Review: “The Skeleton Twins” 12.13.14

I guess I wasn’t entirely sure what drew me into wanting to see this film. Other than that I had heard and/or read mostly positively priases and it scored well on the various movie review sites that I visit. That and coming off the heels of two dark films that I watched last weekend in the form of both “Calvary” and especially “Nightcrawler” I think I was in the mood for a bit more lighter-fare. But even more so, I’ve particularly always been a fan of Bill Hader and often feel as if he’s much too underutilized in films and mostly plays bit parts. So the promise of seeing him in something where he played the leading man in piqued my interest from the start. Being in that I’m really a Saturday Night Live novice post anything 2000, I can’t say that I’m familiar at all of any of his work on that show. Along with co-star Kristen Wiig. I know neither of them from their work on that show, but rather from supporting parts in movies I’ve seen like 2011’s “Paul”, a movie in which both of them starred in. I also liked Hader in comedies like “Superbad” (2007), “Knocked Up” (2007), “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” (2008), “Pineapple Express” (2008), “Adventureland” (2009), and “This Is 40” (2012). Also, a lot of people don’t know this, but Hader was employed as one of South Park’s head writers for a couple of seasons. There’s a great “making of” South Park documentary that I caught on Netflix streaming awhile back. That shows Hader in his element as they give us a glimpse into the writing and making of a South Park episode. Creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, regardless of what you think about their show, are so unbelievably successful that they can pull in guys like Hader to write for them. And it’s through this documentary that I found myself developing a deeper respect for him as both an actor and writer. His sheer talent is undeniable. As for Wiig, I can’t say I’ve really seen her in anything outside of the afore-mentioned “Paul” (no I have not seen “Bridesmaids”) and in her hilarious supporting turn in the often much too underrated “MacGruber” (2010). So just based on word of mouth and the fact that I was looking for some lighter fare with a couple of young comedic actors I thought I would give this one a whirl.

The film opens to a rather coincidental and tragic event, both which take place on opposite coasts by 2 siblings – Bill Hader’s Lou and Kristen Wiig’s Maggie. It is through this mere act that the brother and sister are reunited after 10 long years of being estranged from one another. Lou, who seems to be in a very dark place and in desperate need of some much-needed love and support, gets an invitation by his sister Maggie to come stay with her and her husband (played by Luke Wilson, in a great supporting turn) in rural upstate New York. he takes her up on said offer and moves from his dismal life in Los Angeles to her much more suburban-esque home and lifestyle in upstate New York. As is with a lot of siblings, both on-screen and off, they seem to click almost right away and pick up right from where the beat left off. Lou hesitantly acclimates himself and is brought into both his sister and husband’s seemingly domestic home life, and given that she still lives in the same hometown in which they grew up on, starts to revisit some of his past. Facing past failures upfront and face to face, and we begin to learn a bit about his back story. Though while Maggie’s lifestyle seems to be idyllic from the outside. She too is also plagued with her own past failures and her inability to be the wife that her husband, Luke Wilson’s character, appears to deserve as he is a kind-hearted, compassionate, and loving husband. Who also seems invested in his brother-in-law Lou’s recovery from some of his past failures. The two siblings begin to learn that they’re really not much different from one another and are plagued by the same events that happened to them as kids, which makes things rather difficult and opens up doors to facing some of their let downs and disappointments from their childhood. It is through this bonding which things begin to resurface and they begin to realize that they’re not much different than one another. Even despite of them having spent so much time apart.

“The Skeleton Twins” winds up being one of the biggest sleeper hits of the year in terms of its genre. It’s a very sad but honest look at two siblings so troubled and scarred from their childhood that even while in the comfort of one another’s presence, their past seems to catch up with them and makes them face their true fears and disappointments about the flawed adults in which they’ve become. The film brough a lot of my own personal feelings to light, having lived a similar, somewhat tumultuous childhood. The way in which the two siblings’ bond is portrayed is spot on and both Hader and Wiig give complex, layered performances that felt sincere, real, and truly human. It just goes to show that two actors who are better known for their comedic work in, if given the right material, can truly shine as dramatic actors. In fact, I was so impressed by their performances, that I found myself totally immersed myself in the story and emotionally invested in their 2 characters, that I was taken by quite a surprise. There was a certain rawness, a certain authenticity if you will, that I have to say I didn’t think these particular leads could pull off. But they do and then some. Anybody with a sibling or siblings should be able to identify with a lot of the themes explored in this film. As it really does a great job at depicting the ties that bind while also acknowledging that the past may be through with us, but we are never through with the past (a quote lifted from Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Magnolia” (1999) ). There’s an emotional core to the story that seemed totally believable and had me invested from start to finish. Nevermind that I counted maybe 3 or more scenes that were so raw, so poignant, and so heartfelt, that I found myself either being completely moved by them or evoking a beaming smile. This is one of the saddest feel good movies that is executed almost perfectly along with being incredibly well acted, that I’d be hard pressed not being able to recommend it to just about anybody. This is a film that totally took me by surprise, and one that I would employ you to see as its maybe one of, if not the best, dark comedies that I’ve seen all year.

[B+]

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A Trip To The Movies – Review: “Nightcrawler” 12.7.14

This was the second to last of my crop of movies to see to wrap up the end of 2014. The other being Bennett Miller’s “Foxcatcher” which is scheduled to be released here in Portland later this month. Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Inherent Vice” doesn’t open here until January, so unfortunately it’s just going to miss the cut and therefore won’t be considered as a 2014 release even though it’s already opened in NY and L.A. I had heard a lot of buzz surrounding this one, and like I do with pretty much every movie I know I’m going to see these days, especially those in the theater, I shut myself off from talking to anyone who’s seen it, didn’t watch any trailers, nor did I read any reviews. As I’ve found this new approach walking into a movie with a total clean slate has made my moviegoing experiences a lot more exciting since I implemented it at the start of the year. To be truthfully honest I saw this film merely because of genre and the few blurbs I had stumbled upon unintentionally about it. But even more importantly because it was a film starring Jake Gyllenhaal. Who since 2009’s “Prince of Persia” seems to be doing everything right in terms of picking projects that he seems to find interesting, seemingly without a care in the world for what’s going to draw the people to the box office or what’s going to earn him the most money. In fact, I am so impressed by Gyllenhaal’s career trajectory since then that he has slowly inched his way into my top 5 favorite actors currently working in the film business today. He has put out one string of good films after another over the past few years. Which started in 2011 with Duncan Jones’ (“Moon”) brainy Sci Fi trip “Source Code”, then David Ayer’s (“Fury”) 2012 “End of Watch”, and the back-to-back films he’s done with French director Denis Villenueve in last year’s “Prisoners” and this year’s “Enemy”. The latter two performances which I considered to be right up there with Gyllenhaal’s best, if merely from an acting stand point. Sure he’s done some other great films like Richard Kelly’s cult hit “Donnie Darko” (2001) and David Fincher’s “Zodiac” (2007). Those are certainly great films in their own respect. However up until this point in his career never has he been so consistently good. I personally thought he was nabbed of a Best Actor nomination last year for “Prisoners”. As I truly thought it was one of his strongest, most compelling performances to date. Then after having seen “Enemy” earlier this year and loving both the film and his performance as much as I did, I vowed to myself that I would pretty much see anything that he’s attached to from this point forward in his career. Then came the second Gyllenhaal film this year, “Nightcrawler”, a film that once again looked like it had the potential to be yet another great film from an actor who over the last few years has proven that you really can’t go wrong with seeing whatever this undeniably gifted young actor does next. It is because of my strong affinity for Gyllenhaal as an actor that I decided to catch this one while it was still playing in theaters, as I heard a very strong response to both the film itself and his performance.

We are first introduced to Gyllenhaal’s character, Lou, a man living in L.A. who is desperate for a job and is willing to take just about anything he can get. He seems to have zero qualifications or any kind of prior job experience but proclaims that he’s a “hard worker” to the employers he tries to persuade to give him a job, any job, at the start of the film. He seems to have no family, girlfriend, kids, or anything that would link him to the rest of the world. Except for the fact that he’s smart, persistent, and has a considerable amount of drive and ambition. One night he stumbles upon an accident and has a sort of epiphany as he sees the race of the reporters desperate to cover whatever story happens to be the biggest one of the night. Gyllenhaal’s Lou then decides that this is his calling and what he wants to do with his life. So he grabs a cheap camera and police scanner and begins to crack the codes of police dispatchers calls in hopes that he will be the first one in line to capture footage of whatever break out news story happens to be going on any given night. It is here that he meets his adversary in the form of Bill Paxton, a fellow freelance reporter who is the man who seems to have broken down this method of beating the cops to the scene of the crime or accident, all in hopes of capturing whatever footage he can get so that he can be the first to sell it to whichever news station will pay him the most for it. On one unsuspecting evening he documents a grisly scene of a murder, and gets his first taste of the potential of his newfound endeavor through a local news station whose director, played by Rene Russo, gives him his first paycheck and the promise of much more money to come if he sticks with it. Lou then begins to slowly fine tune his craft with the addition of a new camera, fire-red mustang, and an intern whom he hires on to help him become faster and more proficient in his almost addictive-like quest to get to the scene of the crime first, and over time he succeeds at doing so. And is in turn employed full-time by Rene Russo’s news station to bring them a story, night after night, which in turn increases his drive and ambition to be the absolute best freelance reporter in all of L.A. Then one night, he stumbles upon a scene of extreme violence and its aftermath, a pivotal scene that goes on to drive the rest of the film and the events that unfold after it.

This was a spectacular film that exceeded my moderate to high expectations. Throughout it made me think of Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Drive” (2011) which I found myself drawing a lot of comparisons to and who ironically enough I came to find after was produced by the same team as it. Mainly because I felt like part of the beauty of it lay in its subtext. Some people will view the film, much like “Drive”, as a straight ahead action-thriller. Which is fine and all. But underneath it all in its subtext I thought it was trying to say something much deeper than what appeared to be at its surface. Oddly enough I looked at it as something similar to that of “Scarface”. About having the drive and ambition in the pursuit of the American dream and wanting to be at the very top by whatever means necessary. Every decision Gyllenahaal’s character does seems to be driven by Capitalist thought. He becomes so incredibly obsessed with the prospect of delivering the next best news story that he’ll do just about whatever it takes even at the expense of those of others around him. Gyllenhaal once again amazes with his spellbinding performance in which he totally immerses himself into his character and puts on one hell of a show. His sunken face (apparently he lost a considerable amount of weight for this film) and beady eyes that look like they’re going to pop out of his head make him look like some kind of insect and acts as one of the many ways of reading into the film’s title. But besides the transformative piece he also really brings a certain depth and range to his character that border lines on someone with a serious mental illness who falls so deep into his craft that he begins to flirt with insanity. A character that brings to mind the late great Robin Williams in 2002’s “One Hour Photo” or better yet even, Robert DeNiro as Travis Bickle in Martin Scorcese’s masterpiece – “Taxi Driver” (1976). He delivers thoughts, ruminations, and words at a mile a minute and comes across as a likely candidate for someone with Autism or Asburger’s Syndrome. It’s a piece of method acting that truly shows his incredible range as an actor. The story itself is utterly and completely captivating from start to finish and has a great sense of pacing. As while on his quest to capture the best news stories the film becomes highly riveting, tense, and psychological. Not to mention that it seems incredibly dark for a studio film (much like “Prisoners” was). His physical and internal transformation is simply an awe to watch. As he starts off as a nobody and brings himself on some sort of self-fulfilling prophecy to uncover the truth, he becomes almost blinded by the world around him and loses his sense of self and identity, turning into some kind of monster. The supporting turns by both Bill Paxton and Rene Russo were also perfectly cast, and help anchor Gyllenhaal’s astonishing performance. This is a film that worked for me on a lot of levels, but mostly in the “can’t look away” turn by Gyllenhaal, that should garner him at least a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor, if not an Academy Award nomination. Like “Enemy”, this is the second Jake Gyllenhaal film to totally blow me away this year, and is also his second film to likely wind up making my top 10 best films of 2014. This film both shook and rattled me and had me thinking long after the credits rolled. Which in the humble opinion of this writer, only the best ones seem to do.

[that sweet spot between a B+ and A-]