Tag: jake gyllenhaal

Spider-Man: Far from Home


Spider-Man: Far from Home (2019)
★★ / ★★★★

If there was a “Spider-Man” picture that befits an overwhelming amount of special and visual effects, “Spider-Man: Far from Home” is it considering the fact that the main antagonist, Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal), specializes in creating the most convincing illusions. But those searching for a compelling and mature narrative should look elsewhere, especially since this chapter is right on the heels of a certain character’s death who was particularly close to Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland). Instead, the material focuses on a more convenient route: Peter’s numerous struggles during a science trip across Europe to find the courage to tell MJ (Zendaya) he is interested in her romantically. An argument can be made that this installment, directed by Jon Watts, is a romantic comedy down to its marrow. Missed opportunities abound.

The school trip is forced and unfunny, interminable, a chore to sit through because the actors themselves look bored with what they’ve been handed. While Holland’s boyish charm is consistently on an eleven, matched by Zendaya’s effortless allure as the sarcastic romantic interest, even he is unable to save a tired screenplay from feeling fresh. There are two or three instances when Peter, finally, acknowledges the untimely death of the man he looked up to on several levels and these are the shining moments of the film because the emotions are raw, immediate. It feels right that the mourning must be purged somehow. On top of this, it shows that Holland is a dramatic performer first and foremost—that once he retires the Spider-Man suit, he can have a career with longevity. The writing is not equal to its lead’s obvious potential.

It is a shame, too, because the villain is still interesting this time around. In “Homecoming,” the audience is made to understand and empathize with the man behind the Vulture persona. Here, Mysterio has an excellent point when he claims that a person can be the smartest man or woman in the room but without flair or theatrics he or she is likely to be ignored. Qualifications and experience don’t matter next to someone else who is simply loud or obnoxious. If that isn’t a critique of our society in this day and age, I don’t know what is. This is a fascinating character because he desires what most people desire: to be seen, to be recognized, to be regarded as important. Gyllenhaal knows that he must ground a character whose actions may across as narcissistic and megalomaniacal.

The action sequences bored me. There is not a single one that pushed me to lean a little closer to the screen. Particularly uninspired is final showdown in London. Spider-Man finds himself attempting to destroy countless drones before any one of them gets a chance to shoot him. It is extremely frustrating to sit through because one gets the feeling that the screenwriters, Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers, have forgotten to show the viewers why the protagonist having to sift through hordes of small robots is actually interesting. There is fifteen to twenty minutes worth of acrobatics and every second feels empty. It is obvious, too, which shots are CGI. One isn’t required to try to be able to recognize them; maybe it’s because the filmmakers didn’t try either. I felt no weight or real danger during the action scenes. I looked at my watch twice.

Although not without its charms, it is clear “Spider-Man: Far from Home” is an inferior sequel. Just because Peter Parker is still a teenager does not mean that his story should remain light and silly. It can still offer funny moments of awkward teenagers simply trying to find themselves. And it should; it is highly appropriate in this version of Spider-Man. But the more daring and wiser choice would have been to tackle head-on the sadness our hero feels for losing a father-figure, a colleague, a mentor with whom he deeply respected. Learning to deal with loved ones who passed is a part of growing up, too.

Velvet Buzzsaw


Velvet Buzzsaw (2019)
★★ / ★★★★

Dan Gilroy’s “Velvet Buzzsaw” is a frustrating mix of satire and supernatural horror—riotously funny at its best, soporific and pedestrian at its worst. The reason is because the screenplay’s connective tissue between comedy and terror is, for the most part, malnourished. As it vacillates from one end to the other, like staring at a metronome, the longer we look at the images, a sense of surrender can be detected—the antithesis of an experience that is meant to grab you. The film suffers from a lack of urgency which is the very element that the smartest, wittiest, and most creative comedies and horror films possess. It is a misfire of a black comedy.

Personas to be skewered have found a career in the art world, from receptionists, gallery owners, representatives of buyers, the artist themselves, down to the punctilious critics whose reviews can not only make or break a show, they can determine the artists’ future. The story revolves around three central figures: Morf the critic (Jake Gyllenhaal), Josephina the receptionist (Zawe Ashton), and Rhodora (Rene Russo) the gallery owner. Each has a unique perspective about what art is, the perception surrounding the art, and the art business. These figures are not meant to be liked but they must be interesting throughout. But I saw nothing else to their deadpan shallowness. Perhaps a director of Robert Altman’s caliber, for instance, might have done something more interesting.

Although the performers prove they are willing to try anything to get a reaction from the audience (Gyllenhaal and Toni Collette are standouts), at times I found myself turning out from the histrionics and wondered, for example, about the costume and wardrobe department’s inspiration regarding the type of clothing each character wears—the colors, the patterns, the instructions on how they must be worn or carried. When the clothes have more intrigue than the characters, there is a problem. It should not be this way when watching a first-rate satire since the sub-genre is a critique of ourselves. The story may take place in the art world, but it must say something about us, especially those who may not be a part of the sphere being examined.

Scenes that are supposed to be creepy or scary are neither. CGI involving paint dripping off the canvas and attacking people is ludicrous and laughable. (For some reason, the paint cannot be felt as it moves up one’s body.) Figures depicted on sketches or paintings suddenly moving their eyes or facial expressions are generic. Cue the sinister score and jump scares like clockwork. At times I felt like I was watching a horror film made in the early 2000s when just about every horror movie wants to try to use computers in order to create convincing visual effects. The irony is that although these effects are meant to create life-like illusions, in actuality, the more they are utilized the less convincing the overall experience becomes. As is the case here. Notice that as the writing wanes, characters exploring dark corners becomes more prevalent.

I get it: “Velvet Buzzsaw” wishes to comment on the soullessness of the art world. Still, the film itself should create an experience that is neither bland nor blasé. Just because the art world is shallow and pretentious does not mean that the work should render itself blind to the humanity of its subjects. It takes the easy way out one too many times.

There is a point in the film when a woman is brutally murdered in a gallery. Her body is found by people who open the building—and they do not know much about art. It is assumed that the corpse, the puddles blood on the floor, and blood spatters on walls are all part of the exhibit. Visitors come in and out of the gallery. They, too, assume it is all for show. It isn’t until hours later when someone who is actually familiar with the pieces immediately realizes that something is terribly wrong. If only the picture functioned on this level throughout the near interminable two-hour running time.

Nocturnal Animals


Nocturnal Animals (2016)
★★★ / ★★★★

Tom Ford’s second feature commands the necessary control and excellent timing to create a dramatic crime-thriller that is enigmatic but engaging, entertaining yet can also function as a metaphor for what it means to experience a loss. For a good stretch of “Nocturnal Animals,” based on the novel “Tony and Susan” by Austin Wright, it is like standing on a precipice and in front us are portals to different realities. For about three to five minutes, we get a chance to peer into these portals and most impressive is that every one of them is compelling despite each one commanding a different feel or tone.

It is a most exciting work that might have benefited from having a running time of three hours—or perhaps longer. Notice that the third act feels somewhat rushed, despite a perfect-pitch final scene, and the characters we have come to know—whether he or she be a person from the past, a protagonist from a book, or the character with whom we define the story with—reach resolutions that feel forced rather than the material taking its time to present to us a more fluid next step or fate. Some movies deserve to be told in a slow, particular way. This film belongs in that category.

The screenplay is efficient with its characters. Most surprising to me is in how Ford handles the introduction of Susan Morrow (Amy Adams), a gallery owner who, at first glance, seems to have everything one could possibly want: excessive wealth, expensive clothes, a palatial home, a career in which she is in power, a good-looking partner (Armie Hammer). But notice how the director underlines the emptiness of luxury. Susan does not interact with her clothes nor does she seem to enjoy wearing them. She looks good in them, but a closer inspection reveals she is more like a mannequin than someone who appreciates or loves what she has on. When she walks around her living space, silence is deafening. There is no laughter or silly conversations heard from a few feet away. Shadows dominate every corner. It is like being in a museum. No one speaks above more than a few decibels. Even her husband seems annoyed with her, certainly neglectful of her needs.

There is a sadness to Susan that is fascinating and we wonder if she will be able to claw her way out of her silent desperation. I already know Adams is a supremely skillful performer, capable to communicating paragraphs with silence. Here, I was impressed with how she relishes every scene she is in. We can feel her character always thinking, evaluating—even when Susan is lost in her thoughts. It is an intelligent, calculated performance and without such a strong core, the picture might have fallen over its own ambitions. The story after all, takes place in the present, the past, and a fictional (or is it?) universes. Susan receives the manuscript for a novel her ex-husband (Jake Gyllenhaal) had written. She finds it to be such a page-turner, she doesn’t get any sleep. I was right there with her; I craved to know what would happen next. Will justice be served cold in West Texas?

“Nocturnal Animals,” I think, is about grieving people. Notice that each fleshed out character is unhappy about his or her life, that the life she now has is the life he never wanted to have. The common theme is that life has a cruel sense of humor sometimes. And that bitter ending may not work for a lot of people but it is loyal to the film’s central ideas. Clearly, the film is made by an artist who values making a point over making the audience feel good. But I feel good when an artist delivers what is necessary to leave a lasting impression.

Life


Life (2017)
★★★ / ★★★★

As someone who works with microorganisms, the sci-fi horror movie “Life,” directed by Daniel Espinosa, is an expected but most welcome surprise. Think about it: there is something innately creepy or unsettling about dealing with something alive, potentially harmful, that we cannot see with a naked eye. This picture takes advantage of that concept for as long as it is able. Clearly inspired by Ridley Scott’s 1979 classic “Alien,” similarly crew members with a sense of humor who share a certain camaraderie being forced to face unimaginable horrors in space following a discovery of alien life, it manages to hit the right notes consistently enough to overcome some of the clichés within the sub-genre, particularly in how just about each astronaut eventually undergoes a most gruesome demise.

Initially, I was unimpressed. For a sci-fi picture set in a space station with an ambition to create as realistic an environment as possible, I found it to be annoyingly loud and ostentatious. Compare this to greats of the genre, especially alongside Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey.” The harder it tries to engage the audience through visuals and sounds, an the air of detachment is all the more amplified. “Odyssey” works because it simply shows what is while this film tries to appeal to what we imagine science fiction should be like rather than a set, settled reality. Further, the former relishes the quiet but the latter is afraid of it at times. As a result, I felt as though I were peering into a snow globe—curious but in the back of my mind a part of me wasn’t entirely convinced.

Equally bothersome during the first quarter is its inappropriate use and number of closeups. When there is a fascinating organism on screen, most of the attention should be on that creature. We already have an idea how everyone in the room must feel like—because we feel those similar emotions, too. There is no need to cut to the performers’ facial expressions every other two seconds (Ryan Reynolds, Rebecca Ferguson, Hiroyuki Sanada, Jake Gyllenhaal, Ariyon Bakare, Olga Dihovichnaya). Doing so takes away some of the excitement and breeds frustration. We want to see what is on that petri dish and learn what it is capable of.

Eventually, however, the film proves capable of first-rate entertainment. The first attack by the extraterrestrial made me question my own safety, despite wearing personal protective equipment, when handling minuscule organisms. I admired how efficiently the camera traps us into an increasingly impossible situation as the biologist (Bakare) handles the life form in a containment cube. The editing commands a certain rhythm to it that makes us want to look away because it is built up in such a way that some thing is about to occur soon… yet we cannot help but stare wide-eyed since we crave to see what happens next. The early deaths are appropriately horrifying and creative. The camera lingers on their lifeless faces.

The look of the alien is inspired. I enjoyed how it reminded me of deep-sea jellyfish. It does not appear particularly solid but has convincing strength when it pounces on its prey. It looks translucent, but it is highly agile and versatile. Credit goes to the writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick for putting to life a creature that is intelligent, a real threat to the increasingly desperate characters. And credit goes to the special and visual effects team for creating a convincing monster, not just another uninspired CGI monster-of-the-week with tentacles.

Nightcrawler


Nightcrawler (2014)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Standing out almost immediately in “Nightcrawler,” written and directed by Dan Gilroy, is the way nighttime hovers like a thick gloom in downtown Los Angeles—beautiful, curious, eerie, and dangerous all rolled into one vivid dream of a filmmaker with a keen eye for not only what looks good on screen but also how certain images, framed just right, can allow the audience to feel or think a certain way. In this sense, the picture is an achievement in presentation and execution. It is made for people who crave looking closely at things, just like the main character played exceedingly well by Jake Gyllenhaal.

Louis Bloom comes across a traffic accident after being told that he is not a person worth hiring long-term because he is a thief. What catches his eye is not the accident itself but the man holding a camera at the scene, filming every bit of detail that might be considered profitable. Louis learns that such footages can be sold to news stations. The more intense or important a footage, the higher the pay. Louis hopes to cash in.

The film is about a man driven by an obsession. However, it does not mean that Louis can easily be classified as a Freak-of-the-Week just because we can almost always guess correctly which course of action he intends to take given a high-risk, high-yield opportunity. One might argue that he is driven by money while others might claim he craves fame. Some might say he has found a passion but the need to sustain it has gone to an extreme that we wonder if it is unhealthy. There is evidence supporting all of these hypotheses.

What is so interesting is how Gyllenhaal monitors his character’s responses like clockwork that it is almost Hitchcockian. Louis appears very calm most of the time that even the more intense events do not invoke a reaction out of him. I wondered if he had SPD—schizoid personality disorder—and, if so, to what extent the disorder has taken over throughout the course of the picture. Or maybe from the moment we meet him, the condition is already established and no true character arc is ever truly captured. When his character does react, it is more like watching an implosion—so quiet but deafening in its power.

One is likely to read statements that watching the film requires a lot of patience. I’m not entirely certain if such a disclaimer is accurate. While the writer-director is confident enough to take the time and allow the scenes to unfold, there is great entertainment in the escalation of tension.

Particularly suspenseful is when Louis creeps up the driveway of an affluent family, enters the mansion, then comes across a crime scene that is dangerous and disturbing. I caught myself shuffling in my seat because it felt like at any second, everything could go terribly wrong. Louis may be unlikable or downright detestable, his actions may be morally gray or lacking morals completely, but one thing is certain: I did not want him to get punished or, worse, “learn a lesson”—a tired avenue that has been traversed so many times, it’s worse than stale.

“Nightcrawler” is well-acted, paced in such a way that we cannot help but be curious at what is happening and what is going to happen, and photographed with a confidence that we feel we are experiencing the filmmaker’s vision raw. It takes a lot of risks with its character, subject, and scope but just about every decision feels right for the material. I am always on the lookout for movies that will or should be remembered decades from now. “Nightcrawler” may belong in one or both categories.

Enemy


Enemy (2013)
★ / ★★★★

Sitting in the faculty lounge, a colleague (Joshua Peace) asks Adam (Jake Gyllenhaal), a history professor, if he likes going to the movies. The question leads to gloomy Adam being given a recommendation, a film called “Where There’s a Will There’s a Way,” and he later goes to rent it, hoping that a light movie will cheer him up. After having seen it, he goes to bed. There is something about it that he found intriguing. So he turns on the laptop, jumps to a particular scene, and watches it closely. He hits the pause button. There is a man there, playing a bellhop, who looks exactly like him.

Based on the novel by José Saramago and adapted to the screen by Javier Gullón, “Enemy” is an ambitious picture about a man who finds his double but it is a big disappointment because it has very little output. Its laziest attribute is relying on enigmatic images—a giant spider hovering over the city, visions or memories bleeding into one another, an underground sex show—to try to keep our attention. It promises but never delivers on an intellectual, emotional, or psychological level. Thus, despite its short running time of ninety minutes, it is an experience to be endured.

What is the first thing you do when you find evidence that there is another you out there? You tell other people—your friends, your family, your partner. But not Adam. He continues to sulk in his dark apartment and tries to convince himself that what is happening is really not. This makes him boring and difficult to relate with. He is supposed to be our compass throughout the increasingly surreal and bizarre experience, but the material fails to make him accessible. This is a critical miscalculation.

The contrast between Adam and his double offers nothing new. We expect them to have opposite personalities. Indeed, they do. We expect them to lead completely different lifestyles. That they do, too. One tends to hunch, the other stands up straight. The problem is, aside from the occasional surrealistic imagery, the screenplay offers nothing surprising in terms of human element. Must they be complete opposites? There is no anchor to keep the story attached to something we can believe in without question. As a result, the material becomes increasingly dull, dry, and predictable.

There is some form of web that is supposed to keep the picture together. Right from the beginning, I knew exactly what it was doing: planting the seeds for that big, mental “Oh!” once the screen cuts to black and the credits start rolling. How do I know? When the camera goes for a close-up and remains still, you can bet that what is being said is important. Director Denis Villeneuve needs to learn a thing or two about how to treat subtlety like silk, not a sledgehammer. Experienced and intelligent viewers will not—or should not—fall for the typical trappings of the genre. That is what angers me most—it is painfully ordinary in its execution that it ends up not giving the material justice.

A surprising number of people like to defend movies like this. They say things like, “If you look more into it after it’s over, it’s all going to make sense” or “You have to see it multiple times to look for clues!” Stop right there.

A successful movie, one that has reached its full potential, speaks for itself. It does not require to be researched or to be seen a hundred times so that the viewer can get a complete comprehension of what he or she had just seen. Watching a movie is not a homework assignment. When filmmakers treat it as such, they need to go back to film school and learn the basics.

Prisoners


Prisoners (2013)
★★ / ★★★★

The Dovers and the Birchs hold a little get-together over Thanksgiving, but what should have been a peaceful and enjoyable holiday turns into a nightmare when the two young girls from each family go missing. The prime suspect is a teenager named Alex Jones (Paul Dano), who is later discovered to have an IQ of a ten-year-old, because the girls are seen climbing on his RV a few hours prior to their disappearance. Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) interviews the suspect but since no viable information can be extracted out of him, he is released after two days. This does not sit well with Keller (Hugh Jackman). He is convinced that Alex is involved somehow and if the police are unable to do their job, he is more than happy to take action.

“Prisoners,” written by Aaron Guzikowski and directed by Denis Villeneuve, has the right texture and atmosphere to tell a grim dramatic thriller, but it is bogged down by an overlong running time—clocking in at around two hours and thirty minutes—and it has very few reasons to do so. Instead of being a lean and mean piece of work, we are made to sit through repetitive scenes involving torture. As a result, the middle part is sags and drags. It might have been more effective if there was an extended torture scene that took place in one room and allowed us to absorb the horror of watching someone get beaten until he was black and blue, broken bones and all—at once.

Some might argue that one hundred and fifty minutes is justified to tell the story because it allows us to feel the exhaustion and frustration of the characters. I am not convinced. If this were a more efficient picture with smarts and gusto, it would have found alternative avenues to communicate the psychological breakdown of its main players sans jumping back and forth to Keller forcing Alex to give up information that he may or may not have.

For example, I would not have minded if the material if had spent more time exploring the other parents’ states of mind. The matriarchs (Viola Davis, Maria Bello) are underused. Davis is given more to do by allowing Nancy to react to certain discoveries, but Bello’s character, Grace, does nothing but cry. Franklin (Terrence Howard), Nancy’s husband, would have been a great supporting foil for Keller but his role is greatly diminished about halfway through. I felt the screenplay struggling to juggle its characters—all deserving of complexity and attention given its fascinating subject matter.

Although Jackman has the more ostentatious role as an increasingly angry father (and he is very good at it), it is Gyllenhaal that shines in my eyes. I enjoyed watching the little ticks the actor has chosen to incorporate to his performance. Detective Loki looks very tired, almost unhappy, but I believed it when he is said to have solved every case he has ever been assigned. The man may take a while to connect the dots but he is very determined and willing to look into all logical possibilities of the case. Because Keller and Loki have opposite temperaments, their consistent clashing is interesting and I wondered to what degree their relationship will change over the course of the film.

We get many remakes of foreign films these days—a significant percentage of them not very impressive. However, I am most interested to see how this story can be interpreted by a French, German, Iranian, or Japanese cast and director. I want to see an interpretation that is less in-your-face and more contemplative. Here, the majority of the emotions are handled with an exclamation point. Subtlety is not the picture’s strength despite a memorable final shot.