Tag Archives: Jake Gyllenhaal

The Hateful Eight: Worst Movies of 2015

In all honesty, “The Hateful Eight” has nothing to do with this post.

Director Quentin Tarantino’s latest is bound to be interesting, if not brilliant.

My apologies to Tarantino, but the title just fit. I couldn’t resist. While it’s great to revisit the best films of a given year, it’s even more fun to rehash the very worst Hollywood had to offer.

So without further ado, here are the eight most reprehensible movies I sat through in 2015. (In no particular order of atrociousness.)

Don’t bother streaming or buying them. If you let curiosity get the better of you, you’ll only regret it.


1. Blackhat: Chris Hemsworth is woefully miscast as a basement-dwelling rogue hacker who also happens to possess Jason Bourne-like survival skills. Director Michael Mann lets the audience down in almost every way possible, from the ridiculous storyline and uneven pacing, to an unconvincing romance and lackluster style.

2. Jupiter Ascending: “Matrix” directors Andy and Lana Wachowski seem to get more and more out there with each film they make. This one is so cartoonishly bizarre, it’s hard to believe someone actually gave it the greenlight: Channing Tatum stars as a half-man, half-dog guardian being and Mila Kunis’ “chosen one” falls for him, while Eddie Redmayne hams it up as the baddie and hopes no one remembers this after seeing “The Theory of Everything.”

3. The Gunman: In a year that brought us Rey and Furiosa, not to mention dozens of other strong cinematic heroines, the oblivious sexism of this testosterone-fueled Sean Penn vanity project is too blatant to be believed. To make matters worse, the thriller is basically “The Bourne Identity” crossed with the extreme violence, silliness and international slumming-it of “Taken.”

4. Black Sea: A movie about a ragtag submarine crew on a secret mission to find treasure at the bottom of the Black Sea sounds awesome, right? Especially if the sub is manned by a crew of sturdy character actors, like Scoot McNairy and Ben Mendelsohn. Thanks to a script that piles on one ridiculous, relentlessly dark plot twist after another, this deep sea suspenser proves us terribly wrong, with a little help from Jude Law’s sketchy Scottish accent.


5. Chappie: The stinky badness of Neill Blomkamp’s latest dystopian drama is harder to bear when you consider how much promise this project held. This is the visionary writer-director of “District 9” we’re talking about. The film features a robot protagonist whose creation is a marvel of visual effects and an endearing mo-cap performance by Blomkamp’s favorite partner in crime, Sharlto Copley. It stars first lady of sci-fi Sigourney Weaver for Ridley’s sake. And yet, “Chappie” is full of insulting stereotypes and just doesn’t go anywhere. It’s a monumental disappointment.

6. Terminator Genisys: James Cameron’s now classic saga of evil cyber villain Skynet and the scrappy human resistance group that fights back was amazing the first couple of times, but does anyone gives a T-1000’s patootie anymore? Apparently, not even the makers of “Terminator Genisys” cared enough to even try to make us care. Aging Arnold Schwarzenegger and his hair plugs are the only ones who bother to inject some life into this slog of a sci-fi reboot.

7. Fantastic Four: Despite an excellent young cast and an attempt to bring some gravitas to the classic comic book foursome’s movie mythology, studio meddling, a tumultuous production, and a troubled young director added up to an epic failure for the lucrative Marvel brand. (In fairness, the film was made by Twentieth Century Fox, not Marvel Studios.) This is going to be a tough mess for the quartet of superheroes to get themselves out of.

8. Southpaw: I’m not the hugest fan of “Training Day” director Antoine Fuqua anyway. Subtlety is not his strong suit, but this maudlin mashup of sentimentality and thug-life machismo is his most laughable film yet. You can tell star Jake Gyllenhaal is gunning for an Oscar nomination, but despite his impressively beefed-up physique, he’s more than a little unconvincing as a boxer with a rough background and anger management issues who rises to fame, then falls from it, then rises again after a tragedy as contrived as the movie’s script.

HEADER Southpaw


‘Everest’: Lost in a Blizzard of Unanswered Questions

Two and a half stars (out of four)
PG-13 (intense peril, disturbing images)
121 minutes

Why are some humans born with a suicidal impulse to defy the limitations of what is naturally possible? To traverse strange oceans in search of new continents? To rocket into outer space? To push a body to the brink of death on the summit of the world’s highest mountain?

You won’t find more than pat answers to this question in “Everest,” a reenactment of the ill-fated 1996 expedition that became the subject of John Krakauer’s book, “Into Thin Air.” (The film moved into wide release Friday after a limited debut in IMAX theaters.)

“Everest” isn’t based on Krakauer’s best-selling account — the author recently slammed the movie as “total bull” — although he is depicted as a character in the film, played by Michael Kelly of “House of Cards.”

Writers William Nicholson (“Unbroken”) and Simon Beaufoy (“127 Hours”) based their script on various sources, conducting their own research into one of the deadliest incidents in Everest’s history. The film is well acted and technically impressive — especially in soaring, rumbling IMAX — but lacks a definitive point of view, perhaps in an attempt not to point fingers or take sides,

The absence of a singular perspective results in a frustratingly vague cinematic experience. The confusion is compounded by the fact that the actors portraying the film’s ensemble of unlucky climbers are often obscured by oxygen masks, goggles and hoods, making it difficult to distinguish between them in many scenes.

Keira Knightley, as the pregnant and anxious wife of one of the doomed mountaineers, and Emily Watson, as a motherly base camp manager, remain goggle-less, not to mention snug and dry in cozy sweaters, as they lend emotional support in a handful of teary-eyed scenes.

Icelandic director Baltasar Kormakur has recruited an excellent cast to piece together the puzzle of went what so dreadfully wrong during that infamous two-day period in May ’96.

After a pair of lackluster performances in the equally lackluster “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” and “Terminator Genisys,” I had all but given up on Jason Clarke, who stars here as Rob Hall, an expert mountaineer from New Zealand whose company, Adventure Consultants, ferries even the unlikeliest of amateur climbers safely to and from Everest’s summit.

Hall is as close as the film gets to a main character and Clarke portrays him as an all-around decent guy, an interpretation that could have been unbearably cheesy in the hands of a lesser actor. Instead, we just really like this guy.

The guide is preparing to shepherd a group of amateurs of varying experience levels who have paid him $65,000 a piece to turn their dreams of reaching the summit into reality. Kormakur takes his time introducing the members of this ragtag group as they hobnob at base camp.

Among them are Yasuko Namba (Naoko Mori), a seasoned adventurer looking to notch her seventh major summit; Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin), a doctor from Texas who has the jitters but later reveals himself to be one of the toughest s.o.b.s alive; Doug Hansen (John Hawkes), a mailman desperate to complete his second attempt at the summit; and Krakauer, a journalist whose coveted media presence produces some performance anxiety in Hall and his crew.

According to the film, Hall’s success inspired dozens of imitators, leading to a commercial boom on Everest in the late ’90s. With hundreds of climbers jockeying for position as they vie to reach the summit during rare windows of good weather, a spirit of reckless competition prevails.

In the movie, this potentially dangerous development is embodied by a friendly rivalry between Hall and competitor Scott Fischer (Jake Gyllenhaal), a laid-back American who sports a carefree man bun, sunbathes half naked at base camp, and warms up at night by guzzling hard liquor straight from the bottle.

Gyllenhaal’s fictionalized take on Fischer is one of the film’s more colorful elements, but due to clumsy editing and/or a lack of time, the fate of the party-hearty American remains frustratingly obscure. This is clearly a man who knew what he was doing, so some of his more questionable decisions don’t add up.

There are many other things the audience is left to guess at as the film methodically runs through the events leading up to the disaster, sparked by a bemusing mixture of human error (overcrowding, half-empty oxygen bottles, missed turn-around times), natural forces (an unexpected and devastating storm), and cruel coincidence, whereby experienced mountaineers perished helplessly while less experienced ones suddenly revived.

There’s no shortage of human drama as a husband and wife share their last conversation via radio and climbers admit they’re unwilling to forfeit their lives on the off chance they might save another. But so many questions are left unanswered, it leaves one longing for a straightforward documentary. Just the facts, please.

Filmed in the Italian Alps and on location in Nepal with a hefty budget of $65 million, “Everest” is by far the biggest project tackled by Kormakur (“2 Guns”). On a technical level, it’s a formidable achievement. The film’s depiction of life at base camp and beyond and of the harrowing challenges encountered by those brave, or foolhardy enough, to attempt the summit feels authentic, while vertigo-inducing shots of rickety ladders traversing gaping crevasses put the audience smack in the middle of Everest’s ruthless, bitterly cold environment.

The large-screen format ensures moviegoers experience everything, from the thunderous vibration of of an avalanche to the violent frenzy of a snowstorm, deep in their bones.

Kormakur vividly illustrates the excruciating physical hardships suffered by climbers — frostbite, altitude sickness, snow blindness, cerebral edema — even on the simpler expeditions designed to acclimatize their bodies to thin air and frigid temperatures.

It takes almost until the movie’s third act for the really gripping suspense to kick in, but it finally does and with gusto. A tenuous helicopter rescue is a particularly white-knuckle moment.

What “Everest” is missing, though, is the bravura precision of someone like Paul Greengrass, director of “Captain Phillips,” “United 93,” and “Bloody Sunday.”

In re-creating some of the great tragedies and near-tragedies that haunt us, Greengrass employs documentarian accuracy and bold narrative license to weave the impossible illusion that we have the whole picture.

Watching “Everest,” on the other hand, is like stumbling through a blizzard of bewilderment.

The Top Five Films of 2014 (And the Not-So-Top Ones)

After the mad dash of the holidays, we stumble into January determined to take stock of the year that was and sweep aside the old in preparation for the new.

2015 brings with it an exciting new batch of movies, but before we welcome such heady stuff as “Avengers: Age of Ultron” and “Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens,” it’s time to look back on the best of 2014.

My Top 10 list falls a little short this year. I could only come up with five really exceptional films. But there are many other cinematic highlights to discuss, along with a bonus list — the 10 Most Overrated Films of 2014.

Happy New Year.


The Top Five Films of 2014 (in no particular order)

1. “Birdman”: Like a wild, unpredictable improvisational jazz piece (an idea referenced in the film’s inventive musical score), Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s show-biz satire exhilarates and astonishes. Seemingly shot in one seamless, kinetic take, the movie is unlike anything we’ve seen before. An excellent cast lays bare a humiliating array of ego trips and insecurities, most notably Michael Keaton and Edward Norton in performances that are self-deprecating and spell-binding. Fame has never been so fickle, so funny or so heartbreaking.

2. “Boyhood”: Watching 2014’s most languid and lovely drama is like thumbing through a decade’s worth of scrapbooks of one lad’s ordinary, extraordinary life. Writer-director Richard Linklater filmed the movie over a period of 12 years, resulting in a fictional time capsule of youth that never feels fabricated. As the boy in Linklater’s ‘hood, Ellar Coltrane is at once average and remarkable, bolstered by the poignant presence of Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke as his flawed but well meaning parents. Whether you’re 15 or 50, this movie sparks reflections of formative moments in your own life.

3. “Guardians of the Galaxy”: The year’s most undeniably entertaining movie was shockingly absent from many critics’ Top 10 lists. Come on, guys! Don’t pretend you didn’t love this wacky space romp, which expertly culled its irresistibly fun ideas from such timeless classics as “Star Wars” and “Indiana Jones.” In introducing us to its strangest band of misfit superheroes yet, Marvel shamelessly pandered to ’80s nostalgia and got us all hooked on a feeling. Chris Pratt’s roguishly charming Star-Lord, Zoe Saldana’s butt-kicking Gamora, Dave Bautista’s hilariously literal Drax and the lovable duo of Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and Groot (Vin Diesel) are part of cinema history now, and rightly so.

4. “The Grand Budapest Hotel”: I thought I was over Wes Anderson. The director’s rococo affectations were beginning to feel increasingly empty to me. But then came “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” detailing the quirkiest of adventures shared by concierge extraordinaire Monsieur Gustave (Fiennes) and his trusty lobby boy, Zero (Tony Revolori). Anderson’s fantastical fairy tale of international intrigue contains one surprising and delightful cameo after another, but it’s really a showcase for the improbable comedic talents of Fiennes, whose portrayal of the unflappable  Gustave is unexpectedly bittersweet. Anderson has always been a filmmaker to be reckoned with. This is undoubtedly his masterpiece.

5. “Only Lovers Left Alive”: There are movies you like, and then there are movies you fall for, truly, madly, deeply. In 2014, that film for me was writer-director Jim Jarmusch’s effortlessly cool, exquisitely romantic vampire drama. As sleek and sexy as midnight velvet and dripping with playful pop cultural, literary and musical references, “Lovers” depicts the reunion of insomniac soulmates who aren’t your average bloodsuckers. Tom Hiddleston plays angsty Adam as a brooding old-school rock ‘n’ roller from Detroit. Tilda Swinton’s Eve is his exotic, more adventurous paramour, who hangs out in Tangier with none other than Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt). This film really has to be seen to be believed. I want to sink my teeth into it again and again.


Honorable Mentions

“Gone Girl”: Gillian Flynn’s poisonous page turner is demented, disturbing and oh-so-much wicked fun in director David Fincher’s darkly funny big-screen treatment. You’ll never look at Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris and the rest of the film’s fine cast quite the same way again.

“Nightcrawler”: Jake Gyllenhaal’s greasy, greedy, hypnotic turn as a ravenous coyote prowling L.A.’s seedy nightscapes in search of anything that bleeds is the highlight of writer-director Dan Gilroy’s pointed media satire.

“X-Men: Days of Future Past”: Building on the firm foundation laid by 2011’s “X-Men: First Class,” this sequel unites multiple generations of our favorite mutants — including Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine, Jennifer Lawrence’s Raven and a double dose of Magneto and Professor X — in a twisty brain-teaser that effectively erases the franchise’s loathed third installment and paves the way for exciting installments to come.

“Edge of Tomorrow”: “Groundhog Day” meets “Alien” in a surprisingly clever post-apocalyptic sci-fi flick, which nobody saw because they were tired of watching Tom Cruise in post-apocalyptic sci-fi flicks. Cruise is billed as the star but Emily Blunt steals the movie out from under him as a tough-as-nails warrior, nickname the Full Metal Bitch.

“Captain America: The Winter Soldier”: Marvel’s ever popular comic book movie franchise finally grew up with a thriller that boasts slick action and a satisfyingly adult script.

“Snowpiercer”: The year’s most original, intriguing and just plain weird sci-fi thriller depicts a violent, stylish, totally bizarro class war aboard a train designed to traverse an ice-bound post-apocalyptic globe. You probably loved it and hated it simultaneously.

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Memorable Performances

The ever charming Shailene Woodley wormed her way a little deeper into our hearts in “The Fault in Our Stars” and “Divergent.”

Angelina Jolie was deliciously nasty as the misunderstood anti-heroine of Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty” reboot, “Maleficent.”

Tom Hardy did nothing but sit behind the wheel of a car and talk on the phone but was somehow spellbinding in “Locke.”

No one portrays eccentric geniuses quite like Benedict Cumberbatch, who dazzled as a socially awkward code breaker in “The Imitation Game.”


The 10 Most Overrated Films of 2014 (in no particular order)

1. and 2. “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” and “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1” weren’t terrible but they were both seriously out of balance, proving the point that splitting book adaptations into too many parts may be financially savvy but cheats the audience out of a tightly crafted story.

3. “Magic in the Moonlight”: Woody Allen’s latest whimsical comedy features gorgeous French locales and yummy 1920s costumes but it’s an epic bore that teases us with the promise of supernatural intrigue, then delivers a lot of tedious talk instead.

4. “Begin Again”: Writer-director John Carney’s follow-up to the captivating “Once” is disappointing simply because there’s nothing genuine about it, from the forgettable music to the precious, pretentious performances of Mark Ruffalo and Keira Knightley.

5. “Chef”: Many moviegoers were charmed by this sleeper comedy, but I failed to fall under its spell, mainly because I can only watch Jon Favreau drive around in a food truck for so long.

6. “Godzilla”: After last year’s underrated but totally awesome “Pacific Rim,” this monster mash-up promised super-sized thrills. The film’s scaly star was largely absent, however, making this Kaiju smash-fest a giant disappointment.

7. “Under the Skin”: Critics inexplicably went ga-ga for director Jonathan Glazer’s interminably dull indie drama, which consists of a morose, otherworldly Scarlett Johansson trolling the streets of Glasgow for unsuspecting perverts.

8. “The Lego Movie”: I’m not going to deny this animated flick featuring everyone’s favorite building blocks is fun, playful and clever to a point. Seriously, though, how old are we, America’s collective moviegoing audience? 12?

9. “Interstellar”: Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi opus is stunning in many ways and I was one of the critics who highly recommended it. Two months later, though, I have to admit this technically impressive but flawed film was easier to forget than I expected.

10. “The Interview”: Sony Pictures and the nation’s major movie chains never should have caved to the cyberterrorist threats that kept this North Korea-bashing comedy out of theaters. I just wish Seth Rogen and James Franco’s goofy riff on totalitarianism actually had something to say. Then it might be worth all the fuss.







Gyllenhaal Exquisitely Creepy in ‘Nightcrawler’

Three and a half stars (out of four)
R (violence, including graphic images, language)
117 minutes

In the thriller “Nightcrawler,” Jake Gyllenhaal delivers an exquisitely creepy, career-defining performance. It’s one of those exciting, stand-up-and-take-notice turns that allows you to see an actor in an entirely new light. I’ll be shocked if it doesn’t demand the attention of the Academy when it comes time for this year’s Oscar nominations.

Gyllenhaal has always had an edge to him, a darkness that belies his clean-cut, blue-eyed good looks. He first made an impression in the nightmarish 2001 indie hit “Donnie Darko” and, alongside mainstream fare such as “The Day After Tomorrow,” “Bubble Boy” and “Prince of Persia,” he’s peppered his career with more challenging efforts, including “Brokeback Mountain” and the recent “End of Watch” and “Enemy.”

In last year’s “Prisoners,” he delved into downright freakish territory, playing Detective Loki, a greasy-haired, tattooed cop obsessively dedicated to his job but completely lacking in bedside manner when dealing with the parents of a couple of missing girls. Gyllenhaal’s work was intriguingly unattractive, but the performance was a little too mannered for my taste. The actor poured on the character’s ticks and loner eccentricities a bit too thick.

That’s why Gyllenhaal’s efforts in “Nightcrawler” are so surprising. As Louis Bloom, an Internet-savvy loner who discovers his twisted calling in chasing down bloody late-night crimes for profit, the actor exercises remarkable restraint.

This is a role that could have easily gone over the top and off the rails, but Gyllenhaal nails it. His Bloom is a complete weirdo and also improbably mesmerizing. He’s like a horrific car wreck — skin-crawingly revolting, yet we can’t turn our eyes away from him.

“Nightcrawler” is the debut film of Dan Gilroy, writer of “The Bourne Legacy” and “Real Steel.” He, too, shows admirable restraint, not to mention atmospheric style, in this chilling, often cringe-inducingly funny indictment of America’s fear-mongering, ratings-hungry television media.

We first encounter Louis Bloom applying wire cutters to the chain link fence of a railyard in what appears to be the dead of night. It’s a fitting introduction, for in those first few minutes we are able to surmise that Mr. Bloom is a) a criminal, b) a jittery smooth talker who simultaneously hypnotizes and unnerves his listener, and c) capable of violence.

Bloom has greater aspirations than petty theft, however. After a few ambitious but misguided attempts to obtain gainful employment, he happens upon a car accident on one of L.A.’s many cutthroat freeways. Pulling over to observe, whether out of curiosity or predatory instinct, he sees a couple of news stringers pounce upon the scene with vans and camcorders. He’s instantly hooked.

After finagling his way into a video camera and police scanner of his own, Bloom hits the streets in a naive attempt to capture footage he can sell. His fledgling efforts are awkward — he shows up at the scene of minor infractions and DUI arrests, to the annoyance of the cops — but he’s a determined guy. Before long, he finds his way to the scene of a carjacking, and because he’s willing to get closer than the other stringers, grabs just the kind of graphic images craved by veteran TV news director Nina Romina (Rene Russo).

Nina explains her station’s “if it bleeds, it leads” philosophy to Bloom, who takes her words to heart. Before long, he’s memorized all the police codes, hired an unsuspecting intern/pawn (Riz Ahmed) and starts showing up at crime scenes before the cops. And if he has to stage and manipulate the situation to get better play, so be it. He’s a man without a single moral qualm, eerily quick to adapt to the nocturnal needs of L.A.’s ethically flexible media.

“Nightcrawler” takes place almost entirely after the sun has set. Gilroy plumbs the grainy depths of a darkened Los Angeles with such assuredness, the film fits comfortably into the great panoply of flicks exploring L.A. by streetlight, which includes such movies as “Collateral” and “Drive.”

This seedy, suburban nightmare-scape serves as a hunting ground for Gyllenhaal’s prowling lowlife. The actor has said in interviews his performance was inspired by the coyotes who slink through the L.A. hills. You can see the animal instinct flickering behind Bloom’s buggy eyes — it’s crazy how strange Gyllenhaal looks after simply dropping a few pounds.

In the film’s best scene, Bloom lets Nina in on his business strategies — mostly composed of cliches learned from Internet “research.” Gyllenhaal’s enthusiasm, coupled with the character’s oddly clipped delivery, is ickily infectious.

Despite the movie’s preoccupation with violent crime, Bloom’s burgeoning relationship with Nina is perhaps the queasiest element of “Nightcrawler.” Russo is great as a desperate, aging news veteran with terrible taste in eye shadow and an insatiable appetite for gory headlines designed to terrify her network’s rich, white viewers.

When it comes to satirizing the media’s moral vacuousness, Gilroy doesn’t pull any punches. Bizarrely, a handful of actual TV news personalities deigned to participate in the film, despite its unsavory insinuations about their vocation. In one scene, real-life anchors deliver hilariously macabre color commentary for the aftermath of a home invasion. Did they read the script before they showed up to set?

Much of what occurs in “Nightcrawler” strains credulity, but Gyllenhaal’s gripping descent into misanthropy keeps us from checking out. Bloom may be a larger-than-life boogie man but we recognize him.

He’s a monster of our own making, a scavenger who feeds on a city’s narcissism and paranoia.

 Photo: http://www.fandango.com