Tag Archives: Mystery

The Double Review, A Visually Stunning Mess

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The Double

Directed by: Richard Ayoade

Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Mia Wasikowska, Wallace Shawn, Noah Taylor, Yasmin Paige, and James Fox

Richard Ayoade managed to surprise me with his directorial debut Submarine, so naturally I was excited to see what else he could do as a director. Submarine appealed to me based on my love of Wes Anderson, he is clearly had an influence on this film and it can tell. Although I couldn’t get it out of my mind while watching it, I still found a lot to like about the movie. Now The Double feels like another directors work, Terry Gilliam. Throughout the movie I noticed the parallels it had to movies like Brazil and 12 Monkeys. This really made me realize that Richard Ayoade is seriously lacking a style of his own. His movies feel anything but his own. He may be able to direct his actors well and control the camera well but he seriously needs to develop his own style of filmmaking instead of purely homaging other directors work.

Simon James (Jesse Eisenberg) sits alone in a completely deserted subway car. He clenches his briefcase to his chest and waiting to arrive at work. An unknown man approaches him and tells him that he is sitting in his seat. Simon looks around and eventually he moves for the man. This shows us just how timid he is and really shows the audience the kind of person he truly is. Even if there is other empty seats on the train he lacks the courage to tell the man to sit somewhere else. He arrives at work only to get his briefcase stuck in the doors of the train causing him to lose it. He arrives at his work only to get declined access. He can’t help but messing up. He goes unnoticed by his peers and the girl he is infatuated with.  We get a good sense of who he is in a span of 10 minutes and that’s one of the film’s strengths.

We soon meet the girl of Simon’s affection, Hannah (Mia Wasikowska), a lonely girl who works in the copy room. He always goes to visit the copy room but never has the courage to ask her out. It is not till a night when a man kills himself in the courtyard in the apartment complex that Hannah and Simon share. Distraught the two end up having dinner together and start to realize that they have a lot in common. A few days later we are introduced to James Simon (Jesse Eisenberg) a lookalike of Simon James who begins working at his job. Not long later he begins to usurp Simon and becoming a formidable force at his job and soon the same thing begins to happen to his life. He begins to go down the dark path of not knowing the difference between reality and what is in his head.

I really enjoy what Richard Ayoade brought to the screen with The Double and even more so with Submarine. The biggest problem with The Double is the story. Based on Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s short “The Double” it tells the story of two doppelgängers battling it out in dystopian like future, which isn’t quite explained. Nothing is truly compelling about the story itself. It was a rather repetitive shallow story about a man losing his life to a “different” person. Simon would interact with James pleasantly in one scene and in the next he is at his throat, it is just a repeat of the same formula. This happens throughout the entire movie, up to the very expected ending that shows just how unimaginative the story actually is. There is not true depth to the story at hand and if you really want to look into it the entire movie is revealed within the first 20 minutes. With Enemy it left it a mystery while on the other hand The Double gives you too much information.

Some believe this to be a comedy, just like Calvary, but I don’t think I found a single humorous moment. I’m not sure why it is being claimed as one but if that is what people are taking away from this movie that it is fine.

Were the story lacks the technical side of the film is amazing. Even though Jesse Eisenberg is able to convincingly play two different characters. He is both timid and mesmerizing. Richard Ayoade is very competent when it comes to directing actors, I don’t think there was a single dull performance. Given that Ayoade is also a very good comedian and I think it helps his directing and the talent that he brings behind the camera.

Even if I feel that the style of the movie is not his own I do still like the style that was brought to the film. The sense of dread and melancholy is shown very well with the sets and cinematography. One of the highlights of the film is the style. Brazil was a heavy influence on the film stylistically and did add to the film. I only wish that Ayoade would pick a certain style and stick with it.

Though it appears that I don’t like the movie that much given the content of the review I did actually enjoy myself watching it. It has its fair share of problems and I feel the hype for this movie really doesn’t pay off in the end.

Grade: C

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Enemy Review A Mesmerizing Psychological Thriller

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Enemy

Directed by: Denis Villeneuve

Starring: Jake GyllenhaalMélanie LaurentSarah Gadon, and Isabella Rossellini

Enemy asks the question “What would you do if you meet a person who looked exactly like you?” While it asks the question it doesn’t exactly answer it. It lets you think for yourself and answer the question yourself. I’ll admit that it is a little too vague sometimes but I found myself trying to answer all the mysterious elements that this film contains. Another movie came out this year that dealt with a similar concept, The Double, but never really asked the questions one would think a film like this would. I find the movie to be utterly fascinating but a little alienating towards it’s audience.

The film opens up with a man (Jake Gyllenhaal) sitting in a dimly lit club with men all around him. The man is watching an erotic dance, of sorts. Naked woman dance on stage which ends with one dancer crushing a spider with her heel. We cut to a pregnant woman laying alone in bed.

We are then introduced to Adam Bell (Jake Gyllenhaal) teaching a group of students about dictatorships and how they have come to be. He then goes back to his apartment, makes dinner, grades papers, and then has sex with his girlfriend before going to bed and repeating this routine day in and day out.

One day at lunch, Adam is talking to one of his coworkers and he recommends Adam check out a movie called ‘Where There’s a Will There’s a Way’. That night Adam can’t sleep, so out of curiosity he pops the movie into his computer and begins watching it. After finishing it he notices that one of the actors looks exactly like him. From this point out he becomes obsessed with finding out his identity and why they look alike. This leads Adam down a path that he will not be able to come back from.

The true power of this film is that it doesn’t reveal to much. It gives you the perfect amount of information and lets you decide what it means. A common motif of this movie is the use of spiders. There are plenty of scenes within Adam’s dreams and every time there is some sort of reference to spiders, whether it is a giant arachnid walking across the city scape or a woman with the head of a spider walking upside down. There have been many interpretations of this film so far. An interpretation that I read earlier states the movie is about something more sinister than anything I could have come up with. Some believe that the movie is about a dictatorship that is secretly run alien arachnids. Now that seems a little out there.

I can understand the idea that the movie is about a dictatorship and that no one really realizes that they are living in a fascist regime. It is completely plausible given the lectures that Adam gives during the movie. What I feel the movie was about was an identity crisis with this man Adam. One of the things that spider signify in dreams is a want to distance yourself from alluring and tempting situations. Throughout the movie Adam is having a relationship with Mary (Mélanie Laurent). In my opinion Adam and Anthony are the same exact person and, as a coping mechanism, Adam created an entire different personality so that he doesn’t feel guilty about cheating on his wife. This movie is completely complex and it knows that. You can dig deep and look into the film that you can’t for most movies and that what I like about the film. It takes a concept that is rather simply and easy but makes it much more than that.

All around it is a solid movie with subtly intense performance from Jake Gyllenhaal. The entire movie rests on his shoulders and he hits it out of the park. He plays both characters differently and makes them their own but also gives the movie its life. Sadly the other two main actors don’t do much but then again they aren’t given much to do. With what Sarah Gadon is given she does a great job as the pregnant wife of Anthony but in the end she isn’t that well developed.

Mind you the story isn’t that great. It is just about a man in search for answer and that’s all it is meant to be. There isn’t a big story arch or distinct acts but that is the power of the film. It lets the story evolve with the character instead of the other way around. Meanwhile the style of the film is one of the strengths. It makes the city of Toronto feel like this alien place.

The movie does a lot right but it may alienate the audience with it’s mystery and lack of answers. It is a difficult watch but absolutely worth the ride if it is the kind of movies you enjoy.

Grade: A-

Wes Anderson, A Whimsical and Unique Auteur

Wes-Anderson At first I wasn’t a fan of Wes Anderson’s filmography. I was young and I never understood the characters or the humor. Now that I have grown up, and I’ve evolved past the stage of like terrible movies. Anderson has cemented himself as a true auteur. In the beginning, with films such as Bottle Rocket and Rushmore, his films were muted and didn’t really contain all the tropes that a typical Wes Anderson film contains. The Royal Tennebaums is the film that I consider to be the beginning of the Wes Anderson that we know and love today.

Bottle Rocket/Rushmore Era

Independent comedies become a staple for the up and coming directors. With Bottle Rocket it gained the attention of critics but not so much with film goers. It was basically dead on arrive. It began  as a short film that gained a lot of traction at Sundance and it had everyone raving. He collaborated with his friend and writing partner Owen Wilson to pen a feature-length version of their popular short film. It contained his trademark sense of humor and had a unique story but it never really succeeds outside of the final act. To me it is his most problematic films. In the end Bottle Rocket can be considered a failure but it never stopped Anderson from moving along with his career.

Rushmore is really were his career took off. It is when his movies starting to become a kind of heightened reality. Owen Wilson and Wes Anderson used Roald Dahl’s kids book as inspiration for their tale of child angst within a prep school. Bill Murray ended up reading the script and liked it so much that he agreed to work on scale, which was estimated to around $9,000. The movie was able to capture what it is like to be a kid in a challenging environment. It is a smaller scale compared to his later films but his style started to pick up from here. The tracking shots that he is known for began here with a scene that involves the groundbreaking of an aquarium. The camera movement follows Max as he shows off his ideas for a new aquarium. It is the beginning of one Anderson’s most well-known trademark. Rushmore failed at the box office but managed to surprise critics and film goers alike.

The Royal Tennebaums through Darjeeling Limited

The Royal Tennebaums is when style becomes overloaded. Almost every frame in Tennebaums is symmetrical and well produced. This movie deals with a former famous family deals with their father, who is trying to enter back into their lives, and their fading popularity. To me this is the most cynical work that Wes Anderson has produced. Everyone is so hateful and every character has a problem with someone. Even though the movie is hateful the design and mise en scène of each scene is so well crafted and colorful that it kinda contradicts the storyline. This is also the movie in which is love for symmetry becomes apparent. All the time the characters are centered in the frame. So far this is considered his most popular film, gaining him an Academy Award Nomination and box office success.

Following The Royal Tennebaums, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and The Darjeeling Limited. Both were considered failures compared to his other films. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou follows similar tropes and had the same flare that is associated with his films but critics didn’t seem to like what they say. It failed at the box office and is currently Wes Anderson’s worst reviewed film. The Darjeeling Limited didn’t do any better. It is his most experimental film to date. He took his unique filming technique to India and used it to represent the style and life in a foreign country. Dealing with a similar storyline to The Royal Tennebaums, it still didn’t impress critics or audiences.

Fantastic Mr. Fox and Beyond

Fantastic Mr. Fox is the first animated film by Wes Anderson. It is a tale about a Fox that has to navigate life while a group of outraged farmers hunt him down. Given that Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson planned to do Rushmore as heightened reality based of a Roald Dahl book it’s quite ironic that Anderson eventually adapted one of his books. Given the failures of both The Darjeeling Limited and The Life Aquatic of Steve Zissou, a lot road on the success of Fantastic Mr. Fox. It ended up paying off. He used he trademark style and create an interesting take on animated films. It appears that Wes Anderson’s style is perfectly suited for animated feature films. Critics loved it and so did the audience and it eventually getting nominated for Best Animated Feature at the 2009 Academy Awards but lost to Up.

He followed up Fantastic Mr. Fox with his most critically acclaimed movie to date, Moonrise Kingdom. It brought him back to the time where he brought to life stores of children and there views on a world in which they are too young to know. His visual style is used to accomplish a child like tale of wonder and fascination. It debuted in the Cannes Film Festival in 2012 and went on to get him his third Oscar nomination and box office success.

His most recent release is now his biggest box office success and critically acclaimed movie. The Grand Budapest Hotel is his most stylized film. The production of each set is simply incredible and uses his love of hand drawn set pieces and miniatures as the set design. Ralph Fiennes simply chews the scenery as Gustave H. and is by far the most interesting character in his filmography. It spans multiple decades and is most interesting when he switches through time periods. To represents it he switches up aspect ratios for the respective decade. Wes Anderson achieves the best result with this movie and shows that no matter the story if directed by Wes Anderson you sure to have an interesting movie on your hands.

Though Wes Anderson has some movies that aren’t well received he has become a household name and a true to life auteur.

Under the Skin Review, A Mesmerizing Look at Human Existence

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Under the Skin

Directed by: Jonathan Glazer

Starring: Scarlett Johansson

When you look at science fiction you always end up with two different kinds of executions. On the one hand you have the ones that rely on action and on the other hand you have the slow burning think pieces. Under the Skin is the perfect example of the second one. The movie is vague and purposely so. The director made it this way so that the audience can think and figure out the purpose of the film on their own instead of being explicitly told what the movie means. It works to the movie advantage because it leaves this sense of mystery. The actions of the main character are never spelled out for you, it’s left to you to figure it out. A TV trailer compared the director to Stanley Kubrick. I wouldn’t agree with that entirely. I feel like the movie feels like a Kubrick movie. Kubrick’s films have the same level of mystery to them. He liked to challenge his viewer and make them think. He has made films that no one else can duplicate but Under the Skin accomplishes the mystery that Stanley Kubrick’s movies were able to portray.

In Scotland, an unnamed motorcyclist (Jeremy McWilliams) retrieves the body of a dead woman on the side of the road. At an undisclosed location, a naked woman (Scarlett Johansson) strips the dead body of it’s clothes and taking up the position that she held. She rebrands herself and starts on her quest to lure men into a trap and harvest their skin for her alien race. Along the way she begins to feel the emotions that plague the human race. She abandons her quest and makes her way into the foothills of Scotland.

This movie says a lot about how fragile we are the human race. The men in this movie want to feel affection from a more attractive individual. It makes us feel special when someone notices us and finds something interesting about us. Our lives depend on the affection of other, especially the opposite gender. The male characters in this movie all essentially let themselves go for woman. The main female is played by Scarlett Johansson and I don’t think anyone else could have played her. She is cold and beautiful yet at the same time very vulnerable and curious. In the beginning, she is the killing machine, on the prowl, for lonely men and does’t care about them only for their skin, a necessity for the alien race to blend in. As time goes by she begins to evolve and learn about the emotional state of human kind. Due to encounter with a young man, who suffers from the disease neurofibromatosis, and after their encounter she begins to see the beauty in the world and the curiosity about the live of humans. You see life through the eyes of another being. She is like a newborn baby, always discovering new things and learning about the world around them. You get an interesting look at a character that has fresh eyes towards the human race. The development of her character is done so well without to much exposition or dialogue, they are given the ability to develop along with the story.

Like The Rover, Under the Skin is minimalism at its best. Unlike other movies this year, Under the Skin uses the idea of less is more. Nothing is spelled out in this movie and it adds to the mystery of the film. Scarlett Johansson’s performance is by far the best work she has done and it shows that she is much more than a pretty face. Many people know this movie as “the movie in which Scarlett Johansson gets naked”. For whoever plans on seeing it for that fact alone than you should probably watch a different movie. She is never overtly sexualized but it is used for the character and he curiosity with human life.

The production values of the movie are spectacular. For such a low budget you wouldn’t even be able to tell that it was so cheap. The cinematography is something of note. It uses long takes to linger on the world around her. The shots linger a little longer than most but I feel that is a strength of the movie. The look of the film is bleak and beautiful. The soundtrack is also breathtaking. It gives it a haunting and foreign feel to it.

Mind you the movie is a lot more fun to think about that it is to watch but I feel the need to watch this movie. It is simply amazing and that’s what I can take away from it. I loved every minute of it and I know that I will be returning to it in the future.

Grade: A+

Scanners Review, A Brilliant yet Unrealized Classic

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Scanners

Directed by: David Cronenberg

Starring: Jennifer O’NeillStephen LackPatrick McGoohanLawrence Dane, and Michael Ironside

Scanners will go do in history as being that movie with the exploding head. People have said to me, “Why would I watch that I’ve already seen that guys head burst”. To me that seems a little ignorant. There is a lot more that this movie has to offer. Cronenberg’s earlier work had a lot of hidden political commentary that goes right past the mind of some of the viewers while some pick up on them right away. Videodrome and The Fly are movies that follow suit with Scanners, a lot more is going on underneath the surfaces that it appears. Scanners will always be infamous for one scene but it has become a classic due to vision of the director and the story that he elects to tell.

Scanners are a chosen few who are gifted with the powers of telepathy and the power to control peoples minds.  A madman by the name of Darryl Revok (Michael Ironside) has gathered a few other scanners and formed a group set on world domination and to wage war against Consec. Little does he know that Dr. Paul Ruth (Patrick McGoohan) has located a fellow scanner named Cameron Vale (Stephen Lack), who is unaware of his powers, to locate the group and destroy it. With the help of Kim Obrist (Jennifer O’Neil), Cameron must stop Revok at any cost.

Quite a few of Cronenberg’s movies are ahead of their time. This one isn’t any different. The special effects used throughout the movie are incredible. Two scenes in particular stand out, one is the aforementioned exploding head scene and the second is the finale where Cameron and Revok try to out “scan” one another. The head exploding scene is great because it is a scene that that wasn’t working at the beginning of shooting. The effects were just not working and by the end of it the decided that one guy would sit behind the latex head with a 12 gauge shotgun and shot the head with kosher rock salt. The scene worked so well that they went with it. The finale scene had various parts where the veins of Cameron and Revok increase in size as they are dueling. Thanks to Dick Smith these effect worked perfectly and is another reason I argue for the use of practical effects over CG everyday.

The movie does have a host of problem but they work within the frame work of the movie. My biggest problem was the main actor. His acting was very wooden and stiff. In a feature Stephen Lack even comments on the fact that his delivery of his line was off. His acting doesn’t really effect the movie that much for me I think it does work for the most part. I can say that Michael Ironside was as chilling an villainous as ever. Like Total Recall his performance makes the villain more intriguing than the movie itself.

On a technical level this movie succeeds in every aspects but for me the finale, though spectacular, is a little underwhelming. I don’t think that it is so much the movies fault rather the rushed production of the film. It is said that the movie began filming before the script was even finished and I feel the ending does reflect that. I think the central theme is perfect and is executed to perfection.

The message behind this movie is timeless. In a whole it is about the dangers of experimenting drugs on people. In the finale we learn that scanners are a product of a pill for pregnant woman back in the 40s. It shows there are dangers to experimenting with drugs that you don’t know the outcome. There is also a reference to Cain and Abel. In the end we learn that Cameron and Revok are brothers and that their father pitted them against each other just so he can stop the creation that he has made. Cronenburg likes to tease the idea that powerful creatures have a tendency to try to create new beings themselves. It is in The Fly, Scanners, and even Videodrome (in some complicity)

Criterion’s presentation is great and probably the best it has looked. The features present are amazing and shows just how much hard work went into making this film. There is one feature showing David Cronenberg in an interview right before the movie was released and it is very interesting to see him talk about the movie before it came out. I love what The Criterion Collection has to offer and this movie is no exception.

If you love horror or just movies in general than definitely check out Scanners and anything that Cronenberg puts out.

Grade: A-