Mini Reviews (November 2014)
247°F, Dracula Untold, Force Majeure, Nightcrawler
247°F (November 3/14)
247°F follows three friends (Scout Taylor-Compton's Jenna, Christina Ulloa's Renee, and Travis Van Winkle's Ian) as they find themselves trapped in a working sauna, with the movie detailing the characters' subsequent efforts to escape from their increasingly hot and deadly prison. It's a unique premise that's employed to erratic yet watchable effect by directors Levan Bakhia and Beqa Jguburia, with the movie, which admittedly never approaches the heights achieved by thematically-similar efforts like Open Water and Frozen, generally exploiting its high-concept setup to an effective degree (ie the various elements one might've expected, like certain characters slowly losing their minds, are included by the filmmakers). There is, as a result, little doubt that 247°F's rather generic atmosphere is relatively easy to overlook, although it's equally clear that the movie's meandering narrative grows more and more problematic as time progresses. (It is, for example, difficult to derive much enjoyment out of Bakhia and Jguburia's ongoing emphasis on a characters' outside-the-sauna exploits.) And while there's a palpable sense of escalation here, 247°F suffers from a lack of dread and tension that ultimately does diminish the impact of its final stretch - which, in the end, confirms the movie's place as a passable yet underwhelming confinement thriller.
Dracula Untold offers up a spin on Bram Stoker's venerable (yet overrated) novel and follows Luke Evans' Vlad as he purposefully sets out to become a vampire to protect his family, with the narrative detailing Vlad's eventual battle against an entire army of Turks (led by Dominic Cooper's Mehmed). It's fairly surprising to note that Dracula Untold gets off to a rather watchable start, as the movie boasts a stylish opening half hour that effectively exploits its promising setup. Evans' compelling turn as the central character goes a long way towards perpetuating the intriguing atmosphere, while filmmaker Gary Shore has peppered the proceedings with a handful of unexpectedly engrossing sequences (eg Vlad spontaneously decides to fight back rather than acquiesce). It's equally clear, however, that Dracula Untold's grip on the viewer slowly-but-surely fades as it progresses into its less-than-captivating midsection, with the increasingly uninvolving atmosphere compounded by Shore's growing emphasis on battle sequences of a decidedly subpar nature (ie such moments are drained of their excitement by Shore's reliance on quick editing and computer-generated effects). There is, as a result, little doubt that the movie's climactic stretch is unable to pack the visceral, engrossing punch that Shore has obviously intended, and it is, in the end, impossible label Dracula Untold as anything more than another misguided contemporary update of a classic character.
Force Majeure follows a family of four - dad Tomas (Johannes Kuhnke), mom Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli), and kids Vera (Clara Wettergren) and Harry (Vincent Wettergren) - as they arrive at the French Alps for a ski holiday, with problems ensuing after Tomas reacts in a less-than-heroic manner to what looks like a deadly avalanche. Filmmaker Ruben Östlund does a superb job of immediately luring the viewer into the deliberately-paced proceedings, as the writer/director has infused Force Majeure with a striking visual sensibility that proves hypnotic from the word go (ie Östlund's penchant for long, unbroken takes is generally nothing short of electrifying). The film's domestic-drama atmosphere initially holds a great deal of promise, too, as Östlund effectively establishes the four central characters and their relatively comfortable dynamic with one another. It's clear, of course, that the movie's trajectory changes dramatically in the wake of that aforementioned avalanche scare, with Östlund's decision to force the characters to almost immediately confront the issue ensuring that Force Majeure retains a plausible vibe from beginning to end. (Contrast the characters' openness with the curiously, bafflingly closed-off manner in which the protagonists deal with a similar situation in Julia Loktev's The Loneliest Planet.) There's little doubt, however, that the film begins to wear out its welcome as it passes its midway point, as Östlund suffuses the narrative with a whole host of palpably padded-out elements that diminish the film's overall impact. (What are we to make, for example, of Tomas' brief visit to a homosexual rave?) And although Östlund offers up a fairly affecting final stretch, Force Majeure's oddball, inexplicable finale ultimately confirms its place as a sporadically engrossing yet perpetually erratic familial drama.
Dan Gilroy's directorial debut, Nightcrawler follows Jake Gyllenhaal's Louis Bloom as he stumbles into the world of freelance video journalism - with the film detailing Bloom's subsequent escapades within Los Angeles' seedy underbelly. It's clear immediately that Nightcrawler has been designed primarily to showcase Gyllenhaal's undeniably spellbinding performance, as the movie, which runs a padded-out 117 minutes, is primarily focused on the protagonist's increasingly sleazy antics - with Gilroy's episodic screenplay paving the way for a film that's generally watchable but rarely engrossing. There is, however, little doubt that Gyllenhaal's mesmerizing work compensates for the movie's deficiencies on an ongoing basis, as the actor becomes his intense and downright creepy character to a degree that's nothing short of astonishing - with Gyllenhaal's career-best turn here immediately launching him into the same realm as folks like Robert De Niro and Daniel Day-Lewis (ie he's just that good). It's unfortunate, then, that Gilroy isn't able to infuse the narrative with a similar feeling of electricity, as Nightcrawler suffers from a decidedly repetitive midsection that's compounded by a lethargic pace (ie the narrative seems to be mostly devoted to scene after scene in which Bloom races from one crime scene to the next). The film admittedly does grow more and more intriguing as it progresses into its comparatively spellbinding third act, which ultimately does confirm its place as a passable effort that boasts a seriously above-average central performance.