New Releases for the Week of March 8, 2019


CAPTAIN MARVEL

(Disney/Marvel) Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn, Djimon Hounsou, Lee Pace, Lashana Lynch, Clark Gregg, Annette Bening, Gemma Chan. Directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck

Carol Danvers, a human woman with only snippets of memory of her Earth past, becomes the most powerful being in the Universe. She is caught in the middle of a war between two starfaring races that threatens to engulf the Earth. This, the penultimate film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, is the second to be set in the past (in this case, the 1990s).

See the trailer, clips, interviews and video featurettes here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Superhero
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG=13 (for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief suggestive language)

The Kid

(Lionsgate) Ethan Hawke, Dane DeHaan, Chris Pratt, Vincent D’Onofrio. A young boy is forced to go on the run across the American West in a desperate attempt to save his sister from a villainous uncle. Along the way he becomes entwined in the tragic confrontation between Sheriff Pat Garrett and outlaw Billy the Kid and will use what he learns from both men to decide his course of action.

See the trailer and video featurettes here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Western
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs

Rating: R (for violence and language)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Badla
Yajamana

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

Badla
Cats Don’t Dance
Mapplethorpe
Ruben Brandt, Collector
Yajamana

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

Badla
Yajamana

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

118
In Search of Greatness
Of Gods and Men
Roma
Yajamana

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Captain Marvel
Roma

FILM FESTIVALS TAKING PLACE IN FLORIDA:

Miami International Film Festival, Miami

London Fields


There is nothing like a dame – take it from me!

(2018) Mystery (Paladin/Atlas) Billy Bob Thornton, Amber Heard, Theo James, Jim Sturgess, Cara Delevingne, Gemma Chan, Jamie Alexander, Jason Isaacs, Lily Cole, Henry Garrett, Jennifer Missoni, Alexandra Evans, Michael Shaeffer, Belle Williams, Emily Kincaid, Triana Terry, Hon Ping Tang, Chris Wilson, Chris Ryman, Rita McDonald Damper. Directed by Matthew Cullen

 

For my money, Martin Amis is one of the most gifted and interesting novelists in the world today. He has a way with words and imagery that few authors can match. He has a very cinematic style but oddly, the movies made based on his works have not exactly lit the world on fire.

This one won’t either. Nicola Six (Heard) is a woman with the kind of gift that you just wish you could take back; she knows when she’s going to die. She knows how she’s going to die (she’ll be murdered). She even knows where she’s going to die (in a London alleyway inside a car). She just doesn’t know who. Terminally ill writer Samson Young (Thornton) has done a home exchange with bestselling author Mark Asprey (Isaacs) who wants to get the flavor of Hell’s Kitchen from Samson’s grungy apartment. In the meantime Samson is hoping that his years-long writer’s block can be broken by a change of scenery and when he hears Nicola’s story, he knows he’s the man to write it.

Nicola has narrowed the “who” part of the equation to two men who both have romantic inclinations towards her; the coarse and amoral South End darts champion Keith Talent (Sturgess) who sees Nicola as a trollop and a sex toy that is his rightful due, and Guy Clinch (James), a posh and married industrialist who has money and the world’s most nightmarish kid. One of them is going to kill Nicola. Who will it be? And will they do it in time for Samson to get the whole thing down on paper before he cashes in himself?

The movie has all the elements of a great Amis novel – the whiz-bang satire, the noir overtones, the almost cartoonish characters with outlandish names – but it doesn’t have the energy nor does it have the inspiration. First-time feature director Cullen (known for having done Katy Perry videos, among others) inserts bizarre juxtaposing images throughout the movie which rather than enhance the flow of the story or set the viewer to thinking simply just takes them out of the movie and irritates them. I can’t tell you how many times I started reaching for the “off” switch before deciding to give the movie a second chance. To be fair to Cullen however it is likely that most of those images were inserted by the producers after the fact and against his wishes. Either way, they are deal killers.

That’s a shame because I was excited that this kind of cast (which includes Johnny Depp in an uncredited role as a gangster and rival darts champion for Gary) would be working on an adaptation of an Amis novel. While Thornton is always an interesting performer, the others either feel zombie-like (Heard) or over-the-top to the point where it approaches self-parody (Sturgess). The narration, which is meant to give the film a noir-like tone clashes with the British gangster movie that Cullen appears to be attempting to make. I think that the director had an idea in mind but I’m just not sure he executed it very well.

This was filmed more than three years ago and has been beset by legal issues and an ability to secure distribution until recently. There are some things worth checking out but really the only thing one could hope for from this disappointment of a movie is that it might motivate those inclined to be readers to maybe pick up the source material by Amis and give it a read. That would be a far more fulfilling use of their time.

REASONS TO GO: Billy Bob Thornton is a national treasure.
REASONS TO STAY: There is a whole lot of unnecessary surrealism.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some nudity, a little violence and drug use, and a whole lot of profanity and smoking.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The director sued the producers and the production company after alterations were made to the film that he hadn’t authorized.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/22/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 0% positive reviews. Metacritic: 26/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Trouble is My Business
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT:
Don’t Go

New Releases for the Week of August 17, 2018


CRAZY RICH ASIANS

(Warner Brothers) Constance Wu, Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh, Gemma Chan, Lisa Lu, Awkwafina, Harry Shum Jr., Ken Jeong, Sonoya Mizuno. Directed by Jon M. Chu

A native New Yorker of Asian descent falls in love with a young man from Singapore. As things are starting to get serious between them, she is invited to meet his family and it turns out that they’re crazy wealthy – not to mention just plain crazy. This romantic comedy has been getting strong reviews which is unusual for any rom-com.

See the trailer, interviews and video featurettes here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release (opened on Wednesday)

Rating: PG -13 (for some suggestive content and language)

1945

(Menemsha) Peter Rudolph, Bence Tasnádi, Tomás Szabó Kimmel, Dóra Sztarenki. As a small Hungarian village prepares for the wedding of the son of the town clerk one morning in August 1945, two mysterious strangers in black show up at the railway station, starting a chain reaction as the town is brought short to face the actions of the War.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: NR

Alpha

(Columbia) Kodi Smit-McPhee, Natassia Malthe, Leonor Varela, Jóhannes Haukur Jóhanneson. In the Ice Age, a young hunter is injured. Left to die, he helps an injured wolf. The two face a harsh world as allies as he struggles to reach home before winter.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D
Genre: Adventure
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for some intense peril)

Gold

(ZEE) Akshay Kumar, Mouni Roy, Kunal Kapoor, Amit Sadh. In 1948 India was a newly minted country, released from colonial status from the British empire. They were participating in their first Olympic Games as an independent nation. Their field hockey team was set to take on the British team. They were not expected to win. You can imagine what happened next.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: True Sports Drama
Now Playing: AMC West Oaks

Rating: NR

The Little Mermaid

(Freestyle) Poppy Drayton, Shirley MacLaine, William Moseley, Gina Gershon. Loosely based on the Hans Christian Andersen fable, a young reporter and his niece discover a beautiful girl that they suspect might be the real Little Mermaid.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Fantasy
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, AMC Universal Cineplex

Rating: PG (for action)

Mile 22

(STX) Mark Wahlberg, Lauren Cohan, Iko Uwais, John Malkovich. A police officer with sensitive information needs to be smuggled out of his native country. Assigned to the job is an American intelligence officer and his elite tactical squad. However, in order to make the rendezvous at Mile Marker 22 he is going to have to run a gauntlet of those who want the cop silenced – and they seem to know every move he makes before he makes it. This is another collaboration between Wahlberg and director Peter Berg.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard, Dolby, IMAX
Genre: Action
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for strong violence and language throughout)

Puzzle

(Sony Classics) Kelly Macdonald, Irrfan Khan, David Denman, Helen Piper Coxe. A suburban housewife, taken for granted by her family, develops a passion for solving jigsaw puzzles. She impulsively enters a jigsaw competition and finds herself immersed in a whole new world she could never have imagined.

See the trailer and a video featurette here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village, Rialto Spanish Springs Square

Rating: R (for language)

Summer of ‘84

(Gunpowder & Sky) Graham Verchere, Judah Lewis, Caleb Emery, Tiera Skovye. A group of suburban teens suspect that the neighborhood cop might be the serial killer who has been plaguing their town. They spend the summer keeping an eye on him and looking for evidence. But the closer they come to discovering the truth, the more dangerous things get. This Florida Film Festival favorite has been compared to Stranger Things.

See the trailer and a clip here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Horror
Now Playing: Enzian Theater (Friday and Saturday midnight shows only)
Rating: NR

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Benched (Rounding Third)
Geetha Govindam
Kolamavu Kokila
Koode

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

Billionaire Boys Club
Geetha Govindam
The Good Life
Koode
The Miseducation of Cameron Post
Puppetmaster: The Littlest Reich

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

Billionaire Boys Club
Down a Dark Hall
Geetha Govindam
The King
Koode
McQueen
Running for Grace
The Spy Gone North

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Geetha Govindam
Kolamavu Kokila

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Alpha
Crazy Rich Asians
The Little Mermaid
Mile 22
Summer of ‘84

Transformers: The Last Knight


Mark Wahlberg reacts to news that Michael Bay plans to blow even more shit up.

(2017) Science Fiction (Paramount) Mark Wahlberg, Anthony Hopkins, Josh Duhamel, Laura Haddock, Santiago Cabrera, Isabela Moner, Jerrod Carmichael, Stanley Tucci, Liam Garrigan, John Turturro, Glenn Morshower, Gemma Chan, Peter Cullen (voice), Frank Welker (voice), John Goodman (voice), Steve Buscemi (voice), Omar Sy (voice), Ken Watanabe (voice), Jim Carter (voice) Sara Stewart. Directed by Michael Bay

 

Michael Bay sure loves to blow shit up. In his latest installment of the Transformers series, he does a whole lot of blowing shit up; so much of it, in fact, that there’s almost no room for a coherent story.

See if you can make any sense of this; the world is in chaos with Optimus Prime (Cullen) having fled the planet to go seek Cybertron, the home world of the Transformers. There is no leadership and the Transformers are being hunted down by the TRF, a government strike force headed by Colonel William Lennox (Duhamel) who implores in vain his field chief Santos (Cabrera) that there are differences between the Autobots and the Decepticons. As far as Santos is concerned, the only good robot is a dead robot.

Izzy (Moner), a 14-year-old girl living in the rubble of old Chicago in a zone off-limits to humans due to Transformer infestation is discovered by the TRF but rescued at the last moment by Cade Yeager (Wahlberg), one of the most-wanted people on Earth due to his association with Bumblebee and the other remaining Autobots. Yeager is given a strange talisman by a dying Transformer who appears to be much older than the rest of them. In the meantime, Yeager takes Izzy to South Dakota and his junkyard where the last remaining Autobots are hiding.

Sadly, the TRF track them there too but Yeager is rescued by Cogman (Carter), a kind of C-3PO type of Butler. Cogman flies Yeager and Bumblebee to Jolly Olde England where Sir Edmond Burton (Hopkins) informs Yeager that the Transformers have been on Earth much longer than anybody knew and that he has been charged with protecting the history of the Transformers by keeping it hidden. He is also protecting the Staff of Merlin (Tucci) which is in reality a high-tech weapon. Quintessa (Chan), the Mad Goddess-Creator of Cybertron, wants that weapon so that her dead world can live again – only it would rob the Earth of its magnetic core which would kill our world. Yikes.

So Cybertron is on its way to Earth, Megatron (Welker) is doing the bidding of Quintessa and Optimus has surprisingly switched sides under the Mad Goddess’ influence. Everyone is after the Staff but only one human can wield it – Vivian Wembley (Haddock), a comely Oxford professor of history who specializes in Arthurian legends and who happens to be, unbeknownst to her, the last living direct descendant of Merlin. Got all that?

I really don’t know where to begin. At more than 2 ½ hours long, this is a bloated mess that outstays its welcome early on. There’s only so much falling masonry the puny humans can dodge before it starts to get old and it gets old fast. The trouble with a franchise like this is that in order to sustain it, you have to get bigger and badder with each succeeding movie and I can see Bay is trying his damndest to do just that. The novelty of having giant robots battle each other is wearing thin; not only are we seeing that kind of thing from the Transformers franchise but also from such movies as Pacific Rim and Colossal. There is a certain segment of the population – mainly adolescent boys or men with the maturity of adolescent boys – for whom that is all that is necessary for an entertaining movie. The rest of us need a bit more.

The turgid dialogue may be the most cringe-inducing of the entire series and that’s quite an accomplishment, albeit one that shouldn’t be an object of pride. The fact that they got Sir Anthony Hopkins, one of the greatest living actors, to appear in the movie is something of a minor miracle although I sure hope they paid him a dump truck full of money.

I give Wahlberg props for at least trying to make a go of it in the film but in the end he is reduced to mostly ducking for cover, sliding down embankments and bickering with Vivian. Wahlberg is an extremely likable actor but most of his charm is wasted here in lieu of spectacle and make no mistake – it’s spectacle without spirit.

The destruction is so constant and unrelenting that after awhile it becomes senses-numbing and actually quite boring. I will admit to never having been a fan of the animated show in the first place but I thought it to be at least better than most of the similarly natured kidtoons of the era but this is worse than even those. While the CGI is generally pretty detailed at times there are moments where it looked like they completed the CGI in a hurry and it shows.

The movie jumps the shark early and never stops jumping it. For example late in the movie, the 14-year-old girl stows away on a military aircraft on a do or die mission to save the world. I mean, really? The only reason she is on there is to save the day for the adults so that the tween audience can be pandered to. Quite frankly I felt the movie was aimed at the lowest common denominator throughout. That’s not a good feeling.

I probably would rank this lower if I thought about it long enough but there are some pretty impressive effects and Wahlberg deserves something for his efforts. I think Bay went for sheer spectacle and found that he was so focused on the sizzle that he neglected to put on the steak. That makes for a pretty empty and unsatisfying summer barbecue.

REASONS TO GO: Lots of shit gets blown up. Wahlberg makes a vain but valiant attempt to elevate this.
REASONS TO STAY: The movie is wayyyy too long and boring. It’s a bloated, mind-numbing mess.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of sci-fi violence and robotic mayhem, a smattering of profanity and a brief scene of sexual innuendo.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the most expensive Transformers movie to date with a shooting budget of $260 million.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/23/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 16% positive reviews. Metacritic: 27/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Nothing compares to this.
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT: Beatriz at Dinner

New Releases for the Week of June 23, 2017


Transformers The Last KnightTRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT

(Paramount) Mark Wahlberg, Anthony Hopkins, Josh Duhamel, Laura Haddock, Isabella Moner, Stanley Tucci, John Turturro, Glenn Morshower, Gemma Chan. Directed by Michael Bay

The world is in chaos and Optimus Prime has gone walkabout, headed back to Cybertron to demand answers of his maker – the mad goddess Quintessa. Left holding the bag is Cade Yeager, doing his best to hide and protect the remaining Autobots from a vicious government agency. Unbeknownst to the humans Optimus has succeeded in reaching his homeworld and now it is on its way to Earth – to rob it of life itself so that it may live once again. Only an eccentric English nobleman with knowledge of the Transformers legacy on Earth can save the human race from complete annihilation.

See the trailer, clips, promos and featurettes here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D
Genre: Science Fiction
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for violence and intense sequences of sci-fi action, language, and some innuendo)

Band Aid

(IFC) Zoe Lister-Jones, Adam Pally, Fred Armisen, Brooklyn Decker. The marriage of Ben and Anna is on its last legs; the couple can’t seem to stop fighting. Facing the inevitable, the two make a last-ditch effort to save their relationship – they start a band and turn their fights into songs. To their surprise, their pain connects with audiences and their unorthodox solution might just work – but can they maintain the momentum if they stop fighting?

See the trailer, a clip and an interview here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: Enzian Theater

Rating: NR

Beatriz at Dinner

(Roadside Attractions) Salma Hayek, Chloë Sevigny, John Lithgow, Connie Britton. Beatriz is a healer. Forced to leave her small, idyllic Mexican village by a greedy developer who separated her from her family, she came to the United States hoping to put her skills to good use and thus far she has. However, when her car breaks down at the home of a wealthy client, she is invited to stay for a small dinner party celebrating the conclusion of a big development deal. One percent, meet the Dreamers.

See the trailer, clips, an interview and a promo here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs, Cinemark Artegon Marketplace, Regal The Loop, Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: R (for language and a scene of violence)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA

Can We Still Be Friends?
DJ Duvvada Jagannadham
The Survivalist
Tubelight
 

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI:

Alien Arrival
The Bad Batch
El Techo
Glory (2017)
The Hero
It’s For Your Own Good
Moka
One Week and a Day
Past Life
The Student

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA:

Wakefield

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE:

None

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them


Newt Scamander is about to make the 20s roar.

Newt Scamander is about to make the 20s roar.

(2016) Fantasy (Warner Brothers) Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Colin Farrell, Samantha Morton, Alison Sudol, Ezra Miller, Carmen Ejogo, Dan Hedaya, Jon Voight, Gemma Chan, Ron Perlman, Zoë Kravitz, Faith Wood-Blagrove, Jenn Murray, Peter Bretmeier, Kevin Guthrie, Ronan Raftery, Josh Cowdery, Ellie Haddington, Johnny Depp, Anne Wittman. Directed by David Yates

 

J.K. Rowling is a household name and for all the right reasons. A single mum living on the dole at one time, she wrote a fabulous book about a boy wizard named Harry Potter that while ostensibly for children was also well-written enough that adults got into it too. Seven books later, she was a billionaire and the wealthiest woman in Britain save for the Queen herself. Admirably, she gave much of her wealth away, returning it to the government whose assistance allowed her to survive while she wrote her books. Their investment in her paid off.

One of the textbooks that Harry Potter studied at Hogwart’s was Newt Scamander’s bestselling textbook Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. He even had his own Chocolate Frog wizard card. So how did he get to be so famous?

Rowling – who wrote the script as the first of five movies – set this some seventy years before the Potter films and across an ocean. Scamander (Redmayne) arrives at Ellis Island in New York City in 1926 en route to Arizona. Newt is a magizoologist – an expert in magical creatures. He is carrying a ratty old suitcase with him, one with a latch that just won’t stay closed. Inside his TARDIS-like case is a whole ecology where specimens of the various creatures he has collected are residing. Some are being relocated to places where they have a better chance of surviving. None of them are allowed in the United States.

Rather than having a Ministry of Magic, the wizards in the New World are governed by the Magical Congress of the United States of America – MACUSA for short. They have recently emerged from a battle with the evil wizard Gellert Grindelwald (Depp) and they are a bit by-the-book these days. When Newt’s case is accidentally switched with the case of Jacob Kowalski (Fogler), an aspiring baker and No-Maj (the American equivalent of a muggle, or person without magical skills), chaos ensues as several creatures escape.

Demoted MACUSA agent Tina Goldstein (Waterston) arrests Newt for being an unregistered wizard but when the case he is carrying is revealed to have baked goods in it, he is released. Tina and Newt end up joining forces to re-capture the beasts with the assistance of Tina’s sister Queenie (Sudol) who has precognitive powers, and Jacob. However, with Chief Auror (magical investigator) Percival Graves (Farrell) hot on their trail, they need to find the creatures quickly.

But that’s not all that’s going on. A malevolent magical force has been wreaking havoc on the city and there is a society of No-Maj activists led by Mary Lou Barebone (Morton) and her abused son Credence (Miller) and daughters Chastity (Murray) and Modesty (Wood-Blagrove) are helping to create an atmosphere in which the magical community is feeling threatened. Keeping the existence of wizards and witches may no longer be possible when Newt’s beasts begin to make their presence felt.

This has been justifiably one of the most hyped movies of the year and certainly one of the most eagerly anticipated. Does it measure up with the Potter franchise? Well, yes and no. From a sheer spectacle standpoint, the beasts themselves are entirely magnificent. Yates has also created a very living and breathing jazz age New York City and in many ways that’s being overlooked by those praising (and a few damning) the film. The environments both magical and real are visually compelling and inviting.

Part of the issue is that while millions are familiar with Hogwart’s and the world of Harry Potter, in essence Rowling is starting from scratch. The Wizarding World is distinct and different from the world being built in the Fantastic Beasts series. Sure, they name-check Albus Dumbledore (and he is due to appear in the second film of the series) and of course Scamander himself is name-checked in the very first Potter film but there is little overlap. Therefore there is a ton of exposition so the movie feels turgid at times.

Fogler as Jacob felt far more sympathetic and heroic to me than Redmayne did. Of course, Scamander is somewhat socially awkward and tends to isolate himself from people and wizards, being more comfortable around animals. Still, Redmayne is rather bland in his portrayal of the wizard and my attention is less on him than on Jacob who has no magical skills but has a ton of heart. His romance with Queenie is sweet and touching and the most emotional moment in the film belongs to Fogler and for my money, that is the moment that will stay with me from this particular movie.

While I’ve been perhaps a little overly critical of the movie, don’t think for a moment that this isn’t sheer entertainment. Yates is a veteran at creating magical spectacles and the movie retains the feel of the later-stage Potter films that Yates directed. Hopefully the succeeding movies won’t need to set up as much backstory and be able to just tell the story at hand.

REASONS TO GO: The fantastic beasts are enchanting as are the special effects. Fogler steals the show. The place and period is nicely captured.
REASONS TO STAY: Redmayne is actually rather vanilla here and doesn’t seem capable of bearing the weight of the franchise on his shoulders as Radcliffe did. There is a ton of exposition here which slows down the pacing.
FAMILY VALUES:  There is some violence of a fantasy nature.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT:  The grey and yellow scarf that Newt wears is a nod to his origins as a member of Hufflepuff house at Hogwart’s.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/20/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 74% positive reviews. Metacritic: 66/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Spiderwick Chronicles
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT: Loving

The Double (2013)


Jesse Eisenberg can't stand to look.

Jesse Eisenberg can’t stand to look.

(2013) Thriller (Magnolia) Jesse Eisenberg, Mia Wasikowska, Wallace Shawn, Noah Taylor, Sally Hawkins, Cathy Moriarty, Chris O’Dowd, Gemma Chan, Paddy Considine, James Fox, Rade Serbedzija, Yasmin Paige, Craig Roberts, Nathalie Cox, Christopher Morris, Tony Rohr, Susan Blommaert, Phyllis Somerville, J Mascis, Natalia Warner, Joanna Finata. Directed by Richard Ayoade

Florida Film Festival 2014

When we look into the mirror, we generally have a good idea at what we’re looking at. What if the face staring back at us, however, wasn’t necessarily our own?

Simon James (Eisenberg) is a cubicle drone for one of those big conglomerates whose purpose really isn’t necessarily apparent. It is run by a mythic figure known only as the Colonel (Fox) who rarely makes appearances but is deeply appreciated and loved by his workers. Simon’s immediate boss, Mr. Papadopoulos (Shawn) can barely remember Simon’s name. In fact, he can’t.

In fact, nobody can. When Simon comes into work one day on the train, his briefcase carrying his ID and pretty much his entire life gets stuck in the doors of the train and is whisked away. The security guard at the front gate doesn’t recognize Simon and isn’t disposed to letting him in at first. Only Harris (Taylor) seems to have any idea that Simon actually works for.

Worse still, Simon pines away for Hannah (Wasikowska) who works the gigantic room-sized copier machine for the company. Too shy to actually ask her out, she is kind enough to him but again doesn’t seem to know that he is anything other than an occasional nuisance, asking for a single copy of a document when, as Hannah’s co-worker points out, the copy department is meant to make thousands of copies of large documents.

However, even this somewhat desperate life is threatened when a new employee arrives: James Simon is his name and he looks like an exact doppelganger of Simon. James is everything Simon is not – cool, confident, instantly memorable, manipulative and without conscience. A mirror image, if you will; reflecting the same person but in reverse. Simon is the only one who notices that James looks exactly like him.

James begins romancing Melanie (Paige), the boss’s daughter whom Simon had been attempting to train (although she is remarkably uninterested in learning anything). While James attempts to help Simon capture the woman of his dreams, it is James that Hannah falls for. It is also James who gets recognized for Simon’s accomplishment. Simon isn’t just fading into obscurity; his life is being usurped.

This played the Florida Film Festival earlier this year and was my favorite film to come out of it. It is based on a short story by Fyodor Dostoevsky, the conceit of which wasn’t especially new even in Dostoevsky’s day. Still, it works as a modern parable of how our personality is more or less a reflection of how others see it – and when others don’t, we begin to fade into oblivion.

Ayoade, a British comedian who has appeared in such films as The Watch also directed Submarine, much of whose cast appears here in various roles and cameos. Like this film, his directing debut also had the subtext of the disconnect between who we are and who we think we are. Here he adopts a kind of retro-futuristic look that resembles the world of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil set in a kind of postwar Soviet environment with recognizable modern technology in large, boxy and hideously inconvenient to use incarnations; personal computers have tiny screens on large grey shells that take up the entire wall of a cubicle, for example. Everything is grimy and dingy, like nobody has bothered to dust for decades. Even the diner that Simon patronizes looks distinctly unappealing, and you just know that any food served by the frowzy waitress Kiki (Moriarty) is going to be tasteless, bland and will probably give you the runs.

Eisenberg is one of those actors who can be dreadfully annoying with his nervous tics and stammering, the love child between Woody Allen and Hugh Grant, but when given the right kind of role, can hammer it out of the park. He seems to excel when given characters who aren’t entirely likable; the less likable, the better – Michael Cera has much the same issue in his career. This is one of Eisenberg’s best performances to date, one in which he plays both the nebbish and the morally bankrupt hipster. Both are personas that he has done before.

The movie is darkly funny with a weird sense of humor that once in awhile comes at you from oblique angles and causes you to laugh not just because the situation is funny but because you didn’t expect it even for a moment. In fact, you are never quite sure where the movie is going, but are content and even eager to let it get you there. That’s the kind of movie that most stimulates me not only as a critic but as a moviegoer.

This isn’t likely to get a good deal of exposure. It’s certainly not a movie that’s for everyone. It is very bleak in places which you would expect from a film based on something written by a Russian writer. However, that bleakness is offset by the cheerfully warped humor and Eisenberg’s dual performance. Mainstream audiences will probably want to give this a pass but if you love movies as much as I do, it is one that you should put on your must-see list.

REASONS TO GO: Wonderful set design and atmosphere. Eisenberg at his neurotic best.  Weird sense of humor.

REASONS TO STAY: A little twitchy in places. Not for everybody.

FAMILY VALUES:  Enough foul language to garner an “R” rating.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Although there are several other films with the same title, this is the first to be based on the Dostoevsky short story that bears its name (the Stanley Kubrick film The Partner is also loosely based on the novella).

CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/25/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 82% positive reviews. Metacritic: Metacritic: 68/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Brazil

FINAL RATING: 10/10

NEXT: Winter in the Blood