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Nightcrawler ~ A Capsule Movie Review

Nightcrawler

Nightcrawler ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp 

In Nightcrawler, Jake Gyllenhaal plays Louis Bloom, a fast-talking young man with a line of blather, a certain amount of charm, and a burning desire to succeed in his chosen profession. He goes around the scary streets of Los Angeles at night, looking for accidents, shootings or crimes in progress so he can film them. He then sells what he films to TV news stations, which will pay lots of money for the bloodiest and most sensational film footage—the more blood, mayhem, and human misery, the better. This is the stuff that brings in viewers.

We see right away that Louis Bloom is bereft of morals. He steals an expensive bicycle early in the movie and pawns it to buy himself a video camera and the equipment he needs. He ingratiates himself to a news director at a Los Angeles television station, a woman named Nina (Rene Russo). She is charmed by his bravado and sees he has a real eye for TV journalism, or, in other words, he is a deft purveyor of the kind of sleaze that is her life’s blood. (Her job might be on the line if she fails to deliver the kind of trashy visuals her audience has come to expect.)

Louis hires an assistant named Rick (Rick Garcia) for thirty dollars a night. Rick is everything that Louis is not; he’s hesitant and lacking in confidence. He wants to make good (as he tells Louis, he is sleeping in a garage) but we see he isn’t suited for the kind of things that Louis expects him to do. If he had any sense, he would walk away, but, of course, he doesn’t and he comes to a bad end.

When Louis and Rick accidentally stumble on a crime in progress, an apparent “home invasion” (that turns out to be something else) in a house in an upscale neighborhood, it is heaven-sent for Louis. He hides outside and films the whole thing taking place inside the house, including gunshots. After he films two men leaving, he goes inside and films the bloody crime scene up close, including three shooting victims. When he takes this film footage to Nina to sell to her, he demands an exorbitant fee. (To give himself leverage and bargaining power, not to mention big money, he withholds the part of the film that shows the two men leaving the crime scene, landing himself in hot water with the police.)

Nightcrawler is intelligent and literate, if a little verbose. Louis Bloom is an interesting and complex character. Lots of adjectives might apply to him, including unscrupulous, self-aggrandizing and opportunistic. Jake Gyllenhaal is convincing every step of the way (he had an awful lot of dialogue to memorize). Also memorable are Nina (when Louis makes sexual advances, she says she doesn’t date people she works with and, anyway, she’s twice his age, which would make her about 68) and Rick, who has a kind of Ratso Rizzo appeal, although he’s a lot cleaner than that.

Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp

Interstellar ~ A Capsule Movie Review

Interstellar

Interstellar ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp 

In the new movie Interstellar, the earth is dying (a recurring theme in today’s pop culture) and cannot sustain its six billion people. NASA scientists have discovered a “wormhole” in space just outside our solar system. This wormhole allows for space and time to be compressed (remember the theory of relativity) so that earthlings can get to a hospitable, pristine, earth-like planet where human earth-life can begin again. Who made this wormhole, or who allowed earth people to know of its existence? The characters in the movie can’t bring themselves to say that it is part of God’s plan, presumably for fear of offending somebody. Welcome to the world of political correctness.

Matthew McConaughey plays a character known simply as “Cooper.” He is a disaffected farmer whose farm is being ruined by the bad old environment that people themselves have destroyed. He is also a widower, a father, and an engineer. Who better to lead the secret mission through limitless space to the wormhole and on to another planet (unknown, except that it is earthlike) that earthlings can call home? Of course, on the mission there is also the toothsome daughter (Anne Hathaway) of the genius (Michael Caine) who thought it all up but is too old himself to go along, and two male colleagues (one black and one white). Cooper reluctantly leaves his two children behind on earth, promising to return whenever he can. His daughter, with the odd name of “Murph,” will play a significant part in what is to come. (The revelation that comes to Cooper later in the story is that the mission is not to save him or his own family but to save the human species.)

Interstellar is long (eleven minutes short of three hours) and loud, with a pulsing music score that, even though it’s good music, seems to get in the way at times of the audience being able to hear what the characters are saying. My problem throughout much of Interstellar is that a lot of the dialogue is incomprehensible. I might have felt more engaged by the whole thing if I had known what was happening as revealed by what the characters were saying. And when the explorers land on another planet, it’s disappointing because all we can see is water. Where are the exotic inhabitants and strange (to us) plants and animals? Who wants to see only water and waves? We have that on earth.

I got a similar feeling from Interstellar that I got from Elysium, Inception, Prometheus, and other movies. The cleverness of it gets in the way of the story. I don’t want to be blown out of my seat by special effects, gimmickry, and sound design. I want to be blown out of my seat by a believable and beautifully written story that I’ve never seen before.

Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp

Fury ~ A Capsule Movie Review

Fury

Fury ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp 

Rather than a remake of the 1936 Spencer Tracy/Sylvia Sidney movie of the same name, Fury is a gritty World War II drama set in Germany in April 1945 in the closing days of the war. Brad Pitt plays Sergeant Collier, the battle-hardened (“I’ve killed Germans in North Africa, Belgium, France, and now I’m killing Germans in Germany.”) leader of a tank squadron. American tanks are inferior to German tanks, so, besides Sergeant Collier, there are only three men left in his group. When a very young recruit named Norman (played by Logan Lerman, who was Noah’s son earlier this year) is assigned to them, they soon discover he is all wrong for the job he is supposed to do. He has been trained as a clerk typist to type sixty words a minute and has not been battle-tested.

Sergeant Collier is a kind of father figure to the men in his group, as unlikeable as they are. He has promised them he will do whatever he can to help them make it through the war alive and we see he is very committed to delivering on his promise. He has to be brutal to “toughen up” Norman to make him overcome his natural reluctance to kill the enemy. As he explains to Norman in one of their quieter interludes, “Ideals are peaceful; war is violence.” We see that, in war, one sheds ones ideals and does whatever it takes to survive, even if doing so seems “wrong” at the time. The emotional core of the movie is the friendship between Sergeant Collier and his men and, specifically Norman, the young, naïve, untested boy/man.

After more than seven decades, World War II continues to be a mine of rich material for filmmakers. David Ayer wrote and directed Fury, and there’s nothing pretty or romantic about it. It’s gritty, brutal, dirty, ugly, down-in-the mud fighting. The only real glory is coming through it alive. If you were there, you might reasonably say, “I am in hell.”

Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp

Gone Girl ~ A Capsule Movie Review

Gone Girl poster

Gone Girl ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp 

Gone Girl might more appropriately be titled Gone 33-Year-Old Woman. It’s a slick mystery filmed in and around Cape Girardeau, Missouri, and directed by David Fincher, who directed The Social Network and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. It’s a story about a mismatched couple and the disastrous consequences of their terrible marriage. Ben Affleck is Nick Dunne, the feckless husband, and Rosamund Pike is Amy, the not-what-she-seems wife.

Nick Dunne is a small-town, average man. He owns a not-very-successful bar with his twin sister, Margo. His blond wife, Amy, is everything he’s not. She comes from a wealthy family, is sophisticated, cultured, and accomplished, a Harvard graduate and author of a series of children’s books. After the sexual attraction between the two of them wears thin, Nick and Amy discover they can’t stand each other. Nick grows increasingly more hostile toward Amy and she claims to be afraid of him. On their fifth wedding anniversary, Nick is going to ask Amy for a divorce, but when he comes home he finds she is gone; the house is in disarray, suggesting a struggle. Nick goes to the police and a large-scale search for Amy begins.

The apparent abduction of Amy becomes the subject of intense media scrutiny and a kind of national obsession. Nick Dunne is a little too glib and facile; he doesn’t seem too broken up over the disappearance of his wife. (He admits in private that he is relieved she’s gone.) He is, in fact, found to have been having an adulterous affair with a woman half his age. He becomes the most hated man in America. He has, in a way, been tried and convicted in the court of public opinion.

We (the audience) aren’t kept guessing too long. I don’t want to give away too much here, except to say that, as much of a jerk as Nick is, he’s relatively blameless compared to Amy. She is a despicable, manipulative monster, a regular psychopath. In the unsatisfying ending, we are left with the impression that Amy is exactly what Nick deserves. These are not likeable characters and there’s nothing here I care to see. I think I want my money back and the two-and-a-half hours out of my life.

Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp

The Hundred-Foot Journey ~ A Capsule Movie Review

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The Hundred-Foot Journey

The Hundred-Foot Journey ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp 

An Indian family, the Kadams (father, three grown children and two smaller children), are displaced from their home and restaurant business in Mumbai, India, due to political unrest. Traveling in France, looking for a place to call home, they decide to stay in the little French village of Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val after their van breaks down near there. After living in the village for a while, they open a restaurant and call it Maison Mumbai. One of the grown sons in the family, Hassan, will be the chef. Hassan learned everything about being a chef from his deceased mother and is really good at which he does, but how will an ethnic restaurant fare in such an obviously traditional place, especially since right across the road is an established restaurant run by one Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren)?

Right away Madame Mallory is not happy about having an Indian restaurant so near her own establishment. She doesn’t like the music, the bright lights, the gaudy embellishments and the disruption. A sort of war erupts between the two restaurants, with Madame Mallory playing little tricks on the Kadams such as buying up all the crayfish from the market, while the Kadams counter with trying to lure some of Madame Mallory’s customers away. When Maison Mumbai is firebombed and Hassan’s hands are injured in trying to put out the fire, Madame Mallory suspects that one of her employees is behind the incident. She fires him and decides it’s time for her and the Kadams to come to some kind of an arrangement whereby they might all peacefully co-exist.

The Hundred-Foot Journey is about the clash of two cultures and how those cultures might benefit each other by way of a little understanding. The romantic complications are predictable and resolve themselves predictably. Since Hassan is handsome and young, he just has to have a love affair with a pretty French girl, doesn’t he? (The girl is a rival chef, so that adds another dimension to the story.) Toward the end of the story when Madame Mallory and Papa Kadam seem to be drifting toward each other romantically, it’s a little bit cringe-inducing, especially since there seems to be so little chemistry between them.

The accents in The Hundred-Foot Journey are difficult to understand for people who speak American, but if you like European-based “art” films and are a fan of Helen Mirren, you’ll probably enjoy this movie enough to make it worth the time and effort. The food is exotic and pretty to look at, even if you don’t know what it is. What is that purple thing that looks like the bottom half of a bird? Do I eat it or display it on my mantel?

Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp

Begin Again ~ A Capsule Movie Review

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Begin Again

Begin Again ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp 

Gretta (Keira Knightley) is an English girl, a singer/songwriter who is going along for the ride with her handsome, successful pop singer boyfriend named Dave Kohl (Adam Levine). Dave has girls crawling all over him and—guess what?—he’s unfaithful to Gretta with an Asian girl named Mim. Gretta slaps the you-know-what out of Dave (he deserves it) and leaves. She is staying with a platonic male friend when she is coerced into singing a composition of her own in a New York club. A frizzy-headed, unkempt, down-on-his-luck recording executive named Dan (Mark Ruffalo) just happens to be present in the club the night Gretta performs. He desperately needs a successful artist that he can promote to his boss and he sees in Gretta the raw talent that nobody else can see or appreciate. The best scene in the movie is when Gretta is singing her song (about being alone in the city) with just a guitar and Dan is visualizing an arrangement with other instruments. He “sees” the piano being played, although there is nobody playing it, along with double base, violin, cello and other instruments.

When Dan meets Gretta, he has just been fired from his job for a five-year run without discovering a successful recording artist. And his personal life is no better than his professional one. He lives in a dark, depressing apartment; he is estranged from his wife (Catherine Keener); his fourteen-year-old daughter goes to school dressed like a whore. He talks Gretta into recording an album of her songs and, since they don’t have the money for a recording studio and musicians, they will record at various locations around New York City with musicians who are willing to work for free.

You might expect a romance to develop between Dan and Gretta, even though he is a lot older than she is, but that isn’t where this story is going. He gives her confidence in her musical talents and she gives his professional career a much-needed boost, but we don’t have to see them smacking their lips together and rolling around together in bed. (Thank goodness!) You have to hand it to the creators of this film for eschewing the customary romantic sparks.

Begin Again is a pleasant, lightweight movie that won’t give you a headache unless you already have one. There’s lots of music in this movie, some of it good and some of it on the annoying side. I like Keira Knightley’s singing voice and screen persona. She has appeared in costume dramas (Anna Karenina and Pride and Prejudice) and more contemporary fare (Never Let Me Go and Seeking a Friend for the End of the World). I hope she never gets her teeth fixed because it’s natural not to have perfect teeth. There are too many unnatural-looking, perfect teeth in the world.

Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp

Cold in July ~ A Capsule Movie Review

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Cold in July

Cold in July ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp 

Cold in July starts out as a story about revenge but turns into something else. The time is 1989 and the place East Texas. Michael C. Hall (who I remember so well as the uptight mortician in the great HBO series Six Feet Under) plays regular guy Richard Dane. There’s nothing heroic about Richard Dane. He owns a small business and has a wife and son. When an intruder breaks into the Dane home in the middle of the night, Richard goes to investigate with a loaded gun. He ends up shooting and killing the intruder on the spot. The police arrive and identify the intruder as one Freddie Russell, a known felon. As it is an open-and-shut case of self-defense, Richard isn’t charged with any crime. He believes the ugly incident is over until Freddie Russell’s father, Ben (Sam Shepard), recently released from prison himself, shows up and begins making subtle threats, threatening specifically Richard Dane’s young son, Jordan.

When Richard sees a wanted poster showing the real Freddie Russell, he knows that wasn’t the person he shot and killed. The police, for some reason, are covering up. They want the world to believe that Freddie Russell is dead when they know in fact he isn’t. Richard saves Ben’s life when the police try to kill him by drugging him and placing his body on railroad tracks. He wants to convince Ben that it wasn’t his son he killed, but Ben, of course, doesn’t believe him. When they go and exhume the body of the person believed to be Freddie, they find a mutilated corpse with its teeth ripped out and its fingertips cut off. Ben knows from the face, however, that the body is not that of his son.

Richard and Ben are joined by good-old-Texas-boy Jim Bob (Don Johnson), a private investigator who wears cowboy boots and drives a flashy red convertible. Jim Bob and Ben go way back, having served in Korea together. The three of them set out to find out what is really going on and why the police are obfuscating the mystery. What they uncover is the stuff of which nightmares are made.

Cold in July is based on a novel by Joe R. Lansdale. It’s well-made, with some interesting, likeable characters. The character Ben Russell is frightening at first but turns out to be a decent, if eccentric, fellow. It’s his decency that drives the story to its violent end. The one thing that bothers me is how two men are able to dig up a recently buried body in a cemetery and not be seen. Isn’t that a crime in itself? Also, why is the body only a couple of feet down instead of the customary six? I guess these are things that don’t matter because movies don’t always deal in reality.

Copyright 2014 by Allen Kopp

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