Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Long Take Episode 3 - Interstellar Review

Forgot to post this last week. Here's the 3rd episode of The Long Take where Justyn and I talk all about Interstellar for 90 minutes. It's our best episode yet and my audio doesn't sound like complete dogshit! We're moving on up, baby!

We hope to record ep.4 early next week.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Foxcatcher Review

There is a brooding sense of doom all throughout the 130-minute runtime in "Foxcatcher." The film is based on a true story and the facts are easily available if you want them, but "Foxcatcher" is best experienced without knowing too much about the actual events that occurred. No matter how much, or how little, you know about the people involved in this film, director Bennett Miller instills a tone throughout the movie that makes it abundantly clear that this will not end well. And yet, when the climax unravels, it really seems to come out of nowhere. A senseless, heinous act occurs late in the film that immediately makes you question everything that came before it. There's no doubt "Foxcatcher" will send a chill down your spine once the credits roll, but how long will it linger in your mind afterwards? Is this movie as deep as it thinks it is?

That's the question I asked myself upon further inspection. I dug the tone of the film, I dug the pace. The acting from Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo is phenomenal. Steve Carell anchors the film, I can guarantee you've never seen him like this before. Was he as good as Tatum and Ruffalo? Eh... we'll get back to that.

But "Foxcatcher" did not really hit as hard as I expected it to. It's a creepy film, but not exactly haunting. It'll make you feel uneasy, but you'll be able to sleep at night. Bennett Miller insists on underplaying the drama in this film, instead wanting to let the events of the film play out as naturally and realistically as possible. In doing this, I wonder if Miller underplayed his hand a little too much. Again, Tatum and Ruffalo are fantastic in their roles, but are they really given a chance to get to the core of their characters? Together, they play the Schultz brothers, each of whom have won an Olympic gold medal, as well as countless other accolades in the sport of wrestling. Their lives are forever changed when a wealthy man by the name of John duPont takes a serious interest in their sport and offers both brothers the chance to train with him (only the younger brother, Mark, takes him up on the offer... initially).

What do we know about these brothers? Mark (Channing Tatum) is the younger of the two and the movie makes it clear that there is a part of Mark who feels he's merely in his older brother's shadow. DuPont's offer allows him to make a name for himself without the help of his brother, but there is a weirdness to duPont that makes the whole situation feel uneasy and uncomfortable. DuPont appears to have a deep interest in wrestling, but we don't really understand why. Is it to impress his mother? His mother thinks the sport is "low." Or maybe he, similar to Mark, would also like to get out from under his mother's shadow. There's something a bit childish about duPont's behavior throughout the movie, but he also carries with him a dangerous hubris. You want to feel bad for him because he ultimately seems lonely and strange. All his life he's had the silver spoon in his mouth, but perhaps he never really got enough attention when he was a kid.

DuPont has created a gym for Mark to practice in and has allowed him to invite other elite wrestlers to train with him. DuPont lets Mark stay in a guest house and gives him plenty of amenities. He claims he wants to make him great. He claims he's a patriot. But who is John duPont really? As the older brother, David, says at one point... what exactly does he get out of all of this?

The movie leaves you asking a lot of questions, but it doesn't really shake you the way it should. Channing Tatum is at his very best here as Mark. Tatum has the unique ability, with the right director, to find depth within his characters while also bringing a physicality to his role. There's no doubt his performance in "Foxcatcher" is largely a physical one, but with each wrestling match, Tatum always brings something slightly different to the table. No match feels the same in this movie. They all feel equally important and you can always feel the weight of that importance.

But there are many other times when his character feels a little too boxed-in. All these characters feel a little boxed-in, thanks to the brooding, yet delicate tone. Favoring natural-ness over melodrama works for director Miller in a lot of ways, but it also doesn't make the movie's climax feel as intense or as gripping as it should be. You can say the "matter-of-fact" approach is exactly the point, that violence can come from anywhere or anytime. Yet, I feel that there is so much more to this story that Miller's streamlined approach just doesn't give us and when you do look up the true story after the movie's over and you figure out the ways Miller and his screenwriters played with the facts, you wonder if those changes were really all that effective in the end.

I hate to sound too vague and I don't want to take the movie down too much. Ultimately, this is a very good, very solid film. Some critics have had the nerve to call this movie slow and I resent that term for a movie like this. "Foxcatcher" always hints that the events that are taking place in this movie, no matter how small or seemingly innocuous, you always get the sense that the movie is heading somewhere. It's just a question of how much the movie's payoff really get to you. For me, I just feel like Miller only really scratched the surface to a case that suggests some really fascinating complexities. And I wonder if the movie's climax is only shocking to me simply because it feels sudden or if it's because of what I know about these characters. You can decide for yourself when the movie eventually hits a theater near you.

But to close, about Steve Carell. Much has been made about his performance. He's never stretched out his acting abilities the way he does here and he deserves to be commended. He was asked to do a lot here, he's really sort-of the anchor of this film. But beyond the makeup, the hook nose, and the overall creepiness to his character, while I think Carell was very good in his role, I wasn't completely sold on the performance. I feel like Carell gets the mannerisms and some of the behavior ticks down pat, but I don't think he really goes beyond that. And that might be another factor as to why I didn't fully embrace this movie, with a movie like this, it's the great performances that matter in the end. Like I said though, I feel like each of these characters are a little boxed-in  so I don't put the blame entirely on Carell. I just don't think the screenwriters or Bennett Miller go nearly as deep with these characters as they could have.

And that's a shame, especially if you know just how long it took Bennett Miller to get this movie off the ground. I don't doubt that he and his writer Dan Futterman went through great lengths to make the movie the way they wanted to make it. Perhaps some fine details were lost in trying to make a movie so meticulously, so preciously. Perhaps, this movie is simply too controlled, too calibrated, when it really just needed to let loose.

Grade: B

Sunday, November 9, 2014

VOD: "Snowpiercer" review

They have been doing this for two decades now and so it's a wonder how they manage to run a successful business. The Weinstein brothers, especially Harvey, is nearly always at the center of attention whenever the Oscars come around. A number of their films has achieved great financial and critical success as well as a fair share of accolades. Most recently, Quentin Tarantino's last two films have both grossed over $300 million worldwide and the brothers have won the Oscar for Best Picture twice in the last four years (though it's been two years since their last win). They even look to be in position to win their third BP in five years, thanks to the strong buzz surrounding "The Imitation Game."

But it seems like Harvey, and his brother Bob, are straight-up gamblers. They bet on all the horses to find that one winner, then toss the rest aside before the others even get a chance to shine. It's a wonder why any filmmaker, who isn't Tarantino or a director of an Oscar-bait film, would want to work these guys. Time and time again, if Harvey Weinstein personally isn't crazy about your film, it gets shelved and then dumped into VOD. There was a fight to get "The Immigrant" on the big screen earlier this year and despite the high per-theater average, the Weinsteins still dumped the film on VOD weeks later.

But "The Immigrant" is a rather deliberately-paced drama (which I loved, mind you) so one could kinda understand where Harvey was coming from. But "Snowpiercer"? This crazily fast-paced action film starring Chris Evans aka Captain America? The dude who's starred in one of the highest grossing films of all-time? And is the head of his own franchise? You have that dude in this crazy action movie, directed by a highly-acclaimed South Korean director and what does Harvey do? He shelves the movie and dumps it on VOD. This is a movie that has otherwise grossed over $80 million worldwide. That's how little Harvey thinks of you, American audience.

OK, so I may have gotten sorta off-track here, but I had to get that off my chest. Because I recently caught "Snowpiercer" on Netflix and, given that it was released earlier this year, I felt obligated to review it. I didn't expect much from it because of the way it was handled, but considering the movie's been universally praised and, more importantly, considering how goddamn badass this movie is at times, it's a real head scratcher how this movie was handled.

There are movies nowadays that try to come off badass and fail, but "Snowpiercer" is not one of those films. This is a deftly-handled, action-packed brawl of a film that captures its general mayhem with the same amount of fury and control as "The Raid: Redemption," but with a much better story, better acting, and less emphasis on ultra-violence.

The movie is heavily symbolic and tackles themes such as individuality, class, and the fragility of humanity. It uses global warming as a backdrop. Really, within the first five minutes of the movie, you pretty much know what's going on and what will happen for the rest of the movie: an experiment to counteract global warming has nearly killed every human on Earth, the ones that have survived now live on this train that's equipped with a perpetual-motion engine and its tracks go all around the world. In the back of the train are the heavily-oppressed lower-class people who eat disgusting protein bars while the rich live in the front of the train and get to enjoy all the excesses of life.

The man at the very front of the train is who Curtis (Chris Evans) is after. Curtis lives in the back and ultimately winds up becoming the leader of his own revolution for "his people" to take the front of the train. But each car presents an entirely new, different, and dangerous challenge to he and his fellow lower-class passengers. But Curtis insists on making it to the front, no matter how many lives are lost.

What's fascinating about Bong Joon-ho's film is how Curtis, at first seems to be the hero of the film, but as time goes on, Curtis reveals a rather ugly side. He becomes so insistent on making it to the front of the train and killing the captain that he actually becomes less human and just as blood-thirsty as the people who've oppressed him. In that respect, "Snowpiercer" is a very thought-provoking film in spite of its non-stop action.

Yet I could not overlook just how exciting and intense the action is in this film. Bong Joon-ho handles these scenes brilliantly, always finding a new way to make them interesting so as to not make the film feel repetitive.

And the film is anchored by a strong performance from Chris Evans who reminds you that he's got some pretty impressive chops when he's not donning the tights in those Marvel films. He perfectly captures the darkness in his character, but also lets some light shine in, giving Curtis many layers as a result.

This movie is simply bonkers. It's an insane premise in the first place so the fact that it, ultimately, works is an accomplishment in itself. Things do get a bit heavy-handed towards the end and perhaps a little too clever for its own good. The abruptness of the film's ending does kind of feel a bit of a letdown even if it makes sense from a thematic standpoint. Nevertheless, this is a very good and solid action film with great performances not just from Evans, but also Octavia Spencer, John Hurt, Tilda Swinton, Ed Harris, and Song Kang-ho. I really enjoyed this movie, and you can catch the flick on Instant Netflix right now. It's unfortunate, however, that I wasn't able to enjoy this on the big screen. This is not some direct-to-DVD kinda movie, this is a top-notch production that happened to have been shelved by a person who has no idea how to market movies if they're not obvious Oscar contenders. Ah well.

Grade: B

AFI Film Festival: "Two Days, One Night" Review

I'd never attended a screening at a film festival before Friday night so I did not know what to expect, but man, it was quite the experience. If you're a movie-lover and you have a chance to watch a movie at a film festival, any film festival, take that chance whenever possible. The experience is heightened when the director(s) and the star of the film happen to be there too. I've been to screenings where there were Q&A's afterwards, but Friday night's screening of the Dardennes brothers' "Two Days, One Night" was just a very classy affair. Almost too classy. I had to ask myself at one point, "do I belong here?"

It was surreal. And it was also surreal to get to see Marion Cotillard in person, as well as the Dardennes brothers. While, sure, it's indeed exciting to see the beautiful and talented actress in the flesh, getting a chance to sit through a Q&A with the Dardennes brothers was a trip in itself. American audiences, unfortunately, may not be too aware of these guys, but since 1996 these Belgium brothers have made a movie every three years and each time, they achieve great acclaim. Just look at it this way: their LOWEST rated film on rottentomatoes is "L'Enfant" which is at 86%... and "L'Enfant" won the top prize at Cannes back in 2005. Not too shabby, eh?

Their work is now more visible thanks to The Criterion Collection putting out "La Promesse" and "Rosetta" on Blu-Ray which were the first two films of theirs that really put them on the map. They've also released The Dardennes's most recent film "The Kid With a Bike" on Blu-Ray, a film you can currently catch on Instant Netflix. Even so, with two P'alme D'ors under their belt, three films in the Criterion Collection, and the consistent critical acclaim, these guys still seem to come up under the radar.

And that might be because of the general understatedness of their films. The Dardennes's films aren't overtly cinematic or showy. They are about low-middle class/working class Belgian people and their day-to-day struggles. I've read one critic describe their films as being "poetic neo-realism" and I think that's an apt description. Their best work reminds me of Vittorio De Sica's neo-realist films, although they've cultivated a style all on their own.

And while I have only seen a handful of their films (really, because the others are so hard to find), the movies of theirs that I have seen have always left a considerable mark on me. And "Two Days, One Night" is no different in that regard.

The aforementioned Marion Cotillard is the star of "Two Days." Her character, Sandra, is a wife and a mother of two. She's been suffering through a serious bout of depression, something she claims to have gotten over when the movie starts. Her depression lead to her missing work for a period of time, but now she's back and ready to get going again. Unfortunately, her boss has decided that they don't really need her anymore and has given his employees (and her co-workers) this damning ultimatum: either you each get a 1,000 Euro bonus or Sandra keeps her job.

Sandra's co-workers hold a meeting regarding this issue, without Sandra knowing about it, and they ultimately vote 14-2 in favor of getting a bonus. Naturally, when Sandra finds out about this, she's devastated. She's just been through a serious episode of depression, decided she's ready to go back, and now she's getting fired? And worst yet, her co-workers agree to her being let go? What's a person to do in that situation?

Luckily, she's been given a second chance by her other boss, who's agree to make the co-workers vote again that following Monday. There's talk of the co-workers being co-erced into voting against Sandra and so another round of voting will occur, to make things more fair. But now Sandra's about to embark on a rather uncomfortable journey: trying to convince each of her 16 co-workers to vote for her, despite the fact that they'd be losing 1,000 Euros.

"Two Days, One Night," starts off as a rather rough journey. We are literally following Sandra as she visits each and every one of her co-workers. Either she phones them, visits their home, or tracks them down elsewhere. Watching someone go through this would normally be a laborious process, but that's where the Dardennes differ from your average filmmaker.

Through the course of its 95 minute time, you soon become deeply engrossed into Sandra's life. There's her ever-supporting husband and oblivious, but sweet kids. But, really, this is all about her. Marion Cotillard appears in every scene and she manages to find an incredible balance in showcasing her character's depression without ever delving into melodrama. As a result, it's easy to get captivated in this world.

Even better is the way this film explores empathy and how each of these 16 co-workers handle Sandra's ultimatum. Another brilliant stroke from the Dardennes is that none of co-workers react in a similar way. When we meet these people, they each have differences in opinion and behavior that is striking. Some feel uncomfortable but are firm in refusing to let go of their bonuses, some break down in tears at the thought of letting Sandra go----the Dardennes don't judge or favor any character over the other, we just see these characters for who they really are: as flawed human beings.

There are many points throughout the film where Sandra tries desperately to stop fighting for her job. Visiting each of her co-workers embarrasses her. It makes her feel like a beggar. But in embarking on this little journey, the wonderful thing is how Sandra slowly and quietly begins uniting her co-workers, establishing a stronger bond among them that they may not have had before. There's something very heart-warming, yet real about how the Dardennes let the events unfold. Sandra forces her co-workers to look her in the eyes, empathize with her situation, and then tell her that she must be fired. And what's even more brilliant is how the Dardennes turn the tables on her and put her in a similar situation. How will she react when she has to decide the fate of one of her co-workers?

There were a handful of occasions where the movie dips a little too much into the melodramatic, and the film is almost too light in its overall approach. It definitely does not have the same gut-punch that their 1999 film "Rosetta" had. "Rosetta" follows a rather similar plot but in much rougher circumstances. "Rosetta" is not a film I'd like to revisit, but it's one of the more powerful dramas I've ever seen. "Two Days, One Night" isn't quite as powerful or as wholly gripping, but it will find a way to stick in your head ever so subtly.

The Dardennes continue their incredible winning streak with this sweet little gem of a film and while Cotillard's work in "The Immigrant" from earlier this year may have been more showy, her performance in "Two Days, One Night" might be her best yet. She fit into the Dardennes world rather easily and makes me hope the Belgium brothers work with her again sometime in the future.  She's at the top of her game, the directors are the top of their game, and the end result is pretty magical.

Grade: A-

Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Long Take Episode 2 - All About Christopher Nolan plus Nightcrawler review

2nd episode of The Long Take featuring me and my good friend Justyn Moore. We talk Nolan (before we saw INTERSTELLAR) and review Nightcrawler.

Ep 1 is off Soundcloud because it costs money to host more than 3hrs of audio content. The first ep is now on youtube in three parts:

Interstellar review


WARNING: potentially major spoilers ahead

There are moments in "Interstellar" that are so breathtaking, I was legitimately in awe. My mouth was agape; I could not believe what I was seeing. Christopher Nolan and his crew not only captured beautiful images, they blew the doors off my imagination. For a good hour or so, really, "Interstellar" is deeply inspiring, blissful, wondrous, intense, gorgeous. There came a point where I actually felt that I might just be watching Christoper Nolan's masterpiece.

And then it came. The black hole. The moment Matthew McConaughey's character decides to make a brave decision to enter a place where no man has gone before. Once we find out what this place really is, that's when everything falls apart. Is this "black hole" going to bend our minds beyond comprehension? No, instead "Interstellar" decides to enter cheap, hokey, overly-sentimental territory which completely takes the wind out of the movie's sails. Nolan's incessant need to have everything "fit" undoes the movie and it made me realize that, through it all, no matter how great the visuals are, no matter how ambitious the movie is, everything begins and ends with the story. Ultimately, "Interstellar" is a marvelous visual spectacle with an incredibly weak story. 


It starts out promising enough. The movie does not open in space like "Gravity." Set in the future, the movie begins on planet earth, a world that is severely lacking in food. Cooper (McCounaghey) is a former-astronaut who's forced to become a farmer due to these dire circumstances. He lives in a town that it's in the middle of a nasty dust storm and is the father of two children. His son will most likely become a farmer as well, but his daughter Murphy is destined for something much more.

In the first act, while we're waiting for the inevitable: Cooper to put his astronaut suit back on and explore the world, we are left with all these puzzle pieces and hints about a ghost in Murphy's room that's trying to tell her something. This is Nolan's first real dive into the supernatural, and for me, I sensed that there was something strange and off about this whole ghost thing. Nevertheless, I was still willing to go along for the ride.

Cooper and Murphy, by accident, wind up finding NASA's secret headquarters. This is where we meet professor Brand (Michael Caine) and his daughter (Anne Hathaway). Brand tells us of NASA's mission to discover new planets, thanks to a mysterious wormhole that's been located in one of Saturn's rings. A mysterious wormhole? What? 

Before I can question the movie's logic at this point, we are off in space. Pretty soon, any questions I had simply dissipated. Believe me when I tell you, once again, that the scenes in space are breathtaking. "Interstellar" goes way beyond what "Gravity" merely hinted at. "Interstellar" is a must-see film, especially at an IMAX theater, because of the second act of this movie. I won't get too much into details here, but watching Cooper's crew explore the universe and these new planets was really a sight to behold. 

A common criticism with Nolan's other films is their lack of emotion. With "Interstellar," Nolan goes all-in on the emotions and, for the first 2/3s of the movie, it mostly works. When Cooper's crew enters these strange new planets, it's said that each hour spent on these planets equal 7 years in space. After their mission inside the first planet goes awry, more than 20 years have passed on planet Earth. This leads to some very heart-wrenching and emotional moments.

But when the movie tries to go for the big, deep, emotional climax, that's when it all comes crashing down. Because Nolan is such a literalist, as exemplified by the sheer amount of exposition that's in nearly all his films, he forces all the "supernatural" aspects of the first act to fit with the third act in such a literal, heavy-handed way that it makes the emotional ending feel incredibly superficial.

"Interstellar" has the ambitions to enter "2001: A Space Odyssey" territory, but its forced emotional beats takes it down to below "Contact" territory. I've been a huge fan of Nolan's for over a decade. I love "Memento", I greatly enjoy "The Dark Knight" trilogy, and "Inception" is one of the best blockbusters of the 2010s in my opinion. "Interstellar" did not do it for me, but it's not because of Nolan's critics who constantly put the director on blast for not being emotional enough. Maybe we should just accept the fact that Nolan just isn't an emotional guy. Just like Tarantino will always love violence and creating cinematic pastiches, just like Wes Anderson likes to construct his films with a very dollhouse, "make believe" look... there's no sense in trying to fit a square inside a round hole. Nolan's insistence in trying to make "Interstellar" an emotional experience completely undermines everything that made the first 2/3s of the movie feel so spellbinding.

With his ninth film, and with his Batman trilogy out of the way, Christopher Nolan really tries to shoot for the stars and I admire the hell out of him for that. But he completely misses the mark here. You would think the first 2/3's greatness would be enough for me, but it's really not. The final act of the film is so literal and obvious that all the expositionary dialogue that came before is just completely cheapened.

Don't let my words deter you from seeing the film, however. "Interstellar" is an absolute must-see in theaters, I cannot deny that. Just proceed with caution and hopefully you'll have a much better overall experience than I did.

Grade: C

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Nightcrawler review

The way in which "Nightcrawler" works is pretty interesting. It has the look and feel of a genre film, but the specificity of its subject matter and its darkly comic tone suggests an entirely different and fresh experience than what you may be used to. Dan Gilroy's debut film follows Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) who lives alone, but is not your typical loner type. He's not really a people-person, and as one person points out, he has a weird, robotic way of talking to people.

Lou wants to make a name for himself and is willing to do whatever it takes in order to succeed. In the beginning, we watch him making a dishonest living by stealing from construction sites. But he makes a pretty sudden career change once he finds out he can make money by videotaping crime scenes and selling the footage to a TV news station. Lou soon buys himself a videocamera and dives into the world of video journalism head on. He even manages to get some footage sold pretty quickly and finds himself making a decent living, but is it really an honest one?

Well? Legally, yes. Morally and ethically? Probably not. But this world is very real and Gilroy's film is fascinating in the way it makes us peak behind this ugly curtain. Everyday after we watch our shows, the local news comes on and they show us footage of "the scene of the crime." Well, who's filming that? And how soon after the crash did they get there? How are they getting all these images? As a TV viewer, you don't think about the actual construction of TV journalism, but as "Nightcrawler" shows, the ethics behind it are shaky at best.

What makes "Nightcrawler" work unequivocally, and the reason why it's one of the best movies of the year, is because it's not preachy nor does it try to manipulate the audience into feeling a certain way. Lou Bloom is not a very nice man and has absolutely no qualms about the work that he does. There's a point where Lou gets to the scene of an accident before the police, and moves a presumably dead body just so he can get the perfect shot. That may sound horrible on paper, but you can't help but laugh when you actually watch it unravel. "Nightcrawler," as creepy and unsettling as it is, is a black comedy through and through. There are many moments throughout the film that are just flat out hilarious simply because of how ridiculous this world is. And Gilroy manages to find the perfect balance between proving a point while never losing his cheekiness or his sense of humor.

This isn't a movie to be taken 100% seriously. It's a morality tale, it's not supposed to be wholly realistic. I've seen the movie get compared to "Network" in the way it skewers the media and I agree with that comparison, but "Network" is also broadly satirical and has many humorous moments. If you disliked "Network" and thought it was preachy, you probably won't love "Nightcrawler" either, but if you recognize the darkly humorous quality that "Network" brings, you will get a kick out of this movie. I never thought of "Network" as being a docudrama, the way things play out are pretty clearly melodramatic. "Nightcrawler" isn't as heavy on the melodrama, but it never attempts to suggest that this what the media really is like.

Really, I think what "Nightcrawler" and Dan Gilroy are trying to say is that this is what things could be like or what they could turn into, if we're not careful enough. Lou Bloom is a megalomaniac. He makes it explicit, at one point during the movie, that he doesn't like people. Think of the implications of that. He actually gets a certain amount of joy in the work that he does, when the images he's capturing are horrific. He actually says towards the end of the movie, with a smile on his face: "When people see me, it's usually on the worst day of their life."

What kind of person gets joy out of a job like that? Probably not very many, but what "Nightcrawler" suggests is that this is a road we could go down. Guys like Lou Bloom should not be able to succeed, but they do because we allow him to.

Rene Russo plays Nina, the morning news director that Lou always sells his footage to, the network she works for is always last in the ratings. So, she's desperate for a "hit." Lou's got a unique eye. The footage he brings to the table is shocking and it very much crosses an unspoken line, but Nina knows that, deep down, it's what the people want to see. People love watching TLC or Investigation Discovery, the latter of which is often aptly described as "murder-porn." We love our true crime stories. Why flip it to Investigation Discovery when the local news has a story that's just a juicy and whose footage is just as violent?

As said before, this is Dan Gilroy's debut feature film. Now, this guy's been in the business for quite some time. He's made his living as a screenwriter previously, most famously, he worked with his brother Tony Gilroy on the screenplay for "The Bourne Legacy," which Tony directred. "Nightcrawler," in many ways, is a family affair. Tony Gilroy helped produce, and Dan's other brother John Gilroy edited the film. And last, but not least of all, Rene Russo happens to Dan Gilroy's wife and she plays a prominent part in the movie.

Yes, Dan Gilroy is married to Rene Russo and they have been together for over twenty years. So, when you think about it, Dan was with her all throughout her heyday when she was an A-list actress back in the '90s. What happens to A-list actresses when they're at the top of the game? Paparazzi follows them everywhere. Magazines like Us and People make a living off snapping photos of celebrities. You wonder why Dan Gilroy decided to make his debut feature as a satire of the news media, and being married to Rene Russo gives you a pretty clear answer.

But instead of the writer/director going on the defensive, he crafts this intelligent, genre-y black comedy. Dan Gilroy isn't saying "shame on you, media," in many ways, he's just taking the piss. He's shining a light on some serious issues here and the way he does it is smart. Because the tone of "Nightcrawler" is darkly humorous, it allows the director to really go for it. And this gives Jake Gyllenhaal free reign to take his character to some pretty exciting places.

This is, without a doubt, Jake Gyllenhaal's best performance of his career. He's never been this demented before. Most of Gyllenhaal's previous characters had the aura of being innocent while suggesting that something dark lies beneath. In "Nightcrawler," the innocence is gone. His character is just a full-on asshole, and you know what? He's deliciously fun to watch.

The main cast is capped off by the aforementioned Rene Russo who really gets to show off some serious chops here. I also got a real kick out of Bill Paxton's performance, despite its relative brevity. Paxton plays another freelance cameraman who's been working the game for over a decade. What's brilliant about "Nightcrawler" is that, instead of making Paxton's character become Lou Bloom's mentor, Bloom insists on there being competition between the two of them. Because, why not? We live in a capitalistic society, baby. It's every man for himself.

There are just so many layers in this movie, despite the length of this review, I actually haven't revealed much of anything. "Nightcrawler" is an immensely entertaining film on the most basic level, but it doesn't take much to understand that there's a lot going on in this film than initially meets the eye. This is a movie you revisit time and time again because it's got a lot to say, but it also has the intent on giving the audience a real thrill ride. Seriously, there's a car chase sequence near the end of the film that really kinda comes out of nowhere and it's one of the most electrifying action scenes that I've seen this year.

And above it all, I couldn't possibly end this review without mentioning the exquisite cinematography. Robert Elswit has been behind the lens of several other movies that take place in Los Angeles, but never has he made Los Angeles look as creepy as he does here. Elswit shot the day scenes on 35mm film and the night scenes via digital and the effect is quite fascinating. LA just illuminates in a way that's similar to a Michael Mann film and he really makes the location become a whole other character in itself.

As far as debut features go, this is almost unfair. Dan Gilroy has been a working screenwriter for several decades. He's got two brothers on his side, his talented wife is the co-lead, and he's able to attract a big name like Jake Gyllenhaal whose career is on the rise and cinematographer Robert Elswit, who was practically born to shoot Los Angeles. Gilroy would've really had to try to screw this one up, instead he goes above and beyond what's required of him and makes a hugely entertaining movie that works on every level. This is a tight 120-minute movie that doesn't drag and ends right when it should. "Nightcrawler" simply hits all the right spots.

Grade: A