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.

Film Review: Independence Day (1996)

Also known as: ID4 (promotional abbreviation)
Release Date: June 25th, 1996 (Westwood premiere)
Directed by: Roland Emmerich
Written by: Dean Devlin, Roland Emmerich, Alessia Duval
Music by: David Arnold
Cast: Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Margaret Colin, Randy Quaid, Robert Loggia, James Rebhorn, Harvey Fierstein, Mary McDonnell, Judd Hirsch, Vivica A. Fox, Adam Baldwin, Brent Spiner, James Duval, Harry Connick Jr., Mae Whitman, Ross Bagley, Lisa Jakub, Giuseppe Andrews, Dan Lauria, Erick Avari, Leland Orser, Lyman Ward, Frank Welker (voice), Tracey Walter (uncredited)

Centropolis Entertainment, 20th Century Fox, 145 Minutes

Review:

“I saw… its thoughts. I saw what they’re planning to do. They’re like locusts. They’re moving from planet to planet… their whole civilization. After they’ve consumed every natural resource they move on… and we’re next. Nuke ’em. Let’s nuke the bastards.” – President Thomas Whitmore

This is still one of the greatest blockbusters ever made. It really was the Star Wars of the ’90s and nothing from that decade can top it as far as massive popcorn movies go. It set out to be as epic as possible and it succeeded.

Granted, it also birthed a string of films that had to be bigger and larger in every conceivable way and the whole formula got watered down and ineffective pretty quickly but it all started here and this is still the best massive disaster movie ever made.

Sure, this isn’t a perfect film. Blockbusters very rarely are. They aren’t made to win Oscars, well except for visual effects and sound, and they certainly aren’t acting clinics for up and comers in Hollywood that see themselves as the next generation’s Daniel Day-Lewis. These films aren’t supposed to be high art, they are supposed to be incredibly fun escapism where a crowded room of dozens can cheer and stuff their faces with triple buttered, quadruple salted popcorn and sodas the size of Hulk’s fist. Independence Day knew exactly what it was and exactly what it needed to be. Honestly, it is the most Spielberg movie not directed by Spielberg.

This movie works so well because it had such a talented and solid cast and everyone just had chemistry with each other. It didn’t matter which two or three people were on screen at the same time, they all just fit well together. The various personalities and characters meshed and complimented one another, giving every major player a purpose. Hell, Will Smith is the top billed star and he doesn’t even come into the film until the 26th minute. There is such a good balance between all the core people and their tasks.

That being said, this is so well written in how it handles a large ensemble cast and how it also moves through time leading up to the initial alien attack. The first 45 minutes of this movie are great. You don’t even get action until this thing’s been running for almost an hour but you are at the edge of your seat with every sequence in the first act. And then when the aliens do attack, it is a sight to behold and frankly, the special effects still look magnificent by modern standards.

I also love how patriotic this film is. It takes American ideas and American Exceptionalism and puts them on a global scale. “Yo, America figured out how to kill these unkillable aliens! Let’s pony up and follow their lead!” And this was made by a German dude, Roland Emmerich. But I think it is clear that this taps into what America was founded on and why those things are important. The burning desire for freedom and liberty and having the stones to step up to the plate when those things are being taken away.

Speaking of which, President Whitmore, through the magic of Bill Pullman, gives one of the greatest speeches of all-time, which still fires me up and gets me all emotional every friggin’ time I hear it. I’d vote for the guy.

After seeing this and having already experienced Stargate and Universal Solider, I really thought Roland Emmerich was going to be the director of the future. Well, he immediately dropped the ball with his Godzilla movie and really hasn’t been the same since. But this was the greatest film he ever directed and that’s okay. This would be an incredibly hard picture to top and that is even more apparent after its sequel came out a few years back and sort of missed the mark.

Look, I just love this film. Within the context of what it is supposed to be, it is nearly perfect. It has some flaws and some convenient plot developments but I don’t care about that stuff when it comes to a movie like this. Could Jeff Goldblum really hook up his Apple laptop to an alien mothership? Who gives a shit. Logic and common sense don’t need to get in the way of the fun I’m having.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: It’s sequel, even though that one didn’t live up to the hype. Also, other epic disaster movies from the era but this one is ultimately the king.