DARK STAR — JAKE GYLLENHAAL

 

We put off watching designer-turned-director Tom Ford’s sophomore endeavor Nocturnal Animals because we thought it was going to be more work than it was worth.

Wrong.  It’s scary and complex and really stuck with us. 

Amy Adams is the star.  But somehow the image that lodged in our heads is a profile shot of Jake Gyllenhaal through a car window.  As Gyllenhaal has aged, his cheekbones have gotten dangerously high.  Here they’re set off by a luxuriant beard and an expression that’s much too wounded for a man that handsome.

 Gyllenhaal was nominated for the BAFTA Best Actor (Affleck won), but didn’t make it to the list of Oscar nominees.

Despite starring in some big mainstream films he’s repeatedly to taken on roles that are alternative, risky, and/or purposely askew.

 

 Nocturnal Creatures     

NOCTURNAL CREATURES (2016)

The story structure sounds complicated on paper, but works onscreen.   Amy Adams is an haute-art gallery owner in LA, locked in a glass and chrome cage of her own making.  Her high-flying dealmaker husband is in a slump and they’re feeling the pinch.  Meanwhile, he’s cheating on her, a fact that her effete friends see as par for the course.

She gets a package.  In it is a novel, written by her first husband, estranged for 20 years.  It’s dedicated to her.  Alone at night in her hilltop aerie, she starts reading.

As she reads, we dive into the world of the novel, and it’s a dark one.  A bunch of lowlifes isolate a traveling family late at night on a desolate West Texas road, brutalize the husband and kidnap the wife and teenage daughter.   Things get just about as ugly as you can imagine.

As things play out, we come back to the present, then flash back to the first marriage.  Gyllenhaal plays both Adams’ first husband and the husband in the book.  We see how she betrayed him, dooming herself to a life of emptiness, and leaving him him longing for revenge, whiich is the final theme of his novel.

Trailer:  YouTube

And the whole movie has just been released for online purchase:

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Nightcrawler
NIGHTCRAWLER (2014)

In this indie film which he also produced, Gyllenhaal’s performance is simultaneously ingenuous and creepy.    Perfectly sociopathic. Gyllenhaal turns the earnest eagerness that drove his more mainstream performances into a mask on a soul without morals or compunction.

His character is a “nightcrawler” – a freelance videographer who trolls the freeways and police band radio waves looking for the freshest, bloodiest, most gruesome footage he can find, then sells it to local network news.

It’s a skeevy profession to start, and Gyllenhaal’s character takes it the capitalistic next step.

Although we didn’t realize it at the time, this was the first time we saw another rising star – British rapper/actor Riz Ahmed, who since has appeared in HBO miniseries The Night Of, Star Wars Rogue One, and popped up this weekend as Hannah’s new surfer dude love interest last
Sunday in Girls.  Oh yeah, and also last Sunday being awkwardly mistaken for BAFTA winner Dev Patel in an “embarrassing Twitter blunder” by Burberry.

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October Sky
OCTOBER SKY (1999)

Jake and sister Maggie (featured in last week’s post) are the children of director Stephen Gyllenhaal and screenwriter Naomi Foner – they’d been acting since they were young.  Both of them were in their dad’s 1995 movie A Dangerous Woman and Jake played Billy Crystal’s kid in City Slickers.   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AfL3lWNOOoQ

Gyllenhaal’s first lead role was Homer Hickam in October Sky.  It’s the true story story of a coal miner’s son who is inspired by the 1958 launch of Sputnik, starts building his own rockets, and eventually ends up at NASA.

Janet Maslin didn’t love the movie but attributes Gyllenhaal with “beguiling eagerness”.  Beleaguered Chris Cooper is his foil in a classic father/son story that manages to avoid the obvious traps to be both inspiring and genuinely moving.

Gyllenhaal was 17 and still in high school when he shot the movie – the same age as his character.

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Donny Darko
DONNY DARKO (2001)

Gyllenhaal’s second feature lead was the title character in Richard Kelly’s cult hit Donny Darko.  It was at this point that it first became obvious that he wasn’t always going to make the safe choice. Darko became a cult hit and the signature film for the early part of his career.

It’s hard to imagine anybody else embodying Donny the way Gyllenhaal did, fluidly oscillating from utter normalcy to complete insanity, sometimes within a single scene.

High school student Donny is visited by a demonic six foot rabbit named Frank, who predicts the world’s end.  Donny is either schizophrenic, can penetrate extranormal dimensions – or probably both.  We’re never quite sure if he’s crazy or not — but at the end of the film it seems like the rabbit was telling him the truth.

It’s a story of teen angst married to sci-fi and abnormal psychology.  The solid supporting cast includes sister Maggie and Drew Barrymore (whose company bankrolled the production).

It had a lukewarm premiere at Sundance 2001, then was saved from straight to DVD oblivion by young Christopher Nolan who midwifed its release.  It came out  just after 9/11 and floundered in theaters but refused to die, eventually settling into cult status though a nearly endless round of late night and revival screenings.

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Zodiak
ZODIAK (2007)

After a fabulous run in the early 2000’s (Se7en, Fight ClubPanic Room) David Fincher took a few years off, then returned with this finely wrought mystery thriller.

In it, Gyllenhaal once again plays a character who sees things that nobody else does.  He’s the unlikely and late-breaking hero of the piece, Robert Graysmith — a geeky outsider editorial cartoonist at the San Francisco Chronicle — who eventually wrote the book the movie is based on.

Gyllenhaal’s character has no professional reason to be obsessed with the titular serial killer.  But he becomes obsessed anyway.  He likes puzzles, and sees patterns in the Zodiac killer’s work where nobody else sees patterns.  And once he starts seeing those patterns, he’s hooked.  As the other main characters come and go over 20 years, so does the Zodiac himself; but Graysmith continues obsessively following the trail.

It’s a great cast – in addition to Gyllenhaal, there’s Robert Downey Jr, Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Edwards, Brian Cox.  And it’s a bravura piece of filmmaking.  With a remarkable clarity of vision and obsession with detail, Fincher makes a film that is more his own than anything that came before holds your attention through two and a half hours.  It only did moderately well (in Fincher terms), but was a critical favorite and made most of that year’s Top Ten lists.

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The Good Girl
THE GOOD GIRL (2002)

This was a particularly hard list to pare down – there’s the iconic Brokeback Mountain, the Denis Villenueve films Enemy and Prisoners, and the beefier but still uniquely Gyllenhaal roles of Jarhead and Southpaw.

But we’re going back to the beginning again for Gyllenhaal’s early pairing with a severely underappreciated Jennifer Anniston in a capitalist critique masquerading as a dark comedy.

Once again, the female character is trapped in a dead-end live — but at the opposite end of the economic scale.  Jennifer Aniston plays  a clerk in a southern big box store, married to amiable stoner house painter John C. Reilly. Enter young new cashier Holden Worther, a quiet kid who is obsessed with Catcher in the Rye.  Slowly an irresistible attraction develops, until Aniston finally gives in and an affair begins.

Yes, it’s really hard to believe that even an older women would not desert John C. Reilly for a dewy Jake.  But this is not a cookie-cutter movie – Miquel Arteta’s previous film was Chuck and Buck, and the satiric script is by Mike White, who also appears as the store’s nasty Jesus freak security guard.  There are twists and turns, and even though the ending looks happy-ish, it leaves you with a sinking feeling.

In a strange way, you can see the seeds of Jack Twist in Gyllenhaal’s performance here, even though it’s amazing to think that Brokeback was just three years away.

And watching this movie makes you feel a little sorry for Jennifer Aniston – this was a really audacious choice for her.  If she hadn’t had another couple of years of Friends ahead, her career might have taken and entirely different turn.

 

Weirdly, this movie isn’t currently available online (except for maybe unofficial version on YouTube).

The DVD is cheap on Amazon. Amazon

CARE FOR A WHIP WITH THOSE CHOCOLATES?

 

Two years on here at The Thread, we’re still intrigued and mildly puzzled by the mainstreaming of BDSM.

 At their core, the 50 Shades books are romance novels; and Christian’s tie is just another puffy shirt. 

 So maybe we should be doing a romance theme.  But like the Hollywood establishment, we have a life-long investment in mild kink, so that’s the direction we’re going to go this week. 

  

Fifty Darker
FIFTY SHADES DARKER (2017)

Oh, my God – we can’t believe she actually! forgave!! him!!!

Yes, we’re just kidding.  Even though we only read the first book (or, actually, the “good” parts of the first book); and even though we heard somewhere that E.L. James prowled the set of the first movie like a brand-protective mother bear, we thought all along that this franchise might give Harry Potter a run for his money.

We have no beef with either of the lead actors (loved Dakota in Bigger Splash; and Dornan is aces as the domesticated serial killer in The Fall) or with director James Foley (who directed Glengarry Glen Ross and our favorite underrated Madonna movie, Who’s That Girl).

We do understand why the movie has to take itself absolutely seriously.  But still, we can help but suspect – sight unseen, granted – that Magic Mike XXL was a greater contribution to world cinema than this first 50 Shades sequel is going to be.

YouTube

 

 

Secretary
SECRETARY (2002)

Mary Gaitskill, who wrote the short story adapted for Secretary, described this as “the Pretty Woman version, heavy on the charm (and a little too nice).”

While we respect Gaitskill’s exceptionally well-informed opinion, here at The Thread we give the movie a lot more credit.  Director Steven Shainberg pulls off a deft balancing act, creating an insightful fable that is kinky, character-driven and funny,

Maggie Gyllenhal is the repressed,  fresh-out-of-the-hospital young secretary and the one-and-only James Spader is her super-tightly-wound OCD dominant boss.  They enter into a dance that works for both of them and leaves them both better off but not unbelievably transformed.

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SEX LIES AND VIDEOTAPE
SEX, LIES AND VIDEOTAPE (1989)

The one thing the 50 Shades series does get right is the emphasis on tension above release.  It’s the part of sex that movies do best – a fact that wasn’t lost on 29-year-old writer/director Steven Soderbergh, who put sexual tension at the core of his breakthrough indie film.

An idea that in other hands would have been too heady, too precious, or both was fueled by perfect casting (who would have thought of Andy McDowell?), perfect execution, and just the right tincture of kink.

The perverted guy (James Spader) becomes the hero, the “normal” guy (Peter Gallagher) is the villain, and the kinky couple ride off into the sunset of sexual fulfilment, launching Soderbergh’s incredible career and the whole Sundance/indie/Miramax wave of the 90’s.

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Eyes Wide Shut
EYES WIDE SHUT (1999)

But isn’t a movie about eroticism that has no release like a joke without a punch line?

And yet that pretty well describes Kubrick’s last film.  By definition the consummation of marriage is physical, and yet isn’t Eros the exact opposite of domestication?

The whole movie is one long tease – and maybe it’s actually a romantic comedy, based on the consummation suggested in the final exchange between Kidman and Cruise:

     “And you know, there is something very important we need to do as soon as possible.”
“What’s that?”
     “Fuck.”

That last little snippet is actually kind of funny:  YouTube

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The Dreamers
THE DREAMERS (2003)

We have a boatload of questions about Christian Grey, and most of them have to do with time management: How does he have the time to get so rich and stay so chiseled, yet still have time left over to learn to fly a helicopter and shop for all those ties?

But the biggest question of all is how did somebody so young get so good at being kinky?  Admittedly we’re rank amateurs in this realm, but it just seems like it must take years of practice to figure this stuff out.

The kinkiness of the brother/sister team in Dreamers feels improvisatory – which makes it both more convincing and much more fun.

Set during the Paris student riots of 1968, an innocent young college student (American, of course), falls in with an incestuous brother/sister team and instantly finds himself in way over his head.  But unlike Mssr Grey, he’s young enough and horny enough to just go with the flow.

It also helps that the film’s eroticism is cradled in a bohemian nest of half baked revolutionary ideas and non-stop quotes from classic films.  For our tastes it’s a much sexier environment than the cold plate-glass capitalism of the 50 Shades movies.

But naked truth be told, the reason we liked Dreamers wasn’t that far from the reasons that fans will flock to see 50 Shades Darker.  Bertolucci’s movie is a confection — of sex, of beautiful young bodies, of nostalgic ideas and European movie quotes – whipped up for a very specific audience, which in this case just happens to be us.

It always surprises us when a movie like this is so hard to find — not even available at Critrion or Netflix DVD.  You have to buy a DVD at Amazon:

Amazon

 

 

HOW TO BE SINGLE
HOW TO BE SINGLE (2016)

So, 5 years ago we could barely pronounce sriracha, let alone spell it.  But now it seems to be everywhere.

Maybe the BDSM in 50 Shades is just a sort of sexual hot sauce – you put it on something that was already pretty good (we’re equating sex with potato chips here) to spice it up a little more.

Our last pick is a completely other variety of sexual confection.  Last year for Valentine’s Day Warner whipped up an off-year Dakota Johnson vehicle which pairs her not with an exceptionally tasteful buff boy, but a horny Australian girl – Rebel Wilson.

When Johnson sets off for New York for a new job, she and her longtime boyfriend decide to take a break and experience single life in all its 21st century glory.  A couple weeks later, she is ready to re-engage, but he has already moved on.

Enter bawdy co-worker Rebel Wilson, who instructs Johnson in the perks and perils of being a modern girl on the loose in the big city.

The movie is far from perfect – but part of the attraction here is that it doesn’t have to be.  There are plenty of laughs plus male characters who are as sympathetic, confused and well-rounded as the women.  When it needs to switch tone, it does so very competently.  And even though Johnson’s character is very close to the one in 50 Shades, here she’s much more self aware and therefore more attractive.

Technically it’s not a rom-com: Johnson our heroine ends up alone – but it doesn’t really matter because we see very clearly that she’s better off for the journey she’s taken.  And meanwhile, we’ve had an amusing and totally harmless Saturday night.

This one’s currently up on HBO GO, as well as the usual:

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