A24 via Everett Collection
Jose Saramago’s acclaimed novel The Double is a twisting, stream-of-consciousness narrative about a man who accidentally stumbles across his doppelganger. Full of long-winded passages designed to keep the reader confused as to what is real and what is imagined, it’s the kind of story that requires multiple readings in order for anyone to follow the abrupt and opaque turns the plot takes. It’s fitting, then, that Enemy, Denis Villenuve's loose adaptation, is equally as confusing and enthralling. It might not be entirely faithful to the text, as there are some significant changes (including the addition of a disorienting recurring spider motif), but it’s extremely faithful to the trippy and suspenseful tone of Saramago’s work.
Only Villeneuve’s second English-language film, the director has been making his mark in Hollywood with dark psychological dramas, and Enemy might be the film that makes studios finally sit up and take notice. Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Adam Bell, a mopey, rumpled mess of a history professor, who spends his days lecturing to a hall filled with uninterested students, and his evenings in a quiet, repetitive stupor with his girlfriend, Mary (Melanie Laurent). On the recommendation of a colleague he decides to break out of his routine by renting a movie, where he discovers that one of the actors looks exactly like him. From there, he devotes his free time to tracking down Anthony Clair, a decision that results in Adam getting trapped in a web of secrets, lies and mistaken identities.
However, the film holds on tightly to whatever the truth is, and keeps its buried somewhere underneath all of that creepy spider symbolism. At a few points, it seems as if something is about to unravel the whole affair – we're on edge through visits to Adam’s mother (Isabella Rossellini) and conversations between the academic and Anthony’s wife Helen (Sarah Gadon). The film's central design seems to be one of confusion and disorientation, but in a rewarding way.
That seems to be the goal of Enemy as a whole, and if it is, then it succeeds. The mystery of the film unfolds slowly, and both Gyllenhaal and Villeneuve draw out every scene in order to ratchet up the tension. Even then, though, the film gives off more of a constant feeling of unease than anything resembling a traditional thriller, which is heightened by the sickly yellow color palate that Villeneuve uses. Everything in the movie feel awkward and off, and forces the audience to attempt to break out of the twisted plot in the same way as Adam does.
There are times when the drawn-out, off-kilter nature of the film becomes frustrating, especially when the characters run away just as it seems like Enemy is about to show its hand. But even with the lack of answers, it still manages to present a riveting, suspenseful story. Much of this is due to Gyllenhaal’s two-faced performance, in which he relies heavily on elements like posture and clothing in order to differentiate between Adam, Anthony, Anthony-as-Adam and Adam-as-Anthony. He slips effortlessly between being a sad-sack and an arrogant jerk – a feat which the characters themselves, interestingly enough, are never quite able to achieve. It’s a tour-de-force performance, albeit a quiet one, and as the two men become more and more entwined, Gyllehaal adds layers and depth to both of them.The film doesn’t ask much of its supporting ladies, however, with Gadon, Laurent, and Rossellini playing one not characters who are tortured, confused and aloof, respectively. They exist mostly as plot devices that Gyllenhaal can play off of, there to remind the audience whether we’re watching Adam or Anthony.
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At only 90 minutes long, Enemy feels longer, which is meant in both a good and a bad way. Even when Adam and Anthony spend an uncomfortably lengthy scene circling each other, waiting for the other to make a move, the film is tightly paced, and packs a lot into a short amount of time. If it were any longer or any shorter, Enemy might be more of a let-down, but an hour and a half is just enough time to keep you squirming in your seat before releasing you back into the world with more questions than you came in with.
Lions Gate via Everett Collection
When we last left our heroes, they had conquered all opponents in the 74th Annual Hunger Games, returned home to their newly refurbished living quarters in District 12, and fallen haplessly to the cannibalism of PTSD. And now we're back! Hitching our wagons once again to laconic Katniss Everdeen and her sweet-natured, just-for-the-camera boyfriend Peeta Mellark as they gear up for a second go at the Capitol's killing fields.
But hold your horses — there's a good hour and a half before we step back into the arena. However, the time spent with Katniss and Peeta before the announcement that they'll be competing again for the ceremonial Quarter Quell does not drag. In fact, it's got some of the film franchise's most interesting commentary about celebrity, reality television, and the media so far, well outweighing the merit of The Hunger Games' satire on the subject matter by having Katniss struggle with her responsibilities as Panem's idol. Does she abide by the command of status quo, delighting in the public's applause for her and keeping them complacently saturated with her smiles and curtsies? Or does Katniss hold three fingers high in opposition to the machine into which she has been thrown? It's a quarrel that the real Jennifer Lawrence would handle with a castigation of the media and a joke about sandwiches, or something... but her stakes are, admittedly, much lower. Harvey Weinstein isn't threatening to kill her secret boyfriend.
Through this chapter, Katniss also grapples with a more personal warfare: her devotion to Gale (despite her inability to commit to the idea of love) and her family, her complicated, moralistic affection for Peeta, her remorse over losing Rue, and her agonizing desire to flee the eye of the public and the Capitol. Oftentimes, Katniss' depression and guilty conscience transcends the bounds of sappy. Her soap opera scenes with a soot-covered Gale really push the limits, saved if only by the undeniable grace and charisma of star Lawrence at every step along the way of this film. So it's sappy, but never too sappy.
In fact, Catching Fire is a masterpiece of pushing limits as far as they'll extend before the point of diminishing returns. Director Francis Lawrence maintains an ambiance that lends to emotional investment but never imposes too much realism as to drip into territories of grit. All of Catching Fire lives in a dreamlike state, a stark contrast to Hunger Games' guttural, grimacing quality that robbed it of the life force Suzanne Collins pumped into her first novel.
Once we get to the thunderdome, our engines are effectively revved for the "fun part." Katniss, Peeta, and their array of allies and enemies traverse a nightmare course that seems perfectly suited for a videogame spin-off. At this point, we've spent just enough time with the secondary characters to grow a bit fond of them — deliberately obnoxious Finnick, jarringly provocative Johanna, offbeat geeks Beedee and Wiress — but not quite enough to dissolve the mystery surrounding any of them or their true intentions (which become more and more enigmatic as the film progresses). We only need adhere to Katniss and Peeta once tossed in the pit of doom that is the 75th Hunger Games arena, but finding real characters in the other tributes makes for a far more fun round of extreme manhunt.
But Catching Fire doesn't vie for anything particularly grand. It entertains and engages, having fun with and anchoring weight to its characters and circumstances, but stays within the expected confines of what a Hunger Games movie can be. It's a good one, but without shooting for succinctly interesting or surprising work with Katniss and her relationships or taking a stab at anything but the obvious in terms of sending up the militant tyrannical autocracy, it never even closes in on the possibility of being a great one.
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A decade-long gap between sequels could leave a franchise stale but in the case of Men in Black 3 it's the launch pad for an unexpectedly great blockbuster. The kooky antics of Agent J (Will Smith) and Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) don't stray far from their 1997 and 2002 adventures but without a bombardment of follow-ups to keep the series in mind the wonderfully weird sensibilities of Men in Black feel fresh Smith's natural charisma once again on full display. Barry Sonnenfeld returns for the threequel another space alien romp with a time travel twist — which turns out to be Pandora's Box for the director's deranged imagination.
As time passed in the real world so did it for the timeline in the world of Men in Black. Picking up ten years after MIB 2 J and K are continuing to protect the Earth from alien threats and enforce the law on those who live incognito. While dealing with their own personal issues — K is at his all-time crabbiest for seemingly no reason — the suited duo encounter an old enemy Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement) a prickly assassin seeking revenge on K who blew his arm off back in the '60s. Their street fight is more of a warning; Boris' real plan is to head back in time to save his arm and kill off K. He's successful prompting J to take his own leap through the time-space continuum — and team up with a younger K (Josh Brolin) to put an end to Boris plans for world domination.
Men in Black 3 is the Will Smith show. Splitting his time between the brick personalities of Jones and Brolin's K Smith struts his stuff with all the fast-talking comedic style that made him a star in yesteryears. In present day he's still the laid back normal guy in a world of oddities — J raises an eyebrow as new head honcho O (Emma Thompson) delivers a eulogy in a screeching alien tongue but coming up with real world explanations for flying saucer crashes comes a little easier. But back in 1969 he's an even bigger fish out water. Surprisingly director Barry Sonnenfeld and writer Etan Cohen dabble in the inherent issues that would spring up if a black gentlemen decked out in a slick suit paraded around New York in the late '60s. A star of Smith's caliber may stray away from that type of racy humor but the hook of Men in Black 3 is the actor's readiness for anything. He turns J's jokey anachronisms into genuine laughs and doesn't mind letting the special effect artists stretch him into an unrecognizable Twizzler for the movie's epic time jump sequence.
Unlike other summer blockbusters Men in Black 3 is light on the action Sonnenfeld utilizing his effects budget and dazzling creature work (by the legendary Rick Baker) to push the comedy forward. J's fight with an oversized extraterrestrial fish won't keep you on the edge of your seat but his slapstick escape and the marine animal's eventual demise are genuinely amusing. Sonnenfeld carries over the twisted sensibilities he displayed in small screen work like Pushing Daisies favoring bizarre banter and elaborating on the kookiness of the alien underworld than battle scenes. MIB3's chase scene is passable but the movie in its prime when Smith is sparring with Brolin and newcomer Michael Stuhlbarg who steals the show as a being capable of seeing the future. His twitchy character keeps Smith and the audience on their toes.
Men in Black 3 digs up nostalgia I wasn't aware I had. Smith's the golden boy of summer and even with modern ingenuity keeping it fresh — Sonnenfeld uses the mandatory 3D to full and fun effect — there's an element to the film that feels plucked from another era. The movie is economical and slight with plenty of lapses in logic that will provoke head scratching on the walk out of the theater but it's also perfectly executed. After ten years of cinematic neutralizing the folks behind Men in Black haven't forgotten what made the first movie work so well. After al these years Smith continues to make the goofy plot wild spectacle and crazed alien antics look good.