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DVD Review: Nightcrawler

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Directed by Dan Gilroy

Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo & Riz Ahmed

Louis Bloom (Gyllenhaal) is a thief living hand-to-mouth just at the poverty line in modern LA. But after a chance encounter with a late night news-gathering service, he begins to film scenes of destruction and violence across the nighttime city. As his work gains acclaim from motivated exec Nina (Russo), he takes on a young ‘intern’, Rick (Ahmed) and begins to push footage further, embroiling himself in an unfolding crime spree.

On its surface, Nightcrawler sounds like a rote concept with an interesting lead, and nothing more. It’s the sort of plot you’ve seen unfurl many times before, and often in better depth- like in Breaking Bad, for instance. But from the moment Gyllenhaal steps on-screen, the difference is readily apparent. Nightcrawler is possibly a morality tale, but not one about the downfall of a good man- more about the rise of a bad one. Bloom is a bizarre construction from writer Dan Gilroy; his dialogue is crimped from self-help books and online motivational courses, recited as though it’s memorised by rote. His life is empty, and he doesn’t seem to know; he has no concept of context, offering someone stolen goods before asking for a job and talking about his work ethic.

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Film Review: Kingsman: The Secret Service

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Directed by Matthew Vaughm

Starring Taron Egerton, Colin Firth & Samuel L. Jackson

Those bored to tears by the utterly limp mainstream release of late will regard ‘Kingsman: The Secret Service’, as a  blast of fresh air. The film is a high-octane, low-brow thrill ride of fantastic stunts, larger than life characters and, most importantly, a sense of fun that hasn’t graced our multiplexes in quite some time.

Newcomer Taron Egerton plays ‘Eggsy’, a working class London lad who appears to be getting himself into an inordinate amount of trouble. Enter Harry Hart (expertly played by Colin Firth), a clipped, suit-clad member of ‘Kingsman’ – a branch of the secret service run by Arthur (Michael Caine). After a brilliantly entertaining first meeting in a local London boozer (you’ll remember the phrase “Manners Maketh Man”), Harry offers Eggsy the chance to turn his life around and apply to become Kingman’s newest members.

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DVD Review: Night Moves

919kQgS2rkL._SL1500_Directed by Kelly Reichardt

Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning, Peter Sarsgaard

Kelly Reichardt has quietly made a name for herself in the American independent film scene with a series of carefully constructed, tense and slow-burning dramas, most famously the ‘anti-western’ Meek’s Cutoff. In Night Moves, Reichardt shifts her scope from the old West to contemporary political movements through three young radical activists and their mission to explode a hydroelectric dam.

Josh (Eisenberg) works in a co-operative farm, and meets with Dena (Fanning) in secret to plan their attack on the dam. They leave their town together and drive to the woods, where they meet Harmon (Peter Sarsgaard), who Josh has met on previous ‘missions’. They fill a boat with fertilizer and homemade explosives, they proceed with their plan- but when something goes wrong, the group begins to fall apart. (more…)

Film Review: Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter

Screen Shot 2015-01-10 at 10.57.45Directed by David Zellner

Starring Rinko Kikuchi

Indie director David Zellner teams up with Alexander Payne (Sideways, Nebraska) and Pacific Rim’s Rinko Kikuchi to tell the remarkable true story of a  lonely Japanese woman who after seeing The Coen Brothers 1996 classic Fargo and believing it to be real, travels to the USA on a treasure hunt for the movies buried loot.

Kumiko lives a sad-sack life in a tiny, messy Tokyo apartment she shares with her pet rabbit ‘Bunzo’. She works a soulless, unfulfilling job as an “OL” (Office Lady) for a Japanese businessman, hounded by her mother and society’s expectations for her, she yearns for something deeper in her life. Kumiko’s wish comes true in a map which leads her to a cave by the beach where she finds an old VHS tape. She plays it to discover that the film is Fargo, and closely examines the scene in which Steve Buscemi buries a cash-stuffed briefcase in the snow alongside a fence in an open field. Suddenly obsessed, convinced that the money is still there for the taking, waiting beneath the Dakota snow for an enterprising treasure hunter to unearth the small fortune and wrest it into reality. What follows is a sort of road movie where Kumiko encounters the kind of quirky, salt of the earth characters you’d find in that famous Coen Brothers film. (more…)

Film Review: Foxcatcher

FCDirected by Bennett Miller

Starring Channing Tatum, Steve Carell & Mark Ruffalo

We’re all familiar with films revolving around enlightened characters helping the underprivileged from their plight in order to reach their goal, whether it be getting good grades or winning the school championship. Many are based on fictional characters. However, what if all of these familiar conventions were turned on their head?

Foxcatcher tells the true story of Mark Schultz (Tatum), an Olympic Gold Medal winner who  feels overshadowed by his supportive brother Dave (Ruffalo) who receives more accolades for his wrestling leadership and achievements. Mark is requested by a mysterious millionaire John Du Pont (Carell) to leave home and move to his estate and train for the 1988 Olympics. Mark agrees and tries to persuade Dave to do the same thing who refuses due to his family commitments. As coaching begins, Du Pont starts to show his darker side and influences Mark for the worse making him self-destructive and more distant from his loved ones. This becomes a major concern for his loving brother Dave which all builds up to a disturbing end for everybody involved.

“I said $25,000. It was the biggest number I could think of” is one of the most telling and revealing lines of Foxcatcher. Initially one may believe this is due to the fact that it informs the viewer of Schultz’s intelligence. However, it shows how sadly oblivious he is to the world he is about to enter. His limits may restrict him in life but due to his naturally good-natured heart they also protect him from people like Du Pont that pray on his success in order to manipulate him. Although Du Pont is the father figure that Schultz has been searching for all these years he also makes up for bringing out the darker vulnerable side of Schultz by being present in his life and providing but emotionally distant and a constant reminder of his disappointments.

This is also why silence, as opposed to dialogue, is just as much a character in the film as others where many speak in a slow, subtle tone. Director Bennett Miller (Moneyball) uses awkward silences effectively at specific moments of to evoke emotions of concern and sometimes emptiness characters feel towards one another. In one of the more comical yet somber scenes, Du Pont’s snobbish unwell mother Jean Du Pont (Vanessa Redgrave), who looks down upon him for the profession he chose to pursue, appears unannounced at a training session. Du Pont readily makes himself out to be the principal coach by taking over the duties. As John struggles to keep up the basic front of impersonating a coach, swiftly running out of breath and ideas, mother Du Pont simply sits still without saying a word looking right through her son’s transparent soul as if he is not there.

Tatum stomps around in a vulnerable, sulking manner with an emotionless face throughout the whole duration. However, his mental state is still apparent due to his animalistic movements. Tatum is both restrained yet physical. Carell in his first dramatic role excels beyond expectations and perfectly captures Du Pont’s creepy unsettling persona while portraying traits of that reflect those of his prey Foxcatcher may prove to be too emotionally draining for some, but it remains one of the best dramas in recent years.

4/5

 

Film Review: Unbroken

Directed by Anunbroken_ver4gelina Jolie

Starring Jack O’Connell, Domhnall Gleeson, Garrett Hedlund

Based upon the Laura Hillebrand book of the same name and the true story of war hero Louis Zamperini’s plane crash and subsequent capture by the Japanese in the Second World War – it’s certainly a big task. Unfortunately for Ms Jolie, the enormity of the pressure has perhaps slightly hindered her overall direction. Sure, she has made a valiant effort here, but unfortunately, she isn’t quite able to succeed in pulling the subject matter off.

It’s not entirely her fault - the real weakness here lies in the limp script (somewhat surprising given the involvement of the Coen Brothers) and sheer ‘glossiness’ of it all.

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Film Review: Birdman

birdmanDirected by Alejandro González Iñárritu

Starring Michael Keaton, Emma Stone & Edward Norton

It’s a brave move, you know. I don’t mean having almost the entire film take place in one shot (although that’s the brave move you’ll hear about), or having major Hollywood actors play nasty, self-critical versions of themselves (you might hear a little about that too). These are brave decisions as well, but not the ones I’m referring to- I mean having a subtitle. Subtitles haven’t been cool since Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. Subtitles are so uncool JJ Abrams broke all the rules of grammar to include one without stigma for Star Trek Into Darkness (and good luck working out how to say that without sounding like an ass). So Birdman; Or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance, is a brave title, which is thankfully backed up by a very brave film. (more…)

Film Review: Electricity

Screen Shot 2014-12-14 at 12.17.44Directed by Bryn Higgins

Starring Agyness Deyn, Lenora Crichlow & Christian Cooke

Electricity is the much talked about low-budget British drama film that impressed many at this year’s London Film Festival. One of the things that viewers found unique about the film was its dealing of a subject matter rarely portrayed in cinema, epilepsy. Marking his second film feature, director Bryn Higgins also casts many promising up-and-coming actors including model-turned actress Agyness Deyn in the lead role.

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DVD Review: Begin Again

Screen Shot 2014-12-14 at 12.04.02Directed by John Carney

Starring Mark Ruffalo, Keira Knightley &

In 2006 Irish writer/director John Carney made the breakout sleeper hit of the year in his indie musical Once which went on to win an Academy award and spawn  a hit Broadway musical spin-off.  In his latest film, Begin Again, Carney tries to make lightning strike twice and just about succeeds.

It tells the story of Gretta (Knightley), a rising Pop star’s girlfriend and a sometime songstress. A spiral of personal calamities finds her on stage at an open-mic night making her swansong performance before she flies back to England with her tail between her legs. This performance though catches the well-trained ear of Dan (Ruffalo), a self-destructive record producer on a downswing. He is bowled over by her song and raw talent and in one of the film’s few delightfully imaginative scenes, he mentally composes an arrangement around her bare vocals & acoustic guitar rendition, as scattered instruments come to life and begin playing themselves like broomsticks and buckets brought to life in the famous ‘Sorcerers’ Apprentice’ segment of Disney’s Fantasia.He tries to sign her on the spot, and the rest of the film centers on their efforts to produce an album as they also strive to pick up the pieces of their derailed careers and place them back on track.

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