The Lobster (2015)

 

This is Yorgos Lanthimos’s (Alps, 2102), first English language film. Lobster finds us in a European setting, which does not specify where exactly, in a time set as the near future. It is a world not unlike ours except for a couple of very specific differences. In our heroes’ world single life is not permitted, once you are of age you are expected to find a mate, if through life your mate dies or leaves you, you are expected to find another partner. If you are found not to have a partner, you are sent to an establishment to try find one and so survive. If after the end of your stay, you are unsuccessful, you are turned in to an animal of your choice to live out your days transformed into whatever creature you pick.

And so it is that David (Colin Farrell, Fright Night, 2011    ) is introduced to us. After his wife leaving him, he now has to go and find a new partner over the next 45 days, or turn in to the animal of his choice.  David is a quiet, meek but thinking person, watching what is happening and trying to adapt to get through the experience. This is not a conventional movie, it is deliberate, paced and low key. Even the weather is dull and uninviting, but that all comes together to give us something we can perhaps relate to, the ordinariness of the surroundings, contrasts with the absurdity of the human activity.

As the days go on, many of the guests either was out and disappear or keep working to find a partner they are matched with. The “Hotel” runs a series of activities to help this, including hunting of loners (with darts) who are not up to the mark. Society is geared to couples; even parts of the hotel are off-limits to single people.  It is against this background that he begins to spend some time with some of the other guests in particular as they each try to cope or succeed in finding a partner.

As the days progress, David meets and begins to get to know a short sighted woman (Rachel Weisz, Definitely Maybe, 2008). He also sees what his fellow guests are doing to survive and teams up and watches them. Ben Whishaw (Perfume, 2006) is the Limping Man, a character not beyond manipulating the situation to his needs, a lesson David quickly learns.  All of the characters are identified by their characteristics, their meekness, short-sightedness, limps or lisps.

Lisping Man, (John C. Reilly, Tale of Tales, 2015) provides us with that perfect foil to Farrell’s David. David is quiet and introspective, Lisping man is open and chatty, easily befriending such as David or Limping man. Emotions are high, as the stakes are and from time to time emotions flair, none better than the fight between Farrell and Reilly’s characters during the archery session.

The humour is very, much situational and dark, as much a reflection on our own society and the pressures we place ourselves under, issues such as our place in life, esteem, partnerships, human understanding.  The style is deliberate, dystopic and resembling something like the down-trodden masses we see in films like 1984 (Michael Radford, 1984).  The scenes resembling “Blind Date” showing the couples who have joined together.

It is certainly a thought provoking and dark movie which will have you questioning whether or not you want to actually watch it for the first few minutes, but then you find yourself engaged in it, willing the characters along, sharing the highs and lows  and asking yourself some serious questions about society.

A number of people will be thinking about watching this film because Colin Farrell is in it (from a sex-symbol)  perspective, this is not an action movie, it is a very cerebral one, and guess what, it is the type of role which he is best suited for. He cut his teeth in TV drama, and for a reason, he is a very capable dramatic actor, as are Reilly,  Weisz, Whishaw and many of the supporting cast. This is an excellent movie once you tune in to it.

The Seventh Cross (1944)

The Seventh Cross is probably one of the more under-rated movies out there. It is at once haunting and challenging. The challenging nature is not the quality of the production but the subject matter. Released in 1944, this film deals with the subject of the Nazi concentration camps, the victims of those camps and society’s reaction to the camps, the people in them and the ruling regime. You are immediately reminded of the writings of Pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984), also we see reflections Fritz Lang’s 1931 classic “M” with the use of the public in hunting down the suspect.

Directed by Fred Zinnemann (A Man for All Seasons, 1966) and based on the book by Anna Segher, the film is based in 1936. In the one production we see the how the Nazi infrastructure had already subsumed German culture within a few short years, those who dared to stand were removed, all others either turned a blind eye or betrayed those most at risk, rather than subject themselves to the regime. Although released in 1944 and viewed from the early 21st century where we can understand the evil to the Jewish people and all those others who suffered. In the early 1940’s this would not have been so appreciated, a fact that strengthens even more-so the power of the movie.

The film is narrated by Ray Collins (Touch of Evil, 1958), who plays the part of one of the recent escapees. Zinnermann uses this device to introduce our seven heroes and give us the background of their lives, including the events which brought them to this point. The film opens with the aftermath of their escape. The seven crosses are for each of the escapees, each will be crucified by the camp commandant.

One by one they are hunted down, caught and tortured. Against this George Heisler (Spencer Tracey Look Who’s Coming to Dinner, 1967) must continue to run to freedom. As he makes his way to his old home, he sees how Germany has changed, how the people have changed. Helped by a little girl, betrayed by a bar keeper, contacts gone. Alone and without help he finds himself in Meinz and tries for help from a former girlfriend, Leni (Kaaren Verne, All through the Night, 1941) who although having promised to wait for him, is now married and refuses to help. Again alone he witnesses one of his fellow prisoners being dramatically arrested. Knowing one of his contacts Heisler goes there for help, which he receives. Despite this things do not improve and he soon learns he has been betrayed by an old neighbour, he is running again. Not knowing where to turn, he calls to an old friend, Paul Roeder (Hume Cronyn, Cocoon, 1985) but turns away before the door, only to meet the friend approach. Welcomed in to Paul’s home he meets his wife Liesel (Jessica Tandy, fried Green Tomatoes, 1991) Paul initially does not realise Heisler is on the run, but when he learns the truth, he still helps. This is a turning point.

From here help is found, willingly given in some cases and reluctantly in others, one old friend, Sauer (George Macready (Peyton Place, 1964) only helps after being forced to do so by his wife, played by Katherine Locke, People Will Talk, 1951). Heisler through the help of other old friends and underground movement members eventually gets a passport and the way to The Netherlands looks clear…

It is interesting to note that when this was made, the US was at war with Nazi Germany. We see not just the usual war movie but the conflict from the perspective of the civilian population, those that supported, feared, detested the regime.

Local Hero (1983)

Some movies can have a long review just to explain them, others can be written in a few short sentences, this is one of the latter. This is not because of it being bad, but rather the opposite. It is a straight forward, well written and calmly directed piece which drags you in from the start and keeps you entertained until the end. Having watched it once, you will find yourself happy to repeat the experience as it pops-up from time to time.
Written and directed by Bill Forsyth (Gregory’s Girl, 1981) the cast is made up of some very understated stars. Peter Riegert (We Bought A Zoo, 2011) stars as the hard pressed executive sent to Scotland by Burt Lancaster’s (The Leopard, 1963) character Felix Harper. Harper the company’s CEO (Knox Oil & Gas) sends Riegert’s character (Known as “Mac”) partially because Harper thinks “Mac” has Scottish ancestry. This opening also shows how Harper can be truly narrow minded, focused on a result and dragging everybody else along, regardless of how they feel about it.
Harper has plans for an oil refinery and the townland of Ferness in Scotland is the perfect place, only problem is, he does not own it. Mac’s job will be to go to Ferness and convince the locals to sell-up. Adding an extra angle to the story Harper gives Mac an additional instruction to watch the clear night sky in Virgo and let him know back. Mac having a life in Texas tries to organise for all this to be done over the phone, but Harper insists on him being in Scotland.
Upon arriving he meets with Knox’s local man; Oldsen (Peter Capaldi, Dr. Who, 2014) and of course to add interest there is the local marine biologist, Marina (Jenny Seagrove, Judge John Deed, 2001)
Not being the biggest town in the world, Mac stays in the local bar/hotel which is owned by Gordon Urguhart (Denis Lawson, The Machine, 2013). As with many of these films being exposed to the locals and their way of life causes Mac to start to have reservations about the refinery project and the impact it will have on the local population. Of course things are never quite as they seem. Gordon not only runs the hotel but he works with some of the various fishermen who visit the port to actually manage their investments, none more so than with Victor, (Christopher Rozycki, Truly Madly Deeply, 1991) the Soviet trawler man who is a regular visitor to the town. Using parallels to Whisky Galore (1949) we see that life is hard enough for the locals and to be honest, they would be more than happy to sell up, but being who they are, they are putting on a long face and trying for as much more money as possible.
Mac and team soldier on with all the usual love and commercial complexities as the movie progresses, but then there is a twist, it turns out buying-up the town is one thing but when it comes to the beach and foreshore, there is a complication. The owner. He happens to be an old beachcomber by the name of Ben, (Fulton Mackay, Porridge, 1974) who actually lives on the beach in a self-made shack. Caught up in this and what looks like increasing issues with the locals it is starting to look like the purchase may not take place. In to all this Harper arrives and through a series of pleasant misunderstandings and his ability to effectively ignore what is being said to him, he actually manages to progress things. The dialogue with Ben, Mac and Harper is fantastic with some great one-liners. Sides are set, Ben does not want to sell, Harper wants the land and Mac is caught in the middle. Negotiations look like going nowhere. Faced with this Ben and Harper start to talk on the beach and well kindred spirits reveal themselves and a solution is found.
Movies like The Grand Seduction (2013) clearly owe a lot to Local Hero. Such is the quality of this film that it is one of those which is used as a bench-mark against others are measured. This is a case-study in how to write a story, direct the image and not over complicate or distort the output to a level which ruins and causes a lesser offering. This is simply a well-crafted story with a great ensemble cast.
8/10

Poitín, 1977

Poitín, for any of you who do not know is a distilled beverage produced in Ireland ranging from 40% – 90% ABV which comes from a small pot still using ingredients such as potatoes, grains etc. Though produced legally under licence, it is more often than not produced illegally with no excise paid. It is against this background that we look to Poitín.

Poitín was the first feature film produced entirely as Gaelige (in Irish) here in Ireland. Directed by Bob Quinn (The Bishop’s story, 1994) with the screenplay by Colm Bairead (based on his short story), it is located in the “wilds” of Connemara, as our hero tries to go about his living while avoiding the police (the Gardai) while at the same time fending off the unwanted threats from two local thugs who want his business.

By measures both dark and hilarious it evolves around Labhrás (Donal McCann, The Dead, 1987) and Sleamhan (Niall Toibin, Far and Away, 1992) who give a hard time to Michil (Cyril Cusack, The Quiet Man, 1952)) the local poitín maker (moonshiner), often threatening violence on him and his daughter, who shares the family home with him. Entirely in Irish and subtitled the movie does not waste time, every scene shows us a small group of people each out to succeed in their own way.

When the movie was released originally in 1977 there was quite an outcry as it was seen by many as pandering negatively to Irish stereo-types, such as had happened previously with Synge’s “The Playboy of the Western World (1911) where people thought the “stage-Irish” element was offensive. This could be a case of being over sensitive.

What makes this film work is the superb acting by the legends Cusack, McCann and Toibin and others who were to emerge as legends of stage & screen, at least here in Ireland such as the late great Mick Lally (The Secret of Kells, 2009). The cinematography is bleak, ably capturing the nature of stony, exposed, desolate Connemara.

A number of the supporting cast were locals and not professional actors, this adds to the production in that all of the actors were fluent Irish speakers, achieving the correct tones and styles, giving us a very natural conversation.

It is a stark, well-acted film, which despite its world-class leading actors may not travel well outside Ireland, but, here at least it, is now recognised as the classic that it is. Originally met with a partially negative reaction because of the story-matter, it is now actually approved as a support to the school language curriculum.

9/10 – partially out of a sense of romanticism, but generally because again 20+ years after watching it for the first time it still resonates.

John Wick

This seems to be getting great reviews , personally I have to say I was not inspired by it, in anyway. This is an old-fashioned “shoot-em-up” directed by Chad Stahelski (300, 2006) and written by Derek Kolstad (The Package, 2012). The film opens with the scene being set: John Wick (Keanu Reeves, 47 Ronin) is a man grieving for his recently departed wife. Helping him get over this grief is his puppy which was a gift from his wife. For anybody else this would be possibly enough to get back on track with life, but Wick is retired and just getting on with life.   It is in getting on with life that everything goes south. His luxury home is invaded by some Russian thugs who want to clear it out, of Wick has different ideas and defends his home, in the course of which his dog is killed. It turns out these protagonists are Russian mafia, indeed one of them is the son (Alfie Allen, Game of Thrones, 2011) of the mafia head (Michael Nyqvist. The Girl with The Dragon Tatoo, 2009). Now this is where things go East (or South) very quickly. Having defended his home with more than a little noise, the local police call over after getting a report of a disturbance at the house. The Police officer at the door see inside to bodies lying on the ground, and just confirms with Wick that it is work and leaves him alone. Wick is out for vengeance now so he digs up the tools of his trade – from the floor of the basement. Kolstad tries to give us something different. Wick was no ordinary mob- enforcer he was one of the best hit-men in the business and the thug who attacked his house is the son of one of Wick’s former employers. Wick announces his intention to get revenge against his former employer, who although respecting Wick is forced to put a price on his head to defend his son. As Wick gets back in to the groove we see that there is a certain guild of assassins with Wick quickly making contact with old fellow assassins to determine the game ahead. He bases himself in a down-town hotel which is actually a “neutral ground” for people in his business. All expenses by the way are paid for by gold coins – everything from clean-up crews to hotel bills. Viggo knows what’s coming for his son and explains that Wick is not the Bogeyman, he’s the guy you call to kill the bogeyman. The supporting cast is good, with people like John Leguizamo (Moulin Rouge, 2001) as the garage owner who recognises Wick’s stolen car and refuses to have it in his Chop-shop and Ian Mc Shane (The Pillars of The Earth, 2010) who plays the hotel owner, keeping the peace among the underworld figures assembled. This movie involves a body count, with the usual vengeance plotline, however it is done in a fairly original manner and is not as hammed as many others of this genre. It is a night-in modern day western for the boys. The plot is wafer thin, but manages to work. It could be a lot worse. 6/10

Men Women & Children

This film takes a look at the lives of a group of young people and their parents as they navigate through life. What makes this film different from many others is that it takes the view through the technology which we all use to go through life.

It is a very personal view as we look to life through not just the kid’s perspectives but also that of the adults. Modern technology allows us more freedom and wider communications, but do we need or want such freedoms. Directed by Jason Reitman (Juno, 2007) who seems to be fitting in to a certain groove, this is a “warts-and-all” view of life. Seeing Adam Sandler (Grown Ups, 2010) as Don Truby in the initial scenes playing the part of a bored father using his son’s computer for masturbation is a new take, in the process of doing this he sees his son’s porn collection. His son has some very specific tastes. This reflects on the old issue of a parent finding pornography under a kid’s bed, only now it is more, well…

What we have is life and technology intersecting the lives of families, from the accept it approach of the Trubys who use the malware ridden old computer of theirs to relieve their marital boredom, a use which obviously has consequences. In contrast to the Truby family is Patricia Beltmeyer (Jennifer Garner Dallas Buyers Club, 2013) who is paranoid to an extreme about her daughter’s (Kaitlyn Dever, The Spectacular Now, 2013) internet usage. So bad is the level of surveillance that not only is the child’s digital life scrutinised down to the level of program logs but the mother also intercepts texts and suchlike deleting what she feels in inappropriate for her daughter. Needless to say there are work-arounds.

Reitman may be guilty of trying to fit too much into the movie, but I think he gets away with it by rationing out the issues through each of the families. Another aspect of the life and digital age challenge comes in the form of Kent Mooney (Dean Norris, Breaking Bad, 2008) who is struggling to keep it together with his son ( Ansel Elgort, The Fault in Our Stars, 2014) since his wife divorced him (and is now getting remarried). Kent does however meet somebody who just might shake him out of his malaise, however there is an issue. Donna Clint (Judy Greer, Archer 2009) is a mum wanting the best for her daughter ,Hannah (Olivia Crocicchia, Palo Alto, 2013) the problem is the best is around acting and modelling. In the course of events Donna allows her daughter to model for a local photographer in suggestive clothing. Donna also adds to this with a website of her daughter. This all back fires when after auditioning for a talent show, she is disqualified because of the sexual nature of the website. This shocks Donna, who was so focused on her daughter’s career that she was naïve to the other aspects.

Everyone of Reitman’s characters are flawed, but with just enough flaws for us to accept them as ordinary people grappling with a situation.   A couple of interesting observations, firstly around 9/11 being a history project, with some of the kids involved not being alive when it occurred. Also the changing communication habits such as the three girls talking in the gym, while two of them are using their phones to have a private text conversation about the third girl.

The film build to a logical but not overly signposted conclusion, which is well done and closes the movie nicely. Coming away from it I got a sense that, we had it easy as kids, or at least less difficult, with none of the technology we have today. Do all the communications devices actually do anything for us?

A very entertaining and sometimes slightly shocking look at family life in the web 2.0 age. The cast is first class and if-anything largely underplay their respective characters to keep the technology in focus. A final word on Adam Sandler; I have mixed opinions on him, but what I will say is that I prefer him in straight roles such as this, rather than the usually hard-put-upon character he often plays for comedy.

8/10

A Most Wanted Man

Based on a John le Carré novel this movie director by Anton Corbijn (Control, 2007) is a good old fashioned spy movie, indeed it sits well along-side another Le Carré work – Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011). Staring the late Philip Seymour Hoffman as Günther Bachmann in one of his last starring roles where he play the head of a specialist counter terrorism unit currently based in Hamburg. Bachmann has a history and many think his posting to Hamburg is a punishment for a mission which went wrong in Beirut, however there is the suggestion that the power-that-be are okay with this rumour as it gives him and his team cover to track down the subject of their efforts.

While Corbijn plays with the various inter-interdepartmental rivalries ( as well as political manoeuvres both within Germany and internationally with the Americans) within which Buchmann must operate he at least has the loyalty of his own team. This helps because a lessor director might have tried to add a level of intrigue, and that would have been bad. Buchmann’s second in command is Irna Lenz (Nina Hoss, Barbara 2012) and works the part well. She is calm and professional against Buchmann’s self-neglect, but the two are different sides of the same coin. It is never clear just how deep the relationship between them goes. One cannot but suspect that there is a deep friendship but their combined professionalism means nothing will happen. Other team members include Maximilian (Daniel Brühl, Rush 2012) who despite almost no script to himself, still manages to make his presence knows.

During his investigations Buchmann and team track an illegal immigrant from Chechnya (Grigoriy Dobrygin, How I Ended This Summer, 2010)who may or may not be a risk. Other departments want to arrest him, but Buchmann uses his connections to keep him free and followed. While this is happening his team are getting close to the money man (Homayoun Ershadi, The Kite Runner, 2007) they are following. On the surface everything looks squeaky clean, but something does not ring true with him.

Then a stroke of luck, it turns out that the Chechen has an interesting past, indeed so does his (now dead) father which brings him into contact with a private banker in Hamburg (Willem Defoe, The Fault In Our Stars, 2014). All of this is arranged through a human rights lawyer, Martha (Robin Wright, The Princess Bride, 1987) working with immigrants The excellence of Hofmann’s Buchmann is exemplified through his polite but yet condescending attitude to the banker, always calling him “Tommy” rather than “Herr Brue”.

As with any spy story there are twists and I don’t want to destroy any of them. Suffice it to say that the story brings you along fully and the acting, not least by Hoffman, Dobrygin, Defoe and Wright carries you along in an understated manner. This movie has a very European feel to it, not just because of cast and location but the lack of gun-play. The tension is psychological rather than purely violent. This works to the extent that when violence comes, it is short and sharp.

**** an excellent piece which will keep anybody over the age of 21 (mature enough not to need all of the cast murdered by half way through) happily engaged and entertained.