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The Double (2013)
mannered, contrived, underwhelming
Wanted to like this, but, alas.....
It's mannered, without the mannerism being purposeful.
It feels self-regarding, self conscious. It doesn't really seem to be from the heart, or even sincerely weird. At its heart it's extraordinarily tame and second-hand, not genuinely subversive at all.
As others have noted it leans far, far too heavily on its (obvious) influences.
A central character who is painfully awkward can, eventually, become too awkward for us to put up with as an audience member.
Conceptually, it leads you up the garden path and then cops out at the end.
It's a frustrating film to watch; I just hope it doesn't prevent more confident, intuitive film- makers form exploring similar themes in a more engaging and engrossing way.
Shodding plotting dressed up as art.(Spoilers)
They threw the movie away in the third act!
A very competently-made, suspenseful piece, albeit with some of the whiff of anxiety-exploitation around child abduction that, say, The Pledge has, but impressively and seriously put together. A lot of the revelations are guessable, but it'll keep you watching. Yet - in the end - you may wish you'd spent your time watching something else. Because it doesn't pay off.
There are many holes, but one key howler.
For me, the film makers threw it all away with one piece of "let's go down to that spooky graveyard" plotting.
With a jigsaw puzzle this intricate, everything has to be plausible or it all feels like a confection.
And when Hugh Jackman runs off - alone, actively avoiding the police and preventing them from accompanying him - to confront the abductor, after learning a key piece of information in the hospital, all credibility goes out the window.
HJ's character (Dover) simply has no reason to eschew the police's help once he learns that he has already been at the place where the children are being held. (Which narrows the options right down).
The discovery of one of the missing girls changes everything. And acting on evidence gleaned from her is not something the police would resist.
A bunch of talented actors and film makers let all their efforts go to waste due to this failure of plotting and motivation. It takes you right out of the movie.
Of course, the whistle contrivance eventually makes it feel as if maybe this action doesn't seal Dover's fate (though the ending's ambiguity is a bit of a cop out). But - crucially - this piece of implausible action means that by the end we've kind of bailed.
As for the aftertaste, the more you think about it, the more the 'plausible offscreen action' on which this kind of plot and edit relies, is inadequate.
If you watch the flashback, which shows the first captive escaping, carefully you'll see that nasty Melissa Leo is held back by a hooded figure, which is how the little girl gets away. We see beige-hooded-coat-guy grab her from behind as she pursues the little girl, and then cut to the girl running and running.
Now, there's only one beige hoodie guy in the film - it's creepy Bob Taylor, who by the time we see the flashback, has killed himself in police custody.
So: why? Why did he kill himself? And/or why did he help little Joy Birch escape?
If he meant for her to escape, why not just tell the cops and be a hero?
And if he feels guilty enough to kill himself (why?), what was his motivation to save the girl?
None of this is made even remotely clear.
We could speculate that it's because he's a loon due to long exposure to LSD (if we think he's another abductee of Melissa Leo's character and her late husband - and this is suggested by the snakes he had; Leo's character says her husband kept snakes). Or maybe he feels guilty that he only managed to help one girl flee.
But at this point in the story all he has to give is factual account of what happened and he'd be OK.
Likewise, why does Alex withhold the information?
Presumably we're supposed to presume that Holly Jones (Leo) had some intense brainwashy psychological hold over both boys. But that's a lot of presuming.
So, the plot holes got in the way here. And, as is often the case, the film-makers papered over the cracks with some ambiguity and vagueness which the less discerning will take for artful and intentional ambiguity which makes the film soooo much more interesting.
But it's not. It's just shoddy plotting dressed up.
Pacific Rim (2013)
Hang on - am I losing it here? This is a tedious, bombastic and predictable slog to watch. How come the plaudits?
Let's be honest - the acting is wooden. The dialogue is embarrassing. The story is formulaic. The characters barely scrape into the second dimension. The music is intrusive, desperately trying to wring some emotion from scenes that are devoid of them, with characters who the audience has no empathy with. The effects are impressive. But there are films out there with impressive effects that also grip you with their narrative and convince with their performances. Some of them even move you.
Most affecting performance of the film - the little girl playing young Mako. And she's barely in it.
The premise feels like a mish-mash of various sources, blended together into something less than fresh.
The look is rather workaday - there's really nothing you haven't seen here before. It's a little bit Armageddon, a little bit Aliens, a little bit Battle Los Angeles
So it feels camp. Pastichey. Utterly forgettable. Cringe-making.
The Escapist (2008)
SPOILERS: an early error
SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS
A more than decent effort. But for me, this plot was largely ruined by the very early (11 minutes in) reference to Incident at Owl Creek - the famous story from which this film borrows its twist. At least the writers have the grace to acknowledge their debt, but it's a shame they did so in the film's opening minutes.
From the moment you see the Cox character get a letter addressed to him at Owl Creek Prison, you know exactly what the twist will be at the end. The fact that the famous story then gets a second name check when we see Cox's book towards the end (in the scene between Cox and Lewis) hammers it home. As a result the end - which should be the film's high point - has negligible emotional impact (assuming you know the Owl Creek story).
If only that late scene between Cox and Lewis had been the first time we'd had an Owl Creek reference the twist would have been much stronger. That late scene with the book could have been the beginning of a final revelation, rather than a 'yeah, I thought so - I've been expecting this for 90 mins' moment.
La leçon de guitare (2006)
Just saw this charming short at the London Film Festival and it really shone out. Where so many shorts betray their function as directorial calling cards, with the result that style is often in greater supply than substance, Martin Rit's film is notable for its economy and simplicity.
The story is slight but somehow Rit, his co-writer and his cast make every moment compelling and create warmth and humour from a deadpan situation.
The performances never put a foot wrong, the camera is always in just the right place but never makes its presence too obvious, and the editing is particularly sharp.
If you get the chance to see this film, take it. And Mr Rit - if you're reading - keep up the good work!
The Good Shepherd (2006)
ageing and narrative thrust
A well-mounted, solidly-performed piece that somehow never takes off. Maybe it's because I watched it in two sittings, but the plot structure felt episodic; nothing ever came to the boil. Also, the ageing of the leads over time was unconvincing. A film like 'The Sea Inside' is much more impressive on this score. Here, the fact that Damon looks little older than his grown-up son was a little jarring. Richardson's lighting is flawless, but didn't evolve with the story particularly. Score was very good, however. Worth seeing, but don't expect to be gripped. On a separate note - why does IMDb insist on 10 lines of commentary? What's wrong with brevity?
Ritchie's first two films were snappy, stylish entertainment. Here, he raids two recent classics 'The Usual Suspects' and 'Fight Club' and still comes out empty-handed.
Despite parading itself as a con-mystery (with the sub-'Usual Suspects' twaddle "the greatest con he ever pulled was convincing you that he was you" or whatever it was...) and attempting a 'Fight-Club' twist about which characters are real and which are internal manifestations, the film struggles to maintain interest in its second half. By the last third, you know you're being lead down a blind alley, and tediously slowly at that.
Cons, chess and game theory are all great subjects, but Ritchie delves into them too superficially and too repetitively to make much use of the material.
The only thing that keeps the movie (almost) watchable is Ritchie's bold way with with a scene and Maurice-Jones's dynamic camera. If Ritchie stuck to a more satisfying plot, and succumbed to tighter editing, there's no reason why he couldn't have made another enjoyable gangster caper.
As it is, Revolver is a waste of your time. Incomprehensibility does not equal profundity. If you want to see a great film that doesn't make logical sense but makes a virtue of it (and, incidentally, which also involves an inexplicable escape from solitary confinement) watch 'Lost Highway'.