’s birthday, the course is set for a dramatic climax that will pitch Gen and his fearsome but ailing brother into direct conflict.

Beautifully filmed by Perth cinematographer Denson Baker, and featuring some impossibly cute kids, all of whom play their parts wonderfully, The Dark Horse charms, shocks and packs an emotional wallop. It’s a feel-good flick with real edge, and a must-see for the towering performance of Cliff Curtis alone, which is in itself an extraordinary cinema experience.

If this is any indication of the quality in store in this year’s film festival, Perthites are in for a treat.

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The Drop movie review

Featuring: Tom Hardy, James Gandolfini, Nooma Rapace, Matthias Schoenaerts
Director: Michaël R. Roskam
Screenwriter: Dennis Lehane
Movie website: www.thedrop-movie.com/
Australian release date: Thu 13 Nov

Reviewer: rolanstein
Verdict: A tough, unsentimental, classy crime drama, featuring a marvellous performance from Tom Hardy, and a fine swansong from James Gandolfini.


Review:
At the centre of this well-crafted and superbly performed crime drama is a riveting performance by Tom Hardy as the enigmatic lead character, Bob. Solitary apparently by choice, Bob is lonely nevertheless, but so unused to company at home that he agonises over whether to keep an abused dog he rescues from a rubbish bin. Through the dog, he meets a damaged woman (Nooma Rapace) recovering from a violent relationship. Turns out her sadistic ex (Matthias Schoenaerts) is also the owner of the dog.

Bob works as a bar-tender at a seamy New York backstreet bar run by his cousin Marv (James Gandolfini). Once a local community notable, Marv is in decline, having incurred gambling debts and forfeited ownership of his bar to Chechen mobsters. The joint operates as a pickup point for crims exchanging laundered money.

Bob is a man of few words, especially concerning the criminal milieu in which he works – he sees nuttin’, says nuttin’. However, when the bar is robbed during his shift and the ruthless Chechens demand the return of their money, he finds himself enmeshed in a combustible situation, along with the untrustworthy Marv.

In this murky corner of the New York underworld, Bob stands out as the only character who is not driven by brutish greed and power. As such, he is intriguing, as is his choice to work in a vipers’ pit. We are given no glimpses into his background, no clues as to why he is so taciturn and socially unengaged, but for all his oddness he is given great credibility as a character by Hardy, who somehow manages to convey a sense of depth beneath still waters.

Further, there is a trembling flicker of humanity and sensitivity about Bob, and a tentative but courageous willingness to expose himself to emotional risk that is endearing. The girl and his dog are all that matter to him, having given his life new meaning and purpose. The stakes are as high as can be, then, when both are threatened as criminal elements begin encroaching on his life privately as well as at work.

Hardy could have no finer support than James Gandolfini, who is a perfect fit for the role of Marv. Tough, treacherous, sly and servile when need be, he’s a failed version of Tony Soprano. Gandolfini’s range as an actor was narrow, but no one did these parts better. Sadly, this tough, unsentimental, classy crime drama is Gandolfini’s final film, concluding – in tribute, you’d fancy – with a scene that nods to the final frames of the last episode of The Sopranos.

One of the year’s best.

My Old Lady movie review

Featuring: Maggie Smith, Kevin Kline, Kristin Scott Thomas, Dominique Pinon
Director: Israel Horovitz
Screenwriter: Israel Horovitz
Movie website: cohenmedia.net/films/my-old-lady
Australian release date: Thu 13 Nov

Reviewer: rolanstein
Verdict: Melodramatic, stagey and plays safe, but is nevertheless charming and entertaining. Powered by good performances.


Review:
Impecunious middle-aged New Yorker Mathias (Kevin Kline) travels to Paris to sell a valuable apartment he has inherited from his estranged father, but gets more than he bargained for when he discovers that it is a viager – a property bought cheaply on condition that the purchaser does not sell until the resident dies, and in the meantime pays a set amount per month towards their living costs. In this case, the resident, Mathilde (Maggie Smith), is in her 90s, but to Mathias’s mounting alarm, is still going exceedingly strong! Adding to his woes is Mathilde’s openly hostile daughter Chloé (Kristin Scott Thomas), who lives with her. With no funds and nowhere to live, Mathias insists on moving in while he figures out what to do.

Initially shaping as a comedy, the piece darkens as the characters peel back their layers. Mathias presents as an irreverent and endearing loser who gets by through cynical wit. However, when it comes to light that Mathilde and his father were long-term lovers, he’s revealed as a tragic alcoholic clown struggling with deep hurt. Maggie Smith does the refined dowager as delightfully as always, but her character is cast in a very different light when her past finds its way into the present. Indeed, she is the source of much anguish – justifiably or otherwise – for embittered Chloé, as well as Mathias. Care is taken not to encumber the characters with directorial judgement. Mathias and Chloé are put to the psychological torch, but unfortunately, the heat is prematurely withdrawn.

The drama progresses towards a resolution that is satisfying to a point, but largely predictable and a little too neat and safe. The compensation is in the getting there, which is well managed, both in terms of the writing and performances. That said, although the dramatic fundamentals are solid, there is a theatrical feel about the set-up and a sense that stage, rather than film, might have been a more natural fit for the work. And as good as the actors are, the characters fail to elicit the sympathy required to ensure a level of emotional investment on the part of the viewer that might have made for a more memorable movie experience.


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