Thursday, 31 July 2014

NZIFF Review - The Double and Maps To The Stars

NZIFF Review - The Double and Maps To The Stars

It's another case of double identity at the New Zealand International Film Festival with Jesse Eisenberg standing in for the doppelganger treatment (with Jake Gyllenhaal in Enemy pulling similar duties).

This time, Eisenberg stars in Richard Ayoade's interpretation of Dostoyevsky's The Double as Simon James, an office worker, who's having a bad day. Things get worse when James discovers he's been usurped in the office by his exact double - who exudes more confidence, is less nervous and is on his way to the top.

Caught up in this web is Mia Wasikowska's Hannah, who falls for the double much to Simon's horror - and it's here that Simon starts to lose control of it all.

IT Crowd actor and Submarine director Richard Ayoade's already demonstrated a great eye for highly stylised film and he follows this trend in The Double, with some terrifically framed shots and some stunning visuals that bring the drab colours of greens to life in ways which leap off the screen. There's a real sense of the absurd here as Simon's world starts to disintegrate and Eisenberg does enough to balance the differences between the two - it's great to finally see Eisenberg break away from the usual neurotic fare and playing a stronger character.

But it's the visuals which are really the triumph of the film; Ayoade's captured an essence of a nightmare that seems just close enough to reality with the dark, dingy landscapes and attitudes. Patches of dry humour scatter throughout and bring a degree of levity to the dystopian proceedings. Stylistically, The Double is a triumph - though I do begin to worry that Ayoade's painting himself into an admittedly wonderful corner here; I look forward to seeing what he can do with a relatively straight story in the future.

Maps To The Stars sees the ghastly and the guru mix together in a satire of Hollywood that's masterminded by David Cronenberg.

The film opens with Mia Wasikowska's Agatha alighting from a bus in Hollywood with the whole world ahead of her and ends up with a suicide pact taking out two others in an incestuous affair. But before we get there, Cronenberg peppers his world with characters that really we don't want to spend any time with; from the monstrous Havana Segrand ( a ferocious turn by Julianne Moore) to the Justin Biber / Justin Timberlake child star Benjie Weiss (a troublingly precocious performance from Evan Bird) to the chauffeur / wannabe actor Jerome (Robert Pattinson) and self-help guru Dr Stafford Weiss (John Cusack); all have their foibles and personality traits amplified to the max, with the nastier sides coming through. Ghastly preoccupations and satirical bents there may be in this piece, but its inherent unlikeability makes it difficult to slide into.

Performances are terrific though - with Bird and Moore being the stand outs of the ensemble - but the film holds you at arm's length for most of the time, and while the satire's supposed to bite at the characters, it just feels too nasty to engage with.

1 comment:

  1. Maps to the Stars is disturbing, upsetting, lacking a single character of any redeemable value, creepy, unpleasant, relentlessly violent, disgusting and sickening.