Tag: maggie gyllenhaal


Hysteria (2011)
★★★ / ★★★★

After Dr. Mortimer Granville (Hugh Dancy) had spoken out of turn against his superior about what ought or not ought be done in practicing medicine, the well-meaning doctor finds himself unemployed. Finding a new job proves difficult but Dr. Dalrymple (Jonathan Pryce), the leading specialist for treating women of “hysteria” by massaging their most gentle areas, hires Mortimer as his assistant because he relates to the young man’s spark and genuine willingness to relieve people of their afflictions. With Mortimer’s charming looks and talent for “massaging,” women of wealth from all over the city flocks to the clinic for weekly—some as often as daily—appointments.

“Hysteria,” based on the screenplay by Stephen Dyer and Jonah Lisa Dyer, is not the most focused story regarding the invention of the vibrator but it has more than enough individual scenes that deliver on their potential. Most importantly, it stands out as a period picture because it is able to take the subject matter of sexual repression inside out.

On one hand, it has an undercurrent of seriousness as women all over London are diagnosed by a fictional disease called “hysteria.” If a woman is frustrated about her marriage, angry toward her husband, or generally unhappy with her daily routine, doctors are quick to diagnose her as being infected by an incurable madness. Although a solemn mood never envelops the film completely, the screenplay makes it quite clear that women during this time period are second-class citizens, the status quo maintained by men not only because they have the power but that some are actually willing to abuse it.

On the other hand, it is a silly romp of various women sitting on chairs, their legs in stirrups, as the camera moves closely toward their faces in hopes of capturing each of their priceless reactions while a doctor’s fingers stimulate the vagina until they reach orgasm. The scenes are somewhat repetitive but they work because every woman responds to the stimuli in different ways. I enjoyed that even though the punchline is more or less the same, the reactions are not identical and so the level of entertainment does not dip. Seeing the older women happy after an appointment made me happy, too.

Less effective is Mortimer’s feelings toward Dr. Dalrymple’s daughters, Emily (Felicity Jones) and Charlotte (Maggie Gyllenhaal), who happen to be complete opposites. Emily is urbane, knowledgeable about a range of topics, especially in phrenology, her area of expertise, very womanly, and soft. Meanwhile, Charlotte is vulgar, loud at times, and each time she enters a room, it were as if a tornado had just arrived. Emily is the scholastic girl but Charlotte is the exciting girl.

Mortimer being attracted to Emily feels like a contrivance. Not for one second did I believe that they are going to end up together. And so when the picture cuts to their scenes, it feels like we are simply going through the motions for the sake of a subplot just being there. A sense of fun and focus in terms of storytelling are taken away when the two are around each other, flirting between glances, and giving sheepish smiles. It is supposed to be cute, I guess, but I found the charade bland and boring at times.

However, the interactions between Mortimer and Charlotte are occasionally interesting. I caught myself listening closely as they describe their goals in life, especially Charlotte’s because Gyllenhaal plays her with such light and vivacity.

Directed by Tanya Wexler, “Hysteria” can be criticized for being too silly but I think the word should be taken as a compliment. With so many dour period films that have ambition but ultimately lacking in delight and versatility, the film shimmers like a seven-inch glow-in-the-dark vibrator in a dark room.

Crazy Heart

Crazy Heart (2009)
★★★ / ★★★★

Based on the novel by Thomas Cobb and directed by Scott Cooper, “Crazy Heart” told the story of a 57-year-old musician named Bad Blake (Jeff Bridges) who traveled from one small town to another to perform songs that people loved back when he was in his prime. Completely trapped in the habit of smoking and alcohol, he slowly began to change his ways after meeting a charming music writer (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and her son. Bad Blake also had to deal with stepping out of the shadow cast by an artist he used to mentor (Colin Farrell), reconnecting with his 28-year-old son and writing new songs so he could stop living from paycheck to paycheck. The thing I liked most about this movie was its simplicity even though it was a double-edged sword. Between scenes with other actors, we got to see Bridges perform with his guitar and bare his soul. While the songs were definitely easy to listen to (and I’m not much of a country fan), I felt that it was meaningful to Bridges’ character because he had a look in his eye that he actually lived through the events that he was singing about. So I thought Bridges did a great job serving as an intermediate between the songs and the character’s life experiences. However, I wished that the film had spent less time building on the romance between Bridges and Gyllenhaal because I felt as though the whole thing became redundant (and sometimes forced). I understood that Gyllenhaal’s character was the key to Bad Blake’s redemption into getting his life back on track but some of the courtship rituals, though it tried to be not as typical as Hollywood movies, still felt typical in an independent movie sort of way. Instead, I felt like the movie would have been stronger if it focused more on the relationship between Bridges and Farrell because they shared a common history. It would have been nice if Farrell’s character had talked about how his mentor was like before becoming a faded musician. When those two interacted with each other, I felt real tension between them; I felt a strange mix of anger, jealousy and respect between the two which culminated when they shared the stage in front of 12,000 people. As I mentioned before, “Crazy Heart” is a simple film so it’s understandable why most people won’t initially recognize why it’s essentially a good film. Yes, it was sometimes predictable because we’ve all seen movies about washed-up musicians before. However, at least for me, with a movie like this, it’s all about the acting and I believe it ultimately all came together because I made a connection with the lead protagonist.

Away We Go

Away We Go (2009)
★★★★ / ★★★★

This movie came as a surprise to me because I remember wanting to watch it in theaters (I wanted to see John Krasinski because I love him on “The Office”) but decided against doing so because I thought it was just going to be another one of those quirky small indie comedies that’s all style and no substance. How quickly I was proven wrong because the story was actually quite poignant. Krasinski and Maya Rudolph decided to travel across the country to find the perfect place to live for their child who was about to be born in three months. Along their travels, we got to see their friends and family members, all very different and all very, very colorful (to say the least). I loved Allison Janney as the mother who had no filter especially when she negative things to say about her children and husband (Jim Gaffigan). Even though she did make me laugh out loud (literally–every time she talked, she was so blunt and umcompromising), there was something about that particular family that was very sad in its core. The disdain and possibly even hatred was reflected in the facial expressions of the children and the husband. I also enjoyed the new age parents played by Maggie Gyllenhaal and Josh Hamilton. At first I thought they were just quirky but by the end of the visit, I thought they were borderline crazy. Gyllenhaal was absolutely perfect in her role despite her limited screen time. Lastly, I loved the visit with Chris Messina and Melanie Lynskey because it showed that families that were really happy on the outside may not necessarily be happy on the inside. That third visit was very realistic and really painful as we got to the truths regarding the characters and the solace that they choose to embrace despite certain hurdles they couldn’t quite jump over. The emotional content of this movie really took me by surprise because it had a certain insight which made me realize that I have a lot more maturing to look forward to. There was that brilliant scene when Krasinski and Lynskey were considering if they were “fuck-ups” prior to their cross-country trip and by the end they realized that they actually had it pretty good. I thought that was a very good message because we often wallow on our own insecurities, when, in reality, others have it so much worse. “Away We Go,” directed by Sam Mendes, is more than worth a hundred minutes because not only did it make me smile and laugh, it made me think and feel hopeful for the future.

Monster House

Monster House (2006)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Rewatching this animated film three years later since it came out in 2006, I still think it’s pretty scary for children. Directed by Gil Kenan, “Monster House” is about three teenagers–sarcastic DJ (Mitchel Musso), portly but hilarious Chowder (Sam Lerner) and precocious Jenny (Spencer Locke)–who learn that the house in front of DJ’s home is alive as it starts taking inside it whatever and whoever it thinks to be trespassing (intentionally or unintentionally). So the three form a plan to finally put the evil house to rest. And who says that defeating a scary living house is an easy feat? What I love about this animated flick is that whenever I watch it, I’m instantly reminded of my childhood. When we were kids, my cousins and I had several adventures while pretending to enter a haunted abandoned house just like the characters did here. The dialogue between the three leads reminded me of those teen movies in the 1980’s (and the fact that the parents are barely on screen), while the soundtrack reminded me of the “Goosebumps” and “Tales from the Crypt” television series. Everything about it just brought me back and I guess that’s the main reason why I instantly fell in love with it the first time. I mentioned that I think this is somewhat scary for children. If the premise of the film that plays on the archetype regarding scary houses next door and the creepy people that live in them is not enough, it also has scenes of the house’ shadows being able to transform into anything as it visits a child’s bedroom, a dungeon-like basement with a shrine that reminded me of those indie creepy serial killer movies when the killer preserves his victims, and more. I’m torn because, at the same time, I’m very impressed with its creativity and willingness to not baby the childreen too much just in case they might get bored. Also, there were jokes about the teens, especially Chowder, not reaching certain developmental levels proposed by some theorists in psychology and I found them to be really funny. Other voices worth noting that added an extra spice to the film are Maggie Gyllenhaal as the babysitter, Jason Lee as the babysitter’s friend/boyfriend, Kevin James and Nick Cannon as the two police officers, Jon Heder as the videogame freak, and Steve Buscemi as the creepy neighbor. “Monster House” is a strong animated movie that should have been seen by more people when it was released. Steven Spielberg is one of the executive producers and I did notice some of his signature styles of storytelling. Even though it can get a bit scary, I’ll still show this movie to my future kids.