Tagged Donnie Darko

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.

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Nightcrawler & the Vulture-like News Media

Nightcrawler. 2014. Directed & Written by Dan Gilroy.
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Bill Paxton, and Riz Ahmed. Elevation Pictures.
Rated 14A. 117 minutes.
Crime/Thriller

★★★★★

Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler is a bit of an unusual film. First off, Gilroy has never directed a feature film, or anything else to my knowledge. His start came with screenwriting. The only particularly worthy bit of writing Gilroy has the credit for would be an interesting 2006 film called The Fall. Other than that his screenplays have mostly been for box office fodder like Real Steel or more recently The Bourne Legacy. Yet out of nowhere Gilroy both writes and directs a small film like this.
With not only Jake Gyllenhaal but also veterans such as Rene Russo and Bill Paxton. I say small because this film only had a budget of $8-million. Believe it or not that is actually small compared to most movies you see at the theatre. Compared with the $125-million budget of Gilroy’s previous screenwriting venture The Bourne Legacy an $8-million film is an indie. However, what Nightcrawler lacks in budget it makes up for in heart and storytelling.
nightcrawler-jake-gyllenhaal1-600x400 Gyllenhaal is a tour-de-force in Nightcrawler. His character, Lou Bloom, is a wayward young man. The first we see Lou it is in the early dark of night on the edge of the city. He has a trunk full of stripped copper wire, and is currently in the process of cutting out a section of chain link fence. A security guard confronts him. He claims being lost. After decking the guard, and stealing his watch, Lou visits a construction site where he proceeds to auction off the fence and wire. Right away the message is clear: Lou is a scavenger. Through mere coincidence he ends up witnessing a brutal car crash. As two police officers try rescuing the injured driver, Lou watches a guerilla television crew trying to get exclusive, gruesome footage of the accident. Lou asks a member of the crew (Paxton) if he could get a job, but is shooed away.
On the morning news the following day, Lou sees the same footage he witnessed being taped the previous night, and is in awe. It brings a smile to his haunted looking face. This chance encounter leads to a new obsession Lou sets his sights on.

Essentially, the film is a look at modern society. Gyllenhaal plays a seriously motivated and possibly (no, definitely) very unstable young go-getter who only wants to find something at which he can be successful; something at which he can excel. I believe Gilroy is attempting to present a look at not only how the media is a cutthroat and vicious business, but how we as modern viewers are also demanding more and more of this extreme footage. We, as much as we may hate it or try and deny it, are a part, a big part, of the process. No longer are news channels simply a NASDAQ scroll on the bottom of the screen while reporters talk about elections and local events, global news, the like. Today the news is almost like a horror film reel at times from images of war to school shootings to all sorts of awful, terrible stuff.
Lou Bloom represents the younger generations today and how we widely hold the view that anything can be a career. Even in this case, where Lou risks his own safety and the safety of those around him to get even 60-seconds of footage to auction off at the highest price for different television networks competing against each other. In a day and age where the grotesqueness of reality television dominates ratings it isn’t hard to imagine there are already plenty of Lou Blooms already out there exploiting car crashes and victims of gun violence (et cetera) for money.
Point being: Nightcrawler is highly relevant to the day and age its been released, no doubt it will probably come to be – unfortunately – even more relevant as the role of the media and technology in media changes over the years ahead.
Night-crawler Most reviews of Nightcrawler have been positive. I cannot disagree at all. It is a cracking good film. Technology aside, it reminds me of a movie we could very well have seen in the late 1950s or 1960s. It’s like a creepy noir-ish style thriller. Gyllenhaal himself is worth the price of admission. He physically embodies the character of Lou; the way he walks and talks all frame him as a ghoul, out in the night to find dead bodies and other nasty business, or even dig up the damn graves if he has to – whatever it takes. It’s really remarkable to see the young kid from Donnie Darko continually choose challenging, unique roles now that he’s older.
Another thing I particularly liked about this film is the lack of a forced in love story. Gilroy utilizes Rene Russo, playing a television network executive, here as a strong female character who is both complicated and flawed. He does not write her as a typical love interest so common in a lot of other mainstream films. Although there are a few sexually charged moments between Gyllenhaal and Russo, the film never falls prey to pushing anything in our faces, and stops very short; the plot never gets bogged down with unnecessary love scenes of any kind. It’s refreshing to me.

I can’t help giving this a full 5 star recommendation. Though I often try to avoid nitpicking a film to death because it ruins the fun, I’m definitely capable of admitting when a movie is not the greatest. Even if it’s one I personally enjoy. But there is nothing about Nightcrawler I can pick apart. It’s a great film with a tight script, beautiful camerawork, and a genuinely starmaker performance from Jake Gyllnehaal. Get out and see this. Now.

For another stellar review of Nightcrawler, see Thy Critic Man’s review here.