Nightcrawler (Dan Gilroy, 2014) Nightcrawler takes a stab and the sensationalism of contemporary media through satire so sharp it cuts to the bone and embodies the reckless hunger for fresh footage in a frighteningly truthful sociopath who wouldn’t be out of place in a vintage Scorsese movie. In short, it’s a brilliant bit of dark, rousing filmmaking that populated a number “best films of the year” lists and deeply deserved that praise as well as a number of Oscar nominations that it never received.
Jake Gyllenhaal stars as a chillingly morally bankrupt young man whose overly verbose speech patterns and education comes purely from internet research and he uses those skills well. In the opening scenes, we see him approaching random strangers looking for a job with a chilly disregard for social conduct. Eventually he stumbles onto Bill Paxton’s lecherous videographer who travels the streets of LA at night in search of grisly crime scene footage to hock to the highest local news bidder. So, Gyllenhaal buys himself a video camera, forges a bizarre relationship with Rene Russo’s local news producer, and finds himself a career shooting car accidents and robberies. He becomes such a success that he soon hires an “intern” to drive him around (Riz Ahmend) and starts making a small fortune off of local tragedies. Eventually greed and ambition ensure that’s not nearly enough and he begins to consider manipulating crime scenes to suit his career goals. Not exactly a great idea.
There are many points of comparison to Dan Gilroy’s brilliant directorial debut (he previously toiled on blockbuster screenplays like The Bourne Legacy), Gyllenhaal’s character recalls Taxi Driver and King Of Comedy, while Russo’s cutthroat local newsroom is pitched somewhere between Network and Broadcast News. Yet, the movie that Nightcrawler most recalls in the best possible sense is Billy Wilder’s bitter little masterpiece Ace In The Hole. Both movies follow journalists who view human tragedy as a means of professional growth and are heartless enough to extend suffering for a better story. Gilroy’s update on that theme is that his journalist springs from the new media landscape as a videographer. He doesn’t need a skill with wordplay or insight to succeed, just the right camera and enough disregard for good taste to shove his lens where it shouldn’t be. The film is also viciously funny in a way that recalls Wilder. Gilroy’s movie might look and feel like a thriller, but it’s really a satire. He’s acutely aware of the absurdity of this world as much as the horror, and finds harsh laughs without diluting credibility. That’s the thing about good satire. You can dabble deeper into darkness than any drama and viewers are able to take it since the laughs offer mild relief from the bleakness, even when they stick in your throat.
The performances are also outstanding throughout, with Ahmend fulfilling the promise he showed in the unjustly underrated Four Lions in a manner that will hopefully earn him more work in America, as well as Russo and Paxton proving just how good they are and why they shouldn’t be forgotten. Yet, the film remains the Jake Gyllenhaal show. He’s on screen for almost every second of the running time and commands the screen. He’s always been a difficult sell in traditional leading man roles, given that his boyish looks clash awkwardly with his sunken eyes that always suggest hidden darkness even when he’s stuck playing the nice guy. In Nightcrawler, he’s got a role with no niceties. He is a complete sociopath who views everyone around him as a potential chess piece in his career strategies. Early on, this disconnect between himself and other human beings plays for awkward laughs. By the end, it’s a deeply frightening character trait and Gyllenhaal never flinches. He’s created a new monster for the digital age and it’s easily the best performance of his career, one that deserves major awards attention and will surely earn some. As Gyllenhaal’s character takes a turn for the frightening, so does Gilroy’s film. By the end, the audience finds themselves wiping the sweat from their palms during a tense thriller that they didn’t think they signed up for. Yet, there’s no uncomfortable tonal shift to get there. Gilroy remains in complete control as a director from start to finish and hops genres and tones so successfully that you won’t even notice until it’s too late.
The film hits Blu-ray with a beautiful and tricky transfer. The film was shot primarily at night, so the transfer can’t pop purely from dayglow. Thankfully the shadowy aesthetic is beautifully maintained with inky blacks, creepy details, and plenty of late night neon to light up your screen along with a chillingly ambient audio mix. The special feature section is sadly a little light with only a single disposable five minute featurette and an audio commentary. Thankfully, that commentary triples down on Gilroys with writer/director Dan, producer Tony, and editor John delivering a fast, funny, and informative track that covers absolutely everything you’d want to know about Nightcrawler aside from why there isn’t more on the disc. Still, the reason to own this Blu-ray is the bitter satirical masterpiece of a movie and not the missing bells and whistles. Nightcrawler pulls no punches and sticks to its nastiness with conviction that clearly alienated and enthralled viewers in equal measure. Hopefully Dan Gilroy doesn’t end up being a one-hit-wonder after this impressive debut, but even if that’s the case and least it was a hell of a hit to burst onto the scene and go out on.
Dumb And Dumber To (Bobby Farrelly and Peter Farrelly, 2014) Dumb And Dumber To was pretty much guaranteed to get bad reviews. So was the first one, even though it’s now considered a comedy classic. Why? Well, because it’s stupid, nonsensical, lowest common denominator, episodic, immature, and meaningless. You can’t argue with those criticisms. That’s exactly what the sequel is supposed to be and it’s friggin’ hilarious while scraping the bottom of the toilet bowl. What more could you want?
Alright, plot summary time…this should be interesting. Harry (Jeff Daniels) and Lloyd (Jim Carrey) are pretty much the same. Well, maybe not at first. You see Lloyd has been faking a coma for 20 years as a goof in pretty well the best possible gag that the Farrelly Brothers could have dug up to explain the long gap between production. From there Harry reveals he needs a kidney transplant and promptly learns from his Asian parents that he’s adopted, so there’s no hope of getting a family donor there. Thankfully, he also learns that he’s got a long lost daughter who Lloyd promptly learns he wants to bone. So the duo hits the road to save a life and reunite a family. Sure, that’ll do. It’s not like plot was the strong suit of Dumb And Dumber. That movie was just about putting some lovable morons on the road and cramming in as many laughs as possible along the way. That formula works well here too. Eventually a pointlessly generic crime plot also enters the picture to add stakes to the third act, as is the Farrelly Brother way (see also: the original Dumb And Dumber, Kingpin, The Three Stooges, etc.).
Sure, you could rip apart the script for being lazy, but that’s not really the point. Did any one give even a marble-sized turd about the briefcase kidnapping plot in Dumb And Dumber? Hell no! I’ll bet you didn’t even remember that was there. Plot in a movie like this is just a necessary hanging post for gloriously stupid jokes and lovably stupid characters and the Farrelly’s have got plenty of those to go around. First of all, you’ve got Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels making an unexpected decades late return and killing it. They barely look older and effortlessly dive by into their affable numbskulls like they wandered off the set of the piss-beer bottle scene from the first movie yesterday. It’s a joy to watch them revel in idiocy and play low humor with more commitment than Daniel Day Lewis in a historical epic. It’s immediately clear that no one was more excited to make a Dumb & Dumber sequel than the two stars who should at least in theory feel like they are above it. Carrey and Daniels’ sheer joy is palpable and contagious. These guys are just flat out fun to watch together and somehow their one-note characters seem to have at least two notes with them in charge.
Well, perhaps it’s unfair to suggest that Carrey and Daniels were the two guys involved in production who were happiest to get the band back together. The Farrelly Brothers clearly had a blast too. Like their deeply underrated Three Stooges flick (seriously, if you like the Stooges and haven’t seen that yet, do yourself a favor), Dumb And Dumber To feels like vintage Farrellys. All of the problems that plagued their work since Me, Myself, And Irene (an uneasy reliance on sentimentality, a fear of total tasteless, needless attempts to impose morals or reality on their joke factories, inconsistency, tedium, etc.) are gone. The boys are back doing what they do best, creating a rubber reality that plays like a cartoon and reveling in the schoolyard joy of cracking jokes about poo-poo, farts, getting hurt, sexy time, and being an idiot. They’ve got a distinct ability to make lewdness feel sweet, live action slapstick feel animated, and jokes about the disabled and minorities feel like a celebration of otherness rather sneering. There’s an innocence to the Farrelly’s at their best that no one else can match. They might push buttons, but only in a “can you believe I said that” way that makes the audience feel complicit in a private joke. When the Farrellys are on, they feel like the unholy lovechild of ZAZ and vintage Harold Ramis. All of which is just a long and convoluted way of saying that the Farrellys are really f-ing funny when they’re cooking and Dumb And Dumber To serves up some of their best work since the 90s.
The movie debuts on Blu-ray looking surprisingly good. The Farrellys love filling the screening with glaringly bright colors, which suits HD quite well. This sucker leaps of the screen with blindingly tacky delights in a far more rewarding Blu-ray transfer than you’d expect. The special feature section is also surprisingly robust, kicking off with about 20 minutes worth of deleted scenes and outtakes that are actually pretty funny. Even better is an almost hour long documentary broken down into a number of bite sized chapters. All the major players in the cast and crew are interviewed between rounds of on set footage. The fun everyone had during production is obvious and their enthusiasm is infectious. Best of all, it never feels like a back-slapping puff piece, but a product of genuine enthusiasm made by people who were all thrilled to be get paid to be this stupid. By the end, if there’s anything left about Dumb And Dumber To that you’d like to know, that’s you’re problem (hell, there’s even a section explaining where the shaggy dog truck has actually been for 20 years and why it’s covered in moss). Obviously, there’s one main question that everyone has about this movie: is it as good as the original? Well no, but it’s comparable and packed in more genuine laughs than any other movie claiming to be a comedy last year. Still, some people hated it and guess what? Plenty of people hated Dumb And Dumber before it played enough times on cable for everyone to embrace it as a guilty pleasure. A movie this willfully dumb and irreverent shouldn’t be for everyone. That’s part of the fun. So, all you have to do is ask yourself one question: do you really want more Dumb And Dumber? If so, you just got it stupid. If not, please don’t spoil the fun for idiots like me. It’s been a long time since a fart joke smelled this good.