Tag Archives: Jake Gyllenhaal

STRONGER

“…Tatiana Maslany’s depiction of Erin Hurley is one of genuine sentiment and a warm almost tangible sense of goodness.”

Wayward Wolf.

In many ways, Stronger is one of those ten-a-penny ‘triumph over adversity’ films that have been such a mainstay of cinema over the years.

However, what separates David Gordon Green’s tale from most are the superbly powerful performances of the film’s principal characters.

Owing to Jeff Bauman’s erratic nature and inability to turn up when he’s meant to, his relationship with Erin Hurley is something of an on and off affair. At the time in which Erin is due to run the Boston Marathon, their relationship is firmly in the off position, yet Jeff is clearly still obsessed with ‘his’ girl-next-door, Erin, and in a chance meeting at their local bar, Jeff, in a grand gesture aimed at winning her back, not only encourages the bar’s many patrons to sponsor Erin, but vows himself to cheer her on at the finish line.

Home-made banner in hand, for once Jeff just about sticks to his word, but it’s a decision that will dramatically change his life forever as he falls victim to the cowardly bombings of April 2013.

Surrounded by many well-meaning friends and family, in theory Jeff has the support network in place to help him overcome his disability. But with his alcoholic mother and good-time friends’ better judgement so frequently blighted by the bottle – not to mention having to live in a tiny room in his mother’s pokey apartment that is entirely unsuitable for the needs of a a disabled person – it soon becomes apparent that if Jeff is going to have any chance of coming to terms and indeed being at peace with his now drastically changed existence, it’s going to have to be down to him.

If it weren’t for Erin, that is.

Erin, a girl so sweet and caring, will prove over time to be an absolute rock of dependability, ensuring that Jeff’s road to some form of recovery may not be quite so fraught with problems after all.

Little is made of the actual bombings themselves in Green’s film, with only a hint of politicising events or finger pointing at suspects. Instead, the focus turns to Bauman’s psychological struggles in coming to terms not only with his disability, but with the expectation of a city positively tripping over itself to laud him as being some kind of hero, to be wheeled out in public at every given opportunity.

“Boston Strong” is the mantra of the city’s people as its population closes ranks and comes together in the face of adversity.

But Jeff’s life fast descends into a circus of celebrity revolving around rather anodyne acts of flag waving at Bruins matches or tossing first pitches at Red Sox games, not to mention a proposed visit to Jeff’s home from the TV Queen of all-American sentiment, Oprah Winfrey.

It’s understandably all too much.

The one ray of light throughout though is the wonderful Erin. But Jeff’s innate unreliable nature combined with the psychological scarring of recent events threatens to undermine everything good that this girl undoubtedly brings into his life.

Stronger boasts decent support performances most notably from Miranda Richardson who is a good piece of casting as Jeff’s well-meaning but troubled alcoholic mother, Patty, but it is the film’s leading pair who predictably steal the show.

Jake Gyllenhaal is tremendously visceral in his portrayal of Jeff Bauman whilst Tatiana Maslany’s depiction of Erin Hurley is one of genuine sentiment and a warm almost tangible sense of goodness. Together the couple demonstrate the most solidly believable on-screen chemistry as they attempt to navigate their way through the most harrowing scenes of tension and heartbreak.

Just how much of David Gordon Green’s film has been embellished for cinematic purposes only Jeff and Erin themselves will know, but as a cinematic spectacle, Stronger stands alone well as an engaging, thought-provoking film absolutely brought alive by way of some truly memorable performances.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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LIFE

“…Life is perhaps something of a homage to some of the truly great futuristic films of yesteryear.”

Wayward Wolf Film Review.

Watching this science-fiction horror got me thinking of the irony that amidst the infinite vastness of outer space, the actual ‘stage’ upon which the vast majority of apparently ‘realistic’ science fiction films are played out, is somewhat claustrophobically small and rather limited; a case in point being Daniel Espinosa’s, Life.

In order that the crew of an exploratory space mission might not suffocate to death, the action must either be contained within the sanctuary and metaphorical ‘four walls’ of their relatively minuscule space station, or should they venture out of these confines into outer space, they must again be contained, this time within life-preserving space suits, anchored firmly to the space station.

Containment is indeed the name of the game and thus the ability for Directors to demonstrate true originality considering the self-imposed man-made limitations of the known science-fiction world, can quite often be severely hampered. This results in scenarios and backdrops becoming all too frequently a little overly-familiar and maybe even reassuring to our eyes, no matter how many supposedly differing tales of missions blasting-off into the great unknown we are subjected to.

On the one hand, Life is a film that most definitely suffers an originality bypass, more than most, its subject matter revolving around content that’s quite clearly been begged, borrowed and stolen from any number of prior science fiction sources.

But on the other hand, it’s equally possible to accept the point of view that Life is perhaps something of a homage to some of the truly great futuristic films of yesteryear.

Alien, Aliens, The Thing, Gravity, Interstellar, they’re all, without question, key influences here in the Director’s thinking.

But is this necessarily a bad thing?

These films were all lauded for their particular plus points, be that the more gritty, industrial and organic feel – the actual rattling nuts and bolts of space travel – that was conjured up in Interstellar, the stunning cinematography and awe-inspiring heart and soul of Gravity, the use of visual tracking technology to create absolutely white-knuckle-esque suspense, in Aliens, or the sheer fear factor brought about through a combination of the unknown and ultimately the horror of knowing, in both Alien and The Thing.

To name but a few. The list could very easily go on.

In the case of Life, each of these elements are employed strategically and expertly – it has to be said – creating a thoroughly convincing yet very straight forward tale of the inevitable perils of poking about too much in space.

The crew of an international space station are part of a mission to intercept some sort of probe that has been collecting ‘samples’ from the surface of Mars. The crew are to then analyse these for any potential signs of life.

Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare), is the scientist in charge of analysing and nurturing the single-celled life form that they successfully unearth from Mars’ dust samples.

Its rapid growth and unconventional, unpredictable demeanour soon becomes not only the subject of much fascination, but also of considerable concern for the crew. They are mindful that as ground-breaking as their discovery undoubtedly is, there are bucket loads of unknowns attached to this particular venture, and the mutually agreed upon, over-riding protocol is that no matter how unique and precious this organism’s growth and development may be, if things get out of hand, it cannot be allowed to affect life on planet earth.

Needless to say, when playing with fire, people get burnt. And so it proves to be.

So long as you can sufficiently disassociate this film from all of its more obvious influences and treat it as the nail-bitingly tense thriller that it certainly is, Life will, without question, be a most enjoyable 100 minutes of your time.

The cast is excellent and the characterisation, I am pleased to announce, is surprisingly downplayed when compared with the more exaggerated characterisation of some of the film’s science fiction forerunnersFrom the brash swagger of Rory Adams (Ryan Reynolds), the sultry authority of team leader, Ekaterina Golovkina (Olga Dihovichnaya), to the quietly spoken David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal) – whose influence on matters steadily grows as the team’s collective crisis deepens and they flap about with increasing desperation in their attempts to bring a halt to the inextirpable extraterrestrial’s progress.

As for ‘Calvin’ the alien being; he / she / it is deceivingly angelic in appearance. A sort of translucent orchid-like jellyfish creature. Convincing both as some sort of mythical spiritual being and as the relentless predator that it turns out to be.

Perhaps not so convincing however is Jon Ekstrand’s full and rather overblown soundtrack which is effective only sporadically, yet over-bearing and seemingly omni-present. The film at times struggles to breathe under the sheer weight of this excessive sonic onslaught.

Nonetheless, this is but a minor gripe, and is insufficient to detract from the positive impression and sentiment that the film successfully conveys, overall.

Thoroughly engaging to the point where I failed to second guess a fairly predictable yet highly effective twist near the film’s conclusion, Life is a delectable piece of fantasy that tips – in the most brazen of fashion – the visor of its space suit’s helmet in the general direction of the very best of classic cinematic science fiction.

 

 

 

 

 

 

FILM REVIEW: Nocturnal Animals

Susan Morrow (Amy Adams) has a certain sadness in her eyes, much like her mother. At least that’s what she is told.

Like mother, like daughter?

A successful modern artist, she lives a largely unfulfilled life, rattling around in the huge, minimalist mansion that she shares with her mainly absent husband, Hutton Morrow (Armie Hammer). Theirs is a cold, rather loveless relationship, born out of material desires and misplaced priorities.

It’s also a relationship that came about in the most callous fashion, very much at the expense of Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal), an author and Susan’s ex-husband.

Susan had married Edward much to the chagrin of her materialistic, Republican parents. Her mother, Anne, in particular, (a small cameo part by the excellent Laura Linney), had implored her not to go through with it. Against her mother’s advice, however, Susan gets married, but as the old saying suggests: “the apple never falls far from the tree,” and Susan’s inherited latent desire for material possessions, greater financial support and security leads her, in a calculated move, away from Edward, and into the arms of Hutton, a wealthy business man and second husband-to-be.

With the unfaithful Hutton away on yet another of his ‘business’ trips, and home alone as ever, Susan is surprised to receive a draft copy of Edward’s new novel in the post, entitled ‘Nocturnal Animals.’ This is a term that has significant personal meaning for her from her time together with Edward, many years earlier.

It’s the first contact the two of them have had for some nineteen years. Not only this, Edward has even dedicated his new book to her, citing Susan as his influence to finally be able to write something of worth and of which he is proud.

Excited by their renewed acquaintance, yet fully aware that she had never been supportive of Edward’s writing when they were together – in fact going as far as to suggest that he should return to school rather than continue with his creative passion – Susan is shocked at just how enthralling she finds his book. The novel’s content, however, gradually proves to be just a little too close to home for comfort.

Does this book merely strike a chord with a lonely, abandoned woman, or does Edward’s writing hint at something altogether more sinister? Some kind of stark reminder to Susan of tough times past, or worse still, a thinly-veiled threat of revenge?

Nocturnal Animals is director Tom Ford’s highly stylised thriller, based upon Austin Wright’s novel Tony and Susan. Essentially it’s three stories intertwined strategically. Susan’s current life, Susan’s lamentable past with Edward, and the narrative of Edward’s new novel.

Edward’s book is actually a fairly straight forward story of wrong-doing, regret and revenge, with Gyllenhaal, superb, cast for a second time as the story’s lead, Tony Hastings. He is a family man, driving through the night along a deserted West Texas highway with his wife and teenage daughter (Laura and India Hastings, played by Isla Fisher and Ellie Bamber).

Tony and his family become unavoidably involved with a gang of rednecks en route who physically force their car off the road, and set about abusing them both physically and psychologically. It’s a set of events with life-changing consequences, and it’s only the efforts and single-mindedness of local Policeman, Bobby Andes, (the ever-excellent Michael Shannon), that ultimately convinces mild-mannered Tony that justice, no matter how, can and must be done.

Susan’s realisation that Edward’s book is perhaps less fictional yarn and more a poignant metaphor for their ill-fated years together, develops slowly but tellingly. Right down to the small details, the parallels that Edward draws between past life and fiction are striking and through his books characters, he systematically sets about attempting to right the wrongs and redress the issues of yesteryear; issues that he seems never to have been able to come to terms with.

Such is the temptation and ease with which Tony’s story can be misinterpreted as an extension of Edward’s subsequent life, post-Susan, and so engaging is his tale, that it’s actually very easy to blur the lines here between reality and fiction, rendering us unable or even unwilling sometimes to separate the two, leading this viewer at least, to begin to doubt his own interpretation of the film’s events.

Far from this being a negative point though, such confusion merely makes us probe ever deeper, immersing ourselves in, and reading between the lines of, Edward’s metaphorical tale.

Nocturnal Animals is visually sumptuous (shades of The Neon Demon and Only God Forgives), as one would expect from director, and fashioner designer, Tom Ford.

It’s slick without sacrificing any of its edge. It’s beautifully paced, and above all, incredibly involving from start to finish, with a top class cast that extracts the very maximum from Ford’s impressive screenplay.

Like some sort of perfect storm of style, substance, and impact, Tom Ford has struck just the right balance to produce a film that burns itself deep in the ol’ grey matter.

Expect this to feature come awards season.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FILM REVIEW: Demolition

Davis Mitchell was sleep walking through his marriage. His young, beautiful wife, Julia (Heather Lind), had told him that he didn’t listen, and then one day she was gone; taken from him in a car accident.
I can relate with that. Not in its literal entirety, but the premise and the overall emotional upheaval that it would bring about rings very true to me, as I’m sure it will for many.
There then follows the curious scenario of a man standing at the epicentre of a collective outpouring of familial grief and emotion, yet feeling just a kind of numbness to it all and an overwhelming urge to distance himself from the entire charade.
Davis Mitchell, (the very excellent Jake Gyllenhaal), it would appear has spent the last twelve years of his life on auto pilot; one half of a convenient marriage; almost certainly the less committed half.
A faulty vending machine in the A&E department of the hospital in which his wife has just died prompts Davis to write the first of what becomes an obsessive sequence of letters to the vending firm’s customer care representative, Karen Moreno (Naomi Watts) who, in time he befriends along with her troubled son, Chris (Judah Lewis), and through whom he gradually begins to rediscover himself.
In the aftermath of his wife’s passing, he slips into a somewhat detached and surreal place in his head; the sort of place that one finds oneself in, in times of upheaval, and much as his wife used to implore him to do when she was physically there, he suddenly starts noticing things again, right down to the tiniest of details.
This sudden, new-found observance, together with an obsessive compulsion to rip apart – more often than not, literally – the very fabric and structure of his marriage and everything that has come to represent it, is all well and good in attempting to aid the healing process, but Davis is still employed by Julia’s father, a man who expects Davis to remain true to his daughter’s memory and true to the man that he was before her untimely death.
This thoughtful piece from director Jean-Marc Vallée‘s is simultaneously emotionally involving and entertaining. Predictably Jake Gyllenhaal excels as the emotionally confused widower experiencing the kind of new lease on life that can maybe only be found through the total abandonment of all that has preceded and supposedly defined you to date.
It’s not a film that panders to emotional cliches or resorts in any way to unnecessary schmaltz – when the opportunities are certainly there to do so – and as bizarre as Davis’ new found reality can be at times, crucially it’s a film that remains credible and believable throughout.
Vallée has successfully captured a very different take on the concept of going through the rigours of the grieving process, and how it’s sometimes only ever possible to truly appreciate someone and what they truly meant to you once they’re gone.
A subtle, understated piece that deserves far better critical recognition than sadly it appears to have had thus far.
Very much recommended.