Tuesday, July 7, 2015

A Stringer Shoots what he Sees and We all Watch


The lead review in Doug Pratt's July Newsletter is on 42nd Street 

Pratt writes the classic Busby Berkeley musical is (recently released on Blu-Ray) “looking as smooth and clear as any recent production.” For those who enjoy having their classic movies with the most pristine transfer, this looks like the digital version of the film to add to your library.  

I still haven’t seen one of the recent releases Pratt reviews - FURY starring Brad Pitt (written and directed by David Ayer). I will admit the negative reviews upon its initial release discouraged me from seeking it out in the theatre. After reading the July newsletter, I feel like I missed a war movie I would have loved to see on the big screen. Pratt writes, “Essentially, the film is akin to a restoration. It takes a traditional subgenre format and brings in sophisticated special effects… the emotional paradoxes of soldiering, and a construction of tension and excitement that is built upon all of the moviemaking experiences that have preceded it. The film is as classic a WWII movie as you could hope to find, something that gets made less and less often as newer wars vie for the interests of audiences.”  

One of the most thoughtful reviews in the newsletter is about the indie film, Whiplash. I liked the movie a lot, but have to agree with Pratt’s overall assessment - “the film is great fun, and even thrilling in its finale, (but) is nevertheless, so flawed that somebody ought to be throwing cymbals at the filmmakers.” Whether you are a fan of the film or not, the details in his review are worth reading.  

The featured excerpt from the July Newsletter is NIGHTCRAWLER. When I originally saw the movie during its theatrical release, I couldn’t help reminiscing about my job prior to embarking on my career as a screenwriter and producer in Hollywood. I worked as a news videotape editor at different TV Stations in Los Angeles. I grew up always wanting to write screenplays and produce movies, but I wound up working in this field for over five years. 
Why so long? Because the TV news business is unbelievably intoxicating once you get involved. 
And this is what the filmmakers capture so well -- the almost hypnotic lure that what you shoot (or in my case, what I was editing) that day will appear only hours later on TV... and watched by hundreds of thousands of people. 
Halfway through watching NIGHTCRAWLER in the theatre, I turned to my date and said, “this was my life for years. Why didn’t I write this screenplay?” I’m still rolling around that question in my head, but now must admit after seeing the movie a second time, that whatever I came up with would have been half as good as the script written by Dan Gilroy.
Here's what Pratt had to say about the movie --

Where the News comes From

What goes on behind the fa├žade of the evening (or, more specifically, the morning) news on TV is the focus of the deviously witty and entertaining NIGHTCRAWLER, a Universal release (UPC#025192268571, $30). Jake Gyllenhaal portrays a creepy, quasi-psychopath (we knew a couple of those back in the days of laser discs), who finds success chasing ambulances as a freelance cameraman, selling his footage to a local TV station.  He doesn’t reach a point where he is actually causing havoc in order to film it, but he gets so close to doing it that you expect he may well go that way after the film is over.
Running 118 minutes, the film sets everything up in its first half, and then in its second half presents a specific crime that the hero stumbles upon, staying ahead of his competition as he sees (and manipulates) the case through to its conclusion. 

Gyllenhaal’s performance is so icky you wonder how the poor guy got any dates at all after the movie came out, but that is one of the film’s many perverse pleasures, especially as he comes onto a news producer played by Renee Russo.  It’s a shame their actual liaison got left on the cutting room floor, or never made it into the script to begin with, but that is one of the many careful choices that writer/director Dan Gilroy made for the 2014 production, to avoid repulsing a viewer so much that the pleasures the film has to offer would be lost in the distraction. 

Instead, there are slick, glossy nighttime shots of Los Angeles, speedy plot turns, and a constant sense of energy (the hero never seems to need sleep) that whips you through the story before you have a chance to resist it. The picture is letterboxed with an aspect ratio of about 2.35:1 and an accommodation for enhanced 16:9 playback.  The video footage used with in the film is naturally inferior, but the actual cinematography is crisp and shiny, and the DVD replicates it with precision. The 5.1-channel Dolby Digital sound has no exceptional moments, but is adequately delivered.  There are optional English, French and Spanish subtitles, and a passable 5-minute promotional featurette. 

Gilroy and his two brothers, Tony, who produced the film, and John, who edited it, provide a fairly good commentary track, describing the production as it progressed and what it was like working with the cast and crew.  The film was shot in Los Angeles right before Christmas, so they managed to attract a number of artists who wanted to spend the holidays at home before going on to their next assignment, and they go into detail on how they managed to squeeze quite a bit of production value out of a limited budget.  They also talked about the performances (Gyllenhaal starved himself during the shoot, and sort have had to be restrained during the one sequence where his character is eating some fast food) and about Gyllenhaal’s choice to put his longish hair in a bun for a few scenes, which caused widespread panic for a while. 
“The most important thing I can say on this commentary [is that] every single movie I’ve ever been on, as it’s just about to shoot, the most important thing on every film is not the script, it’s not the cast, it’s not the locations, it is hair. Hair dominates every single show at the last minute.”