Blu Tuesday: Nightcrawler, Laggies and More

Every Tuesday, I review the newest Blu-ray releases and let you know whether they’re worth buying, renting or skipping, along with a breakdown of the included extras. If you see something you like, click on the cover art to purchase the Blu-ray from Amazon, and be sure to share each week’s column on Facebook and Twitter with your friends.

“Nightcrawler”

WHAT: When he witnesses a freelance cameraman filming a car accident one night, go-getter Louis Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) believes that he’s found his calling. After trading some stolen loot to a pawn shop in exchange for a camcorder and police scanner, Louis hits the ground running, eventually selling his first footage to sleazy news director Nina Romina (Rene Russo). But once Louis gets a taste of success, he’ll do whatever it takes to get the best shot, even if that means crossing lines that aren’t meant to be crossed.

WHY: Dan Gilroy’s “Nightcrawler” might just be the most frightening film of the 2014 – not in the scares it delivers (because there are none), but rather the chilling peek that it provides behind the curtain of a completely different kind of horror: local TV news. This isn’t the first time that subject has been satirized before in cinema, but “Nightcrawler” tells its darkly comic tale of immorality in the newsroom through the eyes of a Rupert Pupkin-esque antihero more terrifying than any masked killer. The cinematic influences are boundless in Gilroy’s directorial debut, but that hasn’t stopped him from producing a first-rate thriller highlighted by a career-best performance from Jake Gyllenhaal. The actor has been taking bigger risks lately with darker, more mature material, and Louis Bloom is the pinnacle of this career rebirth – a wickedly entrancing and transformative piece of acting that’s fully deserving of an Oscar nomination. Rene Russo is also really good as the Dr. Frankenstein to Gyllenhaal’s monster, feeding into his sociopathic tendencies with an equally amoral disposition, but the movie simply wouldn’t work without Gyllenhaal’s commanding performance, because it’s the quiet intensity he brings to the role that makes Bloom such a fascinating character.

EXTRAS: There’s an audio commentary by writer/director Dan Gilroy, producer Tony Gilroy and editor John Gilroy, as well as the making-of featurette “If It Bleeds, It Leads.”

FINAL VERDICT: BUY

“Laggies”

WHAT: After her high school sweetheart (Mark Webber) suddenly proposes after ten years of dating, slacker woman-child Megan (Keira Knightley) panics, running away for the week to collect her thoughts under the guise of a self-improvement seminar. Instead, Megan hides out in the home of her new 16-year-old friend, Annika (Chloe Grace Moretz), whose single father, Craig (Sam Rockwell), is more than a little bewildered by the whole situation.

WHY: Lynn Shelton loves a good awkward situation, and though the central plot of her latest movie isn’t as uncomfortable to watch as the ones in past films like “Humpday” and “Your Sister’s Sister,” the idea of a grown woman hanging out with a bunch of teenagers is nothing if not strange. Thankfully, “Laggies” finds the heart and humor in Megan’s newfound friendship instead of making it seem pathetic or creepy, and a large part of that is down to Keira Knightley’s charming performance. After spending nearly a decade starring almost exclusively in stuffy period dramas, it’s nice to see the actress mixing it up with more modern roles, because it gives her the chance to showcase another side of her personality. Knightley brings a childlike energy to Megan that makes her immensely likable, and she’s supported by a pair of solid performances from Chloe Grace Moretz and Sam Rockwell in good but unremarkable roles. “Laggies” is without a doubt Shelton’s most mainstream movie to date, albeit with a decidedly indie flair, and while it’s almost too sweet and innocent to leave much of a lasting impression, it’s also not a bad way to spend two hours.

EXTRAS: There’s an audio commentary by director Lynn Shelton, a pair of production featurettes and some deleted scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Kill the Messenger”

WHAT: While working as a Senior Investigative Reporter for the San Jose Mercury News, journalist Gary Webb (Jeremy Renner) uncovers a story about the CIA permitting the sale of cocaine in the U.S. to fund a rebellion in Nicaragua, unwittingly putting his career and family in danger when he becomes the target of a smear campaign.

WHY: Some actors may be hesitant about “selling out” by doing a big Hollywood blockbuster, but if successful, it can go a long way towards getting smaller, more personal films off the ground. Case in point: “Kill the Messenger,” a passion project for star/producer Jeremy Renner that probably wouldn’t have been made were it not for the actor’s involvement in a certain billion-dollar franchise. But while Gary Webb’s true-life story about the cost of seeking out the truth is certainly interesting enough to warrant the big screen treatment, the film is a pretty conventional political thriller that skates by on Renner’s strong performance. The supporting cast is also stacked with talent, including Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Oliver Platt and Michael Sheen, but with the exception of Rosemarie DeWitt as Gary’s wife, many of them are glorified cameos. The biggest problem with “Kill the Messenger” is that it’s a tale of two halves – the investigation and the backlash that Gary received as a result of his report – and while the former makes for some engaging viewing, the latter portion seems to poke more holes in the story than support it, despite a convenient piece of text at the end that confirms Gary’s findings were correct. Still, it’s a pretty humdrum ending for a story that so many people were passionate about telling.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes an audio commentary by director Michael Cuesta, 10 minutes of deleted scenes, and a trio of short featurettes on the cast, filming in Georgia and real-life drug trafficker “Freeway Ricky” Ross, played by Michael K. Williams in the movie.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Predestination”

WHAT: On his final assignment, a time-traveling Temporal Agent (Ethan Hawke) is given one last chance to stop an infamous terrorist named the Fizzle Bomber with the help of a stranger (Sarah Snook) who’s directly tied to the agent’s fate.

WHY: The Spierig Brothers’ latest genre flick takes the chicken/egg conundrum to dizzying new levels, wrapping their story in a series of increasingly outlandish paradoxes that are meant to seem clever, but are mostly just a calculated mindfuck of the highest order. Based on the Robert A. Heinlein short story “All You Zombies,” the film is riddled with even more problems than the typical time travel movie, introducing concepts that are so far-fetched it undermines the really good bits. The Spierigs’ lo-fi approach to the science fiction elements is a welcome change from the usual tech-driven fare, while Sarah Snook delivers a career-making performance in dual-gender roles, effortlessly creating two very different characters that are one and the same. But that’s already saying too much, which is a shame, because the spoilerish nature of the story is exactly what makes “Predestination” such an interesting movie that’s ripe for discussion, even if some of the twists are fairly predictable. It’s a lot cooler in theory than execution, however, and your mileage will vary based on whether or not you buy into the bullshit premise; or perhaps more importantly, whether a logical explanation even matters.

EXTRAS: There’s a 75-minute documentary about making the film, a featurette on adapting Robert A. Heinlein’s short story and a blooper reel.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“101 Dalmatians”

WHAT: When a litter of Dalmatian puppies is snatched by Cruella Di Vil (Betty Lou Gerson) and her two bumbling minions, the puppies’ parents – Pongo (Rod Taylor) and Perdita (Cate Bauer) – travel across the English countryside with the help of some fellow animals to rescue them before the villainess can carry out her diabolical plan.

WHY: One of my favorite Disney movies as a child, “101 Dalmatians” loses some of its charm as an adult. Still, it’s hard to believe that the film almost didn’t exist at all – the result of cost-cutting efforts by Walt Disney after “Sleeping Beauty” failed to justify its expensive budget. The latter film marked the beginning of what many consider to be the animation studio’s Silver Age, and while not as many great movies came out of that period compared to the countless classics from the first two decades, “101 Dalmatians” is one of the few films that holds up today, even if it’s not as great as you remember. The plot is so simplistic that even its 79-minute runtime feels long, and the lack of any songs (save for Roger’s Cruella Di Vil theme) is really disappointing, especially considering the jazzy tone of the film. With that said, there’s still quite a bit to love, including the unique, Xerox-based animation (though Walt Disney himself allegedly hated how cheap it looked) and one of the most memorable Disney villains in Cruella Di Vil. “101 Dalmatians” may be more suited for kids, but it’s a classic for a reason and an absolute must-have in any household.

EXTRAS: In addition to new bonus material like a retrospective on making the movie and a dog-centric episode of “The Wonderful World of Disney,” many of the extras from the previous DVD release have been carried over, including a seven-part production featurette, a profile on Cruella De Vil, and an exclusive look at the correspondence between Walt Disney and novelist Dodie Smith.

FINAL VERDICT: BUY

  

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