Let’s Go To The Movies:
Nightcrawler – Director Dan Gilroy
Dan Gilroy’s debut film should grab the gold come award time. His Michael Mann- inspired look at Los Angeles, and how tabloid journalism, first invented by the supermarket rag The National Enquirer, has drenched television news reporting, rechanneling it in an ugly aesthetic, is a stunner from start to finish. Jake Gyllenhaal plays Lou Bloom, an updated version of Sammy Glick who, desperate for a job and to make his mark, loses all sense of a moral compass in his willingness to be first on a criminal scene and/or horrible accident, filming it regardless of the circumstances so he can get it to the a local TV station in a ratings battle. His TV news contact is a former TV actress who segued into an on camera reporter job till she reached an age where a fresher younger face was wanted, and then segued into production. Played by a still stunning Rene Russo, she too is desperate to keep her job. It’s TMZ time, except the focus is crime not celebrity. But it is a paparazzi ethic that challenges and saturates the film. Just as the Mexican drama Miss Bala showed how drug cartel money was destroying the moral and social fabric that underlie Mexican traditional values, Nightcrawler takes the same hard look at how sensationalized news has blunted the moral compass of the consumer, and upended professional news standards and professional ethics. Gyllenhaal is simply brilliant in his portrayal of the ends-justify-the-means performance. He lost over 30 lbs. to capture the praying mantis-in-heat bug-eyed look of Lou Bloom. Also outstanding is Rez Ahmed (Reluctant Fundamentalist) who captures the inner conflict of what I assumed is an undocumented worker in desperate need of a job, who Bloom pushes to the max when his inner instincts tell him to stop. Don’t miss this film!
Foxy Merkins – Director Madeleine Olnek
The legacy of intelligence, wit and humanity that have always been the touchstones of the very funny films of Woody Allen is present in Foxy Merkins, invading the creativity of director Madeleine Olnek. Allen took for granted the universality of his story telling located in the secular Jewish, educated conclave of Upper West Side academics and professionals. Olnek too takes for granted the ordinariness of her characters and the universality of their experiences, while situating her stories in a Sapphic-centric world of downtown New Yorkers. This is serious fun that has a desperate human identity crisis at root. And like Allen it’s usually neurotic, and yet hilarious frame after frame after frame. Olnek seems to have watched a lot of Frank Capra films, resonating with his interest in “ordinary “ people. She has also learned well the John Waters low budget ethic of how to charm an audience. She appears to want to break out of cult status, but on her own terms. She is a Sundance returning artist. Her last film Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same would have been huge on the adventurous midnight movie circuit of my youth, but those date-night palaces have disappeared like all the indie movie houses that held the weekly midnight ritual.
A merkin is a covering for female genitalia to protect and keep warm in cold weather. (And no, I had never heard of a merkin before either.) Olnek uses a company of actors many of whom come out of the WOW and Split Britches theater community. In Foxy Merkins it is the actor and co-writer Lisa Haas, a most unlikely looking movie star, who we follow. Haas has a body somewhere between Marie Dressler and Kate Smith and the innocence and sense of wonder of “the little tramp” mixed with the spunk of Jean Arthur. Haas is about as far away from the bully energy of Melissa McCarthy as one full-bodied woman can be. This is the story of how this lesbian is taught the tricks of survival in a cruel city, with increased economic pressures, by a straight woman (the comedic actor Jackie Monahan) who she meets and bonds with in a 14th Street diner. Sisterhood is indeed powerful. She educates Haas as well as the audience to dumpster diving, the 42nd St Port Authority as a sleep over spot, shoplifting as a celebratory act of survival and Talbots (the clothing store) of all places. The Talbots’ sidewalk is the pick up place for their sex work (women only) that helps keep them in food and cosmetics. Haas may be the bravest actress working in indie films today. Her no shame willingness to let us see and know her character is breathtaking. Oh, and did I mention hilarious? Well yes. Olnek takes an incisive look at how bodies are commodified and sex becomes commerce, where the ends justify the means, with a refined casualness. And it’s very very funny!
Force Majeure – Director Ruben Astound
From Sweden comes this sophisticated look at a typical successful nuclear family on a ski vacation where an absent “dad” can be present for his two children and a “wife” can get the amorous attention she has been craving, but lacking, from her career-driven husband. It’s sort of middle class normal until a close encounter with an avalanche at breakfast leaves each emotional and traumatized. Nothing is the same after the disruption exposes the inner life of the husband and wife that had been repressed. Whew! What happens to them is both a very serious look at marriage as an identity and a subtle total send up of the myth of marriage. A film for a married couple but not a date night flick.
The Circle – Director Stefan Haupt
The Circle is the kind of documentary I love. I learned something I did not know. In 1934 a group of gay men in Zurich formed a private social club to break their isolation and to publish a journal that would be in three languages. This club continued to meet despite the outside world of the 30’s and 40’s. In 1948 the Das Kreis rented a pub in Zurich to house a club in which “homophiles“ from all over Switzerland could meet, exchange ideas and get to know one another. The film focuses on a couple, Ernst Ostertag and Röbi Rapp, who met at the club in the 1950’s and are still in a same sex relationship now institutionalized as marriage. Director Stefan Haupt mixed current footage of the couple, while recreating in a narrative form the club’s history and the period when these two men met. The journal was read worldwide. George Platt Lynes and Harry Hay both appeared in the pages. A complete set of the journal is in the US at Yale. The Circle is not only a love story but also a discovery of how gay and lesbian people found ways to build community when homosexuality was a crime, as with the Mattachine Society in the US. This is a remarkable story whose appeal is more than just historical. A couple who have been together for 58 years has something to say to couples of all ages and sexual orientation. What the film lacks in craft (which is minor,) is overcome by the actual history reclaimed.
Foxcatcher – Director Bennett Miller
With a Stanley Kubrick eye for landscape and a Harold Pinter ear for the absurdist language of nightmares, Miller is back. Best known for Capote he ups his game and takes one harsh and scrumptious look at the rich and how they are different from the rest of us. They know they own the world and act on it. No, this is not about the Koch family but about the DuPonts. Adapting a best seller, Miller makes a dark gothic comedy of the machinations of suppressed desire and visions of grandeur only the wealthy can truly harbor. The Dupont heir, a Little Lord Fauntleroy at 50, is delusional. He decides he will coach the US Olympic wrestling team. Accustomed to getting what his wealth can buy, he sets up shop on the family estate and gets the team and plays coach. Two brothers, gold medalists, are convinced to come, played in a remarkable career-turning performance by Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo, always a pitch perfect actor. Steve Carell is almost unrecognizable as the Dupont heir. Miller slowly fills the screen until we see a game of psychotic power being played out by Carell to salve his repressed sexual desires and to please his Mommy Dearest, the formidable Vanessa Redgrave. Although not central to the plot, a serious question is raised about the Olympic men of gold who are one day heroes and then are remembered only as statistics.
© Jim Fouratt 11/27/2014