Tagged 2001

Time Travel into Youth with Donnie Darko

Donnie Darko. 2001. Directed & Written by Richard Kelly.
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Jena Malone, Mary McDonnell, Katharine Ross, Patrick Swayze, Noah Wyle, Holmes Osborne, James Duval, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Drew Barrymore, Seth Rogen, & Patience Cleveland. 20th Century Fox/Pandora Cinema/Flower Films/Adam Fields Productions.
Rated R. 113 minutes.
Drama/Sci-Fi/Thriller

★★★★1/2
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I was born in 1985. When Richard Kelly directed and wrote Donnie Darko, I was about 15 (late birthday always puts me near the end of the year and so I was usually younger than most in my grade). When I saw it, there was an immediate odd quality that drew me in. Like many, I imagined myself an outsider, outcast, whatever word you’d like to use. But Kelly’s film spoke to my weird soul.
Donnie Darko combines a story of teen angst with a science fiction-tinged thriller, all wrapped up in a personal family drama. There’s even a horror-ish element within the plot itself, as Frank the Bunny is not simply a sci-fi-esque prophet, he is highly unsettling to look at. Delightfully horror. Set in the late ’80s, the story is quirky, but never so much that it ultimately detracts from anything. In fact, the soundtrack and some of the haircuts, the fashion are what makes it clear this is a period piece, otherwise it isn’t forced on us.
But above all else, this movie is concerned with an interesting mix that falls somewhere between a more cynical John Hughes picture and a darkly comedic science fiction-thriller.
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Often period pieces, no matter the time, can really jam those elements down a viewer’s throat. Kelly does a fine job weaving the late ’80s into his film. Without every pressuring us into a space where neon Spandex, headbands, gigantic hairdos take precedence, the movie gets across its 1988 setting. For instance, from the very beginning we keep hearing mentions of George Bush Sr., more importantly his opponent Michael Dukakis in the ’88 U.S. Presidential election, such as when Mr. Darko’s daughter insists she’s voting for the latter to his chagrin. These particular mentions are organic, they don’t feel jammed into the screenplay. Furthermore, the fact they’re so easily engrained in the fabric of the writing is not only a testament to Kelly’s abilities as a screenwriter, it’s also part of why the film, as a whole, feels fleshed out.
The writing is all around excellent. Donnie’s a solid character, as are his family. I’m always at a loss for how I’m meant to relate to characters when families onscreen feel like they’re the furthest away from a family they can possibly get. Sometimes you see these people together as supposed relations and they feel too much like a couple actors working through lines. The Darko family are fun. First, you’ve got the fact Jake and Maggie Gyllenhaal play the brother-sister combo that like poking fun at one another with hilariously foul insults. Their chemistry is, obviously, natural. Better still, Rose (Mary McDonnell) and Eddie (Holmes Osborne) Darko are wonderful in the roles of Donnie’s parents. They’re interesting, they feel like a married couple and likewise feel like parents. Even if Donnie is the main focus, the whole family makes the movie and its story all the better for their inclusion.
Aside from characters, the plot is wild, as much as it is intriguing. If you pick up the Director’s Cut there’s a treasure trove of Special Features that make everything even more enjoyable. Sure, you may not like the movie because it isn’t your cup of tea. But you’ve got to admire Kelly’s work, his writing, the time and research he put into the whole thing. On the DVD (this is one movie I’ve yet to pick up on Blu ray), there’s a feature on The Philosophy of Time Travel, the book within the film supposedly written by Roberta Sparrow. It almost serves as a nice footnote to the movie, helping people bridge the gaps between the bits and pieces which may not immediately make sense. Personally, I don’t particularly find Donnie Darko confusing, on the whole. That being said, I’ve watched this so many times in the last 15 years that quite possibly I get it simply because of the sheer number of views. Who knows. However, if you do find it confusing, even in the slightest, I suggest picking up the DVD if you’re willing, and enjoyed the film despite not fully understanding it. The features will help you grasp everything, in my opinion. Again, they also give you an idea of how much work Kelly put into this movie, from writing the screenplay to its visual execution.
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What I love most is that this is a teen story, at its heart. But more than that we’ve got this great feeling of a distinction between people who are closer to the truth and those who are much further away. The teens, or some of them – particularly Donnie (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Gretchen (Jena Malone) – are obviously on the side of angst, the feeling that grown-ups don’t have it all figured out. This is usually the case in films, and in real life, too. Moreover, some of the adults in this movie are in on that. There’s Professor Monnitoff (Noah Wyle) whose indulgence of Donnie’s questions about time travel point to his better understanding of the world than the closed off, repressed adults here; also, young teacher Karen Pomeroy (Drew Barrymore) is a great example, as she introduces one of the film’s themes, DESTRUCTION AS CREATION, with the Graham Greene short story “The Destructors” that concerns that very same theme. The adults are not simply clueless; no, they are mostly apathetic, and that’s almost worse.
Best of all, the character of Jim Cunningham (Patrick Swayze) exemplifies the entire idea that many of the adults here are clueless, oblivious to everything significant about life – when we come to find out about Cunningham, through another act of destruction (creating a better path to truth), it’s easy to see how his preaching about fear is all a cover. Epitomized in Cunningham is the concept of the hidden truth, which Donnie comes to help uncover throughout the course of the plot. Often films that are going for the idea that teenagers are somehow more enlightened in their youth (not all; a small portion) tend to never really feel that way, rather they simply have all the angst and nothing else. Donnie Darko contains every last bit of that angst. Yet more than that with its science fiction leanings Kelly gives this story a legitimate feeling of that youthful wisdom lurking amongst the apathy of suburbia.
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The central performance from Gyllenhaal is affecting, in many ways. He plays the teen angst so well, seeing him with his therapist in those scenes is often both engaging and also tense in its own right. Donnie comes off as an emotional young man. He represents so many teens in a perfect sense – part of him is dark, the other part calling out to the light. In addition, he feels real. He isn’t a caricature, but instead is a genuine depiction of a teenager, filled with confusing and rage and misguided emotion, and so much more. Gyllenhaal truly burst forth with this role. His performance is what keeps us so rooted in the eccentric story. If it weren’t for him, this film might not come off as memorable as it does.
Some movies I loved at 15 now don’t look so great. Donnie Darko is not one of those. Like cheese (if you’re into it), this is one experience which only gets better with age. Writing this in 2016, I expected maybe some elements might feel pretentious. They don’t, though. I’ve seen this movie so much, but haven’t watched it in about 7 years. So coming back to it, I wasn’t sure if Kelly’s film might have felt so amazingly effective simply because I was younger, I had those rosy eyes of a still 20-something man. Watching this again tonight, I realize it has nothing to do with me. This film is timeless. If I watch it again, in another 20 years, I expect to feel no different about it. Maybe with more decades behind me the themes, the plot, everything may make even more sense to me then.
Nevertheless, right now I can’t stop loving it. Donnie Darko is a hugely interesting piece of work, Richard Kelly still doesn’t get enough credit and his later projects were only more misunderstood than this one. Just don’t discount this one as muddled, as a completely teen movie, or anything like that. This has so much worth inside. Let it wash over you. Some films, as this one is, are an experience rather than merely a bunch of moving images telling a story.

Ridley Scott and His Flawed Yet Underrated Hannibal

Hannibal. 2001. Directed by Ridley Scott. Screenplay by David Mamet & Steven Zaillian; based on the novel of the same name by Thomas Harris.
Starring Julianne Moore, Anthony Hopkins, Gary Oldman, Ray Liotta, Frankie Faison, Giancarlo Giannini, Francesca Neri, Zeljko Ivanek, and Hazelle Goodman. MGM/Universal Pictures/Dino De Laurentiis Company. Rated R. 131 minutes. Crime/Drama/Thriller

★★★★Hannibal-0102Recently the Bryan Fuller helmed Hannibal series ended over at NBC, so I’ve been going back over the wonderful films to revisit the previous incarnations of Dr. Lecter in the movies.
While not everyone is a fan of the book Hannibal, nor are they keen on Ridley Scott’s adaptation penned by David Mamet/Steven Zaillian, I’m actually a fairly ardent fan of both. Something I always loved about the Thomas Harris novels was the fact they’re truly disturbing in a get-under-the-skin-and-crawl type of way; from Francis Dolarhyde in Red Dragon to Buffalo Bill out of The Silence of the Lambs, everything in those pages is pure dread and macabre storytelling.
When it comes to the film, it’s too bad most of Mamet’s adaptation was re-hauled completely by screenwriter Steven Zaillian; perhaps if more Mamet remained, the script would’ve appealed more to some of the detractors.
Either way, this is a pretty damn good adaptation regardless of the few flaws. An at times gory thriller, there is much darkness and disturbing subject matter within this Ridley Scott directed film. Though not all of Harris made it into the film, both because of Scott wishing to make changes and in the name of time (this is already over two hours), I do find the movie to be faithful in terms of how chilling much of the novel itself was, and I believe most of this did cross over.
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After the events of The Silence of the Lambs, Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) is on the run, making his way across the globe. Back in the United States, Clarice Starling (Julianne Moore) is still going strong in the FBI. Her most recent case has taken her into the way of danger, as a fellow agent puts everyone at risk. Of course, the rabid sexism of the patriarchal Federal Bureau of Investigations takes Starling for a ride. Disgraced and with almost every single back turned to her, Clarice does her best to get by. Though, it isn’t easy with people like Paul Krendler (Ray Liotta) on her back.
Then, a letter arrives from Europe, smelling of fine perfumes and other fragrances. It is addressed to Clarice. It is from Hannibal. Rushing to figure out where he might be, Clarice tries to navigate the choppy waters of her current job situation. But even worse than the chauvinist Krendler is the presence of an old victim of Lecter’s from his earliest macabre work: a terribly disfigured Mason Verger (Gary Oldman) whose lust for revenge, old money and government connections allow his reach to extend far and wide. In Europe, the sly Lecter tries to avoid arrest by a rogue lawman hoping to collect a big bounty, Inspector Rinaldo Pazzi (Giancarlo Giannini).
Only after the tables turn does Starling realize her only hope of surviving it all might be Hannibal.
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Even though many things from the original Thomas Harris novel didn’t make it into the final product of the film, there is a still grisly, nasty heart at the center of its being. Some things removed: the novel’s ending; Margot Verger the lesbian bodybuilding sister of Mason; plus, Mason’s predilection for molesting children and drinking their tears; the original death Mason endures and the harvesting of his sperm for Margot to use to have a child with her lover; and other things such as the absence of Jack Crawford.
While a few things can be forgiven, I don’t know why they chose to keep Crawford out of it, nor do I see how the ending of the film is any better than that of the Harris novel. First – Crawford is an important figure in the life of Clarice, almost like a part-time angel watching over her shoulder and even more at times, so his absence is a little strange to me; I understand there were time constraints, however, Jack could’ve easily been planted into the story at the beginning especially when Starling experienced blowback from the FBI. Second – the ending of the film is fun, but there’s such a tangled, creepy and unsettling aspect to the Harris ending: in his novel, Hannibal first tries to make Clarice into a living version of his sister Mischa, then at the end they run away together in a fit of madness and love. Now, I know some weren’t fans of the novel’s ending. Regardless I found it perfect, to end things in a strange, unexpected way. But is it really unexpected? Can you say there were no inklings or hints of a romance between Hannibal and Clarice? Even in SOTL, there is a strange connection between them, almost like a man lusting after a woman who doesn’t yet know she’ll fall for him down the road. Either way, I think it could’ve potentially set up another film if Harris were ever interested in exploring more of the story. And not to mention, it would’ve blown audiences away to see Clarice take off in the night with Lecter.
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Some things I loved.
Gary Oldman plays Mason Verger perfectly. If you didn’t know it was him by looking on IMDB or in the credits, there’s a high chance of walking away without ever knowing. Virtually unrecognizable under prosthetics and make-up, Oldman falls into an upper class accent mixed with disfigurement, religious fervour, as well as a great deal of charisma. There are times you want to like Verge. Others, you understand the nastiness in him while hating what it’s producing. Many times you’ll laugh at some of the bits of dialogue from Mason, though, not in a funny way – more so, it’s a macabre and dark comedy from his lips making us kind of root for him. Above all else, Verger is a conflicting character on moral grounds, which makes us lean back and forth. Similar to the character of Lecter.
Then of course, there’s Anthony Hopkins returning with vigour to the world of Hannibal. Giving us another go round with the naughty doctor, Hopkins is almost even quieter, more subdued, more sinister and unnerving than before. Much of the dialogue gives him a chance to twirl us around his finger, sucking each viewer into his evil nature and never once letting us go. Seeing Hannibal in Europe is impressive enough as it is. Add in a spectacular performance by Hopkins, you’ve got yourself an interesting ride along with one of the most well-known villains of the cinematic universe ever.
Aside from performances and characters, Hannibal is at times fairly vicious. Though, if Scott and screenwriter David Mamet were to have kept more of the original source material in the script, it could’ve fallen even deeper into horror than it did. But scenes like the impromptu dinner between Hannibal, Clarice and poor Paul Krendler, the brief flashbacks to when Lecter disfigured Mason, even a very short video of Lecter biting the nurse’s face (a scene only referenced in SOTL) – these are all great examples of horror in a non-horror film. Really, Hannibal is a crime thriller. Yet so many moments bring us into the horror of the Harris universe. I can’t fault Scott, nor Mamet, too much for excluding bits and pieces of the novel because it’s a thick book, lots of plot and plenty of dialogue. However, I would’ve definitely rated this movie even higher if Scott kept some things in. They didn’t have to be totally in tact. He could have only alluded to certain plot points, and so on. Alas, we’re missing some very meaty, properly hideous bits that augment the entire story, and the movie is lacking because of it.
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Despite my criticisms, I love Hannibal. It’s a 4 out of 5 star film, all the way. Many will not agree with me and say the movie is trash, an unnecessary sequel, or that it strays too far from the novel of Thomas Harris. I couldn’t care any less, I’ve always thought there was something special about this Ridley Scott film. He adds only a flair all his own, a style nobody else has, and it’s evident right from the opening moments. Again, it would’ve been amazing to see more of the Harris novel find its way into the script, but for what came out I think Scott did justice to SOTL and the character of Hannibal in general, even without a few key pieces. If you’ve never seen it, or are a newcomer to the Lecter universe, do yourself a favour. There is plenty to love and enjoy here. Lots of macabre nastiness from which to find a thrill.