Movie Review ~ Enemy

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A man seeks out his exact look-alike after spotting him in a movie.

Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Mélanie Laurent, Sarah Gadon, Isabella Rossellini

Director: Denis Villeneuve

Rated: R

Running Length: 90 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: After Prisoners became one of my favorite films of 2013, I could not have been more on board for this second pairing of star Jake Gyllenhaal and director Denis Villeneuve.  Actually, Enemy is really their first project together because it was on this film the two began discussing joining forces on the dark kidnapping mystery.  Though I find Prisoners to be the superior of their two collaborations, Gyllenhaal & Villeneuve have cooked up a patience testing mystery that may not be your cup of tea but was fine red wine to me.

Based on Portuguese writer José Saramago’s 2002 novel The Double and reminiscent of Brian De Palma’s 1973 thriller Sisters, Enemy finds Gyllenhaal (End of Watch) in sullen form as a college professor going about the routine of someone that’s settled in for an unfulfilled life.  He goes to work, comes home to his barely furnished apartment, and often spends the night with a woman (Mélanie Laurent) that rarely stays the night.

One day a random colleague makes an even more random movie suggestion and what Gyllenhaal sees on in the movie is someone that looks an awful lot like him…setting into motion a tricky mystery with layers upon layers to uncover and can’t be revealed here.  What I can say is that the movie holds its cards so close to its chest that it will be difficult for some to accept that not everything has (or deserves) an answer/explanation.

Making good use of its Canadian setting (Toronto has never looked so foreboding even in the beige tones and glowing amber palette Villeneuve  and cinematographer Nicolas Bolduc employ), Enemy started to feel like a Where’s Waldo book after a while as I sought meaning in almost everything seen on screen.  Doing the same when you see the movie (and you should) would be a mistake because you’ll may miss Gyllenhaal’s rich performance and good supporting work from the intriguing Sarah Gadon and Isabella Rossellini who pops up in a role that sets the movie on its ear in such a way that it would make David Lynch drool.

You’ll hear a lot about Enemy’s ending and it’s admittedly a doozy of a WTF moment that left me impressed with its moxie rather than baffled at its meaning.  At a trim 90 minutes, the film flies by so that when the ending does come it’s a shock in its execution and that the film has run its course.  Worthy of your time and your intelligence, this is one to take you identical twin to.

Movie Review ~ Bad Words

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A spelling bee loser sets out to exact revenge by finding a loophole and attempting to win as an adult.

Stars: Jason Bateman, Rohan Chand, Kathryn Hahn, Allison Janney, Phillip Baker Hall, Rachael Harris

Director: Jason Bateman

Rated: R

Running Length: 88 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (4/10)

Review:  Y’know the old adage that it’s not what you say but how you say it?  That good rule of thumb can be applied to Jason Bateman’s feature directorial debut, a black comedy with such a nasty streak that you’ll feel bad the moment you start to laugh.  Bad Words…more like bad feelings.

It’s easy to see what attracted Bateman to the story of an adult who enters a series of spelling bees after discovering a specific clause that allows him to compete against children a quarter of his age.  Andrew Dodge’s script was a hot ticket on Hollywood’s The Black List (a list of the top motion picture screenplays that haven’t been produced) and Bateman was looking to make the transition from directing television episodes of Arrested Development to something of the feature length variety.

The positive first: it’s short and Bateman was able to compile a hefty amount of good talent for supporting roles.  From Kathryn Hahn (We’re the Millers, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty) as a reporter ally of Bateman’s that also occasionally shares his bed to Allison Janney (The Way Way Back) as a sinister spelling bee head honcho, the deck was stacked in favor of Bad Words being a nice little nugget of fun.  And tiny star Rohan Chand makes a nice foil to Bateman’s overgrown adolescent.

So why isn’t it a film I’d recommend?  It’s so darn mean, that’s why.  Very much in the vein of a cult hit like Bad Santa, the way these characters speak and act is so appalling and so disdainful that you can’t help but root for no one to succeed.  I’m not going to say I didn’t laugh during Bad Words, because I did and often.  However it’s the gradual icky feeling I had as the film progressed, realizing that these people were just that awful that made it hard to sit through.

If I want to end on a positive note, I should say that the film does have what seems to be a complete arc.  You can tell why the script found such favor as it made the rounds of Hollywood because it has clearly defined characters and a beginning, middle, and end that plays nicely with the conventions that audiences come to expect.  All that in between stuff though…not fun.