The Life of a scary space octopus

FRAUDULENT TRAILERS ANNOY the heck out of me.  And it’s very clear what I mean by a fraudulent trailer: one that includes content which is completely devoid the film.  That was one of the problems with the insipid Silver Linings Playbook.  In the Life trailer, audio of JFK’s speech about the USA’s moonshot is featured prominently, as if to give a greater context to the film.  Why then the speech, and its full implications, go AWOL come movie-time can be explained by only one reason: incompetence.

And so what you’re left with is a scary space octopus version of Alien.  Like Alien, the nascent forms of the alien life-form are quite intriguing.  Unlike Alien, that’s the best Life gets.  Life quickly devolves into a very second-rate monster-chase film.

I did like the sequel-ready ending of Life, but overall there’s too much mindlessness.  Having to introduce a new tag “trailer perjury” doesn’t help.  5/10

Comparison Notes (all recommended): The Ruins, Alien, Moon, Passengers, The Mist, Splice

Stalked by Nocturnal Animals

nocturnal-animals-poster

When I saw in the credits Isla Fisher, I had a feeling that would create confusion — she’s easy to mistake for Amy Adams.  Luckily Amy Adams has blue eyes, Isla Fisher brown — because that casting, and that confusion, was no accident.

Nocturnal Animals may be criticized as a pat or cliched story married with another, somewhat less pat story, but the film was no less compelling, and it grew on me to yield a top-ten film in this exceptionally weak movie year.  Bravo on a long opening credit sequence where too many films eschew even putting up a title.  And can we see more Michael Shannon?  He’s  a perfect grizzled Texas detective, and was just as gruff in 99 Homes.  8/10

Comparison Note (recommended): I Spit on Your Grave

The Nightcrawler Horde

Nightcrawler - poster short

Rafer Guzmán, Newsday:

In “Nightcrawler,” Jake Gyllenhaal plays Lou Bloom, a young man with talent, ambition and no morals whatsoever. Lou is the kind of person who wouldn’t help if you were bleeding to death in the street. Unfortunately, that is exactly how you’d be likely to meet him.

Mr. Guzmán concludes his succint and dead-on review:

“Nightcrawler” is the kind of movie that rarely hits multiplexes anymore, an edgy, pulpy thriller with a social conscience and a vicious satirical streak.

Nightcrawler - text block 1On the negative side, I had a little trouble with Lou’s characterization; that someone that sharp, that articulate and with that strong of an A-type personality would be starting out borderline destitute and in the dark.  Normally that would only deepen the mystery of the man — a singularly-minded individual who has got to be the most selfish person you will ever see on film — but to me it felt a little off, a little short of ringing 100% true.  A troubled past might explain his situation, but the film does not so much as hint at any sort of backstory.  A hint — even an oblique one — would help.  Think of Fargo: Jerry Lundegaard explains that he needs money because he’s in some sort of desperate position, without ever going into further detail.  But that’s enough.  In Nightcrawler, we are not given so much as that.  For as much as a psycho as Lou may be, a psychological profile is absent.

Nightcrawler - stillAnother weakness was the lack of a thematic style.  Nightcrawler is all substance, and almost no style. Now I’d much rather have it that way than the other way around — too many movies throw a lot of flash on the screen in lieu of a strong story.  But a unifying theme can add a lot.  Sometimes an evocative musical score is all that’s needed — think of how important Tangerine Dream was to Miracle Mile.  Or sometimes a certain visual style will do the trick (Gattaca comes to mind); other times just a thematic phrase like “bibbity boppity boo” from A Shock to the System (which shares much plot-wise with Nightcrawler) can offer a signature color to a movie.

As examples of Nightcrawler’s style or lack thereof, the film opens with a pedestrian credits sequence, and the end credits are accompanied by awful, useless music.  The deficiencies are minor, and I point them out because they prevent a very strong movie from being one of the best of the year.  And I am in no way saying that the production here is anything less than superlative.  An absence of any background on Lou is quickly swept aside; as the movie settles in, it whisks you along on its ride — and that ride is driven by a masterfully conceived storyline.  Nightcrawler is not light on plot.

Nightcrawler - text block 2Not in the least.  Nightcrawler is terrific, high drama playing out on the streets of Los Angeles. Indeed, it may be added to the canon of great L.A. stories.  Some critics have called it “overwrought” or heavy-handed; I disagree.  I’ll take a good, juicy yarn like this any day of the week.  8/10

Happy Halloween!

Donnie Darko Poster

I think the original release poster above is the best, but it’s remarkable how certain films capture the imagination of artists enough to create a multitude of alternate posters which too do a great job of representing the film.  The first one below is my favorite.  And yes, I know S. Darko is a direct-to-video sequel of supposedly little value, but I like the picture.

Film Brief: Prisoners

Prisoners still

Hugh Jackman

Prisoners is your basic child abduction story, but done well.  It has good character development and performances, and permutations on the central story which often muddle lesser movies are managed well enough to add depth while retaining clarity.

There are some problems: you must forgive certain contrivances and clichés, and the film becomes just a bit draggy in a couple places.  But Prisoners delivers an entertaining story which engages for 2 1/2 hours — no easy task.  7/10

Comparison Notes: Mystic River

Happy Easter!

The perfect Easter-meets-Halloween movie.  If you haven’t seen it before, there’s no better time than the present.

I just learned that it was directed by Richard Kelly, who also made The Box [“Sci-Fi Do or Die“] but not much else.  There are definite stylistic similarities between the two, which partially explains why The Box was so good.  Image from fanpop.com

Donnie Darko-1