At its heart, Nightcrawler is a satirical and cynical look at TV news in America, specifically Los Angeles.

The story is, on the surface, routine: Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a self-help junkie who can regurgitate the wisdom of others, but has little of his own. He steals – sometimes with violence – but craves his version of a straight life with a job and an eventual journey up the ladder of success.

This strange individual chances upon a freelance camera crew at the scene of an accident. He sees an opportunity, and armed with a crappy video, a police scanner, and patience, sets off on his new career. After a lucky break he gets a piece of video that he sells to a local TV station. He is now on the right path.

He recruits an assistant (Riz Ahmed) whom he torments with his self help dialogue and abusive management technique, not to say the threat of violence.

And he forms a working relationship with Nina (Rene Russo) at one local TV station that he leverages into something different.

We see Bloom push the borders further and further. He rearranges an accident scene to get better footage. He ducks into a crime scene to get more bloody footage. He fights off the competition. And then his crowning achievement when he arrives at the site of a home invasion before the police – and even before the invaders have finished. Once again, Bloom leverages the footage and the situation in a way the audience can only squirm at as the consequences inevitably turn bloody.

It’s a long film without any dull moments. I was engrossed. Gyllenhaal’s performance is focused, manic, and thoroughly convincing. Rene Russo’s support role is well done. Some of the encounters between those two are brilliantly scripted. There is plenty of sharp and judgmental material delivered in an understated way. I was also impressed that the writer didn’t insult his audience with gratuitous sex scenes. Part of the attraction of the movie is that we know some of what is going on behind the scenes, but we are not certain, and we are never simply told. Riz Ahmed fills his position with a measured dose of naivety, vulnerability and slow burning resentment.

The cinematography was excellent, and Los Angeles formed a perfect backdrop to this almost gladiatorial contest for bloody pictures and success in the ratings war.

Thoughtful, intelligent, entertaining. Great cinema.

Five for Friday

And so here we are again at the weekend. Hope you all have a good one. My little contribution follows by way of the usual attempt at offering you a selection of links.

Shabbat Shalom!

PS: we have had the first serious rainfall of the year, yesterday and today. I love it.

Balancing act


This week at work was another half day yom kef (fun day), when our little group went on a trip around Jerusalem on segways. A couple of years back we had done a tour of the Tel Aviv sea front and Jaffa (see here), so it took us a lot less time to get used to the machines and to get up and on our way.


We used Smart Tour, starting from their base at the renovated tachanah (old railway station) and heading in to the Old City. We passed the King David Hotel, skirted the Mamilla centre, went round the Jaffa Gate area, and then did a quick run through the Christian Quarter from the New Gate back to the Jaffa Gate. Then back to the tachanah for some lunch. Then back to the office…


The Smart Tour people were well organized and professional, so I would not hesitate using them again. They also hire out bikes and other modes of transport, meaning there are decent alternatives for those who may be slightly fearful of the demands of the a segway.

While I enjoyed the previous Tel Aviv segway trip, there is definitely something different about Jerusalem and having it as a backdrop. I don’t expect to ever be of a disposition to want to live there, but there’s no doubting its special setting and atmosphere. It made me resolve to think about going back and doing another tour using my Canon to get some decent pictures taken. Me flailing about, one armed on a segway with a mobile phone, is not a good photographic situation!

I want to live in Amerigo

This peaceful land, about to be discovered, settled, and scored!

This peaceful land, about to be discovered, settled, and scored!

This week’s session, kindly hosted by Yehuda, was an intense introduction to Amerigo for newcomers to the game Laurie and Nadine. As usual, this meant Yehuda had to perform his rules explanation. Nadine complained that there was no advice about strategy. In response, So, Yehuda offered both Laurie and Nadine some advice on an ongoing basis. I joined in too, though my advice might more accurately have been termed ‘gamesmanship.’

Waiting in hope for the right color cubes to emerge...

Give me a red…

(Nadine and Laurie were fascinated by the tower and the cube/action points mechanic. But despite examining the device, they failed to inspire Yehuda to always generate the right combinations.)

Yehuda sized up the map, analyzed things well, and promptly put his pieces in good positions. Nadine, Laurie, and I followed suit.

In the early rounds, Yehuda threatened to streak ahead, and I focused on keeping him back. That ended up being bad for both of us: both ladies, no doubt aided by Yehuda’s advice, kept scoring, scoring and scoring.

The pirates started small (zero) but reached a whopping ten points by the last round. Most others did manage to keep up their pirate defenses, with Nadine benefiting from a bonus chit that halved their damage.

I was the early leader, with Yehuda at the back. That did not last long. Laurie took over and was in the lead till the final scoring, when Nadine’s well spread out scoring selections paid dividends. Yehuda and I were the back markers, and I was at the back of the back markers…Well done, Nadine.

Once again, blue actions were rendered useless for the last couple of rounds because we had settled all the landing areas on the map. I also think the brown action was pretty much out of it for the last round as the available bonus chits were not much use to anyone. Yehuda commented that he thought the map needed to be a bit bigger. He may be right, or it may be that we are playing too aggressively. But, regardless, it’s a good game though it can drag at times. I’m sure we will play it again.

Again, well done Nadine for winning, and thanks for hosting, Yehuda.

BBC, Brand, and bias

I’m happy to ignore Russell Brand. Whatever I have heard him say, read of his writings, or seen of his appearances, has done nothing to suggest he is anything of substance, and often the opposite. Now this may be grossly unfair. The man may be a great and deep thinker, a philosopher for our times, or something of the sort. But he may also be an average personality with a reasonable stage presence, a sense of timing, solid media connections, and otherwise empty. And it’s in the latter form that he comes across to me. Further, while I have not made an extensive search, there do not appear to be any people of note promoting Brand as somebody of substance. There have however been plenty giving him the gift of publicity and media exposure. And that’s where this post is heading. Continue reading

Five for Friday

A normal five day week back at work was quite a pleasant change, if somewhat hectic. But the weekend is here, and it is time to get ready for Shabbat. Noah awaits. Meantime, here are a selection of links I have chosen for you.

And by way of a wee bonus, book review of the week is surely here. including this thumper:

“Oddly, the person I feel sorriest for isn’t Brand himself – although he certainly comes across as a rather pitiable figure, projecting his own brokenness on to the world around him – but Johann Hari. Drummed out of Fleet Street for plagiarism, the former Independent columnist has washed up as “my mate Johann, who’s been doing research for this book”. For a genuinely talented polemicist, it would have been a humbling experience to have to treat this sub-undergraduate dross as the scintillating wisdom of a philosopher-king.”

Thanks to Guido Fawkes for the tip.

Shabbat Shalom!

You can never have too much vigilance

From a Times of Israel story (here) about the indictment of French Jewish leader and Holocaust survivor Roger Cukierman, for denouncing Dieudonne – the comedian who popularized the quenelle gesture – ‘a professional anti-Semite,’ the type of typo that makes me smile:


It’s more than a touch ironic alongside the, er, over-vigilant (not to say wrong) attitude of the police mentioned in the article. Though it is also suggested that there is some kind of automatic process after a complaint – presumably by a Dieudonne supporter – that is precisely when it is time to be vigilant against vigilance. In other words, somebody should have stopped and said that this was a situation where there should not be any automatic action.

Anyway, from a light-hearted perspective, it’s good to know somebody is going to be vigilant against vigilance…

Where are you Noah?

This Shabbat in shul, congregations throughout the world will read the portion Noah. That was at the back of my mind when I saw the following cartoon in a colleague’s cube. It was too good not to share:


Comics laureate

Photograph: DC Comics

Photograph: DC Comics

From The Bookseller:

Graphic novelist Dave Gibbons is to become the UK’s first comics laureate.

Gibbons was appointed at the launch of new charity Comics Literacy Awareness (CLAw) at the Lakes International Comic Art Festival on Friday 17th October, by graphic novelist Scott McCloud.

The title of comics laureate will be appointed biennially to a distinguished comics writer or artist in recognition of their outstanding achievement in the field. Their role is to champion children’s literacy through school visits, training events for school staff and education conferences.

Gibbons has won praise for his comics and graphic novel work for Marvel and DC Comics, including Watchmen (with Alan Moore), 2000AD and Doctor Who.

He said: “It’s a great honour for me to be nominated as the first comics laureate. I intend to do all that I can to promote the acceptance of comics in schools. It’s vitally important not only for the pupils but for the industry too.”

Gibbons will take up his two-year position from February 2015.

And by way of follow up, the Guardian has a curious piece by David Barnett entitled:

Five must-read graphic novels that prove comics are worthy of a laureate

My immediate reaction was to query the number? Why only five? If anything, it sets off the cynic in me to suggest that the writer couldn’t find five more decent comics to make up a top ten. This is not to say there is a shortage of quality comics (aka graphic novels) – there isn’t – but even a dabbler in the field like me could come up with a chunky list that would challenge several of those on that list of five.

Check out the piece here, noting that the comments give a decent spread of contenders for the list as well. So, you may pick up recommendations for a life’s worth of reading.

Song and dance routine

You may have heard about the storm over the New York Metropolitan Opera’s decision to stage “The Death of Klinghoffer,” a work based on the 1985 Achille Lauro hijacking by the PLO and their murder of Leon Klinghoffer.

The Times of Israel has a review of the performance and protests (see here) from which this entertaining extract comes:

But to protesters truly worried that this is dangerous anti-Semitic propaganda ready to sow seeds of hate, I can tell you as someone who watched it, it is not. And even if it were, I can’t think of a less effective way to spread propaganda than with a difficult, boring and (mostly) tuneless opera.

I’m against censorship, so I am OK with the fact the show went on.

(I wish it were a commercial flop – and given the review, you might think it should be a disaster – but the suspicion is that the whole shooting match is being sponsored by a trouble making faction. So all the publicity is its own reward.)

I’m not saying the motives of the promoters were as pure as the driven artistic ideal they pretend, but that’s impossible to know for sure. I understand the protests, and have every sympathy for the poor Klinghoffer family. As some of the protesters said, it will be a long time – if ever – before we see an opera about the ISIS murders. Funny that.