‘Nightcrawler,’ ‘Force Majeure’ Arrive on Home Video

Forrest Hartman

 

A number of noteworthy theatrical releases are transitioning to home video this week, so there’s something for just about everyone.  

 

 

Nightcrawler

3 stars (out of four)
Rated R for violence including graphic images, and for language
Universal
Available on: Blu-ray, DVD, digital download and on demand

 

Writer-director Dan Gilroy’s “Nightcrawler” is the sort of absurdist thriller that presents uncomfortable truths in an entertaining, but undeniably disturbing, manner.

 

The focus is on Louis Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal), a shifty hustler who makes his living by any means possible. One day, he stumbles upon an auto accident and learns that freelance TV crews make good money selling crash footage to local news outlets. So, Louis gets a cheap video camera and launches his career.

 

Although untrained, Louis’ brash personality and general lack of decency allow him to gather footage that becomes the envy of other shooters (or nightcrawlers). It also makes him popular with a sensationalist news producer (Rene Russo) looking to build an audience for her station.

 

As Louis gains experience, he repeatedly crosses commonly accepted journalistic lines, doing whatever it takes to get the best footage, and he is financially rewarded for doing so. Obviously, the movie is meant as a media critique, and its portrayal of broadcast journalists is ugly.

 

Much of what happens in “Nightcrawler” is exaggerated, and some events would never take place in reality. One has to assume that Gilroy knows this and that he expects viewers to see his movie as fantasy. That said, the movie’s tone is straightforward and persuasive, and Gyllenhaal’s sociopathic portrayal of Louis is more realistic than absurd. Because of that, audiences can debate whether the picture is drama or satire, and a reasonable person could interpret it either way.

 

When taken seriously, the lack of realism presents problems, but not enough to ruin the film. Gyllenhaal’s excellent performance and Gilroy’s ability to move the story with speed and precision make “Nightcrawler” compelling.

 

For viewers who read the film as fantasy, the improbable moments just make it better. Sometimes artistic exaggeration is the best way to alert an audience to growing problems in society, and “Nightcrawler” seems happy to sound the alarm.  

 

Blu-ray and DVD extras include a making-of feature and a filmmakers’ audio commentary.

 

 

Force Majeure

2½ stars
Rated R for some language and brief nudity
Magnolia Home Entertainment
Available on: Blu-ray, DVD and digital download

 

The Swedish drama “Force Majeure” was one of the most celebrated foreign films to reach theaters in 2014, a fact worth mentioning only because its popularity is difficult to explain. The two-hour drama is built on an interesting premise, but the exploration of the central theme is drawn-out and tiresome.

 

The movie, which was written and directed by Ruben Östlund, focuses on a family of four that takes a ski vacation to the French Alps. Viewers learn that the patriarch, Tomas (Johannes Bah Kuhnke) works too much and that his wife, Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli), is looking forward to some family time. The vacation is ruined, however, when they witnesses a close-up avalanche that, momentarily, seems primed to sweep them away.

 

Ebba is distressed by Tomas’ actions during the near-tragedy, as well as his refusal to talk about them afterward. Tomas, on the other hand, would like to forget what occurred, but Ebba is determined, even mentioning it when they meet with friends. Ultimately, their relationship becomes so strained that the future of their family is in question, and this stresses their young children (Clara Wettergren and Vincent Wettergren).

 

Movies that explore the complex dynamics of human relationships are worthwhile, and Östlund deserves credit for tackling themes that rarely pop up in theaters. Among other things, he asks viewers to consider what one’s reaction to a dangerous situation actually means. The movie also meditates on the nature of heroism, fear and the desire for self-preservation. These are all worthy topics, but Östlund doesn’t shed much light on them, despite the 120-minute run time. Instead, viewers are battered by the same tired ideas again and again, and the characters never come to any real conclusions.

 

The cast, particularly Kuhnke and Kongsli, is good, but “Force Majeure” lacks the movement and philosophical insight that might have pushed it to a higher realm.

 

Blu-ray and DVD extras include an inside look at the film and an interview with Östlund and Kuhnke.

 

 

Kill the Messenger

4 stars
Rated R for language and drug content
Universal
Available on: Blu-ray, DVD, digital download and on demand

 

The story of investigative journalist Gary Webb is one of the saddest and most dramatic in modern journalism, making it prime fodder for a movie. In “Kill the Messenger,” screenwriter Peter Landesman and director Michael Cuesta tell that story in a painful chronology that attacks the mainstream media with zeal. Sadly, the assault is largely justified.

 

In the period of a few dark months, Webb transitioned from celebrity journalist to pariah, all thanks to a striking series of articles about the U.S. government’s involvement with the Nicaraguan rebel groups known as Contras. In the series, Webb reported that the CIA backed the Contras despite knowledge that much of their funding came directly from cocaine sales in the U.S. His story was particularly inconvenient for government officials because it came during the height of the American drug war.

 

Curiously, Webb’s journalistic endeavors are only partially responsible for the drama in “Kill the Messenger.” Just as important as the reporting was the astonishing backlash that his stories received after they were published in the San Jose Mercury News in August 1996. At first, Webb was celebrated as a hero. He was even named Journalist of the Year by the Northern California chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Yet, as the story gained traction, large media outlets, including the New York Times and Washington Post, decided to attack Webb, claiming that his allegations of government conspiracy went too far. In perhaps the strangest development of all, these outlets seemed more interested in discrediting Webb, a lone reporter, than in further investigating the government conspiracy he brought to light.  

 

Depending on who one chooses to listen to, Webb’s Contra series was either brilliant and courageous journalism that brought about positive change or an overreaching work that made the government look worse than it should have. Either way, it is important to note that his primary accusations were backed by documentation, and his most damning reports were ultimately proven true. Still, the fallout destroyed Webb’s career and, arguably, his personal life. All of this is depicted in “Kill The Messenger,” a film that is unapologetically pro-Webb.

 

Cuesta unspools the narrative from Webb’s perspective, and Jeremy Renner is excellent, portraying the man as a devoted journalist and caring husband and father. Not everyone fares so well. Former Mercury News editor Jerry Ceppos (Oliver Platt), now dean of LSU’s Manship School of Mass Communication, is depicted as spineless and the Mercury News’ subeditors are presented as corporate lemmings interested only in protecting their backsides. Whether one considers these portrayals accurate depends on perspective.

 

As with all biopics, “Kill the Messenger” is fictionalized, but Cuesta does a reasonably good job presenting the breakdown of events. The action is brisk and enticing, and Cuesta forces viewers to think about the media, those who control it and our role as consumers. A film capable of that feat is always worth watching.

 

Blu-ray and DVD extras include several behind-the-scenes featurettes, deleted scenes and an audio commentary with Cuesta.

 

 

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

2½ stars
Rated PG for rude humor including some reckless behavior and language
Disney
Available on: Blu-ray, DVD, digital download and on demand

 

Whenever filmmakers adapt a short picture book into a feature-length film they are forced to add lots of material. With “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day,” they had to invent nearly everything. In fact, the movie represents Judith Viorst’s 1972 novel in only minimal ways. The title character, Alexander Cooper (Ed Oxenbould), is the same, but the plotting takes a decidedly different turn. In fact, the movie may be better viewed as a sequel to the book than an actual adaptation.

 

It starts with Alexander having a particularly bad day, both at home and school. Viewers learn that this happens to Alexander frequently, and although his family is loving and kind, his dinner-time complaints are mostly dismissed. Alexander’s birthday is coming up, so he makes himself an early treat and wishes that his family could know what it means to have troubles like him. Magically, his wish comes true. Because Alexander didn’t actually want any harm to come to his family, he is immediately remorseful. Nevertheless, the damage is done. This is made worse by the fact that each family member has important events coming up. 

 

His mother (Jennifer Garner) is launching an important project at work, his unemployed father (Steve Carrell) has a crucial job interview, his sister (Kerris Dorsey) is starring in a theatrical production of “Peter Pan” and his brother (Dylan Minnette) is taking his driver’s test.

 

Director Miguel Arteta guides viewers through one disaster after another, somehow keeping the tone lighthearted, despite the terrible things that befall the characters. In large part, the movie works because of this. Although everyone in Alexander’s family has a “bad” day, the things that happen don’t matter in the long run, and the family learns the importance of mutual support. That makes the film thematically similar to the book and appealing as family pictures go.

 

The plotting isn’t inventive, and “Alexander” doesn’t rank in the top tier of family entertainment, but it wouldn’t be fair to use a single adjective from the title to describe it. “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” is actually a cheery, fun, likable, rather entertaining movie.  

 

DVD and Blu-ray extras include a music video by the Vamps and a behind-the-scenes feature.  

 

 

ALSO OUT THIS WEEK

 

“Addicted”: Thriller about a sex-addicted art dealer (Sharon Leal) who risks her family by pursuing extramarital affairs. Bille Woodruff directs the movie, which is based on the best-selling novel by Zane. Boris Kodjoe, Tyson Beckford and William Levy also star.

 

“Rosewater”: Co-writer and director Jon Stewart tells the true story of Maziar Bahari, an Iranian-Canadian journalist who was incarcerated and brutally interrogated by the Iranian government on charges of espionage. Gael García Bernal, Kim Bodnia and Dimitri Leonidas star.

 

“Olive Kitteridge”: HBO miniseries based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Elizabeth Strout. The story looks at 25 years in the life of the title character (Frances McDormand), a teacher whose small-town life is anything but simple. Directed by Lisa Cholodenko. Richard Jenkins and Bill Murray also star.

 

“Laggies”: Romantic comedy starring Keira Knightley as a young woman who panics and looks for escape when her high school sweetheart proposes. Chloë Grace Moretz, Sam Rockwell, Mark Webber, Ellie Kemper and Jeff Garlin also star. 

 

“Kink”: Documentary film examining Kink.com, a website devoted to bondage, submission and related erotic content. Directed by Christina Voros and produced by James Franco.  

 

“Don’t Look Now”: Criterion Collection restoration of director Nicolas Roeg’s 1973 thriller about a couple who are told by a psychic that their deceased daughter is trying to warn them of danger. Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie star.

 

“101 Dalmations” – Diamond Edition: Fresh release of Disney’s 1961 animated movie about a family of dogs that face off against the evil Cruella De Vil.

 

“A Day in the Country”: Criterion Collection release of French director Jean Renoir’s 1936 short film about a Paris family that leaves the city for a country picnic.

 

Author Bio:

 

Forrest Hartman, a Highbrow Magazine contributor, is an independent film critic whose byline has appeared in some of the nation's largest publications. For more of his work visit www.ForrestHartman.com.

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