A Triple Double Bill

Three quick reviews as I try to wrap up a few posts before Christmas.
Can you spot the connection? Can you spot the connection?

In Muppets Most Wanted (James Bobin, 2014), all our furry faves are back again to build on the success of the excellent Muppets re-boot from a couple of years ago. This time, the plot revolves around Kermit's evil doppelganger, the master-criminal Constantine, who takes Kermit's place in the Muppets and uses their world tour to pull off a series of dastardly robberies. Kermit, meanwhile, is cast into a remote Siberian prison, where he is forced to direct a prisoners musical. Naturally, this is all merely an excuse for more Muppet madness. So this looks the same as the last one, but there's something not quite right about it. The songs, jokes and silliness are all in place, but none are quite as memorable or charming as the last time, although it tries its hardest to plaster over this fact with some green face-paint and a long list of celebrity cameos. Still, good to see Sam Eagle get some love, and Christoph Waltz waltzing. *chortle*

Based on a short Dostoevsky novel, The Double (Richard Ayoade, 2014) has an intriguing set-up. A meek, overlooked office-worker Simon James (Jesse Eisenberg) is understandably confused when his exact lookalike James Simon (Eisenberg again) starts work in his office and is everything Simon is not; charming, confident, popular. However, nobody else seems to notice that James is Simon's doppelganger, much to Simon's annoyance, leading him to confront James about his real intentions. So where does it go with this storyline? Well, nowhere really, which is the problem. Design-wise, this looks fantastic, creating a kind of steampunk office environment, filled with strange noises and angles. The references to similarly paranoid films like Brazil and Eraserhead seem obvious, although Ayoade denies this, preferring to namecheck stuff like Welle's The Trial, Melville's Le Samourai and Polanki's The Tenant among those films which influenced his artistic vision. There's clearly a lot of thought and effort going on here, so it's just a pity it plays a bit coldly and doesn't really deliver on such a promising set-up. That said, with this and the excellent Submarine under his belt now, Ayoade is clearly a talent to watch - I look forward to his next film with interest.

A Double Life (George Cukor, 1947) perceptively explores how an actor's psyche might be affected by playing a role over and over again. Here, renowned thesp Tony John (Ronald Colman) finds the boundaries between life and art blur into one another to murderous effect, following a long run playing the tormented Othello on-stage. Colman won a Best Actor Oscar for good work playing both Tony John, and Tony John playing Othello, but it's the script by husband-and-wife team Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin that provides most of the food for thought with recurring themes of duality, opposition and, yes, double lives. Cukor's direction and Milton Krasner's evocative cinematography build upon these themes well, resulting in a tidy and well-assembled noir. I wasn't too keen on Edmond O'Brien and his so-so detective skills though. Still, it turns up on TV regularly, so it's worth catching.

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