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With a mesmerising performance by Jake Gyllenhaal, Nightcrawler stalks along with a plot of opportunism and media frenzies whilst focusing on the actions of one loner whose goals become all consuming. Gyllenhaal plays Lou Bloom, an unemployed Californian oddball who witnesses a crash one night and is in awe of an amateur film crew taking gruesome footage which is later sold to a TV news show. Rene Russo as Nina is the head of the local station who then encourages Lou to get more salacious shock footage that will help give audiences "what they want". Buying a cheap camera and enlisting the help of a drifter (also played to perfection by Riz Ahmed), Lou comes up against Bill Paxton (finding a new lease of life after his support in Edge of Tomorrow) who plays a rival news gathering entrepreneur but their opposing businesses take a toxic turn as Lou goes further than a regular rivalry should.
As he arrives at scenes of chaos and violence, Lou takes more and more risks and stipulates higher acclaim from Nina before arriving first at a fatal home-intrusion leading to run-ins with the police authorities. Writer-director Gilroy goes very Michael Mann with his night time shoot around the City of Angels and the Taxi Driver-esque themes of obsession and fixation are scattered throughout. The parallels with real life and the questions of what is news (and who creates the meaning) are thrown at the screen all the while the audience focuses on a captivating piece of acting by a gaunt Gyllenhaal. The need for news collides with the actuality of it even happening and people's privacy is invaded during their most vulnerable moments. The film executes this with style and a compelling script and it's no accident that this film smashes together a wide range of modern concerns about the media as it hurtles towards a dark finale.
With a title like that it is clear where Jackson was going in this third and final frustrating prequel adapted from J. R. R. Tolkien's slim book of the same name. Before we go back again, we started with An Unexpected Journey whose dwarf-singing, cutlery throwing antics were mostly a large misfire for me before the sequel (The Desolation of Smaug) found another gear in which the Cumberbatch voiced dragon was more than a fine spectacle.
This third act opens where we left off with Smaug attacking Lake Town which was an exciting but too brief intro and why Jackson didn't end on the *SPOILER* killing of the dragon for part 2 shows how thin he stretched the tiny novel. Once the dwarves return to Erebor, they fortify themselves within its mountainous walls, which then sets up the mother of all scraps. And therein lies the problem. The vision is exciting and as bombastic as any film-battle depicted on screen but the casualty is any meaningful engagement with the people conducting it.
We move away from Bilbo and focus on Thorin's downfall as a man obsessed by gold, poisoning him (much like the Ring) which means we lose focus of the hobbit's journey. Thrown away is the character development of LOTR and we are simply given a second helping of the Minas Tirith battle which like The Fast Show's "The Long Big Punch Up" sketch, goes on for exactly forever.
That said, the fight is undeniably thrilling. The 3D combined with Jackson's swinging camera (perhaps too much swinging) was electrifying as we got orcs, elves, humans, dwarves and *ahem* eagles clashing in a brawl that contains fist fights, sword skirmishes, axe-swinging and pig-riding. An always acrobatic Legolas jumps and leaps in a particularly well executed bridge falling-apart scene whilst an earlier appendix-filling sequence in which 3 older characters fight early incarnations of the Nazgul was a joy for fans of the previous trilogy. In a flurry of special effects the 48fps was a little weird at first but I thought it gave the film a distinguishing style and was a risk worth taking in a film with little narrative risk elsewhere. And the CGI? Oh the CGI. Sometimes amazing (Azog was all but real) and sometimes frustrating (Billy Connolly voiced Dain Ironfoot was rendered completely in CGI for no reason whatsoever) audiences will either go along with the visual eye-candy or rebel against it. In the main, this reviewer went with it.
In summary, a decent but dry ending leads up to the events which start the LOTR trilogy and with the Tolkien estate refusing to authorise further adaptations I hope we can leave Middle Earth with the memory of one exceptional trilogy and one reasonable one.
Historical accuracy is mostly thrown out the window in this rough and ready war movie which although inspired by actual incidents is a fictional tale of Brad Pitt leading a gang of tank-bound soldiers across Germany in 1945. A gruesome intro of the stark realities of the battle ground continue throughout as Pitt ("Wardaddy") and his comrades (Shia LaBeouf, Michael Peņa & Jon Bernthal) are joined by an inexperienced youngster Norman Ellison - played by a brilliant Logan Lerman - and introduce him to the harsh truths of their campaign. The teenager's reluctance to kill Germans antagonises the crew before Pitt forces the young man to kill or be killed. I especially liked the touch that the crew itself were on the verge of falling apart at times, the ravages of their combined histories tearing at their very moral soul and Ayer is convincing in his portrayal of the complexities of their situation rather than a simple good versus evil position. Pitt's presence says a lot with few words whilst newcomer Lerman holds his own with a very impressive performance as his eyes are slowly opened to the cruelty around him. Building up loyalty (both amongst the tank's crew and with the audience), Ayer's finale has an immobilized tank taking on 300 soldiers of Waffen-SS infantry in a tense and well edited night battle. In summary, Fury as a whole moves at a steady march and a scene at a dinner table during one of the quieter moments shows more about the intricacies of war than some of the (admittedly electrifying) front line sequences. War film aficionados will love this yanks in tanks fighting flick. 7/10 Midlands Movies Mike
Oh Kevin Smith, it's one step forward and two steps back. After the diminishing returns of Zack & Miri and then Cop Out, Smith appeared to somewhat wipe the slate clean with the impressively different Red State. Gone were the weed-inspired puerile antics of his last flops but guess what? They're back with a vengeance in Tusk. You probably know the story by now but let me fill you in. Justin Long plays one half of a podcast duo who goes to Canada to interview an internet sensation but after the kid's suicide he ends up at the home of Howard Howe (Michael Parks) who tells him of poetic stories of past adventures on the sea. Before nightfall though, Howe drugs the young man and straps him to a wheelchair whilst explaining he had to remove his leg as he was bitten by a spider. It is right up to here, the film works. Long is suitably obnoxious as the arrogant and over-confident podcaster (simply, he's Smith himself) and the journey in the first 30 minutess has hints of dark humour, some interesting characters and is well paced. However, it's all downhill from here. Already aware of the ludicrous plot (Howe begins to change his kidnap victim "into" a Walrus), Smith just cannot find the right tone for the next two-thirds. Intrigue is lost as characters spout long diatribes, there is no tension and the horrific transformation/mind games I was expecting were nowhere to be seen. But Smith saves the worst for last - a cameo by Johnny Depp as a French-Canadian investigating Howe's previous crimes. Just imagine Inspector Clouseau showing up in the middle of Misery and you get the idea. Whereas his last film looked like he had finally left his former juvenile behaviour behind, he makes his "Snakes on a Plane" film which die-hard fans may find some entertainment from but left me wondering where it went wrong. With poor makeup, the film has interesting ideas but is badly executed and for a horror-comedy, it's neither horrific or funny enough. This creature feature is out of its depth. 5/10 Midlands Movies Mike
Young Adult Fiction is really not my bag. With a big shrug to all things Hunger Games (the first film was a so-so rehash of Battle Royale/The Running Man) and the like, I came at this with an attitude of "so, impress me". And (in the main) impress me it did. Maybe it was the switch to a contained arena with little backstory which gave the film a more Lord of the Flies literary vibe that helped. However, we join an unknown boy (Thomas) who is thrust into a self-sustaining prison eco-system called The Glade which is surrounded on all sides by a huge maze which they regularly "run" when the doors open in an attempt to find a way out. Will Poulter ("We're the Millers") plays the chief of the tribe and boys mix menial tasks with night time parties alongside their battles against Grievers - bio-mechanic monsters that stalk the maze itself. With a good amount of intrigue and strong performances by the young cast, I was impressed with the pacing of the story (Thomas is seen as an outcast risk-taker disrupting their paradise), the slow revelations and some genuinely scary encounters in the maze which may frighten younger viewers so take that as a warning. Although clearly set up with a finale to suggest more instalments (there are more books in the series), it could have easily stood on its own such was the character development and design of the self controlled environment. With a mixture of sci-fi, teen angst and some well edited action, the film is aimed at the young - but adults too will find something interesting amongst the literary lore in this labyrinth. 7.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike