Out in Theaters: NIGHTCRAWLER

With a name as innocuous as Louis Bloom, you wouldn’t initially suspect the lead character of Nightcrawler to be so dangerous. But the virulent Lou is the kind of guy who dissolves into shadows; who feeds vampirically in the darkness. He’s not a villain so much as a force of nature. Silent but deadly. His politeness is alarming, starkly juxtaposed by the edgy vibration of his piercing, bulbous eyes. His word choice; precise as a bone saw. His demeanor; direct but detached. Like a drone. He’s a bug-eyed Terminator sans the metallic endoskeleton; a top-knotted Patrick Bateman without the 401K. In the role, Jake Gyllenhaal is angelic. He’s equally demonic. He’s perfect mopping up uncomfortable silences, guttural laughs and wry grins like a janitor in a milking cow factory.

Caught in the high beams of a night patrolman, Lou materializes from the shadows like an apparition. A ghoulish grin masking his face. He notes his trespassing is accidental. He also notes the pricy hunk of watch adorning the wrist of the Paul Blart eying him with petulant suspicion. The next scene, it’s Lou wearing the watch.

Throughout the film, Lou’s facial expressions percolate with a kind of serpentine other-worldliness. As if his tongue could dart from his mouth at any moment to nip at the night air. It doesn’t. He remains squarely within the realm of the human. No matter how inhumane he is. A testament to Dan Gilroy‘s narrow degree of restraint and Gyllenhaal’s tightrope-walking ability.


When we meet Lou, he’s a drifter; fencing fences and manhole covers. Begging for jobs with an armory of interview-friendly terminology and all the manicured motions of a “respectable” human being. At a car crash, he yanks his beatermobile to the shoulder to observe its burny grotesqueries and runs into Joe Loder, a TV news freelancer who roams the nights to capture domestic implosions on film. Loder (Bill Paxton) says the job is hell. The next scene, Lou has camera in tow, hunting down the next suburban calamity. It isn’t long before he’s whipping up his own crime scenes and hiring a slacky intern (Riz Ahmed).

In his junker motorcade of journalistic un-tegrity, Lou rips a hole through the banality of the LA night, hunting down the next big tragedy like a slobbering machine, manipulating it when need be and selling it off to the news producer running the graveyard shift, Nina (Rene Russo). Camcorders are his business cards. Bloody car crashes his boardrooms. Murdered families, the money shot coup de grâce to end a good night on.


Nina knows the business is blood sport. Local news is nothing but modern day gladiatorial work. She’s titillated by promises of gory plane crashes. B&E’s are her bee’s knees. She wets herself over triple homicides. Russo holds the performance together by the skin of her teeth, refusing to reveal weakness behind that modernized beehive and liberal thrashing of makeup. As the tension mounts between Lou and Nina, a new dynamic takes shape: one that’s uproariously creepy and carnally delicious. Watching Lou sic Nina is watching the hungry wolf lick his chops before he preys.

Piggybacking on my earlier Patrick Bateman comparison, Nightcrawler deals in a similar brand of corporate black humor as American Psycho, taking aim at the blanket sensationalization of news and, to a lesser degree, our woeful economic state. It’s wickedly funny in a deadpan, threatening kind of way – like Nick Nolte – with Gyllenhaal’s knockout performance informing the laughs like a conductor with a rosewood baton. He is the slaughterer of the lamb, we the vultures come to pick the bones. And if you’re anything like me, you’ll eat up the meaty sarcasm like roast beef on Christmas.


To see the transformation of the shmuck with the Wall Street name from lowly drifter to certifiable media mogul is enough reason to see the film, even though it drags along some basic fixer-uppers that stick out uncomfortably. James Newton Howard‘s score – the man responsible for music-ing such clunkers as Maleficent, Parkland, After Earth, Snow White and the Huntsman, Green Lantern, The Green Hornet, The Tourist and more – often feels out of place, as if it were teleported in from an entirely different movie from an entirely different genre. Howard was scoring a straight thriller as we watched a brutally dark comedy unfold. It’s never in junction with the piece so much as it detracts from it with blast after blast of heavy-handed straightforwardness and a tonal lack of understanding the subtle transformations of character. Were Trent Reznor or Cliff Martinez behind the music, it would have stood out that much more.

Further, the film lacks an entirely solid starting and finishing point. The meat in between is so tender, so perfect, but it kind of drifts in and drifts out without the slap in the face that I both wanted and expected. Come on, punch me. I can handle it. But I guess it makes metaphorical sense for a movie of this nature to creep in and creep out without warning. If not for those few minor miscalculations, Nightcrawler could have driven itself into a sheer state of perfection.

A nightcrawler, not to be confused with the blue Russian teleport from the X-Men comics, is a bottom feeder. A succubus. A drive by job with a camera. They find you in your weakest moments – battered, bloodied and broken – and display it for the world to see. There’s no scruples in the line of work; no lines. It’s a brawl. A exploitative, invasive, harrowing brawl. And the public eats it up like pigs at the stye. They feed on it like vampires. They need it. The supply and demand chain is self-fulfilling. The watchers become the watched. Karma’s a bitch. Nightcrawler finds its target audience like a lumpy tumor, poking it and prodding it with the precision of a surgeon. It’s often equally as brilliant. Lou likes to say that if you’re seeing him, it’s the worst day of your life. Quite the opposite can be said about this film.


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Out in Theaters: EDGE OF TOMORROW

Since all the Groundhog Dog jokes have already risen, seen their shadow and retreated into the proverbial internet hole, let’s just settle with calling Edge of Tomorrow a slightly derivative but monstrously enjoyable blockbuster. In a time where any project commanding a budget north of 100 million dollars is either dumbed down to the broadest of international audiences or stuffed with pew-pewing superheroes, witnessing this brand of thinking man’s blockbuster illicits nothing short of a deep sigh of relief. It might not have the layers of Inception or the majesty of Avatar but its fleet-footed cadence, wily comic timing and crackerjack combat spectacles makes for one ace summer tentpole.

Adapted from Hiroshi Sakurazaka‘s popular Japanese manga “All You Need is Kill” (which once shared its name with this film adaptation), Edge sees an alien force invading Europe by way of asteroid-as-shuttle-ship that collides with Earth’s most tested continent. A discord of international new clips cue us into the ensuing chaos breaking loose like hounds of hell off Satan’s leash. As the world rallies to a united cause of defeating this unthinkably strategic force, the odds may never be in their favor.

However the Earthling forces attempt to smite their spindly-armed enemies in this David versus octo-predator Golliath combat ring, human advances are always halted with alarming precision by the preternaturally calculating Mimics. It’s like their adversaries know their every move before they even make them. Let the stank of foreshadow waft over you. Humanity is promptly six miles up shit creek with no paddle, advancing towards a waterfall that plummets towards pee-icicles and their opponents are snickering on the sidelines. Consider the apocalypse uncanceled; mankind faces imminent extinction. But not if Tom Cruise has anything to say about it (*guitar solo*). Still, it takes him a while to get to the point of Earth’s savior.

At first, Cage (Cruise) is nothing but a trumped up army lackey; a cheery filter for CNN-friendly update blurbs, a Buzzfeed of combat propaganda. He’s the door-to-door salesman of joining the army, the Uncle Sam of “We Want You (In a Mech Suit!).” But when he responds to orders to personally cover the front line of the new war effort with a not-so-cunning retort of blackmail, Cage winds up on the receiving end of handcuffs, stripped of his rank and thrown in with the underdog grunts of J Squad. His pissing contest ended with a definitive bitch slap and a lingering mushroom stamp, Cage has all but received a death sentence, which is quickly proffered up on the battlefield. But not before he gets a fat stream of inky alien blood all up in his grills. But this ain’t just any ol’ alien blood, this is Mimic blood; magical, time-traveling Mimic blood.

Cage dies (a particularly unpleasant death, I would add) and wakes up at the beginning of the day; handcuffed, confused and forced to leap into battle and die all over again. Begin his sentencing to ’93 Bill Murray antics except with more aliens and the pants-shitting knowledge that death is but a pre-destined misstep away. Let’s just say Cage wouldn’t be happily singing along to “Time Warp.”

But as the film transitions into this temporal stasis, director Doug Liman really hits his groove. In repetition, he finds opportunities to impress, integrating elements of comic mistiming in with increasingly impressive combat sequences. As Cage is forced to re-live the experiences of the same day over and over again, Liman is able to weave in moments of comic relief just as naturally as the beautifully choreographed – and often equally amusing – action sequences.

And like any time travel film ought, Liman manages to not take the affairs too seriously, pausing every now and then to fulfill audience skepticism by having Cage fail epically. Seeing Cruise poorly time an escape under a bus and getting chewed to road kill or aping that he doesn’t have a broken leg so he’s not forced to repeat the day by taking a slug to the noggin doesn’t take us out of the moment so much as cement us in it. Memory is imperfect and it’s grossly satisfying to see slight miscalculations lead to the day reboot we become so familiar with.

As we’ve come to expect, Cruise takes to the mantle of unlikely action hero with gallant aplomb. I mean, the man’s a professional. Step back and watch him work. Though Cage may lack definition as he blooms from green amateur into an improbable hero, his budding relationship with decorated veteran Rita (Emily Blunt) gives us something extra to cheer for. Blunt, for all her yoga-body beauty, is no ingénue. She’s a certifiably hardened BAMF, and goes by the somewhat uncomplimentary tag of “Full Metal Bitch.” With a handle like that (set with a sly tip-of-the-hat to Kubrick) assume that even in a robo-suit, you wouldn’t want to spar with her.  

With a screenplay that might have turned into the brainchild of sub-committee (Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth and John-Henry Butterworth are all credited screenwriters), it’s a wonder that the plot is as airtight as it is. Sure, there’s elements that may not stand up to the test of vehement scrutiny (particularly the somewhat indecipherable ending bits) but the yarn is engrossing enough and staged with just the right amount of ludicrous maneuvering to allow us to overlook them without much complaint. After all, seeing Cruise and Blunt strapped into mech suits and storming a nest of whirling dervish is all you really need. Well, that and kill.


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Mech Suit Tom Cruise Groundhog Daying It in EDGE OF TOMORROW Trailer


If Groundhog Day was a sci-fi action flick, it would look something like the newly released trailer for Bourne director Doug Liman’s film Edge of Tomorrow. Tom Cruise will find himself living the same day over and over again, amidst some sort of alien war, increasing his skills a little bit at a time. The basic premise is nothing new as four or five Star Trek episodes come immediately to mind. But depending on how Liman approaches the subject matter, this looks to have great potential.


The trailer calls back a newly re-popularized Blomkampesque aesthetic, which creates a sort of gritty, dystopian feel, similar to the original Terminator. Instead of being attacked, it seems that the humans are the invaders. Having only a small glimpse of the aliens in the trailer, leads us to think that either Liman is saving it all for the big screen, or trying to deliberately draw attention to the propagandic dehumanization of the aliens, similar to Starship Troopers.  

No matter what point the film tries to make, this plot is nothing new. Tom Cruise will live this day repeatedly, until he kicks ass. Hopefully, the film draws out some social commentary and doesn’t just turn into a dumb action movie. But until it’s release on June 6, 2014, we can only guess. 

Edge of Tomorrow is directed by Doug Liman and stars Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, and Bill Paxton. It hits theaters June 6, 2014.