Film Review: Donnie Darko (2001)

Release Date: January 19th, 2001 (Sundance)
Directed by: Richard Kelly
Written by: Richard Kelly
Music by: Michael Andrews
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Jena Malone, Maggie Gyllenhaal, James Duval, Drew Barrymore, Mary McDonnell, Holmes Osborne, Katharine Ross, Patrick Swayze, Noah Wyle, Daveigh Chase, Arthur Taxier, David St. James, Jazzie Mahannah, Jolene Purdy, Stuart Stone, Gary Lundy, Alex Greenwald, Seth Rogen, Beth Grant, David Moreland, Ashley Tisdale, Jerry Trainor

Adam Fields Productions, Flower Films, Pandora Cinema, 113 Minutes, 134 Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Review:

“I hope that when the world comes to an end, I can breathe a sigh of relief, because there will be so much to look forward to.” – Donnie

This movie had a profound effect on me when I saw it in a movie theater, alone, in 2001. Once it was released on VHS and DVD, I had a copy of both. In fact, I had a version of the VHS that was released in blue plastic, as opposed to the traditional black.

Once I owned the movie, I watched it a lot. Mainly because it was so damn good and I was so damn intrigued by the vague concepts and ideas in it. There was this whole deep, mystical yet science-y mystery, which captivated my psyche.

Beyond that, the film connected with me in a way no other film has. I think that has a lot to do with my age, at the time, and because the title character and myself had similar issues. I liked seeing this character and how he was portrayed, as it felt genuine as hell and like it came from a real place from someone with similar experiences. I’m not saying that Richard Kelly is as “fucked up” as Donnie Darko but it’s clear that he knew what he was writing quite well.

I also liked how this sort of critiqued the Americana lifestyle and was set in the late ’80s, a time where American ideals seemed like they were winning and the middle class were relishing in a time of affordable opulence. Not that any of that is specifically negative, I just thought that this film looked at and examined it in an interesting way.

This is the first time I have watched the movie in probably a decade. I used to watch it so much, it was pretty much burned into my brain. Having that much time away from it, though, allowed me to see it with somewhat fresh eyes and in fact, I was a bit apprehensive about it, as I thought it might not stand up to the test of time and play as well.

Luckily, that apprehension was quickly absolved because this was just as good as I remembered it. Also, in some way, it was like rediscovering it because there were some neat details and nuance that I had forgotten about. I mean, I am starting to get old.

The film is pretty close to perfect and it is so well acted that you get ensnared by it. It’s beautiful visually and narratively and it certainly deserves more recognition than it gets, even if it did establish cult status and a slew of fans over time.

In recent years, though, it feels like it’s being forgotten, as new generations come along and prefer movies with less heart and simplistic, rapid storytelling that deliver constant gratification while moving so fast that nothing in a film older than fifteen minutes seems to matter. Look at the ninth Star Wars saga film and you’ll see what I mean.

It’s sad that Donnie Darko sort of feels like a relic now. At the time, I had hoped it was a bright beacon at the beginning of a new millennium that would help inspire smarter, more original movies but the Michael Bays and J. J. Abramses won out.

And sadly, Richard Kelly tried but was never able to capture the magic he had here with his feature length debut.

Rating: 9.75/10
Pairs well with: this is pretty unusual but I’d say Richard Kelly’s other films: Southland Tales and The Box.

Vids I Dig 160: Filmento: ‘Spider-Man: Far From Home’: How to Cheat the Audience

From Filmento’s YouTube description: Spider-Man: Far From Home is the first Spider-Man movie ever to reach a billion dollars at the box office, thanks to the massive Avengers-level scale of it all. But as everyone at this point knows — all that scale is a lie. In reality, Far From Home is a tiny, almost indie-sized film. And yet, despite this movie practically cheating the audience for two hours straight, it was still highly loved by everyone. In today’s family friendly PG episode of Film Perfection, let’s find out how that’s possible — how to lie to your audience in a way that still works. How does Far From Home succeed in movie culture where the likes of Snoke and Night King haven’t.

Film Review: Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019)

Also known as: Spider-Man: Homecoming 2 (informal title)
Release Date: June 26th, 2019 (Hollywood premiere)
Directed by: Jon Watts
Written by: Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers
Based on: Spider-Man by Stan Lee, Steve Ditko
Music by: Michael Giacchino
Cast: Tom Holland, Samuel L. Jackson, Zendaya, Cobie Smulders, Jon Favreau, J. B. Smoove, Martin Starr, Jacob Batalon, Marisa Tomei, Jake Gyllenhaal, Peter Billingsly, J.K. Simmons (cameo), Robert Downey Jr. (archive footage), Jeff Bridges (archive footage), Ben Mendelsohn (cameo)

Columbia Pictures, Marvel Studios, Pascal Pictures, Sony Pictures, 129 Minutes

Review:

“Don’t ever apologize for being the smartest one in the room.” – Mysterio

After Avengers: Endgame I don’t feel as invested in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as I was for the last eleven years. At this point, I feel like I don’t have to watch every movie Marvel puts out and I’m just going to see things based off of how I feel about the trailers on a film by film basis.

However, I liked the first Tom Holland starring Spider-Man film and I also like Jake Gyllenhaal and the character of Mysterio, so I wanted to give this movie a shot.

I’m glad that I did, as it exceeded any of the expectations I had for it and is a better film than its predecessor, Spider-Man: Homecoming, as well as the pretty lackluster and confusing Endgame. It’s also much, much better than Captain Marvel and is thus, the best MCU movie of 2019.

I know that Tom Holland has been criticized by some but I dig his Spider-Man. I also know that some have criticized his relationship with Tony Stark but I enjoy it, as he’s a kid that’s already dealt with a lot of loss in his life and he’s needed a father figure to look up to. Is it a bit over the top? Yeah, probably. However, it’s still believable and you can’t help but to be touched by their immense bond over the films where they shared scenes.

And that carries over really well here in how the whole plot is structured around Peter Parker evolving beyond just being Stark’s sidekick. He has to become a man here and the whole story is a test to see if he is actually worthy of Stark’s empire, as Stark believed he was.

On top of that, it was really refreshing to have Jon Favreau return as Happy Hogan to help Peter along the way. I feel as if the Hogan/Parker dynamic can and will evolve into something just as strong as what Peter had with Tony. But it’s probably a more mature bond, as Parker doesn’t idolize Hogan like he did Stark but instead bonds with him over the two men losing a dear friend.

Adding another layer to that is the inclusion of Quentin Beck a.k.a. Mysterio, who Parker tries to envision as his new Tony Stark. Obviously, things go sideways in that regard, as Mysterio is one of Spidey’s greatest villains but the scenes between Holland and Gyllenhaal’s Mysterio are really f’n good.

I’m still not keen on the other teenagers in the film but they serve their purpose and they don’t get in the way too much. MJ also evolves nicely and even if she is sort of a millennial hipster cynic, she finally lets Peter in and shows a more endearing side to her character.

The story is well structured and it flows at a perfect pace. While they alter Mysterio’s backstory, the alteration is somewhat of an improvement, as it makes more sense in the cinematic world that this Spider-Man lives in. And what’s best about the whole thing, is the new angle makes sense and it allows for Mysterio to be more powerful than he traditionally is in the comics. He’s smarter, more cunning and has Stark’s toys at his disposal.

We also get Nick Fury and Maria Hill back but there is a twist to that. Still, it’s good to see them and I wish that Marvel would use Cobie Smulders’ Hill more than they have over the last decade.

I wasn’t initially keen on the European setting, as Spider-Man is really in his element in New York City. However, it works for the story and the final act taking place in London made up for the lack of skyscrapers and architectural scale that was missing in the earlier parts of the film.

All in all, this was an energetic, emotional and fun movie. It hit the right marks and even though this is really fresh in my mind, I’d have to say that it’s the second best Spider-Man film ever made after 2004’s Spider-Man 2.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: all the MCU films featuring Tom Holland’s Spider-Man.

Film Review: Southpaw (2015)

Release Date: June 15th, 2015 (Shanghai International Film Festival)
Directed by: Antoine Fuqua
Written by: Kurt Sutter
Music by: James Horner
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Forest Whitaker, Naomie Harris, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, Oona Laurence, Rachel McAdams

Wanda Pictures, Riche Productions, Escape Artists, Fuqua Films, The Weinstein Company, 123 Minutes

Review:

“Your bitch isn’t here to save you now.” – Miguel ‘Magic’ Escobar

*Written in 2015.

I heard great things about Southpaw before seeing it but I was skeptical. I haven’t been a huge fan of Antoine Fuqua’s work but I understand that many people are. I don’t think he makes bad films, they just don’t appeal to me for the most part. Also, this was written by Kurt Sutter, the creator of Sons of Anarchy and I am still recovering from going on that ride recently, which I didn’t find to be that enjoyable. Somehow, however, these two men’s styles blended together well and the result is a pretty good film.

Granted, Southpaw doesn’t come without flaws. I’ll talk about those first.

The film follows the same sort of formula as Sons of Anarchy where the main character is kind of a douchebag that does douchebaggy things. As the film moves on, you find yourself wondering if he can keep getting shittier. He does. In fact, he gets so shitty that it is hard to feel anything for the character of boxer Billy Pope other than disgust. Like Jax and his gang from Sons of Anarchy, I’m left watching some unlikable asshole that I don’t give a shit about. But unlike Sons of Anarchy, that perception changes.

I understand that you have to see the guy hit rock bottom in order to see him redeem himself but it was overkill and it made the first act of the film drag on and on. It was comparable to the immense destruction of Metropolis at the end of Man of Steel. The point could have been made without beating the audience over the head.

What brought this whole thing full circle was the performance of Jake Gyllenhaal as Billy Pope. Because even though you get to the point of despising him, especially after his daughter is put into protective custody, he somehow turns it around and makes it work. There aren’t a lot of actors that could pull it off as seamlessly as Gyllenhaal did.

In addition to Gyllenhaal’s superb acting, we are treated to a fantastic performance by Oona Laurence, who plays his young daughter. Child actors in this day and age are typically dreadful; Laurence is the opposite. She played the role, brushing the cute bullshit aside, committed to it and gave us someone who truly felt like a child going through some personal turmoil. I really attribute her skill as a young actress for making this character shine. If it wasn’t for this performance, it might not have sold the redemption story as well. You cared about her, what she was feeling and you wanted to see her find peace even more so than Gyllenhaal’s Billy Pope.

Forest Whitaker sold this film too. His character Tick Wills was a great figure to play off of Billy and to challenge him and put him on the path of redemption. He was just badass, as he always is.

This is a pretty good movie, overall. It was shaky at first but it went to some really good places and ultimately, the end had you feeling pretty happy for Billy, his daughter and Tick. The tragedy part of the story was maybe too severe to try and come back from but this film pulled it off.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: CreedRocky Balboa, The Fighter and other modern boxing movies.

Film Review: Life (2017)

Release Date: March 18th, 2017 (SXSW)
Directed by: Daniel Espinosa
Written by: Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick
Music by: Jon Ekstrand
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Ryan Reynolds, Hiroyuki Sanada, Ariyon Bakare, Olga Dihovichnaya

Skydance Media, Columbia Pictures, Sony Pictures Releasing, 104 Minutes

Review:

“Control, if you’re listening, and you probably are ’cause you’re creepy that way, can I just rant for a second about the micromanagement? We’re not blood-filled meat puppets. I come from a long line of plumbers that can fix a shower, but I can’t. Well, Hugh doesn’t shower anyway – he’s British. It’s not being critical, you’re just a very under-bathed nation; everybody knows it.” – Rory Adams

Man, oh man… where to begin with this thing?

First, this is one of about a zillion ripoffs of Alien. While I don’t have a problem with that, as some films have done great versions of the smart people trapped in space (or underwater, or in Antarctica, or wherever) with a killer monster, this one follows the majority of the clones and is a derivative piece of shit with selfish stupid scientists and a story that offers up nothing new to this overused subgenre of horror/sci-fi/thrillers.

I will say that this did effectively build some suspense in some areas but even then, you pretty much knew where this was going: everyone is fucked.

The only other real positive was the alien creature itself. It was cool looking in an era where alien species just aren’t memorable in film. It was also fairly unique in how it came to be and how it operated and moved but a visually cool alien doesn’t save a giant pile of dreck. Because as cool and different as the alien was, the picture, as a whole, was the exact opposite. It was a rehash of every bad cliche that’s awfulness was only enhanced by the sheer and utter stupidity of its “smart” characters.

Despite all the apparent flaws, I still tried my damnedest to enjoy this thing. For some reason, I love these “trapped in space with a killer” movies. To some degree, I was even playing this up in my head as better than it really was but all that washed away when I got to the ending, which was incredibly fucking predictable and executed so poorly that I actually audibly LOL’d. And quite boisterously, I might add.

Maybe it’s just my problem, but I’m so damn sick of movies with scientists and smart professionals that make incredibly poor decisions and are so worried about saving their own skin that they’ll put the entire human race in harm’s way. You signed up for the danger; you took on the responsibility of that danger when you brought an alien life form on board your space station. Now it wants to kill you. So fucking deal with it and don’t, in any way, allow it to get to Earth. Are there no heroes in movie science, anymore? You got a killer alien? Cool. Now you have to Ripley the fuck out of it! Or die. But you kill that son of a bitch in the process.

I’ve used a lot of f-bombs in this review, which I typically try to refrain from but fuck this piece of shit. My score for it is only as high as it is because the alien was cool and I wanted it to succeed in murdering all these dumb people.

So does this get run through the Cinespiria Shitometer? Of course it does! The results read, “Type 1 Stool: Separate hard lumps, like nuts (hard to pass).” You bet your sore ass this was hard to pass.

Rating: 4/10

Film Review: Nightcrawler (2014)

Release Date: September 5th, 2014 (TIFF)
Directed by: Dan Gilroy
Written by: Dan Gilroy
Music by: James Newton Howard
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Riz Ahmed, Bill Paxton

Bold Films, Open Road Films, 117 Minutes

Review:

“What if my problem wasn’t that I don’t understand people but that I don’t like them? What if I was the kind of person who was obliged to hurt you for this? I mean physically. I think you’d have to believe afterward, if you could, that agreeing to participate and then backing out at the critical moment was a mistake. Because that’s what I’m telling you, as clearly as I can.” – Lou Bloom

Nightcrawler was a film that the critics loved. It was on several top ten lists at the end of 2014 and it even won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. I went into it with a lot of enthusiasm because it was a modern noir-esque picture that had high praise and accolades and starred Jake Gyllwnhall, an actor, who when he is on his A-game, is one of the best working today.

Sadly, I was severely underwhelmed by the movie. It wasn’t due to bad performances, bad direction or lackluster cinematography; all that stuff was good. I just couldn’t connect with the film in the one aspect that was the most highly regarded: the story.

There is no one in Nightcrawler that I care about. Even the Riz Ahmed character sells his soul despite his moral compass and his reservations about his job and how truly evil his boss is. Rene Russo started out strong and was somewhat admirable but ultimately, she sells her soul too. Everyone sells there soul. And the puppet master pulling all the strings is Gyllenhaal’s Louis Bloom.

The thing that makes the narrative hard to digest or connect with is that you just see Bloom on the surface. He’s a selfish, despicable, greedy madman that doesn’t care what horrible actions he has to take, as long as he is the best at what he does and he makes a lot of money. I can deal with a character like this but there needs to be some sort of context, something beneath what’s immediately apparent by his actions. He’s a reptilian human being and this film exists as a sort of satirical commentary on the media and nightcrawlers in general but it is missing a soul and some meaning.

Maybe this works for the Hollywood types living in L.A., as they witness these nightcrawler vultures taking over the streets at night, in an effort to be nightly news paparazzi, capturing violent crimes and carnage in an effort to generate ratings and revenue. To someone that doesn’t live in a big city, a little more narrative meat is needed. Maybe people in L.A. are just okay assuming that the people who do this job are blood thirsty jackals and that’s all the context they need for this story to work. Still, it’s rather one-dimensional.

To me, this is a film that fails to capture any sort of real emotional connection. Sure, you feel the tension in the heat of the moment when some big action sequence is going down or when you’re sitting in the bushes with Bloom, waiting for something bad to pop off. It’s just that everything between these moments doesn’t establish anything worthwhile.

Gyllenhaal played the part as best as he could but I feel like the script, despite winning the biggest of all film awards, wasn’t worthy of the performance. Gyllenhaal deserved more and he should have had the narrative to tell us more. He conveys what is on paper well but its like he doesn’t have all the material he needs to make the character truly live.

The film is still incredibly well acted, especially the scenes between Gyllenhaal and Russo, as well as Gyllenhaal and Ahmed. It also has some incredibly cinematography thanks to the eye and style of Robert Elswit, who also worked on There Will Be BloodMagnolia and dozens of other pictures.

I can’t completely trash the film due to its great technical execution and the talent of its cast. I just don’t feel like it is something I would ever want to watch again.

Rating: 6.25/10