On DVD & Blu-Ray: February 10, 2015


Ladies and gentleman, Jake Gyllenhaal has more than arrived and he is here to stay. The actor, who first entered our field of vision at the age of nineteen in October Sky has been doing solid work for years now with only a few misguided aspirations derailing what is just now beginning to shape a truly credible reputation. While Bubble Boy and The Day After Tomorrow stick out as truly awful and something of a guilty pleasure, the diamonds in the rough that are Jarhead, Brokeback Mountain and Zodiac give us more proof than necessary that we are messing with a force to be reckoned with. After making one more misstep with the understandable but overly calculated Prince of Persia Gyllenhaal turned his career around and hasn't looked back. Taking roles based purely on how much they interest him and what he could possibly do with the character rather than for any bigger reasons having to do with career direction or popularity Gyllenhaal has made Source Code, End of Watch, Prisoners and Enemy. Each of these films vary in genre and personality from both an acting perspective and what they bring to the table as far as entertainment value is concerned, but in Nightcrawler Gyllenhaal takes everything a little further, he amps everything up a notch higher and delivers a performance that makes every other performance seem like a prelude to this master class of ambition and insanity. Going through the actors filmography will allow you the realization that despite the fact we recognize Gyllenhaal as a reliable face, an old friend and an actor that typically delivers the goods-it is this film and this performance that will make him stand above the rest as exceptional. Gyllenhaal is clearly not just a one-off in the department of stirring performances with the nervous ticks and loner act that his Prisoners character clung to so strongly. Instead, he is an actor that knows how to disappear into a role by understanding not only the motivations that drive a character, but the importance of the art that composes them literally and figuratively. As Louis Bloom, a man with drive and passion to spare, Gyllenhaal is a beast of unforgiving endeavors that see him go from a driven young man to a man driven purely by the need to feel he belongs. Nightcrawler is a shocker of a ride, but in the scenes that make it all work it is Gyllenhaal doing the heavy lifting. Full review here. A

It's funny to think of the role that live action children's movies play in our current cinematic landscape because, for the most part, they seem to be easily dismissed. As a child of the 90's it is the kids sports flicks of the decade (The Sandlot, Little Giants, The Big Green, The Mighty Ducks) that immediately come to mind as nostalgic reminders of what a carefree stage in life that was which seems to be why new movies categorized as such don't register with a large audience due to the fact every generation already has their own adolescent picks. Those who are between eight and fifteen right now though will surely appreciate this adaptation of Judith Viorst's hit 1987 childrens book, but not necessarily because they love the source material but because Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day is a perfectly fun, perfectly suitable family movie that captures the ups and downs that middle class caucasians might typically encounter. These are first world problems we're dealing with, clearly, but they are relatable issues that the target audience will understand. The content operates on a level for those just below the cusp of when the Catcher in the Rye will blow their minds wide open. Alexander's Bad Day (as it will be referred to from here on out) is exactly the kind of remedy "tweens" these days need, but don't know because not enough movies like this are being made anymore. That studios are seriously lacking in terms of pumping out quality entertainment for adolescents isn't something I necessarily have a right to complain about; I have all the nostalgia I need when the time calls for it (Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, Home Alone, Hook, Hocus Pocus, Blank Check, Homeward Bound, First Kid) but it would be nice to think that those in their current state of flux will have more than Alexander and his no good, very bad day to look back on when they get to college and reminisce about the movies they loved when they were "kids". All of that said, Alexander's Bad Day certainly isn't a bad place to start, but let's hope it is only the first step in a rejuvenated direction. Full review here. B

The music in the first scene sets the tone for what we should settle in to suspect from most movies. Predestination sets an immediately familiar tone that hooks us into a comfort zone of action/thrillers we've seen time and time again. I was completely game as it quickly becomes evident that this isn't anything we've necessarily come to experience before despite the abundance of time travel movies over the last few years. It becomes clear from the outset this will be a layered time travel story given the literal bang it opens with and then with how it travels back introducing to us the procedural nature of the story. We are immediately hooked and we are taken in, not by the cheap and cheesy special effects that you somewhat expect from a movie like this given the outside influences and circumstances of its genre, release time and even the presence of Ethan Hawke. Rather, Predestination is not really an action film or special effects bonanza in that much of what one might consider "special effects" seem to be done in camera and in very basic, practical ways that work with the overall style of the piece. This is very much a science fiction film concerning decisions and conversations around those decisions that create motivation, justification and explanation while most importantly developing characters we care about and a sympathy that goes a long way when things begin to really unravel. In essence, I guess you could say this is more of a character study than anything else with the hook being that this character can travel through time and, in many ways, dictate the outcome of their own life depending on what they feel they need in order to create meaning from this existence. There is a lot of interesting stuff going on here and plenty of questions to ponder as things move swiftly along, but I also began to ask myself if this was indeed as entrancing as it seemed or if it was just kind of farcical. I couldn't tell, I'm still not sure I can, but while I was watching I was certainly fascinated and consistently intrigued, meaning the movie did its job and did it well. Full review here. B-

Kill the Messenger is a true tragedy. A discussion, a meditation on the human life and the countless directions it could go according to the mind that is guiding it. It is a story that takes on the model of what its main character goes through reinforcing the difficulty with which he experiences in trying to follow the guiding light he caught a glimpse of as a child. Despite what else might go on in his life Gary Webb (Jeremy Renner) is an idealistic journalist who believes in the power of his profession. He is a man held to the virtues of his responsibilities to the American public and, as he should, takes that responsibility seriously. He is as ambitious as he needs to be in wanting to crack the one big story that might break his career wide open and send him from the bowels of the San Jose Mercury News to the big leagues of the The Los Angeles Times or Washington Post though these ambitions never feel as important as his need to produce quality. What the film tells of more than it does necessarily follow the plot of the story is the role of man in our society when he plays with the powers that be. What is wrong with our government if we are not allowed to question them without repercussion? In this case the repercussion is that of Webb becoming the story, his credibility called into question rather than what he'd actually investigated and reported on being the story or point of focus. It is as much a commentary on the integrity of investigative journalism and how it has devolved into what we have today (the 24-hour news cycle on roids) as it is an interesting take on the state of our country which promises and promotes freedom, but will devour you if you take those liberties to a certain extent. Kill the Messenger is an engaging film, one reminiscent of those 1970's Robert Redford films (namely All the President's Men) taking the paranoid political thriller and transcending even that genre classification because of the real life weight the story holds. It is a film that I was thoroughly engrossed in from the way in which it developed Renner's character, giving us more of who this man was than simply a hungry reporter, without allowing the film to become bogged down in details. It is as thoroughly engrossing as it is heartbreaking and as it comes to its conclusion it reveals itself to be truly that. Full review here. B+

Laggies, in short, is about a distraught twenty-something who's extremely close to nearing thirty and becoming more anxious every day about trying to figure out who she is after putting it off for so long. It's a movie about identity crisis, of existential questions we've no doubt seen countless times before, but that doesn't make it any less endearing. In fact, if there is any one thing that makes Laggies stand out from the number of typically depressing Sundance films about rumination it is just how adorable the movie tends to be and how delightfully the characters allow their difficult circumstances to influence their attitudes in alternative ways. It is easy to forgive the conventions at play here, specifically those that crowd the foreseen outcomes of each characters situations in Andrea Siegel's debut screenplay, but when handled by a director such as Lynn Shelton (Your Sister's Sister) who can be so precise in zeroing in on the quirks that make characters individuals more than stereotypes we naturally feel more sympathy for their plights. I don't pretend to know what it's like to be lost or not know what to do with my life as I've always known what I wanted to do and who I wanted to be (my problem has been achieving the level of those goals I aspire to, not the lack of drive), but through the eyes of Keira Knightley's Megan we get a first class seat in experiencing what it's like to having the world at ones fingertips and taking it all for granted in desperately trying to piece it all together. One could easily look at Megan as something of a spoiled brat, a hipster if you were prone to do so though I never looked at her as this middle class kid who was entitled because of her pedigreed education, but instead I ended up seeing her as kind of a basket case who was comfortable in her skin at a very specific point in her life and who time has forced out of that skin and into the that of an adults. She finds it hard to embrace this facade and in turn reverts to where she might be accepted for being who she's most comfortable being. I guess that might mean she isn't just trying to find herself, but others who will help her become both who she's supposed to be and who she wants to be simultaneously. Full review here. C+

Director Ruben Östlund enjoys his long takes and his pensive tone while matching his tension-filled imagery with Antonio Vivaldi's orchestral pieces to occasionally flare up said tension for extra effect. He would like you to think he's minimal in his scenarios and in his filmmaking techniques, but what he is doing is letting the naturalism of his writing breathe. In both the composition and the final edit that connects its scenes, Force Majeure is strikingly bare yet rarely not complex. It is a string of conversations around one incident that happens near the beginning of the film and how a split decision causes a ripple effect in the lives of a seemingly average family. Composed of dad Tomas (Kuhnke), mother Ebba (Kongsli) and children Harry (Vincent Wettergren) and Vera (Clara Wettergren) the family is on vacation at a ski resort when they come face to face with the traumatic event of thinking they are about to be wiped out by an avalanche. This horrific incident shakes the family dynamic in unexpected ways in that it doesn't simply allow for the members to appreciate one another to a greater degree, but rather the reaction of the patriarch leads Ebba to question everything she previously held true about her status in not only their relationship, but the world at large. Force Majeure is a study not only in family dynamics, but in gender roles and what is expected of a man in his relationships and in his heroics as compared to a woman and what masculinity actually means, if anything, when measured under the stress of a crisis. While the crux of Östlund's film comes early and the expected heated arguments follow, it is the pointed dialogue that breaks through the cultural barrier and really entraps us in the tense exchanges taking place. Some have referred to this as a dark comedy, but much like my favorite film of last year, Calvary, this doesn't so much play out with a wicked sense of humor (though there are a few laughs here and there) as it does with a kind of regret-tinged nature that feels more honest than humorous. There is inherent humor in the human psyche and that comes through as what Östlund is examining is essentially the psychodrama of the moral dilemmas that come to the surface in light of one mans disappointing decision. Force Majeure isn't exactly entertaining or enlightening even, but it is consistently interesting and plays on its ability to tap into the small details of its themes to great effect. B

I would like to find some interest in Rosewater, the feature directorial debut of Jon Stewart, but I can't help but see it as just another movie and one that I'm not particularly interested in wasting any time on. The trailer didn't do anything for me other than pretty much tell me what kind of movie it was and where it would likely end up. If this kind of thing is up your alley though, you can now watch it from the comfort of your own home on pretty much any format as it comes with a blu-ray, DVD and digital copy.