Tag Archives: Rene Russo

Velvet Buzzsaw (2019)

19 Feb

After the searing portrayal of a neurotic video journalist from Nightcrawler, I was ecstatic to see director Dan Gilroy and actors Jake Gyllenhaal and Rene Russo team up again, this time in a pseudo-horror satire set in the world of exclusive art collecting.

Gyllenhaal plays Morf, a well known critic in the Los Angeles art scene. He has just ended things with his Partner Ed and begins to pursue a romantic relationship with art broker named Josephine (Zawe Ashton) whose boss Rhodora (Rene Russo) is constantly on the lookout for new, fresh exhibits to showcase at her prestigious gallery. Josephine, upon returning home one afternoon, discovers her mysterious neighbor has died and left behind all his paintings (though he ordered the property manger to destroy all his work upon his death). Claiming she found all the paintings herself, Josephine and Rhodora begin exhibiting the paintings and circulating the deceased artist’s work throughout the community – with spooky results.

Boasting an ensemble cast (Natalia Dyer, Daveed Diggs, John Malkovich, Toni Collete, and Billy Magnussen all play minors roles throughout the movie) Gilroy creates a vibrant and colorful vision of art-fueled Los Angeles. In Gilroy’s world, all the major players overflow with such vapid narcissism so that they become caricatures themselves rather than actual characters; every person on screen turns up the gaudiness dial up to 11 but perhaps none more so than Gyllenhaal’s Morf, who acts more as unintentional comedic relief than an audience conduit for Gilroy’s whimsically slimy universe. Watching the conversations and interactions weave in and out of this web is devilishly entertaining – Gilroy’s penchant for writing glib dialogue shines brightly here and is one of the reasons Velvet Buzzsaw remains so damn entertaining even when it ventures off into trope-ridden genre territory.

The editing also deserves special praise. Things start off mid-conversation inside an art gallery where most of the setting is delivered to us through characters hamming off into their phones. A quick pace keeps things tidy though and the layers of the story get slipped in gradually rather than in specific plotting points. This makes the film strangely gripping and near impossible to turn away from, although many individual scenes are relentlessly awkward and cringe-inducing. Above all else, Velvet Buzzsaw manages to be a very playful film – unpredictable and engaging – even when it meanders off with a wild goose chase in the second half.

Bottom Line: Self-indulgent to the point of parody, Velvet Buzzsaw certainly won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but for those inclined to leave most (or at least some) reservations at the door, the film is a wildly entertaining romp. 

Rating: 7/10 

Film Recipe: Nocturnal Animals + Neon Demon 

Nightcrawler (2014)

16 Nov

Jake Gyllenhaal has hit a hot streak.

Coming fresh off a “renaissance” period of high-profile roles (Prisoners, Enemy, End of Watch, and Source Code), Gyllenhaal plays our leading man in Nightcrawler, Lou Bloom, an unemployed LA native looking for his next gig.  Circumstances allow him to become a self-employed photojournalist, capturing horrific and often gruesome incidents on video which he then sells to the highest-paying news station.

Like its title would suggest, Nightcrawler is a dark, slimy film that brings out the best acting work from Gyllenhaal. His performance as a self-motivated entrepreneur is no doubt the film’s highlight, though the story also provides some pretty fascinating commentary on the seedy activity of modern city life.  The script is mostly dialogue-driven, and director Dan Gilroy keeps the few action scenes tight and suspenseful. Darkly-lit cityscapes and warbling guitars add to the film’s pervasive atmosphere and create a drab background for our characters to fill. Supporting Gyllenhaal are Riz Ahmed as Lou’s assistant Rick, and Rene Russo in an excellent role as Nina, the egotistic head of a local news station.

Despite the great performances, the script does feel a bit chunky at times; exchanges about the narcissistic nature of capitalism start to lose their edge about halfway through. The prevailing themes about power-hungry corporate culture become less subtle and more satiric as the film progresses.

Thematic elements aside, Nightcrawler moves at a fast and fluid pace. Audiences barely have time in between sequences of brutal news footage and car chases to comprehend the full weight of Lou’s gutsy (and often unethical) actions.  The film has it’s moments of dark humor too, most often with the contrast of charismatic Lou and his passive sidekick Rick.  A scene where Rick tries Lou’s negotiating tactics against him is particularly brilliant.

Visually, the film looks incredible; gorgeous shots of nighttime city streets give the film a slick, noir feel reminiscent of Nicholas Winding Refn’s Drive. It becomes clear by the end of the film however, that even the most glitzed and stylish among us have a dark underbelly waiting to be explored. Or Exploited.

 

Rating 7/10 

Similar to: Taxi Driver, Killing Them Softly, American Psycho