Short Takes: Birdman, Nightcrawler & St. Vincent

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Birdman: or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) – Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman is a stale, one-note show biz satire with an ambitious and occasionally dazzling formal design. Led by a manic performance by Michael Keaton as a washed-up super hero movie star attempting a comeback on the stage, Birdman weaves in and out of his Raymond Carver adaptation with a string of impressively executed tracking shots.

Birdman is more about executing and fusing those long takes than about saying anything exciting or fresh about theater or performance, though.  Iñárritu’s images are sleek but ultimately bland and empty, and the story about a middle-aged man reclaiming his glory is too.  Keaton’s performance as Riggan is the loudest, but I was moved more by Andrea Riseborough as his co-star and Lindsay Duncan as a bitter New York Times theater critic.  The two actresses have an irrepressible screen presence, and they quietly steal scenes from the self-parodying turns by Keaton and Edward Norton.  Grade: D+

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ARCHIVE REVIEW: Zodiac

Zodiac
Directed by: David Fincher
Written by: James Vanderbilt (screenplay), Robert Graysmith (book)
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo, and John Carroll Lynch

Unsolved murders haunt us.  As the detective played by Mark Ruffalo remarks at one point in Zodiac, there were 200 murders committed since a serial killer left his brutal mark on the zeitgeist.  Those murders were explained, though, and as a result they are boring to us.

There are several fictionalized versions of the story of The Zodiac Killer, because finding a narrative that rewards a viewer would be daunting and it would miss the point.  This is a story that is not about rewards.  There is obsession laced within every frame of it, driving all of the principal characters and not just the psychopath.  A need for justice, a need to definitively know lies buried beneath the daunting surface of this David Fincher masterwork.

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REVIEW: Source Code

Source Code
Directed by: Duncan Jones
Written by: Ben Ripley (screenplay)
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Vera Farmiga, Michelle Monaghan, and Jeffrey Wright

Duncan Jones made noticeable ripples in the independent film landscape back in 2009 with Moon.  The main source of its appeal was that it was a low budget sci-fi film with idealism burning at its core instead of special effects and an actor (Sam Rockwell) that brought enough gravity to make you care.

When a filmmaker makes a splash on the indie scene they are sometimes rewarded with a mainstream money-maker.  Take a look at Marc Webb, the director of another 2009 indie film, (500) Days of Summer, who is now at the helm of the Spiderman reboot. Jones landed a less lucrative big budget enterprise, but one with a unique vision that is suited to his taste.

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SPOTLIGHT: Jake Gyllenhaal

His upcoming role in Duncan Jones’ second film Source Code is just around the corner and sounds similar to a few too many movies we have seen before like the recent The Adjustment Bureau. With trust in Jones, who brilliantly crafted 2009’s Moon, the movie may be a big hit for Gyllenhaal following his series of duds like Brothers, Prince of Persia and Love and Other Drugs.

 

Gyllenhaal broke out after his role in October Sky, landing him a role as the iconic Donnie Darko. In his early years he played the mysterious, troubled boy in transition with subtle angst that defined his generation so well. Gyllenhaal has only had one real commercial hit with the doomsday dud The Day After Tomorrow, and instead has found himself success in mid-budget films that allow him to capitalize on his ability to be the desired lead or play on his boyish masculinity like Jarhead, Brokeback Mountain and Zodiac. With only really a decade of acting under his belt, Gyllenhaal has managed to star in a handful of great films.

Donnie Darko– It is easily Gyllenhaal’s most iconic and recognizable role of his career. The cult film was initially slated for direct-to-video before being picked up at the last minute. Even so, the film was a commercial flop until a few years later when it picked up on the DVD market; especially given Gyllenhaal began breaking out with bigger, more mainstream films. Darko is a great, small science fiction film with a twist ending mainstream audiences crave. Gyllenhaal begins all his career staples here, playing the troubled boy dealing with pressures of the world.

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REVIEW: Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
Directed by: Mike Newell
Written by: Boaz Yakin & Doug Miro (screenplay)
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Ben Kingsley, Gemma Arterton, and Alfred Molina

I must say, after seeing the abysmal trailer for this film, I’m somewhat pleasantly surprised with the end result.  What initially looked like another bad video game adaptation with worse graphics than the actual game, Jerry Bruckheimer has done the unthinkable: taken the (resident) evil act of adapting a movie to screen and having it actually be entertaining.  Alas, no Jack Sparrow to make this tale interesting or worth embarking on.

Bruckheimer makes a living off of these ridiculous ideas.  He grossed more than a billion dollars off of a trilogy based on a Disney ride.Though he has production credits only, you can see his swash-buckling touch all over this desert tale.  The Sex and the City girls decorate their Middle Eastern adventure with desperation mixed with luxury and a hint of American arrogance.  You’ll find no such things metastasize on the surface of this film, though they are all there behind the scenes; a dwindling economy prevails but Bruckheimer still finds $200 million for his vision.  It’s not so much arrogance as studio caution that a white male has been cast in the lead role as the Prince of Persia.

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