Thursday, May 15, 2014

Godzilla and The Double

                    Logic Be Damned, Bring on the “Entertainment”

                        Review by Ken Burke          Godzilla
The world’s biggest, baddest dinosaurish-thing is back in a serious reboot of the franchise, this time with Honolulu, Las Vegas, and San Francisco all in the line of fire.
                                                                             The Double
Based on a Dostoyevsky novel, this is the surreal story of a downtrodden guy who suddenly has to confront his identical match who seems superior to him in every way.
[Take care, curious readers, as plot spoilers gallop rampantly throughout the Two Guys’ brilliantly insightful reviews.  This is how we write, so as to explore what must be said as art transcends commerce (although if anyone wants to pay us for doing this ...); therefore, be warned, beware, and read on when ready to be transported to—well, wherever we end up.

We also encourage you to check your tastes against ours with the summary of Two Guys reviews, which we update with each new posting (please note that Two Guys critic Ken Burke is a bit odd—in more ways than one—using a 5-star-rating-system but rarely going to the level of 4 ½ or 5 stars, reserving those rankings for films that have been or should be acknowledged as time-honored masterpieces so that a 4 is about the best you can hope for from star-stingy Ken).  But we ask you to be aware that the links we recommend within our many reviews may have been removed or modified without our knowledge.  Other overall notations for this blog may be found at our Two Guys in the Dark homepage.  Now, onward to illumination; you may want to protect your eyes from the brilliance.]
More so than usual this week I ask you to heed this  Spoiler Alert warning because opportunities to attend advance-press-screenings have allowed me to post reviews of a reality-divergent movie, Godzilla, and a thought-provoking film, The Double, just as they’re opening in my San Francisco area (maybe yours as well if they’re not already playing) so if you don’t want to know too much about them read carefully through what’s recounted below or come back later after you’ve had a chance to see and evaluate them for yourself.

With the double-dose of Spoiler warnings out of the way, I’m going to predict that Neighbors (Nicholas Stroller) is going to enjoy just a 1-week-reign atop the domestic box-office (after having knocked off The Amazing Spider-Man 2 [review in our May 8, 2014 posting] after the likewise mere 1 week in control by Marc Webb’s web-slinger), to be replaced by this weekend’s big (and I do mean BIG) opening, the newest version of “The King of All Monsters,” Godzilla (Gareth Edwards), so while I’ve seen Neighbors I’m going to put that on the back burner until next week in order to focus on 2 new options for you from the realm of the bizarre (not that Neighbors isn’t bizarre enough, unless you lost a few years of your life to fraternity culture, but let’s go beyond beer, bongs, and boobs to less-predictable-extremes—well, OK, maybe Godzilla’s predictable enough if you know past entries into this seemingly-eternal-series but it’s still a visual spectacular that’s even more impressive than Zac Efron’s pecs/abs-package so we’ll let that marinate in alcohol for another week while we move on to a destruction derby—then later a Twilight Zone-type mind-twister—that you’ll want to consider being a part of at your local cinematic pleasure palace).  “Creature Feature” movies have been with us since at least the stop-motion-animated-dinosaurs in an adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1912 novel The Lost World (Harry O. Hoyt,1925) with the most notable examples of this possibly-separate-genre (some lump these in with Disaster movies, but I see angry-massive-monsters as being a subgenre of Fantasy [where magic and pseudo-science prevail in everything from the Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings franchises, with the extraordinary rooted in various forms of magic and mysticism, to the Superman and Spider-Man universes rooted in DC and Marvel Comics traditions where supposedly-rational-explanations are given as to why a man has x-ray-vision or can shoot an endless supply of sticky webbing out of his wrists (as in the Sam Raimi-directed Spidey series with Tobey McGuire in the lead)] because there’s nothing [yet] in evolution, biology, or physics to justify giant creatures still being alive from millennia ago [as with King Kong and his dinosaur-version of rowdy neighbors on Skull Island], being recreated from ancient DNA [Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park franchise], or being exposed to radiation to either reawaken or mutate a colossal beast [the whole Godzilla concept, along with those huge ants, plants, rabbits, etc. from the low-budget-days of 1950s-early ‘60s idiocy], with that last ploy giving me even more evidence to classify the Creature Features in with Fantasy movies in some form, given how well Marvel has sold the whole radiation-mutation-concept with the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, the Incredible Hulk, etc.) for me being King Kong (Merian C. Cooper, Ernest B. Schoedsack, 1933) and its remakes (John  Guillerman, 1976; Peter Jackson, 2005), along with the Jurassic Parks (Spielberg,1993, 1997; Joe Johnston, 2001) because of the former’s ability to conjure up a legitimate Freudian-based-concern of how this giant ape represents our own repressed animal-id—lurking in an irrational manner behind our constant declines into greed, war, sexual abuse, genocide, and other (hopefully) inhuman acts—and the latter’s concerns with mucking around with scientific curiosity without fully understanding what we might be on the verge of unleashing—as with a current project attempting to recreate a Woolly Mammoth in a few years using long-preserved-prehistoric-residue (see this article for more on that experiment).

Therefore, the previous 29 Godzilla films (all but 1 [the critically-despised-“reimagining” by Roland Emmerich, 1998] originally from Japan’s Toho Company, Ltd., although the original [Gojira, Ishirô Honda, 1954] and a serious rebooting of the creature [The Return of Godzilla, Koji Hashimoto, 1984]—soon replaced by the more kid-friendly-dueling-monsters-routine—were remade respectively for American release as Godzilla, King of the Monsters! [Terry O. Morse, Honda, 1956] and Godzilla 1985 [R.J. Kiser, Hashimoto, 1985]) have been mostly of passing-interest to me, unless played for ultimate-camp-value as with the face-off of 2 guys in monster suits in the silly King Kong vs. Godzilla (Honda, 1962) where the sympathetic ape won the battle due to his greater popularity at the time in both Japan and America.  The idea of a giant (with variations in his size from the roughly 164-ft. version of the original to the almost-400-ft. behemoth of the current production [estimates vary, as noted in the illustration above], dependent on the size of skyscrapers at the time of filming, so as to make him big enough to smash into buildings but not so gigantic as to dwarf them—so even if you’re only reading the first paragraph or so of this review for now, don’t be deceived by the posters that show him towering over the skyline of San Francisco which would make him about 1,000 ft. tall—but King Kong also had to be resized for that 1962 conflict because he needed to be able to match Godzilla in height, considerably larger than in the Big Ape's original incarnation where he was only about 50 ft. above ground) dinosaur/dragon with atomic-powered-fiery-breath just seemed too ridiculous—although entertaining—to take seriously.

However, this new Godzilla—a marked improvement at retelling the story over the radical changes that Emmerich tried to introduce in 1998 (an ordinary lizard years ago in French Polynesia is irradiated following a nuclear test, grows into the huge mutant monster dubbed “Godzilla” by the media [based on a misunderstanding of a Japanese fisherman attacked by the creature who called it “Gojira,” a word combining the Japanese terms for “gorilla” and “whale”], swims to Manhattan [hell of a choice of destination considering it had to go around South America to get there], chases Matthew Broderick all over the place as a much-more-swiftly-moving-monster than the previous incarnation, asexually reproduces by laying a huge nestful of eggs beneath Madison Square Garden, and is finally taken down by the military after the eggs are likewise destroyed; however, the Toho folks were generous enough to adopt this movie as part of their continuity, just with the understanding that this is a similar-but-different-creature named Zilla)—pays nice homage to the original monster and its ongoing (never ending?) life by incorporating recognizable elements from the previous versions of the beast (first encountered in 1954, seemingly impervious to standard military weapons, plot involves the Big Guy battling other giant monsters while a city becomes collateral damage) even as they up the ante with the huge increase in size, offer the preposterous propositions that Godzilla and his opponents were a form of standard-issue-dinosaurs long ago (although the largest “terrible lizard” we have any evidence of is Argentinosaurus, which if it did rear up on its hind legs would possibly have been about 120 ft. tall while blue whales, if they could stand, would rise up to only about 100 ft.) and that they thrived by absorbing the naturally higher levels of radiation existing on Earth during their era.  (Which gives plot support to all of these giants either digesting nuclear warheads or absorbing the energy from such bombs or nuclear plants, thereby putting most of the story in motion, although it reminds me of the “You can’t eat fear!” rejection of young vegetarian Jean Fordham [Abigail Breslin] by the rest of her family in August: Osage County [John Welles, 2013; review in our January 15, 2014 posting] in response to her argument that the meat of slaughtered animals contains their death panic; I have a feeling that there are scientists watching the new Godzilla [while keeping very quiet about it, unless they go to screenings together in “nerd herds”], saying to themselves “You can’t eat radiation!,” but neither logic nor proportion matter much in this “I-just-came-to-see-the-visual-effects”-movie.)

(As is sometimes the case with Two Guys in the Dark, Blogspot has decided to do expansiveparagraph spacing all by itself here so let us just flow with that, OK? [And you think Godzilla's hardto control!]) For the narrative record here, we begin in The Philippines, 1999, where a huge dino-type-skeleton is found in a cave with evidence that a baby-parasite-something has crawled away from the mother, clawing its way down to the ocean; next, we’re in Japan where nuclear plant honcho, Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston), and his co-worker-wife, Sandra (Juliette Binoche)—big names relative to most of the rest of the cast but don’t get too comfortable with them because they won’t be around long—encounter a major seismic event at the plant which results in Sandy’s death, Joe’s life-long-crusade to prove that the event wasn’t an earthquake or any sort of reactor failure, and son Ford’s (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) estrangement from his seemingly-crazed-father while he’s gone off to make his own career as a Navy Lieutenant explosive-ordnance-disposal-expert.  Ford’s just back to San Francisco to be with wife, Elle (Elizabeth Olsen), and young son, Sam, when he’s called to Japan to bail out Dad, arrested for entering the quarantine zone around the destroyed atomic facility.  Joe convinces Ford (interesting choice for a kid’s name, but it just kept reminding me of Ford Prefect [a name mistakenly taken from a car previously made in Britain], the alien space traveler in Douglas Adams’ hilarious The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy novels and other media, not a useful mind-focuser when trying to take a giant-monster-movie somewhat seriously) to join him on another attempt to retrieve data from their long-ago-home (we’re now in present-day 2014), only to see both of them arrested but with countless questions given that they find no trace of radiation at the site.  Before any answers are forthcoming the area starts shaking again, the result of a huge (I’ll estimate around 100 or so ft. high) bat-like-creature (see the model in the photo with the first paragraph of the review, but that’s actually the soon-to-be-revealed female sibling/mate—I guess that dinosaur-parasites didn’t have scriptural admonitions against such—who’s the same size as Godzilla but she's limited to land movements, although her multiple legs give her a spider-like-maneuverability; this smaller guy is the necessary male of a pending-monstrous-offspring-catastrophe [Edwards is borrowing from the Emmerich version as well as the Toho canon], to come later in the story) which has apparently reached maturity after sucking off the nuclear-contaminant in Japan over the years as a group of scientists kept watch over him trying to figure out what he was and why he was drawn across the Pacific to this radiation-generating-site.  The control team attempts to kill this MUTO (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism—no, I didn’t remember that from watching the movie but found it later at this Wikizilla site) but fails as it flies away into the night.  Joe is injured in the ensuing chaos, then dies as he and Ford are being transported to Hawaii while we learn the backstory from one of the off-limits-site’s scientists, Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe).  Once we’re at the friendly shores of Honolulu all hell really breaks out as the male MUTO arrives (having been attracted to a Russian nuclear sub, then carrying it with him to a mountainside jungle above the city), only to be attacked by the finally-appearing Lizard King himself (whom we learn was awakened by an American nuke sub in 1954, then our supposed bomb tests in those days were actually attempts to kill the creature after which he went back into some sort of hibernation, I guess; nothing more is said about his decades-long-disappearance) leading to a battle that destroys much of Hawaii’s capitol city (don’t worry; my brother-in-law saved the Outrigger Hotel’s superb mai-tai recipe) before the MUTO heads off for San Francisco, followed by Godzilla swimming along behind (I don’t think that any land-bound-dinosaurs were capable of that feat, but he’s been doing it for quite some time now so I’ll just let it go).  Now’s the time for us to meet the female, held in a Nevada nuclear-waste-storage-facility all these years as she’s grown into much-larger-adult-size but apparently was in a hibernation state until she sensed her mate on the move, which gets her into action as well as this enormous-effects-movie heads into its climatic third act.

 While the female MUTO is bashing Las Vegas on her way west, the military is in the process of sending nuclear missiles by freight train to SF, with the intention of luring both of the MUTOs—along with Godzilla—out into the ocean off the California coast in order to detonate the bombs, killing them from the massive shock waves rather than the radiation.  Mama MUTO has other ideas, though, as she intercepts the train, devours all but one of the warheads (OK, can I get August: Osage County's Meryl Streep and Chris Cooper in here for a repeat chorus of “You can’t eat radiation!”), then continues on to “my city … on the Bay” (Journey’s "Lights” [from the 1978 Infinity album] is sort of a local anthem in SF, even though the original first line was “When the lights go down in the city and the sun shines on L.A.,” a horrific-revelation for SF Giants fans, which means I should probably play it now—Let’s Go Oakland A’s!—but I believe I’ll leave that "pleasure" to your own searching curiosity) to find that potent little devil winging his way to what will become their nest under a ravaged Chinatown.  There’s still one bomb left (I guess any others are too far away to transport; hey, U.S. West Coasters, let’s keep that in mind when North Korea finally decides to attack) so Ford and the rest of the military trying to save the Bay Area (and ultimately the planet if more of those multi-legged-monsters start reproducing) still hope to use the “hey-MUTOs-come-see-what-we’ve-got-out-here-in-the-ocean” strategy, until it’s foiled by the male grabbing the warhead and securing it into the nest as a source of energy for the hundreds of still-developing-eggs.  At this point the only hope is that Godzilla will attack his mortal enemies, as Dr. Serizawa has predicted, which indeed does happen as the Big Guy goes after both of the MUTOs, who prove to be almost too much for him until a couple of things finally go his way: (1) the female MUTO is distracted back to the nest as she senses Ford and his team removing the warhead, then destroying the eggs, (2) Godzilla finally fires up his atomic-powered-fire-breath, which proves the difference maker in a fight that could easily be the main event at WrestleMania (you know, they’re bringing that spectacle to the new Levi’s SF Forty-Niners stadium in Santa Clara next April; maybe Vince McMahon could sign a rematch between Godzilla and King Kong; or, even better, maybe they could move it to the Oakland Coliseum so that monstrosity can finally be torn down and a new ballpark built for the A’s—which reminds me of my main continuity complaint with Godzilla: when we see a depiction of the existing A's stadium the seats are RED rather than Green like they should be, another desecration for the too-often-treated-as-second-class-Athletics) as he triumphs over both of the MUTOs, then heads back into the water to the cheers of the local populace for having saved San Francisco (leaving the door open for a sequel if this filmmaking team decides to give Godzilla another go), as Ford is finally reunited with his displaced-family.

 So, now that the destruction derby has come to its end, what’s the verdict on this latest attempt to celebrate a beloved-behemoth who gets cheered for smashing up a city while also destroying other monsters that seem to be more interested in threatening the human race than he is (I guess we’d just have to assume that if all of those vicious little hatchlings were to go running around looking for radiation sources to suck up then there’d be massive problems if we couldn’t track them all down while they’re still tiny enough to easily kill; there’s also the problem that in their adult form these MUTOs generate a radiation field that disrupts all electromagnetic activity in their immediate proximity—a situation that caused a good number of jet fighters to crash in Godzilla—so that even as these things are just rambling around in their search for nuclear material [unless they all just decide to live in Nevada in the waste storage dumps] they’d create  more havoc even when they’re not knocking over buildings—why that similar disruption doesn't happen with Godzilla isn't clear unless it's because he no longer seems to need to devour radiation as do his adversaries; despite his similar atomic-fueled-identity, all he's focused on is destroying the MUTO parasites, not even using them for food so we never know what he eats).  Certainly the visual effects in Godzilla are done in a marvelous manner which maintains audience interest while showcasing the ongoing mastery of Hollywood where computer graphics are concerned, light years in quality beyond the early Toho episodes where it was clear we were watching a person in a rubber suit stomp on cardboard cityscapes.  There are human interest touches too as we watch the original Brody parents succumb to the destructive actions of these creatures even as the next Brody generation is in harm’s way constantly (Ford’s with the team guarding the train-loaded-bombs when the female MUTO attacks, Elle’s caught in the debris of a collapsed subway station [for some reason the production team didn’t bother to make the BART signage look correct, one of the easiest tasks facing them in this mammoth job—although not the kind associated with woolly-DNA-replication-experiments], and Sam’s stuck on a bus trying to get across the Golden Gate Bridge to shelter in Oakland just as Godzilla arrives to start trashing the span [although it's not reasonable for the bus to be taking this route, but I guess the Golden Gate's more iconic than the lesser-celebrated Bay Bridge where the bus should have been), along with the movie finally giving unspoken respect to the strategy of Japanese scientist Serizawa to allow Godzilla to vanquish the other beasts rather than allow nuclear explosions to enter into the situation (with eerie, ironic reminders for us of both the actual meltdown of the Fukushima facility in March 2011 due to the deadly one-two-punch of an off-store-earthquake along with a tsunami and the widely-speculated-explanation that the motivation behind the original Gojira movie was to use the radioactive-monster as a metaphor for the horrors that any location faces when hit with a nuclear catastrophe, especially as the result of war—as happened at Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945).

 Still, when I put all of this together I just get another well-made-thrill-ride, nice to experience but soon to be forgotten, which is the nature of Creative Feature stories that replace a conquering human hero with either the need for frantic, desperate, coordinated action by government agencies and the military to defeat the intruder or for the monster to ironically become the hero-by-default, helping our civilization survive—even if unintentionally—by acting as the King of the Monsters, ultimately capable of stopping other likewise-terrible-threats.  Thus, it’s a fine experience of the moment but a moment soon to pass, leaving me with a musical metaphor for you that’s just as silly as the whole premise of Godzilla, Bobby “Boris” Pickett and the Crypt-Kickers' hit, “The Monster Mash” at, with footage from a lot of old horror movies including one of the early Godzillas (I can’t say if it’s the 1954 original or not—although I think that true horror movies have more of an psychotic or religious foundation [some might equate those, but I’m not looking to start that argument today] than do these escapist Creature Features; however, you’ll find many [sometimes conflicting] variations on how the Horror, Science-Fiction, and Fantasy movie genres are defined and organized by cinema scholars and entertainment writers).  Another aspect of horror often gets us into the realm of madness and/or the supposed-rationally-impossible, so let’s move on to a variation of that realm.

 If you haven’t watched any old episodes of the TV classic, The Twilight Zone, recently you might try to locate some on a retro video network or website (if you’ve never watched any at all, I suggest that you do for their spooky quality, possibly beginning with “The After Hours,” the one that still literally gives me chills every time I think about it even though I haven’t seen it since its original airdate of June 10, 1960 [season 1, episode 34—available hereyou can also indulge yourself in many aspects of The Twilight Zone at this site if you like]—the story of a woman in a department store who encounters many strange things before the dramatic reveal at the end); alternately, you could lay down some well-invested-dollars to see the new film, The Double (Richard Ayoade), starring Jesse Eisenberg as Simon James, a meek, downtrodden employee of a soul-devouring-corporation who suddenly finds that his constrained world is made even more unbearable when a new employee, James Simon (also played by Eisenberg), arrives, an exact physical replica of Simon James but with the sort of inbred confidence that has everyone in the story flocking to him, even though he’s a lying, conniving son-of-a-bitch—not that such attributes initially bother Simon as he’s trying to figure out the magnetic appeal of this guy in hopes of somehow emulating his literal counterpart.  All of this comes from a short novel written by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, first published in 1846.  (You know, ever since I made a notation in a posting a couple of months ago wishing better times ahead for the citizens of Ukraine, in response to the surprising reality that I was getting a lot of readers from there, I’ve noticed since then that while I still get a reasonable number of hits from Ukraine I haven’t gotten any from Russia, where I used to have some periodic traffic; in case President Putin has put a special task force on Two Guys in the Dark’s site to make sure that no more of my Western rhetoric gets into Mother Russia, maybe my mention of the famed author of Crime and Punishment will bring about a reprieve—probably not, though, as I have to admit I’ve never read his original of The Double about a government clerk who goes insane, just an Internet synopsis.  Oh well, at least they haven’t hauled me off to a reopened Gulag labor camp … yet.  News Flash!  In checking my Audience statistics from Google before posting this review I found that not only has my readership jumped back up in Ukraine I now have some Russian readers again; I offer a salute to the return of perestroika [restructuring] and glasnost [openness]—and, in all seriousness, hope for stability and peace in Ukraine very soon).

 As with the same-named-novel, the protagonist in The Double is a man whose life barely has an existence, even among his coworkers who often don’t recognize him although he’s been on the job for 7 years.  Ayoade gives us a great visual sense of James Simon in the opening scene as he’s harassed on an empty subway car to give up his seat even though there are multiple options available to this bullying presence with his face buried in a newspaper (this clip provides useful commentary from the director on how this beginning is emblematic of the intended look and attitude of the whole film); sadly, Simon complies, then can’t exit as intended at his stop because 2 workmen keep blocking his way by loading boxes into the car so that when he finally makes his escape the doors shut on his briefcase, carrying it away as the train leaves, then when he arrives at his office building he has no I.D. card needed for entry nor can he get any cooperation from the surly guard who acts as if he’s never seen Simon before despite passing him through at this station for all of his previous employment.  It’s no wonder that Simon’s only positive aspect in life is longingly spying (as shown in the photo above) on his apartment-complex-neighbor, Hannah (Mia Wasikowska), also employed at the same company in the dreary copy center where Simon consistently finds excuses to visit in an attempt to get up the courage to ask her out.

 Simon does finally have a date with Hannah, but that comes only after further indignities such as having his sincere work ambitions ignored by his boss, Mr. Papadopoulos (a marvelously-despicable Wallace Shawn), who further burdens him with the expectation that he’ll act as a mentor to Papadopoulos’ caustic daughter, Melanie (Yasmin Paige).  But the worst crisis of all for Simon James occurs when new employee James Simon arrives with immediate positive impressions on this corporate-slug of a manager (he reminds me of the pointy-haired-boss in the Dilbert cartoons—available here should you need a clarification [search around a bit within the site if you need to locate him]), as well as anyone else who interacts with James including the sarcastic waitress (Cathy Moriarty) at Simon’s local-and-constant-eatery, Melanie, and—ultimately—Hannah.  At that point, things couldn’t get much worse for Simon because not only is James taking credit for everything that his quieter-mirror-image has accomplished but he’s also forcing Simon to run obstacles for him because he has photos of Simon in very compromising positions with Melanie during an afternoon when she mistook him for James—despite his feelings for Hannah I guess it was hard to resist Melanie’s advances, or at least the incriminating images shot by James make it look that way—(not that it would take much to make poor Simon’s environment any bleaker than it already is, given the marvelously-grotesque-surroundings [art direction Denis Schnegg, set decoration Barbara Herman-Skelding] this story takes place in, reminding us a bit of the terrible-Big-Brother-future-world of Brazil [Terry Gilliam, 1985] but with technology more from the 1970s, given how clunky and clumsy it all is).  Eventually, Simon’s had enough of losing everything that matters to him in this hopeless/soulless-situation, being called “Stanley” by his clueless boss, being told by a personnel administrator that he doesn’t exist because he’s no longer in their employee records, and never being able to demonstrate his talents to the company’s inspirational guiding light, The Colonel (James Fox), because of the constant predicaments he finds himself in due to James.  When Simon realizes during a fight with his counterpart that the 2 are somehow connected (he socks James in the nose but the blood comes from Simon’s nostril instead) he sets up a scheme to rid himself of the doppelganger for good, although it requires him to take a calculated-suicide-leap from his high apartment window, bouncing from a street-level-awning onto the concrete below which causes James to die with a pool of blood seeping from his head as he lays handcuffed to Simon’s bed (don’t push the physics—or metaphysics—of all this because it’s not that kind of logically-explained-narrative, if you haven’t already figured that out).  In the end, we feel confident for Simon because he’s learned how to assert himself, Hannah’s come back to him (after finding a scrapbook of the scraps of her discarded artworks which she threw down her trash chute after drawing each one), and he seems now better equipped to persevere in his surroundings, even at the soul-sucking-bureaucratic-business where he works, a nightmare for anyone with personal-growth-aspirations but seemingly the only option in this morbid world.

 Even though the original version of The Double comes from Dostoyevsky, this film reminded me more of something written by Kafka, storyboarded by David Lynch—although I should give the Russian author more credit here, based on his statement: "If everything on Earth were rational, nothing would happen"*—but maybe my response is like this because I’ve only barely been into Russia (and probably won’t return, as I’ll bet there’s a poster with my picture on it now at every border crossing with a reward amount verified directly by President Putin) with a quick trip to St. Petersburg while I got a good look at Prague a few years ago, including Kafka’s old neighborhood (the photo I took here is of a surrealist statue of him, which I think sums up well the experience I have in reading his mesmerizing fiction, an attitude so well captured for me in this current film), along with plenty of leftover-Soviet-era-locations around the rest of the Czech Republic which reminded me of the world that Simon and his colleagues inhabit, so I guess you could go either way with which famous author’s fingerprints seem to be most prominent in this transformation of a noted writing into the audiovisual medium of film.  (Let me make one note, though, about the Russian original, the protagonist there—Golyadkin—also must deal with the existence of his “second self” but then others begin to appear as well which leads to his mental breakdown and confinement to an asylum whereas Simon James in this adaptation will find a different fate, one more fantastical than Golyadkin’s whose situation could be interpreted just as the hallucinations of a tortured mind while others in Simon James' tale see and interact with both him and James Simon, so the twin presences manifest tangible existences as well as physical impacts on each other).

* By chance, I happened to find this in a book I'm currently reading, Michio Kaku's Physics of the Impossible (Anchor Books, 2008, p. 120)—although he doesn't discuss the option of reawakened-giant-irradiated-dinosaur-dragons, but maybe that's in a later edition—however, the quote in the above paragraph was taken originally from John Barrow's Theories of Everything (Oxford University Press, 1991, p. 149 (without access to that, I have no idea where the Dostoyevsky statement originates because I find it cited a lot but not specifically-referenced).

 None of the previous comments are intended to imply that the film itself is in any way dreary or oppressive, it’s just that you can consciously feel the loss of humanity that most people seem to be suffering from in this story (especially all of the anonymous older men that surround Simon in his sterile office environment and the grizzled older woman who’s Hannah’s boss), yet there’s so much humor in these situations as well, as long as you can allow yourself to laugh at the terrible troubles that Simon must endure even to just make himself noticed in his workplace, get anything that he asks for at that hideous local café, or just get through a day without everything going wrong no matter what he tries to do (including kicking an elevator door in an attempt to get the damn thing to function, leading to an alarm going off, then sabotage interrogation by the company’s security force; yet, when James does the same thing the cantankerous machine pops into action, once again demonstrating a life out of balance for Simon mirrored in a further-unbalanced-manner in the life-of-no-limitation enjoyed by James).  Given that there’s clearly an element of the fantastic at work here (again bringing me more to Kafka than Dostoyevsky, but that may just be evidence of my substandard preparation in notable literature) it’s no stretch to speculate that in some unconscious manner Simon has generated James as a personification of the needed-hole-fillings in his subdued, hesitant life, a manifestation of everything that this cautious, timid man wishes he could be, even as he learns too late that this other self is too extreme as well, so that hopefully he’s found a balance at the end when he seemingly absorbs aspects of James back into himself without becoming burdened by the amoral aspects of this extra-extraverted-alter-ego.  The Double is a marvelously unique, engaging film combining hilarious critiques of passionless careers and life-visions with excruciatingly-effective-visuals of mashed-up-past-future-Purgatory, dominated by the extraordinary dual-protagonist-turn of Eisenberg, a great-but-self-conscious-actor who normally doesn’t watch daily takes of his work, let alone the finished films, but here had to endure seeing himself throughout in the first version of each chosen take so that he could fill in the missing spaces in each shot, reacting to his invisible self, as his actions were double-exposed to bring Simon and James together in so much of this visualized story.  I don’t anticipate that an oddity such as The Double will be playing in a large number of theaters (probably at best a tenth of the screens that will be displaying Godzilla), but if you can find it anywhere near your locality I encourage you to see it, or at least put it on your video queue for later this year.  As for a musical metaphor to put the finishing touches on The Double, how about Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta cavorting around with “You’re the One That I Want” at (from the ever-popular Grease [Randal Kleiser, 1978] soundtrack, or if you want a more contemporary remake here’s one from the TV series Glee [season 4, episode 6, 2012] at in honor of Hannah’s decision that Simon was really the one that she wanted, even more so as he literally took a leap into changing his situation so that he’d become more the self he wanted to be as well (whereas in the movie, Travolta’s Danny Zuko momentarily is willing to clean up his image to better appeal to Newton-John’s Sandy Olsson but once he realizes that she’s changed to his [wet] dream of a hot girl then it’s all about her conforming to the male status quo, a different-and-intended-to-be-more-life-affirming-message from the more self-actualizing-role-reversal for Simon James that we get in The Double).

 OK, enough of this.  Next week, on to Neighbors and whatever else ambles into my life—in a drunken stupor or otherwise—by then.

If you’d like to know more about the new version of Godzilla here are some suggested links: (10:55, an opinion from on the Top 10 previous Godzilla movies)

If you’d like to know more about the film adaptation of The Double here are some suggested links: (8:04 commentary by director Richard Ayoade on the intentions of the film and a few of his associates on the art direction of the film’s environment and the technical effects of putting Jesse Eisenberg in the frames with himself in many of the scenes)

As noted above, we encourage you to look over our home page (ABOUT THE BLOG), found as the first one in our December 2011 postings, to get more information on what we’re doing and why we’re doing it, including our formatting forewarning about inconsistencies among web browser software which we do our best to correct but may still cause some visual problems beyond our control.

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By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile.    Ken

P.S.  Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.


  1. I love commenting on these kind of articles and i use to comment regularly. This article will help me, thanks for sharing
    Vikramasimha Movie Review

  2. Hi Mahesh, You have a very attractive review site; also, thanks for reading my review. However, I just had a chance to see Godzilla again today and realized that I missed a few minor details when at the critics' screening (it's not considered proper to use a small flashlight to take notes so I had to rely on my memory, never a good thing) so I've corrected them in the review above. Please re-read my chatter before depending on anything you might have read in the previous version. Ken