Film

‘Did he remind you of anyone?’ The Double.

thedoubleRight, for a start, I know I said it was unlikely that I was going to be ever writing about anything recent. I mean that’s mainly due to the rather problematic sieve-like nature of my mind, meaning that whatever new film is going to come out that I may want to have a little verbal think about… Well, written think, but that doesn’t sound as good… Isn’t likely to stay in my mind long enough for me to form any sort of valid opinion on it. But this, friends, is different. For I discovered, in that delicious fleeting moment of pure thought prior to shutting the door and walking down to the cinema, that there was a rather useful tool that I had neglected in all of my previous cinema ventures. The humble notepad. And what’s more, unlike the homemade popcorn I surreptitiously slipped in in my coat pockets (thank Dawkins for Parkas), it actually isn’t against cinema regulations. Which also adds a rather nice touch, I feel.

Anyhow, rather than divulging any further into my notepad adventures, I believe I should probably get on and review this thing. While as much information as I can remember about it still remains in the mindbox. Right. So, for a start, how about a brief synopsis. As the title suggests, the film revolves around the life of a man who has recently come to meet his doppelganger, a double, a man that looks exactly like him in every way. But is far from identical in personality. They are effectively two halves – you have Simon James, the timid and anxious, invisible employee. And then his indistinguishable new friend, James Simon, the confident womaniser who seems hell-bent on Simon’s destruction. And then to complete the trio we meet the woman of Simon’s dreams, Hannah, who lives across the way from him and has been his conquest for too long. This is picked up on by James which starts the beginning of a series of events, masterminded by James, all set on abusing Simon, finally making him realise they are part of the same person and that one or other of them needs to face destruction to secure the survival of the other. So yes, a little bit of a tenuous storyline, but very clever nonetheless. As long as you can keep up. Which may have been a little bit of a struggle at points. But I’m sure that’s just me.

These characters are part of a new dystopian world where shadows and darkness seem to be the only decor, save for a photo of the Colonol on the walls and from the beginning, the film has a rather 1984/Brazil feel. And, while I’m sure there are many other artistic nuances contained within the film, it is highly unlikely that I picked up on them. But purely on imagery, this film is top-notch. It evokes the anxiety of the characters – real people who are just trying to survive the harsh nature of this world they have been thrust into. With no choice and no way of getting out. The cinematography is highly atmospheric and provocative, focusing on the starkness and lack of humanity contained within the universe of the Double. It gives it a classic feel, rather like Submarine. Yes, there are fewer primary colours. Well, a general lack of colour anywhere, but in terms of how it was filmed, anyone with knowledge of Submarine would be able to recognise Ayoade’s post-debut directorial input. Put simply, he just seems to know how to make beautiful and visually interesting films. It truly is stunning, especially considered that the colour scheme is mainly set on the varying tones of beige and grey that can be achieved.

What’s more is it’s been made in such a way that even though it features a somewhat realistic view of a dystopian world, it still manages to have a rather large injection of dark humour, both in its script and in its cast. The characters really add to it, which yes, sounds obvious, but is so true. Every single one is there with a function, and it seems no moment is wasted in getting the story across to the audience. The casting can’t have been difficult for Ayoade, especially considering that most of them come from either the IT Crowd or Submarine itself. But every part is played beautifully, with the right level of humour so as not to make the film completely dreary and lifeless. The Double thus fulfills its genre of Dark Comedy perfectly. It is funny, laugh-out-loud at moments, but on every laugh, you can’t help but feel that the rather sinister nature of the film has just been taken up a notch. I mean there are really strange moments where you’re sure that you shouldn’t be laughing at all. For example, prior to the film really reaching its climax, we witness more than a minor breakdown from Simon who literally starts yelling gibberish while brandishing a synthetic arm at James and I was almost in tears. Which, looking back, it’s more disturbing than funny. Ahem.

However, I feel it must be mentioned that the Double is a tad let down by its ending. Which may have left more than a little to be desired. I don’t know. I just felt that following the general build-up which had characterised the whole film, the ending could have been cleaner. But, then again, I think that it was made like this with a purpose, which while I found it disappointing probably does resonate a little more with audiences of a more philosophical bent who are likely to be able to think through the motives of having such a non-ending. It feels like the film is meant to be really coming to something – Simon has worked out that him and James are intrinsically linked so much so that one of them needs to die in order to get rid of the misery of life that they have been facing. Thus, he devises a scheme in which he feels he can survive, while killing James. Which I feel I cannot divulge for fear of spoilers. My apologies.  Sufficed to say, the film just ends up without us ever really finding out what happened, which does sometimes work – I mean I really admire a film that can pull off a non-ending (Inception, Black Swan, Shutter Island etc), but I feel here that the concept was taken a little too far. We, as an audience, are just left with a tad too little, meaning that we struggle to piece it back on the rest of the film. Personally I felt there were too many questions left with no answers, which in all was just more disappointing than mysterious. Especially considering the previous caliber of the film up to that point.

So, overall, I would definitely recommend the Double to anyone who enjoys slightly complicated, dark yet humorous thrillers. Wow, what a genre. But yes, it is very good. But maybe, if you want a better ending, you should simply stop it before being able to see the last five minutes. Then, the mystery will at least feel like less of a cover-up and more of a real mystery. I don’t know, it just tails off in such a way as I found it hard not to be disappointed. Oh, and Jesse Eisenburg’s mal-fitting suit jacket is also a tad annoying. But still, for the rest of the film, it’s a definite must-see. And I know I’ll get it as soon as it comes out. And probably completely rewrite this when I finally understand it.

****

‘Don’t give up before the miracle happens.’ Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe.

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop CafeSo I finally got round to reading this. And boy was it a quick read, but brilliant nonetheless. You’re probably starting to think that I lack any general ability to think critically of anything in general, but believe me, I feel there might be a rather scathing review of Cider with Rosie coming up. But for now, this will be a rather happifying entree into my first book review. Which is rather nice, isn’t it?

So, for a vague synopsis of FGT (sorry, as plausibly inappopriate as that sounds, too much typing may bring on the RSI – what is with the acronyms today?) it basically follows the relationship of Evelyn Couch and her rather elderly friend Ninny Threadgoode, who seemingly never stops talking about her vibrant past in Whistlestop, Alabama. Throughout the story, Evelyn, who starts out as an extremely unhappy middle-aged housewife, develops into who she wants to be and a friendship grows between the two women. Ninny tells her her life story and Evelyn is keen to listen – it is in the tales of Whistlestop that she finds new inspiration for her to become who she really wants to be. So, from even the blurb, I’m hooked. As ridiculously cliched and fluffy as it sounds… Gotta say, I do love this sort of book, now matter how rose-tinted and cute it may seem. And it is just that. Remarkably cute.

First off then, I’m going to say the only reason I actually even considered reading this book is because of the equally rose-tinted and overly optimistic film version in which a rather delightful Cathy Bates plays a rather disturbing Evelyn Couch. Or should that be the other way ’round? Although she’s possibly only disturbing because I just can’t get Annie Wilkes out of my head. But that’s another review for another time. But anyway, the film version of this, for anyone who’s seen it, actually, rather remarkably, does stick to the original plot of the book. Which is great. In short. And while I’m not usually one to say this, watching the film first may have actually been for the good. It helped me imagine the characters a lot better – not because we aren’t provided with ample discription from Flagg or because she falls flat for any reason on the writing front, but simply because they happened to get the film so perfect. Which I like to see as proof of Flagg’s writing skill – she is able to convey the likeness of her characters so well that they didn’t struggle at all in casting them for the film version. A little tenuous, but definitely makes sense if you look at some of the film adaptations of other novels. Ahem. Second Dumbledore. Bridget Jones. Dr Dolittle (sorry Eddie Murphy).

Sorry about that diversion. Anyhow, continuing on. There are many other, far better, reasons why this book is a good read. For example, there are actually rather fantastically amusing bits. Trying to say its funny but failing miserably. No, seriously, I rarely laugh at books – I often regard with distinct mistrust that person who always sits opposite you on the tube laughing away at what may be a book that amuses them. But no one else. However, FGT genuinely made me laugh. And cry. Which I know is what every reviewer says, but it’s true – I was an emotional wreck reading this book. And that’s a good thing. See, thing is, Fannie Flagg, while possibly not the best known author in the universe, seemingly does know how get hold of your emotions and run with them. Honestly, even though most of the chapters are only three pages long (another fantastic reason why I love this book – fast pace, always good), you’ll find yourself struggling not to giggle one minute and reaching for the box of tissues at the next. Which did make for some confusion with my family when I was reading it. For those two days I was told to seek therapy for my rampant moodswings. Blame it on the book, not the hormones.

Yet, no matter how long I have to sing the praises of this book, there are certain parts I find that are a little too wonderfied. If that can be a word for the purpose of this argument. I’m not, for example, so keen on the casual racism that runs through – I’m not sure if that’s due to the author trying to gauge historical accuracy (a good part is set near Birmingham Alabama in the 1920s) or if the book is written like this on purpose. Yet, if that was the case, I feel she’d leave that theme to the flashback sections and not have it run through alongside Evelyn’s story, which if I’m frank leaves a lot to be desired in the sensitivity area. Now don’t get me wrong, a main theme of this book is also how Idgie and Ruth work to help the black community of Whistlestop, but it’s hardly like they work against the constant racism around them and the prevalence of the  Ku Klux Klan in Whistlestop. I don’t know – I get that the book is about the underdogs of society, women, racial minorities, old people, but I’m not so keen on the way Flagg goes about it. Something just didn’t sit exactly right here with the rest of the novel. Maybe it was just the time, what can I say?

However, I feel I have rambled too long and must leave you to try for yourself. In short, I’d recommend it. It’s dinky, it’s hilarious and it’ll get you thinking. And I give you my full permission not to read that last, ever so slightly critical paragraph.

****

‘What have you done with his eyes?’ Rosemary’s Baby.

rosemarys_baby[1]Crikey this is an upsetting film. Ever so slightly. 1968 would see the creation of Roman Polanski’s fifteenth film and would bring Mia Farrow to the top of her game. Now, I wouldn’t say that Rosemary’s Baby necessarily runs in the same sort of ilk as Forrest, I mean, after all, what film could? But I reckon it stands as the first horror film I saw that gave me something to think about. It didn’t have me up all night, but boy did it freak me out. And what more could you want from this kind of thing? If I had to sum this film up in one word it would be… Creepy. In the strongest sense of the word. It honestly made me nervous that there were strange child-abducting-devil-worshipping-generally-freaky cults out there. Which I’m sure there are, but hey, I never thought they’d actually seem so familiar. And cute. Until they turn strange. Ahem.

But if we go all the way back to the beginning. Even the start makes me feel funny. Mia Farrow’s haunting lullaby carries us into what promises to get even more strange and bizarre. We are brought straight into Rosemary’s world as we take our first tour of the Bramford, a Victorian apartment block with its own disturbing story to tell. So, first off, you have to wonder why both Guy and Rosemary are so into getting this place. Besides, apartment 7E is full of plants. Literally. You would have thought something was up. But really it’s when they actually get the place that things go awry. Well. More than that.

I’d have to say that one of my favourite things about this film has to be the mystery of it that runs right on through. You never can be sure that the Castavets are evil and after Rosemary’s child, which only heightens the drama as you are never certain what you are actually watching. Are you really watching them trap Rosemary and her child, thereby fulfilling their master’s wishes, or are we in truth actually just watching a pregnant woman descend into rather perturbing depths of paranoia and madness. I suppose it doesn’t quite fit in with the sort of ‘unreliable narrator’ theme, but it does give you pause to think. Which is scarier? And while you’re thinking, the film progresses, it moves on before you can ever make a full conclusion as to what is happening on screen. Clever, huh.

If I really wanted to get boring though, I could just say that’s what Polanski does. Yet, considering that this was one of his first films produced for a US/UK audience, I feel we must think harder about what he is actually trying to achieve. In truth, as much as I think he’s a creative genius, I think we have to go further back to find the fantastic origins of this tale. Ira Levin, possibly more famous for the Stepford Wives, creator of Rosemary’s Baby has a lot to say for  himself. Because reading the book, it’s almost impossible to tell which one came first. Which can only be a good thing, they are so similar! If only they had managed that with Harry Potter…

But genuinely, I think that is majorly important. At least, to me. Not sure what everyone else thinks. I feel it’s a shame that so many films made have no genuine bearing on the book they are based on. However, in this case, I’m glad it does. It only serves to bring an already quite active story all the more alive having the characters up on screen as you imagined them to be. Which has to be why I have to congratulate Polanski. He played it smartly and if I’m honest, not that I know who else was available, I reckon he could not have got a better troupe. You have Rosemary, youthful, smart yet naive, delicate yet strong. You have Guy, the actor, the liar, the devil in human form. And then the Castavets, the dear old Castavets. Or are they?

So, there you have it, there are so many reasons why this film is a classic. Maybe I’m being overoptimistic and possibly seem like I cannot criticise anything, but that wouldn’t be true. There are a few slight, but important improvements that could be made to this film. And some might even consider it overrated. But for its simplicity and genuine thrilling quality I believe it stands far ahead of countless other films of the same genre. And should thus be remembered for being creative, artistic, realistic and overall really really genuinely quite scary.

****

‘Stupid is as stupid does.’ Forrest Gump.

Forrest Gump

Wow. Ok, if you didn’t already know, Forrest Gump may just be a little bit of an obsession for me. Ever so slightly. And hey, I don’t seem to be the only one. 71% on rotten tomatoes and 8.8/10 on IMDb mean that we have empirical data that I am not in fact barking up the wrong tree when it comes to assessing this film as pure gold.

Me and Forrest have had some good times over the years. I first watched this film at the age of around seven and back then it just struck me as vaguely amusing, if slightly underwhelming. I just sat and let the film wash over me, but didn’t really let myself appreciate it. So, for at least three years following my first viewing if anyone were to ask me about the film, my response would be rather lacklustre. I just couldn’t see what, if anything, made the thing so popular. I could see the characters were loveable, Forrest especially, and maybe even see something along the lines of the fact that the story itself was meant to be heartwarming, but other than that, it just struck me as being a little sickly sweet and at times rather angrifying for its rather choppy and tangential storyline.

I had such poor taste as a child, clearly. But as I have grown up, developed and emotionally progressed (matured is not the word), the film has come to ring a whole lot more true with me. Ridiculously. I love it. Pure and simple. Cannot say more. And there are so many reasons why! It’s mushy, yes, and more than a little bit overly morally shiny in places (it becomes a little difficult to believe that even Forrest would put up with some of the stuff Jenny throws at him), but I just don’t care. It makes me laugh. It makes me cry. It leaves me satisfied every time I choose to watch it again. And I have never been disappointed. Not since the first viewing in 2005 have I not been astonished at the quirky cuteness of Forrest. Wished to meet his mother. To shake hands with Lieutenant Dan. And just hug the hell out of Bubba.

The characters become your friends and as ridiculous as that sounds, it really is true. Every new time I watch it, Jenny’s being hit by that awful hippy hurts just that little bit more, and Lieutenant Dan’s Space Legs make me ever more elated. It’s quite incredible what they were able to achieve making this. I don’t know if I’m the only one, but even though I’ve never met anyone like Forrest and though I know I’ll never be able to see things in the same beautifully clear and untarnished way he does, the film opens a new gateway to empathy that I don’t believe that any that I’ve watched since have. I can feel the characters. They seem real, however unbelievable they are.

I guess also another one of the reasons it has to be up there with my favourites is that it literally contains everything. My apologies to Cast Away, but if ever there was a film that I would take onto a desert island, this would have to be it. Purely on the basis that it just contains a little bit of everything. And I’ve never been able to choose when given a chocolate box of genres. But that old line rings true, with Forrest Gump, you never know what you’re gonna get. It has action, it has tragedy, it even has elements of Rom-Com (which no matter how hard I try, sends an awful shiver down my spine as I type). My english teacher would be proud for me to say that it stands as a beautiful and intricate archetypal Bildungsroman. You follow Forrest as he attempts to find himself in the world. You grow with him, he gives you opportunities to learn things about the world through his eyes. Things you would never have even contemplated without.

But where was I? Ah. Yes. Genre. It could not be more true to say that I don’t think there is a single person who could say (no matter what their level of investment in any genre) that this film doesn’t, at least in part, sate their genre appetites. Except maybe for those who have a severely terrifying hunger to watch slasher films. Who may just be more than a little disappointed. But for anyone else, the film has a part for everyone. Forrest Gump is for the political, it’s for the hopeless romantic, it’s for the creative and for the Muso. It’s for everyone. And it seems effortless how they made it so.

Finally, I have just one more thing to say about Forrest Gump. I’m not going to start carrying on about how it’s beautifully made or start gandering about the brilliance of Tom Hanks in general. I’m just going to say that no matter how hard I could dare to try, I could not dislike this film. Not ever again. I believe it stands as an important marker to anyone who wants to listen of the importance of just living your life as best as you can and never, ever, letting anything get you down. I believe it’s impossible for every single one of us to attempt to harbour our own little bit of Forrest Gump, even at those times when it seems difficult. Because, the reality of it is, it’s impossible not to love him and just to wish you could see the world through his eyes.

*****