I Have Recently Been to the Cinema

Wow! October really flew by this year. I had a birthday, Betsy got a new job, we went on vacation, got tattoos, had a Halloween, and watched a metric shit ton of spooky movies. And we went to the cinema a handful of times to see what was a nice little crop of major film releases. There were some duds for sure, but I’ll focus on the positive. After all, it’s November, and most of the good stuff is still in theaters. Plus, I shouldn’t have to tell you that Ouija is a flaming piece of shit. Just kidding, I haven’t seen it! Here are a few of the real movies from last month:

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Gone Girl
I finally got around to seeing this about 3 weeks after everyone else had already seen it twice. I liked it. I think. I mean, I’m always at least partially supportive when the general public can totally get behind something so thematically dark, but then, we always all get behind David Fincher’s brand of approachable macabre. Here he’s adapting another best selling page-turner to the screen, and though I have not read the source material, the end product is a bit less successful than his last film adaptation/remake of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (though certainly not in box office numbers).

Rosamund Pike’s portrayal of titular “Girl” Amy Dunne doesn’t seem to rub people the wrong way like it did me, so I won’t dwell on it. Suffice it to say that I found her portrayal of a sociopath too well played, calculating, and ultimately perfect. There were so few chinks in her armor, so little vulnerability that I was bored with her, even as she was slashing throats and staging her own sexual assault and trapping poor old Nick in a loveless union which she might decide to terminate (by way of murder) at any moment. Bored. And the dialogue. Oh Jesus the dialogue. I felt like I was watching Gilmore Girls. The exchanges between Nick and Amy in the film’s early stages are gag-inducing. Snappy, clever, and twee as fuck. Nobody talks like that. If they do, you should give them a Charley Horse.

That stuff aside, I enjoyed myself. Ben Affleck was fine, and Carrie Coon was actually really good as his “I can’t believe you’re the biggest dumbfuck ever, but I love you.” sister. I’d like to see more of her in the future. And like I said, it’s really dark subject matter, and it’s pretty clever, so it makes for a decent suspense/thriller. And I’m all for switching up established paradigms around sex or race or anything else in big budget films, I just wasn’t as mortified as I felt the subject matter called for. I guess it probably seems like I’m kind of trashing this movie. I guess I kind of am. Maybe I really didn’t like it much at all. Oops!

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John Wick
John Wick is a pure action film with a massive heart and just the right amount of brains. Keanu Reeves has never been so menacing as he is as Wick, a retired hitman who is violently jerked back into criminal underworld he earned his way out of. You’ve probably heard that they kill his dog and he goes on a murdering rampage in response. This is true, but that’s kind of like saying Heat is about some guys who rob a bank and then fight with the cops about it. In other words, don’t be stupid.

John Wick’s greatest strength is definitely in its super styley, perfectly choreographed action sequences. It blends hand to hand combat with close quarters gunplay to form an exhilarating hybrid it can truly call its own. Sometimes it leans more heavily on gunplay, sometimes it’s straight up Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, but I was happy to return to the film’s unique brand of violence again and again. There are also some pretty amazing driving sequences that almost go unnoticed because everything is happening at such a high level.

But Wick is more than just near perfect violence on film. True, the plot isn’t overly ambitious, but it’s not totally lacking for complexity either. The criminal underworld is a wonderfully surreal society that trades in murder and gold doubloons, but operates within a strict code. As we are introduced to this world, so are we becoming familiar with John, or John as he once was. A legendary hitman who retired four years before the film’s opening scenes, Wick’s name is spoken in hushed, nervous tones. As word spreads that he’s on a path toward vengeance, the angst behind the whispers turns slowly and inevitably to horror. John Wick is the real life fucking Boogeyman, or as the film’s crime boss (Michael Nyqvist) says, “he’s the guy you send to kill the Boogeyman.”

Of course, this would be hyperbole if Reeves weren’t so perfectly fit to play this role. His action pedigree precedes him here, but this is a new brand of violence for him. The fighting is mostly the kind of gritty, practical stuff you might learn as, say, an Israeli Special Forces operative. Like how to avoid being choked to death from behind while simultaneously finding an eyeball to gouge while you reach for someone else’s firearm. And Keanu Reeves nails it. His demeanor throughout the film adds to the gravity of the violence he finds himself creating. He’s a man of few words, but his face is often a mask of intense focus, and there is a plodding grace to his gait, not unlike a retired athlete’s. Most of what he sees is unsurprising, depressing, even to him. But when his temper is stirred and his ire is unleashed, it’s fucking scary.

I’m going to go see this again. Probably this weekend. God, it’s so good! Pure badassery! And this is co directors’ David Leitch and Chad Stahelski’s first feature as a directors!

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Nightcrawler
After its premiere at Fantastic Fest 2014, genre film sites and critics were buzzing with enthusiasm for Dan Gilroy’s directorial debut, a film about a peculiar LA crime scene videographer named Lou Bloom. I avoided reading any full reviews beforehand, preferring to nibble on headlines and trailers to tease along my enthusiasm for what was being described as an instant classic by some pretty solid critics. I was not disappointed.

Nightcrawler operates on a few levels that were immediately obvious to me. It is foremost the character study of a psychopath. Lou Bloom is smart, driven, and fearless. His total lack of human empathy allows him to manipulate who or what he needs to achieve his ends. Gyllenhaal is equal parts mechanical and charmingly earnest, and often terrifying as hell behind either mask. Over and over again, I thought back to Jon Ronson’s excellent novel The Psychopath Test as Bloom navigated his own unique path through LA’s “stringer” community. Plenty of credit has and should go to Jake Gyllenhaal for this performance, which is his best to date. His hard, placid stare and deadpan pragmatism communicate concise emotion in such perfect subtlety that just watching him react in a scene is an insane thrill.

Secondly, Nightcrawler is a commentary on America’s addiction to fear. Yes, this is well-worn territory. We know that “if it bleeds, it leads”, and that the “news” major networks are pumping out is sensationalist bunk meant to raise our blood pressure and sell more advertising. But Nightcrawler presents this idea from a fresh angle: the gutter. Bloom stalking a fresh murder scene from behind his camera feels more arresting than any crime scene footage I can recall. He is willing to go further into a moral grey area than his end consumers are comfortable with. And they reward his appalling behavior with loyalty as viewers. Bloom’s television station contact and mentor (Rene Russo) is more openly ruthless than he is at times, but they play off of each other, each pushing the other’s boundaries to new lows in the name of commercial success.

Third, it is a celebration of the American fucking dream! Like it or not, Louis Bloom is America. He is a ruthless capitalist with zero empathy who wants success and success alone. He doesn’t even really know or care why. He is a success automaton. He appears to gain little more than the simple, giddy satisfaction of a job well done from his achievements, and he reinvests everything back into his work. Is what he’s doing wrong? Illegal? Maybe to you or I, but that matters very little to someone with no moral compass. Nightcrawler is like a 2 hour long Grand Theft Auto mission. You watch him do horrible shit, it terrifies you, sickens you, but most importantly, it thrills you. You sick fuck.

On top of all this, it’s a great looking movie. The dusk til dawn LA landscapes are hauntingly vacant for most of the film, which allows for long, uninterrupted shots that take us further into the world. The sound is great, the score and soundtrack are fucking awesome. Blah blah blah film of the year blah. GO SEE IT!

Nightcrawler

Also, I have not yet seen Birdman, but I can’t wait!

-Justin Midnight

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