Tag Archives: Jake Gyllenhaal

October Sky (1999)

Obsessions can be dangerous things. We know how they can drive people to do the most shocking deeds. Serial murderers, psychopaths, hoarders—we’ve seen them all, at least on television. But obsessions also tread on the realm of possibility, by allowing ordinary people to dream the unthinkable. Crazy ones, we call them. “Rocket Boys,” a bunch of them were called in a small coal mining town in West Virginia, 1957.

“What do you want to know about rockets?” Quentin asks Homer. “Everything,” he says. After seeing Sputnik 1 cross the skies, Homer Hickam (Jake Gyllenhaal) aspires to one day reach outer space. Encouraged by his teacher Miss Riley (Laura Dern), he and his friends fashion crude rockets with the hope of entering the national science fair and winning college scholarships. But rocket-making proves to be a difficult venture, and Homer faces failure after failure, attracting the ire of his perennially disapproving father (Chris Cooper).

Based on Homer Hickam’s memoir Rocket Boys, October Sky chronicles the beginning of a lifelong adventure. A biographical film, it joins the ranks of inspiring, based-on-real-life movies like A Beautiful Mind, complete with black-and-white title cards detailing what happened afterwards. Unlike A Beautiful Mind, however, October Sky follows a more familiar formula for conflict: an ambitious youth struggling against his critical father. But that concerns the material itself. What is interesting about this movie is that, both in the film and in Homer Hickam’s life, there is a clear opposition between the boy’s desire to reach the sky and the town’s insistence that his life be spent underground, in the mines. The desire to escape is palpable, that much is clear, but that the opposition be this striking is in itself worth wondering at.

When the Rocket Boys succeed in launching their first rocket, everyone rejoices. Beyond the initial amazement, I think the townspeople felt this victory all the more because it directly opposes their everyday reality. The last scenes are particularly poignant because of this. In that last rocket, in Homer, the people of Coalwood caught a glimpse of a life beyond coal mining. Perhaps for the first time, they saw the possibility of a different life.

While not groundbreaking in any way, October Sky does elicit that warm, fuzzy feeling that characterizes successful feel-good movies, and—barring undeniable lapses into dramatic fictionalization—succeeds in portraying its material in a credibly realistic yet emotional manner.

‘Look at it go, Homer. This one’s gonna go for miles.’

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Source Code (2011)

It’s Saturday that finally did it. I have always disliked going to movie theaters, but never more than now. Last weekend’s mad shoe-shopping, food-buying, seat-scrambling affair with Maki turned me off from the whole deal (seat stealers are the worst). So from now on, unless I decide a film’s worth the hassle, I’m sticking to videos.

Fresh off military duty in Afghanistan, Capt. Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) finds himself suddenly alone in a cramped chamber, a computer monitor his only connection to the outside world. An Air Force officer, Capt. Colleen Goodwin (Vera Farmiga), tells him that he must solve a bombing mystery using Source Code, a program that would allow him to relive a dead man’s last memory. In this pseudo-reality that lasts only eight minutes, where he falls in love with a girl named Christina (Michelle Monaghan), he must complete his mission before time runs out and the bomber strikes again.

Source Code offers a morbidly intriguing premise: technology that allows for an infinite reliving of death. It also provides an interesting (albeit familiar) resolution: the forking of worlds at decision junctures (also in Kenzaburo Oe’s A Personal Matter). “You think there’s an alternate version of you?” Capt. Stevens asks his guide. “A Goodwin who made different choices?” As Maki says, Source Code works as science fiction because its emphasis lies not in the science but in its effects on human emotions, on human lives. It also works as a thriller, although in the beginning it felt like it was trying too hard to keep viewers in suspense. Goodwin’s “no time to explain” excuse hardly works: it’s easy to figure out that an initial briefing would have saved more time.

I thought this over a lot, but in the end I have to say that I still have qualms about the film’s too-happy resolution. I would have preferred an ending at the time-freeze scene. Proceeding beyond that point felt unnecessary to me, overkill. The only thing it succeeds in doing is set up a grander Hollywood finale, one that the movie doesn’t need. (Of course I could just be saying this because I absolutely love the time-freeze scene: it made the hairs on my arms stand on end.) Regardless, despite my many I-would-have-liked-it-better-ifs, I really enjoyed watching this movie. If anything, it’s worth the hassle.

‘It’s the same train, but it’s different.’

‘What would you do if you knew you had less than one minute to live?’ ‘I’d make those seconds count.’

‘Tell me everything’s gonna be okay.’

Love and Other Drugs (2010)

Here’s another movie I should have watched weeks earlier. I’ve had it since February (Valentine’s Day, I remember!), but I only got around to watching it after Danica convinced me to last Sunday. Two lives collide in Love and Other Drugs. Jamie (Jake Gyllenhaal): an electronics-salesman-turned-pharmaceutical-sales-representative. Maggie (Anne Hathaway): a coffee house waitress with early-onset Parkinson’s disease. He, a med school dropout: charming, attractive, carefree. She, a volatile artist: guarded, cynical, noncommittal.  In this confluence of lives, they meet and begin a relationship based entirely on casual sex—until they both realize that they need something more than that, and that they may have found it in each other.

This movie starts out like any good romantic comedy, with the right mix of charm and conflict, humor and catchy music. Jake Gyllenhaal dominates this first part, until Anne Hathaway enters the scene to beguile us with her flippant character and, later on, her superb acting. The two actors’ onscreen chemistry produces a middle part that’s romantic and convincing enough to capture the viewer’s sympathy by the time everything crashes down toward the end. This last part paints a more dismal picture of their relationship, marred as it is by the burden of Maggie’s incurable disease. I remember this one scene when Jamie leaves her after a breakup, and even as his figure walked away, a part of me silently screamed: You should have fought harder!

I generally like this movie, so I can forgive its flaws. For main characters, Jamie and Maggie remain strangely one-dimensional, but at least they have a charming self-awareness: “Does this generally work for you? This whole misunderstood-by-Dad-I’m-a-vulnerable-guy-thing?” “Does that work for you, generally? Self-pity?” I also found the ending a tad too cheesy, with its too-perfect lines and sappy background music. At that point it felt like just another idealistic romance flick saying: When you meet the One, everything will fall in place. I could almost hear Jamie telling Maggie, “It’s you and me against the world” (in this case Parkinson’s disease). Not that I’m making light of their problem, but the middle part did a much better job of convincing me than the end. Still: unusual take on adult romance? Interesting glimpses into the drug industry? Appealing minor characters? Not bad, not bad at all.

‘So are you always this mean?’ ‘Actually this is me being nice.’

‘This isn’t about connection for you. This isn’t even about sex for you.  This is about finding an hour or two of relief from the pain of being you, and that’s fine with me, see, because all I want’s the exact same thing.’

‘Apparently you need to know that I’ll get better in order to love me.’

‘Nobody wants to be the one who runs away.’

‘We don’t have to do this.’ ‘Goodbye.’

‘You need someone to take care of you.’ ‘No, I don’t.’ ‘Everybody does.’

‘I want us. You. This.’