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Friday, August 19, 2011

The Future (Limited Release Date: 7-29-2011)/ The Devil's Double (Limited Release Date: 7-29-2011)

The Future

        Like Italian Modernist Director Michelangelo Antonioni, or 70's avant-garde rock band Can, Writer/Director/Performance Artist Miranda July has a name that means nothing to the vast majority of people, yet somehow means the world to a very specific sect. A recent New York Times article referred to her as, "culturally essential," and Roger Ebert called her first film, Me and You and Everyone We Know, One of the very best films of the 2000's. That said, The Future, which marks only her second feature, is something of a big deal in the film world, and it's intriguing to see July use the movie to grapple with her simultaneous senses of fame and anonymity.

        The picture stars July and Hamish Linklater as a pair of frizzy-haired, California hipsters by the names of Sophie and Jason. The Two live in a state of perpetual arrested development, never saying anything important, unless that counts bemoaning their lack of importance. They decide to adopt a cat from a local shelter who is going through renal-failure, and are told that they have One month to wait. The news sets them in motion, wishing to accomplish all that there is to do before little Paw Paw (as the cat, who also narrates the film, is so named) arrives and effectively ends their younger years. Much has been made of July's penchant for including Natural Realism in her films, exemplified in this flick by a talking moon, a crawling shirt, and the aforementioned monologuing feline. 

        To be sure, they are often inspired, but considering her a pioneer of such tactics strikes me as a bit much when Magnolia Director Paul Thomas Anderson lives right down the street, not to mention Robert Altman's prophetic Short Cuts, or any number of films that employs similar senses of whimsey in the exact same city (Los Angeles). What I do deeply appreciate about The Future is its sense of humor, July's characters always speaking and behaving in wildly surreal fashion. I've read a number of reviews citing the film as a hugely insightful look into the mind of the self-agrandizing, self-defeating, over-privaliged American middle class. I can't quite go there, though I am not about to call it a pretentious mess either. I merely felt as though I had gleaned the film's meaning within its first 20 minutes, and though there were many interesting things to behold thereafter, humor and aesthetics among them, I simply don't see where people get off calling July a revolutionary.

Grade: B-

The Devil's Double

        There's no mistaking an actor-showcase when you see One. All of the other characters in the movie just sort of clear out, creating space for One performer to completely dominate both the story and the screen. The Devil's Double is just such a movie, handing the reins almost exclusively to Dominic Cooper. How have they managed to invest so much screen time in him, you ask? Well, that's because Cooper plays both of the Two leading characters. The film is loosely based on the true story of Latif Yahia (Cooper), an Iraqi who, in the mid-80's, was forced to serve as a body double for the dastardly prince Uday Hussein (also Cooper).

        The Devil's Double's first, and most egregious failure is mistaking the sentence above for an entire plot. No more than Five minutes of film have transpired before the proposal is made to Latif, and from there, the movie is comprised of Two scenes endlessly repeating: Latif lamenting his poor fortune and lashing out against his confinement, and Uday committing One harrowingly deplorable crime after another. Calling a film, 'One note,' is an often used, seldom meant expression, but The Devil's Double actually manages to merit such a description, so busy with replaying the same Two scenes that it neglects to develop a single other character, a failure most glaring in the instance of worthless-sex-object-mistaken-for-a-leading-lady Ludivine Sagnier.

        I blame hack Director Lee Tamahori (Die Another Day, Next, XXX:State of Union), who gaudily-stylizes every scene of the thing, and then has the gall to include archival footage in order to explain to the audience how, 'serious and real,' it all is. Poor Cooper, whose double performance is lost in the cluster of a lousy film, not to mention that a cadaver would have made a more compelling lead than his Latif (his over-acting as Uday is much more interesting). The Devil's Double is an endless list of gangster-movie cliches, enacted to minimal effect, played One after another for Two straight hours. I'm still glad it's over.

Grade: D

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