REVIEW: The Double

25 08 2014

The DoubleIt’s always interesting to see how two different filmmakers approach the same text and wind up with completely different interpretations.  Richard Ayode directly derives his film “The Double” from a novella of the same name by Fyodor Dostoyesvsky, while Darren Aronofsky drew heavily from it to create his Oscar-winning 2010 masterpiece “Black Swan.”

These films are not cinematic siblings, so to speak, but they are blood relatives of sorts and provide a fertile ground for analysis in tandem.  The same blood runs through their veins, but they manifest its influence in divergent fashions.  At the very least, anyone who has seen “Black Swan” will come away from watching “The Double” with an appreciation for the many choices facing the artists tasked with adapting a text.  (And I make the assumption that the majority of people interested in the latter are the kind of moviegoers who made a point to see the former.)

Aronofsky’s take on the doppelganger tale results in a horror film replete with corporal anxieties, while Ayoade finds just about the opposite in the Russian yarn.  His film is a dark comedy that often times veers into the absurd.  Its bizarre flavor regarding the humor regarding the humdrum mechanisms of the workplace  is about as far from the werewolf-swan movie as one can get.

And yet, there’s still the same underlying fear of being replaced by a better version of yourself that resonates in “The Double.”  It’s somewhat clouded by the fog of Ayoade’s peculiar funnybone, but it’s nonetheless there.  Jesse Eisenberg, essentially playing the same stammering character that won him an Oscar nomination for “The Social Network,” is an inspired choice to convey this paranoia to an audience.  He begins the film as the timid Simon James and then later appears as the supremely confident James Simon to steal all the thunder in the world of work and romance with the alluring Hannah (Mia Wasikowska).

It’s too bad we’re used to seeing Eisenberg play this character because “The Double” comes off as a bit old hat for the actor.  Either James or Simon could pop up in any of Eisenberg’s other movies as a doppelganger to induce a similar identity crisis in the native character.  He’s really doubled down, so to pun-nily speak, on this bumbling neurotic everyman.  Once or twice more, and he may very well veer into the perilous grounds of self-parody.  B-2stars

REVIEW: The Watch

30 07 2012

The post-Spielberg generation of fanboy filmmakers has a few things to learn.  I’m talking about the boys who grew up thinking that Indiana Jones is the slickest hero ever, E.T. is the most benevolent force in the universe, and the alien coming out of John Hurt’s chest in “Alien” is the scariest thing in the world.  They’re coming of age now, and their paying homage to their myth-maker.

We saw the first extreme homage in last summer’s “Super 8,” J.J. Abrams’ pleasant trip down ’80s memory lane that ultimately rips off more than it can chew.  Now, one of the members of The Lonely Island, Akiva Schaffer, is here to give us his Spielberg tribute with “The Watch.”  It’s less of a carbon copy and more tongue-in-cheek parody, but that still doesn’t make its rancid treatment of Spielberg’s hallowed material any less acceptable.

Even without its frequent invocation of the action-movie deity, “The Watch” would still have disappointed on comedic standards.  When I say I didn’t laugh once, I mean it.  No exaggeration.  I did smirk on one occasion, though: a cameo appearance by Andy Samberg.

It’s a failure from concept for writers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, whose résumés include the uproarious “Superbad” and the gut-wrenchingly hilarious “Pineapple Express.”  Unless that concept was to replicate the experience of being waterboarded, in which case congratulations are in order.  It’s time to screen this movie for the President, I’m sure he needs some new enhanced interrogation techniques at Guantanamo (which is still open despite his first day in office pledge).

“Got protection,” the film’s slogan asks.  So I’d like to ask you to protect yourself and not see “The Watch.”  Some movies you can’t unwatch.  You can’t get that time back.

Protect yourself from yet another Ben Stiller uptight straight-man grating on your last nerve; let’s be real, that one was already getting dated back in 2004’s “Along Came Polly.”  Protect yourself from the latest iteration of the Vince Vaughn sassily obstreperous man-child.  Protect yourself from a reprisal of Jonah Hill’s disturbed character from “Cyrus” that is reborn here totally humorless.  Protect yourself from the self’-conscious tokenism casting of Richard Ayoade, which ultimately devolves into outright racism.  To use the obvious pun, don’t watch “The Watch.”  Pop “E.T.” into the DVD player for a twentieth viewing.  D

REVIEW: Submarine

3 07 2011

While sitting in “Submarine,” a coming-of-age dramedy import from our Welsh friends across the pond, there were moments when I thought I was going to give the movie unequivocal praise.  It had the eye-catching look and the quirky feel of a Wes Anderson film.  With its simple, geometric shots, clean editing, and eccentric characters navigating through some hilariously mundane situations, it could be the long lost foreign cousin of “Rushmore” (or a very flattering imitation).

And coming out of high school, I definitely felt that Craig Roberts’ protagonist Oliver Tate, despite our cultural differences, was one of the freshest portrayals of the confusion and the jumble of feelings that is growing up.  With his anthropological observations on the high school food chain and the social sphere in general crackling with wit, he reminds us how out of touch the cinematic visions of this age really are.  His quest to lose his virginity for a variety of underlying social factors is absolutely hysterical without ever losing touch with reality or authenticity.

But as the film shifts gears from this burst of postpubescent energy, this submarine begins to sink.  The emotions become more reserved, and the film’s energy goes along with it.  I can understand the cinematic reasons for the tonal shift: it doesn’t seem appropriate to have the same pop when dealing with the failing marriage of his parents (Noah Taylor and Sally Hawkins) and the potentially terminal illness of his girlfriend’s mother.  On the other hand, there is a way to convey those emotions without losing the joie de vivre that was so vibrant in the beginning.

Considering that “Submarine” is the directorial debut of Richard Ayoade, I’ll just chalk up some of the tonal problems and the resultant tinges of boredom to being rookie mistakes.  But I will echo the critical consensus – look for great things from this director in the future.  Once he gets a few more films under his belt, the things Ayoade can do so brilliantly will shine brightly.  B- /