Tuesday, 25 November 2014


Two very different films about the evils of two forms of media, new and old, Jason Reitman's Men, Women & Children, and Dan Gilroy's Nigthcrawler, examine the relationships between the medium and the audience and discover a similar root cause: people.

MEN, WOMEN & CHILDREN (Paramount Pictures), adapted by Reitman and Erin Cressida Wilson from the book by Chad Kultgen, is a multi-narrative, multi-character study of the internet and its impact on human relationships among a group of white, middle class Texans.

There's the decline of sexual interest between a married couple (Adam Sandler and Rosemarie DeWitt) leading to adultery; meanwhile their 15-year-old son (Travis Tope) has become addicted to online porn. Then there's the father and son (Dean Norris and Ansel Elgort) coping with the hole left by the departure of wife and mother; the son quitting the football team and finding solace in the online gaming community). That same boy has also begun a fledgling romance with a girl (Kaitlyn Dever) whose mother (Jennifer Garner) tracks her every online movement, privacy be damned.

There's also another mother (Judy Greer) who is pimping her teen daughter (Olivia Crocicchia) through a private website in pursuit of her daughter's stardom. It's not pornographic, but one man's swimsuit catalogue is another's j.o. material, and, as mother and daughter soon find, once it's online there's no controlling it or how it is received.

Each of these stories asks -- without necessarily accusing -- if the internet is responsible for these issues or merely exacerbates them. Perhaps it's Reitman's refusal to make a declarative statement one way or the other, the film's much too earnest and not nearly light enough approach (save for Emma Thompson's anthropological voice-over narration), or simply the fact that a film about people on computers, tablets, and smartphones hardly makes for gripping viewing which renders Men, Women & Children only fitfully engaging.

Some stories and characters are more intriguing than others (to wit, more DeWitt!), while the lack of diversity -- apparently only white heterosexuals go online -- is also strikingly odd for a film set very much in the now.

After this film, and the somewhat unfairly maligned Labor Day (2013), Reitman may need to consider re-teaming with writer Diablo Cody, responsible for two of his better films, Juno (2007) and Young Adult (2011), and simply lighten up.

Pitch black but no less enjoyable for that, Dan Gilroy's NIGHTCRAWLER (Madman Films), his feature debut after a successful screenwriting career, looks at the declining standards in television news through the eyes of Louis Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal), novice cameraman and veteran sociopath who uncovers the world of freelance crime reporting on the night-time streets of Los Angeles and thinks, why not me?

An opportunist in need of work and hungry to succeed (Gyllanhaal thin and looking in need of a decent meal), Louis takes to his new career with relish, encouraged by the attentions of news producer, Nina Romina (Rene Russo), who senses Louis may not be playing with a full deck of cards but hey, he shoots good shit. And eager to impress -- and make more money selling his footage -- Louis, accompanied by his intern, Rick (Riz Ahmed), goes to greater, riskier and, yes, illegal lengths to get the money shot.

Nightcrawler is entertaining, gripping and not the least bit believable but Gyllenhaal is on fire: at once repellent and magnetic, and creepy as all hell. Louis Bloom has a dark heart and possibly no soul which, in the film's biggest, saddest joke makes him perfect for TV journalism.

Of course, the media has been skewered on film before, and much better than it is here. But then TV has never had a rival such as the internet before; competing for immediacy, authority and, above all, the audience. And as Nina knows and Louis soon learns, no one ever went broke appealing to the lowest common denominator.

Both films, each in their own and less-than-successful ways, seem to suggest that it's not the medium but the messenger and the audience who are at fault for the corrupted signal. Much like politicians and superheroes, we get the media we deserve.

If that's the case, we might want to take the opposite advice of Tim Leary, 1960s counterculture icon, and turn off and tune out. Or at the very least, log-off for an hour or two a day and be a little more judicious with our viewing habits. (Oh, and delete your browser history.)

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