The Empty Balcony: Nightcrawler

Every serious actor has to do a film where they play a deranged freak — someone sociopathic or supremely bent who decides to interact with the people around them, much to those people’s distress. Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver, Christian Bale in American Psycho, Joaquin Phoenix in The Master, Ben Kingsley in Sexy Beast, and many others, all played men who were malignancies to every person they met. Jake Gyllenhaal has come close before, but with Nightcrawler, last year’s film from writer/director Dan Gilroy, he has gone full creepy. Continue readingThe Empty Balcony: Nightcrawler”

The Empty Balcony: End of Watch

End of WatchGritty New York City cop dramas are stylistically different from gritty Los Angeles cop dramas. It’s only partly due to setting. It would be hard for a film to ignore the differences between the coasts, but as far apart as the Eastern Seaboard and SoCal are, geographically and culturally, these differences are not what set cross-continental police flicks and television series apart. Just doing a loose word association, when I think NYC cop drama, my first thought is Law & Order and all of its iterations — police procedurals that follow detectives. After that I drift back to films from the past like The French Connection, Serpico, Fort Apache the Bronx, The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, Across 110th Street, even Bad Lieutenant. These films represent my own personal biases, but they all adhere to a palate of sorts that is broadly representative of New York City cop films.

Across the farmlands, the plains, the mountains and the deserts, Los Angeles has been building its own mythos regarding the LAPD on film. After decades following the cop as superman (think Lethal Weapon, Cobra, etc.), that model looks set to be replaced by episodes of Cops. I’m not joking. Some of the best work regarding LAPD officers of late hasn’t involved huge explosions and guns that never run out of ammo. It hasn’t been the lone detective doggedly pursuing the impossible murder case. It hasn’t been buddy movies. It’s been the uniformed officer. Continue readingThe Empty Balcony: End of Watch”

The Empty Balcony: Source Code

Written by Ben Ripley and directed by Duncan Jones, Source Code is a modern terrorism thriller that has an interesting premise. Using technology, a government agency has developed a method of melding a person’s consciousness with the last eight minutes in the life of a dead man. In this case, the dead man is a victim of a terrorist attack on a train that happened that very morning. For those eight minutes, the film’s protagonist, Capt. Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal), experiences all the sights and sounds the victim did while aboard the train, but this isn’t a replay of recorded events. Colter can move around and interact with the environment, exploring places that were hidden from the view of his deceased avatar, strike up new conversations, etc., all in an effort to find out what happened aboard that train. Continue readingThe Empty Balcony: Source Code”

The Empty Balcony: Jarhead & Generation Kill

Marines can be grossly immature. In point of fact, that’s a generalization which can be made about members of all the four services, but especially Marines. A young grunt’s slang and mannerisms are by design repugnant, frequently homophobic or faux homoerotic, and sometimes racist. The young Marine is the very personification of testosterone run wild, machismo fueled by hormones thrown all out of whack by age, temperament, and environment. The young can be crazed and inelegant all on their own, but military training hones these traits to a fine edge, a bizarre side effect of turning what was a boy into a highly efficient killing machine. Continue readingThe Empty Balcony: Jarhead & Generation Kill”

The Empty Balcony: Zodiac

David Fincher’s Zodiac floats through the 1970s and beyond, often in a dreamlike state. A story about a notorious serial killer and those investigating him, it’s the period backdrop where Fincher and his crew are most effective. Whether his vision of the times is accurate is hard to gauge, but peering back through the lens of memory with Zodiac superimposed on top brought to the fore feelings of nostalgia. And, in fact, period pieces can never be completely accurate. They live and die in our own flawed remembrances of times gone by. Continue readingThe Empty Balcony: Zodiac”