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Film Review: The Double

The Double is remarkable for just a second feature film and confirms Richard Ayoade as one of the most exciting directors working in cinema.

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The Double is remarkable for just a second feature film and confirms Richard Ayoade as one of the most exciting directors working in cinema. Having brought a fresh, inventive and original touch to the long-standing ‘coming of age and first love’ tale in 2011’s Submarine, Ayoade takes another old concept and imbues it with dark humour, individuality and superior technical direction.

From a script written by Avi Korine (brother of director Harmony Korine, most recently of Spring Breakers) loosely based on the Dostoevsky 1846 novella ‘The Double’, the film follows Simon James (Jesse Eisenberg), a shy, socially awkward young man wandering through life in a world that barely acknowledges his existence. Set in a dystopian bureaucratic industrial world of seemingly perpetual night, the film feels futuristic yet also retro – like an expressionist take on a Soviet-style British future imagined in the 1980s. Simon is a hardly known drone in an office where he must continually prove his employment to security, (the barely-lit basement of hulking machines used to process vague information where he works immediately reminiscent of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil), and he pines over his attractive neighbour and co-worker Hannah (Mia Wasikowska, perfectly employing her ethereal beauty and ‘otherness’).

As Simon drifts along feeling increasingly detached from the world, as if he might just disappear, his life takes a strange turn with the arrival of a new employee at the company – James Simon. James is Simon’s exact double (a fact which no-one else seems to notice), right down to the same ill-fitting suit. But it turns out he is more mirror image than copy. Eisenberg is excellent in the two roles, making them clear individuals and embodying them with his strengths – the meek, do-gooder that makes the audience want to hit him into action or assertiveness seen in Adventureland and Zombieland; and the slippery, smart-talking customer from The Social Network and Now You See Me.

What ends as a nightmarish scenario for Simon, (for what’s worse than encountering someone who’s exactly the same as you, but better), begins somewhat hopefully, with the pair aiding each other. James is confident, charming and charismatic and he acts as Simon’s guide in his burgeoning relationship with Hannah, while the latter returns the favour at work. But it soon turns sour as James starts to take control and sets his sights on Hannah, power at the company, and Simon’s life.

The believability of the world creation in The Double is second to none, and the acting from the main and support cast is excellent (which nods heavily to Ayoade’s past with parts for Paddy Considine as the hero of Simon’s favourite Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace-esque sci-fi TV show, Nathan Barley’s Chris Morris, The IT Crowd’s Chris O’Dowd, as well as the whole cast of Submarine), but what really struck me about the film was the lighting and sound design. Cinematographer Erik Wilson evokes noir films of the 1950s with his use of shadow and smoke, while the Orwellian sickly green and yellows of what little light there is draws you into the world. Much like David Lynch’s Eraserhead or Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem For a Dream, the sound design of The Double is somewhat unforgettable. Ayoade spent four months creating the soundscape alone, and it really shows; the unsynced, layered, created and repeated sounds, along with Andrew Hewitt’s terrific score, producing a true sense of unease and of a world different from our own.

While I didn’t find the film quite as funny as many others in the audience, the dark subject matter and psychological elements are bolstered by Ayoade’s comedic sensibilities, adding another level to a multi-layered film. Its faults lie primarily in the plot, which is never as engaging as the world or its characters, and the final act feels rather rushed and unsatisfactory; but the sheer energy, creativity and feeling that there are no films out there quite like this right now, make those faults easily forgivable.

THE DOUBLE
Directed by: Richard Ayoade
Written by: Avi Korine
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Mia Wasikowska, Noah Taylor, Wallace Shawn, Yasmin Paige
Distributed by: Madman Entertainment
Running time: 93 min

Film Reviews

Spider-Man: Far From Home is a splendid coda to the Avengers

Save the world, save the girl?

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Spider-Man

Where do you go after Avengers: Endgame? The finale to an 11-year journey was always going to be a heavy exhale. But with much of the story finding conclusion, it was only natural that the next chapter would be something a little lighter, less fraught but still tense with importance. The question of responsibility and the burden of carrying it has been a fundamental principle of being a superhero in this universe, a burden that only continues in the final film of this phase. So where does the Marvel Cinematic Universe go after Endgame? Well, on holiday of course. Spider-Man: Far From Home is not only a splendid film but a nice coda to the biggest cinematic undertaking we’ve seen in recent history.

You can find Spider-Man: Far From Home nestled in the cinematic landscape somewhere between Iron Man 3 and National Lampoon’s Vacation. Peter Parker (Tom Holland, really solidifying himself as this generation’s best Spider-Man) is Clark Griswolding himself across Europe to chase the heart of MJ (Zendaya). As a bumbling 16-year-old who only wants to find the girl, his romance is cut a little short by the expected Marvel cinematic tomfoolery we’ve come to expect from our arachnid hero. Jake Gyllenhaal’s turn as Mysterio is a concerted effort; a cross between Tony Stark’s wise but too cool tutelage and Ben Kingsley’s Mandarin (take that how you will). As the carnage across Europe unfolds, the film becomes a well-balanced juxtapositioning of the kind of humor we’ve found appealing within in the MCU and action and adventure that doesn’t become overly burdensome or heavy. Far From Home keeps things light and breezy, but you never forget the stakes or think that this is just a tacked on fling after the events of Endgame.

The cast are well rounded and the addition of Marvel players we’ve come to love (Jon Favreau’s Happy Hogan, Spider-Man sidekick Ned, and both Nick Fury and Maria Hill) makes it hit with almost the same gravitas as the previous films. But more importantly, they never make the film feel like an overstuffed mess that plagued outings like Age of Ultron. The pace is engaging, and as the story unfolds amongst the smoke and mirrors, you can’t help but feel a kind of comic book happiness that you felt through Homecoming. It’s charming, it’s earnest, it’s funny, and at times, doesn’t take itself too seriously (Spider-Man video game in-joke included!). Plus it has those little moments that while may have been written for fans, will appeal to anyone who enjoys a good laugh, a touching moment, and good filmmaking. While the death of Tony Stark looms large within the narrative of the film, it doesn’t become baggage- but rather the catalyst for growth within Parker and helps propel the story to its conclusion.

However, one can’t help but feel that the continued presence of Tony Stark, and the reminder that he is gone, really does give this universe a sense of finality. If you stay for the end-credits (both scenes), you’ll know that Marvel has plans both big and small in the coming years. Far From Home is both the end and the beginning in a sense. It’s a nice coda to Endgame, and for some, probably a good place to step away from the past 11 years. Far From Home is also continued proof that heart and the desire to do good doesn’t always have to follow the same tired script. Save the world, lose the girl? Maybe not this time.

Spider-Man: Far From Home is in cinemas now.

SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME
Directed by: Jon Watts
Written by: Erik Sommers, Chris McKenna
Cast: Tom Holland, Zendaya, Jake Gyllenhaal, Samuel L. Jackson, Colbie Smulders, Marisa Tomei
Distributed by: Sony Pictures
Run time: 129 minutes

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Film Reviews

Film Review: Murder Mystery

Murder Mystery is a pretty crap film.

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Murder Mystery is the next film in the long line of terrible Adam Sandler films distributed by Netflix. At this point we’re not sure that Netflix actually watches these movies before they put them on their service but here we are. Murder Mystery, like many of the recent Sandler-helmed flicks, seem less like movies than they do lavish holidays that Adam Sandler and friends go on where filming of random skits tied together loosely by some semblance of narrative occurs. Much of the film is slapped together with the kind of duct-tape storytelling you’d find in all those mediocre SNL movies.

There is star quality though. Jennifer Aniston is back, after working alongside Sandler in 2011’s equally terrible Just Go With It, and they’ve roped in some pretty prominent names, including Luke Evans (Fast & Furious series, The Hobbit), Gemma Arterton, and a happily cashing in his check Terrence Stamp. What happens can be best described as stupid Cluedo, or more blatantly, a dumb Murder On the Orient Express where Sandler and Aniston’s characters, a bumbling New York cop and hair dresser, stumble upon a high-stakes inheritance-grab murder mystery where absurd things happen. It never makes much sense but the biggest problems with these movies are not so much the cartoony skits (Sandler’s cop is so bad at shooting his gun that when he does, it’s a cartoon-like hail of bullets missing their target), but just the insanely unbelievable characters that fill these movies. It’s OK to suspend belief, but at this point, you don’t believe for one second any of the characters would exist in real life or that any of them act like actual humans do. There is also no shortage of cartoon bozos: Fat New York cop sidekick? Check. Buffoony Inspector Clouseau French detective? Check. Overly Spanish Spanish guy? Check. Ali G Indian guy? Check. Even Gemma Arterton’s Jessica Rabbit-esque character would make Jessica Rabbit shake her head in disbelief. At least Rob Schneider isn’t in it.

Is it funny? No, but there are actually some moments worth a chuckle. And that’s already better than Sandler’s previous Netflix outings. Murder Mystery’s jokes are mostly at the expense of the exaggerated caricatures and Sandler’s goofy self, but for the most part, its pretty bereft of humor. To make matters worse, the film has that cheap Netflix sheen to it that makes it even more of a TV movie than it already is. In the end, the movie is such a blatant Murder on the Orient Express rip-off that the end scene literally shows the Orient Express train. Unironically too.

Netflix’s has a serious movie problem- one that we’ve talked about before. Murder Mystery, is no different. You can’t fault Sandler for continuing down this path. Same goes for Aniston. Both have more than established their craft over the years that at times, you can’t help but feel envious of the position they’re in. So what if they just want to put their feet up, cash in a nice pay check, and enjoy the nice sights? Who wouldn’t?

Murder Mystery is a pretty crap film, but it’s what happens when we’ve given this much clout to Netflix. Spielberg had a point when he said Netflix movies shouldn’t be competing for Oscars. It is not only because they eschew theatrical traditions, but it should also be because they’re crap. And not even in the Spielberg Artificial Intelligence sense of being an average movie- but in the Lifetime channel level of crap. So really, when you think about, Murder Mystery is all our fault.

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