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Sunday 20 August 2017

Jake's creepy news-hound will make your skin crawl

nIGHTCRAWLER Thriller. Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Riz Ahmed, Bill Paxton, Kevin Rahm, Michael Hyatt. Directed by Dan Gilroy. Cert 16)

The darker side of the media world has always held a fascination for movie-makers. Even the classic comedy His Girl Friday (and its great 1970s remake The Front Page) dripped with cynicism while there were very few redeeming qualities displayed by Kirk Douglas's washed-up reporter in Ace in The Hole.

Humphrey Bogart's disillusioned sportswriter of The Harder They Fall and the gossip columnist played by Burt Lancaster in The Sweet Smell of Success is arguably one of the most repulsive creations ever seen on screen.

In the great 1976 film Network we were shown a baying studio mob urging on a clearly deranged TV presenter as his producer pre-arranged incidents to be filmed with a terrorist cell.

This may have seemed far-fetched back then but glancing across today's schedules you'll more than likely come to the conclusion that Paddy Cheyevsky's script was uncannily prescient and that movie certainly shares elements of its DNA with Nightcrawler.

Jargon

Right from the off we're left in no doubt that Louis Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a bad 'un. A violent thief with, at the very least, sociopathic tendencies, he continually speaks in a type of cod-corporate jargon he's learned 'on the internet', which makes his subsequent actions all the more chilling because he can rationalise them with the kind of obfuscating phrases you see in press releases where factories are being closed down and thousands of people being put out of work.

One night - and Nightcrawler makes great use of the cinematic potential of Los Angeles after dark - he witness a car crash and is fascinated to discover a freelance news team on the scene filming the carnage.

On discovering from its leader, played by Bill Paxton, that there's money to be made from this modern-day equivalent of the blood-soaked photos of crime scenes by legendary snapper Weegee, he buys a camera, several scanners and sets himself up in business.

Taking on an assistant in the gormless Rick (a fine performance from Riz Ahmed) he finds himself rather adept in this new career and his work comes to the attention of Nina Romina (Rene Russo), news editor at one of the city's lesser channels.

Socially inept but utterly ruthless, picture a cross between Rupert Pupkin and Travis Bickle, Bloom isn't afraid to manipulate crime scenes and even break the law in an effort to get his footage on the air.

The film also asks questions as to just what TV stations will do in order to trump their rivals for ratings ; "We're beyond morality at this stage'" says Nina after Bloom has arrived with particularly harrowing footage of a triple murder.

Gyllenhall is mesmerising throughout (an Oscar nomination seems certain) while Russo and Ahmed deliver outstanding supporting parts in a film which is thoroughly entertaining but thought-provoking at the same time.

You may never watch Sky News in quite the same way again.

Rating: 4/5

MR TURNER

(Period Drama. Starring Timothy Spall, Dorothy Atkinson, Marion Bailey, Lesley Manville, Ruth Sheen, Joshua McGuire. Directed by Mike Leigh. Cert 12A)

There's certainly plenty of quality acting about this week, with Timothy Spall also likely to get a nod from the Academy following his best Actor gong at this year's Cannes festival.

In Mike Leigh's latest outing he gives a terrific performance as the artist JMW Turner, with a masterful display of grunting, spluttering and all-round harrumphing in a portrayal of a truly great painter but a rather dreadful human being.

The rather meandering story is set in the latter part of Turner's life as his approach to his work changed, causing delight among his champions but dismissed as abstract nonsense by many who, as is the way with these things, much preferred the early stuff.

From the off we see that Turner treats people abominably, displaying a callousness towards his housekeeper Hannah (Dorothy Atkinson) which is brutish while his dealings with Mrs Danby (Ruth Sheen) the mother of his two adult daughters, is equally cold and uncaring.

Warmth

Granted, there is genuine warmth as he embarks on a relationship with widowed landlady Mrs Booth (Marion Bailey) but the real enjoyment to be had here is in Turner's dealings with his peers.

There's a fabulous bitchiness in the way he and his contemporaries skirt around each other before a major exhibition - the terse exchange with John Constable (James Fleet) could have Blur meeting Oasis at the 1996 Brit Awards.

Overall, Mr Turner doesn't justify its 149-minute length, despite Spall's epic performance and the marvellous cinematography by Dick Pope.

Rating: 3/5

THE GUARANTEE

(Drama. Starring Peter Coonan, Morgan C.Jones, Gary Lydon, David Murray, Orla Fitzgerald. Directed by Ian Power. Cert 15A)

Based on Colin Murphy's play, The Guarantee could have offered an insight into the panic and madness which gripped the country's financial overlords on the night in September 2008 when the future of this country was effectively sold down the river in order to pay for the gross negligence of many in the higher echelons of the banking sector.

If ever a scenario was ripe for smoke-filled rooms and panicky men running around as if their lives depended on it then that was it but, alas, the film just simply doesn't deliver.

Part of the problem is that The Guarantee doesn't really feel like a film at all but rather a TV drama which got ideas above its station.

Indeed, at 80 minutes long it has an awful lot of ground to cover which a lengthier documentary could have done without alienating those of us who know roughly what happened but aren't entirely au fait with the jargon of high finance.

Confusion

There are no explanations proffered for the terminology the characters use while director Ian Power has chosen to float chunks of text across the screen at various junctures, adding to a general sense of confusion.

Equally, I'm simply baffled by the fact that three of the main actors, Peter Coonan, Morgan C Jones and Orla Fitzgerald, play more than one character.

This may have worked on the stage but in a cinema one becomes simply confused at how the character we know to be Sean Fitzpatrick (Jones) then turns up a couple of scenes later as a Department of Finance official. Huh?

In fairness, this was originally conceived as a project for TV3 - who knew Ireland AM were responsible breaking the most important story in the country's history? - and while David Murray brings a gravitas to the role of Brian Lenihan, the portrayal of David Drumm (Peter Coonan) as a foul-mouthed wideboy and Brian Cowen (Gary Lydon) as little more than a cute hoor county councillor out of his depth seems to be playing to the gallery.

There is, of course, a major story to be told about the events of 2008 but The Guarantee most certainly doesn't do it.

Rating: 2/5

OUIJA

(Horror. Starring Olivia Cooke, Ana Coto, Darren Kagasoff, Bianca Santos, Douglas Smith, Shelley Henny. Directed by Stiles White. Cert 15A)

Horror movies are coming thick and fast at the moment and Ouija is the latest fodder for frightfest fans.

About as generic a horror set-up as you could possibly imagine, this features photogenic twentysomethings playing teenagers who fear the worst when their friend commits suicide and strange things occur, all of which are connected with the use of an ouija-board in an old house.

Does the house have a past?

Will there be a trip to a spooky cellar?

Will the prettiest girl be the last one standing?

Look, you should just go and see The Babadook instead, rather than having your intelligence insulted by this muck.

Rating: 2/5

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