Lina Lamont

"What do you think I am, dumb or something?"

Archive for the tag “Jake Gyllenhaal”

Everest

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 20th September 2015

This true story of a gutsy, gripping and ultimately doomed quest to summit Mt. Everest may be 19 years old, but the real-life drama it portrays is still devastatingly current.

In its own right, this superbly-rendered dramatization is absolutely fascinating, but the fact that it tells the tale of one of our own, Kiwi Rob Hall, and depicts famous actors grappling with our especial accent, will make it even more compelling for local audiences.

Hall led a group of adventurous tourist climbers up Everest in May 1996, only to be caught in a snowstorm which crippled their descent, resulting in tragic loss of life.

The film introduces us to the band of mountaineering brothers (with honorary Japanese sister in Yasuko Namba, striving for her seventh of seven peaks) played by familiar American faces Josh Brolin (engaging as the arrogant Texan show-off, Beck Weathers) and Jake Gyllenhaal, impressing as the carefree Scott Fischer, who manages to booze and party all night before climbing into high altitude by day.

Hall (Aussie Jason Clarke from Zero Dark Thirty) comes across as a terrific bloke, warm-hearted and generally sensible about his clients’ wellbeing, while still clearly addicted to the climbing buzz. Keira Knightley is surprisingly affecting, all Kiwi-ed up as Hall’s wife Jan, who stayed at home in Christchurch, pregnant with their daughter. Meanwhile, British actress Emily Watson holds the fort at base camp (you can practically hear her voice coach crying “Flet vells, flet vells!”), aiding our sense of security as the ascent begins, even though we know that trouble lies ahead.

Screened best in Imax 3D, the Kathmandu scenes are vibrant, while sensational aerial photography provides an incredible opportunity to experience Nepal on the ground as well as up the mountain. Once we’ve left base camp, there is some intense point-of-view photography to heighten the experience.

But it’s hardly necessary. There is no question that mountaineering is madness, particularly when we learn that as a human reaches certain levels of altitude, their body starts to die – the aim is to get back down before that happens.

Tragically, this was not to be everyone’s fate, but this faithful, sensitive portrayal may give you some sense of an ecstasy that most of us will never experience.

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Southpaw

Spoiler alert: if you want to milk this boxing drama for its every emotional punch, don’t watch the trailer.

Instead, here is all you need to know: Jake Gyllenhaal, long the beloved leading man of gritty directors who like their actors to lose weight/bulk up/ride with the LAPD in preparation for roles, has turned his considerable focus onto the art of boxing. He plays Billy Hope, the aptly named orphan who grew up in Hell’s Kitchen and now lives in a gated mansion with a fleet of personalised cars and a pool fit for a porn star.

Behind every tough guy is a ballsy broad, and the story swiftly establishes Billy’s idyllic marriage to his childhood sweetheart (a terrific Rachel McAdams); the young lovers’ rough childhood is evoked by their matching swallow tattoos, and their natural chemistry with screen daughter Leila (Oona Laurence) manifests in well-written, overlapping dialogue which nicely sets the scene for the enormous family tragedy that ensues. Billy is left to piece his tarnished life back together under the tutelage of an equally broken coach (Forest Whittaker).

I love a good boxing movie (pugilism being the only sport I’ve ever appreciated), and the fight scenes are well executed with the cinematic flair expected from director Antoine Fuqua (the Oscar-winning Training Day being his highlight, The Equalizer being his lacklustre latest). Out of the ring, Gyllenhaal is typically believable as his shambolic Billy suffers a spectacular fall from grace and good fortune which will tug on the heartstrings of even the most cynical viewer.

However, something’s lacking, though it’s certainly not commitment – Gyllenhaal takes this as seriously as any film he’s done, and the supporting cast is uniformly excellent. The film is raw and rough with some genuinely moving moments. But written as it is by the creator of TV’s Sons of Anarchy, the story peels off into cliché more often than it needs to, before inexplicably ducking and diving the one particular narrative point we’re waiting to see sewn up. While competently crafted, Southpaw ultimately pulls its punches.

 

Nightcrawler

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 30th November 2014

Delivering the same carcrash thrill as watching heartthrob Ryan Gosling morph into a cold-blooded head-stomper in Drive, Nightcrawler takes goofy, sweet-natured Jake Gyllenhaal and transforms him effortlessly into Lou Bloom, a creepy, diligent oddball of a different, and arguably more sinister, kind.

An undeniably fine actor, Gyllenhaal hits his latest bullseye by pitching Bloom just one step to the right of spooky – so that rather than crossing the street to avoid him, you might stop to hear him out, even if your adrenalin starts to pump a tad quicker.

Earnest and unwavering, Bloom hones his people skills through self-improvement books and management speak, nerding away about “guestimates” and calling people “sir” in a nasally voice. Promoting himself as hard-working and persistent (boy, is he), it’s hard not to delight in Bloom’s success when he finds a career he can “really grow into”. What follows is a gloriously unsavoury walk down the dark alleys of the soul as Bloom competes with ambulance-chasing news crews for the first footage of newly broken crime scenes. But how far will he go to trump the rest?

Let’s be honest – since he broke out in Donnie Darko, who can cite a role that Gyllenhaal hasn’t performed with aplomb? From his heartrending gay cowboy in Brokeback Mountain to the reluctant US marine in Jarhead, the guy is an exemplar of that pinnacle of the actor’s lexicon: range. He’s hunted criminals in Zodiac and the recent thriller Prisoners. He charmed the pants off Anne Hathaway in Love & Other Drugs. He’s even saved the world a couple of times. So the brilliance of Nightcrawler’s screenwriter and first-time director Dan Gilroy is tempered only by our knowing that, really, if you put any script in Gyllenhaal’s hands, he will deliver.

Gilroy wrote The Bourne Legacy but little else of note until now, so the fact he has produced such an enthralling, great-looking debut feature is all the more commendable. LA’s lights gleam like a Michael Mann film, while a Reznoresque soundtrack accompanies the perfectly paced story. There have been many great LA movies where disenfranchised white males run amok, and while Bloom is cut from a different cloth to Falling Down’s William Foster, both characters have a necessary credibility to their awful desperation. As distasteful as we find their behaviour, we simply cannot tear our eyes away.

With the welcome return of Rene Russo (Gilroy’s wife) as the TV producer who may be making a deal with the devil, and comic relief provided by British actor Riz Ahmed (The Reluctant Fundamentalist), Nightcrawler is part titillation, part excoriating commentary on the commercialisation of crime in a media-frenzied world. Not until the end do we realise Bloom has worked his dark magic on us, too.

Prisoners

Director Denis Villeneuve’s Incendies was in my top five films of 2011, with its twisting plot, gritty performances and devastating revelations. If you missed it, I urge you to rent it today.

Cannily, the French-Canadian director has hopped across the border to a cast headed by a flawless Jake Gyllenhaal and a hardworking Hugh Jackman in another gut-wrenching family drama, this time surrounding the disappearance of two young girls.

Following an immersive set-up thanks to typically stunning photography by Roger Deakins (favourite of those quality filmmakers Sam Mendes and the Coen Brothers), little Anna and Joy swiftly vanish and their parents must grapple with the likelihood they may be gone for good. Local weirdo Alex (I hate to call him that, but the signposting of Paul Dano’s oversized glasses and low IQ isn’t one of the film’s subtler aspects) becomes prime suspect, and when Gyllenhaal’s twitchy, tattooed cop fails to keep him in custody, Jackman’s zealot of a father takes matters into his own hands. Meanwhile, family bonds are tested while the rain falls across a bleak, despairing landscape of suburban strip malls and liquor stores.

Shot through doorways and windows alternately obscured by grime, rain or steam, the extremely grim tone of the initially plausible story makes for difficult, if gripping, viewing. In a film wall to wall with Oscar nominees, Gyllenhaal and Jackson are great alone and together, with strong support from Viola Davis and a hard-faced Melissa Leo.

Narratively it’s gruelling, not least for its two and a half hour running time, and pedants may query some of the plot choices. Without quite the impact of Incendies, Prisoners is still a finely-made piece of cinema which is considerably higher in brow than most of the current fare.

A week of it

Now, where were we? A couple of French films, I think… And in the last week or so there have been more like that, plus a couple of blockbusters. Herewith:

Robin Hood

Oh Russell. Or rather, oh Ridley.  I thoroughly enjoyed Gladiator, thought it was a terrific film – so I’m not dissing the collaboration here, or even the style (the similarities abound).  And Cate Blanchett is a far superior “Maid” Marion than that dreadful Sienna Miller would’ve been.  But really – this retelling of the story (“retelling” – really? or just “concocting a new story that really has nothing to do with the Robin Hood legend”?) simply doesn’t offer anything new or exciting in cinematic or narrative terms. The battle scenes (“Battle scenes??” I hear you cry.  Yes – this is no feisty band of brothers – there are whole armies) are just like Lord of the Rings‘ and any number of contemporary epics over the last decade.  The story is all a bit Kingdom of Heaven.  And Russell, fine actor that he usually is, just faxes in his Gladiator performance with a few bits tippexed out, and doesn’t even nail a consistent accent.  Come on, Jeffrey Wigand!

It’s not awful. There are solid performances from Douglas Hodge, Oscar Isaac (who could have been so much more irritating, but luckily kept it together) and Mark Strong. Eileen Atkins’ brief moments were typically spot-on. Matthew Macfadyen’s got a bit fat, but he does a reasonable line in “sinister”. Cate does her best with a thin script and little character depth.  It’s just not that interesting, memorable or innovative. Frankly I expected more from filmmakers and talent of this calibre.

Iron Man 2

I saw Iron Man in Paris in 2008, by myself, laughing raucously (by myself) at bits the French audience didn’t seem to find funny.  Loved it.  But having heard mixed reviews about the sequel I went in with low expectations – and it paid off.  I always enjoy Robert Downey Jr, and am a loyal fan of Gwyneth Paltrow (her Pepper Potts doesn’t have much going on, but for some reason I find her hairstyles captivating).  Mickey Rourke does a very good avenging Russian, no doubt aided by his now unnaturally worked-over facial features.  Sam Rockwell looks a bit too Austin Powers but I’d marry him in a heartbeat, so all is forgiven.  Scarlett Johansson delivers the only bum note, unnecessarily bland and a 2-dimensional composite of far superior female action heroines – but, no matter.

On the whole the film is just one big, silly, fun night out.  It’s all about spectacle, and to be fair there were plenty of major laugh-out-loud moments in the script too. (About a weapon shaped like a pen: “If it were any smarter, it’d write a book. A book that would make ‘Ulysses’ look like it was written in crayon …”)  Ah well, I guess it just caught me at the right time.

Brothers

The original Danish film is claustrophobic and gritty, superbly acted, and potentially a hard act to follow (highly recommended – rent it).  It’s a tribute to the three excellent lead performances in the US remake that Brothers still had the emotional impact for me, despite my knowing what happens.  Tobey Maguire (where’s he been since Spider Man??) plays a soldier who is kidnapped in Afghanistan, leaving two daughters and a grieving “widow” who all understand him to be dead.  Jake Gyllenhaal re-enters the family’s life, fresh from a stint in prison, and develops an attachment to the children and his brother’s wife, played with quiet intensity by Natalie Portman.  I found her performance in particular to be deeply affecting, inducing my own tears in simple moments where the camera lingered on her face and we read her emotions conveyed in the subtlest way imaginable.   Gyllenhaal is typically engaging, though his ex-con is possibly not as damaged by his life’s experiences as would be realistic.  Maguire is excellent – a warm, engaged father before his deployment, and a shell of a man pushed rapidly to breaking point after his brutal incarceration.

There are elements of the story that aren’t explored as deeply as they perhaps should/could be, and parts when you find yourself shouting at the characters “just say it!”.  But on the whole this is a terrific movie – powerful and, in a bigger picture sense of the repercussions of war, devastating – highly recommended.

The Secret in their Eyes

This Argentine film won the Best Foreign Film Oscar in 2010, and despite beating The Prophet and The White Ribbon, it’s a worthy winner, almost (but not quite) up there with The Lives of Others.   Ricardo Darin from Nine Queens (what fun that was!) stars as ex-prosecutor Benjamin Esposito, deeply affected by a rape and murder case 20 years prior, who wants to write a book about the case.  In doing so, unresolved questions in his mind cause him to reinvestigate the case, and brings him back into contact with his old colleague/boss and unrequited love interest, played by the luminous Soledad Villamil.

The director’s training on US crime show Law & Order is evident, but his ability to construct a narrative that is as much about love, loss and revenge as a pure police procedural, is the film’s strength.   He gets believable, engaging performances from all his characters (especially Esposito’s tragi-comic colleague Pablo Sandoval) and manages to inject the film with a sinister undertone that isn’t completely exposed until the final reel.

The Hedgehog (Le herisson)

I’ll admit, I saw the trailer and thought “I’m not seeing that”.  Saccharine!  Implausible!  Narratively predictable!  But by some miracle I was otherwise persuaded, and my open-mindedness was rewarded with a charming, beautifully performed piece that left me very moved.

The three central characters are so different from one another and from our usual protaganists (as a collective, at any rate) and each performance is real and believable – which is no mean feat, considering the story.  11-year old Paloma is a very bright, suicidally depressed voyeur of sorts, who films the lives of those around her, narrating a voiceover of insight and sometimes cutting brilliance.  Mme Michel is the concierge in her apartment building, a dowdy, charmless 50-something widow of simple habits who is blindsided by the attentions of a new tenant.  Mr Kakuro Ozu is a distinguished Japanese gentleman who introduces her to his world of Japanese cooking and with whom she shares a love of Tolstoy and Japanese cinema.  The lives of the three are convincingly entangled and it’s a delight to watch their burgeoning relationships.  Highly recommended.

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