Jake Gyllenhaal

December 8, 2014

Enemy

SURREAL

Enemy – Surreal

Gearing up for the end of the year, it’s interesting to watch so many films in a short period of time. While 2013, was a bit of a stinker for film, it seems that there has been a minor Renaissance in the indie film genre where big actors, which isn’t a huge surprise, are taking more risk on small films. Of course it’s hyperbole for me to think that big actors never take chances on small film, but with the “big name actor” being replaced with more “well-known” and “character actors” it’s great that the embrace of indie film is alive and well, especially out of the A24 Films. This has been somewhat of a banner year for A24. Following great reception for films like “The Spectacular Now” and “Spring Breakers” in 2013, 2014 has featured a wider assortment of film including “Enemy;” a surreal ride into, well, I’m still not really sure, but it’s a ride that should be worth your time if your a fan of whatever “Enemy” actually is.

Adam, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, is a history teacher in Toronto, Ontario, Canada who lives a rather mundane wife, outside of his late night sex romps with his girlfriend Mary. Upon the suggestion of one of his colleagues, Adam watches the film “When there is a will, there is a way.” While watching, Adam notices one of the actors looks like him, Upon further review, Adam discovers the actor looks exactly like him and his obsession begins. This is where I’ll leave the synopsis, because half of what makes “Enemy” intriguing is the lengths that Adam goes to find his doppelganger, and figure out what is and isn’t real.

The one word that you will hear a lot of people blurt out when it comes to “Enemy” will be “mindfu*k.” Yes, “Enemy” is a bit of a mindfu*k especially when it comes to two scenes specifically with spiders involved. That is where the film takes that surreal turn that will either engross you further into the film, or will completely disconnect you. However, upon further inspection of the film, the use of arachnid imagery, and/or spiders and webs, is a major theme throughout.

Gyllenhaal’s performance, as usual, is both creepy and wonderful. He has the “boy next door/psycho next door” act down and plays it up as both Adam, the milquetoast history teacher, and Anthony, the third-rate actor, very well. While not as great and effective as his turn as Lou Bloom in “Nightcrawler” Gyllenhaal’s performance will still go down as the best performance this year by an actor playing multiple roles in the same film, sorry Jesse Eisenberg.

All in all, “Enemy” is an interesting take on duality, and the id, ego, and superego. The performance of Gyllenhaal sells the film, and the use of the city, it’s landscapes and “web-like” infrastructce gives the film an added layer.

Fun Fact: “Enemy” is based on the 2002 novel “The Double” by Jose Saramago.

November 11, 2014

Nightcrawler

TURN

Nightcrawler – Turn

Coming off of the heels of my review of “Zodiac” I liken that review to more of a catchup and brush up on Jake Gyllenhaal and where he is as an actor. The more I see, or re-watch of his career I wonder why he isn’t as popular as most other actors of his ilk. I really don’t think there is an actor working right now that takes as many chances and transforms himself as often outside of maybe Christan Bale. He takes on difficult roles, owns them, and is still able to play someone that we the audience slightly relate to. This brings me to his latest role, another turn in his career that you could also call a career-defining role. That film is “Nightcrawler” a gritty neo-noir in the vein of “Drive” “Network” and a dash of “Collateral.”

“Nightcrawler” takes the classic trope of following the American Dream to extreme, but somehow, necessary lengths. Louis Bloom (Gyllenhaal) is a small-time crook looking for a chance to prove himself. Fate knocks at his door one evening when he witnesses a woman being rescued from a burning car by two police officers. It’s not the women’s distress that catches his attention however, it’s the cameramen who capture the harrowing rescue which appears on the news the next day. Being the go-getter that he is, Bloom procures funds to buy a camera and decides his calling is to “nightcrawl.”

Finally capturing some useable footage, Bloom delivers the goods to late-night news director, Nina Romina (Rene Russo) and the two begin a working relationship much to the chagrin of Nina’s co-worker Frank Kruse who finds the “if it bleeds, it leads” method of news broadcasting lacking. Bloom continues to thrive in his new calling and teams up with Rick, a homeless Angelino looking for a shot, just like Bloom.

The stakes reach their apex after Bloom and Rick witness a deadly home invasion which leaves three people dead. Sensing a breakthrough, Bloom puts all the pieces together in order to not only get the best news story, but to create the news himself.

There is a lot that could be given away in my synopsis, so I’ll stop right here because all the fun of “Nightcrawler” is to actually go on this twisted journey that features some of the best acting to date from Gyllenhaal. His take on Lou Bloom, starting from a scab who is stealing manhole covers and reselling them to a scraper, to a video camera-wielding scab making real money and becoming his own boss. One scene which stands out is Lou and Nina’s discussion about compensation for footage which Lou is trying to sell. While Nina tries to stonewall him, Lou knows everything he needs to say in order to shut her down and not only gets what he wants, but turns the tables in favor of his eventual endgame.

There is a lot of talk about “Nightcrawler” also being the “Network” for this generation. Well, having seen “Network” I say that is a pretty easy comparison being that this film is namely about the sensationalism of violence in our society and the apathy that news directors have in order to keep showing up the worst of humanity. Russo’s turn as Nina Romina is very similar to Faye Dunaway’s turn as Diana Christensen. Both are cutthroat newswomen, but unlike Christensen, Romina, while she thinks she is in control, is overtaken by Bloom who knows much more than she thinks he does. This also brings up a good point; how we obtain information in this day and age. Unlike 1976, there really wasn’t a precedent for the Internet and the sharing of information at a massive scale. Lou is able to position himself where he knows more about Nina than Nina almost does which gives him all the advantage he needs in an situation, which leads to some of the film’s best, and intense, scenes.

The Gilroy trio of Dan, Tony, and John, who direct, produce, and edit, respectively, create a vision of Los Angeles that is lively, dreamlike, and something out of a horror film all at the same time. However, my one minor gripe is the score of James Newton Howard. The score simply doesn’t seem to fit the setting of this seedy underbelly of LA. It’s a little too…..chipper? And this isn’t even to say that the score is bad, it just doesn’t fit.

Overall, “Nightcrawler” is everything it sets out to be; a social commentary with top-notch acting, solid action sequences, that looks great to boot. As it stands now, Gyllenhaal’s performance is by far my favorite of the year, and it will be a shame if he’s not one of the five nominees for an Oscar this year.

Fun Fact: Gyllenhaal lost over 20 pounds in order to obtain the gaunt look of Lou Bloom.

November 6, 2014

Zodiac (2007)

PACING

Zodiac – Pacing

There are certain films you see once, and they quickly dissolve from your mind. Not because they are bad by any means, its usually, at least for me, that they are so massive, engrossing, or emotionally investing that my body’s automatic response is to forget about them. The best example I can think of at this time is “Inception.” While visually stunning, the film as a whole is still very hard to wrap my head around and I’ve avoided watching it ever since seeing it in the theater. Again, it’s not because I don’t like it, and hell, who knows, maybe if I saw the film again, I wouldn’t like it, especially since it doesn’t have an end credit sequence……anyway. This brings me to “Zodiac” probably one of the most slept films in David Fincher’s filmography. It’s taut, gritty, and paced to perfection with the addition of great acting performances and a truly engrossing story that you nearly forget it based on an actual unsolved case.

“Zodiac” tells the true story of the Zodiac murders that took place across Northern, and possibly South California between 1966 and 1972. Shortly after a unsolved murder in 1969 in Vallejo, CA, a letter is sent to the San Francisco Chronicle which details the crime and claims that another murder was also committed nearly a year prior by someone calling themselves “Zodiac.” Spanning the course of nearly 25 years, “Zodiac” recounts the effort of journalist Paul Avery, cartoonist Robert Graysmith, and SFPD Inspector,  Dave Toschi, as their lives intersect closely with possible suspects, and the obsession to catch Zodiac that nearly destroys their lives.

Throughout high school and college, I had an obsession with true crime and serial killers. I wanted to know the stories behind the crimes and what really made people tick. Some of the most infamous murderers of all time seem like something out of a movie, which makes the most sense why some of the most unnerving horror and suspense films have been based on serial killers like Ed Gein, Albert Fish, and Dennis Lynn Rader, the BTK Killer. However, if you look at the glut of direct-to-DVD and made-for-TV films about serial killers most of them are, for lack of a better term, lackluster, to say the least. At first glance, you might almost think that “Zodiac” might have the same fate, but there is pedigree to spare.

It’s easy to forget that this is even a David Fincher film. Taking into account how diversified his filmography is, “Zodiac” seems like the start of a new Fincher direction. Moving away from dark, gritty horror/suspense films such as “Se7ev” and “The Game,” “Zodiac” was at the time his most mature effort to date, not mention his longest film up to that point, clocking in at 157 minutes (“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” would top it the following year with a run-time of 166 minutes). While some might see the long run-time as a negative, I thought it gave Fincher enough time to introduce characters, detail the crimes, and get the point across that obsession; either good or bad, corrupts and destroys nearly everything.

While “Zodiac” could be considered the beginning of a new Fincher era, this film was also a breeding ground for what we could expect from Jake Gyllenhaal and Mark Ruffalo. And of course the renaissance of Robert Downey, Jr., who only a year later would become Tony Stark. While the film is called “Zodiac” the infamous murderer is pretty much a plot point or a foil to the actors. We are witness to his murder spree, but it’s the emotion and the portrayals by Downey, Jr., Gyllenhaal, and Ruffalo that drive the film from beginning to end. Fincher is also able to create a giant puzzle where it’s the job of the audience of what to believe and reach their own conclusion. Unlike other killers throughout history, the Zodiac Killer was never caught, which creates a true mystery film where there is no right or wrong answer as to who is the true culprit in the crimes.

While “Zodiac” didn’t really get it’s due in the theater, if you are a fan of true crime, or simply great direction by a master who is dedicated to all of the little details that make a film special, than this film is for you. It features an engrossing story, fine performances, and it delivers where other films about serial killers fall short.

Fun Fact: Over the past 100 years, there have been nearly 20 reported serial killers in the state of California.

December 25, 2012

Happy Holidays: End Of Watch

CHEMISTRY

One of the most constantly compelling occupations to base a film off of, other than a gangster, is that of a police officer.  More specifically, an officer of the LAPD.  It’s why the television show The Shield was amazing for 7 seasons straight.  It’s why Ethan Hawke and Denzel Washington’s best work to date is arguably in the movie Training Day.  It’s why I watch the Sean Penn Robert Duvall film Colors whenever I catch it on TV.  It is all common and covered ground, but the dangerous and gritty war zone of South Central LA never allows the material to get stale in our eyes.  There is a terrific show on TNT which I should probably review soon called Southland that captures the drama of being a cop in that world.  End Of Watch is Southland on steroids.  A film that sets itself apart as not just a great LA cop drama, but one of the better cop dramas ever made.  And it works primarily because of the CHEMISTRY.

Found footage films have practically become a genre unto themselves.  Done correctly, you get the enjoyably original Chronicle.  Done incorrectly, you get a Cloverfield or one of the five billion Paranormal Activities.  End Of Watch uses the gimmick as a technique but doesn’t make it an overbearing centerpiece of the film.  It is not the thing that you will come away with as being fantastic after watching the film.  It is the relationship between the two leads that makes or breaks End Of Watch.  On paper, it is just a film about two friends working together and living their lives.  It sounds pretty easy to translate that concept to film.  However, if the CHEMISTRY between the two friends doesn’t feel convincing or affable, the film falls apart.  Writer/Director David Ayers lucked out casting two actors who seem to have a rich and real connection.

Say what you will about Jake Gyllenhaal, but he remains one of the most fearless actors in Hollywood.  His charm and ability to fit into any role and still exude true humanity is a rare talent.  It is still a wonder to me why he isn’t a more popular performer.  His character of Officer Taylor reminds me of every cop I’ve ever met.  This is also easily the best performance of Michael Pena’s career.  Some will more than likely point to his role in Crash.  However, he just a small cog in that film.  In End Of Watch, Pena carries a lot of the film and gives A+ effort throughout.  A nod should also be given to America Ferrera’s almost unrecognizable performance as Officer Orozco.  It had to be pointed out to me that it was her.  She definitely needs to do more films like this because I can see her pulling off grittier roles.

End Of Watch is a movie that I knew would be good, but still surprised me as to how good.  The story itself is somewhat predictable and even a little cliche.  However, because you like these guys so much, you forgive it and still want to follow what happens to them.  Put on your dress blues….gear up…roll out…enjoy your Christmas…watch it…then tell me I’m wrong.  

August 11, 2012

Source Code

EXISTENTIAL

Director Duncan Jones(Son Of David Bowie By The Way…Yes That David Bowie) originally impressed me with his 2009 film Moon starring Sam Rockwell.  On the surface Moon looked like a typical indie sci-fi picture.  However, Moon, to me, was actually about knowing yourself and the questions of what makes us who we are.  A movie that appears to be one thing but turns out to really be about something else entirely.  Two years later, Jones directed a film that fell again under the design of an EXISTENTIAL question hidden behind a sci-fi genre.  That film was Source Code.

Source Code was promoted as another “unique” a sci-fi concept thriller.  Its probably why it took me so long to see it.  But as you watch it, you start to realize that its not the stated terrorist plot that is important to this story at all.  Its not even the, not so well hidden, twist (Which I won’t spoil) that reveals itself 45 minutes in.  Its the questions of fate and destiny and whether its worth it to even fight to change something that is inevitable and ultimately irrelevant.

Concepts like these by themselves could make for an interesting film…but not in this day and age.  Hollywood is under the belief that these questions as the subject of a film are not good for business. They think it is too much work to market EXISTENTIALISM to the mass populous.  So filmmakers try and hide their EXISTENTIAL films inside films that Hollywood knows how to promote.  Most times they’re done poorly.  Sometimes they’re done well.  Sometimes they’re done so well, that they entertain the intellectual and…um…how do I put this….the people who like stuff that blow up real good.  Source Code is one of the films that has done it well.

No, it is not a flawless film.  Its overly sentimental at times and the final scene ends rather abruptly.  However, Source Code is still a solid film with solid performances from Jake Gyllenhaal, Vera Farmiga, and Jeffrey Wright.  For those of you over 29 that remember a little TV Show called Quantum Leap, there is a very cool nod to the similarities between it and Source Code.  There will be no doubt in your mind that it entertained you after you’ve seen it.  Don’t believe me?  Charge the drivers….go back 8 minutes….think about it…then tell me I’m wrong. (That joke will makes sense after viewing…but probably still won’t be funny.)

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