Tag Archives: 2013 movies

Review: The Double (2013)


“I’d like to think I’m pretty unique.”

The Double (2013)
Story by Avi Korine and Richard Ellef Ayoade
Based on the novella of the same title by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Directed by Richard Ayoade (Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace)
Cinematography: Erik Wilson
Edited by Chris Dickens and Nick Fenton
Music: Andrew Hewitt
Produced by Robin C. Fox and Amina Dasmal
Production: Alcove Entertainment; Film4; British Film Institute
Distributor: StudioCanal UK
DVD (U.S.) ©2014 Magnolia Home Entertainment
Running Time: 93 Minutes
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg; Mia Wasikowska; Wallace Shawn (Mr. Papadopolous, boss); Yasmin Paige; Cathy Moriarty (waitress); Noah Taylor (Harris); James Fox (The Colonel); Craig Roberts (Detective #1); Chris O’Dowd (nurse); Lydia Ayoade (Test Invigilator); Paddy Considine (Jack, “PT Kommander”)

Synopsis

Seven years dedicated, Simon (Eisenberg) has worked for his company, and yet it has been as if he was never there.  He is a hard worker, and yet he is meek and un-confident in his image; he feels outside of himself, enough that he uses Pinocchio to describe his existence—unable to be ‘a real boy,’ unable to pull his own strings.  He becomes invisible to the point that security fails to recognize him as an employee, or even that he exists.

Simon’s family isn’t easy on him either.  Much of everything and everyone in his life treads on him in slow, monotonous and quirky ways.  Every time he is alone in an awkward setting, things just malfunction on him.

Suddenly he gains the confidence to try to make contact the beautiful Hannah (Wasikowska), who works in the same department of the company—a copier.  He loses his briefcase in the process—the doors of the subway close on his case, and the handle breaks off as he tries to pull on it.  Still, security does not recognize him.  Simon regularly asks for a single copy—something very uncommon—just to see Hannah.

She dubs Simon “creepy guy,” almost shrugging off the fact that he’s been watching her through the windows via telescope.  But, of course, with her own desire to be less invisible, she attracts shadowy fellows that fail to live the so-called life in the area.  One of these men, as Simon sees through his telescope, decides to stand on a ledge, make contact with binoculars watching back at Simon, and wave before stepping off to his death.  Suicide is common enough in these parts that a local government department exists in dedication to picking up the unfortunate cases… They list Simon among the “maybes.”

Day after day, he slaves away, and finds a way to connect with the girl.  He pieces together fragments of red-on-white pictures she threw away.

The unreal part of the story begins as Simon James’s doppleganger appears.  The new guy’s personality and name are in reverse order: James Simon, confident in image, not meek and not a hard worker.  But now a new employee at the company, quickly moving up in the bureaucracy.

James appears to befriend Simon.  It all seems great, but really all James is doing is taking advantage of Simon, and Simon is too meek to see it.  And by the time he does, James is able to blackmail him with pictures of himself and Melanie (Paige), the boss’s daughter, because James’ face is identical to Simon’s.  And security forgets about Simon’s existence entirely: in a Catch-22 of a scene, he can’t get back into the system because “you’re not in the system.”

Take

The completely hypothetical nature of the setting is done well, with deep uses of color, as opposed to black & white photography (something I probably couldn’t tolerate well in this case).  It makes for one of the stranger films to date, and yet the story manages to convey a reality at the same time, as director Ayoade knows and states in the interview (available on the DVD).  The film surrounds the concept of invisibility: where no one cares what happens to you, if you allow yourself to walk along such remote paths in absence of personal confidence.

It can become Kafkaesque, even dangerous, for someone to allow him/herself to be taken advantage of for so long.  The film is unreal, but it serves as a good reminder not to become or remain a victim.

The acting was good, even though Eisenberg didn’t have much range.  Eisenberg considered his role as James/Simon with esteem, with more originality than that of his role as Mark Zuckerberg, but the execution wasn’t that dynamic.  Some of the understated nature of the script already came of as bland, further affecting the potential of the performances under Ayoade.

It could’ve easily been PG-13 if it wasn’t for the occasional string of f-bombs, but the film was nice enough to show desperation with a side of humor instead of horror.  Still, it should’ve been stronger, regardless of the language.  The film is creative in its minimalist, retro design, but it kind of fell on its back toward the end (literally).  It may have been great directorial work for Ayoade, but I didn’t feel like bothering to ask what was going on by the end as the nonsense wasn’t really compensated, emotionally or otherwise; it had an “open to interpretation” ending.  Simon’s long walk against a striped background did however manage to convey what it needed to.  Grade: B.

Review: Man of Tai Chi

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“You are nothing,” Donaka Mark says, to “Tiger” Chen.
“I am nothing,” responds Tiger, ready.

Man of Tai Chi

©2013 Universal Pictures, Village Roadshow Pictures, China Flim Co. Ltd.
Produced by Lenore Syvan and Daxing Zhang
Written by Michael G. Cooney
Director: Keanu Reeves
Action Director: Yuen Wo Ping
Director of Photography: Elliot Davis (Thirteen)
Editor: Derek Hui
Running Time: 105 minutes
Budget: est. $25 million U.S.
Rated “R” for violence
Stars: Tiger Chen Lin-Hu; Keanu Reeves (47 Ronin); Karen Mok; Yu Hai; Simon Yam; Ye Qing; and Iko Uwais as Gilang Sanjaya

Synopsis

In Keanu Reeves directorial debut, Tai Chi, a system of physical exercises utilized for meditation and self-defense, becomes a weapon of death when an underground kill-or-be-killed fight club emerges.  Tiger Chen, a student and public Wulin Cometition champ, is up to fight—not for personal gain, but in the effort to save Master Tang’s (Hai) historic temple that dates back some six hundred years or more.

By day, Donaka Mark (Reeves) runs a securities firm, Security System Alliance.  By night, he runs a pay-per-view death match.  And inspector Suen Jing Si (Mok) is on the case, against the wishes/orders of superintendent Wong (Yam).

Tiger is warned by his master not to blur the lines between power and control, but Tiger, corrupted by Donaka, holds on to the illusion.  He would come to find out that his life’s been under a microscope—hidden cameras everywhere.

Backstory Brief

The legendary Wo Ping worked his magic when stuntman Chen worked with Reeves for The Matrix (as Reeves’ trainer).  Years later, Chen came to Reeves on collaborating again, for this project.  Chen conveyed director Reeves as a man with a lot of homework, taking notes, to the total size of a large stack.

Over five years was spent in the making of this film, total.

Take

Geared toward a more general audience, the plot is simple, and the dialogue is short.  Almost all of the Chinese text has adjacent, in-film English translations.

The action is well-performed, and the acting is convincing, especially with Chen.  For Reeves, Donaka Mark is his most serious role to date, as a stone-cold psychopath, to the point of maniacally grinning while being punched in the face.

Elliot Davis performed his specialty in capturing the emotions of the characters, the sweetness between Chen and his paralegal love interest named Qing-Sha (Ye Qing), the response when Chen came to see that his opponents would nevertheless die, as a black-masked man would enter to “finish the job” with a snap of the loser’s neck.

The martial arts genre is partly known these days for fantastical/legendary feats, making use of wire effects for great scenes commonplace.  But I found the two big Chi moments unreal—as if (and as with The Matrix) you’re able to push people across the room with Chi energy without contact.  (Of all of the footage I’ve seen on extraordinary uses of Chi, contact’s always made—even with the “One Inch Death Punch,” as demonstrated in Stan Lee’s Superhumans, converging a host of body energy to one fist.)

Overall, this film brings a nice display of Tai Chi, but fails to really add anything else.  It pales in comparison to The Grand Master, which brought a number of forms of painstaking martial arts to the screen, with an intent of historical accuracy.  It was easier for the two lead male characters in Man of Tai Chi, already having years of experience.

That isn’t to say this film was easy to make.  But script-wise, its supporting characters are cliché, its plot is too simple and wrapped up too easily.  Grade: B-