Life


Viewed – 15 August 2017  online rental

Science-fiction has become one of my favourite genres, with such gems as The Martian and Interstellar impressing me.  There seems to have been a bit of a resurgence in such movies, albeit stepping away from the flights of fantasy we’ve seen and instead focusing on a more semi-realistic tone.  The same can be said for this latest space-set thriller starring amongst others, Jake Gyllenhaal and Ryan Reynolds.

Life

A team of astronauts orbiting the earth reprieve a probe that has been on it’s way back from Mars, and discover a life form within it’s gathered soil samples.  Nurturing said life form in an incubator, the astronauts try to figure out how it responds and whether it’s harmless or deadly.  I’m guessing you probably know the answer to that one, huh?

I got a serious Alien vibe from this but stripped down to actual realistic space travel and science rather than H R Giger inspired horror aesthetics.   The creature, nicknamed Calvin is initially cute but eventually shudder creepy-crawly, and as the scientists attempt to contain it, this set into action some seriously well done thrills.  It’s not a subject that breathes new life into a tired genre but it’s done well, has some genuinely heart-in-mouth moments and is topped off by decent effects work (but for the occasional obvious CGI monster) and great set design that transported me right there … and I didn’t want to be there.  Gyllenhaal, considering his usual brilliance is a little side-lined and the star of this turns out to be Rebecca Ferguson who is very good.  Ryan Reynolds seems like he’s just playing Ryan Reynolds, but the rest of the cast do a decent job.  It’s also a movie, despite it’s familiarity that still managed to keep me gripped and wondering how it might end, and in this day and age that has to be commended.

Verdict:  4 /5

Nocturnal Animals


Viewed – 13 May 2017  online rental

How could I pass up a movie starring two of my favourites?  I tend to enjoy almost anything with Amy Adams or Jake Gyllenhaal and consider them two of the best around right now.  This latest effort has Adams as a high society, somewhat pretentious art gallery owner who when we meet her has just held her latest exhibition (something to do with overly obese women dancing around naked).  One day she receives a manuscript off her ex (Gyllenhaal) who she hadn’t heard off in a while.  Adams is currently in a rather loveless relationship with Armie Hammer (The Man From U.N.C.L.E.) but quickly finds her own past with Gyllenhaal echoed in the pages of the violent thriller he’s sent her.

Nocturnal Animals

Director Tom Ford’s highly atmospheric drama has a great noir-ish mood with an eerie style not unlike something by David Lynch or Alfred Hitchcock.  This is aided well by a haunting orchestral score from Abel Korzeniowski.  However the structure … the fact the movie jumps back and forth from Adams’ present circumstances, her past with Gyllenhaal and the story within the manuscript, which plays out like a revenge thriller … is all it’s own and makes this not your average movie.  It’s an intelligent study of a relationship, about regret, revenge and bitterness but done in such a way that I found particularly gripping.

Michael Shannon (Man of Steel, Boardwalk Empire), increasingly an actor I’m impressed with lends the movie a degree of intensity as a character in the manuscript, and Gyllenhaal is again convincing even if we mainly see him in the manuscript setting (I’d have liked a bit more explored of his motives in the real-life segments but that aspect is mostly left to your imagination).  Amy Adams is again very good and particularly nuanced making a generally unlikable character sympathetic as the movie draws to a close.  The point that is reached felt a little ‘…and?’ but that’s small thing for what is otherwise a clever and engrossing experience.

Not for everyone, but I came away rather impressed.

Verdict: 4 /5

Donnie Darko


Viewed – 19 December 2016

Theatrical Cut

For a while there, around the time of this movie’s release the as yet unknown Jake Gyllenhaal was the poster boy for a generation of disaffected teens.  Now regarded as a cult movie, this decidedly anti-teen drama still strikes a cord, with it’s dream-like atmosphere and obvious Lynchian stylings.  Gyllenhaal plays troubled school kid Donnie who suffers from depression, has a past linked to burning a house down and seemingly can’t relate to the world around him.  He also happens to have an imaginary friend called Frank, a guy dressed up in a rabbit costume.  Following a freak accident where an aircraft engine falls out of the sky and through the roof of his bedroom, Donnie tries to piece together various clues supposedly leading to the end of the world.

Donnie-Darko

A blend of styles, from sci-fi, Twilight Zone and high school angst to David Lynch-like urban paranoia – makes for a rather unique experience topped off with an unhinged central performance from Gyllenhaal.  Along for the ride is welcome support from Drew Barrymore, a very young looking Jena Malone, Maggie Gyllenhaal and the late Patrick Swayze.  It’s unconventional and bizarre, but is also a movie that really made me think about life, the choices we make, paths we go on etc.  This is all aided by an effective, ethereal score and great 80s themed music cues, the most memorable being Gary Jules’ eerily brilliant version of Mad World.

It’s certainly not a movie for everyone, is rather slow in places and leaves some moments unexplained.  However as an introduction to one of my favourite actors, and as a high school movie that really has a profound impact if you let it … I have to recommend this one.

Limited Edition

The Blu-ray is (mostly) impressive stuff.  The image quality I’m guessing is purposely soft, to create that dream-aesthetic, so disappoints with flat colours and a smudgy, dull appearance throughout.  However, sound fairs much better with crisp dialogue, good use of surrounds and each music moment is particularly effective.  However it’s in the extra material where this Arrow Video Limited Edition blew me away.  We get two cuts of the movie, including the longer Director’s Cut, which primarily adds greater emphasis to the sci-fi elements with on-screen extracts from the time travel book featured in both versions, extra symbolism and some scenes are extended or slightly altered.  Ultimately though this version doesn’t differ all that much from the original but perhaps is a little clearer in some of it’s themes.  There’s also a wealth of supplementary material included, like interviews and deleted scenes.  Stand outs though are two audio commentaries on the theatrical cut from cast and production crew, as well as another on the director’s cut.  Add to this a detailed collector’s book and I’d say this is one of the most packed Blu-rays you can currently buy.

Verdict:

(the movie)  4 /5

(the Blu-ray)  4 /5

Demolition


Viewed – 20 September 2016  Online-rental

I think it can mostly be said that actor Jake Gyllenhaal is one of the more assured talents around today and often the roles he chooses are worth checking out, more often than not for his often quirky, complex performance.

Demolition

This is no exception as he plays Davis, a guy involved in a car crash that results in the untimely death of his wife.  Suddenly surrounded by grieving relatives and concerned friends however, Jake finds he doesn’t know how to grieve and finds the world around him unrelateable.  So Davis starts to exhibit rather strange behaviour, starting with writing letters of complaint to a vending machine company, that results in an unconventional friendship with the woman who works there (Naomi Watts).

This was a really interesting idea, brought to life by Gyllenhaal’s oddball but no less human performance which I’m sure is actually a rather accurate representation of how death can affect certain people.  He’s aided by an equally enjoyable Watts who herself is a little strange and searching for that ‘something’ that seems to evade both characters lives.  At times it reminded me in a not so surreal way of Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind (especially with the various memories, flashbacks etc. to Davis’ deceased wife).  Add to this a rather touching and unusual script that doesn’t dwell too heavily on the tragedy but rather peppers it with cleverly-observed humour to make this pretty entertaining considering the subject.  Support all round is also decent too especially from Chris Cooper as Davis’s straight-talking father-in-law.  I found this refreshingly different and certainly had more to it than I was expecting, with again Gyllenhaal proving why he’s one of my favourites.

Well worth your time.

Verdict:  4 /5

Nightcrawler


Viewed – 06 November 2014  Cinema

Two things sold me on seeing this … the excellent trailer and actor Jake Gyllenhaal, one of my favourites.  Now in recent years he’s slipped into the mainstream with roles like Prince of Persia and Source Code, but his routes are in unusual indie flicks like Donnie Darko.  This suits that heritage well and has him playing Louis, a somewhat unhinged loner, seeking out employment but not having much luck until he stumbles upon a highway car accident.  There he witnesses a group of freelance guys (headed by Bill Paxton) who rush to crime scenes or accidents in the hope of catching something on video.  They then sell it to the news network that will pay the most.  A potentially lucrative career opportunity Louis believes and is soon buying a video camera  in hope of making a name for himself.

Nightcrawler-Review-645x369

A clever and interesting concept with a brilliant turn by Gyllenhaal, who plays Louis with creepiness and menace beneath a brittle facade of friendly and charismatic.  I enjoyed watching him go to extreme lengths to get the sort of footage his rivals wouldn’t dare, and the slow burning uncertainty of what might happen next kept me glued.  Paxton is decent but a bit under-used but good to see this 80s / 90s veteran still turning up in things.  Better is Rene Russo playing the perfect sultry older-woman.  The movie has a strong similarity to Robert DeNiro classic Taxi Driver even if Louis isn’t as appealing as Travis Bickle – but the mood and the isolation from normal society is the same.  It also has a killer car-chase towards the end which took my breath away.

The plot does take a bit of time to hit it’s stride, and that ending was anti-climactic, and well, the whole show could have been even darker.  For fans of Gyllenhaal however, and if you’re after something a bit different – you can’t go wrong with this.

Verdict:  4 /5