Nightcrawler

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http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=1lEdwqwOttg

Allow me to get the buzzwords out of the way. Thrilling. Engrossing. Mesmerizing. Unnerving. Any number of these words and words like these can be used to describe Jake Gyllenhaal’s newly released thriller, nightcrawler. In a chilling but darkly comical Frankenstein’s monster of network, American psycho and Drive, it follows Gyllenhaal in what I can only describe as the male performance to beat this year. In it Gyllenhaal is accompanied by a small but well put together ensemble of Renée Russo Bill Paxton and Riz Ahmed.

Mr. Gyllenhaal plays Louis bloom, and odd but resourceful thief who stumbles upon the world of freelance crime journalism in Los Angeles. Well it is never stated, he appears to be playing the character of louis bloom is someone on the autism spectrum and, evidenced by his characters detachment from anything resembling a moral barometer (which at first makes him seem like a sociopath) as well as a number of physical idiosyncrasies and and mannerisms. Like Ryan Gosling’s character of the driver, we are given no background information on his character. Any information he does give can only be taken with a grain of salt, As Louis Bloom is a master of words, slyly, and often to terrifying affect, talking his way into what he wants not with charisma or likability but with cold statistics and ruthlessness while still demonstrating a broad range of emotions (though nothing resembling remorse or mercy).

The cinematography, which takes place primarily at night, is subtle but effective, building tension almost effortlessly. The film is surprisingly not gratuitous with the violent subject matter it entails. Rather than focusing on the brutality of the crimes documented by Louis bloom, the camera instead lingers on bloom himself, separated from the grizzly scenes before him by his camera. It also accentuates the connectivity modern Los Angeles, frequently focusing on Broadcast towers, satellite dishes on people’s homes, and cables. The film also offers a biting indictment on the manipulative nature of the news media as well as the inherent racial profiling that it facilitates.

It continues to be a fantastic year for film, not only within the sphere of action blockbusters, but in your regular suspense thrillers and dramas. I would normally call these kinds of films Oscar bait, But between Nightcrawler, Gone Girl and earlier films like Filth, Grand Budapest Hotel and Chef, for once I think I have an idea about how the Oscars will be going this year, and I couldn’t be more excited.

Book of Life

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I won’t lie, I was not impressed with the trailers for the Guillermo Del Toro-produced animated film, Book of Life. Despite the creative and vibrant animation, the modern references and celebrity casting of Channing Tatum and Ice Cube seemed painfully forced and pandering to the lowest common denominator. I kept getting flashbacks to Shark Tale and the Ice Age sequels. I cannot recall the last time I was so undeniably mistaken about a film, because Book of Life was fantastic. As one could already tell from the trailers, the animation throughout the film is astonishingly inventive and beautiful. Reflecting the narrative framing of a story being told to children, the main characters are designed like ornate marionettes with outlandishly exaggerated features. The set’s are detailed, colorful and effortlessly craft the illusion of depth. Whether in design, color or motion not a single frame of this film is without bountiful energy and personality.

The voice cast, which also includes Diego Luna, Zoe Saldana, Christina Applegate, and Ron Pearlman all imbue their characters with charm and personality. The Characters are all likable and three dimensional (even the default “villain” of the film, the Ron Pearlman-voiced Mayan god Xibalba, isn’t portrayed as evil but rather desperate, bored and mischievous). Numerous cliched character and thematic tropes are proudly displayed and reinvigorated with gusto and charm: the sensitive romantic, the meat-headed warrior, the feisty princess ect. But they all have personalities and motivations that delve beyond their archetype thanks to clever writing and heartfelt vocal performances by their actors (even Channing Tatum, who continues to redeem himself for years of pretending to be a bad actor).

The story is simple but classic. Two gods/ lovers, La Muerte (Kate Del Castillo) and Xibalba make a wager regarding the outcome of a love triangle between three child friends: a musician from a family of bull fighters named Manolo, his friend Joaquín, the orphaned son of famed warrior, and the princess of their town, María (Zoe Saldana). Drenched in Central American mythology and folklore, the film tackles one particular theme with such maturity, tenderness and pointedness that is unfortunately lost in a lot of children’s films: death. That’s not to say people don’t die in other Children’s films, but here death and not treated as this world stopping catastrophe, nor is it glanced over or ignored. It is looked at for what it is, a part of life. That is why this film’s version of the underworld is called the land of the remembered: it is in remembrance that our loved ones stay with us, and I could not be happier to see a film targeted at children addressing such a powerful concept.

While not without ample dramatic weight and suspense, the film is first and foremost a comedy with a frenetic rhythm of clever jokes hitting the audience at a mile a minute. Ranging from slapstick to pop cultural reference, some jokes don’t work (mostly the ones from the trailer, at least for me) but even the ones that aren’t on point are still bearable because of how charming and sincere the film is. Due to the speed at which the jokes are displayed I foresee this being one of those films you need to see a few times to catch them, and you’ll not poorer for it. This is definitely a film I intend to watch again.

The Flash- episode one: Pilot

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Last night saw the debut of the latest superhero television series to hit the CW, the flash. Based on the long-standing DC comics character, this marks the second live-action outing for the character in over 20 years (The first one being the the 1990 television series starring John Wesley Shipp). If the pilot is any indication, The flash could very well be on his way to claiming his spot alongside Batman and Superman in the pop-cultural lexicon (and wonder woman, come 2016).

Grant Gustin delivers a tremendously likable and relatable performance as Barry Alan, the awkward but affable forensic scientist who after receiving Superspeed from a freak lightning strike (incurred by a particle Excelerator explosion) begins moonlighting as the flash: The fastest man alive. Gustin’s performance here is very evocative of Andrew Garfield in the latest string of Spiderman movies (The shy, lanky but quickwitted Everyman/ nerd wish fulfillment archetype). The supporting cast does a serviceable job. Candace Patton plays obligatory love interest/childhood best friend Iris West (One episode in and there’s already a love triangle in motion, I don’t know why studios think people like this got old 10 years ago). While suitably convincing in the role of ” concerned female friend” her character has yet to make much of an impression, however it is only the pilot episode leaving room for improvement. Jesse L. Martin plays her father, police captain and Surrogate father to Barry Allen, Who brings both charm and wisdom to the role of mentor to Barry Allen.

Tom Cavanaugh, Danielle Pennebaker and Carlos Valdes Play the group of scientists from star labs who help The flash in his quest to better understand his abilities, fight the oncoming storm of meta humans like himself and clear his father’s name of the murder of his mother. Cavanagh brings a surprising bitterness to the role that suits the character (or just what the character presents himself as, and end of episode stinger implies a much larger secret behind him). Danielle Pennebaker comes off a little stiff but her character is very coarse as a result of her grieving a deceased husband,so I imagine she’ll be feeling more comfortable in the character as the series progresses. Valdes’s character could potentially prove to be quite annoying, being the nerdy goofball who makes bad jokes (he’s a nerd so he wears a Bazinga T-shirt, get it?) finally there is the antagonist of the episode, known in the comics as weather Wizard, A bank robber who receives Weather controlling abilities during the particle Excelerator explosion, and promptly develops a God complex. He is played by Chad Rook with ample sleaze and smirk, giving sufficient personality to a one off character (Spoiler alert: He is shot dead at the end). In a fun bit of casting, previous Helmer of the Of the Flash moniker, John Wesley Shipp plays Barry Allen’s jailed father, in an almost passing of the torch fashion.

The plot runs at a brisk pace, which I suppose fits the nature of the character. It’s very simple and straightforward: we are introduced to Barry Allen, he gets powers, bad guy emerges, he stops bad guy, accepts his role as superhero. However the show has ample heart to it with a likable lead and some impressive special effects for television budget. All in all the pilot is fun, if a little familiar (but not so devoid of personality that it appears tired or derivative). For example, there is a creative externalization of Barry Allan’s intellect during his investigations of crime scenes that are very evocative of the BBC show Sherlock and films like stranger than fiction that I hope to see more of as the series goes on. In retrospect that seems to be the defining characteristic of the pilot, some good ideas with room for improvement: let’s hope they keep the momentum going.