Journiest

How Does Jake Gyllenhaal Sleep At Night?

Sleep more soundly than Jake Gyllenhaal

Imagine this: you're a 40 year old man.

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CULTURE

Jake Gyllenhaal Is Pivoting to "Absolutely Insane Person," and We Love to See It

With recent cameos in John Mulaney and the Sack Lunch Bunch and Saturday Night Live, Jake Gyllenhaal is going from playing "somewhat mentally ill main characters" to "total lunatics."

Since his breakthrough in the 1999's October Sky, Jake Gyllenhaal hasn't shied away from outré movie characters.

From portraying Donnie Darko's tormented title character to earning critical acclaim for his lead role in the queer masterpiece Brokeback Mountain, Gyllenhaal seems to enjoy pushing the envelope, although it's usually by way of dramatic films. However, I can't help but notice lately that Gyllenhaal has taken a liking to rather off-the-wall, comical roles. It appears that he might be rebranding himself as an absolutely insane person, and frankly, I love it.

Late last year, Gyllenhaal made an unexpected cameo in John Mulaney's child-focused Netflix special, John Mulaney and the Sack Lunch Bunch. The actor starred as Mr. Music, who tries using a Calypso-style tune to teach the cast of kids that you can find music anywhere (he fails miserably). Speaking on his decision to cast Gyllenhaal, Mulaney explained: "I'd seen him in Sunday in the Park with George, the musical, and I remember watching him and I was like, 'oh man, I'm never gonna be an actor. That guy thinks he's the person. Like, he's out of his mind.'"

Mulaney also mentioned having seen Gyllenhaal in Parasite director Bong Joon-Ho's 2017 film, Okja, portraying a hilariously deranged zoologist and TV personality. In both of these roles, Gyllenhaal is convincingly nuts. Is he OK in his real life? We're not so sure anymore. Do these characters make us a little uncomfortable sometimes? Kind of. But do we love it? Of course we do.

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Gyllenhaal and Mulaney had a brief Sack Lunch Bunch reunion on last weekend's episode of Saturday Night Live, wherein the latter portrayed a very confused kiosk cashier at LaGuardia Airport. Gyllenhaal, decked out in a matching pajama set, played a man who enjoys going through airport security a little too much, singing to the tune of "Defying Gravity" about being fondled by TSA agents. All the while, he's being suspended a few feet above the floor, because why not? He's Jake Gyllenhaal, and he's crazy.

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None of this has diminished my respect for Gyllenhaal, whom I still consider to be one of today's most talented actors. He's no stranger to playing mentally unstable characters, but his new foray into borderline deranged roles makes me, maybe, respect him even more. We're all a little insane, and if Gyllenhaal can make this hysteria work in his favor, so can you.

CULTURE

He-Man Sings "What's Up" as New Queer Cinema

The classic He-Man meme video stands the test of time as an iconic example of queer-coded art.

Slackcircus

In December of 2005, Brokeback Mountain shifted queer-coded cinema into the mainstream.

Prior to 2005, "New Queer Cinema"––a term coined by film scholar B. Ruby Rich in Sight & Sound to define the queer-themed independent film movement, which focused on rejecting heteronormativity and concentrated on LGBTQ protagonists––existed on the fringe of the film world. It's worth noting that while the movement primarily refers to the boom in independent LGBTQ films from 1992 onwards, queer cinema existed for many years prior, albeit without a proper name. But regardless of nomenclature, New Queer Cinema was typically designated for niche audiences, relegated to arthouse showings at best.

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Netflix

I really wanted to love John Mulaney & The Sack Lunch Bunch, because I really love John Mulaney.

John Mulaney is easily my favorite comedian of the modern era. He's an expert writer, capable of digging into jokes with such extreme specificity that you wholly believe that whatever absurd scenario he's recounting must have actually happened to him. And yet, he's never unrelatable, especially to fellow New Yorkers. As weird as the homeless man who lent Mulaney's Netflix special New in Town its title sounded, most of us have encountered similarly weird people on our late night subway treks.

From his musical SNL sketch "Diner Lobster" to his "Too Much Tuna" skits with Nick Kroll, Mulaney has a particular knack for bizarre humor that goes completely outside the box while staying entirely on-brand. Better yet, John Mulaney isn't a mean comedian. His comedy doesn't rely on punching down or calling out, but rather the reflections and introspections that come part and parcel with being a person in a society that doesn't always make sense.

Diner Lobster NBC

So, when John Mulaney debuted a new Netflix special billed as a children's musical comedy a la Sesame Street and The Electric Company, I had no doubt that it was going to be something special––and it is. The Sack Lunch Bunch is incredibly unique, patently Mulaney, and unlike anything else on TV. But despite all that, as much as it pains me to say this––and I realize my opinion is in the vast minority here––I thought John Mulaney & The Sack Lunch Bunch was only okay. Not terrible. Not amazing. Just okay.

John Mulaney & The Sack Lunch Bunch is a concept album of sorts. The idea behind it is phenomenal––it's John Mulaney's take on an 80's-era children's ensemble show, one that attempts to address real issues on modern children's minds while also being equally aimed at adults.

Early on in the show, one of the members of the Sack Lunch Bunch––a group of 15 child actors who chat, sing, and dance throughout––asks John Mulaney: "What's the tone of the show?"

The sack lunch bunch Netflix

"Is it ironic, or do you like doing a children's show?" chimes another member of the Sack Lunch Bunch.

"First off, I like doing the show," responds Mulaney. "But honestly, like if this doesn't turn out great, I think we should all be like, 'Oh, it was ironic,' and then people would be like, 'Oh, that's hilarious.' But if it turns out very good, we'd be like, 'Oh, thank you, we worked really hard' and act really humble, and then we win either way."

This exchange effectively sets the tone for the entire show. John Mulaney & The Sack Lunch Bunch actually is a children's variety show, rather than a parody or a straight satire of one. But it also has the same bizarre, irreverent air as most of Mulaney's comedy. It's earnest, but maybe not entirely earnest.

For example, one of the show's big musical numbers, titled "Plain Plate of Noodles," features a set-up wherein one of the child actors complains about not being able to eat whatever he wants before breaking into a song and dance routine about only liking to eat plain noodles with a little bit of butter. Part of the humor lies in the absurdity of a child dancing on a stage surrounded by giant spaghetti tubes, but a lot of its cleverness lies in the fact that some kids really are just super picky and tend to cling to plain noodles with a little bit of butter. In other words, it's a real issue that kids can actually relate to and no other children's show has ever talked about.

But therein lies my biggest problem with John Mulaney & The Sack Lunch Bunch, a similar problem that has plagued countless concept albums: The idea is more interesting than the execution. As funny as the idea of a kid in a suit dancing around and singing about buttered noodles may be, I didn't get the same joy from actually watching it. Something got lost in translation; perhaps it's a larger point to the whole ordeal.

While plenty of the show's segments are amusing (the show makes great use of non-child-friendly celebrity cameos, like "Girl Talk with Richard Kind" and a song about being annoyed that adults aren't listening to you featuring David Byrne of The Talking Heads), none of it is laugh-out-loud funny in the same way that so much of Mulaney's humor tends to be. But if it is an earnest children's show, then I'm not sure there's actually a ton there for kids to enjoy. It may not talk down to children, but it also feels strongly geared towards adults who grew up with these kind of shows as opposed to kids today.

Jake Gyllenhaal mr music Netflix

The one real standout segment came at the finale, featuring Jake Gyllenhaal as Mr. Music, a man who is supposed to teach The Sack Lunch Bunch about the joy of making music but failed to prepare in advance and, as a result, messes up his entire shtick and injures himself in the process. Gyllenhaal, as always, is an absolute treasure and fully commits to his bit, which ultimately feels like a genuine parody of the genre. The rest of the show falls extra flat in comparison.

To be clear, there's not a single person other than John Mulaney who could have helmed such a project, and the world is most certainly better for its existence. Mulaney has proven himself time and time again as an artist of the obscure with a distinct creative vision, and I love that he's been given the freedom to make pretty much whatever he wants. But while I grew up on Sesame Street, Mr. Rogers, and Zoom, and I really entered with the intention of loving this, John Mulaney & The Sack Lunch Bunch didn't quite do it for me.

It wasn't bad. It wasn't great. I still recommend it as an entertaining work of weird art. Who knows, maybe you'll like it more than I did.

FILM

"Spider-Man: Far From Home" Screenwriters Talk About Mysterio as a Trumpian Villain

Warning: we talk about spoilers with the writers of the latest Spider-Man movie, Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers.

Courtesy of Sony Pictures

Spider-Man went "far from home" this Fourth of July weekend.

Fans got to see what he was up to after Avengers: Endgame and returning from The Snap. Peter Parker (Tom Holland) takes a high school trip around Europe but ends up enlisted by S.H.I.E.L.D. to help Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) fight Elementals.

Screenwriters Erik Sommers and Chris McKenna spoke with Popdust about the many twists and turns in Spider-Man: Far From Home. So a spoiler warning to anyone who hasn't seen Far From Home yet. We do talk specifics with the writers.

This is the second Spider-Man movie for the writing team, and their fourth superhero movie after The Lego Batman Movie and Ant-Man and The Wasp. They've also written Community, The Mindy Project and American Dad! Spider-Man: Far From Home is in theaters now, as we discuss everything from The Blip to the very last credits scene.

Tom Holland How Peter Parker (Tom Holland) spent his summer vacationCourtesy of Sony Pictures

When you got started on Far From Home, did you get to be privy to Avengers: Endgame early?

Erik Sommers: Yes, Marvel was well aware that we had some bills to pay in terms of the fallout from Endgame. So they were very good about keeping us in the loop as to what we would need to deal with and what we wouldn't so that we could move forward with our story.

Was there anything you were still surprised by in Endgame?

Chris McKenna: We didn't know about the Pegasus. If we'd known about Valkyrie and the Pegasus we would've used that. We knew the plot points but we did not know the detail, so then we actually didn't see the movie. We were supposed to see it like two weeks before the premiere and then we were still doing reshoots. It kind of worked out where we didn't even see it until the actual premiere. She comes out in the Pegasus, Erik and I were like, "Oh, we could've referenced that. That would've been a fun thing to reference." They wanted us to know what we needed to know and for good reason they keep things pretty close to the vest so that loudmouth fans like us don't ruin things. We had what we needed for the movie, obviously. We had The Snap, because we started working on the movie even before Infinity War came out. So we knew what happened at the end of Infinity War and we knew what happened in Endgame, the time transition and obviously the very end. Those were what we had to work with as we moved forward, but their main mandate was: Yes, we have to pay these bills but also to make a really fun Spider-Man movie because we're coming off a very dark, emotionally draining two movies.

How many different names did you brainstorm for The Snap?

CM: It's funny, I seem to recall someone I thought from Marvel calling it The Blip and we just sort of adopted that. I don't know if The Snap was something that happened, [if] that would be what it was referred to, while they were making Endgame. I do think it's kind of nice that we didn't have to follow, that the world almost came up with its own name for it, their own ground level name for this crazy thing that happened so it doesn't have to necessarily line up. It feels more organically real that the world would have this crazy thing that they call The Blip that happened.

Spidey Sense has been well established in the comics, so how many alternatives did you think of before you landed on Peter Tingle?

ES: We knew that Spidey Sense was going to be a factor and something that we would be using, but it was definitely a question of what are we going to call it? Should we call it anything at all? We did many, many iterations of giving it different names, giving it no name, the different ways people talk about it. And then it was relatively late in the game that I think [director] Jon Watts pitched Peter Tingle and it immediately made everyone laugh, so that's what we went through.

CM: We just wanted to make it awkward. We wanted to make it funny and we also wanted to make it this thing that is kind of nebulous but it takes like your aunt or your mom to come up with a name and sometimes it's the most embarrassing name ever.

Spider-Man: Far From Home Spidey hanging around London in his new suit. Courtesy of Sony Pictures

Tony Stark was such a big part of part of Spider-Man: Homecoming. Even with Tony gone, was it important to still find a post-Tony way to deal with Iron Man, with his legacy lingering over Peter?

CM: It's so hard to not. He's so infused in Peter's life in terms of discovering him in Civil War and obviously being such a part of Homecoming in terms of becoming a surrogate father, [so] we knew Peter would be dealing with that. It would hang over the movie and it gave us the opportunity to do the inverse of Homecoming. Homecoming is about him trying to prove to his surrogate father that he's worthy and is able to step up. The trauma of Endgame sends Peter into a spiral and makes him question his own abilities and what his place in the world is. And he therefore is running away from it. That's why it's Far From Home. He is running away from the safe home that he thought he had after the first movie.

Was it fun finding some callbacks to early Iron Man movies, like the guy who worked for Obadiah Stane?

ES: Yes, it's always fun to be able to draw upon previous movies in the MCU and it helps weave them together. It makes them more rich. The audiences love it and we, the people making the movies as fans, love it too. An opportunity like that comes up and someone on the creative team says, "Oh, you should use that flashback of Obadiah shouting at William." Everyone in the room gets really excited immediately because we know it's going to be fun and we hope the audience will think that's really fun too.

When Mysterio reveals his plan, is he sort of a Super Trump, because he's talking about how people care more about showmanship than qualifications?

CM: He's definitely a narcissist and a con artist. He has a very high self-regard, but I think he's also the kind of guy who believes that whatever he says can go and he can spin the truth. So make those parallels if you will. We're definitely taking advantage of a chaotic world, a world where half of the universe can get swept away and then heroes can disappear. He seeks to take advantage of that. I think he thinks that the world deserves him, but he also knows that in order to get what he wants, in order to get the power and the authority, he's going to have to convince the world in his own way.

Jake Gyllenhaal Jake Gyllenhaal finally got to be in a Spider-Man movie Jay Maidment

ES: Mysterio's really preying on insecurity and confusion and doubt and fear. The world is feeling those things in the aftermath of Endgame and Peter is feeling those things in the aftermath of losing his mentor. So Mysterio is preying on that to get what he wants.

When he reveals his holographic powers, was it fun to create effects that play on Peter's insecurities?

CM: Absolutely, I think the whole fun with Mysterio is when we can look down a lot of different paths with Mysterio. Ultimately, there's so much in the early comic books of Mysterio that really are fun, that we can draw upon. This person really does think of himself as someone who should be a hero and who does like, I think, manipulating people. As much as on one hand he has a certain fondness for Peter, he can understand on a certain level that someone like Peter is unworthy and undeserving of the affection and the technological prowess that Tony has bestowed upon him. In his eyes he's unworthy and the only worthy one is himself.

ES: When the truth about Mysterio is revealed and we know what he really wants and we get to that illusion sequence where he really attacks Peter with the illusions, doing that sequence was just such a pleasure. Jon and the visual effects team had come up with so many amazing, cool illusions that he was using against Peter. It was really just a challenge for all of us on the creative team to try to refine them and think of which [ones] are the best that, as you said, would speak right to Peter's insecurities and what Mysterio is feeling about everything so as visually amazing as it is, it could really serve the story and Peter's arc.

Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) isn't himself in Spider-Man: Far From Home. Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) is though. Jay Maidment

Did you get to write the codas as part of your script?

CM: Yeah, the first coda - the mid-credit ending - was the original ending. It wasn't a coda yet. It always switched around, like oh, is this going to actually be a tag? We were just going to play it as the very, very end of the movie, pre-credits. Then that turned into the mid-credit tag. Then the post-credit tag came up very late in the game. I actually think that was a Watts idea. There were certain ideas like being a con artist [or] there's going to be one last twist and oh, will this also help with shedding some light on why Nick Fury was acting the way Nick Fury was in the movie? If anyone had any issues with Nick after all these movies, would he fall for a con artist like Mysterio? We thought it was a really fun way to call back Captain Marvel, call back that great Ben Mendelsohn character and also explain why Nick would actually fall for a guy like Mysterio.

Was it always your idea to reinvent the Daily Bugle as a sort of Alex Jones/Infowars?

ES: I honestly don't remember whose pitch that was but it was early on that the creative team decided that if we were gonna go back to the Daily Bugle [and] using J. Jonah, it should be in a different form. That seems like a perfect way to do it so as soon as someone floated that idea, we all latched onto it and that's what we did.

Did you know who was going to play him?

CM: No, I think Watts was even talking a bit in the last movie about some clues to J. Jonah in Homecoming. This time around, again I don't know who pitched it but it was one of those ideas that oh my God, it would be incredible to bring back J.K. but with this whole new post-Whiplash spin on the character.

Spder-Man: Far From Home This spider flies now.Courtesy of Sony Pictures

You've done a few funny comic book movies. Is there a different sense of humor you use in the Spider-Mans than on Ant-Man or Lego Batman?

ES: I don't think so. I think any project where we're writing jokes, you have to try to adjust to the tone a little bit so that's going to depend on the characters and the actors and the director and just what everyone feels like the vibe of that movie is going to be. So it always changes a little but I don't think there are any huge conscious shifts that we decide on ahead of time or anything like that.

CM: We've been writing comedy now for a long time on different shows. We always are able to adjust for each character's voice and situation. I think you have a character like Lego Batman who is full of himself and yet also has crippling insecurities but surrounds it with bluster which is a totally different character from Peter Parker or Scott Lang. Even though Scott and Peter have similarities, they're different enough and also the actors are different. We try to channel their voices and their personas and have fun with them. It's always different.

Like the art world carrion it delights in tearing apart, Velvet Buzzsaw is mostly pomp with very little to actually say.

Which is a damn shame considering the originality of the premise and the incredibly talented cast, both in front of and behind the camera.

The movie, written and directed by Dan Gilroy (Nightcrawler), follows prominent art critic Mort Vandewalt (Jake Gyllenhaal, going all out), and his illicit lover/gallery assistant Josephina (Zawe Ashton). Upon wandering into the apartment of her recently deceased neighbor, a reclusive artist named Vetril Dease, Josephina discovers a treasure trove of original paintings. The Dease collection takes the art world by storm with everyone trying to get a piece of the profits, from competing gallery owners Rhodora Haze (Rene Russo) and Jon Dondon (Tom Sturridge) to art curator/private art buyer Gretchen (Toni Collette) and disillusioned abstract artist Piers (John Malkovich). But when the hangers-on start dying off in mysterious ways, Mort comes to realize that Dease's paintings might actually be haunted.

Theoretically, art world satire and supernatural horror should be a match made in MOMA. Unfortunately, Velvet Buzzsaw never quite settles on a tone, flip-flopping between satire and horror while failing to connect as either.

As a satirical take on the high art world, it's often funny but mostly toothless. The best joke in the movie is when a character mistakens a bag of trash for a piece of art. While it's a humorous observation (people in the high art world will call anything art!), the movie never cuts past the obvious to explore why that might be the case. Postmodern art relies heavily on the concepts and ideas behind the physical art, and for the movie to limit its critique to simply pointing out the shallowness of the industry seems surprisingly...shallow.

As supernatural horror, the movie fails entirely to scare or even put the audience on edge. There's never a real sense of danger or tension, which is surprising considering Gilroy's previous feature, Nightcrawler, was a master class in both. Even worse, the deaths, while visually creative, felt completely arbitrary. For a movie tackling the vapidness of the art world, the deaths would have hit harder if they felt customized as retribution for the sins of their victims.


That's not to say the movie is a bad watch. The actors do a great job with what they're given, and Jake Gyllenhaal's performance alone makes Velvet Buzzsaw worth checking out. Despite the weak script, you could probably find worse ways to spend two hours. Just don't expect anything particularly groundbreaking. Or as an art critic might say, "thoroughly uninspiring."

5/10


Dan Kahan is a writer & screenwriter from Brooklyn, usually rocking a man bun. Find more at dankahanwriter.com



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