Tag Archives: Jake Gyllenhaal

Month in review: films of August

The month of August was a bit more productive in terms of film watching than the previous 3 or 4. Life has slowed down a little, even if this seems to be more like the typical calm before the storm.

In August I watched a total of 11 films for an average score of 3 out of 5 that could have been higher had I not watched the woeful “The Circle”on the last day of the month.

Without a doubt, the best film of the month was the Korean-American film Okja, bought by Netflix and directed by Bong Joon-Ho. Other worthy watches were The Founder, a biopic on the rise of Ray Kroc, the mastermind behind the McDonald’s empire; and The Rainmaker, a modest adaptation of John Grisham’s novel directed by the great Francis Ford Coppola.

OKJA (2017) [ 4/5 ]

Okja has it all: visual splendor, a thought-provoking storyline that says more than meets the eye, a handful of entertaining action sequences, some wonderful characters and the kind of over-the-top comedic performances that keep things light even when the film gets dark.

For director Bong Joon-ho, Okja is yet another statement piece against the ills and excess of mankind. The Host (2006) was a larger statement about man’s effect on the environment. Snowpiercer (2013) offered a post-apocalyptic view of a future where mankind had all but extinguished in a planet that had reclaimed itself after so much abuse. In Okja, the director tackle the indiscriminate practices of the food industry which, the majority of us, would rather ignore.

To do so, the film creates a wonderfully loveable CGI creature named Okja which is described as a super pig that was created in a lab by the same corporation that is now preparing to sell the meat en masse after a long PR campaign.The ultimate success of the piece is that it makes you root for the relationship at its center, that between a teenage girl named Mija (Seo-Hyeon Ahn) and her pet. In doing so, we might be tempted to advocate for better animal treatment, or turn ourselves into devout vegetarians. 

JOHN WICK 2 (2017) [ 3/5 ]

The first time Keanu Reeves’ embodied John Wick he was driven by revenge. His impetus that of a man with nothing to lose.

As far as sequels go, John Wick 2 starts with the wrong footing. No longer is there an emotional motivation for revenge beyond a mere desire to stay alive. So, from the beginning, John Wick lacks that kind of kamikaze attitude that made the original so wonderfully intense.

The film does have its share of pleasures, but most are expansions of ideas and characters that were already in place on the first installment.

As it was the case before, the fighting choreography is fantastic, even if it suffers from repetitiveness, and Keanu Reeves, channeling his brooding and hyper masculine alter ego, continues to be an effective action hero well past his Matrix days.

THE FOUNDER (2017) [ 3.5/5 ]

After Spotlight and Birdman, this is now the third film in a short period of time that marks the triumphant return of Michael Keaton to the front and center of some of Hollywood’s A-list projects. This time, Keaton plays Ray Kroc, the famed businessman responsible for turning McDonald’s into a global brand. From beginning to end, this is Keaton’s film, inhabiting nearly every scene as a man so tired of failure that, when he finally encounters success, commits to stop at nothing to reach ever-greater heights. In many respects, The Founder is also the story of the modern American enterprise: a sort of modern Wild West where unimaginable riches can be attained as long as you’re willing to stomp on those whose values are at odds with unrestrained capitalism.

The Founder is a profoundly American film where money and access are the thing that dreams are made of. Keaton’s Ray Kroc is a nearly perfect representation of that ideal in an always entertaining and larger-than-life performance that effectively makes the man at its center both a villain and a hero.

ABOUT ALEX [ 3/5 ]

The moment a character walks in to his or her cheating partner is usually the moment a film runs out of ideas. Such is the case in About Alex, a film filled with half-baked storylines and half-built characters that seem to have come together, despite one’s attempted suicide, by little more than loyalty to a past spent together in college. About Alex is a film that resists its potential, taking shortcuts when the story asks for greater nuance and depth. On occasion we get moments of emotional resonance that fade away as quickly as they appeared, either by fault of the script, or by the uneven quality of the performances.

Having said that, the film does pick up towards the end, once the masks between these friends begin to fall, offering us some touching moments that get at the heart of the complicated relationships between these characters.

SILENCE (2016) [ 3/5 ]

It may come as a revelation to some that Martin Scorsese is a man of faith. In a career spanning decades that has seen the Italian American director at the helm of modern American classics like Raging Bull or Casino, there has not been much room for faith in his oeuvre beyond 1988’s The Last Temptation of Christ.

Silence is Scorsese’s longest running passion project, a film deeply rooted in Catholicism, but not as an exclamation of its goodness, but rather as an exploration about the practical and human limits of faith.

Silence, like so many other Catholic-centric films, focuses on the nearly inexplicable devotion many people have towards the Bible’s teachings. Such blind abnegation, the film argues, almost capable to withstand inexcusable persecution, violence and torture.

Thematically, Silence is rich and thought-provoking but, sadly, it is also an overlong, tedious and repetitive two and a half hour affair that is filled with suffering, death, violence and unimaginable cruelty. Fortunately, the suffering pays off at the end, not by giving us a neatly wrapped happy ending, but by giving room to the other side of the coin, offering the Buddhist perspective in awesome scenes between Liam Neeson’s father Ferreira and Andrew Garfield’s father Rodriguez.

FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM (2016) [ 2.5/5 ]

The latest film set in the magical universe of J.K. Rowling follows Newt Scamander, a “magizoologist” and former Hogwarts student that finds himself in the midst of a crisis when he travels to New York City.

As apparent as its connection is to the Harry Potter franchise, the film relies too heavily on that thread, thinking it can make characters we can empathize with without giving them substance. It is a shame that Eddy Redmayne, who is supposed to be the focus of the film, ends up being the least interesting of the bunch.

It’s also remarkable that such a big-ticket Hollywood production can also “boast” special effects that are far less convincing than those found in an episode of Game of Thrones.

THE RAINMAKER (1997) [ 3.5/5 ]

A procedural courtroom drama with the rather simple story of a well-meaning and noble young lawyer fighting for justice against a rotten and corrupt system.

Based on a book by the best selling author John Grisham, this Francis Ford Coppola directed film excels in making us empathize with these characters, even if the story moves forward predictably and it is all too neatly resolved when the end credits begin to roll. A young Matt Damon, fresh off his success in Good Will Hunting delivers a nuanced performance that is both intense and soft, finding a balance between a decisive and confident adult and one that is just beginning to find his own voice.

CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA (2014) [ 3/5 ]

There are two parallel themes at work in the film. The first is about the psychological toll that an actress endures when her youth and the spotlight have been left behind. The second is about the connection that exists, purposefully or not, between a play she is preparing to participate in and her personal life.

Of the two, the second one is, by far, the more interesting and uncomfortable to watch, even if it becomes readily apparent what the film is trying to suggest.

As it often happens, characters who are emotionally hermetic, unable to speak truth about their inner tribulations, deny us the satisfaction of cinematic release. Thus making the film feel rather stale and impenetrable. Another problem is that Clouds of Sils Maria gives little voice to characters who seem to be important to the central story, teasing with depth that remains at an arm’s length.

The saving grace is that both Kristen Stewart and Juliet Binoche both deliver interestingly ambiguous performances that are open to interpretation.

CAMP X-RAY (201X) [ 3/5 ]

There is a good and a bad Kristen Stewart. As a soldier in Peter Sattler’s Camp X-Ray we see some of both. At times, Kristen is irresistibly natural, an extension of our awkward and most informal selves. At other moments Kristen is frustrating in that she never ceases to be that kind of actress, even if some scenes demand something a little bit different.

As valiant an effort as Camp X-Ray can be for exploring the subject of the military’s role in human rights violations at GITMO, there is a better film hidden underneath; the one that could have dared to go a step further and give Peyman Moaadi’s detainee a violent past, and not one that hints at innocence in a case of mistaken identity.

Perhaps it would have been a step too far to explore a friendship between an American soldier and a former terrorist, but it could have given the film the kind of daring reformist statement that I believe it needed.

THE ANGRIEST MAN IN BROOKLYN (2014) [ 3/5 ]

For the first time in the short history of this blog, I will give a passing grade to an absolutely terrible film. A production that lacks the kind depth, consistency and finesse that is needed in any film to have some semblance of artistry.

However, The Angriest Man in Brooklyn saves itself from total mediocrity by making Robin Williams flex his acting muscles one last time in order to sell us a rather unlikeable and angry middle-aged man who must confront his own mortality and take a look at all the bad choices he has made in his recent past.

It is, by no means, one of Robin Williams most nuanced or controlled performances, like we saw, for instance, in movies like Good Will Hunting and The Fisher King. Instead, it is perhaps Williams’ most indelible and harrowing performance given his untimely death by suicide shortly after the film’s release. I couldn’t help but see Williams’ incredibly sad eyes that, despite a wide smile and a lot of anger, could not be dismissed, even during moments of quiet happiness and cheerful introspection.

I miss his genius.

THE CIRCLE (2017) [ 1.5/5 ]

Not to be outdone by The Angriest Man in Brooklyn in terms of wasting talent, The Circle is the kind of mind-numbing exploration of science and its dangers that can make even Tom Hanks seem ridiculously unfit as an actor.

The Circle doesn’t surprise despite its every attempt to do so. The script is a mess of disparate ideas that are not explored sufficiently and with enough nuance. The parallels with Apple don’t exactly help it either because it is neither a direct imitation, nor a satire; instead, The Circle is this kind of uncomfortable in-between that does nothing but distract.

Emma Watson, who is often good, is absolutely terrible here, incapable of selling us her character’s arc, never quite providing enough insight to truly understand her motivations beyond merely superficial and obvious ones.

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Preview to the Academy Awards. Best Films of 2016

The 85th Academy Awards® will air live on Oscar® Sunday, February 24, 2013.

In anticipation to the 89th Academy Awards, I have decided, unlike years prior, to post a list of my favorite films released in 2016. As it were, this is an ever-changing list which will shift and evolve as years pass, as both my tastes and my impressions on filmmaking continue to change. This is also, I presume, an incomplete list missing some highly praised bits of cinema like: The Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Toni Erdmann, The Salesman, 20th Century Women, Paterson, Elle, Fences, Lion, and some others. With that in mind, I’m satisfied with the collection of more than 60 films I did manage to watch that were released in the US in 2016. The list of “favorites” adds up to 15 films, which represents the amount of movies that I gave at least a 4 out of 5 rating. 
At the end of the post I will also offer some thoughts on the top categories for the Oscars, regarding who should win and who will likely be taking an statuette back home.

Continue reading Preview to the Academy Awards. Best Films of 2016

A return to blogging. Best films watched in 2016. 

arrival

There is much I could tell you and share about the past year. About 10 months have passed since my last contribution to this tiny creation of mine. Fortunately for those who may still stumble upon this blog of mine, I will not bore you with the details of what happened or did not happen between then and now. Instead, I will attempt to give you my very succinct impressions about the best films I watched this year (released in 2016 or prior) despite my almost complete absence from the blogosphere.

In total, I watched 111 films in the last calendar year (7 more than I watched in 2015). The average score was a very decent 3.28 out of 5, which tells me I’ve managed to avoid a lot of duds. Notwithstanding the relatively high average, I only scored 4 movies at 4.5 out of 5, and none managed a 5 out of 5.

Without further ado, below is a list of the best films I watched in 2016 grouped by rating, but in no discernible order beyond that.

Continue reading A return to blogging. Best films watched in 2016. 

Month in Review: February

Peaky Blinders 1

Though I have slightly increased my activity in the blogosphere so far this year, it has been difficult to go through many films. Most of what I’ve watched are blind spots from last year, but I still have a lot of catching up to do. As it has been the case in the last few months, I probably spent more time on a couple of TV shows. First, I went through the first two seasons of BBC’s original series Peaky Blinders and, in the last couple of days of February, I devoured the entire third season of House of Cards (I know…)

Continue reading Month in Review: February

A preview to the Academy Awards

 

The 85th Academy Awards® will air live on Oscar® Sunday, February 24, 2013.

There is something mystical about the Academy Awards. Even when actors and directors and cinematographers try to deny it, the Oscar remains Hollywood’s grandest and most cherished prize. Despite the glaring omissions that plague the list of winners and nominations every year, The Academy gets it right sometimes, which is more than many awards shows can say. It helps, of course, that the Academy is favored by a 87th year long history that when compared to the 72 years of the Golden Globes, or the 67 years of the Bafta, it makes the accolade all the more respectable and appreciated, if only for its accumulated wisdom over rivals.

Continue reading A preview to the Academy Awards

Reminiscing about the best & worst of 2014

Robin Williams

It’s been nearly a week since 2015 has begun to test our mettle. 2014 is now in the past and with it, a year filled with personal success that did not translate well into a lot of film watching and reviewing. It was, for me, an excellent year nonetheless, in which I was able to purchase my first property, finish my first marathon, visit Paris for the first time, and receive approval for a work visa to stay in the United States.

My blog suffered greatly in 2014 in part due to all of these activities and important “distractions”. I managed to post only 15 times in 12 months, and I watched 94 films that, when compared to 2013’s sum of 143 films, leaves a lot to be desired. With that in mind and with the resolve to improve greatly on these numbers, I look back at some of the best and worst experiences with film in the past year (following post to focus on TV and videogames). The following is not meant as a post about the “best films of 2014” (that will come in a later post when I begin to catch up), but rather as a summary of my own experiences with new and old releases.

Continue reading Reminiscing about the best & worst of 2014

Best films of any year watched in 2014

July was a good and busy month. I’ve been preparing to run the Chicago Marathon this coming October, and running has now taken a significant chunk of my time, especially as the date gets closer and closer. Despite a hectic couple of weeks at work, I was finally able to dedicate a little bit more time to this blog of mine, and watch a few more films than I have recently. In lieu of my “best 2014 films of the first half of the year”, I offer my thoughts on the best films of ANY YEAR that I have managed to watch since January.

12-years-a-slave

Continue reading Best films of any year watched in 2014

Catching up after the World Cup. 2014 in review

 

Christ_the redeemer

It’s been just over a month since my last post on this blog of mine. Though my attempt was to continue to keep it flowing with new reviews and monthly round-ups, there was this mammoth-size event looming on the horizon: the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

Continue reading Catching up after the World Cup. 2014 in review

Months in Review: March & April (part I)

Under The Skin

After a forced long hiatus, I’m back at blogging about some of my favorite things. In an effort to make this blog more representative of my interests, my monthly round-ups will now include short reviews of books read and videogames played (even if not completed) in addition to my usual run-down of films.
Below, the first part of a set of short reviews on anything I have had the pleasure to watch in the previous months.

Continue reading Months in Review: March & April (part I)