Nightcrawler

MV5BMjM5NjkzMjE5MV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTMzNTk4MjE@._V1_SX214_AL_Jake Gyllenhaal plays Lou Bloom, a small-time, two-bit thief eking out an existence in modern-day Los Angeles: he steals copper wire and chain link fencing and sells it to construction contractors, who will not hire him for construction jobs because he is dishonest.

One night, he comes upon a burning car from which paramedics are trying to free a trapped woman and discovers “nightcrawlers,” people who film violent/gory content and sell it to the local news networks. Lou figures this is something that he could be good at, so he steals a bike and trades it for a movie camera and police scanner at a  pawn shop.

He prowls at night finding the scene of a carjacking gone wrong. Despite being to told to leave by police, he is able to get some graphic footage. He sells the footage to  a local news station, which happens to be the lowest rated in the area. Rene Russo plays the news director, who encourages Lou to bring her more footage.

Lou hires an assistant, played by Riz Ahmed, to help him gather footage to sell. Soon after, Lou and his assistant respond to a crime-in-progress and get to the crime scene before the police. Lou re-stages the crime scene to get “better” footage. He hatches a plan to find the killers and get their arrest on camera to sell to the news stations, but with lethal consequences.

The movie is a timely exploration of the consequences of getting ever-increasing graphic/bloody footage to an increasing desensitized audience. When this footage is gathered by an ethically/morally challenged individual, these consequences are both horrifying and devastating.

Worth a look if want to see a fascinating (if disturbing) glimpse into an amoral creep who will do anything to get bloody/gory news footage to sell.

Skip it if you are tired of ever-increasing grapic news footage.

Click on the following link to place a hold:

Nightcrawler

– Steve

 

The Drop

the_drop.phpThe Drop is the story of Bob Saginowski (played by Tom Hardy) a bartender at a Brooklyn bar, ostensibly owned by his cousin, Marv (played by James Gandolfini.) The bar is the location for money drops from Chechen mafia, who actually own the bar. The Chechens move the money around the city to avoid having to use banks.

Unfortunately having large, unreported sums of cash on hand makes the bar a target for two petty thieves who rob Bob and Marv. The Chechen mafia gets wind of it and they threaten Bob and Marv with torture and death if they do not get the money back.

In another story line, Bob rescues a puppy from a trash can, left there to die. Bob meets Nadia (played by Noomi Rapace), who owns the house with the trash where bob found the abandoned dog. Bob and Nadia start dating.  Soon after, Nadia’s psycho ex-boyfriend (played by Matthias Schoenaerts) shows up. He’s an ex-con who brags about being responsible for an unsolved murder.

Based on a short story by Dennis Lahane, The Drop is a taut, gritty crime thriller. As the two story lines converge, there is a surprising plot twist and things are not what they appear to be on the surface. Bob appears to be soft-spoken and low key but the truth is unsettling.

Worth a look if you like smart, well-written crime dramas.

Skip it if you like more happier, more upbeat movies.

Click on the following link to place a hold:

The Drop

– steve

 

 

Watership Down

criterion_watership-phpWatership Down is the animated movie adaption of Richard Adams’ timeless novel.

The film opens with the mythology of the rabbits. When the sun god, Lord Frith created the world, all the animals grazed on grass. The rabbits quickly multiplied, eating everything in sight. The sun god warned the king of the rabbits, who dismissed the sun god saying his rabbits were the strongest of all the animals. In retaliation, the sun god made the other animals predators with the rabbits being their food. But the sun god bestowed speed and cunning upon the rabbits to give them a fighting chance.

The main story concerns Fiver, a runt of a rabbit, who is a seer and has prophetic visions of his warren’s destruction. His warnings go unheeded by the Chief Rabbit so Fiver and his brother Hazel leave the warren with six other rabbits to establish a new warren. Their journey has many perils in the form of dogs, foxes, badgers, even other rabbits. In fact, other rabbits seem to be the worst enemy of Fiver, Hazel and their companions, particularly General Woundwart.

Despite being animated, this is not a children’s movie. There are many violent, disturbing images and lots of blood. The world of Watership Down is perilous; the predators and other enemies of the rabbits are numerous and there is a palpable sense of fear running throughout the movie. Perhaps most disturbing is the rabbit-on-rabbit violence, which can be taken as a metaphor for human-on-human violence.

Worth a look if you like adventure stories about anthropomorphized rabbits striving to survive in a harsh world.

Skip it if images of cute bunnies maiming and killing each other will upset you.

As an added bonus, the library’s copy is a Criterion Collection release.

Click on the following link to place a hold:

Watership Down

– Steve

Cerebral Movies: The Congress

MV5BMjE5MTUzNDk3M15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMTUwNTQ5MTE@._V1_SY317_CR0,0,214,317_AL_The Congress is the story of an aging actress (Robin Wright, ostensibly playing herself) who is given a last-chance contract: the studio will scan her emotions and physical presence.  She will remain forever young when her scanned likeness is used in movies, but she herself cannot appear in any movie or play for the length of her 20-year contract.

Wright reluctantly signs the contract, partially because she knows it might be her last chance at continued stardom and partially because she needs the money to treat her chronically ill son.

The movie jumps ahead 20 years to the expiration of her contract. Wright shows up at the animated Abrahama, the illusory animated world created by the Miramount Nagasaki corporation At this point the movie shifts from being live action to animation. Wright is animated as an attractive elderly woman, but no one recognizers her because the Miramount Nagasaki corporation owns her likeness, which has been turned into a international superstar but is perpetually 33 years old.

In the preceding 20 years, the Miramount Nagasaki corporation have made advances in chemistry allowing them to turn Wright’s scanned likeness into a chemical formula, which may be ingested by individuals. It is the next step in the evolution of cinema: each person has their own private, self-generated illusory world (represented by animation.)

But the illusory world is not as wonderful as it seems: rebels soon invade and disrupt Abrahama. This intrusion allows Wright to break free from the animated illusion and allows her to ultimately transit back to the real world, witnessing firsthand how the chemicals have actually enslaved humanity.

The Congress explores the nature of reality. It also poses the question, is it better to be free and see reality for what it truly is in all it’s unvarnished horror?  Or is it better to be trapped in an illusion where everyone is happy, but enslaved? The Matrix and Dark City explored these same themes.

The Congress is not a perfect movie; it can be hard to follow in spots and does not make sense in some places. But overall, it is a thought-provoking movie and an interesting meditation on the nature of reality.

Worth a look if you like mind bending, cerebral movies which make you think.

Skip it if you like coherent, easy-to-follow story lines.

Click on the following link to place a hold:

The Congress

– steve

Life Itself

MV5BMTQ2OTQzMjcxNF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMzc2Njk3MTE@._V1_SX214_AL_Life Itself is a documentary which details the life of movie critic Roger Ebert, who passed away in 2013.

Ebert was one of those who found his calling early in life. By the time he was 15, he was publishing and distributing his own newspaper. He later went to work for the local newspaper. By the end of the 1960s, Ebert had been appointed as movie critic at the Chicago Sun-Times.

The movie spends a lot of time chronicling Ebert’s stormy relationship with fellow film critic and “professional nemesis” Gene Siskel.   Siskel worked for the Chicago Tribune, a rival to Ebert’s Chicago Sun-Times. The two collaborated on a PBS television show, in which they reviewed movies. The two were professional rivals, and on mostly civil terms, but often disagreed vehemently on movies; neither was shy about stating his respective opinion. This made for interesting television. By the time Siskel died in 1999 from complications from brain cancer, the two seemed to have developed mutual respect, even if they differed in their views.

Ebert was one of the most popular American film critics. He preferred a relativistic reviewing style, grouping movie reviews by looking at the audience they were made for.  Highbrow movies (read “Oscar bait”) were compared to other highbrow movies; popular movies would be compared other popular movies. This view gave a better indication of whether a viewer would like a particular movie or not.

The film can be hard to watch. Ebert lost most of his lower jaw and throat to cancer and had to be fed through a tube inserted into a hole in what was left of his trachea. Still, losing his jaw and his speaking voice did not silence him. He embraced blogging, posting movie reviews right up to his death in 2013.

Essential viewing if you love movies.

Click on the following link to place a hold:

Life Itself

– Steve

 

 

 

 

Under the Radar Movies: What If

MV5BMTcyODc4Njg4OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNDIwNDA4MTE@._V1_SX214_AL_What If is a delightful rom-com starring Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan. The story has been done to death before: “boy meets girl; girl has long-time boyfriend; boy  and girl become become “only” friends; boy and girl realize that they are meant for each other.” But smart dialog, good performances and great chemistry between the two leads raises this above a normal cliched rom-com.

Radcliffe plays Wallace, a man burned out on relationships and has ostensibly given up on them. He meets Chantry (played by Zoe Kazan) and they have an instant bond, but Chantry already has a long-time, live-in boyfriend. The two decide to be “just friends.”

Predictably, Wallace  and Chantry become interested in each other more than either want to admit. The plot does contain stock rom-com tropes, but Zazan’s and Radcliffe’s performances and smart dialog elevate this above the normal rom-com fare.

Click on the following link to place a hold:

What If

Even if you hate rom-coms, it is worth a look for the good performances and great chemistry between the two leads.

Skip it if you can’t Radcliffe as anyone else other than Harry Potter.

– Steve

 

Rudderless

MV5BMjQwNTI2MTA0NV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODc1NzkzMjE@._V1_SX214_AL_Rudderless is the story of Sam (played by Billy Crudup) whose son dies in school shooting. Sam goes from being  a successful, highly-paid advertising executive to living on a boat and painting houses.

Through happenstance, Sam discovers a box of his son’s recorded songs. He listens to them and begins to learn them, eventually working up the courage to play one of them at an open mic in a  local dive bar.

Sam catches the attention of Quentin (played by Anton Yelchin) who is about the same age as Sam’s son would have been. Quentin is a local small-time musician and is duly impressed with the song Sam had played. Quentin wants Sam to form a band, and after some considerable pestering, Sam relents. Soon after, two more musicians join the band, which achieves some local success playing the songs written by Sam’s deceased son. Unfortunately, Sam does not initially inform his band members of the source of the songs.

A startling revelation in latter third of the movie forces the viewer to look at the circumstances of Sam, his son, and Quentin in a different light. The revelation darkens the tone of an otherwise uplifting movie about a father coming to grips with the death of his son.

Rudderless is the first film directed by William H. Macy (who also as a small supporting role in the movie). A stunning debut, and hints at great things to come.

The songs in the movie stand out; they are catchy, funny and poignant, sometimes all at once. Crudup and Yelchin give credible musical performances.

Rounding out the cast is Laurence Fishburne as a music-store owner.

Click on the following link to place a hold:

Rudderless

Worth a look if you like movies about music.

Skip it if school shootings upset you.

– Steve