Tag Archives: Jake Gyllenhaal

Teen Titan

Spider-Man: Far From Home

by Hope Madden and George Wolf

Spider-Man: Far From Home has more than a webshooter up its sleeve.

One part reflection on the state of MCU, one part statement on our cartoonishly ridiculous world today, one part charming coming-of-age tale, the latest Spidey episode almost takes on more than it can carry. But return writers Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers embrace franchise strengths while betting director Jon Watts, also back from Homecoming, can maneuver slick surprises.

The wager pays off, and Far From Home winds up being a film that feels a bit campy for a while, but in retrospect succeeds precisely because of those early over-the-top moments.

Peter Parker (the immeasurably charming Tom Holland), having returned from oblivion (Infinity War), then universal salvation and personal loss (Endgame), would like a vacation. The poor kid just wants to take a trip abroad with his class and get a little closer to his crush MJ (Zendaya).

But that is not to be, is it?

Not with Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) following him across the globe, or the surprise appearance of Quentin Beck aka Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal), a new monster-slayer from another Earthly dimension.

“You mean there really is a multi-verse?”

That’s a nice nod to the stellar animated Spidey adventure from last year, and a big clue about how self-aware this chapter is determined to be. The front and center ponderings about what Peter (and by extension, Marvel) is going to do now threaten to collapse the film from self-absorption.

To the rescue: a jarring and unexpected pivot, and that wonderfully youthful vibe that now has one eye on growing up.

Interestingly, Tony Stark fills in for the guilt-inducing father figure that’s always been missing from this iteration of Peter Parker’s tale. Without Uncle Ben, Stark becomes that hallowed hero whose shadow threatens to obliterate the fledgling Avenger.

Peter’s still a teenager, after all, and Homecoming soared from embracing that fact, and from Holland’s ability to sell it in all its wide-eyed and awkward glory.

He still does, but now our hero’s naiveté is shaken by some mighty timely lessons. Number one: “It’s easy to fool people when they’re already fooling themselves.”

Not exactly subtle, but fitting for the world of a distracted teen. And for kids of all ages, there’s no denying how cathartic it is to see world leaders, their media lapdogs and widespread buffoonery on blast and blasted across the largest screens, where good will inevitably conquer.

As fun and funny as this keep-you-guessing Eurotrip is, its core is driven by a simple search for truth. And don’t leave early, because that search doesn’t stop until Far From Home plays its second post-credits hand, and you walk out re-thinking everything you just saw.

Tangled webs, indeed.

Twisted Sisters

The Sisters Brothers

by Hope Madden

How many Jacques Audiard films have you seen? You should probably see all of them, including his latest, The Sisters Brothers.

Like his previous films (Rust and Bone, A Prophet, Dheepan), The Sisters Brothers starts out as one film, inserts another fascinating story, and as those two come together the movie unveils its true intent. Unlike Audiard’s other films, The Sisters Brothers is a Western.

We open with Charlie and Eli Sisters (Joaquin Phoenix and John C. Reilly, respectively), two gunslingers for hire on the job. Their next big gig assigned by The Commodore (Rutger Hauer) will put them on the trail of a prospector in the 1850s West.

Phoenix, who is having a banner year even for him (if you haven’t already seen You Were Never Really Here and Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot, please do), plays the loose cannon brother. Making trouble is in his blood—a fact his brother is trying to forget.

Eli longs for something better for himself, something settled and adult. But he is bound to his brother and their friction bristles with the bonds and bondage of family. Reilly’s conflicted tenderness and responsibility mingle with a genuine longing that offers an emotional center for the film.

A few days’ ride ahead of the brothers is the tracker The Commodore hired to assist in the deed. Jake Gyllenhaal’s John Morris is an observer and a loner, a man who believes in his own intellect but is willfully blind to the consequences of his career choice—until he befriends the object of The Commodore’s interest, a chemist with ideals and a compound that seriously simplifies the act of finding gold.

Good-natured chemist Hermann Kermit Warm is played by Riz Ahmed (also having quite a year, back to back this week with his strong turn in the overly criticized Venom). He and Gyllenhaal remind you of the amazing chemistry they shared in 2014’s Nightcrawler. Though their characters couldn’t be more different this time around, the two actors again share a natural rapport that makes you a believer.

Peppered with fascinating images, intriguing side characters and the lonesome beauty that infects the best Westerns, Audiard’s film embraces a genre without bending to expectations. Does it all come down to daddy issues? Yes, but the longing for camaraderie and the quest for redemption has rarely been this charming.

The film meanders intentionally, serving the rugged outdoorsiness required of its genre, but relies on its four leads to craft fascinating characters whose relationships and destinies infect you with a hope often lacking in Westerns.





Life: It’s What’s for Dinner

Life

by Matt Weiner

Life comes at you fast. Real fast, when it’s a hyper-intelligent Martian lifeform hell-bent on survival. In Life, a seemingly unstoppable alien terrorizes the isolated crew of a spaceship. Is the plot eerily familiar? You bet. Does the film do enough to merit its obvious Alien comparison? Surprisingly, yes.

Director Daniel Espinosa makes the most of the zero-gravity settings on the International Space Station—first with inspired long takes introducing the cramped passages, and later with the haunting, creative blood spurts that will soon saturate them.

Inhabiting the ISS is a multinational crew who has recovered alien life from Mars. All the diverse archetypes are on board, including a wisecracking specialist (Ryan Reynolds), a world-weary veteran (Jake Gyllenhaal) and a suspiciously reserved biologist (Miranda North). Plus a few more alien appetizers, but this paragraph is already more backstory than most of the crew members receive.

Excitement quickly turns to horror once scientist Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare) finds a way to bring the cell to life. The astronauts are no match for “Calvin,” as those blissfully ignorant down on Earth have christened the creature. The more astronauts Calvin feeds on, the bigger it gets until it balloons to a nightmarish love child between an octopus and the Xenomorph.

Life is written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, the team responsible for Zombieland and Deadpool. And the film allows a few—very few—quiet moments to shade in some character depth. But these quasi-philosophical pauses just get in the way of the movie’s strengths.

And the biggest strength Life has going for it is that the film is a whole lot of fun as a dumb thriller. Well, that and a way-too-qualified cast who can add some pathos to the almost methodically expectant death scenes. (Did I mention how nifty those blood spurts are?)

Much like the ISS crew, the film comes dangerously close to running out of gas by the end. The familiar setup wears itself thin, and Calvin has too much CGI aloofness to win our affection like the Alien did.

Overall though, Espinosa mostly succeeds at keeping the action moving. Life trades in the languid dread of its forebear for a breakneck (among other appendages) pace that requires little thought and demands no frame-by-frame viewings. But while this monster might be a bit immature, it packs a vicious punch.

Verdict-3-0-Stars

 





Come Out at Night

Nocturnal Animals

by Hope Madden

Style, elegance and crippling loneliness – though Tom Ford’s two films seem to be wildly different beasts, the same solitude and heartbreak inform both.

Like George (Colin Firth) in Ford’s incandescent 2009 feature debut A Single Man, Susan (Amy Adams) is at a crossroads in life with a future that looks unbearably grim.

Nocturnal Animals follows present-day Susan, a successful gallery owner struggling to keep up appearances in her marriage and finances, who’s surprised to receive a manuscript written by her first husband, Edward. Alone in her austere LA home, she reads through the night.

We flash occasionally to the Susan of 20 years ago (also played by Adams), just settling into a nurturing romance with Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal) – the sensitive writer dubbed “too weak” by Susan’s mother (played with bitter relish by Laura Linney).

But most of the film is dedicated to Edward’s novel, Nocturnal Animals.

Unlike the over-the-top style of the film’s “real world,” the novel-come-to-life has its own aesthetic – dusty, sunburnt and chaotic. As the novel’s hero Tony – also played by Gyllenhaal – drives through West Texas with his wife and daughter, he runs afoul of three not-so-good-old-boys.

Adams-lookalike Isla Fisher plays Tony’s wife, which hints at the themes driving the ex-husband’s work. The internal narrative plays like an arthouse twist on a traditional testosterone-laden revenge fable – and the film itself is about revenge, to a degree, just not the kind you might find in Charles Bronson’s Death Wish.

The world Ford creates inside the novel is its own surprising destination, playing with preconceived notions and haunting us with one startling image after another. The always wonderful Michael Shannon, along with a freakishly believable Aaron Taylor-Johnson, give the novel’s screen time a current of authenticity and terror.

Gyllenhaal and Adams – two of the strongest actors in film today – work wonders. Playing the same character caught twenty years apart, Adams reflects both the change the decades have left on Susan, as well as those elements of her personality that remain with her.

Gyllenhaal is likewise nuanced and powerful. While his two characters are separate entities, they are, in many respects, the same person. The strength across the film – and also its weakness – is the way the internal narrative informs and is informed by the real world of the characters.

The structure, the style, the sound – every aesthetic choice – is meticulous, but there’s a tidiness in the manufacturing of the movie that makes the way themes play out feel too orderly.

It’s a minor flaw, but it’s enough to keep Nocturnal Animals from reaching noir/pulp/arthouse mash-up heights of Blue Velvet or Drive. It’s not enough to keep it – particularly its many award-worthy performances – from being remembered at the end of the year, though.

Verdict-4-0-Stars





Punch Drunk

Southpaw

by Hope Madden

Hope is a tricky word in the hands of a writer. It is almost impossible not to assume the name Hope has been assigned a character for symbolic purposes. Certainly this can be done with finesse, but more often it’s as subtle as a punch in the face. (See what I did there?)

Such is the case with Southpaw, Antoine Fuqua’s by-the-numbers redemption tale about down-on-his-luck boxer Billy Hope (Jake Gyllenhaal), who turns to a grizzled trainer played by Forest Whitaker to help him fight his way back to the top.

If you’ve seen the trailer, you’ve seen the movie. Hope’s on top of the boxing world until tragedy strikes. His wife is killed, his daughter is taken into protective custody, he loses all his money and has to find the true boxer inside himself to reclaim his life. It is every boxing movie you have ever seen.

Sports films are perhaps the most cliché-ready of any – boxing films more than most. Some find a way to do the rags-to-riches (or riches-to-rags-to-riches) storyline well: The Fighter, Rocky. Even Gavin O’Connor‘s 2011 MMA film Warrior managed to embrace the well-worn path and still find new and interesting things to say. Much of that credit goes to a rock-solid cast including the great Tom Hardy and Nick Nolte (Oscar nominated for his role).

Southpaw certainly boasts an excellent performance in the battered and ripped form of Gyllenhaal. Following the greatest performance of his life in Nightcrawler, Gyllenhaal again delivers a deeply felt, sincere turn as Hope battles toward atonement.

The film opens with a bloody, manic Hope rushing directly toward the camera, his gnarled and dripping mug and howling mouth finally filling the entire screen. Fuqua – having proven an ability throughout his career to amp up otherwise familiar content with his particular flair with the camera – starts off promisingly.

Unfortunately, the filmmaker can’t deliver on that promise. All is well enough when the camera is on Gyllenhaal, who seems undeterred by the brashly formulaic story unfolding around him. His presence is almost alarming, and in his performance you see the intellectual, social, and emotional limitations this disgraced boxer has to battle.

It’s almost enough to overlook the brazenly derivative film around him.

Verdict-2-5-Stars

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pNcqD2CJ_7s





News Flash For Your Queue

One of the best films of 2014 and the very best performance of Jake Gyllenhaal’s career becomes available for home entertainment today.

No telling why it took so long to combine Network and American Psycho, but Nightcrawler is here now, so buckle down for a helluva ride. Jake Gyllenhaal is at his absolute best in a film that is as scorchingly relevant an image of modern media as it is a brilliant character study in psychosis. You should see Nightcrawler.

There may be no better pairing for this acidic look at modern media than the only film that could do it one better, Sidney Lumet’s masterpiece Network. The film is as prescient as any movie could be, predicting with wicked humor and weird precision the catastrophic consequences of pairing network news and profit. It’s one of the best films ever made.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vh16GDr-1F8





2015 Oscar Nominations and Snubs

The Academy takes some punches every January as the rest of us scratch our heads over the films and performances they deem most deserving of recognition, and even more questionable, those they believe are not. 2015 is no different. The Oscar nominations reveal much deserved love for Birdman, Boyhood, and The Grand Budapest Hotel, but where is Selma?

Yes, Ava DuVernay’s visceral and all too relevant film on Martin Luther King’s 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery earned – and we mean earned – a best picture nomination, but where was its original screenplay? It should be sitting where Foxcatcher sits.

Equally wrong-headed is the exclusion of the faultless DuVernay among the ranks of directors. Though The Imitation Game was a wonderful film and Morten Tyldum offered superb helmsmanship, that should have been DuVernay’s slot.

Best Actor is usually a loaded category, and 2015 is certainly no exception. Still, Selma’s David Oyelowo and Nightcrawler’s Jake Gyllenhaal deserved spots instead of Foxcatcher’s Steve Carell and perhaps even Benedict Cumberbatch for The Imitation Game.

Again, both performances were great and both films were great, but Oyelowo and Gyllenhaal really needed to be noticed, and quite honestly, Oyelowo may have deserved the win.

Perhaps the most baffling exclusion is The LEGO Movie from the best animated film category. How is this even possible? It’s a better animated film than absolutely anything else on the list. We’re thrilled at the inclusion of both The Tale of Princess Kaguya and Song of the Sea and wouldn’t remove those, but Big Hero 6 was one of the blandest and most derivative animated efforts in years and has no business in the same area code as an Oscar nomination.

Amy Adams and Jennifer Aniston could be miffed at being left off the best actress list, but to be honest, it wasn’t an especially strong year for that category. Either could be swapped in or out for almost anyone else on the list, with the exception of Julianne Moore. While Still Alice is not the strongest performance of her career, and it not actually an exceptional film outside of her work, she’ll finally win an Oscar this year, so thank God for that. Quite honestly, We’d have given one of the nominations to Essie Davis for her superior work in The Babadook, but that’s just dreaming on our part.

And while we’re in fantasyland, We’d have given Tilda Swinton a nom in the best supporting actress category for her turn in Snowpiercer. It may be simply tradition to offer Meryl Streep a seat at the table every year, and she certainly was fun to watch as the witch in Into the Woods, but Swinton was more fun and more deserving.

The major nominations are below.

BEST PICTURE
American Sniper
Birdman
Boyhood
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
Selma
The Theory of Everything
Whiplash

BEST ACTOR
Steve Carell, Foxcatcher
Bradley Cooper, American Sniper
Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game
Michael Keaton, Birdman
Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything

BEST ACTRESS
Marion Cotillard, Two Days One Night
Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything
Julianne Moore, Still Alice
Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl
Reese Witherspoon, Wild

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Robert Duvall, The Judge
Ethan Hawke, Boyhood
Edward Norton, Birdman
Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher
JK Simmons, Whiplash

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
Laura Dern, Wild
Emma Stone, Birdman
Keira Knightly, The Imitation Game
Meryl Streep, Into the Woods

DIRECTOR
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Birdman
Richard Linklater, Boyhood
Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Morten Tyldum, The Imitation Game
Bennett Miller, Foxcatcher





Countdown: Weird Trend of 2014

Weird theme for great 2014 movies: one word titles. The oddest trait we saw emerge in great films this war was the one-word title film. A full 15 of the best films of 2014 had single-word titles – who knows why? Whatever the reason, in no particular order, are the best of the one-word-title films (and some of the very, very best films of the year.

1. Wild: Reese Witherspoon will no doubt garner her second Oscar nomination and quite possibly her second Oscar starring as a woman who walks 1100 miles solo to get her head together.

2. Selma: Ave DuVernay’s powerful, painfully relevant biopic on Martin Luther King, Jr. and the marches on Selma, Alabama delivers all the punch it needs with one word.

3. Unbroken: Angelina Jolie returns to a spot behind the camera for this true tale of Olympic athlete and WWII POW Louis Zamperini.

4. Birdman: Meta-magical-realism at its finest, Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu’s look at the transience and transcendence of fame will scoop up some Oscars this year.

5. Calvary: Woefully underseen, this wry, weary and brilliant look at the affects of Catholicism’s abuses boasts the great Brendan Gleeson’s best performance.

6. Whiplash: Holy shit! JK Simmons gets the role of a lifetime as an abusive music teacher who is either trying to push his students to greatness or is trying to get away with absolute sadism. This may be the most tense film of the year.

7. Nightcrawler: Another amazing film, this one positing a weirdly sometimes likeable sociopath (Jake Gyllenhaal at his absolute best) in the context of local news – what better fit could there be?

8. Frank: Another underseen gem, this one has the great Michael Fassbender hiding inside a giant plastic head in an exploration of madness and music.

9. Foxcatcher: Bennett Miller returns with another masterpiece in understatement, a true crime tale of Olympic wrestlers and insane billionaires that could bring Oscar nominations to the unlikeliest of actors: Steve Carell and Channing Tatum.

10. Rosewater: Jon Stewart proved his mettle behind the camera with this touching, insightful and underseen true story of a journalist jailed during the Iranian elections of 2009.

11. Boyhood: The best film of 2014, Boyhood’s filming spanned 12 years and let us glimpse something no other film has ever captured.

12. Wetlands: Underneath the shock and body fluids is a deeply human story boasting a fearless and nuanced performance.

13. Snowpiercer: The best SciFi in a year of especially great SciFi, the film was sabotaged by its own studio and still wound up wowing audiences everywhere.

14. Interstellar: Not Christopher Nolan’s best, but when his intergalactic epic is working, it is a mind-bending ride.

15. Locke: A one man show that highlights the talents of perhaps the greatest actor of his generation, Tom Hardy. See it. Do it!





The Camera Never Lies

 

Nightcrawler

by George Wolf

I don’t know why it took so long to combine Network, Broadcast News and American Psycho, but Nightcrawler is here now, so buckle down for a helluva ride.

It is a mesmerizing film, propelled by a career-defining performance from Jake Gyllenhaal. Years from now, his “Travis Bickle”  may very well be Lou Bloom, a strangely polite, utterly driven man in search of a purpose.

He finds it via an old camcorder, which becomes his passage into the life of a freelance videographer in L.A. Night after night, Lou waits by a police scanner for a chance to be the first at a crime scene and come away with footage that will fetch a high price from the local TV news stations.

Lou seems like a natural, and soon he’s got an assistant (a terrific Riz Ahmed), brand new equipment and a cozy relationship with a news director (Rene Russo, supporting award-worthy) who describes her broadcast as a “screaming woman running down the street with her throat cut.”

But first, the weather!

Writer/director Dan Gilroy has several screenplays under his belt (The Bourne Legacy, Two for the Money) but may be best known as Russo’s husband. That should change, as his debut as a director is awash in style and biting creativity.

Call it poetic justice that Nightcrawler is opening just as TV news enters the November sweeps ratings period. Yes, the film hits the “if it bleeds, it leads” mantra and hits it hard, but doesn’t shrink from wondering just who that indicts:  the show or its audience?

As Lou’s sociopathic tendencies lead him to become more and more involved in the stories he’s covering, the film sharpens its satirical claws. Fear-mongering, class warfare, “bootstrap mentality” and more take a beating, with Gilroy showing great instincts for when to pull back before his hand becomes too heavy.

His gets a great assist from Oscar-winning cinematographer Robert Elswit (There Will Be Blood), who bathes the film in dark, sleek shine, making Bloom’s seedy world inescapable.

But the anchor here is Gyllenhaal’s can’t-look-away performance. He makes Lou Bloom an American psycho for today, unfazed by business cards but unable to tolerate anyone altering his plan for upward mobility. He’s all smiles and positivity, all the while analyzing your weaknesses he will unapologetically exploit when necessary.

Everything about Nightcrawler should be in the 2014 awards mix. Chase this ambulance down, and fast.

 

Verdict-4-0-Stars

 





Make Sure You’re Prepared

 

by George Wolf

 

Pre-game warmups aren’t usually part of the moviegoing experience, but Prisoners may require a little preparation.

Quite simply, it will wear you out.

Director Denis Villeneuve and writer Aaron Guzikowski have crafted a relentlessly intense, utterly engrossing mystery/thriller that will bludgeon your nerves, tease your sensibilities and leave your morals in disarray.

Hugh Jackman is unbelievably great as a father desperate for answers after his daughter, and his neighbor’s daughter, are abducted on Thanksgiving Day. The assigned detective (Jake Gyllenhaal) believes a troubled local man (Paul Dano) is to blame, but can’t find the evidence to hold him. Jackman’s character, overcome with rage, takes matters into his own hands.

That’s all the info you need, but just a tiny fraction of the complex chain of events set in motion by the crime. Guzikowski, who adapted the Contraband screenplay last year, delivers a twisting, intelligent script that lulls you with the familiarity of the premise all the while it’s leading you places you may not want to go.

Villeneuve, best known for writing and directing the Oscar-nominated Incendies three years ago, makes a stunning English language debut that succeeds on many levels. If a thriller was all it was, it would be a good one, relying on a substance that recalls years of Hollywood films from Death Wish to Gone Baby Gone.

Prisoners transcends the genre in the way it forces its audience to face the same moral ambiguities the characters are up against. The stupendous cast, which also includes greats such as Terence Howard, Viola Davis and Melissa Leo, fills each character with gritty realism, allowing actions that seem justified in one set of circumstances to be easily called into question.  As surprises mount,  the film lands solid blows to perceptions of torture, fear-mongering, religious fanaticism, and even basic parenting.

Sound like a lot? It is, and the film earns every minute of its two and a half hour running time. It is a dark, cathartic journey that is not for the squeamish, and the film’s length only serves to reinforce the hell these people are going through.  They want it to end, and so do you, but only because the film has hooked you so deeply.

You’ll need to pay attention and listen hard, and though you probably won’t figure things out early, the clues are all there in front of you. Prisoners is a breathtaking ride that rewards the effort it demands, ultimately providing a satisfying payoff, capped by an unforgettable final scene that may very well find its way into your dreams.

 

 

Verdict-4-0-Stars