The Art of Style as Substance in Enemy, The Grand Budapest Hotel, and 300: Rise of an Empire

Style as Substance Example Number One: Enemy

Enemy Spider over Toronto Skyline Poster

Denis Villeneuve’s Toronto-set artsy psychological thriller, Enemy (based on Jose Saramago’s novel, The Double) is one of those rare films of exacting creeping style that elicits audible gasps from the audience.  Jake Gyllenhaal plays a mild-mannered university history professor who repeatedly lectures about the dangers of losing one’s individuality under totalitarian regimes and muses over the cyclical nature of history and the rise of these totalitarian states – first viewed as tragedy, later as farce.  The man oddly hates films, but he’s urged by a colleague to watch one in particular, and there he spots in a bit role as a bellhop his exact double.  It’s not long before he becomes obsessed with tracking down his doppelgänger.

Enemy Location Shot

The first audible gasp (coupled with nervous laughter) was unique to the location where I saw the film.  Enemy is boxed in by mesmerizing sepia-toned cinematography – grand scanning images of the Toronto skyline (never before used more monotonously menacing in a film).  For those who have never been to Toronto, it’s a blisteringly modern landscape riddled with areas constantly under construction, giant cranes towering in the sky dangling precipitously over highway off-ramps next to skeleton frames of new office or condo highrises.  Villeneuve (Canada’s premier auteur) perfectly captures this along with the city’s cold lakeside white-washed sheen (either by salt and snow in the winter, or heat in the summer – tinged deliberately yellow here by his camera).  I had the luck of seeing the film while working in Mississauga, Ontario – a suburb of Toronto with its own unique skyline (highlighted by the famous Marilyn Monroe Towers, surreal condo highrises with hourglass shapes) also featured in the film.  I experienced it at a Cineplex in downtown Mississauga right down the road from those lovely towers.  When Jake Gyllenhaal’s character discovers the home address of his exact double to be on Rathburn Rd. West (unbeknownst to me prior to this in-film revelation, the very road upon which we sat watching the film!) the laughter and gasp from the small audience was priceless, and I suddenly felt as if I was a part of this unnerving conspiracy as I could see Jake Gyllenhaal’s double’s apartment from the parking lot of the theater! Continue reading

Immortals Beloved

Tarsem goes mad Renaissance on them Greeks, yo!

The above image appears in the final moments of Tarsem “Is it okay to call you Singh now?” Singh’s operatic and opulent visual feast and “Ode to a Grecian Urn” fantasia film that is Immortals.  It’s an image a young boy conjures when he closes his eyes and imagines the Titans and the Gods duking it out in the clouds above, and it’s a magical cinematic moment you’ll wish there was more of in Immortals.  When the visionary director focuses on the visions – like an earlier scene where the beautiful Oracle Phaedra (Freida Pinto) first touches our hero Theseus (an appropriately Superman ready Henry Cavill) and is set into a literal 3D tizzy of finely crafted and overt symbolism – it’s enough to make you thank the cinematic gods for Tarsem…almost. Continue reading

A Review of Zack Snyder’s “300”

I think the huge success of 300 can be attributed to its glorfication of at least one dark desire of just about everyone.  It unites us through our vices.  I was entertained by the spectacle of it and sickened by its message.

One Nation Under a Raving Lunatic, 13 March 2007
David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

Zack Snyder’s gleefully insane adaptation of Frank Miller’s graphic novel, “300” just may be the first movie to appeal to both radically hawkish hard-line conservatives and to the most outgoing section of the gay community. Zack Snyder, it seems, is a uniter, not a divider. “300” is over-the-top visually and thematically, morally corrupt, erotically jingoistic, and infected with both nihilistic and fascist sensibilities.

In an attempt to make the onslaught of computer generated images appear more like film, Snyder decides to add a faux-graininess to many of the more elaborate shots, which makes much of them hard to see. Of course, some of these images aren’t without their artistic merit, often visually transfixing and compelling in their composition. Overall, he does a commendable job in his literal translation of comic book images to the big screen (much in the same vein as the far superior “Sin City.”) Some of it (like most of the well staged and fantastically gory battle scenes) is amazing, but much of it (even the Spartan soldiers’ abs look computer generated) is just plain silly.

For a movie that attempts to be so trailblazing from a visual perspective, the storyline stays alarmingly close to the conventions of both macho-man war epics and comic book action films. The dialogue is mostly screaming and vague speeches about “honor and liberty and justice” backed-up by glaring and pompous music. It makes the script from “Gladiator” seem like Shakespeare in comparison. As far as the cast goes, the beautiful Lena Headey lends herself nicely to the film’s aesthetics and acts as if she is staring in a far more refined historical epic. In the lead role of mad King Leonidas, Gerard Butler does a wildly entertaining impersonation of someone doing a spoof on a young and robust Sean Connery. He’s the only one seeming to have fun with the self-seriousness of the whole endeavor, and dare I say it, this could be a star-making role for him.

Lambasting “300” for historical inaccuracies would be like condemning “American Idol” for not allowing presidential candidates to debate on the show between songs. History is not what this film is about. In some ways it feebly tries to channel the spirit of Greek myth. In its celebration of physical beauty, view of courage as how loud you can scream and how many people you can decapitate, and idolizing the mentality of “freedom at any costs,” it appeals to both ancient Greeks and unfortunately, a certain segment of the modern audience. Ultimately, this is just another film that fetishizes death and martyrdom over the innate will to survive. Even Mel Gibson’s equally violent “Apocalypto” recognized man’s unshakable will to live. Willing a glorious death is no way to spend one’s life, and as entertaining as much of it is, “300” panders to our basest desires of self annihilation.

Originally published on the Internet Movie Database