29 Days of Romance, Review #8: The Lobster (2016)

29 Days of Romance, Review #8: The Lobster (2016)
The Lobster poster

Directed by: Yorgos Lanthimos. Starring: Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Jessica Barden. Runtime: 1h 59 min. Released: May 13, 2016 (first US theatrical release date).

This review may contain spoilers

The Lobster is one of the many films I’ve been meaning to see since it came out but simply haven’t… Honestly, the four years I waited to watch this was worth the wait. This is one of the weirdest films I’ve seen and that’s because of the premise alone. In this near future, single people are sent to the Hotel where they’ll stay for 45 days and try to find a mate. If after 45 days they don’t find anyone suitable to be with, they’ll be turned into an animal and will have to live in the woods. It’s dealer’s choice, so you can be whatever animal you want to be.

The fascinating world alone hooked me from the beginning because of its bizarre, strange and creative idea. It’s a world obsessed with co-dependence that’s a parallel to the animal world of mating. Some of the ideas are just fascinating, too, like when the Hotel Manager (Olivia Colman) tells our main character David (Colin Farrell) that his choice to become a lobster is a fine one as everyone chooses something basic like a dog. She says this as she looks at David’s dog, who is his brother.

She mentions that this is a reason so many unique animals are endangered because no one chooses to become them and I think that’s a fascinating idea. Still, I didn’t fully understand some concepts of this world, like why these pairs need to have one specific defining trait that makes them a perfect pair, and I think that kept me from completely understanding the third act. It’s like a world obsessed with those compatibility tests you’d take in high school but taken to an extreme.

The writing itself, by director Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthymis Filippou, is the strongest aspect of The Lobster in a film that has so many good things about it. The film’s humour is dry and monotone, but so clever. Half of these characters feel like they don’t have a filter and just say what they’re thinking, so that creates a lot of comedy. The dialogue is just naturally funny and it’s the cast that make it amazing, Colin Farrell especially. Ben Whishaw and John C. Reilly are also highlights in the first half, as is Jessica Barden as a character prone to constant nosebleeds.

The comedy in this is exactly my sense of humour. I like all kinds of comedy but the writing and dry comedy here just worked wonders for me and my face got sore from laughing. The energy of the scenes at the Hotel have made this film one of my favourites. It’s nice of the second half to take a break from non-stop laughs when the film really jumps the shark in a particular scene. The film kicks into the romantic part of its story when David meets a character simply called Short-Sighted Woman (Rachel Weisz). Weisz is brilliant for her performance and monotone narration, and I can’t remember a time where narration worked so well for me. Her narration depicts David’s inner thoughts throughout the film and it is hysterical.

The Lobster article
John C. Reilly, Colin Farrell and Ben Whishaw in The Lobster. (IMDb)

There’s still some humour in the second half, but it feels like a different film as David meets a group of Loners, led by a character played by Léa Seydoux and her presence is memorable. Farrell and Weisz’ chemistry shines in the second half as it turns to a forbidden romantic drama. That’s one fascinating thing about this and the contrast of the two halves of the film – at the Hotel, you need to find a mate. With the Loners, you need to stay alone.

It’s two extremes of the spectrum that Lanthimos utilizes brilliantly. The Hotel half is care-free and hilarious under the stress of needing to find a mate (and it’s truly cutthroat as Ben Whishaw’s character explains his wife died five days prior and now he’s being forced to find another match), and the conditions of the stress seems cutthroat. But if you find a match when you’re not supposed to, it’s a more dramatic second half with stronger stakes.

Truly, Seydoux as the Loner Leader is a fascinating character and how she makes this group survive, like how they can’t even dance with each other and how they all individually listen to EDM music. That, by the way, makes for one of the funnier scenes of the second half.

It’s just a tonally different story and great for very different reasons than to why I enjoyed the first 50 minutes of the film so much. I believe if the film was set strictly at the Hotel throughout and maintained that energy throughout the film, this would be one of my absolute favourites. The atmosphere and humour just worked wonders for me, and that almost makes it disappointing that it jumps the shark so much into a different tone.

The direction Lanthimos takes it is brilliant and the way he tells the story feels realistic for its characters, especially David. Farrell’s comedic timing and how he plays the more heartbreaking moments makes this one of his best performances. He’s why this is one of my new favourites. It’s something I’ve never seen before and it’s so refreshing finding something so damn original.

Score: 90/100

Oz the Great and Powerful (2013)

Oz The Great and PowerfulOz the Great and Powerful

Release Date: March 8, 2013

Director: Sam Raimi

Stars: James Franco, Mila Kunis, Michelle Williams

Runtime: 130 min

Tagline: You know the land. Not the story.

Seventy-four years after the release of The Wizard of Oz, Sam Raimi (director of the Spider-Man trilogy and Evil Dead trilogy) and co. bring us a story of how a small-time magician comes to rule the mystical land.

This is however many years B.T. (Before Toto) and it follows a small-time Kansas magician, Oscar Diggs (James Franco), who gets swept up by a tornado and to an enchanted land, and is eventually forced into a power struggle between the land’s three witches: Evanora (Rachel Weisz), Glinda (Michelle Williams) and Theodora (Mila Kunis).

The people of Oz have been waiting for the one true Wizard to free the land of all of its turmoil, especially that caused by the Wicked Witch. While the people of Oz accept the wizard with open arms, the witches are unsure if he is telling the truth.

He isn’t. Oscar is more of a professional con artist more than a true magician, and some of his actions toward a few of the witches do not benefit anyone. He makes poor decisions left, right and centre, but it’s all on his journey to become a great man; and to force the Wicked Witch out of the land, as the prophecy suggests.

As with all Disney movies, there has to be a message. This one is clear by the end, but during, it isn’t too clear. What’s this trying to teach the kids? Is it trying to teach them that con artist “ladies men” who uses the same lame trick on girls, might eventually face a wicked backlash? Are they urging children not to eat apples, as Snow White teaches eating red apples means death, and now eating green apples means one gets transformed into a witch? Or perhaps if one lies their way through life, but become a greater person in the end and learn the folly of your ways, they’ll still be rewarded by fortune and fame? No, that doesn’t sound right.

It is really all about the journey (Down the yellow brick road, perhaps?) of changing from a selfish person, to a selfless one. It also teaches that the power of friendship and believing in yourself will conquer all. Oz makes friends along the way that impact his life and help him fight evil forces. China Girl (voiced by Joey King) is a now-orphaned child made of China, whose village was destroyed by the Wicked Witch’s flying monkeys. Don’t underestimate her though, she may appear to be fragile, but she has a fair amount of backbone! The other is Finley (voiced by Zach Braff), a CGI-animated monkey who is both servant and useful companion. He is the odd one out, as he seems to be the only monkey of all the land to not be on the evil side, like all the other flying monkeys.

Finley’s the runt of the flying monkeys litter, because the evil ones  look as if they have been taking one too many steroids. The 1939 monkeys are incredibly creepy with those little smiles and their impressive numbers, but these CGI-body building monkeys with sharp teeth shall instil fear in kids of a new generation. Some of the content is intense and frightening (like when intense battles of legitimate wizardry occur and the flying monkeys themselves, or even the tornado sequence at the beginning), but it’s not nearly as disturbing as some material previously seen in 1985’s Return to Oz. The content here isn’t enough to bring about a soft PG-13 rating, but it’s enough to urge me to warn off small children. It feels as if sometimes Raimi forgets this is meant to be a family feature.

It’s simply amazing to see the advancements in technology in 74 years, where the monkeys were once in costumes and now they’re animated, or how much can now be achieved visually. Raimi makes some really special nods to the 1939 classic. The first fifteen (or so) minutes are played out in Kansas in black and white, or even the tornado sequence itself. There are also incredibly sweet poetic scenes where Joey King and Zach Braff portray more than one character. King plays the little China Girl in the land of Oz, but she also plays a small girl in a wheelchair back in Kansas, and because Oscar can’t make her walk in Kansas, it’s really heart-warming to see him help her in the mystical land of Oz. Braff plays Frank in the land of Kansas and Finley in Oz, where Oscar is able to cherish the friendship Finley has to offer, instead of taking Frank’s friendship for granted and treating him purely as a servant.

Raimi also manages to keep this a bit different, by, for example, by only having a part of a musical number. When Oscar and co. visit the Munchkins of Oz, their musical number is cut off mid-song. He also makes this visually beautiful with some notable 3D visual effects and some really cool CGI-animation for the monkeys and a certain green someone. When battles of sorcery occur, it’s visually compelling. This is a great movie, but the main fault is the simple story. It really only follows Oz and his journey to become the legendary Wizard, and his attempts to rid the land of the Wicked Witch. It makes up for it by being visually great, charming and heart-warming at parts. Even though this might not make you feel as magical as you feel watching the 1939 classic, it’s a satisfying substitute.

As for the acting, no one really stands out. James Franco works the charming leading man role by smiling a whole lot, the three witches are good (Williams being the best) and Zach Braff makes Finley sound a bit too much like Chicken Little. He’s a monkey, Braff, not a chicken!