Tag Archives: trailer

‘Pitch Perfect’ Sequel Mostly a Success

Pitch_Perfect_2_posterNever have I enjoyed a film with so many flaws so much.

“Pitch Perfect 2” is the sequel to, you guessed it, “Pitch Perfect,” a 2012 sleeper hit that has since become a little bit of a cult classic. This time around, most of the Bellas are graduating college, and after getting suspended they must come together to win the a capella World Championship for reinstatement. All of the main cast, including Anna Kendrick, Skyalr Astin and Rebel Wilson, return, and Elizabeth Banks makes her technical directorial debut (she directed a segment in “Movie 43” for which she won a Razzie, so let’s not count that).

The first “Pitch Perfect” is a little bit of a guilty pleasure of mine. It is far from a great film, but it is so darn watchable and the cast is just so darn charming that it is impossible to not enjoy. I was a little worried when I saw the trailers for this sequel, but it wasn’t going to take away from my (albeit hidden) excitement to see it. And thankfully, my fears were mostly wrong.

Let me get this out of the way right now: much like its predecessor, “Pitch Perfect 2” is far from a great film. It is stitched together, and the narrative is all over the place, and at times the whole thing feels very forced, but it is an immensely enjoyable summer film that doesn’t smudge the reputation of the first film (here’s looking at you, “Taken 2”).

The film features the same awkward, random interactions that made the first film so enjoyable. John Michael Higgins once again steals the show as a misogynistic a capella commentator, and Keegan-Michael Key has some great one-liners as a music producer.

The musical numbers are also very engaging and well-shot, and had me tapping my toes. There are different groups and styles that inject the film with different flavors and flair, including a German group that serves as the film’s antagonists.

Which brings me to my main complaint with the film. Many scenes simply happen to happen, and hold no real weight; much of the film simply feels like a compilation of subplots. Example: the Bellas are suspended simply because Fat Amy’s (Rebel Wilson) pants accidentally tear during a performance (sure, I guess?). As part of their punishment, the group is not allowed to take in any new members, but they take a new member and no one ever questions it.

It is things like this, and believe me there are more head-scratching moments, that hold “Pitch Perfect 2” back from being anything than breezy enjoyment, and that frustrates me a bit. Also, we get it. Fat Amy is fat. We don’t need a joke reminding us every five minutes.

The sequel continues to perfectly walk the line between praising a capella singing and mocking it, and after all, you’re paying the price of admission to see fun musical numbers and humorous banter, so I’m likely the only cynical person out here who will even think to mention the narrative flaws.

Here’s the bottom line: whether you’ve seen the first film or not, “Pitch Perfect 2” sings in sweet comedic harmony, even of a few of its notes fall flat. …Get it? Notes? And harmony? Because, singing? [sighhhh] I’m telling ya, I slay even myself sometimes…

Critics Rating: 6/10pitchperfect2

‘The Gunman’ Low On Guns, High on Snoozes

The_Gunman_Official_Theatrical_PosterA message to Sean Penn: Liam Neeson you are not.

“The Gunman” stars Sean Penn as an ex-gun-for-hire who carried out a foreign assassination and finds his past catching up to him eight years later. Idris Elba, Ray Winstone and Javier Bardem also star as Pierre Morel (director of the first “Taken” film) directs.

On paper, this movie should have worked. Sure, the “retired gunman comes out for one last job” is a rehashed genre (heck, I just reviewed “Run All Night” the other day), but “Gunman” has an A-list cast, a director who showed he can direct a 50-year-old in an action film, and a fun-looking trailer. What’s the end result? A bunch of A-list cameos, shoddily executed action scenes, and a trailer that clearly knew it had to lie about the true content of its product.

For a movie entitled “The Gunman” there sure is a scarcity of guns in this film. Like seriously, I think there are three shootouts in this, and most of them consist of Sean Penn ducking in-and-out of cover, spraying his gun at what he hopes are enemies.

The film takes a few minutes to get up and running, giving us what I assume they intended to be character development (it’s just boring forced narrative). When the first shot is finally taken, you think you’re in for a solid action film. LOL, nope. The rest of the first act is an awkward and unbelievable soap opera drama between Penn, Bardem and Penn’s ex-girlfriend, who is now Bardem’s wife and Bardem is threatened by Penn, but he’s not, and…I don’t know what to tell you, the film is a mess.

Let’s get to the characters. No one in this film acts like a real person. Bardem is a clowny cartoon, who says things that made me cringe and scratch my head. In his limited screen time he is just a laughing, bumbling goofball, paranoid that Penn is simply there to steal his wife. Idris Elba shows up for five minutes simply to put his name on the poster, and Ray Winstone does his grumbling Ray Winstone thing. Any big name actor on the poster not named Sean Penn is in this movie for no more than 15 minutes, I kid you not.

I really don’t know if there’s anything good I can say about “The Gunman”. The more I write about it, the more I’m growing to dislike it, and I walked out disliking it a pretty fair amount as was. Even the set pieces of the Congo, London and Rome are so bland they don’t add any visual candy to the experience.

Sean Penn clearly wanted to make this movie (he also produced and co-wrote it), but this passion project was a struggle to sit through. The film is so agonizingly paced, clichédly written and boring in its narrative that when the gun battles we were promised in the trailer finally arrive, we just don’t care.

“The Gunman” has all the looks and feel of a mid-day soap opera, but all the razor-sharp excitement of a mid-day soap opera. The only reason this mundane “action” film won’t derail Sean Penn’s career is because the only people who will hopefully ever be forced to sit through it are in an interrogation room in Guantanamo Bay.

Critics Rating: 3/10



Some Charm, Little Brain in ‘Focus’

2015_Focus_film_posterThere used to be a time when Will Smith was the most bankable movie star in Hollywood. Nicolas Cage also used to compete for Oscars instead of Razzies, so as Bob Dylan once wrote: the times they are a-changing.

Smith stars in “Focus”, a movie all about small-time criminals pulling cons—until it’s not. Margot Robbie, best known from “Wolf of Wall Street”, co-stars as a young and enthusiastic rookie who Smith takes under his wing and teaches the tools of the trade. “Crazy, Stupid, Love.” directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa write and direct here.

“Focus” really is a tale of two movies. The first half features some clever banter, and is all about pulling cons in New Orleans, all leading up to a somewhat well executed, tension-filled climax at the Super Bowl. (Quick side note: the game is never called the Super Bowl because the NFL is lame; it’s just “the game”. Also, a team from Miami is playing, which even for a fictional football universe seems pretty hard to buy.) Once Will Smith and Margot Robbie leave New Orleans and go their separate ways, all the fun seems to go with them.

The second half of film takes place three years later in Buenos Aires (because, sure?), and it just doesn’t have the same shine as the first 50 minutes. There are no real cons, but instead it is replaced with Will Smith trying his best to charm the pants off of Robbie (figuratively and literally).

Smith is still as charismatic and likable as ever, but in “Focus” that can only carry the film so far. We don’t learn much about his character other than people generally don’t like him, he has daddy issues, and for one scene he apparently has a gambling addiction.

Smith does have some chemistry with Robbie, but at other times their interactions feel forced and unnatural. Robbie shows that she is an actress that we’ll be seeing more of, and I’m fine with that, but there really isn’t much development to her character. When we meet her she is just a small-timer stealing watches, and by the end of the film it isn’t really clear if she is truly anything different (but hey, the movie made sure that we get that background story that she “always had to look out for herself”, so it makes up for it, right?).

There are some fun twists, then there are some completely unbelievable ones, and there are some small plot holes, then there are ones big enough to drive an 18-wheeler through. The best thing I can compare it to is “Now You See Me” (if you can remember that thing): if when the dust settles you can buy all the twists, then you’ll enjoy the final payoff. If you need some sense and plausibility with your films, then maybe “Focus” isn’t for you.

Two likable leads and some colorful locations do not make a great movie, but they certainly help to elevate an otherwise average one. “Focus” isn’t Smith’s most tedious movie, and it’s nowhere near the worst film of 2015 (“50 Shades” will likely hold that title for a while), but it just isn’t as much fun as it should be.

Critics Rating: 5/10



‘SpongeBob’ Sequel Does Source Material Justice

SB-2_posterMy childhood remains intact!

“The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water” is the second big-screen adaption of everyone’s favorite ocean sponge, following the 2004’s “The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie” [realizes it has been 10 years since the last film and slowly stares up into the sky as “Dust in the Wind” begins to play]. Instead of rescuing King Neptune’s crown, SpongeBob (again voiced perfectly by Tom Kenny), Patrick and company must this time retrieve the Krabby Patty secret formula from a pirate (Antonio Banderas). Paul Tibbitt directs.

When they first announced they were making a second SpongeBob movie, I got excited. SpongeBob and Harry Potter are the two staples of my childhood, and the first SpongeBob film remains one of the funniest kid’s films ever made (my humble opinion). However when I began to learn more and more about this sequel, I became worried. The trailer painted it to be almost completely CGI, and I was really concerned the film would be more of the recent kid-pandering, dumbed-down Sponge humor.

However after seeing “Out of Water”, I was happily surprised that about 80% of the film is the classic animation, and the film itself finds the rhythm, tone and references that made the original film and early seasons, hits.

Let’s get one thing straight: this is nothing but one big episode of SpongeBob SquarePants stretched to fit a motion picture runtime. There are so many nods to the classic episodes (like Patrick yelling “Finland!” after getting concussed) that it serves as an homage for long-time fans like myself, but it also has many other references people not familiar to the character will love (I lost track at the amount of Stanley Kubrick jokes in here).

The sign of a truly great child’s film is that it has jokes for all ages, not just kids, and “Out of Water” has just that. Sure, there are the butt jokes or simple things like a character yelling, “your brain is made of cotton candy!” that will have grade-school kids chuckling, but there are quite a few Family Guy-esque jokes in this movie too, including one back-and-forth with SpongeBob and Plankton that had me laughing out loud.

As funny as the film can be, it is just one stretched episode of SpongeBob, and at times it shows. Some scenes run a little long, and while the overarching message is about teamwork, other than that the movie really isn’t *about* anything. It is just SpongeBob and his friends involved in several (kind of trippy) montages while singing songs. At this point, though, what else could you really expect?

The series’ creator Stephen Hillenburg, who left the show at the completion of the first film, returns here to write the story and executively produce, and his presence is felt. The film has the sense of fun and wit about it that have been missing in recent years. Is this as good as the 2004 film? Not by a long shot, no, but it isn’t the train wreck I at one point feared.

If you don’t like SpongeBob then “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water” probably won’t convert you, however if you are a fan, old or young, then this is colorful, hyper fun (if you couldn’t tell, I fall into the latter category). If you’re a parent who takes their child to see this, you’ll enjoy yourself. If you’re a 20-something like me who grew up on SpongeBob, then this is a fantastic trip down nostalgia lane. And if you’re a kid who currently watches SpongeBob…well first off, I doubt you’re reading this, and second, go watch the first three seasons; they’re much better than what they air for you guys now.

Critics Rating: 6/10



Carell, Tatum Highlight Slow-Burning ‘Foxcatcher’

Foxcatcher_First_Teaser_PosterWhat do Michael Scott, the Incredible Hulk and Jenko from 21 Jump Street have in common? They all give some of the best dramatic performances of 2014 in “Foxcatcher”.

Directed by Bennett Miller, who also helmed “Capote” and “Moneyball”, “Foxcatcher” is a  thriller based on the true story of millionaire John du Pont (Steve Carell) who become the sponsor of USA wrestlers Mark and Dave Schultz (Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo).

A huge fan of Steve Carell and excited to see what he could do in a dramatic role, I personally have been looking forward to this film for a long time. Originally due out in December 2013, it was delayed a full year to complete editing, so I have been counting down the days until its release since Oscar Season kicked off two months ago. And much to my pleasure, “Foxcatcher” does not disappoint.

What drives the film are the performances; Tatum, Carell and Ruffalo all shine in their own way. Tatum, coming off the comedy hit “22 Jump Street”, and Carell, from “Anchorman” and “The Office” fame, aren’t exactly who you think of when you hear “Oscar-worthy performance”, but both give just that.

Playing a meathead athlete may not seem too much of a stretch for Tatum considering his physique and persona, but Tatum’s Mark Schultz requires so much more. Stuck in his brother’s shadow despite himself winning Olympic gold, Mark takes up du Pont’s offer to come and train at his estate, seeing it as a chance to separate himself from his brother. While attempting this separation, Mark’s mental state becomes more strained, and Tatum is near perfect showing the emotional toll, as well as physical repercussions, of this.

Carell is almost unrecognizable as John du Pont, a man with an almost homoerotic obsession with the sport of wrestling, a desperate desire to impress his mother, and, as he says, a want to “see America soar again”. Comedians often have dark sides, it’s what made Michael Keaton perfect as Batman and why Robin Williams could flip a switch and give a serious performance. Carell has several scenes where he gives a chuckle-inducing line, like wanting to be called “Golden Eagle”, but nearly every time du Pont walks into a room, especially in the final 30 minutes, you feel uneasy and on edge, because you just have a feeling that this guy could just snap.

Ruffalo has his moments to stand out as well, especially in the second half of the film when he comforts a quickly deteriorating Mark.

What may turn some people off from “Foxcatcher” is the fact that it is a candle burning film, meaning it is a lot of build-up. At times the film may feel like it has no true aim, or even seem uneventful, but it is all building to a fantastically executed climax by Miller. The acting, the score and the direction all come to a perfect head, resulting in a final scene that is still etched in my brain and gets better as more time passes.

“Foxcatcher” is a fantastically acted, wonderfully directed thriller that takes a while to build but is well worth the wait. Tatum, Carell and Ruffalo all have scenes in which they are brilliant, and whether you know how this story ends or not, the final half hour of this film will have you leaning forward in your seat and your heartbeat slowly increasing.

Critics Rating: 8/10

Rock’s New Comedy Won’t Make Your ‘Top Five’

Top_Five_posterThere is a point at the beginning of “Top Five” when Chris Rock’s character says, “I don’t feel like doing funny movies anymore. I don’t feel funny”. Apparently he accomplished his goal because the movie he’s in isn’t all that funny.

Written, directed, and starring Chris Rock, “Top Five” tells the tale of Andre Allen (Rock), a former comedian who wants to be taken seriously as an actor, all while being shadowed by a journalist (Rosario Dawson) and dealing with the impending wedding with his reality star wife (Gabrielle Union).

Chris Rock is a great comedian, there’s no denying that, and even if he isn’t the greatest actor in the world, he still has produced some funny products the past decade. “Top Five” seems like it should work on paper, with Rock playing almost a version of himself, but it just doesn’t and for a comedy it isn’t that funny.

The cast looks impressive with the likes of Kevin Hart, Tracey Morgan and Cedric the Entertainer all popping up on the poster, but in reality this the Rock and Dawson show, with celebrities stopping by to cameo in one scene. Ironically it is the three scenes with Hart, Morgan and Cedric that each bring a little life and the biggest laughs to the screen, but the moment their characters exit you instantly miss them.

There are some tiny bits of inspired writing from Rock about how maybe we’re too tough on reality stars for having no real talent or how we expect too much from A-list celebrities, but those moments get lost watching scenes that go on for too long or are ruined by an awkwardly out-of-place crude joke.

I kept sitting through “Top Five” waiting and wanting it to pick up momentum and be funny, the kind of funny I know Chris Rock can bring, but it never does, and that is the film’s biggest problem: it is a comedy that just isn’t funny. The film never fully knows what kind of film it wants to be.

It wants to be taken seriously and address a man’s alcoholism? It throws is a montage with Cedric the Entertainer and two prostitutes. It wants to be filled with potty humor? It suddenly flips and makes some characters start a serious argument. Films like “Funny People” perfectly walk the lines of potty humor, drama and genuine laughs, but “Top Five” can’t.

The best part of “Top Five” is when Chris Rock’s character is shown doing standup, which makes sense because these are Rock’s roots. But a few celebrity cameos and a couple smart satirical moments can’t save a film that drags on and then suddenly just ends. I really, really wanted to like “Top Five” more than I did, if not for my sake then for Rock’s, but I could not.

Critics Rating: 5/10

Keaton and Norton are Perfect in ‘Birdman’

Birdman_posterSometimes a film has a large scope and just isn’t able to fill it. Whether it is the visual ambitions or just from a technical standpoint, a director’s goals just sometimes don’t pan out on screen. “Birdman” is absolutely not one of those films.

“Birdman” stars Michael Keaton as a washed up actor who is known for formally portraying a superhero in movies (kind of ironic). To try and remain relevant and prove he is capable of being a true actor, he mounts a Broadway play while at the same time battling his family, his costars and himself. Edward Norton and Emma Stone costar and Alejandro González Iñárritu writes and directs.

“Birdman” does something I’ve never seen before: it shoots the entire film as if it is one continuous take, with each scene seemingly transitioning to the next with no edits. While obviously the entire movie was not shot in 120 straight minutes, each scene seems to be one take. This is not only is impressive from a filmmaking standpoint, but also becomes mind-blowing when you think of the pressure that put on the actors to not screw up; and is even more amazing when you see the results.

Michael Keaton and Edward Norton give two of 2014’s best performances, if not two of the better acting jobs in recent years. Keaton plays a man trying to remain relevant well past his prime, but “mocks Twitter and won’t even get a Facebook page” as his daughter (Stone) says. He has moments of dark humor, the entire film does, but it is the scenes that show him fighting his inner demon (in the form of the voice of a man in a bird costume) that are the best.

Norton may be even better playing a Broadway actor who thinks his he is God’s gift to the stage, and when someone does something to ruin his techniques, he voices his distaste, even if it’s in the middle of a live performance. There is one scene between Norton and Stone (who is fantastic in her own right) that is just insanely fun and pretty damn well-executed, and if Norton gets the Oscar nomination that he deserves then that scene will likely be used as his submission tape.

As near-perfect as the acting in “Birdman” is, the messages it sends are just as good. One is all about the differences between actors and celebrities, and how many actors have traded in genuine craft for capes, and judge their career on weekend box office totals. Another underlying message is that critics are just those who failed at the craft themselves; like they say, those who can’t do, teach (ouch).

The score of the film is also amazing, and it seemed that on numerous occasions it was the transition between scenes with its drums and symbols.

“Birdman” is nearly perfectly executed on near all fronts. The acting and score are phenomenal, Alejandro González Iñárritu’s direction and screenplay are infectious, and the continuous shot gimmick is anything but (next movie I see the edits and different angles are going to be painfully glaring). The third’s final act gets a little out there, and the ending in particular is a bit ambiguous, but these don’t ruin the film. Much like Keaton hearing the voice of Birdman, I can’t get Norton and Keaton out of my head, and I’m sure this won’t be the last that I, or you, hear about their performances for a long time.

Critics Rating: 9/10

Horrible Accurate Description of ‘Bosses 2’

Horrible_Bosses_2            The moment they announced “Horrible Bosses 2” was a thing I scratched my head. I loved the first film, it remains one of my favorite comedies of all-time, but it just didn’t have substance to warrant a sequel. Then director Seth Gordon said he wouldn’t be returning and he was replaced with Sean Anders. All these were red flags but I held up hope that the returning cast would make this sequel work.

They couldn’t.

“Horrible Bosses 2” follows Nick, Kurt and Dale (Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis and Charlie Day) after they have quit their jobs and started their own business with their invention, The Shower Buddy. When they are scammed by an investor and his son (Christoph Waltz and Chris Pine), they decide their only course of action is to kidnap the son and hold him for ransom (because, duh).

I don’t really know where to start with this film, because it really is disappointing. Comedy sequels are rarely as good as the original (“22 Jump Street” excluded), but I expected “Horrible Bosses 2” to at least have the same tone as the first film. The writers of the original film, John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, wrote a draft for this film but when Anders took over as director he and his writing partner John Morris reworked the script (the duo helped on the scripts of the scattershot but very funny “We’re the Millers” and “Hot Tub Time Machine”). Some of the first film’s bite and self-awareness still remain, but most of the jokes now are nothing more than poop and sex gags, which are Anders’ trademark.

The movie is paced in a way that just doesn’t work. It takes a full hour before the trio even discusses the kidnapping scheme, or at least it felt like that. This clearly was not an idea that could carry an entire film, so it was stretched by having an entire subplot involving Jennifer Aniston’s sex-crazed dentist. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for Jennifer Aniston, but when she starts to fantasize about 14-year-old boys at wrestling camp, you lost me.

Bateman, Day and Sudeikis (whom I love and believe is very underrated) all still have fun chemistry and give and take among each other, and Electro himself Jamie Foxx is back as Dean MF Jones, but they can’t save this sinking ship.

Christoph Waltz is criminally underused as the film’s antagonist (pun intended?), but there’s still something about seeing Hans Landa play a ruthless business man that put a smirk on my face. Pine seems to be having a blast as the spoiled son, who partners up with the trio in the hostage plan to get back at his dad. Kevin Spacey also returns for a few minutes as Dave Harken, but in the end that only made me miss the first film even more.

In retrospect, expectations for “Horrible Bosses 2” shouldn’t have been high, as they put “horrible” right in the title, alongside the number two, which is all this film is: poop.

There is a saving grace towards the end of the film with a few twists and an interestingly executed hostage plan, but that saving grace comes in the form of a bullet to the head, saving my soul from this unjustified, heart-crushing sequel.

Critics Rating: 4/10

‘Mockingjay – Part 1’ Best Hunger Games Yet

MockingjayPart1Poster3They say the third time’s the charm. While that is usually not the case with movie franchises (give me one third film that eclipsed the first two which is not named “Return of the King”), the saying does ring true with “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1”, which is the best film in the series.

Picking up right where “Catching Fire” left off, Katniss (fan-favorite Jennifer Lawrence) is now in District 13 and has become the symbol of the rebellion against the Capitol, led by the love-to-hate-him President Snow (Donald Sutherland). Liam Hemsworth and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman return as Julianne Moore joins the cast. Francis Lawrence returns in the director’s chair.

The first two Hunger Games films both served their purpose, but I never felt any real connection to the characters, even Katniss. I’ve honestly always found her extremely unlikable and hard to root for, a claim she herself has pointed out on numerous occasions so it isn’t exactly like I’m grasping at straws. However “Mockingjay – Part 1” replaces the PG-13 shakycam action with well-acted scenes involving propaganda and the sparks of a revolution and that is why it is the best entry in the Hunger Games series to date.

The direction in the film is what makes it so good; without director Francis Lawrence, the film would not work. He utilizes fantastic production value and impressive CGI to immerse us in a world that is dark, both in tone and visuals. Whether it is the remains of a bombed district or a secret underground bunker, he knows exactly how and where to place the camera to get the most from every shot. There is also one incredibly impressively executed raid scene inside the Capitol that is as entertaining as it is nerve-wrecking.

Hoffman yet again shows why he was truly a rare talent, and we lost one of the all-time greats. Playing a master of political propaganda, Hoffman has some moments of humor and makes a few fantastic points about society, and he plays well off of the stubborn Katniss. Woody Harrelson once again is the comic relief, and at times stands as the voice of reason for the audience. Southerland is the best he’s been so far as the sinister Snow, and one monologue gave me chills just by the pure evil in his eyes.

Now “Mockingjay – Part 1” isn’t for everyone. There are no kids-killing-kids this time around, and Katniss only shoots her trademark bow and arrow once. It is certainly the slowly burning wick at the start of the exploding powder keg, so there is lots of talking and almost no action. But what that does is make the action scenes that do take place hold even more purpose and weight, and make you even more excited for the epic finale that awaits.

If you open a history book, the American and French Revolutions are some of the most interesting and exciting time periods you can read about. This holds true for “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1”, as it is tense, emotional and leading to something grand. Does it warrant the final book being broken up into two separate movies? Probably not, but time will tell. Who woulda thunk that the best film in the Hunger Games franchise would be the one that doesn’t even feature the Hunger Games at all?

Critics Rating: 7/10

Gyllenhaal Steals the Show in ‘Nightcrawler’

Nightcrawlerfilm            Jake Gyllenhaal once patrolled the streets of Los Angeles as a cop in “End of Watch”; now he drives around them at night filming crime and accidents.

“Nightcrawler” is all about the people who independently film accidents and then sell them to news stations (“if it bleeds, it leads” the film makes sure to tell us a half dozen times). When Lou (Gyllenhaal) steps into this world, he begins to blur the line between observer and participant. Rene Russo and Bill Paxton costar as Dan Gilroy writes and has his directorial debut.

“Nightcrawler” is a nice looking, tense thriller that is almost completely driven by its characters. Every actor has a scene or two in which they own, but in the end this movie would be nothing without Jake Gyllenhaal.

Gyllenhaal is so creepy, unsettling and unrecognizable as Lou that it is impossible to take your eyes off of him. As the film progresses, we become more and more uneasy with every passing scene, as we know it is only a matter of time before Lou snaps; we just don’t know at what—or who—it is going to be at. Lou speaks almost completely in cliché business and motivational lingo (his motto is, “if you want to win the lottery, you have to earn the money to buy a ticket”) and it is not obvious if he is a brilliant negotiator or simply just insane.

Riz Ahmed plays Rick, a homeless young man who is hired as Lou’s assistant. Rick is too desperate for cash to turn away from Lou, or even realize what he is getting himself into, and by the time he begins to realize Lou may be a psychopath he is in too deep.

The rest of the supporting cast does a fine job as well. Russo plays a TV news director who buys Lou’s initial tape, and is equally repulsed and fascinated by him. Bill Paxton has a few fun lines as Lou’s rival, a fellow “nightcrawler”, and Kevin Rahm plays a TV executive, who serves as the voice of reason for the audience, questioning Lou’s methods and whether running certain clips is ethical, or even legal.

The film is edited and paced brilliantly, offering quick-cuts and perfectly timed scenes to keep the flow going, while never sacrificing content. The climax of the film is as tense and thrilling as anything I have seen at the movies this year, and even though while watching we have a feeling we know what is going to transpire, we just hope we are wrong.

Now there are a few points in “Nightcrawler” that feel like they were added simply to showcase Los Angeles, or try and make sure we are aware how “dedicated” Lou is to his job, and this makes the film’s narrative stray a bit and at times make the plot seem a bit aimless, but it is never anything Gyllenhaal can’t get back on track.

“Nightcrawler” is a solid thriller with a brilliant lead performance, shot in one of the most vibrant and neon-soaked cities in the world. The film is worth seeing simply because of Gyllenhaal, but the supporting characters, dark humor and exhilarating climax are a nice treat, too.

Critics Rating: 7/10