Zodiac (2007)

In the late 1960s/early 1970s, a San Francisco cartoonist becomes an amateur detective obsessed with tracking down the Zodiac Killer, an unidentified individual who terrorizes Northern California with a killing spree. (IMDb)
Too long? Nah, could’ve used another hour-I mean, that’s how long I spent googling the Zodiac afterwards anyways. It’s that sort of mystery–complex, endless, with countless players and procedures to dissect, and the film with its excellent technique, turns, and script (the time jumps feel natural; the third-act lens shift to Graysmith works well; Avery’s arc feels like it’s cut short though) captures it all with a remarkable sense of cohesion (a couple loose threads along the way) and momentum.
8/10 (Great)

Wildlife (2018)

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A teenage boy must deal with his mother’s complicated response after his father temporarily abandons them to take a menial and dangerous job. (IMDb)
Beautifully made, from haunting score to poignant cinematography, impeccable turns to superb script that always knows when to talk and when to not, with a great three-act story shifting through a poor kid lens the focus from volatile dad to selfish mom to post-fire aftermath (the lack of repercussions for the porch incident is the only flaw here). Its picture-near-perfection actually holds it back a bit though; the aching drama of the narrative could’ve benefited from a bit more grit and shake.
8/10 (Great)

 

Spider-Man: Far from Home (2019)

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Following the events of Avengers: Endgame (2019), Spider-Man must step up to take on new threats in a world that has changed forever. (IMDb)
A bit of a scattered sequel, with some promising new elements not fully realized (the Endgame aftermath and emotion isn’t committed to; the initially intriguing villain is sloppily developed-see the ham-fisted exposition at the bar). The awesome action and sly commentary on superhero sci-fi and spectacle (“nowadays they’ll believe anything”) that come with the twist are great though, as is the continuation of the coming-of-age comedy and plot from its predecessor (see the bridge awkwardness).
7/10 (Good)

 

Source Code (2011)

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A soldier wakes up in someone else’s body and discovers he’s part of an experimental government program to find the bomber of a commuter train. A mission he has only 8 minutes to complete. (IMDb)
I really wish it had ended with that surprisingly touching bittersweet freeze frame that brought the character-driven emotion underlying this mind-bending thriller to the forefront, instead of the less daring “all’s well” happy ending (even if it did offer another sci-fi twist). Regardless, this is well-acted, well-paced, and highly engaging throughout, with a nice balance between the subtle moral drama at headquarters and the more straight forward whodunit tension and deja vu fun on the train.
7.5/10 (Really Good)

 

Demolition (2015)

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As an investment banker struggles after losing his wife in a tragic car crash, his increasingly confessional series of letters to a vending machine company catch the attention of a customer service rep with whom he forms an unlikely connection. (IMDb)
“Everything is a metaphor,” says our lead early on, setting a tone uniquely free of pretentious subtlety for this intriguing, well-acted study of grief ripe with satisfying symbolism (the recurring dancing and demolition are two highlights), artistically crafted with a great soundtrack and sharp editing. Davis’ meandering, deeply personal journey at the center of it all evokes both titters and tears, despite a few unnecessary tangents (his happenstance graveyard meeting comes to mind).
8/10 (Great)

 

Donnie Darko (2001)

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A troubled teenager is plagued by visions of a large bunny rabbit that manipulates him to commit a series of crimes, after narrowly escaping a bizarre accident. (IMDb)
Carried by snappy dialogue and a memorable soundtrack is this mesmerizing mix of poignant teenage drama (the one-take high school montage is fantastic) and strange pyscho-horror (wait, the rabbit is real?), with undertones of eerie sci-fi, with Gyllenhaal excelling as a brilliant but tortured youth with a penchant for rebellion that comes to the forefront in his trance-like late-night escapades. The meaning of it all isn’t totally clear, but the film still manages to resonate and feel cohesive.
8.5/10 (Amazing)

The Day After Tomorrow (2004)

Jack Hall, paleoclimatologist, must make a daring trek across America to reach his son, trapped in the cross-hairs of a sudden international storm which plunges the planet into a new Ice Age. (IMDb)
The CGI, dialogue, and grand overarching plot here feel a bit over-the-top at times, but they all do their jobs in keeping you interested throughout. The multiple adventure storylines and different global perspectives add further intrigue and give the film that epic and important feel, nailed down further by Quaid’s believable urgency as the concerned scientist that few take seriously. A young Gyllenhaal, meanwhile, holds his own as the second protagonist. An engaging disaster flick.
6.5/10 (Alright)

Enemy (2013)

A man seeks out his exact look-alike after spotting him in a movie. (IMDb)
A goosebump-inducing premise here is expertly developed, thanks to a deliciously detailed and well thought out screenplay and a strong performance from Gyllenhaal. A constant sense of discomfort pervades the entire film as even the simplest conversations or sequences are given uneasy undertones. The feeling grows as the plot gets continually weirder, darker, and more confusing. It’s one of those complex films you need to Google to understand completely, but it’s no less thrilling in the moment.
8/10 (Great)

 

Nightcrawler (2014)

Gyllenhaal is brilliant here in showcasing the unnerving intensity and disturbing drive of the fascinating Lou Bloom, a character undoubtedly the highlight of the film. Its portrayal of the oft-seedy world of crime journalism that Lou dives into is also captivating, however, and is complimented nicely by excellent music and cinematography. Although the non-confrontational ending feels a bit anti-climatic, the whole of this wonderfully creepy film makes up for it.
8.5/10 (Amazing)