"After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb."
Enemy (2013) - Movie Review
Enemy (2013) is one of those ambiguous, mysterious, deeply hypnotic, surreal, disturbing and bizarre little psychological art films that come once in a while and rarely are they well made. But when they are, they truly stick in your head like an insect that is stuck on a spider web. It’s the kind of film that stays within your mind for days, haunting you, luring you back to watch it again and it has one of the most WTF endings I’ve seen recently and it left me feeling disconcerted.
Based on the novel, The Double, by José Saramago, the film is about a history teacher, Adam Bell (Jake Gyllenhaal), who pretty much lives a mundane, repetitive little life, sleeps with his girlfriend (Mélanie Laurent) at night in his apartment, a girlfriend we hardly get to know anything about and spends his other time pondering, lost in deep in his thoughts. One day he gets a movie recommendation from a colleague of his and what he sees shocks him and leaves him deeply unsettled. He spots his exact lookalike in the movie, after some searching he finds out about his doppelgänger, a bit time movie actor, Anthony Claire (Jake Gyllenhaal). Of course, after much thought Adam gives in to his curiosity and is obsessed with his look-alike and decides to venture into his look-alike’s life and meet him face to face and things get pretty intense. It not only affects both Adam and Anthony but also Anthony’s wife, Helen (Sarah Gadon), who is more affected by the revelation than either of them is. And Adam’s Mother (Isabella Rossellini) doesn’t pay much attention to her son’s claims as she believes he is his only son and there is no look-alike. Ultimately, Adam and Anthony slowly become obsessed with their discovery of each other and it leads to a tense outcome.
The film adopts a very disquieting tone through its camera work, shots and angles, sound and of course the haunting score. You feel a nagging tension, you feel something is lurking, it gets under your skin and you are hooked into the proceedings because you want to find out what will happen next.
The director tries to give you a sense of what it would feel like if you found out there is an exact copy of you living and breathing out there and what it would feel like to enter into your look-alike’s existence. There is a lot of Kafka, Lynch and Cronenberg influences throughout the film and it adopts an almost nightmarish style, like experiencing a waking nightmare. The lead characters take a psychological descent and ends up being a deeply unsettling puzzle piece and it may not satisfy everyone it but it will definitely leave you stunned and haunted. And spiders play a big role. What they mean it’s up to audience, however they wish to interpret them within the context of the film. It’s filled with metaphors and symbolisms and that’s where it all gets interesting. I admit I didn’t get it at first, those who did at the first viewing, they really were paying attention to all the small details. It’s certainly not quite as cryptic as it would lead you to believe. But on a second viewing it gets even better.
After their great collaboration on Prisoners (2013), Jake Gyllenhaall and Denis Villeneuve team up again and once again deliver a strong work. I’ve become a huge admirer of Villeneuve after Incendies (2010) and Prisoners (2013) and here he cements his position as a director with his own signature style and vision. Gyllenhaall is only getting better with each film and I hope he does more movies like these. He plays the two characters with great command, distinguishing the personalities between Adam and Anthony, the former is a bit apprehensive, conflicted, introverted, but honest, while the latter is aggressive, hot headed, extroverted, unfaithful and devious. While the rest of the cast is used sparingly, their characters all have significance to the story. The only other major character is Helen, Anthony’s wife, played by Sarah Gadon, who’s convincing enough.
But this really is a director-actor showcase and would love to see more from these two guys. I, for one, love films like these. It’s exactly the kind of film I hoped and envisioned it to be after viewing the trailer and it’s the kind of film I wish I had made. It’s a strong artistic achievement. It was mysterious, hypnotic, bizarre, surreal, nightmarish, gripping, tense, disturbing, open to interpretation and left me confused, excited, satisfied and wanting to watch it again to peel its layers to understand it better. And then there is the ending. Which most will not see it coming because it was almost too absurd and abrupt but kind of fit in with the film if my interpretation isn’t too far off. This could very well be a future cult classic that will kick off many debates and interpretations from enthusiasts.
Highly Recommended for those folks who are into ambiguous psychological thrillers.
I give it 4/5✩ with an A-
"The best way to make your dreams come true is to wake up."
"There are two kinds of people in this world: People who cut their fingernails on the right hand first, and ones who cut their fingernails on the left hand first. People who tend to go for the left hand first are people who enjoy life more and like to use up all of the glamour, fun, enjoyment first, then you’re only left with right hand and you have no choice but to face all the pain, misery, and slow progress towards death."
Snowpiercer (2013) - Movie Review
Based on the premise one would scoff and laugh at a movie like this and its logic. But Snowpiercer (2013) is not your average, dumbed down, CGI-sugarcoated/over-stuffed Hollywood Blockbuster. This here is a brilliantly made, violent and ferocious dystopian Sci-Fi original. I’ve got an affinity with sci-fi films, especially those done with a truly original vision regardless if the premise makes sense or not. I mean it still is fiction no matter how plausible the science is and nobody wants to be served a Discovery Channel documentary.
Snowpiercer ranks among the best of recent sci-fi originals like Moon (2009) and Sunshine (2007), both of which, to me, are modern sci-fi classics. The basic premise of Snowpiercer is as implausible and somewhat as silly as Sunshine’s was, to a certain extent. But the filmmakers behind these films make sure you will not be distracted by that and instead use the basic set up to their advantage to craft a thrilling, exciting, visually gripping and original piece of work, ironically both starring Chris Evans. And that’s where Snowpiercer’s strengths lie. And I love the poster too, like something designed by the team that designs DVD artwork for the Criterion Collection, none of that over-photoshopped crap.
Helmed by one of the best filmmakers working in World Cinema, Joon-ho Bong, the director of such classics as Memories of a Murder (2003), Mother (2009), and The Host (2006), directs his first English language film with near excellent results. Although compared to his homemade films, this might not be his best effort but it certainly ranks higher than The Host, for me that is.
Bong makes sure that he does not let the basic premise and its questionable logic get in the way of his vision, and as he takes us through numerous twists and turns and surprises within the confines of this train, you begin to see what he’s trying to achieve here; the subtle metaphors and symbolisms become apparent and you become really invested in the story as it progresses. It helps that the characters written here are well developed and not mere cliches or caricatures. Bong presents them as strong, fearless, determined and thoughtful without shying away from revealing their truly dark human nature; a scene towards the end, with the lead character revealing a shocking secret, will certainly stay with you long after the movie ends.
And then there are the thrillingly staged action scenes which really are a praiseworthy in that they are restrained yet impactful and are imaginatively choreographed. Acting from the cast is also strong, from Tilda Swinton’s deliciously hammy and campy performance where she seems to be having a lot of fun chewing the scenes up, to Chris Evan’s somber portrayal of a reluctant leader, with Bong’s star from Memories of a Murder, Kang-ho Song, almost stealing the show. I’m particularly impressed by Evans’ performance, just as he stood out in Sunshine, here too he surprises with his emotional scenes, certainly evolving as an actor. And it was great to see Ed Harris back in something big.
Of course, there will be flaws and holes in the plot and the film does stretches the plausibility in a few scenes and the ending might not be very satisfying for all but it certainly was a bold move to end it like that. One can’t deny the work achieved here especially given the budget of the film. The CGI might not be very convincing and is one of the weaknesses but it’s effectively and sparingly used, only when necessary, to serve the story. It avoids cliches and keeps moving forward at a steady pace.
The thing Bong and his team of filmmakers ultimately focus on, and really succeed in, is humanity; the fragility of it, how simple it is to break it, how easily it can regress and the balance that is required to keep it under control, regardless of what system is applied. In the end, there will always be a desire to break free from bondage. This here truly is a great piece of filmmaking and I’m glad that there’s finally a terrific new modern dystopian/sci-fi film that deals with heavy issues and is rated a hard R for there are many brutal scenes in the movie that you don’t usually get to see in a film like this, no Hollywood blockbuster would take the chances this film took.
All in all, being a huge admirer of Bong and Korean Cinema in general, I’m happy that he’s made a successful transition and that he’s fared better than his fellow filmmakers like Chan-wook Park, who’s English language debut, Stoker (2013), was a really well made film but the material betrayed him, whereas Kim Jee-woon delivers The Last Stand (2013), one of the best R-rated action films of recent times but more was expected of him, given his eclectic past work.
It’s a real shame though that this film doesn’t get a wider release and is criminally under appreciated and under marketed. This truly is one of the few original R-rated science fiction films, with exceptional and filmmaking at display by a visionary Director. It deserves more recognition and a wider audience. Although a financial success worldwide, it still deserves more attention from the Western audience. Check it out if you get a chance, you won’t be disappointed with this one. I for one still can’t stop thinking about it.
I give it 4/5✩ with an A-
"No man is a hypocrite in his pleasures"
"Practice any art, music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage, no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow."
"You know, you’re looking at it wrong, the sky thing. Well, once there was only dark. You ask me, the light’s winning."
Directing oneself. The perks of doing everything yourself when you can’t afford an actor or a crew.