Picks of the week
(R, 117 minutes, Universal): True to its title, this impressive directorial debut from screenwriter Dan Gilroy creeps under the viewer’s skin much like the predatory title character, who restlessly cruises through this modern-day media allegory like Travis Bickle’s long-lost, hyper-wired West Coast cousin.
Lou Bloom is a young man on the make, an ambitious, mercenary margin-dweller who scrapes by as a petty criminal and listens to business self-help tapes in hopes of scoring big-time. Channeled by an almost unrecognizable Jake Gyllenhaal, Lou is the jittery, jaundiced avatar of the fatal collision of burgeoning technology, dying legacy media and a society in cultural and economic extremis.
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“Nightcrawler’s” most sobering point isn’t that soldiers of misfortune such as Lou exist, but the degree to which mainstream media have jumped into bed with them, pandering to the public’s shameful appetites. (See “Gone Girl.”) The film ultimately turns its rancid gaze on the audience itself, questioning the bull market for lurid true-crime tales, even as crime rates are going down.
Contains violence, including graphic images, and profanity. Extras: A making-of featurette and commentary.
‘Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day’
(PG, 81 minutes, Disney): Going to a live-action family film usually entails plenty of eye rolling, low expectations and overpriced concessions. Parents chalk it up to yet another selfless thing they do for their children in lieu of enjoying Oscar-bound prestige films, twisty thrillers or raunchy comedies. So imagine the novelty of a family-friendly movie that makes parents and older siblings laugh while still firmly appealing to the elementary-school crowd.
Contains rude humor, including some reckless behavior and language. Extras: “Snappy Crocs & Punch Roos” featurette and music video of “Hurricane.” On Blu-ray: bloopers and featurettes “Alexander in Real Life” and “Walkabout: A Video Diary.”
(R, 103 minutes, Universal): A harrowing and inspirational survival story, “Rosewater” also gives off more than a whiff of dark comedy – one whose subject is bureaucracy and the banality of evil.
First-time writer-director Jon Stewart, the “Daily Show” host, does an impressive job of balancing the story’s tonal shifts, largely keeping the melodrama at bay while at the same time modulating the film’s surreal humor.
“Rosewater” is both a faithful and a forceful adaptation of “Then They Came For Me,” the 2011 memoir of Iranian-Canadian journalist Maziar Bahari (played by Gael García Bernal). Set during the run-up to Iran’s disputed 2009 presidential election and the chaotic street protests that followed, the film tells the story of Bahari’s arrest and imprisonment for 118 days, under suspicion of spying.
Contains violence and obscenity. Extras: Featurettes “Iran’s Controversial Election,” “The Story of Maziar Bahari,” “Real Spies Have TV Shows,” “What Happens in New Jersey …” and “A Director’s Perspective.”
‘Kill the Messenger’
(R, 112 minutes, Universal): Inspired by the true story of Gary Webb – the San Jose Mercury News reporter known for a controversial series of articles suggesting a link between the CIA, the California crack epidemic and the Nicaraguan contras – this slightly overheated drama begins and ends with innuendo. In between is a generous schmear of insinuation.
The film presents the reporter (played with roguish intensity by Jeremy Renner) as a misunderstood crusader whose reporting, while arguably flawed, was unfairly maligned by larger newspapers. As for the CIA, the agency is portrayed as a gang of goons that stoops to intimidation and, it is strongly implied, worse in their effort to silence Webb.
Contains obscenity and drug content. Extras: commentary with director Michael Cuesta, deleted scenes and featurettes on the cast, filming in Georgia and “Crack in America.”