Tag Archives: Maggie Gyllenhaal

The Dark Knight (2008) Movie Retro Review by Stephen McLaughlin

THE DARK NIGHT

Director: Christopher Nolan
Writers: Jonathan Nolan (screenplay),  Christopher Nolan
Stars: Christian Bale,  Heath Ledger,  Aaron Eckhart, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Gary Oldman, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Cillian Murphy

Christopher Nolan really did leave us hanging at the end of Batman Begins (2005) with the Jim Gordon / Batman scene at the very end teasing the audience with the “has a taste for the theatrical, like you. Leaves a calling card.” with what we could look forward to in the next instalment of “The Dark Knight Trilogy”

Within those three years slowly but surely little pieces of information began to leak online on who would portray “The Joker” and it’s no great secret that when Health Ledger was announced it caused a bit of backlash amongst the fans that hadn’t been seen since pre-internet days of Tim Burton’s announcement that Michael Keaton was portraying Bruce Wayne in the 1989 version of the caped crusader. In fact, we as fans still haven’t learned our lessons for in 2013 a similar backlash happened with the announcement of Ben Affleck taking the Wayne mantel in the upcoming sequel to “Man of Steel” that would soon becoming title “Batman Versus Superman”

We need not worried as most folk know about Ledger’s now iconic portal of “The Clown” and more importantly the tragedy surrounding the actors untimely death on 22nd January 2008 aged 28, six months before the premier of “The Dark Knight”

The hype and publicity surrounding the release of the movie in the summer of 2008 probably would have tainted the movie in a way that with all the publicity into Ledger’s death may in fact leave a massive shadow hanging over the sequel. Going into the theatre to watch the follow up to Batman Begins, any fear of this was put to bed within the first 10 minutes of the movie as we watched a bank heist taking place and The Joker’s reveal was straight to the point was also shocking as we see and hear this portrayal say “I believe whatever doesn’t kill you, simply makes you stranger” the theatre may have been in complete darkness but you couldn’t sense the audience rubbing their hands knowing what was in store for the next couple of hours.

One thing I noticed and have always applauded Christopher Nolan for was the focus is taken away from Bruce Wayne in the movie. Batman Begins was always about Bruce Wayne and the development of that character so much so they didn’t give us one of the “main” villains in the opening instalment (although The Scarecrow was excellent) as the Director was in every sense rebooting the franchise. In “The Dark Knight” this was never going to be the case. Here we saw a man “Who just wanted to watch world burn” in The Joker and also we see the Rise and Tragic Fall of Harvey Dent who went from “Gotham’s White Knight” to “Two Face” gradually and even more so tragically.

The pacing of this movie is something that has always impressed me, from those opening IMax designed shots moving over the city to the end is so consistent and the tone never changes although there are some lighter tones of dialogue, particularly with Bruce and Alfred or Bruce and Lucius Fox but overall the darkness of the film accompanies the audience throughout its duration.

Christian Bale did receive a little flak for his Batman “voice” in this movie and I can understand that on the first viewing you might miss a few of his lines due to his voice but overall it really is just nitpicking as Bale’s Wayne is really finding it difficult to deal with a man who has no plan and has nothing to lose. Also his portrayal of the billionaire’s personal life an in particularly the relationship between him and Rachel Daws continues to develop. The actor again shows us all why he was cast as Bruce Wayne in the first place and barely puts a foot wrong throughout.

Health Ledger as previously mentioned, it is very difficult to say where after this performance would have taken him. Receiving posthumously an Oscar for best supporting actor in his portrayal of the The Joker was bittersweet and heartbreaking as his performance was up there with the best of them and to this day his lines are still as memorable as they were 9 years ago. Ledger takes the character in a different direction from previous incarnations of the legendary villain. Not as much theatrics or parlour tricks but a more edgier and gripping portrayal is witnessed as the actor turns “The Clown” into a really disturbing figure that even the “Mob” fear.

Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent. Could I think of anyone else to portray the new DA in Gotham? Well no. In fact I don’t think Eckhart has come close to reaching these heights before or since this movie was released. Eckhart’s performance matches Christian Bale’s scene for scene and the character gives Bruce Wayne hope that the day of Batman being Gotham’s saviour is coming to an end, much to the delight and relief of Wayne. Eckhart’s performance is terrific is his almost whiter than white portrayal of a good man wanting to better his city and rid Gotham of the disease that was slowly dragging it back down to the days of Falcone. Eckhart’s “turn” is almost as tragic after losing everything becoming “Two Face” I have to admit I was excited when it was announced that “The Joker” would be the villain in this instalment, but admittedly I was concerned that having Two Face in there too may be a little overkill. My fears were put to bed after the first viewing of the film as the handling of the character was more sympathetic and tragic than the out and out villain of the movie.

Again the supporting cast of Gary Oldman, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Cillian Murphy was very similar to Batman Begins with all these characters playing their parts for the right amount of time and used correctly. Even Maggie Gyllenhaal replacing Katie Holms for the part of Rachel didn’t really distract in anyway and that’s down to good writing and obviously the acting of Gylenhaal who had a larger part to play than Holms did in Batman Begins.

Overall this movie is perfection and I didn’t think Batman Begins could be topped if I’m being honest. The tone of this film is trademark Nolan and Hans Zimmer’s collaboration with James Newton Howard is a piece of art itself adding to the already darker tones and adding to the feel and texture of the movie. As most of you know this is the middle part of the trilogy, but I couldnt help but feel at the time how this movie would be equalled or bettered with a concluding part to it as in 2008 I really felt this movie hit the Dark Knight’s peak and I have to be honest and say in 2008 I didn’t want another one after this as I did regard this as a masterpiece and anything after it would be inferior. If you haven’t seen this movie yet I can’t recommend it enough as it is in my all time top 5 movies to see.

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Donnie Darko (2001) Movie Retro Review by Stephen McLaughlin

DONNIE DARKO

Director: Richard Kelly
Writer: Richard Kelly
Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal,  Jena Malone,  Mary McDonnell, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Patrick Swayze

Donnie Darko is possibly one of my all time favourite movies and on it’s initial release here in the UK in 2002 I had already got wind of this weird complex film about a troubled sleepwalking teenage boy and his supposed imaginary 6 foot bunny rabbit friend named Frank who warns Donnie the end of the world is nigh.

When I got round to viewing the Richard Kelly film it was on a recommendation from a work colleague who insisted I watch Donnie Darko for one reason only. That reason? it has a killer soundtrack. Now as crazy as that sounds, the soundtrack to this movie is phenomenal and captures the mood of the era that Donnie Darko is set in (mid to late 80’s)

The style of the movie is really what drew me in though. In 2002, I hadn’t heard of Jake or Maggie Gyllenhaal at this point. In fact, the only cast member I recall back then was Patrick Swayze (who I will get back to along with the other cast members. It was the style of the movie that I liked. It had a blend of a classic 80’s teen movie mixed with science fiction and believe it or not a little of the horror aspect was in there too.

The main character Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal) who suffers from sleepwalking and is on medication is visited in visions by Frank who actually saves Donnie’s life at the beginning of the movie whilst Donnie is in his bed sleeping, Frank tells him to get up and it’s in his sleepwalking state that Donnie leaves the house only to wake up the next morning on a golf course in his pyjamas.

During the night as Donnie discovers on his way home from the golf course there has been an accident at his house that saw an aeroplane engine land and impact the area of the house where Donnie’s bedroom was (talk about luck eh? or was it fate?)

This incident sets up a chain of events in which as the movie progresses I recall thinking is it Donnie’s medication or state of mind that is taking him down a darker path or is Frank actually real and trying to help Donnie. It appears that Frank is directing Donnie to perform some stunts like flooding the school and there are other actions throughout the movie that really makes you think of what Frank’s agenda is and why he is “making” Donnie do these things.

There are some really stand out and funny moments in the movie and in particular with either motivational nut Kitty Farmer who tries to define life on joy and fear and lump into two categories which Donnie is having none of that and tears strips off her. Jake Gyllenhaal was only 21 at the time and really showed maturity in this role although he was playing a school kid managed to nail the personality of the troubled boy who was seeking guidance on what to do with his life and this scene always stood out to me along with another scene that showed Donnie’s self assurance and how fearless he was against the establishment. The other scene I mention is probably one of the best scenes I have ever viewed in my cinematic history and that is his confrontation with Jim Cunningham (Patrick Swayze)

Patrick Swayze at this point was a mixed bag to me, I first saw him as Johnny Castle in 1987’s Dirty Dancing that although is now regarded as a classic was not my cup of tea as an eleven year old boy at the time. Although having some credibility in films like Road House (1989) and Point Break (1991) I was never a massive fan of the late actor who sadly passed away at the age of 57 in 2009. When I saw his performance in Donnie Darko I have to admit that he was probably the best thing outside the lead actor and his portrayal of Jim Cunningham a motivational and positive mind speaker really was a highlight of the film and his scene (confrontational scene) with Donnie is in my book one of the greatest, funniest and powerful scenes you will ever see in a film.

There are other snippets of brilliance and comedy throughout the movie with the Darko family with Holmes Osborne playing the Dad, Mary McDonnell portraying the Mum and playing Donnie’s sisters Elizabeth and Samantha are real life sister Maggie Gyllenhaal and Daveigh Chase in a brilliantly written dining scene and also a great “Smurf” outburst from Donnie with his friends Ronald Fisher (Stuart Stone) and Sean Smith (Gary Lundy) that had me in tears of laughter.

Visually the movie is rather dark and mostly set at night giving the movie a real cynical feel to it and some of the sequences in the movie (particularly the directors cut) are very fast images that add a little suspense and may I say a kind of horror value to it. Possibly the most visual scene in the movie is the scene in the house when Donnie and his Dad as some of the other guys are watching a football game and this weird transparent “blob” begins to direct Donnie in his actions. I remember thinking when I saw this for the first time “is this Donnie seeing the future, as the people around Donnie seem to be following the path of this strange Abyss like gloopy thing” and to tell you the truth I still think that what that scene was trying to tell us, that Donnie sees things before they happen.

I have to admit that it was a pretty unique way of showing the audience this and although kinda weird and cool in a way it really does confuse the hell out of you.

The conclusion of the movie although I won’t go to much into that and how it plays out is really sad in a way and when things begin to go wrong in Donnie’s life, he begins to realise there is only one way to fix all of these things from ever happening. One thing I did manage to take away from this movie was I was able to go back to my colleague and say to him that it was an awesome soundtrack but I got more out of it than just that.

Admittedly this movie is confusing the first few time in watching it and reviewing a multi layered and complex film like Donnie Darko is a tough gig. But what keeps me going back and watching this movie every once in a while is for those stand out scenes and with every viewing you manage to pick something else up that you may not have noticed before and that is why I recommend Donnie Darko to anyone out there who hasn’t watched the movie yet.

Stranger Than Fiction (2006) Movie Retro Review by Stephen McLaughlin

STRANGER THAN FICTION

Director: Marc Forster
Writer: Zach Helm
Stars: Will Ferrell,  Emma Thompson,  Dustin Hoffman, Maggie Gyllenhaal

Stranger Than Fiction continues our Retro Review season and this was one of my favourite movies in 2006. Having rewatched the Marc Forster film this week, it reminded me that although the movie is eleven years old, it hadn’t lost its charm.

Will Ferrell is Harold Crick, an IRS auditor (with a obsessive compulsive disorder in time and order) suddenly begins to hear a voice in his head narrating his entire life. What I like about the movie at this point is the audience members are listening to Emma Thompson narrating Stranger Than Fiction not any differently to any actor who explains the characters and the situation at the beginning of any movie. (Just like Morgan Freeman as Red narrating Andy Dufresne life and situation in The Shawshank Redemption) but when the lead actor begins to hear this narration from Thompson, you know that you are witnessing a very odd movie, but in a good way.

Although there is a complexity to the storyline that is probably easier to view to explain than read, it must be said that writer Zachary Helm did a brilliant job writing a very unique story of a man’s life and……death?

Harold at first thinks someone is talking to him and as time goes on begins to lose it slightly. The voice he is actually hearing is that of writer Karen Eiffel (Thompson) who bizarrely is writing a story on Harold Crick, a character she created but is in fact a real person. This is explained to the audience through Crick being referred to Professor Jules Hilbert (Hoffman) via his shrink who is a professor of literature who may be able to help Harold and the voices in his head. It’s during one of these meetings in Hilbert’s office that Harold realises the woman on the Television (Karen Eiffel) being interviewed for one of her books is in fact the voice in his head.

Desperate to track Karen Eiffel down to get to the bottom of this situation it is then we the audience members realise that the writer kills off her main character in all her books in the most poetic and meaningful way. It is also then the audience realises that Harold Crick is the main character of her latest book and must die.

Stranger than Fiction is a tale of a very lonely man who happens to find love through auditing Ana Pascal (Maggie Gyllenhaal). A cake shop owner who is behind with her taxes and basically a bit flakey in regards to her auditing skills with her business. Naturally her first few meetings with Harold are a little Icey and Gyllenhaal to be fair portrays a rebellious women who cannot stand “The Man” and naturally begins to see another side of Harold most people haven’t seen before.

Helm’s writing between these two characters is patient and natural and although the character of Harold is a little odd at first, Ferrell performs beautifully and you begin to like Harold and all his quirks. Will Ferrell is probably one of the funniest guys in Hollywood for the past twenty years and here he really shows his strengths as a serious actor in much the same vain Jim Carrey did in Enternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

The acting muscle and might of the movie is on Thompson and Hoffman in what are what some may describe as heavyweight supporting actors and to be fair they are there for that reason. Thompson’s character to begin with is portrayed as heartless and seeking out the best death she can muster for poor Mr Crick along with her assistant looking for inspiration in some of the most peculiar places. I enjoyed her performance as a writer who is struggling to get back to where she was and Thompson is brilliant as the stressed out chain smoking “Literature Grim Reaper”

Hoffman as the professor is character who grounds the storyline, he is the voice of reason and solitude for Harold Crick who thinks he is losing his marbles at times and Hoffman’s calm influence in the movie is just right. I’ve been critical in the past with big name actors being used sparingly in movies to sell tickets and put bums in cinema seats. It is not the case in Stranger Than Fiction, Hoffman enters the movie at the right times and in the most memorable scene after reading a draft of Eiffel’s book that isn’t quite complete delivers the heartbreaking line to Harold that he must die for the book to be a masterpiece. Both Hoffman and Ferrell really capture the mood of this scene so beautifully and it’s heartbreaking to know that Crick has just found happiness in his life at this point and doesn’t want to die.

For those of you who haven’t watched “Stranger Than Fiction” I will leave the plot at this point as it really has to be viewed to experience the uniqueness of this sometimes complex story. But after viewing this film again over a decade ago still effects me which is why I can’t fault this movie for what it is. Well balanced and overall interesting storyline that is directed brilliantly in its pacing where a story may be complex is shot in the most simplistic fashion. The soundtrack is another bonus that captures the emotions in the characters and it also helps that some of my favourite songs are in there too.

I highly recommend this movie and I’m very happy to see this film shed light on the streaming service Netflix that will introduce this gem to a new audience. I recommend this enjoyable film to anyone who hasn’t seen it or like me forgot how good it was the first time around.