The Double

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Film, 2013

The Double has a lot of things going for it in terms of craft, including gorgeous compositions and color, smooth, languid pacing, and nuanced, effortless performances from its main cast (even if the camera movement goes a little overboard occasionally). Unfortunately, it’s all in the service of a feature-length ode to “but I’m a nice guy.” Eisenberg’s Simon is a sensitive soul invisible to those around him, his greatest wish to be noticed and appreciated by Wasikowska’s Hannah, who is more interested in Simon’s confident, successful double, James. How dare she, oh the horror. Honestly, if I never see another filmed POV of a man looking longingly at a woman, as if she’s a desirable object to be attained, I’ll be extremely happy. The movie does directly acknowledge the fact that its protagonist is a huge creep, an outright stalker, but ultimately we’re meant to wish for Simon’s desire to be fulfilled. It’s a notion that, despite the absolutely lovely decoration, comes off as very ugly.


Stoker

Stoker-International-Poster

Film, 2013

I was a little apprehensive about Stoker going in, only really being a fan of one of the three movies by the director that I had seen previously (loved Lady Vengeance, was indifferent toward Oldboy, and hated Thirst). At first I found it difficult to stomach Chan-wook’s visual poetry and glassy-eyed melodrama. This could be due to the fact that I might not be as open to that style when presented in English. And while that’s on me, the problem was exacerbated by the performance of the lead actress, often a dead fish, and by Kidman playing it a little too artificially. But once the fluff started to become weighted by the evolving mystery, I was enthralled by the proceedings, hook, line, and sinker. And as with any Chan-wook film, there’s no shortage of carefully orchestrated, effective sequences and moments. There was a bit of sound design where India drinks a glass of wine that really took my breath away, the montage where she rejects Uncle Charlie’s offers of assistance was a welcome bout of levity, and the sequence centered around Philip Glass’s stunning duet really does the piece justice. The movie ultimately draws its power from showing us ghoulish monsters, every bit as unnerving as vampires or ghosts, presented as mere humans.


Life During Wartime

Film, 2009

  • There’s a common thread between the work of Life During Wartime director Todd Solondz and cartoonist Daniel Clowes that I haven’t quite defined, but I think is pretty evident. It has to do with their frequent portrayals of deeply flawed and deeply unglamorous characters. I have a bit of a struggle with this type of material. On one hand I enjoy it, as both are great storytellers. On the other hand, I feel awful after absorbing it. Clowes has said something along the lines of people who can’t handle this type of material being weak willed narcissists, and that feels true to me. But on the other hand I’m going to die someday, and it’s sometimes hard, especially in the moment, to see the merit in making myself feel like this.
  • My favorite aspect of Solondz’s work is how he takes our kneejerk reactions to stereotypes and uses them against us. He seems to know exactly how any combination of broad characteristics including race, gender, or social standing will make us feel about them, and then uses it to make us feel awful, either by punishing or rewarding the characters that will hurt us the most (with some deliberate exceptions).
  • The contrast is blown all over the place in this movie, and it ends up looking kind of cheap. Deliberate?

Sleeping Beauty (2011)

Film, 2011

Yeah, so, if a movie is well-shot, has a grindingly slow pace and completely lacks exposition of any kind, I can’t be stopped from falling in love with it. It’s accessed my own personal cheat code. I can even recognize that the movie isn’t good, but still unabashedly love it (hello The Good Night). Sleeping Beaty is like that, and I almost hate to think too hard about the plot or themes (although I read about them briefly and they seem pretty solid) in favor of just wallowing in the power and allure of its mystery.


Barking Dogs Never Bite

Film, 2000

When I get to the end of one of these movies, where we follow around humble characters for a series of occasionally amusing incidents that only loosely resembles a traditional narrative, I often wonder “Why?”, even if I enjoyed it. But not at the end of this one. Here, I marveled at how fully Bong Joon-ho and his actors were able to realize their dull characters. It’s almost as if they chose character types they thought would be hardest for them to pull off, just so they could show how hard they could nail it. Films are made by ambitious, driven people, and the characters that populate them often are as well. It seems rare to see average people depicted so humanely and intricately. This is especially true of Bae Doona, the female lead. If I hadn’t seen her play starkly different roles in other films I would swear she wasn’t acting here at all, and they had just shoved some snot-nosed, empty-headed person they found on the street in front of a camera. When you look into her eyes you don’t see the actor, you don’t see her character, you just see a person. This may be true of some of the other actors as well, but with Bae she’s also so much fun to watch. And maybe that’s not fair and it’s because she’s adorable, but then again, in this case, that should be a hindrance. Which she handily shrugs off.


Melancholia

Film, 2011

If you are someone who experiences chronic anxiety or depression, I do not recommend deciding on a whim to catch a late night screening of Melancholia solo. It’s kind of like an alcoholic leisurely deciding to take in a screening of Barfly. During my walk back to the car after the film I felt like a tube of toothpaste that was being squeezed empty, and I had to convulse slightly to try and get the feeling out. The first half of the film shows us Justine, whose viscous anxiety leads her to sabotage her own wedding. (Or perhaps, rather, to lead her into a wedding that had no chance for success in the first place). Then, the second half of the film flips the script, focusing on her sister Claire, who gets locked in a crippling depression upon finding out the world will end within the next few days. After their fates are sealed, Justine seems more confident and comfortable than in the entire rest of the film. The rest of the world now shares her intense sense of dread, and her extensive experience in this state of mind allows her to become a chaperone to those around her. The film, although played straight, might ultimately be mocking its subject. (This is von Trier we’re dealing with here.) Aside from the absurd bluntness of its title, the very plot of the movie highlights the illogical nature of Justine’s depression- an event of science-fiction would have to occur to justify it. I don’t share that view, however, and when Justine’s insecurities were eventually validated I shared in her relief.


Irma Vep

Film, 1996

I often read a bit online about any movie I just watched, and it turns out that Irma Vep requires a bit of knowledge about the then-current state of the French film industry to really get what they were putting down. None of that stuff really mattered to me though, so what I was left with was a nice movie about pleasant people that I enjoyed watching for the entirety of its running length. The movie bobs between the hectic whirlwind of being on a film set in France in 1996 and the occasional transcendant moment where the characters and the audience get a breather and a reminder of what it’s like to be alive, before ultimately settling on destroying itself.


The Pleasure of Being Robbed

Film, 2007

People make these New Wave shout-outs, they sure do. I always watch them and am not really sure if there’s something they’re trying to tell me that I’m not getting, but I don’t really care because the pacing is always hypnotic, the music nice, the colors rich and protagonist is always a person you enjoy getting lost in for the span of the film. They’re always good. It’s funny how you never see anyone hack one of these things out. What would be the point? All the filmmaking decisions, from casting, to writing to editing, are purely an expression of the filmmaker’s personality. Any attempt to replicate this formula would be like a forged signature. I’m suddenly realizing that I’m specifically talking about Safdie movies as if they’re an entire, wide-spanning genre. But only the Safdies really do this so well and breezy. Anyway, this one is slightly over an hour of a girl stealing tons of stuff. Is she testing how far out you can extend yourself over the edge of society? She is in New York City, which will extend your reach as far as it can go. Is the a damaged person with a distinct lack of personal boundaries? Stop it. Wait, there’s some sort of statement here at the end of the credits- Shhhhhhhhh.


Mother (2009)

film, 2009

Mother has all the hallmarks of its fantastic director, Bong Joon-ho; a cast of cartoon characters rich in their humanity that boost its fascinating premise, moments of baffling and powerful imagery bordering on the surreal and tonal shifts that take you from stark hilarity to heartbreak in a flash, all while maintaining a believable and relatable atmosphere. This particular film is a crime drama about, as the title suggests, mothers. The film tests a mother’s fierce loyalty and propensity to protect her child, qualities that are the salvation (then ultimately revealed to be the damnation) of the crimes perpetrated. One of the most remarkable things about the film is that, because if its breadth of tone, you genuinely have no idea how the mystery is going to be resolved (until your own perception and allegiances are eventually turned on you). It’s a tricky game that Bong pulls off with ease, and we can only pray that he never moves to Hollywood so that he can continue playing it.


Love and Other Drugs

Film, 2010

I was hoping this was going to be a satire about the pharmaceutical industry but it’s just Jake Gyllenhall and Anne Hathaway vomiting romantic comedy lines all over each other. But when it starts to look like that was all a ploy to get us involved in a story about a couple dealing with Parkinsons Disease, it tricks you yet again by just being about nothing. 2.5