Tag Archives: Jake Gyllenhaal

The Sisters Brothers (2018)

20 Oct

Acclaimed French director Jacques Audiard (Rust and BoneA Prophet) marks his first entry into American territory with The Sisters BrothersSet in the old west (specifically, 1850’s Oregon), Charlie and Eli Sisters (Joaquin Phoenix and John C Reilly respectively) are a pair of contract killers employed by a government official known as The Commodore to track down a particular immigrant worker named Herman Warm (Riz Ahmed) who has become embedded in a caravan of gold prospectors near San Francisco. We also learn of a mysterious detective Morris (Jake Gyllenhaal) who is chasing the same man, albeit for slightly different reasons. The four cross paths in all sorts of ways over the course of the film, and we get various perspectives on certain events along the trail south from Oregon to California – usually with bloody results.

While the film starts off with some pacing issues, we gradually begin to piece together the various narratives, characters, and their ever-shifting motivations. One of the great themes across the western genre is how one’s personal lines of morality become blurred when faced up against survival on the frontier. Audiard pays attention to this idea and makes us care about everyone we are introduced to – regardless of their ethical standing. This kind of characterization helps cement the film as one of the year’s best, and it wouldn’t work if not for the incredible chemistry and talent of all actors involved. Phoenix and Reilly make a fascinating dramatic pair, and seeing the thespians interact in a western setting is constantly engaging. Audiard seems just familiar enough with the genre to make certain scenes feel nostalgic and endearing (the landscape cinematography and detailed production design deserve an enormous amount of credit here) but just when you think you become familiar with what’s going on, the screenplay has numerous ways of surprising you.

Not all surprises are welcome though, and there are a few scenes that just “don’t work” and bring a jarring interruption to the narrative flow. Nevertheless The Sisters Brothers tastefully blends romanticized notions of the genre with historical realism and the occasional touch of Coen-esc humor.

Bottom Line: An absolute adventure film in every sense of the word, The Sisters Brothers is a dark take on the classic American West, boasting an impressive collection of performances and a consistently entertaining screenplay.

Film Recipe: True Grit (2010)The Assassination Of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford + the nihilism and violence of HBO’s Westworld 

Rating: 7.8/10

Advertisements

Nocturnal Animals (2016)

1 Dec

Celebrity fashion designer Tom Ford returns to the director’s chair with his sophomore effort Nocturnal Animals. Boasting an all-star cast including Jake Gyllenhaal, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Armie Hammer, Isla Fisher, Laura Linney, Karl Glusman, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson, the film focuses on the relationship between Susan, a successful L.A.-based installation artist, and Edward, her novelist ex-husband. One day at work, Susan receives a manuscript from Edward, in which he seemingly writes himself (or at least an idealized version of himself) in as the main character of a pulpy crime novel set in rural Texas. The film follows Susan’s ever-shifting perspective as she is moved enough from reading the work (titled Nocturnal Animals) to reconcile her shady romantic history with Edward. Nocturnal Animals as a film dives into the story-within-a-story framework to show us onscreen the events Susan reads about, as well as her ever-changing mental state. The fictional and non-fictional worlds collide in more ways than expected.

Ford, a director who has taken great interest in the psychological headspaces of his characters, is at the top of his game. It’s surprising to see a director with only one film under the belt (Ford also directed the Oscar-nominated drama A Single Man) deliver such solid results. Everything about Nocturnal Animals bleeds a sophisticated and professional kind of drama; whether the on-screen events are focused on something as explosive as a rape or as subtle as a romantic dinner conversation, the film sustains hefty amounts of dramatic tension throughout.

Much of Nocturnal Animals’ success also has to go to its acting. Gyllenhaal and Shannon are both some of the best powerhouse talents working today, and they each bring enormous amounts of frantic energy to the table. It’s Amy Adams who really brings the film’s emotional core home; she has a heartfelt subtext to her complex and layered character that binds the film’s dual stories together. Nocturnal Animals also looks amazing. Shot by Oscar-nominated Seamus McGarvey (Anna Karenina, We Need To Talk About Kevin), the film displays elegant camerawork that compliments the multifaceted storytelling. Though the melodrama runs a bit too thick at points and some moments seem to serve little purpose and disrupt the narrative flow (one flashback tragically interrupts one of the films’ most suspenseful scenes), Nocturnal Animals is exactly the sort of sophisticated filmmaking hollywood needs more of.

Bottom Line: With an emphasis on story and performance, director Tom Ford creates a multi-layered and stylish drama supported by an all-star cast. 

Rating: 8/10 

Film recipe: Gone Girl + Blue Valentine + Mystic River

Everest (2015)

24 Sep

“Up here… the mountain is God.”

It’s a very unsettling quote delivered from experienced mountaineer Anatoli Boukreev (Ingvar Eggert Sigurosson) about the conditions on Mt. Everest, but also a quote that rings true. In a high-altitude land known by climbers as the “death zone”, oxygen rapidly depletes the body, causing slurred speech, cloudy judgment, and slow reaction times. Even something as simple as a cut or bruise could produce a tremendous strain on the body, bringing one to exhaustion. In this land, the constant freezing temperatures, sudden danger of avalanches, or high-wind blizzards could mark an unexpected tragedy. Within the first moments of watching Everest, one thing becomes immediately clear: all who venture here really are at the mercy of the mountain.

Everest, based on the real-life events of a group of climbers in spring of 1996, starts off with bold, breathtaking mountain imagery of the world’s highest peak. We know right off the bat, this is going to be a spectacle of epic scale, and the visuals projected on an IMAX screen are nothing short of inspiring. Soon, we are introduced to our set of characters who create the backbone of the story. Rob, (Jason Clarke) is a professional climber and commercial guide for an Australian touring company that specializes in Mt. Everest expeditions. Jon, (Michael Kelly), Doug, (John Hawkes), and Beck (Josh Brolin) are the three Americans going along for the ride, while Helen, (Emily Watson), Guy, (Sam Worthington), and Caroline (Elizabeth Debicki) are the company’s support team stationed at Everest Base Camp. Scott, (Jake Gyllenhaal) who is leading another expedition at the same time, decides to join up and share guiding responsibilities. Then there are the numerous supporting characters from an ensemble cast of Thomas M. Wright, Keira Knightley, Mia Goth, and Robin Wright. It’s a lot of characters to get through, but director Baltasar Kornakur does a solid job at giving each character a unique moment to shine within the first act.

After we know who’s who, the story really starts to take off and we are scuttled around from various characters as the events among the mountain unfold. There is a lot going on; some characters get drunk, others go blind or freeze to death. Surprisingly, skipping around from the different vantage points isn’t as disorienting as it seems, and the first half of the film moves along at a tight and exciting pace.

Things get messy in the film’s second half however, after much of the excitement has worn off and the audience is expecting a resolution that ties loose ends and brings all the characters into the same sort of thematic plane. Spoiler alert: It never happens. There is no crescendoing moment of truth here – the film never tries to take any of the building narratives from the first hour and turn it into something substantial. Instead, factual events are simply presented to us in an abrupt, matter-of-fact fashion that feels hallow and distant. Yes, things happen to our characters, but what does it all mean? What message is the story trying to tell us?

Not to say that Everest is void of emotion, (there are a number of tear-jerking scenes that evoke some powerful responses) but it never adds up to anything lasting by the film’s end. A hasty, underwritten third act is the final nail in the coffin that degrades a potentially great story into just a slightly-better-than-average one. Tragically, there are hints of  interesting plot points scattered throughout Everest that never really get developed: a budding rivalry between two climbers fizzles out early on, ideas about the commercialization of danger and thrill seeking never get off the ground, and commentary about journalism’s fascination with death and tragedy are kept in the background. By and large, Everest is still a solid film with some truly thrilling moments, but by the time the credits rolled, I couldn’t shake the feeling that the filmmakers might have only just scratched the surface of something much larger and inspiring.

Bottom Line: Boasting an incredible cast and gorgeous visuals, Everest is a fast-paced epic spectacle that is unfortunately slight on drama or lasting thematic material. 

“I’m king of the world!” – Yeah, we all know how this is going to end now.

Rating: 6/10 

Film Recipie: The Grey 2.0 + Australian accents 

 

Southpaw (2015)

15 Aug

Billy Hope (Jake Gyllenhaal) is the World Light Heavyweight Boxing Champion, enjoying a life of celebrity and wealth with his beautiful wife Maureen (Rachel McAdams) and daughter Leila (Oona Laurence). Billy’s life soon spirals out of control however, soon after losing his wife in a bizarre act of violence spurred on by a competing boxer.  The stakes are raised when Billy’s child is taken into custody by Child Protection Services, and it’s up to Billy to piece his life back together if he wants his daughter (yawn) back.

Southpaw is a gritty boxing film that tries to examine the lengths a father is willing to go to win back his daughter’s love; it sort of works. Starring alongside Racheal McAdams, Forest Whitaker, 50 Cent, and Naomie Harris, is Jake Gyllenhaal – a lumbering towering figure of muscle and pure rage. As always, Gyllenhaal makes for a captivating screen presence. With him, Southpaw makes for a watchable but barely enjoyable film; without him, the haphazard storytelling, and trite emotional punches bring the film to the ground faster than a KO’d novice boxer.

For such a cookie-cutter role, Gyllenhaal really does give a solid performance. It’s obvious he has completely sucked himself into the role, and everything from his cautious mannerisms to his accent-ridden, quavering voice bring sincerity to even the sappiest bits of dialogue. Unfortunately, there is too much sentimentality here to go around, and Southpaw dissolves into an enjoyable piece of melodrama at its best, and a formulaic lifetime-movie at it’s worst. Director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, The Equalizer) is no stranger to violence or melodrama, but he seems to have outdone himself here. Thanks to lots of quick edits and dramatized chiaroscuro lighting, most of the action feels more like an uninspired music video than an effective way of advancing the plot.

Bottom Line:  While Gyllenhaal is surely worth watching, the majority of Southpaw spends too much effort building up an emotionally over-exhausted story. 

Rating: 5/10 

Film Recipe: Glory Road (2006) – Basketball + Rocky (1976) + “Believing in yourself”

10 MOST ANTICIPATED FILMS 2015

2 Jan

Goodbye 2014 and hello to 2015.

 

Another great cinematic year has come and gone, and 2014 was one for the record books (you can check out my top 25 films of the year here). While we wait to see what film gets the Best Picture Oscar and who gets snubbed come February 22, lets take a look at some upcoming projects for 2015.

 

10 – Z For Zachariah 

Who’s in it – Margot Robbie, Chris Pine, Chiwetel Ejiofor. Directed By Craig Zobel.

Why? Zobel’s Compliance was one of the best micro-budget thrillers I had seen in a long time.  It looks like he is upping the ante here with some major A-list talent.

Release Date – Unknown for now, but I’ll be catching this at Sundance in late Jan

9 – STAR WARS EPISODE 7 

Who’s in it – All the original stars (Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill) along with an exciting batch of rising talent (Lupita Nyong’o, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, and John Boyega). Directed and written by JJ. Abrams.

Why? After the disappointing trilogy made up Episodes 1, 2 and 3, the pressure is on Abrams to revitalize the classic franchise and restore balance to the force (and our faith in big-budget franchises).  Besides, Hamill needs something to do with his career other than voice video games.

Release Date –  Dec 18 

 

8 – Black Mass 

Who’s in it – An ensemble cast of Johnny Depp, Juno Temple, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Peter Sarsgaard, Sienna Miller, and Kevin Bacon. Directed by Scott Cooper.

Why? After Cooper’s terrific but terribly underrated Out Of The Furnace, I’m extremely curious to see how he handles this FBI crime novel adaptation with such a talented cast.

Release Date – an Oscar friendly Sept 18 

7 – While We Are Young / Mistress America 

Who’s in it – Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts, Adam Driver / Greta Gerwig, Lola Kirk. Both films written and directed by Noah Baumbach.

Why? – Baumbach has two films in the pipeline for 2015, and they both look fantastic. While We Are Young received lots of praise after it’s premiere at the Toronto Film Festival last September, and Mistress America is slated for a Sundance Film Festival premiere.

Release Date – March 27 / no word yet on a theatrical release for Mistress America, but I’ll catch it at Sundance in late Jan.

 

6- Everest 

Who’s in it – Jake Gyllenhaal, Keira Knightley, Josh Brolin, Robin Wright. Directed by Baltisar Kormakur.

Why? – The story about a group of mountain climbers becoming trapped on the world’s tallest peak during a snowstorm has me all sorts of excited. Plus, Jake Gyllenhaal.

Release Date – Sept 18 

 

5 – The Martian 

Who’s in it – Matt Damon, Kristen Wiig, Jessica Chastain, Sean Bean, Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kate Mara. Directed by Ridley Scott.

Why? – Besides the big-name cast and director, this adaptation about the colonization of mars could continue on the trail of smart Oscar-friendly sci-fi films like Gravity and Interstellar. Or it could be a total flop like The Counselor or Exodus: Gods and Kings.

Release Date – Nov 25

4 – The Revenant

Who’s in it – Leo Dicaprio, Tom Hardy. Directed by Alejandro Inarritu.

Why? Birdman showed that Inarritu could directed something in another genre besides the super-serious drama, and this western thriller will surely showcase the talent of two of today’s biggest actors.

Release Date –  Dec 25 

3 – The Hateful 8 

Who’s in it – Samuel Jackson (of course), Channing Tatum, Kurt Russell, Tim Roth, Zoe Bell, Bruce Dern. Directed by Quientin Tarintino.

Why? –  Besides being one of the most recognizable auteurs among non-cinephiles, Tarantino is one of those directors that just seems to get better with age. I’m curious to see how he tackles a more traditional western post-Django Unchained.

Release Date – Nov 13 

2  – Knight of Cups 

Who’s in it – Christian Bale, Natalie Portman, Antonio Banderas, Cate Blanchett. Directed by Terrence Malick.

Why? Terrence Malick’s epic made my list last year only to be shelved for a Berlin Film Festival premiere in 2015. A teaser trailer shows Malick’s typical visual style paired with an eccentric cast and wild party tone reminiscent of Spring Breakers. Hopefully, it will be worth the extra wait.

Release Date  – Unknown for now but likely to have an awards run Late October or November

 

1 – Silence 

Who’s in it – Adam Driver (again!!), Andrew Garfield, Liam Neeson. Directed by Martin Scorsese.

Why? – Scorsese’s adaptation of a Japanese novel about Christian priests enduring persecution overseas is sure to be one of his most personal and controversial films. And this is from the guy who directed Willem Dafoe as Jesus.

Release Date – Unknown, but likely sometime in November 

 

So there ya go. Good stuff on the horizon. What upcoming films are YOU most excited to see?

 

 

Nightcrawler (2014)

16 Nov

Jake Gyllenhaal has hit a hot streak.

Coming fresh off a “renaissance” period of high-profile roles (Prisoners, Enemy, End of Watch, and Source Code), Gyllenhaal plays our leading man in Nightcrawler, Lou Bloom, an unemployed LA native looking for his next gig.  Circumstances allow him to become a self-employed photojournalist, capturing horrific and often gruesome incidents on video which he then sells to the highest-paying news station.

Like its title would suggest, Nightcrawler is a dark, slimy film that brings out the best acting work from Gyllenhaal. His performance as a self-motivated entrepreneur is no doubt the film’s highlight, though the story also provides some pretty fascinating commentary on the seedy activity of modern city life.  The script is mostly dialogue-driven, and director Dan Gilroy keeps the few action scenes tight and suspenseful. Darkly-lit cityscapes and warbling guitars add to the film’s pervasive atmosphere and create a drab background for our characters to fill. Supporting Gyllenhaal are Riz Ahmed as Lou’s assistant Rick, and Rene Russo in an excellent role as Nina, the egotistic head of a local news station.

Despite the great performances, the script does feel a bit chunky at times; exchanges about the narcissistic nature of capitalism start to lose their edge about halfway through. The prevailing themes about power-hungry corporate culture become less subtle and more satiric as the film progresses.

Thematic elements aside, Nightcrawler moves at a fast and fluid pace. Audiences barely have time in between sequences of brutal news footage and car chases to comprehend the full weight of Lou’s gutsy (and often unethical) actions.  The film has it’s moments of dark humor too, most often with the contrast of charismatic Lou and his passive sidekick Rick.  A scene where Rick tries Lou’s negotiating tactics against him is particularly brilliant.

Visually, the film looks incredible; gorgeous shots of nighttime city streets give the film a slick, noir feel reminiscent of Nicholas Winding Refn’s Drive. It becomes clear by the end of the film however, that even the most glitzed and stylish among us have a dark underbelly waiting to be explored. Or Exploited.

 

Rating 7/10 

Similar to: Taxi Driver, Killing Them Softly, American Psycho  

 

Enemy (2014)

5 Jun

Filmed before but released after 2013’s breakout thriller Prisoners and also starring Jake Gyllenhaal, director Denis Villeneuve takes the road of the arthouse in his new film EnemyBased on a similar premise to this year’s fantastic comedy The Double, Enemy focuses on one man who comes across what appears to be his exact copy.  Gyllenhaal plays Adam, a university professor who spends his days teaching history and his nights with his lover Mary (Melanie Laurent).  His life is one of repetition; a cycle of rhythms  consisting of school, food and sex. His cyclical and comfortable lifestyle is interrupted when a coworker recommends a film that has an exact lookalike as Adam in the background. We soon find out this actor is named Anthony (who is also played by Gyllenhaal), and he curiously doesn’t live too far from where Adam works. The rest of the film becomes a hazy mess of events that spiral out through the interactions between Anthony the actor and Adam the spectator, and eventually concludes with a complex examination of the duality inherent in everyone.

Enemy is a dark, cryptic, and brooding film that relies heavily on atmosphere and tone. Lying somewhere in between the styles of Stanley Kubrick, David Lynch, and David Cronenberg, Villeneuve makes incredible use of lighting, music, and color to give us a mysterious and puzzling look into the lives of these duplicate characters.  The film becomes a sort of Freudian gaze into the subconscious when Gyllenhaal’s two characters each try to manipulate each other and each other’s woman. Wrought symbolism, tension, and the ongoing threat of violence, Enemy is not your everyday film, and many people will be frustrated by the film’s lack of focus on plot and character. I think the film has more to say that it initially lets on however, and multiple viewings and discussions will prove to be useful.  Enemy is an artful delight filled with various puzzles and meanings, and while it might prove to be too complex for some, it’s still provocatively thoughtful in its execution.

Rating 9/10 

Similar to: Mulholland Drive, Cosmopolis, Under The Skin

Enhanced by Zemanta