Velvet Buzzsaw

Release: Friday, February 1, 2019 (Netflix) 

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Written by: Dan Gilroy

Directed by: Dan Gilroy

Beauty is in the eye of the soon-to-be-murdered in Velvet Buzzsaw, the new film from writer/director Dan Gilroy, who made his mark back in 2014 with the sensationally gripping Nightcrawler. His third directorial feature following 2017’s collaboration with Denzel Washington on Roman J. Israel, Esq., Velvet Buzzsaw is an apt title for a movie that leans fully into creative madness.

Gilroy’s latest is advertised as a mashup of horror and dark comedy, something that makes it immediately stand out from his previous genre-specific efforts — Nightcrawler a distinctive thriller and Roman J. Israel, Esq. firmly a legal drama. What also makes it stand out is its unapologetic strangeness. As you are no doubt aware by now, Velvet Buzzsaw is the movie where people get killed by artwork. But these are no ordinary schmucks who can’t tell a Renoir from a damn Monet. These are art profiteers who slowly get seduced and then offed by the very works they try to profit from — paintings whose fictional, beyond-tortured artist Vetril Dease seemingly imbued them with a strange and haunting power. As the story progresses, events only become more outlandish — so much so you’re all but compelled to disregard the horror part of the label and embrace the comedy inherent in all the (occasionally bloody) wackiness.

The art of the satire stems from a real-world experience Gilroy had back in the 1990s when he devoted significant time developing a screenplay for a Warner Bros. project called Superman Lives. It was set to star Nicolas Cage as Clark Kent. Try to digest that for a minute. Burp it back up if you need to. Unfortunately for anyone drawn to the image of Nic “Crazy Face” Cage donning the cape and tights they will never get the satisfaction as the studio shut down the project over budgetary concerns. That frustration informs the thematic core of Velvet Buzzsaw, a scathing criticism of the modern L.A. art scene and those who are only in the game because of the money.

The film is set in an alien environment of esoteric taste, haughty opinion and generally unpleasant personality and follows multiple perspectives through a tangled web of relationships, from rivaling art gallery owners — Rene Russo’s icy Rhodora Haze and Tom Sturridge’s creepy, conniving Jon Dondon — to influential outsiders like art critic Morf Vandewalt (Jake Gyllenhaal, reuniting with Russo from Nightcrawler) who has the power to not only sway pricing but as well make or break careers. At the ground floor you get contrast in artistic philosophies in Piers (an unfamiliarly sympathetic John Malkovich), an old-schooler struggling to find inspiration versus Damrish (Daveed Diggs), a hot new street artist reticent to display his work in a gallery. Keep an eye out for rogue players like Gretchen (Toni Collette), an art curator and close friend of Morf’s, who is also itching to make a big career move, as well as the highfalutin Josephina (Zawe Ashton), Rhodora’s frequently under-appreciated assistant, and an art installer named Bryson (Billy Magnussen) with an agenda of his own.

Granted, that is a long list of characters to keep track of. The good news is that we aren’t meant to form an emotional attachment to these creatures. Natalia Dyer’s character, a meek and mild-mannered Haze Gallery intern named Coco, is an exception. As someone rather out of place in this world — she hails from the East Coast and doesn’t seem to have much of an artistic inclination other than balancing multiple Starbucks cups on her daily coffee run — she is best positioned as an audience surrogate. By virtue of how frequently she stumbles upon the gruesome aftermath of paintings come to life, Coco gives us the key to enjoyment here. Go with the flow, absorb the imagery but don’t get too close.

Almost everyone else is disposable, many of them in a literal sense. These are near parodies of people who pontificate over artistic merit for a living. With a couple of exceptions these characters are either completely self-absorbed or cutthroat opportunists, finalists for the old “I can’t wait to see who goes down first” competition. The way they go down certainly makes Velvet Buzzsaw visually pop and feel edgy, while Gilroy’s screenplay, dripping with foreshadowing and cliché-riddled dialogue, tend to align the production with something decidedly more mainstream and predictable.

It’s a frustrating experience because as the film careens towards the absurd it delivers on its promise of comeuppance and in so doing entertains in a strange, almost perverse way. At the same time Gilroy gets so loosey-goosey with his direction the critique itself threatens to lose all meaning. The domino effect of bodies dropping ends up feeling like a gimmick after so many instances, yet undeniably the art of the kill is something to behold. And if this nobody blogger is taking note of some sloppiness, I can only imagine what Morf would do.

“Who are you to judge me?”

Recommendation: How you respond to Velvet Buzzsaw I think really depends on how you interpret the tone. I found it far more funny, albeit darkly satirical, than it was horrifying. Though I did find a few elements that were horrific, like the aftermath of The Sphere sequence and Toni Colette’s hairpiece. Either way you look at it, the premise is pretty out there — but that’s something I’d rather have than a formulaic/half-cooked Netflix Original. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 113 mins.

Quoted: “These are heinous.”

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Photo credits: http://www.deviantart.com; http://www.imdb.com

Nightcrawler

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Release: Friday, October 31, 2014

[Theater]

Written by: Dan Gilroy

Directed by: Dan Gilroy

For anyone reeling in nostalgia for the days of Donnie Darko, boy do I have some good news for you.

Jake Gyllenhaal is back and at least for the moment seems untouchable once more, playing the consummate weirdo very few of us are likely to be jealous of being incapable of mimicking. We are, however, gobsmacked by his talents again; in awe of a star’s willingness to go so far in the opposite direction of who they likely really are for the sake of seeking the truth in performance art.

Or, perhaps it’s not that big of a stretch. Maybe the male Gyllenhaal is naturally drawn to the darkness, as a fly to a light. This time he’s called upon by first-time director Dan Gilroy to don a façade whose ability to identify with humanity is often overridden by a need to separate from it. Self-sufficiency is the name of the game.

Meet Louis Bloom. He calls himself Lou, along with a number of other more professional and less personal adjectives. He’s first seen scouting a deserted construction site for some materials he will later try to sell back to the construction company for a small profit. The act functions as both microcosm — first he’ll try to take over a scrap yard and soon it will be the city — as well as a crucial first step towards chasing after much loftier ambitions. Audaciously he would go on to ask the man behind the desk about any available positions within the company, but the guy won’t hire a thief and so it is back to the drawing board for Lou.

It was probably for the better, anyway, as he soon encounters a television crew on the highway covering what appears to be a fatal car accident. It’s still early on in the film’s impossibly fluid two-hour runtime and we are getting to a place where we understand already subtlety is not a word in Lou’s vocabulary. He quickly makes his presence known at the scene and brushes up against Bill Paxton’s accomplished camera man to see if there’s any work for him with them. No, there’s not. But there is money in this racket, he’s told.

Lou quickly gets his hands on a cheap camera and he even hires a staff. . . .of one. He comes into contact with a slightly scruffy-looking man from the streets, a young fellow named Rick (Riz Ahmed) whose wide-eyed naivety and desperation for work makes Lou’s goal-setting seem an impossible quest for wealth and popularity rather than an act manifested out of necessity. Make no mistake, one certainly seems more desperate than the other.

They may seem an odd-couple like any other you’ve seen before, though the tandem quickly come to epitomize the term ‘nightcrawlers’ — workers looking for the good money by filming the stuff that makes early morning news — bloody and if possible, fatal vehicular accidents, home invasions, shootings, things like that — using any means necessary. Stalking the night. Gyllenhaal’s mesmerizing work as a man who blurs the line between bystander and active participant in a crime scene is the butter to Gilroy’s toast. And his toast, of course, is a truly original and compelling screenplay that conjures up characters who live and breathe death and destruction for another paycheck.

Paired with focused and intense direction that often thrusts us into the middle of the street without any hope of knowing what’s to come next — this is a brilliantly unpredictable adventure even if the opening shots are more than foreboding — the story allows us to never entirely hate this character even if we know we are morally bankrupting ourselves by doing so. We are actually capable of something even sicker: understanding his motives. Even if we can’t rectify what gets sacrificed. Come the film’s bullet-riddled conclusion, we’ll see the genius in Gilroy’s creation in a new light.

Speaking of which, Nightcrawler is bathed in all kinds of beautiful lighting, despite its ostensibly exclusive nighttime setting. It has the feel of a noir but on a much grander, almost blockbuster scale. It’s a rare kind of film performance-wise as this is a role that may supersede the psychological perturbation of Donnie Darko. If I’m gushing over him, I should probably apologize, for there are others who turn in strong work as well. One of those is Rene Russo, playing the morning news director Nina, who strongly encourages Lou to pursue freelance journalism.

Nina’s a force to be reckoned with and operates within a very difficult realm, a gray area in which station ratings are directly related to how good the material is. (But be careful to not show viewers anything too graphic, they’ll be watching this stuff with their breakfast.) Never before has the media mantra “if it bleeds, it leads” been twisted to fulfill such a haunting cinematic vision. Also compelling is Riz Ahmed, Lou’s assistant, who is eager to get to work and earn some kind of wage for himself. He deftly conveys a nervous apprehension to the job being asked of him, while avoiding falling into the ‘sidekick’ trope. Paxton isn’t in it for very long but exists in the frame long enough to leave an impression.

Nightcrawler is, thanks to its performances and solid narrative pulse, one of the best movies of the year and another solid reminder that Oscars season is upon us. After experiencing one of the year’s most unforgettable characters, and if I am speaking honestly I am glad I made the money to buy this ticket.

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4-5Recommendation: It is hard to imagine anyone not getting sucked in by the curious trailers heralding a return to weirdness for Jake Gyllenhaal. How can anyone resist that soul-burning stare of his, sitting perched before a backdrop of the L.A. area bathed in sunset (or rise)? He is positively chilling in the role and 100% the reason you should see this film. And if the trailer isn’t quite enough to sell you, maybe the fact he was Donnie Darko will. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 117 mins.

Quoted: “My motto is, if you wanna win the lottery, you’ve gotta make the money to buy a ticket.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

TBT: The Thomas Crown Affair (1999)

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After throwing out my back last Thursday, I return from some much-needed time off here on TBT. And you know, even after only one week gone here I feel kinda rusty and couldn’t think of something for the longest time to write about. After filtering through several great suggestions on Facebook I’m here to announce those are going to surface VERY soon because the responses I got were numerous (and I haven’t seen any of them, which is a bonus). In the meantime, I’m sure some are going to be surprised to find out what I’ve chosen for 

Today’s food for thought: The Thomas Crown Affair.

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Getting off on ripping off museums since: August 6, 1999

[DVD]

Undoubtedly, some are going to be surprised to see a lack of a certain Steve McQueen here. I know, and while we are on the subject, I may as well get this off my chest right now rather than let it loom over this review at large. I have not seen the original.

Okay, please stop throwing fruit at me.

Thank you.

Sooner rather than later, this issue is going to be resolved. I’m fairly sure I’ll fall in love with the original cast as much as I have this modern one: I mean, come on — a young Faye Dunaway, who happened to appear in this modern touch-up from John McTiernan as well. She assumed the role of Thomas Crown’s psychologist, seen at the beginning trying to assess the current emotional state of a billionaire playboy finding his interest in being able to purchase (or do) anything he so desires on the wane. And of course, then there was Steve McQueen, doing Pierce’s work in 1968. The mischief, back then, was inherent in the name alone.

I can only assume Pierce had to work for it a little bit more here, though he hardly had to break a sweat. As Thomas Crown, he cranked up the sophistication to 11 and kicked up his feet, relaxing into one of the more casual roles of his career. In the midst of his James Bond fame, Brosnan had to have relished getting to chew scenery in a lighthearted crime-caper/romance flick.

Rene Russo reprised Dunaway’s role as a sumptuous insurance investigator who had become involved in the recovery of a precious Monet painting that was lifted in a seemingly random heist at the New York Metropolitan Museum. (There arose another key difference: rather than a museum heist, the old version hinged on a situation involving a Boston bank.) Her insertion into the scene proved simultaneously an amusing foil for the authorities currently working the case — mostly for Denis Leary as a abrasive but ultimately lonely detective heading up the investigation — as well as a worthy adversary of sorts for the brilliantly evasive Thomas Crown.

Director John McTiernan’s jigsaw puzzle may not be as iconic or even half as witty as what might be accomplished in a match-up between the mighty McQueen and the gorgeous Stun-away; however there’s undeniable charm between Brosnan and Russo who tumble headlong into a passionate romance bound for an uncertain, unsafe future together. Or not?

This place is pretty much spoiler-free, so I won’t put too fine a point on that.

But here’s one I can’t avoid mentioning: The Thomas Crown Affair was a great deal of fun. Still is. Between the exotic locales, damn near tantric-levels of heavy-petting, and an unrelenting sense of freedom cultivated through the performances and fluid direction, this film had all the hallmarks of a guilty pleasure. The only knick in this production is once you’ve experienced it the first time, the magic in the trick slightly dissipates. Still, being able to predict what happens next is merely a byproduct of a film that can be watched over time and again. This deviation, this joyride, is certainly worth its weight in gold.

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3-5Recommendation: The Thomas Crown Affair is a great escape for the crime-thriller lover who is not opposed to a little sappy romance here and there. It features solid performances from Brosnan and Russo, whom this reviewer would personally feel more comfortable with being insured by; as well as a sufficiently engaging mystery/adventure plot to justify an hour and forty minutes’ worth of material. This is a film that entices on more than one level. I highly recommend it to anyone a fan of either actor, though it’s just a little odd the director of things like Die Hard and Predator would say yes to something like this.

Rated: R

Running Time: 113 mins.

TBTrivia: The idea of unusual heat in the museum rendering thermal cameras useless came from McTiernan’s Predator. In that movie, McTiernan’s actual thermal cameras began to fail when the jungle temperature broke 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.fanpop.com; http://www.movieweb.com