The Lobster (2016): Black Comedy Served With Surrealism (Review)

Rachel Weisz and Colin Farrell in The Lobster

Co-written and directed by Yorgos Lanthimos (Efthymis Filippou was the other scribe on the film) The Lobster is a futuristic black comedy served up with a huge dose of surrealism. The film feels quite literally like the love child of Terry Gilliam and Wes Anderson while any other members of the Monty Python gang could be the godparents. 

The film is quite literally the oddest thing out there at the moment.  Set in some point in the near future, the world inhabited by Farrell’s character, and a slew of other brilliant actors, is clearly dystopian.  In many ways Lanthimos and Filippou seem to be forecasting a world gone mad, one more concerned with control rather than passion.

Farrell’s character; David, falls out of a relationship and is sent to a hotel where occupants have a certain amount of time to find a life partner. Society is advanced enough to recognize the need to have two categories. Homosexual and heterosexual, although the bisexual one was removed in the distant past.

For a film to start with a voice over (by Rachel Weisz) and a blonde woman driving to a field with two donkeys, only to get out and shoot one dead, means that this feature is going to be very different and eclectic.

We learn quite quickly that the people at the hotel must find a mate within  a specific time period or they well be turned into an animal of their choice.  There are odd rules that must be obeyed and certain traditions must be followed.

Masturbation, for example, is forbidden. Yet before each “hunt,” where the guests go after loners with tranquilizer dart guns, David is gently manipulated to orgasm by a hotel maid. She rubs her bum against his crotch, a practice that Davids insists is horrible.

Each single person must hunt for a “match.” In each instance of mutual attraction, the couple must have something in common. For example, later, in the woods, David learns finds that he and the short sighted woman (near sighted) – played by Weisz – share this feature making them the perfect couple.

However, in the woods, there are also rules. Stiff and inflexible ones that result in horrible punishments if broken. Each “loner” is forced to dig their own grave, for occupation later, and they are not allowed to kiss or have sex with other loners.

This odd future world seems to be inhabited with self satisfying and simple people who do not have the ability to think abstractly. The world is full of sheep who are easily led by whomever is in charge.

While becoming a couple is the pinnacle of achievement, and necessary to prevent being turned into a horse or, as the title implies, a lobster (David’s choice.) people who are together are still self serving.

In one scene between the couple who run the hotel and the leader of the loners, played by Léa Seydoux, the leader works to sabotage the couple’s relationship.  

The message of the film appears to be that in the future, no one will be allowed to do as they wish. Everyone is controlled by one faction or another and failure to comply either equals death or transmutation into an animal.

The film is funny. John C. Reilly plays a character with a lisp. At one point three friends get into a argument and another character tells the Reilly’s character that whatever animal he become will have a lisp.

After the donkey murder at the start, Farrell’s character is checked into the hotel. He is asked what animal he would like to be if he fails to find a mate. He says lobster. Olivia Colman, the hotel managers congratulates David on his choice. “Nearly everyone,” she tells him, “chooses to be a dog. That’s why there are so many of them.”

Each character in The Lobster speak as if they are not used to doing so. The lines and dialogues between the people in the film feels stilted and unnatural. One gets the impression that the inhabitants of this world are not the sharpest tools in the shed at all.

Their needs are quite basic and their emotions follow suit. This world is quirky, unintelligent and slow.  The pace of the film is snail-like making the almost two hour film feel much, much longer. As interesting as the story is, the movie could have easily lost over a half hour.

Out of the all the cast, several were more than outstanding with their interpretation of their parts.  If there were any real complaint it would be that the brilliantly natural Michael Smiley was definitely under-used.

The film belonged to Farrell, who, after gaining around 40 pounds,  looked oddly like Kevin Kline especially with his mustache and glasses, Weisz and Seydoux, who is so sullenly and fiercely beautiful she takes one’s breath away. Ariane Labed, as the maid, is gloriously sexy in her role while maintaining  a certain ambiguity.

The Lobster suffers from a very confusing  open ended climax. Things are left hanging and one has to interpret their own definition of what happens as the screen fades to black.

Shot entirely in Ireland, the film’s countryside settings are luscious and wild.  The cinematography by Thimios Bakatakis is stunning all the more so because the unit used natural light and no makeup.

The Lobster is a clear 4.5 star film. The movie intrigues while it entertains and offers enough fragmentary confusion and surreal situations that the film’s makers could be successors to Gilliam and Anderson.  An eccentric treat with a splendid cast, this is one that should not be missed.

Wreck-It Ralph (2013): 3Delightful Destruction

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After much deliberation this afternoon, it was decided that my daughter, her boyfriend and I would watch Walt Disney’s Wreck-It Ralph (the 3D version) at the cinema. It was close though, I was holding out for A Good Day to Die Hard but after a little discussion about how Ralph was really a film for gamers, which I am, I went with the mass consensus of two to one.

I’m glad I did.

I got so into the film that not even the kid’s feet behind me bashing into my seat could take me out of it. I did expect to see a few more characters from the “arcade-style” game world; there was mention of Super Mario, but no sign of him, but I was not bothered about the lack of what I expected to see.

Directed and co-written by Rich Moore (along with an amazing 6 other ‘credited’ writers, probably the first time I’ve not seen a “too many cooks spoil the broth” in films) Wreck-it Ralph follows the story of Ralph as he tries to change his very nature and standing in the game he’s a part of.

The game is actually called Fix-It Felix, Jr. and it has been a firm favourite at Litwak’s Arcade for 30 years. But Ralph is tired of being a ‘bad guy’ and he has joined a Bad Guy Support group that he’s talking to at the beginning of the film. He tells the group that he’s tired of Fix-it-Felix, Jr getting medals and pies and being loved by all the other characters in the game. When he returns after his ‘bad guy’ session he see’s that all the characters have thrown a party, without him.

Ralph's world and his cross to bear.
Ralph’s world and his cross to bear.

After “gate-crashing” Felix’s 30th anniversary party, he decides he’s going to get his own medal. He takes a character’s uniform from the first-person shooter game Hero’s Duty so he can win a medal. After discovering that this game is nothing like his, he learns where a medal is from the rough-tough Sgt Calhoun. Once he gets the medal, he’s attacked by a “Cy-Bug” and when he escapes, the Cy-Bug escapes with him to the racing game Sugar Rush.

When Ralph (and the bug) land in Sugar Rush the story takes off as he helps Vanellope win her race and finds out if he really is a good-guy in a bad-guy’s role.

John C. Reilly could have been born to voice Wreck-It Ralph. There is no other actor that I can think of who could have brought him so brilliantly to life. He has the right sort of pathos and misery to his voice to make you really pull for Ralph as he searches for his ‘real’ calling in the game world.

 Jane Lynch  as Sgt Calhoun from Hero’s Duty absolutely rocks it as the tougher than nails space trooper who has a sadder-than-sad back story.

The real joy of the film’s casting (besides Reilly) was Sarah Silverman  as Vanellope and  Alan Tudyk  (from Firefly/Serenity) as King Candy. Silverman enchants and amuses while she tugs at your heartstrings and Tudyk does the best Ed Winn impression in the world. Incidentally if you don’t know who (the late) Ed Winn was, just check out Uncle Albert in Mary Poppins.

Vanellope and Wreck-It Ralph. Sarah Silverman and John C. Reilly.
Vanellope and Wreck-It Ralph. Sarah Silverman and John C. Reilly.

Considering that the main character’s name is Wreck-It Ralph, it will come as no surprise that there is a whole lot of destruction going on in this delightful film. And I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t tearing up with a huge lump in my throat as the film reached its climax.

Gamers will love the film and small children will enjoy it, but, not as much as the older gamer’s in the crowd. The 3D version was very good and you felt at times like you were right in the middle of the action. Great stuff that will appeal to the “big-kid” in us all.

If you see it in the cinema, you’ll also get a chance to see the award-winning animated short Paperman.

My final verdict is a full 5 out of 5 stars, mainly because the interaction between Vanellope and Ralph made me laugh and almost cry. Add Felix, Jr’s  (Jack McBrayer) total infatuation with Sgt Calhoun and you have a really funny bit of romance in the game-verse’s air as well.

If you love gaming, don’t miss this film.

Sgt Calhoun, Commander Shepard's  ethereal twin.
Sgt Calhoun, Commander Shepard’s ethereal twin.

Carnage (2011): Comedy of the Correct

Carnage (2011 film)
Carnage (2011 film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have just finished watching Roman Polanski‘s Carnage. Adapted from the play ‘Le Dieu du carnage‘ written by Yasmina Reza and adapted for the screen by Yasmina and Roman Polanski. I have not laughed so hard in ages.

John C. Reilly and Jodie Foster play Michael and Penelope Longstreet whose son Ethan gets the business end of a stick in his mouth from Zachary Cowan son of Nancy and Alan (Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz).

At the beginning of the film both couples are united in their dual purpose of handling the fight between their sons like civilized adults.

Investment broker Nancy and her lawyer husband Alan both admit that their son Zachary hit Ethan in the mouth with a stick as part of a fight.

Michael and Penelope are magnanimous in their acceptance of Zach’s parents admission of culpability. Everything is correct and proper.

The trouble begins when Nancy and Alan attempt  repeatedly to leave with promises of returning with Zachary later in the evening to get the boys to talk out their differences.

The longer the two couples are together the more their separate facades begin to slip and the true nature of their relationships with family and each other starts to show. As the cracks widen we get to see the real people underneath.

Penelope is an anal bleeding heart liberal who is rabid in her belief that people can settle their problems in a civilized manner.  Michael is a hot headed, short tempered, narrow minded bigot.

Nancy is a stressed out, bored and unhappy woman. Alan has no interest in anything that does not directly affect his business.

As the situation gets consistently worse, a bottle of scotch is introduced into the mix, with hysterical consequence’s. As the two couples drink, allegiances are formed, broken and reformed.

What was initially couple versus couple, the ebb and flow of the group dynamic goes from men against women, to the couples doing a metaphorical ‘do-se-do’ where the couples switch partners.

The alcohol relaxes their inhibitions and brings out the childishness and selfishness inherent in all the ‘adults’

Polanski has lost none of his touch in this brilliantly funny ‘domestic’ comedy. Of course the writer of the original play Yasmina Reza deserves a huge amount of credit for writing such brilliant multi-layered characters.

God of Carnage original West End production poster

I will warn you, the first part of the film is a little hard to watch. It is a little like watching a train lumbering forward into a crash and you know that the characters are not going to be able to avoid it.

But hang in there, like a slow building avalanche, the interaction  between the four people gets hysterically funny. It’s worth the wait.

We Need to Talk About Kevin should be called We Need to Talk…Period

I really enjoyed this film. I had waited eagerly for it to come out in the cinema after watching the teasers and trailers. From the glimpses given us, we the potential audience saw what looked like the making of a mass murderer. The small snippets also gave the impression that Kevin was born damaged. In other words, born bad or evil.First of all I have to take my hat off to the three principal actors here.   Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilly and Ezra Miller all gave a real tour de force in the way of performances. At no time did I not believe fully and totally in their characters. I of course have long loved the acting talents of Ms Swinton. I first became aware of her massive talent when I saw her in Constantine with Keanu Reeves. So honestly I really expect no less than the best from her performance. John C Reilly gave a thoroughly great turn as the father who doesn’t really know what is going on. The real jewel in the crown though, is Ezra Miller as Kevin. This young actor sold it. He has been acting since 2008 and it shows in his masterful performance as the troubled and troubling teen.

Director Lynne Ramsay along with Rory Kinnear did a brilliant job of adapting the book for the screen. In the book everything is told via the mother in letters. By using flash-backs, flash-forwards and present time inter-play they solved the problem of telling a story in a monotonous fashion. And the story is a good ‘un.

Essentially about Kevin, the story shows us his birth, child-hood and all the events that appear to show that he will ultimately turn out bad. He does indeed fulfil our expectations, but rather than believing that Kevin was really bad from the womb, we find that he had a lot of help from mum and dad.

Tilda Swinton as Kevin’s mother is a mixture of post natal depression, passive aggressive anxiety and sullen silence. She fails to bond with Kevin when he is born and never really manages to connect with him in a maternal way. It is almost as though she were the same mental age as Kevin. She at no time takes on the role of “grown-up.” John C. Reilly as Kevin’s dad comes across as one of those “matter-of-fact” dads. He always seems to be on the side of reason and understanding, but only on the most superficial level.

This dysfunctional family then decide to have another child (although decide is probably a bit of a misnomer, it appears to be the result of a drunken love-fest) And of course the entry of another child causes more problems.

Ultimately when the film’s events began to all come together to show what happened on the fateful day, I felt that they didn’t need to talk about Kevin at all. They just needed to talk. No one and I mean no one ever sat down and really spent time talking about anything. Problems were discussed very lightly if at all. The other apparent thing about the film was that Kevin took after mom. Dad placidity was not evident in Kevin’s personality. No, Kevin seemed to have gotten all the “good stuff” from mom’s gene-pool.

All in all this was a powerful film. Disturbing and thought provoking, this is not a film to be taken lightly. So if you are looking for a film that you can set back and eat popcorn and drink fizzy and enjoy, you might want to give it a miss. But if you like a film that makes you think and talk about it long after you’ve seen it? This one hits the mark.