‘Nightcrawler’ is a Brilliantly and Insanely Twisted Motion Picture

nightcrawler movie poster

WRITER’S NOTE: This review was written in 2014.

Just when I thought I wouldn’t see a 2014 movie as twisted as “Gone Girl,” along comes “Nightcrawler.” Delving into the underground world of Los Angeles freelance crime journalism, this is a thriller which feels like a cross between “Taxi Driver” and “Network” as it follows characters who do not hesitate to cross over any and all ethical or moral considerations in order to survive another day in an infinitely cruel and competitive world. You will find yourself laughing at things you would normally never laugh at, but that’s because it serves as a way to deal with the increasingly insane scenarios which will leave you staring at the screen with your mouth open.

Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Louis Bloom, an alienated young man struggling to find work anywhere and everywhere. The movie starts off with him stealing materials from a construction site which he then attempts to sell at a scrap yard with little success. His attempts to find a job or even an unpaid internship prove to be utterly fruitless despite his best efforts and conniving ways, and he is a symbol of how many Americans who are having the toughest time finding work. Then one night while he’s driving on the freeway, he comes across a nasty car accident and, like many, he is tempted to take a closer look. This is when a camera crew led by Joe Loder (Bill Paxton) drops by to film whatever footage he can get to sell to the local news station. Instantly intrigued, Louis goes out and buys a cheap video camera and starts filming crime scenes and human carnage which eventually catches the eye of veteran news producer, Nina (Rene Russo).

“Nightcrawler” marks the directorial debut of screenwriter Dan Gilroy whose writing credits include “Freejack,” “Two for the Money” and “The Bourne Legacy.” With a limited budget, he succeeds in creating a crazy version of the American success story, proving it can be achieved but at a soul sucking price. Gyllenhaal, with a stare which cuts through the audience like a laser beam, gives us a character beyond determined to rise to the top of the TV news food chain. In many ways Louis is enigmatic as we don’t get to know too much about him, but no one can deny he is a full blown sociopath who has finally found something he can make a career at.

Gyllenhaal does some of his best work yet in “Nightcrawler,” and I’m not just saying this because he lost 20 to 30 pounds to play Louis. His focus as an actor is never in doubt as he makes Louis as compelling a human being as he is an insane one. Even as Louis throws all reason out the window, we cannot help but be mesmerized as Gyllenhaal makes him a highly unlikely antihero.

It’s also great to see Russo here as well as she brings Nina to a life in a way which showcases how vulnerable her character can be despite how hardened life has made her. This is a character clinging on to her job for dear life in a business prepared to chew her up and spit her out without a second thought. It should not be a surprise she crosses countless journalistic guidelines to get the bloody violent footage her audience is craving for. Whether or not she believes it is the right thing to do is beside the point because her survival in an unforgiving economy is foremost on her mind. You can chastise Nina and Louis all you want for the choices they make in life, but like anyone else, they are driven to survive by any means necessary.

I loved the scenes between Gyllenhaal and Russo as they constantly size each other up to where they firmly believe they have the other person figured out. As Louis gets more and more successful at capturing footage others could only dream of getting, and this eventually leads to him getting better equipment and a super cool car which goes super-fast, their relationship gets increasingly tense as he makes it clear to Nina who’s in charge. Nina observes Louis with both utter fascination and disgust as he stares right through her to where she can’t help but be taken in by him.

As “Nightcrawler” hurtles towards its wonderfully insane conclusion, Louis becomes a magician of sorts as he manipulates events to where he creates news he greatly profits from. We should despise him for what he does, but Gilroy has the audience firmly in his grip to where we can’t help but admire him for the devious things he has accomplished, and that’s regardless of what happens to others in his path.

Gyllenhaal was born to play Louis just as Russo was born to portray Nina, and both actors are well served by a supporting cast which matches them from scene for scene. The always reliable Bill Paxton plays Louis’ chief competitor, Joe Loder, and he is a hoot to watch as he tries to gain the upper hand only to see things blow up in his face. Also terrific is Riz Ahmed who plays Louis’ partner in crime footage coverage, Rick, a nice guy who hasn’t lost his moral bearings but is constantly forced to go against his better judgment in order to keep his job. Ahmed does great work as he makes us sympathize with Rick even as he gets into situations he can’t quite pull himself out of.

With “Nightcrawler,” Gilroy has given us a wonderfully twisted tale which shows how the American success story can become a reality if you’re willing to lose yourself in the process. What’s brilliant about the movie is it’s filled with characters molded by the world they live in. We can berate them all we want, but their actions speak more about what society has turned them into. In a time where employment opportunities are not as plentiful as they should be, it’s a little hard to blame these characters for what they do. But when we are forced to do the same, hopefully we can do it in a way that is nowhere as life threatening. Of course, that might just be wishful thinking.

I have to end this review with this piece of dialogue Louis Bloom has as it sums up the state of the world today perfectly:

“I know that today’s work culture no longer caters to the job loyalty that could be promised to earlier generations. What I believe, sir, is that good things come to those that work their asses off, and that good people such as yourself, who reach the top of the mountain, didn’t just fall there. My motto is: if you want to win the lottery, you have to make the money to buy a ticket.”

* * * * out of * * * *

Please check out the interview I did with Gyllenhaal and Russo on “Nightcrawler” which I conducted on behalf of We Got This Covered down below.

‘Someone’s Watching Me!’ – The Lost John Carpenter Movie

 

Someones Watching Me Blu ray cover

Someone’s Watching Me!” is often referred to as the lost John Carpenter movie due to its unavailability on video and DVD for many years. It finally got released on DVD in 2007 (Shout Factory later released it on Blu-ray), but while there are some Carpenter movies I still need to catch up on, this may be the only one I haven’t heard of previously. I ended up buying it from a video store which was closing down as I am a huge fan of the director’s work, and I have no excuse for being this far behind on the films he has made.

The movie stars Lauren Hutton as Leigh Michaels, a television director who has just moved to Los Angeles and has set herself up in a luxurious apartment in a high-rise building. But as soon as she starts unpacking her things, a stranger begins stalking her with his telescope and calls to leave threatening messages with that deep, ominous voice stalkers usually speak in. Things continue to get worse from there until she finally decides to take matters into her hands.

Carpenter wrote “Someone’s Watching Me!” back when he was primarily making a living writing screenplays. At that point he had only directed “Dark Star” and “Assault on Precinct 13,” and this movie was completed a few days before he began work on “Halloween.” You can see a lot of “Halloween” in this one as Carpenter gets some great shots of what’s going on behind a character, and the point of view shots really increase the tension as he puts you into Hutton’s shoes to where you feel as menaced as she is. It also shows how brilliant he was in not only creating suspense and tension, but in maintaining them all the way to the end.

This script also shows one of Carpenter’s strengths as a writer as he creates strong female characters which would inhabit all his movies. Hutton is very good as Michaels and I thought she made the character very believable in a way which wasn’t showy. As her anxiety gets increasingly worse, she stands her ground and refuses to move out of her apartment. Michaels is not about to be intimidated by this peeping tom, and you root for her to turn the tables on this guy at any given opportunity.

“Someone’s Watching Me!” also stars Adrienne Barbeau who would later become Carpenter’s wife for a time (this was the first project they worked on together) and starred in “The Fog.” She plays Michaels’ co-worker, Sophie, who is tough as nails and not easily intimidated by anyone around her. Barbeau gives Hutton great support throughout, and it’s great fun watching her steal one scene after another.

The movie also stars David Birney as Paul Winkless, the man Michaels ends up flirting with and falling for. It’s almost surprising Michaels would fall for anyone as she proudly asserts herself as an independent woman right from the start. Birney matches Hutton’s strength and wit throughout, and Carpenter’s direction successfully casts doubt on him as well as everyone else surrounding Michaels throughout.

Charles Cyphers, a member of Carpenter’s repertory company of actors, appears here as police detective Gary Hunt. It threatens to be a thankless part as the character seems brought in just to express disbelief in the protagonist’s fears, but watching Cyphers here makes you see why Carpenter loves working with him. Cyphers gives us a character who might be a cliché, but he imbues him with a worldliness which makes his actions and beliefs understandable. Some actors would just consider this a paycheck role they could just walk through, but Cyphers proves to be the kind of actor who doesn’t fall into such inexcusable laziness.

Carpenter gets to pull off a lot of shots which have long since cemented him a master of horror and suspense. He utilizes different camera moves like shooting handheld or panning back and forth to reveal something just around the corner. The fact this made for TV movie holds up today says a lot about his talent.

Granted, this movie was made back in 1978 when voyeurism seemed like a rarity at best. These days everyone’s a voyeur as technology allow us to peak into those dark corners which we assumed were inaccessible. To discover someone is watching you from afar and that your privacy is a thing of the past is not a hard scenario to believe in this day and age. This ends up making a movie like “Someone’s Watching Me!” scarier than ever before. Even with the constraints of a made for television movie, Carpenter creates a thrilling tale which holds you in its tense grip and never lets you go.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

Exclusive Video Interview: Maria Elena Laas and Ser Anzoategui Talk ‘Vida’

Among the talented actors to be found in the new Starz series “Vida” are Puerto Rican actress Maria Elena Laas and Latinx actor and playwright Ser Anzoategui. The two portray characters caught up in the vibrant and changing area of East Los Angeles, and their lives are suddenly disrupted by the appearance of two estranged sisters who have come back home for their mother’s funeral. Anzoategui plays Eddy, a sensitive and trustworthy person who was married to the sisters’ mother and who proves to be the heart of the community as well as an intimidating presence upon first glance. Laas stars as Cruz, and enigmatic lesbian who was a mentor to one of the sisters, Emma (Mishel Prada), before she left Los Angeles for Chicago. Now that Emma is back in town, she and Cruz will come to terms with the things left unspoken between them for far too long.

Laas has appeared in the movies “The Hot Chick,” “Suffering Man’s Charity” and “Airplane Disasters,” and she has appeared on the television shows “Chicago PD,” “How to Get Away with Murder” and TNT’s “Dallas.”

Anzoategui has had a gained a strong recognition due to her success in the theatre, and this led to Anzoategui being cast as a recurring character on the Hulu show “East Lost High.” In addition, Anzoategui has appeared on “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” “The Fosters” and “Shameless.”

While talking with Laas and Anzoategui at the “Vida” press day in Los Angeles, they spoke enthusiastically of how lucky they are to be a part of a show which blows away the stereotypes Hollywood has typically had of Latinos.

Please be sure to check out the interview below. “Vida” is now available to watch and stream on Starz, and the show proves to be an excellent case study in authenticity.

Vida cast photo

Exclusive Video Interview: Chelsea Rendon and Carlos Miranda Talk ‘Vida’

While at the press day for the new Starz show “Vida,” I got to talk with two of its stars, Chelsea Rendon and Carlos Miranda. Rendon plays Marisol, a young woman who is passionate about her politics and determined to fight against any and every injustice thrown into her path. Miranda stars as Johnny, a well-meaning guy who is busy running his dad’s auto shop and is on the verge of getting married to his pregnant girlfriend. However, when Johnny’s ex-girlfriend, Lyn (Melissa Barrera), arrives back in town, his plans for being a good husband and dad are challenged to a large degree. Both characters reside in East Los Angeles and in a community filled with pride and passion, and while they are certain of the paths in life they are meant to take, everything gets turned upside down for them.

Rendon began acting at the tender age of six years old, and she has won numerous awards for her role as Cristina on “No Turning Back.” She was featured on the shows “The Bridge,” “Major Crimes” and “Code Black,” and she also has a recurring role on “The Fosters.”

Miranda was born in raised in San Francisco, California, and he has appeared in such movies as “Warrior,” Sofia Coppola’s “The Bling Ring” and “Grandma” which starred Lily Tomlin. On television, his credits include “Chicago PD,” “How to Get Away with Murder” and on the TNT revival series “Dallas.”

Please check out the interview below and be sure to watch “Vida” when it debuts on the Starz network on May 6th.

 

Exclusive Video Interview: Tanya Saracho Talks About ‘Vida’

Vida cast photo

She has served as a writer on “How to Get Away with Murder” and on the HBO TV series “Girls” and “Looking.” And now, playwright Tanya Saracho presents us with her very own television series, “Vida.” Set in East Los Angeles, it follows a pair of estranged sisters who reunite for their mother’s funeral. Their hometown is a vibrant area and features a strong Latinx community with residents who find an empowerment in this place they cannot easily find anywhere else. As “Vida” goes on, we discover just how much history this part of Los Angeles contains and of the changes others threaten to make which can erase a past which needs to be preserved.

In addition to her work on television, Saracho has had her plays produced at New York City’s Primary Stages and 2nd Stage, Steppenwolf Theater, The Denver Theatre Center, and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. She was named one of nine national Latino Luminarios by Café Magazine and was given the first Revolucionario Award in Theater by the National Museum of Mexican Art. In addition, she is the founder of the Alliance of Latino Theatre Artists (ALTA).

I got to speak with Saracho while she was in Los Angeles to promote “Vida.” She talked of how she went about creating such complex characters, how she likes to give her cast only so much information before they receive the next episode’s script, and of how excited she is about filming the show in East Los Angeles. I often say there is always something new to discover about Los Angeles no matter how long you have lived there, and Saracho agreed as she is still learning of how far back the history of this particular community extends.

Please check out the interview below and be sure to watch “Vida” when it premieres on Starz May 6th.

Exclusive Video Interview: Melissa Barrera and Mishel Prada Talk About ‘Vida’

Vida Emma and Lyn photo

Melissa Barrera and Mishel Prada play long-estranged sisters, Lyn and Emma, who reunite for their mother’s funeral on the new Starz television series, “Vida.” These two could not be more different than the other, and both are forced to deal with the building their mother, Vidalia, owned and the bar she ran. What they thought would be a short trip turns into a homecoming where they reassess where their lives are at and come to terms with their mother’s sexuality after meeting her wife and now widow, Eddy (Ser Anzoátegui). From there, we come to learn more about Lyn and Emma with each successive episode as both Barrera and Prada create complex characters who are not all they appear to be on the surface.

Barrera plays Lyn, a care-free party girl who has taken her good lucks and used them to her advantage to get a wealthy boyfriend and live a fabulous life in San Francisco. Barrera previously appeared in the third season of Netflix’s “Club de Cuervos,” and she has acted on popular telenovelas back in Mexico including “Siempre Tuya Acapulco” and “Tanto Amor.” Having trained in musical theater at New York University, she has starred in the musicals “Spring Awakening” and “Young Frankenstein.”

Prada portrays Emma, a smart and very driven woman who has created a strong career for herself in Chicago. She starred as Gabi in the AMC short form series “Fear the Walking Dead: Passage” and is one of the founding members of Damarosa, a female art collective which celebrates the significant role of women have played in art, literature, and politics.

It was a real treat to speak with Barrera and Prada while they were in Los Angeles for the “Vida” press day held at the Four Seasons Hotel. Both described how wonderfully flawed and complex their characters are on the show, how rare it is to find roles like these, and of the joy they had in filming these episodes on the streets of East LA.

Please check out the interview below and be sure to watch “Vida” when it debuts on the Starz network on May 6.

Jeremy Licht Reflects on the Making of ‘Twilight Zone: The Movie’

Twilight Zone Movie Jeremy Licht

Grauman’s Chinese in Hollywood had a special screening of “Twilight Zone: The Movie” in honor of its 30th anniversary, and the screening was put together by Mad Monster. Before fans got to watch the movie in its pristine digital presentation, there was a Q&A with one of the movie’s stars, Jeremy Licht. Perhaps best known for his work as a child actor on television shows like “The Hogan Family,” Licht was very happy to share his memories of making this film.

Twilight Zone The Movie poster

Licht appears in the movie’s third segment, “It’s a Good Life,” in which he plays Anthony, a young boy who is suddenly befriended by schoolteacher Helen Foley (Kathleen Quinlan). But when Anthony takes Helen home to meet his “family,” she ends up meeting a group of people who live in sheer horror of Anthony as he lives to terrify them if he suspects they disapprove of him.

The movie is the theatrical version of Rod Serling’s classic television series “The Twilight Zone,” and it is essentially an anthology of four different films by four directors. Licht described the audition process for it as being “really interesting” and that he was not hired until after the filmmakers started shooting the first couple of segments.

“I auditioned a couple of times and knew it was starting to get close, and it was really exciting,” Licht said of the process. “On the second audition that I had, Joe Dante was in there (who directed “It’s a Good Life”). It wasn’t often that I got star struck, but I was kind of in awe of him because of what he had done. He had made ‘Piranha’ which I’m sure you all know more than I do.”

Of course, it’s impossible not to talk about “Twilight Zone: The Movie” without mentioning the tragic accident which still casts a heavy shadow over it. During the filming of the first segment, “Time Out” directed by John Landis, a helicopter crashed and killed actor Vic Morrow and two child actors, Myca Dinh Le and Renee Shin-Yi Chen. Licht got the news about the accident a week after his second audition.

“I figured that was it. That was the end of it and they were going to shelve the film,” Licht said. “About six months later, I ended up getting a call from my agent that they were actually back in production and that they had wrapped up that segment (“Time Out”), and to come back and for a third audition. I went back in, and at this point I knew it (the material) back and forth, and I walked in and there was Steven Spielberg. He had just come off of ‘E.T.’ and it was really an amazing audition. By the time I had gotten home from that audition there was an offer. It was extremely exciting time for me and for my family and we accepted the offer, and we wound up on the Warner Brothers soundstage in Burbank within a week and we spent three months in principal photography.”

“It’s a Good Life” was a remake of the classic “Twilight Zone” episode of the same name, but Licht said he never watched it until after filming was complete. It also turns out Bill Mumy, who played Anthony in the original episode, makes a cameo appearance as a restaurant patron who intervenes when his friend starts pushing Licht’s character around.

But unlike the original television episode, Dante ended up taking “It’s a Good Life” in a different direction as it was more cartoony. Licht went on to describe Dante as a very “hands-on” director as well as a “big kid,” and that this movie was “his playground.”

“Working with a director like him truly was a treat,” Licht said of Dante. “He was really into letting the actors find what they were looking for. Obviously it was over the top; he was looking for that. He was looking for that cartoonish, extremely uncomfortable feel which I think we certainly accomplished.”

In terms of what was the most rewarding thing about doing “Twilight Zone: The Movie,” Licht replied it was being part of a film which has a huge following. The television series was always unpredictable in how you never knew what direction it would take from episode to episode, and it made fans wonder what the movie was going to be like. Having acted mostly on television and in several “movies of the week,” Licht also came to discover how fortunate he was to play Anthony in this film.

“It’s very rare as a kid, let alone at 13, to be asked to lead or be one of the principals in a film or play a character where nothing is what you think it is,” Licht said. “It’s rare to have that kind of a script, to have something like that come to you, let alone be asked by Joe Dante or Steven Spielberg to be in it. I was pretty honored and pretty humbled, and I am to this day really.”

As for the question Licht gets asked the most about “Twilight Zone: The Movie,” he said it was if the cast really had to eat those peanut butter covered hamburgers.

“I read the script and I thought, ‘Wow, that is really vile! I can’t imagine doing that,’” Licht said of this unusual meal. “The day that we shot it, they actually brought in McDonald’s hamburgers and basically we tried it. First of all, if you’re peanut butter person, it’s really not bad. The problem is, good luck saying your lines with a mouthful of peanut butter!”

Licht retired from acting in the 1990’s although he did appear in a short film in 2009 called “The Closer.” These days, he has his own financial planning company called JL Capital Management which has turned out to be very successful. For a former child actor, he has done very well for himself, and he has not allowed himself to be swallowed whole by the kind of vices which have destroyed so many lives. When asked why some child actors easily transition to an adult career while others don’t, Licht sounded very level-headed in his explanation.

“When I was doing it, there were paparazzi but nothing like things are now where every moment is recorded and every stumble that you take is magnified,” Licht said. “I’ve seen it all. I’ve had friends that have had very successful careers, and sadly I’ve had friends that have fallen. I grew up with good people around me and I still do surround myself with good people. My folks are important and my family is really important. I got into the business very young, but not necessarily at the urging of my family. I wasn’t supporting my family. It (acting) was a hobby that sort of took off. My parents said to me the whole time, ‘If you stop liking this or you become unpleasant to be around, you’re out. You’re gone because this is not what that’s for.’”

“I think a degree of it is luck, I think a degree of it is also upbringing and family, but I think a lot of it is luck,” Licht continued. “It’s like any of your lives growing up, but under a big microscope. I’m sure that we’ve all had times in our life, if you can imagine if cameras were on you, when you stumble the hardest, and how can you recover from that? You can recover privately, but when everybody’s watching you and judging you it’s a tough deal.”

We keep hearing stories day after day of child actors going bad, but we never hear enough about the ones who don’t. Licht is one of those former child actors who has done very well for themselves, and it would be great to hear more about people like him instead of getting all these random updates on others who don’t have the same support.