Posts Tagged ‘Jake Gyllenhaal’

It’s been 15 years since the cult classic Donnie Darko was first released and the world has witnessed some seismic events in between; a litany of wars and conflicts, the financial crash and, of course, the emergence of Kim Kardashian’s derriere. Director Richard Kelly has unleashed two sci fi oddities in that time, but it’s the tale of a troubled teen and a 6ft bunny rabbit that really captured the hearts and minds of a generation (including the editors of this website.) Reflections sat down with Kelly to learn about the new restoration, the perils of Hollywood and the lyricism of Tears for Fears…

What’s it been like revisiting the film after 15 years?

It’s been great. Arrow Films contacted me and they said they wanted to do a 4K restoration. That was music to my ears because the film has never been properly maintained. I was never happy with the transfer, the Blu-ray or any of it. It just never looked right. So they gave us this great resource to go back to the original negative and use all of today’s technology to present the film in a whole new way. It was a lot of work and I had a window of time available with Steven Poster (Donnie Darko’s DoP) to go and do it. It’s great.

When the film first came out it took a little while to take flight. Do you think it caught on in the zeitgeist?

I think it really caught on here (in the UK) for whatever reason. It caught on in the US but not as quickly. When it came over in 2002, I was blown away by the response. I was overwhelmed, it gave me a second wind, you know. I can’t say why it was here. I think maybe it might have something to do with the music being all UK based pop songs. It’s an American story, but it’s universal and it translates into many languages and crosses many cultures. There is something universal about being a teenager and confronting big metaphysical ideas.

You use a lot of musical scenes, was there a big inspiration behind that?

I love incorporating music into my films, and it’s always by design. It’s often planned ahead of time, written into the script, choreographed into the script. The lyrical moments for me are the most cinematic. I always want to protect the lyricism. It’s sometimes a challenge to do because, like that Tears for Fears sequence in the movie, that’s at least two minutes long and no one is speaking dialogue. There’s a lot of story, there’s a lot of narrative in that sequence and it’s completely essential to the film. But when you’re dealing with financiers and with the studio and people want the running time shorter, they’re looking at that and thinking it’s superfluous, self indulgent lyricism and I’m like, ‘That’s why I’m doing this!’ For the lyricism, right? It becomes a real fight to protect this stuff.

How did you know that sequence was particularly precious to you?

From the very beginning. It was written in the script that when they jump out of the bus and Jake’s feet hit the pavement that the piano note begins. I was like, I saw it. That was it. It had to be this way. Like in Southland Tales with Justin Timberlake lip synching to The Killers, and there are all these dancers and he’s got a Budweiser. That guy (Timberlake) saw it. Then you’ve got to convince the producers to let you take a day of filming, when you don’t have the rights to the song and the producers were like, “We don’t have the song, we don’t even know if we can get the song, the song might cost up to $200,000 and this is crazy”. You’ve got to pick your battles, and those are some that I picked.

In all of your films you really portray the dark side of humanity. What draws you to these kinds of films?

I think the first three films that I have made are obviously dealing with some big apocalyptic themes. Literally apocalyptic themes. There is definitely a disturbing confrontation with a lot of dark stuff. For these three films they almost seem like a part of a bigger story. All my films are connected in ways that people don’t completely realise yet. I think they are more compelling stories. I don’t want to only make films that are dark, so to speak. I would love to make films that are more optimistic, that have a happy ending. I am capable of doing that! (laughs). I don’t always plan on killing everyone or blowing up the world. I’m not looking to continue being ‘apocalypse boy’.

How do you feel about the theatrical cut at the moment. Is it important to you that everyone understood how the parallel universe plot worked?

I don’t favour one cut over the other. The Director’s Cut is much more novelistic, sprawling and it’s got a lot more science fiction logic to it. I think both cuts have their virtues and I’m not really satisfied with either of them completely but they are what they are. With this restoration I was really grateful that we were able to go in and make the image look better. There is a lot of people who have never seen this movie on the big screen. It’s a significant improvement.

Re-watching the film I was really intrigued by the Patrick Swayze character. In light of some of the recent high profile sex scandals I wondered if you had any thoughts about his role in the film?

At the time we were trying to satirise the self help (gurus). When we made the film in 2000 there was never really any big high profile sex scandal involving big celebrity or whatever. I think we were just thinking, ‘OK we’re going to deconstruct this self help guy who sort of shows up in the town and is sort of a snake oil salesman’. He’s clearly full of shit and we kind of thought, ‘what could be the worst possible secret or sinister back story for this character?’. OK, well if he’s a child pornographer, let’s go with that. Then it really became just a twist in the movie and he became one of the multiple villains.

In regards to Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance, what were you looking for in Donnie?

I think that you know that a film is connecting if you can’t imagine anyone else in the lead role. It had to be Jake. We both spent a lot of time with the script going through every scene and he would ask me to make adjustments to the dialogue. It was a really delicate, emotional balancing act trying to modulate Donnie’s arc. So yesterday Donnie yelled at his gym teacher, tomorrow he’s going to be burning down a house. We had to map out the timeline to figure out where he was emotionally on every day of shooting and where he would be in the calendar of 28 days. So it was a big undertaking. We had to be very meticulous with mapping it all out.

If you had control over the timeline of your film career would you have liked the success of Donnie Darko to have come a few films later?

Hindsight is always 20/20, you know? I think the order was what it was meant to be. It was not a success until it came to the UK. It was actually a disaster at Sundance, it was a flop in the US. So all the movies take time. You can’t really control the wind. A movie, when it gets released, the wind is either blowing at your front or it’s blowing at your back. You can’t control the wind. I just try to follow my instincts. On the next film we’ve been really careful to make sure all the elements are going to be in place. I hope the wind will be at our back.

Are you going to change to another genre in future?

Yeah. I’m working on a lot of new stuff and I’m going to be moving in a lot of new directions. I don’t ever just want to be repeating myself. I don’t ever want to get complacent or surrender to the marketplace or become cynical. I just want to keep moving forward and exploring new kinds of stories and new ideas. You’re going to see me move in a lot of new directions.

DONNIE DARKO 15th Anniversary 4K Restoration will screen at the BFI from 17th December and in cinemas nationwide from 23rd December. BFI Tickets are on sale now: http://bit.ly/2eww8r3

Read Full Post »

If there were any questions left on Tom Ford’s directorial skills, Nocturnal Animals has answered them all. After his 2009 debut, A Single Man, the 55-year old fashion designer-turned-director comes back to Venice with Nocturnal Animals, a poignant and gripping tale that feels like something in between a thriller and a brutal satire of modern-day Los-Angeles’ socialites, shot with a confidence one would hardly expect from a director’s second feature.

But Ford is known for his ability to take everyone by surprise, and after his memorable entry into the world of film-making, he writes, directs and produces yet another visually mesmerising film that conveys a mixture of angst and nostalgia that stays with the viewer until the very last shot.

Susan (Amy Adams) is a Texas-born thirty-something year-old who works in an art gallery in LA. She is married to a successful business man (Armie Hammer) and lives in a dream-house overlooking Los Angeles’ skyline. Yet we know from the start hers is not a happy life. She hobnobs with LA artists who appear to be more concerned with their latest plastic surgeries than the art they make, a world which, in the memorable words of a colleague of hers, may be empty, but surely feels a lot less painful than the real one. Things change the day she receives a gruesome thriller freshly written by her former husband Tony (Jake Gyllenhaal), and the novel makes her realise just how much she gave up to live the comfortable existence she now enjoys.

To some extent, Nocturnal Animals is neither revolutionary nor experimental. There are countless of films that deploy the catalyst which Ford uses to set the drama in motion: someone writes a book, that book becomes part of the film, and eventually the characters on the big screen end up relating with what was written, so that the book and the film become two intertwined worlds. But we do not know, and will only found out as the movie goes on, whether the book tells a story that Susan and Tony lived through during their years together. We do not know just what it is that attracts Susan so spasmodically about the novel and whether the book will reveal an abominable truth about her own life.

Ford is deliberately elusive about the subject, and this helps to keep the audience stuck to their seat until the film’s heart breaking ending. The camera shifts from the book to the movie effortlessly, and the transitions make for some visually stunning shots. All throughout Nocturnal Animals, Ford skilfully plays with the geometry of each scene, so much so that there are some that feel like movable paintings, in which the characters’ bodies look like perfectly crafted statues in a museum.

But this does not turn Nocturnal Animals into a collection of beautifully designed images, or – worse still – a celebration of the artificial world Susan inhabits. Far from it, LA’s arts scene and its inhabitants are constantly mocked, as Ford’s screenplay shifts back and forth from thriller to satire, ridiculing the junk-culture which Susan and her colleagues feed upon. It is this eclecticism that helps turning Nocturnal Animals into a remarkable film. Ford has written, produced and directed a film that is a joy to watch, and leaves you longing for more. It took him seven years to come back to Venice with his second feature. Hopefully the third will arrive much quicker.

Read Full Post »

French-Canadian director Jean-Marc Vallée has found a great deal of success in the past two years with his Oscar-nominated pictures Dallas Buyers Club and Wild, so it is a little bit of a surprise to see him so unfocused here. He has a more than capable cast at his disposal with the ever enticing Jake Gyllenhaal leading the charge, as a man who discovers his life has been something of a lie – after his wife dies in a car crash, which he survives.

Initially Davis Mitchell (Gyllenhaal) has what many would consider the perfect life: a beautiful, smart wife, a highly lucrative job in investment banking and a nice house in the New York state suburbs. While penning a therapeutic letter to a snack vending machine company – who are responsible for a machine that doesn’t dispense the requested sweets – Mitchell realises in mourning that his life has no substance. He admits that he barely understood his wife, his job was earned on “pure nepotism” (as the CEO is his father-in-law) and due to its nature there was never “anything physical you could hold in your hands” other than the profits made. Furthermore, Mitchell realises that he has merely coasted through life, not really paying attention to anyone and living purely through material objects.

So his newfound focus on “everything being a metaphor” is a believable, if not entirely original, conceit as this widower begins to see the world differently; he pays more attention to the world around him and finds the titular act of “demolition” particularly cathartic, especially when he destroys his own marital house. Gyllenhaal too does a decent job of showing the once fairly shallow Davis transforming into a more attenuative character.

The problem comes when Davis begins practising this in the real world. His new found freedom makes him a far more sympathetic character, but there’s no real progression of this idea throughout the film beyond: wife dies, realises stuff, makes some concessions at the end. It is claimed in the film that “total honesty is your thing” about the new-born Davis, which even he jokes about, as if this is a reason to explain the film’s spotty narrative.

Elsewhere, the film lacks much focus or direction. After a while, his continued letters to the vending company gets a response from a mysterious blonde. Eventually, they cross paths on Davis’ commuter train, and it turns that she is Karen Moreno (Naomi Watts) who let Davis into her life in a plutonic relationship, mostly out of sympathy for his soul through his letters. The film then becomes a dark, romantic comedy and for Karen’s son Chris (Judah Lewis), a coming of age tale which half-heartedly deals with his potentially burgeoning homosexuality. Troubling is Karen’s addiction to Marijuana and her boyfriend and boss Carl (C.J Wilson) who is a gun-toting “good guy” apparently.

While Davis is a more than polite guest in Karen and Chris’s lives, it is a problematic relationship that tries to make some slightly ill-conceived comment on class differences. The main point seems to be that the rich are a bit selfish, until someone dies and that the working class are not good at looking after themselves, but are more creatively expressive.

It’s a shame because Demolition – despite throwing several half-baked ideas at the screen – does has some genuine warmth to it. Gyllenhaal makes the best of a bad situation, delivering a strong performance that ranges from genuinely humorous, to emphathetic, to sad indifference. Lewis is excellent as the conflicted teenage son, but none of this really means anything without a properly realised narrative to back it up. One feels there is a great film rattling around in Demolition somewhere, it just required more care to truly realise it.

Read Full Post »

1) 12 YEARS A SLAVE (DIR. STEVE MCQUEEN, USA/UK)

An ultra-early release of 2014 in the UK (January 10th to be precise), Steve McQueen’s third film 12 Years A Slave has endured, in my memory, as the most moving cinema experience of the year. Prior to this film McQueen had established himself – with Hunger and Shame – as one of the most important feature directors in the UK, for his ability to merge demanding topics with fresh visual language. With 12 Years A Slave he proved himself capable of this on a much grander scale, earning a Best Picture Oscar, a $187.7 million box office return and widespread critical support. It is essential that we revisit history through the eyes of great artists and Steve McQueen is one such artist.

2) 20,000 DAYS ON EARTH (DIR. IAIN FORSYTH & JANE POLLARD, UK)
In a strong year for cinema documentaries 20,000 Days on Earth expanded the paradigm. Composed of elements from dramatic fiction, observational documentary and the rock film this Nick Cave biopic, set over the course of a day, is an expertly framed Petri dish of fascinating ideas. While the film might primarily appeal to Cave fans, it should interest anyone who creates, or simply wishes to understand themselves and their human impulses. Cave’s transcendental live performances feature prominently, while the meaning of these occasions is explored in moments of fascinating examination, as the frank and eloquent Cave reflects on his life to a therapist and lives out his life in atmospheric Brighton.

3) THE WIND RISES (DIR. HAYAO MIYAZAKI, JAPAN)
The Wind Rises is the final film of Japanese animation master Hayao Miyazaki and it is a bittersweet achievement, not only about about the cost of innovation, but the cost of dreams. Based loosely on the true story of Japanese engineer Jiro Horikoshi, who was responsible for designing fighter planes during World War II, the film surrealistically captures the glorious freedom of imagination and intellect and contrasts it with the devastation these powers can bring. In line with Horikoshi’s own attitude towards the futility of WWII, the film’s tone is one of profound melancholy. The film presents a man whose talent for innovation and love of flight is tragically undermined by the impulse, in others, for war.

4) ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE (DIR. JIM JARMUSCH, USA)
In the cinema, 2014 was a special year for the more esoteric side of rock n’ roll. With Only Lovers Left Alive, Jim Jarmusch took the horror genre into reverent territory and drew a line straight back through the history of art. The film, which centers around the reunion of a pair of vampire lovers (Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston), resonates with a universe of fascinating culture for those ready to listen. With locations in Chicago and Tangier the film takes us on a poetic punk journey, into a world once inhabited by Shakespeare ghost writers, Nikola Tesla, William S. Burroughs & The Stooges. The film’s soundtrack, featuring Jarmusch’s band SQÜRL, Jozef van Wissem and Yasmine Hamdan is also not be missed.

5) VIRUNGA (DIR. ORLANDO VON EINSIEDEL, UK/CONGO)

This extraordinary film from prolific director Orlando Von Einsiedel is a thrilling piece of journalism and another fantastic expansion on the possibilities of documentary cinema. The film follows the current crisis of the Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as the park’s security team and rangers attempt to hold off an onslaught from Congolese rebels who appear to be collaborating with British oil company Soco. The documentary creates extraordinary emotional stakes by telling the stories of Andre Bauma, who cares for the park’s gorilla population, park director Emmanuel de Merode and journalist Melanie Gouby. These individuals put their necks on the line for the park, which the film depicts as an integral element to the survival and autonomy of the DRC, while the filmmakers capture the unfolding violence and human displacement.

6) THE KIDNAPPING OF MICHEL HOUELLEBECQ (DIR. GUILLAUME NICLOUX, FRANCE)
Back in 2011 controversial French author Michel Houellebecq (Whatever, Atomised, Platform) disappeared during a book tour for The Map and the Territory, leading to media speculation that he had been kidnapped by al-Qaida. The contention created by the author’s works may have justified such a possibility, but director Guillaume Nicloux’s dramatic interpretation of the situation (starring Houellebecq as himself) speculates on a much different – and hilariously funny – scenario. The integral joke of the film is that Houellebecq, in sly deadpan style, rather enjoys the experience, as he encourages his surprisingly benevolent captors to cater to his whims and vices. However you may feel about Michel Houellebecq, this film riffs brilliantly on his dark humour and outsider status.

7) NIGHTCRAWLER (DIR. DAN GILROY, USA)
Hollywood screenwriter Dan Gilroy (The FallReel SteelThe Bourne Legacy) made his directorial debut with Nightcrawler and doing so brought to the screen a career best performance from Jake Gyllenhaal, as aspirational anti-hero Louis Bloom. The film takes it’s cue from the post-recession job crisis, with Bloom as an ultra-opportunistic news cameraman who dispenses with all moral values to succeed in the business. His ambition leads him to film increasingly grisly crime scenes, as he simultaneously loses contact with the reality of what he films. The film is a thrilling romp, starring an unusually manic Gyllenhaal, which also works as a critique of the potentially exploitative nature of American news broadcasting.

8) 22 JUMP STREET (DIR. PHIL LORD & CHRISTOPHER MILLER, USA)
22 Jump Street is an unexpectedly great sequel, to an unexpectedly great feature adaptation (21 Jump Street), of a late 1980’s TV police comedy primarily remembered for kicking off Johnny Depp’s acting career. The beauty of 22 Jump Street is the way in which it comedically writes itself off as a pointless sequel. The irony of the film is that this bold sense of flippancy (embodied through the perfect buddy-chemistry of Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill) is precisely what makes the Jump Street films relevant. After years of terrible sequels, remakes and computer game adaptations, these films are the evidence that someone in Hollywood is finally thinking what the audience has been for a long time.

9) BELLE (DIR. AMMA ASANTE, UK)
Following her 2004 debut A Way of Life, Streatham born writer/director Amma Asante made a strong return with Belle. The film tells the story Dido Elizabeth Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) – the daughter of Maria Belle, an enslaved African woman in the West Indies, and Captain John Lindsay, a British career naval officer – who encouraged her uncle William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield (and Lord Chief Justice) to recognise slavery as illegal in England and usher about its formal end. The film is directed with elegant style and frank sincerity, influenced no doubt by the 1779 Johann Zoffany painting that it was inspired by, in which a headstrong Belle appears animatedly alongside her cousin Elizabeth Murray.

10) THE ROVER (DIR. DAVID MICHOD, AUSTRALIA)

David Michôd’s Animal Kingdom was one of the most striking debuts of 2010, showing Michôd to be one of the most gifted directors of contemporary Australian cinema. The film was a dense and engaging drama of a Melbourne crime family, made with an impeccable grasp of tension and great style. With The Rover Michôd stripped down the scope of his vision, focusing primarily on Guy Pearce’s mysterious protagonist who harbours an undisclosed agenda. The minimalist approach to his second feature pays off, with Michôd delivering a lean, bleak and thrilling film with excellent performances and a beautifully simple central conceit.

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: