Oculus (2014)

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Look, let’s make one thing crystal clear, we’re not reinventing the wheel here. A lot of Mike Flanagan’s “Oculus” you’ve more than likely experienced before, in one way or another. And If I’m to be honest, the only reason I watched “Oculus” is because I’m an admirer of director Mike Flanagan’s ultra-low-budget horror flick “Absentia.” A film that caught a bad break when it’s marketing team really misrepresented the film with simple, stereotypical horror posters and publicity. All misdirection aside however, if you haven’t seen “Absentia,” I highly suggest you give it a whirl. It’s a brilliant, atmospheric slow-burn that delivers some seriously unsettling content and chilling scares…but I digress. So, given that “Oculus” appeared to be nothing more than a retread through its awareness campaign and that the film didn’t really provoke much interest from me, except for Flanagan being attached, I didn’t expect much from it going in…

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Well, this is the part where I’m supposed to completely shift focus and tell you how exceptional “Oculus” turned out to be and that I loved it! Well, I’m sorry to disappoint you, but I can’t in good conscious lead you on like that. That being said, I can inform you that I was pleasantly surprised with what “Oculus” presented and that it is arguably the second best horror flick I’ve seen so far this year, the chillingly claustrophobic and chaotic “In Fear” still holds the distinction of being number one on my list. Now, taking into account that we’re barely four months into the new year, saying that “Oculus” is one of the year’s best doesn’t exactly hold much weight. With the likes of “Devil’s Due” and the fifth feature in the “Paranormal Activity” series barely making pre-teens have nightmares, even the competition hasn’t been top notch. I really hope this year in horror turns around…but enough about that, back to “Oculus.”

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PLOT:

A young woman, Kaylie, tries to exonerate her brother, Tim, who was convicted of murdering their father eleven years ago by proving that the crime was committed by a supernatural force that dwells inside an old mirror.

The film plays out through a series of flashbacks that are recollected by our two protagonists eleven years into the present, who are simultaneously setting in motion a plan to prove the existence of an evil presence living inside the aforementioned mirror, with the intent of destroying it once they’ve obtained their evidence. Additionally, as If that isn’t complicated enough, the possessed mirror continuously distorts reality, making it nearly impossible to predict or conclude what is real and what is fabricated. So right away I became mesmerized by the complexity and hypnotic nature of the story and its many gambits. “Oculus” is a lot smarter than its surface insinuates. However, it does occasionally drift and as flabbergastingly impressive as the film’s editing is, the tale could’ve used sounder structuring. It simply feels a tad too out of control and it is, at some spots, difficult to decipher and follow.

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Our evil, devilish antagonist declares, “I’ve met my demons, and they are many. I’ve seen the devil, and I am him.” A chilling, memorable line that won’t soon be forgotten by horror fanboys. Sadly though, it is one of the few things I do recall from “Oculus.” I’m not saying the film isn’t scary, I myself got spooked from time to time, more so during the film’s later half, and I’m not that easily frightened. The most terrifying aspect of the film has got to be these mysterious apparitions, which turn out to be the haunted mirror’s previous victims. They have reflective, glowing eyes that dot the blackness with a sinister demeanour and appear unannounced throughout the film. They really illuminate this overwhelming feeling of hopelessness that radiates from “Oculus.” Nonetheless, overall the film isn’t exactly one you’ll lose sleep over. Yet, the deliciously nauseating apple scene will definitely make your stomach turn.

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The only name I recognized attached to “Oculus,” with the exception of director Mike Flanagan, was actress Karen Gillian. Portraying present Kaylie, Gillian gives an inspired performance and really does her best to hold everything together. She’s got the talent and it shows, it is just too apparent that the script let her down. Brenton Thwaites, who tackles the complex role of adult Tim, unfortunately leaves a lot to be desired. Actually, I found it rather perplexing that Garrett Ryan and Annalise Basso, who portray the younger versions of Kaylie and Tim respectively, without question stole the show. I just didn’t expect such investment, terror, and dedication to burst forth from such young actors. Rory Cochrane, whom I immediately recognized having seen his face, does capture the isolated, distant, deteriorating aura of someone possessed, but doesn’t exactly shine blindingly. As for Katie Sackhoff, much like the rest of the cast, is slightly above mediocre.

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Providing consistent scares, passable performances, and a script that’s probably too smart for its own good, makes “Oculus” worth the look for die-hard horror fans. However, it’s blatantly open-ended finale which leaves tons of room for countless sequels seems a bit too eager and will undoubtedly turn its fair share of viewers away.

Oculus: 7 out of 10.

The Raid 2 (2014)

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I’m sure you’re all familiar with the old adage regarding the breathing of new life into an existing concept. For those of you who this maxim escapes, it essentially states that someone or something has successfully revitalized, imbued, or revolutionized what had universally become the standard. I decided to clarify this aphorism immediately seeing as it is excruciatingly similar to what Gareth Evans has done to action cinema with his past success “The Raid” and his latest, unfathomable triumph, “The Raid 2.” Yes, Evans’ incomparable genius removed any footing the rapidly deteriorating genre stood upon. And as if that wasn’t enough, once he quite handily did away with the infuriatingly brainless and bombastic abomination the once beloved action genre became, Evans, with “The Raid 2″ persisted to choke, beat, and mutilate his way to superseding his own previous best in a cyclic manner, as if to taunt any challenging newcomers, to make it painfully clear that the best is yet to come…

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PLOT:

Approximately two hours after the first film ends, Rama goes undercover and infiltrates the ranks of a ruthless Jakarta crime syndicate in order to protect his family and to uncover the corruption in his own police force.

As impressively choreographed and executed Evans sophomore effort may be, his follow up “The Raid 2″ is a masterful expedition into extreme hand-to-hand combat and ultra-savagery. With brutal, occasionally disturbing violence and a limitless supply of unbelievably detailed gore, the slaughter throughout “The Raid 2″ is mercilessly relentless and joyfully excessive. And while there’s no doubt that Evans’ latest will leave viewers exhilarated and gleefully gasping for air by the time it’s concluded, there are a few scenes that might force even the toughest SOB to cringe and gag. Yes, a steel baseball bat lodged in between a man’s jaw or the continuous burning of a man’s face on a fully-heated grill is but a sample of the viciousness that awaits you in “The Raid 2.” Granted, beautifully sadistic scenes such as those mentioned don’t occur all too frequently, but it is something that you’ll need to prepare for.

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Clocking in at a daunting one hundred and fifty minutes, it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if fanboys of “The Raid,” which finished around the one hundred and five minute mark, would be a little too frightened by its sequel’s massive runtime to undertake it. With this new allotment of time, Evans has expanded on the original story and list of characters, making for a much more fluent, intricate, captivating experience, one that isn’t simply just run-and-gun. It sets it’s primary focus on an intense, intelligent, ruthless crime-family drama, causing stimulation to not only occur physically, but mentally as well. That being said, “The Raid 2″ does tend to drag occasionally, but when compared to the film’s immense list of successes, any complaint about slight mistakes or the story’s encompassing complexity is easily forgotten.

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“The Raid 2″ strays from the simple, easy to follow narrative that, in my opinion, hampered its predecessor, if only slightly. While this monstrously entertaining sequel does rely heavily on its action sequences to drive it forward, it provides enough substance for viewers to sink their teeth into. Allowing characters to become more three-dimensional and each scene to build and progress on the former, ultimately resulting in every new segment trumping the previous. For example, the violence and gore continuously ascends, becoming more deplorable, complex, and immeasurable, eventually reaching the crescendo. A tactic that will have you picking your jaw up off the floor. Additionally, the musical accompaniment throughout the film is something supremely identifiable. So much so that you’ll be confused as to what exactly got your heart racing, the action or the music.

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Now, if there’s one thing that “The Raid” series isn’t known for, it has to be acting. Granted, Evans has expanded the emotional range needed to partake in his action series juggernaut and the change is quite noticeable. Our antihero portrayed by the immensely talented Iko Uwais has several scenes in which he must display an array of varying emotions, albeit a restricted spectrum. Yet, the addition of a more emotional diverse and demanding story creates its own paradox. The level of talent needed to convey effectively what Evans is hoping to achieve with this intricate mafioso thriller is much higher than his typical cast can provide. So really, in order to complete this change, one would need to concede some action for substance, a sacrifice I don’t think Evans or fans are willing to make. Nevertheless, the attempt is admirable to say the least. That being said, if you’re going to see “The Raid 2″ for its acting, it’s probably best you don’t see it at all.

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For a film with an unbelievable sense of chaos, “The Raid 2″ is surprisingly, yet certainly a controlled burn. Bursting with eye-popping action sequences, a respectable story, and stomach-churning visuals, Evans latest is a cinematic feast that all may not be able to enjoy, but at the very least revere. And since it is an action film, a genre in which I don’t usually get along with, I’m giving “The Raid 2″ bonus points for being, quite possibly the greatest action film I’ve ever seen.

The Raid 2: 9.5 out of 10.

 

How I Met Your Mother: Finale Reaction, Series Summary, and Top 10 Episodes

Obviously, massive spoilers!

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It feels as if it was only yesterday that we said goodbye to Michael Scott and the Dunder Mifflin crew one last time. Now, roughly a year later, and we’re again forced to part ways with another comedy series benchmark, solidified sitcom, “How I Met Your Mother.” We walked through the doors of MacLaren’s Pub nine seasons ago and returned every Monday to catch up with Ted, Marshall, Lily, Robin, and Barney over a few drinks. Through the laughs and tears, hard work and laziness, love and heartbreak, we were apart of these characters lives and grew alongside them for the better part of nearly a decade. Relationship after relationship, break up after break up, we stood witness to the intertwining tales of this group as each searched for their counterpart and identity. Of course though, our main focus was Ted, a hopeless romantic searching for his true love. He and his story is what hooked us and kept us coming back every week.

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Look, I know “How I Met Your Mother” isn’t the coolest show on television, far from it. Nevertheless, I felt that it always brought out the best in me, you know? Yes, it’s corny, fantastical, and supremely annoying at the best of times. Yet, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a show with as strong a moral compass and genuinely kind-hearted characters as “How I Met Your Mother,” but I digress. So we waited, nine long years for Ted to finally unveil exactly how he met the mother of his children, and a little over a week ago, we got our answer. The way things went down during that last hour of “How I Met Your Mother” set social networks ablaze and it seemed as if everyone who had endured the long journey to that moment shouted their opinions from skyscraper rooftops. Personally, I applaud the way this iconic show wrapped up. It could’ve concluded a lot sooner albeit, but nothing about the way things played out sat unwell with me.

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During the last couple of seasons, when things began to wind to a close and the identity of Ted’s mysterious wife was mercifully divulged, I was a tad relieved, but also subconsciously enraged. See, I’m one of the fans that were adamant throughout the series that Ted was destined to end up with Robin, despite all the hints and facts stating otherwise. That being said, as much as the show’s creators and writers pushed Robin away from our protagonist, they simultaneously lead us on, leaving us begging for Robin and Ted’s union, weird right? Well, this entire conundrum was solved during that last episode and I, as you can imagine, was relieved, vindicated, overjoyed!

Obviously, I’m well aware that a majority of you disagree. However, simply put, I’m much more comfortable thinking I spent nine years of my life watching a show revolve around two characters (Ted and Robin) falling for one another than the alternative. Think about it, why take nine seasons to build up Ted finally meeting his soul mate, just to have him end up alone. It’s much better knowing that this aspect of the show was merely a gambit and the real story was going on the entire time the show was in production.

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Now, I’m a big Ted backer, without a doubt, and to witness him crumble under her death was mortifying…almost too much to endure. Having for so long defended and scoured the earth for this fantasy, just to have it ripped away sent in motion a tsunami of sadness that washed over and pulled me under. Yet, to see him then courageously soldier on with a continuing respect and thirst for meaning and love after her passing was invigorating, inspiring! And although the show’s finale resonated with the harsh, unflinching truth regarding life, love, and loss, it illuminated the meaning in our existence.

Why should we weep for Barney? Has it not been clear for nine seasons that he is a notorious womanizer that can’t be tied down? He is capable of love and loyalty, which he will give limitlessly to his daughter, he simply prefers emotional and sexual freedom to the restraints of a relationship. Marshall and Lily have fulfilled every dream they ever conceived, together and individually. Robin became a world-renowned news reporter while travelling the world and experienced everything life had to offer, which is all she had ever hoped for. And as for Ted, well, it might have taken him a little longer to get there, but he achieved everything he set out to in life. He experienced the invisible force that is love and birthed two children. “How I Met Your Mother” might have ended a little too melancholic for some, but it hid the spark…the inevitable truth of existence that no matter how long and hard the trek, what is meant to be will find a way to flourish.

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Without further delay, let’s get into my personal top 10 episodes of “How I Met Your Mother!” But before that, one thing that will become abundantly clear during this list is that I am a huge sap. Yes, I’m in love with the idea of love. Also, I’m assuming that if you’re reading this, you have seen the entire show, so I didn’t write an entire summary for each entry…sorry.

10: “Last Forever” Season 9, Episode 23/24

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9: “Right Place, Right Time” Season 4, Episode 22

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8: “The Limo” Season 1, Episode 11

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7: “Showdown” Season 2, Episode 20

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6: “Slap Bet” Season 2, Episode 9

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5: “Nothing Good Happens After 2 AM” Season 1, Episode 18

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4: “No Tomorrow” Season 3, Episode 12

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3: “No Pressure” Season 7, Episode 17

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2: “Blitzgiving” Season 6, Episode 10

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1: “The Time Travelers” Season 8, Episode 20

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Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

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It seems as if we’ve been getting a new entry into the Marvel film canon at least once or twice a year for the last little while now. And with rumours swirling that the filmmaking titan has its universe mapped out until the year 2028, you either get on board now or be forever lost in the immense, intertwining reaches of this comic book behemoth. Hell, Marvel Studios even has Sony Pictures and 20th Century Fox undertaking some of the responsibility! Yes, with “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” breaking the box office opening weekend record for April, the television show “Agents of Shield” going steady, “Guardians of the Galaxy” picking up steam on all social platforms, and “Avengers: Age of Ultron” production well under way, it looks as if there’s no stopping this superhero juggernaut.

Conversely, all positives aside, lately the films have been hit and miss. Take for example the underwhelming sequel “Thor: The Dark World” and the polarizing finale to the Iron Man trilogy. While both found financial success, there are those beginning to question the stability of Marvel’s universe. With Marvel’s success came demand, and as this thirst grew, Marvel set in motion a strategy that fulfills the demand which simultaneously secures funding for future need. And this will continue in an infinite loop enabling Marvel to produce with the mindset of quantity over quality. This will eventually result in a consistently declining level of interest that will ultimately lead to less funds for future projects, thereby effectively extinguishing Marvel’s ambitious blueprint for a big screen legacy…but this is just a theory.

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What do you think of Marvel’s course of action for the big screen? Is Marvel sacrificing quality for quantity and reward? Are they looking too far ahead or simply giving the viewers what they want? Will their courageous endeavour into the future sacrifice the integrity of their characters or help to better define them? Be sure to let me know what you think in the comment section below. Nevertheless, regardless of what you feel towards Marvel’s aggressive inflation, there’s no denying that if their future projects are anything like their latest, “Captain America: The Winter Solider,” Marvel will be going strong and steady for a long time to come. Directed by the Russo brothers, Anthony and Joe, and written by Marvel veterans Stephen McFeely Christopher Markus, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is without question the best solo Avenger film to date.

I’ve always felt that Captain America was cut from a different cloth than his Avenger teammates. Despite being a super soldier and carrying around an impenetrable shield, there’s nothing that really distinguishes Captain Rogers from the rest of us. He’s the most humble, vulnerable, human of all the Avengers, and that really shows in every film he’s a part of. Whether it be struggling with his misplacement in time, trying to overcome being deprived of an existence with his beloved, or fending off evil with nothing exactly superhuman to defend him, Captain America truly is the best of humankind amplified.

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PLOT:

We catch up with the Captain not long after the events that took place in New York. He’s living in Washington, D.C., running espionage missions for S.H.I.E.L.D and still struggling to fit into modern society. However, when Nick Furry is on his way to a previously arranged rendezvous, he’s ambushed by unknown assailants lead by an assassin known as the Winter Solider. This abruptly puts an end to Captain Roger’s steady routine and thrusts him back into action. Upon learning that the Winter Soldier is working for Hydra, Captain America sets out to defeat the Winter Soldier and put an end to Hydra once and for all.

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Look, no disrespect to “The Avengers,” it’s a great flick, action-packed, oozing with quotable dialogue, and frequently amusing. That being said, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is Marvel’s best outing to date. Where chaos controlled and ultimately lead to “The Avengers” reach exceeding its grasp.

Marvel’s latest is controlled, paced, and executed with pure brilliance. The story is engaging, the action is breathtaking, and the performances tower over any other portrayal given in the Marvel universe. And although it might not take place on the grandest scale, it certainly tackles socio-political issues that are extremely relevant in today’s world, hitting closer to home than any of its predecessors. And yet, perhaps what is most impressive and admirable about the film is the serious mentality taken by the Russo brothers whilst executing and capturing the action sequences, whether it be hand-to-hand combat between Rogers and the Winter Solider or larger scale battles and explosions. Not to mention the drama surrounding our hero Captain America and his enemy, the Winter Soldier. It’s as compelling and entertaining a battle between good and evil since Marvel’s nemesis’ D.C Comics unleashed Batman and The Joker…okay…maybe not that illustrious, but they’re working on it.

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Returning to the Marvel screen is Chris Evans who reprises his role as Captain America, Scarlett Johansson as the always deadly and sexy Natasha Romanoff, Samuel L. Jackson as head honcho Nick Furry, and Sebastian Stan who portrays his alter ego this go around, the Winter Soldier. Joining these vets are newcomers Anthony Mackie, and Robert Redford, who tackle Falcon and Alexander Pierce respectively. Additionally, there’s a terrific supporting ensemble comprised of Frank Grillo, Hayley Atwell, Cobie Smulders, and Toby Jones. If this all-star cast isn’t enough to entice you, I don’t what is!

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The insanely talented Chris Evans never ceases to amaze me, I sincerely hope the rumours floating about regarding his early retirement from acting are false. I mean, the man is a machine! Whether he’s knocking the baddies on their rear end or bursting with an unfathomable spectrum of emotions, Evans makes it look all too easy. Now, for those who have been clamouring for an independent Black Widow film, I apologize, I could not see the potential…but all that’s changed now. Scarlett Johansson quite possibly provides the best performance this flick has to offer. She’s sweet, stunning, funny, smart, and sexy. A lethal combination and something you wouldn’t expect from an Avenger afterthought. Sebastian Stan, who’s work I’m not exactly familiar with apart from the original “Captain America” film, gives the best villain performance I’ve seen since Tom Hardy’s Bane or Tom Hiddleston’s Loki. Every time this badass stud hit the screen sporting his menacing black mask and mechanical arm, I got chills.

Easily the most surprising aspect of the film is Anthony Mackie’s Falcon. I wasn’t expecting to enjoy his character and alter ego so much! I originally thought he would provide nothing more than a few comical quips and mid-air somersaults, but he does so much more. So much so that I’m actually looking forward to Falcon’s next Marvel appearance. Additionally, Robert Redford…wow. Although he’s only on the screen here and there, he controls the moments he is with an abundance of charisma and villainy.

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Shedding the cartoonish hue and predictable comedic relief that has plagued previous Marvel outings, it looks as if the illustrious comic book organization has finally gotten it right. With an incredibly strong script, potent humour, and massively memorable performances, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is as strong as they come.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier: 9 out of 10.

Vote! Greatest Sequel of All Time

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A sequel, much like one’s plans in life, doesn’t always pan out. And no matter how stellar the predecessor, the sequel almost never lives up to the hype or even reaches remotely close to where the original set the bar. They’re typically rushed, contrived, and created simply to make fast, easy money. On the other hand, every so often, a sequel comes along and trumps its predecessor. It’s well thought-out, It expands on the story, and creates more relatable, three-dimensional characters.

So, with that in mind, I took to my movie collection and did some research to find out what the general consensus was on the greatest sequels of all time. Of course my opinion differed from most, but nonetheless I compiled a list of front-runners and inserted them into a poll. Now, all I ask of you is to vote for your all time favourite sequel! Feel free to write in your response if I have not listed it below. And let’s say in a couple of weeks I’ll release the results.

Also, I’m still accepting submissions for “The Guest List” segment. So if you’d like to contribute your very own top 10 to The Cinema Monster, here’s how!

All you need to do is shoot me an e mail (thecinemamonster@gmail.com) with your name, website info (if you have one), and the topic you have chosen for your top 10. If I like what I see, I’ll give you the all clear and you can begin composing your entry. Make sure to include a descriptive, yet brief introduction and a picture or clip for every entry in your top 10. Use my own top 10s and other Guest List entries as references. Then, send it back to me and we will discuss a date of publish!

 

 

Noah (2014)

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I kept telling myself that Aronofsky was making a huge mistake with his latest film “Noah.” That it felt as if this talented director was wasting a lot of time and money in making this early-season blockbuster. And all throughout its construction and publicity, whether it was the first images released, trailers, etc…I was adamant that the film wasn’t exactly drawing me in or provoking enough intrigue in me to buy a ticket. But more importantly, it wasn’t proving that I was wrong. All this, and I still found myself having seen it in its opening weekend. Yes, I purchased a ticket and sat in a theatre to view this biblical epic, isn’t that funny? So I guess either the public relation team did its job or I just subconsciously believed that Aronofsky would pull it off. Sadly however, it seems that my original skepticism was well placed and I was right all along…

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The biblical tale of Noah is one that has always fascinated me. As a child, the thought of living on a gigantic vessel carrying every animal in existence was something that stirred my imagination and broadened my humanity. And as I grew, it was as if the tale grew with me. I began to become more aware and paid closer attention to the moral conundrums and decisive humbleness bursting forth from this fable and its main character Noah. Of course, as I grew, the tale’s authenticity slowly succumbed to my increasing intelligence and eventually it’s genuineness dissipated all together. I mean, a tale like that you take with a grain of salt, as I do with every religious tale, and every religion for that matter.

It’s just, I’m not exactly devout to any religion. And I’m sure that won’t sit well with some readers, but I don’t encourage people to part ways with their beliefs simply because they’re different from mine, I just don’t share your point of view about the universe. Look, when creationism is laid out in front of you, much like it is in Aronofsky’s “Noah,” the hidden beauty of its philosophical magnitude really is something to marvel. That being said, its absurdity when placed opposite our universe and the rules that govern it: forces, evolution, dark matter and energy, elements, and so on, are just too much to overcome, but I digress…

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Aronofsky’s “Noah” feels like two-hours and twenty-minutes of pretentiousness. I’ve seen documentaries about serial murderers, rapists, and pedophiles that don’t paint humanity as dark a shade as “Noah” does. So much so that I don’t understand why some Catholics are so upset and intent on dismissing and destroying this film. Aronofsky provides god’s wrath, nearsightedness, and the mysterious ways in which he works in spades. Granted, the entire film isn’t always shrouded in filth and inhumanity. Towards the end, we get some magnificent scenes featuring the beautiful sky spawned by the creator, lined with a massive rainbow shinning with resplendent colours and flying doves. Stunning right? Yeah, this scene takes place right after Noah’s about to murder his two newborn granddaughters before his sons have a chance to commit the act of incest, seeing as there are no human women left after the flood for them to reproduce.

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Look, I’m not trying to take out Aronofsky’s knees. He’s an outstanding filmmaker that I respect and adore…he just could’ve picked a better project. The film’s technical aspects and visuals are radiant and masterful. There’s a scene in which Noah and his wife Naameh have an intense conversation against the bluish-red hue of the approaching Dawn where Aronofsky uses only their silhouettes to indicate interaction…pure brilliance. Conversely though, I felt that the battle scenes and cartoonish-villainy of Tubal-Cain could have been left on the cutting-room floor. They don’t add anything to the film’s depth and atmosphere. Additionally, the film really suffers from pacing issues and struggles with content portions and importance. That being said, at least the magnificent Clint Mansell, composer of the “Moon” and “Filth” soundtracks comes through with another remarkable score.

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The cast, featuring Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Emma Watson, Ray Winstone, Anthony Hopkins, and Logan Lerman, was perhaps the only thing keeping me going while I waited for what was certainly going to be a misstep for the revered and immensely talented Aronofsky. Surprisingly however, this ensemble somehow managed to crumble under the film’s weak script, can you believe that?

Connelly and Watson stole the show for me, as much as they could anyway with what they were given. Crowe, who is an absolute tank in this film physically, gives it his all, but the character he is portraying has just too many flaws to overcome. As I mentioned earlier, Winstone really does create a strong villain, too bad it’s in the wrong film. Hopkins continues to appear briefly in movies, as he is just a shade of his former self, but hell, we all need a steady paycheque. Did I miss anyone? Oh yeah, Lerman is given a much broader role than his kin in the film, but can’t do much with it. Hey, at least he got to be mentored and obtained tons of advice from this cast of vets for a few months.

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Unfortunately, “Noah” is your typical blockbuster in the most general sense. Yes, it makes you think slightly more than most big-budget films and provides some stunning visuals to go along with the never ending feeling of guilt you now bear once you leave the theatre. It’s a mistake, plain and simple, for Aronofsky, cast and crew, but I’m certain they’ll recover.

Noah: 6 out of 10.

Nymphomaniac: Volume 2 (2014)

Warning: This review contains content, images, and language that may upset and/or offend some readers. Reader discretion is advised.

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One thing that Lars Von Trier’s “Nymphomaniac” films are adamant in conveying to and exerting from the viewer is the ability to look at everything from a different point of view, no matter how difficult or uncomfortable it may be at times. Something you wouldn’t expect from a film who’s content is so universally opinionated to one side like sex addiction, pedophillia, extreme BDSM, etc… Nevertheless, Trier’s latest outing topples this feat surprisingly easily, much to the bewildered amazement of cinephiles everywhere, including myself. Although, I’m sure there will be an avalanche of backlash regarding the film’s unrestrained visuals and themes, not to mention the stance it takes on the aforementioned matters from prudes, over-protective parents, and so on. That being said, “Nymphomaniac” as a whole is quite the eye-opener and should resonate with mature, intelligent beings.

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Look, I’m not condoning sex with children, and the film isn’t either. It’s simply providing varying vantage points, giving an intelligent, thought-out counterargument to topics that don’t receive much opposition. For example. We as a species, a compassionate, smart, understanding, evolving society have come to accept homosexuality as something that one is born with, a genetic tendency that the host has no control over. So, can’t the same be said for someone who is sexually attracted to prepubescent beings? Or for those who can’t help but be sexually stimulated by violence?

Clearly having relations with someone under the age of consent is wrong, and the same could be said for asphyxiation, unreciprocated desire for intercourse, simulated or not, and partaking in violent stimulation. So what are these people to do when they have no say in the matter? Obviously and irrefutably we cannot have pedophiles and murderers running lose, so do we continue down this path? Lock them up, end their existence and suffering, wait for natural selection to take its course? This is what “Nymphomaniac” is presenting. An alternative way of seeing through the dark.

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“Perhaps the only difference between me and other people is that I’ve always demanded more from the sunset. More spectacular colors when the sun hit the horizon. That’s perhaps my only sin.” – Jo.

Undoubtedly my favourite line from the film. This quote really drives home the notion that we should all look at our lives differently. We see our existence as this miracle, a gift that gives even at its most darkest. But, why should we not expect more out of life and living? As Jo says, “more spectacular colours.” Shouldn’t everything be infinitely fulfilling? I’m not talking about excess, I’m talking about every moment in one’s life being boundlessly splendid. We only get a finite amount of minutes living in a body with a character and personality unlike any other, so why not comprise them of something that satisfies you fully, whatever that may be. Part ways with the notion of work, government, and materialism, do whatever makes you ooze with joy…no matter how unique or unsavoury.

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With volume 1, Trier was very much focused on the minuscule, personal aspects of fulfillment and living. The idea that sharing one’s life with another gives us a disillusioned purpose…something more than simply being a brief second in our species reproductive cycle towards the goal…ultimate, infallible evolution. In volume 2, Trier broadens the scale and takes our insignificance to the universal level and really tries to hammer home the irrefutable truth: sex is the driving force of our race and loneliness is inevitable. And sadly, Trier’s view of existence and humanity, is the truth. This has been present throughout all his films and his latest rings strongest. It’s a harsh reality and I know a lot of you won’t want to hear it…believe it, but, it’s something that can’t be refuted or undone. It is what it is, we are what we are, there’s nothing to do but live a thoroughly and utterly enjoyable life while you can.

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In volume 1, Stacy Martin was the driving force while Charlotte Gainsbourg took the backseat, so to speak. The roles reverse in volume 2 and Gainsbourg puts to rest any criticism naysayers would have slung in her direction had she faltered under the immense demands and pressure of Trier’s latest. Whether she’s fully clothed having an intellectual conversation with a newly found friend or taking a vicious beating half-naked just to achieve an epic, heavenly, godly orgasm, Gainsbourg holds the screen and audiences attention as if she had a gun held to the head of the world. Another outstanding performance on her end further proves that her lack of use in other films is incomprehensible.

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of “Nymphomaniac” is Stellan Skarsgard’s character Seligman. Without question, an intelligent, compassionate loner who can’t help but blend into the background. Yet, as time progresses, we can’t help but start to slowly shift focus from Gainsbourg’s characters story to his life, experiences and environment. I don’t want to give too much away, but do pay close attention to Skarsgard’s brilliance here. His character arguably becomes our antihero just as much as Gainsbourg’s character does. I don’t think I’ve seen a protagonist so intriguing. Our admiration, respect, and love for this character changes so quickly, if you blink, you might miss it.

The film also stars Jamie Bell, who having recently won even more praise from me for his role in “Snowpiercer” continues to shine blindingly with another unforgettable turn in “Nymphomaniac.” Willem Dafoe and Mia Goth round out the supporting cast, with those who were present in volume such as Shia LaBeouf and Stacy Martin making brief appearances as well.

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If I could leave you with one last tidbit of advice, watch the film as a whole, not in two separate volumes. I know it’s tough to sit through a four-hour film, but I promise it’s worth the effort. Trier’s visuals are as unflinching, striking and reprehensible as ever. The film is filled with philosophical theories and moral quandaries, not to mention the stellar performances from the entire ensemble. “Nymphomaniac” is another triumph for Trier and company, one that is sure to leave you pondering its construction and meaning well after the final credits role.

Nymphomaniac: Volume II: 9 out of 10.

Snowpiercer (2014)

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Much like the train we inhabit for Bong Joon-Ho’s English language directorial debut, the direction in which “Snowpiercer” travels is determined, but at its core, the journey is one that has no control. Nevertheless, this doesn’t mean that the trip isn’t one hell of a ride. Brilliantly choreographed and unrelenting action highlights this resplendent visual feast that has the brains to match, for the most part. With brutal violence and an array of contrasting, stimulating colours, one can’t help but push the chaos and in-your-face obviousness of “Snowpiercer” to the back burner and just enjoy the trek.

Bong Joon-Ho has been and continues to be a filmmaker whom I admire and look to for inspiration. The director of numerous triumphs such as true-crime thriller “Memories of Murder,” modern monster masterpiece “The Host,” and psychological drama “Mother.” Bong Joon-Ho finally makes his much anticipated debut in English language cinema with “Snowpiercer,” much like his South Korean counterpart Chan Wook-Park did in 2013 with “Stoker.” This latest offering from Bong Joon-Ho features an all-star cast comprised of newcomers and veterans to Ho’s brand of film. Chris Evans, Kang-Ho Song, Tilda Swinton, Jamie Bell, Octavia Spencer, Ed Harris, and John Hurt lead the way.

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In the not too distant future, humankind unleashes what is believed to be a chemical remedy to global warming into the atmosphere. When this experiment backfires and sends our planet into an unliveable state, the few who remain seek refuge on the ‘Snowpiercer.’ A train powered by a perpetual motion engine that circles the globe once every year. Designed by the prophetic Wilford, this train is the last livable place on Earth, running on the same, worldwide track for eternity.

On board the train, what remains of our population has descended in to madness and chaos. The rich, privileged first class passengers live in luxury and comfort at the front of the train, while the rest find home at the tail where food and space is sparse. In order to obtain better living conditions and equality, the tail section revolts in an attempt to take over the engine and overthrow the current status in which the train functions.

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Taking into account that “Snowpiercer” was an adaptation, the original format being a graphic novel. A lot of the film’s blatant depiction of its themes and cartoonish violence and characters is understandable. That being said, at its worst, “Snowpiercer” is a bewildering, over-stuffed allegory that really suffers from pacing problems. Which is kind of intriguing seeing as originally, Bong Joon-Ho was not given control over the final cut of the film. This changed rather quickly though with the outcry of infuriated fans, much like myself and Bong Joon-Ho once again took full control of his film. However, whether or not this is the truth or simply a gambit I find to be in question, seeing as the film itself feels as if there was a lot more character and story development left on the cutting room floor.

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On the flip side, for all of its faults, “Snowpiercer” is a visually entertaining and mentally challenging flick. And apart from a rather lacklustre climax, there isn’t a single moment in its just over two-hour run-time in which boredom will overtake you. While extremely violent, “Snowpiercer” is not excessively gory. It tries and at times succeeds in portraying compassion and brotherhood over war and never sells the evilness of humanity as our undoing.

In his transition, Bong Joon-Ho hasn’t lost any part of his infallible repertoire. If anything, “Snowpiercer” is his most ambitious, technically masterful film to date. As we progress through each car, we are treated to a completely different spectrum of colour ranging from achromatic to vibrant and picturesque. The battle sequences are captured with the utmost intensity and emotion and the characters never take a backseat to this visual spectacle. While undoubtedly not Bong Joon-Ho’s strongest outing, “Snowpiercer” will forever remain an achievement on his impressive resume.

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While I was, without question, rather anxiously excited awaiting Bong Joon-Ho’s next project, I didn’t become totally smitten until I heard that Kang-Ho Song would be co-starring. Having lead a few of my personal favourites: “Thirst,” “The Good, The Bad, The Weird,” “Memories of Murder,” and “The Host,” you can see why I was so ripe with anticipation. In “Snowpiercer,” Kang-Ho Song is as charismatic, intimidating, and darkly hilarious as ever. While the script didn’t really allow for his character to outstretch his wings, so to speak, there’s no denying that Song did everything he could to bring this mad, drug-addicted genius to life.

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Leading alongside Kang-Ho Song is Captain America himself, Chris Evans. Having previously been featured in such personal favourites as “The Iceman” and “Sunshine,” I was sure that alongside Song, Evans wouldn’t disappoint. Evans continues his ascent to stardom with another heartfelt, invested turn, this time as the leader of the tail section revolution with a dreary, ruthless past. One thing that has become very apparent as of late, and that “Snowpiercer” exemplifies, is that Evans has the ability to deal out heroic, blockbuster performances as well as dramatic stunners.

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In supporting roles, Swinton is nothing short of impeccable. Decisively devilish and so easy to hate, Swinton does a phenomenal job as an antagonist who’s death the viewer can easily enjoy. Jamie Bell continues to earn my respect and trust. After surprising performances in “Filth” and the recent “Nymphomaniac,” Bell’s performance in “Snowpiercer” is another I can sink my teeth into. Octavia Spencer, John Hurt, and Ed Harris are also worth noting here. While easily lost in the background, their brief moments on screen are strong enough to dazzle and provoke.

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While not the game-changer I was anticipating. “Snowpiercer” is still an impressive feat that all involved can be proud of. It’s as entertaining as any big-budgeted Hollywood action flick and much more rewarding. It’ll turn its fair share of casual filmgoers away with its bleak, disturbing, and violent content, but for those who can stand “Snowpiercer” at its most repugnant, this is one train ride they won’t soon forget.

Snowpiercer: 7.5 out of 10.

In Fear (2014)

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For cinephiles, much like myself, I find that horror is trickier to dissect in the same manner one would a film in other genres. Reason being that no matter how impressive and substantial, horror films never seem to carry as much reverence in the art of film as a whole. For example, come award season, horror flicks aren’t exactly looked upon with much value and very rarely garner a nomination, let alone a victory. Why?

I never like to toss myself in the minority, but I can’t help it this time. Personally, horror is one of, if not the genre of choice, and I’m not alone. I’ve seen the very best of what the genre has to offer from the ultra disturbing, to the unbearably gory and so on. Yet, people still can’t shake this notion that somehow horror is a notch below cinema’s elite. It’s as if we’ve been brainwashed to believe that what the horror genre has to offer isn’t worthy of our time and acclaim. How many times have you heard the lie that the horror genre is dying? This mindset needs to change amongst us cinephiles. Horror creates fear, one of the most crucial and unique emotions that affects the human body mentally and physically, unlike any other feeling. The point of cinema is to provoke reaction, isn’t it? So how can you deny yourself that experience? Begin your cinematic progression, your film evolution here, with “In Fear.”

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Director Jeremy Lovering has set the record straight. His latest film’s title is derived from the story and the premise on which it was based, as if after watching this cinematic thesis unfold left any confusion. This dive into horror isn’t exactly conventional. You know, a series of events that progress to a distressing crest, climax, and conclude. No, there is something theoretic, scientific, albeit madly, about this picture. Something that Lovering put best when he summarized that his latest flick wasn’t a typical outing into terror, rather, “an experiment in fear.” And although “In Fear” is quite terrifying, it isn’t solely driven by the fear it is able to provoke. It is a film that explores the experience of fear itself and what effect it has on the human body, both mentally and physically. And more importantly, to what extent is the damage irreversible…

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“There’s nothing to fear, but fear itself.” A famous quote used by many I’m sure you’ve heard somewhere before. Maybe a tad cliche, especially when discussing the horror genre, but that doesn’t make it any less true. This notion is excavated and examined exhaustively throughout “In Fear,” almost scholar-like.

This theory is fairly simple to understand. Essentially, what’s truly frightening about fear is what the emotion allow’s ourselves to create. When terrified, it’s as if we access a part of our brain we don’t normally tend to, where we keep all the things we irrevocably dread. It’s this miraculously unnerving ability to turn common things like shadows, rain, tree branches into monstrosities not of this world with sinister motivations. It’s the darkest side of our imagination, a wonder of life who’s existence we despise to the marrow.

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Of course however, no matter how talented we may be at transforming bland simplicity into complex apparitions of terror, we are never really in danger, it’s all just a concoction in our brain, a phantom that never actually existed. Kind of anti-climactic, isn’t it? That being said however, with “In Fear” Lovering presents and depicts a rather intriguing idea, an uncomfortable thought. He states that the only thing we have to fear is those without any. Someone who is removed from fear and danger, someone who’s life isn’t of value to them self. This then allows this being without fear to become an external force, like gravity. When you distinguish and rid yourself of fear, you gain control over every other life form. Simply, you have fear and it doesn’t, you have everything to lose and it doesn’t. Creepy, isn’t it?

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Lovering captures the immensity of “In Fear’s” theory flawlessly, which is all the more remarkable considering that the entirety of the film takes place within a car. Yet, as impressive as this philosophical intelligence is, what’s even more astounding is the fact that “In Fear” was captured literally void of a script. All the cast and crew had to go on was a premise, nothing more. Looking back on the scale of what they created with how little they begun with is worth the watch alone. Now, aside from the theoretical premise, the genuine ambiguity of the dialogue and script, keep an eye out for “In Fear’s” use of atmosphere to create the foundation of terror. Hauntingly beautiful visuals of baron fields, harsh weather, and dreary overgrowth form this Earthy, elemental fright that’s inescapable. Combined with a light, ominous score, the fright is almost unbearable.

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Without scripted structure and dialogue, Lovering was hoping to achieve an authentic portrayal of fear, something the cast, comprised of Iain De Caestecker, Alice Englert, and Allen Leech, would have to convey naturally. Englert and Caestecker portray the victims of Leech’s torment, a young couple on their first getaway. Leech is the highlight of the film, performance wise. His sadistic, unmotivated, sociopathic take on a serial murderer is bone-chilling. One of the better performances I’ve seen in a horror film in a good, long while. As for Englert and Caestecker, what can one say? The level of genuine fear they reach in their portrayals is bewildering. Their performances really drive the film forward. Honestly, for parts of this flick, you’ll feel as if you’re watching a snuff film, that’s how realistic the performances are.

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Although undoubtedly not for everyone, “In Fear” is a terrific showcase of horror done right.

In Fear: 8.5 out of 10

Enemy (2014)

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Dennis Villeneuve’s latest, “Enemy,” is seemingly shrouded in secrecy. Amongst the remnants of Villeneuve’s last film, high-profile crime-thriller “Prisoners,” this mysterious piece of suspenseful anti-existentialism took form and emerged from the shadows. Blending staggeringly beautiful camerawork, the lovely Toronto skyline muddled in a glowing haze, and marvellously haunting performances from the entire cast, “Enemy” quite handily manages to stimulate, stump, and shock. With Hitchcock-like suspense, an atmosphere akin to classic David Lynch, and a skin-crawling metamorphosis that would make Kafka proud. “Enemy” stands not only as a sufficiently fulfilling thriller, but a nerve-shredding, confident, worthy art-house piece in the ranks of its inspirations.

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A flick that’s as much an exercise in problem solving as it is a piece of art, a lot like a puzzle or a mathematical game of deciphering a pattern or code. “Enemy” is about as complex as they come, never ceasing to challenge the viewer with a barrage of variables, twists and turns. It’s an equation comprised of shapeless pieces that intertwine to form a web on the grandest scale.

Based on “The Double” by Jose Saramago, “Enemy” was adapted for the screen by Javier Gullon and directed by the aforementioned Dennis Villeneuve. Shot on location in Toronto, this modern-day fable stars Jake Gyllenhaal in a dual role, Melanie Laurent, and Sarah Gadon.

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Adam (Gyllenhaal) is a history professor who is slowly becoming more and more disinterested in the world and people surrounding him. Even his girlfriend Mary (Laurent) can’t seem to hold his attention outside of the bedroom in his gloomy, run-down apartment. On a recommendation, Adam decides to pick up a local film at a nearby video store, perhaps a last attempt at salvaging his humanity. Later that night, while Mary sleeps alone in the next room, Adam has reluctantly become entranced by the low-budget flick. Then, while lost in a deep sleep, Adam has a dream heavily influenced by the movie, so much so that Adam begins to see himself in the picture. Awakening frightened, he revisits the film to find that it wasn’t himself he was seeing in his dream, but an extra that resembles himself exactly. Stunned, Adam becomes obsessed with his look-alike and eventually searches out his identical being.

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Anthony (Gyllenhaal) is an aspiring actor who is expecting his first child with his lovely wife Helen (Gadon). The two are looking for a fresh start after some turbulence early on in their relationship. Having recently moved to a respectable apartment, one could conclude that this new place of residence is a symbol of their relationship’s rejuvenation. One day, Helen receives a bizarre phone call from someone who sounds exactly like her husband Anthony. As days pass, the phone calls persist, which Anthony now handles in private. Letting speculation get the best of her, Helen demands Anthony reveal the nature of the calls. Anthony informs his wife that it is nothing but a bizarre man claiming to be a big fan of his films. Fully aware of the trust issues his marriage has sustained, Anthony decides to keep the true nature of the calls from his wife, that Adam is on the other end, clamouring to be Anthony’s doppelgänger.

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I know it may appear as if I’ve somewhat spoiled the film with the previous summarization, but I assure you, the information I’ve provided you with is merely the premise. I’ve barely begun to scratch the surface of “Enemy” and that’s the way it’ll have to stay in order for you, the reader, to thoroughly experience and discover its depths. That being said, I can tell you that what follows will undoubtedly leave a fair amount of viewers on the opposite side of the fence. “Enemy” is a complex, intricate beast that’ll leave you begging for a second viewing. It’ll keep you up at night, reading, thinking about every aspect of its veiled misdirection, dialogue, and symbolism. You won’t be able to view “Enemy” and then simply sit it on a shelf, it requires ambitious follow-up.

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While I can’t reveal “Enemy’s” secrets, I can describe to you Dennis Villeneuve’s mastery is on display throughout this film. However, if I’m to be honest, this is the first film of Villeneuve’s I’ve seen. That being said, after viewing “Enemy,” I can assure you his catalogue is on my radar.

Now, what I found most impressive is Villeneuve’s ability to shift seamlessly from the large-scale stuff down to the minuscule. Through his lens, we span across a luminous smog and an achromatic pallet that has Toronto looking menacing and infinite. Then, a few shots down the road, we’re locked, engulfed in a dark and dreary apartment, watching two men and their identities crumble under what defines them, or lack there of. Villeneuve somehow manages to create this rapidly rising claustrophobia through intimate settings and predicaments, like travelling on a streetcar or partaking in compassionate sex. A vulnerable helplessness, inescapability that gives us a distinct vantage point to our own importance and insignificance that is truly remarkable. Without question some of the finest camerawork and direction I’ve ever seen.

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It’s always a visual treat for viewers when an actor tackles multiple roles in a film, and quite a challenge for the one who has undertaken it. Still, I feel most filmmakers and actors haven’t fully capitalized on the double premise…until now.

On one hand, sitting on a motorcycle sporting a devilishly handsome and intimidating beard while wearing a black leather jacket, we have Jake Gyllenhaal’s Anthony. A cold, pretentious, opportunistic predator bordering narcissistic. Conversely, lounging around his crappy apartment, unkempt, grading papers, and forcing himself on his girlfriend, we have Gyllenhaal’s Adam. A pessimist and reluctant narcissist, who’s soul just might still be salvageable. Two vastly different characters comprised of a single man’s brilliance. Gyllenhaal, who’s wowed us in the past with “Donnie Darko” and “Source Code,” gives a career defining performance…twice. Even if you find yourself flabbergasted, obsessed, or just plain infuriated by “Enemy,” there’s no denying Gyllenhaal’s triumph.

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The characters of Mary and Helen are a level of bizarre all on their own, mirroring one another, although not to the same extent of Adam and Anthony. Melanie Laurent (Mary), arguably portraying the sanest character in the film, does what she can with her limited dialogue and screen time. Had Mary been more crucial to the story instead of merely being an oblivious pawn, Laurent would have been allowed to stun as we should expect. Nonetheless, Laurent is as radiant and invested as always. Sarah Gadon (Helen) has drawn possibly the most intriguing character in the film, which I cannot explain due to spoilers. Regardless, this gorgeous rising star continues to improve and hone her craft while building a very respectable repertoire.   Immaculate performances by the entire ensemble, through and through.

Featuring a transfixing musical score, stunning visuals, immensely impressive performances, and dread that reaches its pinnacle at the terrifying ending. “Enemy” is a taut, entertaining, slow-burning thriller that we’ll be discussing and revisiting for a good, long while.

Enemy: 9 out of 10.

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