Man of Aran

(UK 1934)

It’s not very often that I’m torn on a film, but Robert J. Flaherty’s pseudo documentary Man of Aran is one where I am. First the good news: from a technical standpoint, this is a visually captivating film; crammed with impossibly rich and downright dangerous shots of the treacherous North Atlantic, the blacks are as dark as squid ink, the whites are as shimmeringly luminous as Tijuana silver, and the greys are a stunningly natural and lovely compromise between the two. These shades of grey are what impressed me most about this film. You’d be hard pressed to find a better fit for a nitrate print.

Now for the bad news: for all its visual allure, Man of Aran is boring. It unflinchingly shows what it takes to survive on a barren rock in the middle of the ocean, but it fails to explain why anyone would choose to do it. I was ready to leave after a half hour of watching waves crash on the rocks and men who look the Edge attack a shark. Yawn! I would have liked this better maybe if Sinead O’Connor’s “Jackie” were part of the soundtrack.

With Colman ‘Tiger’ King, Maggie Dirrane, Michael Dirrane, Pat Mullin, Patch ‘Red Beard’ Ruadh, Patcheen Faherty, Tommy O’Rourke, ‘Big Patcheen’ Conneely of the West, Stephen Dirrane, Pat McDonough

Production: Gainsborough Pictures

Distribution: Gaumont British Distributors (UK), Gaumont British Picture Corporation of America (USA), Éditions Montparnasse (France)

76 minutes
Not rated

(Dryden Theatre) A+ (visuals) / F (everything else) / C (average)

Nitrate Picture Show

The Lobster

(Ireland/UK/Greece 2015)

“Now the fact that you will turn into an animal if you fail to fall in love with someone during your stay here is not something that should upset you or get you down. Just think, as an animal you’ll have a second chance to find a companion. But, even then, you must be careful; you need to choose a companion that is a similar type of animal to you. A wolf and a penguin could never live together, nor could a camel and a hippopotamus. That would be absurd.”

—Hotel Manager

Every now and then, a film so wonderfully unique comes along that you just don’t know what exactly to make of it until you take some time to digest it (I took all summer to write and post this entry). The Lobster is such a film. It’s not going to appeal to everyone—it’s a dark, subtle, absurd, uncomfortable, irreverent, and totally open-ended satire of the desire to be “in a relationship.” None of this is the stuff of a summer movie, but I loved it precisely because of these qualities. So far, The Lobster is easily my favorite film I’ve seen this year—released in Europe last fall, it crossed the Atlantic just this past spring.

In the not-so-distant future in a not-so-distant society, being single is against the law. Regardless of the reason for their singularity (death of a spouse, divorce, being dumped), unattached adults must check into a certain hotel designated for singles and find a suitable match, verified and approved by the hotel manager (Olivia Colman), within 45 days. Everything is regimented with meal times, active learning exercises, forced social events, and a strict prohibition on masturbation (though one form of sex with the housekeeping staff is required). “Guests” can buy additional time by shooting “loners”—rogue outlaw singles who escaped to the woods—on daily hunting excursions that resemble Hunger Games. Those who fail to find someone before their time runs out are transformed into the animal of their choice, selected during their initial processing, and banished to the woods.

The Lobster’s protagonist, mild-mannered David (Colin Farrell), finds himself at the hotel, his brother, Bob—now a dog—in tow, after the end of his marriage. He chooses a lobster as his animal because “lobsters live for over one hundred years, are blue-blooded like aristocrats, and stay fertile all their lives.” He also likes the sea.

WARNING: Potential spoilers ahead!

The Lobster is essentially divided into two acts: the first in the hotel and the second in the woods. David connects with fellow guests the Lisping Man (John C. Reilly) and the Limping Man (Ben Wishaw). David notices that the guests there tend seek others like themselves—except for Heartless Woman (Angeliki Papoulia), an emotionless femmebot who seeks out no one but has a seemingly infinite amount of time left thanks to her ruthless archery skills. David decides to go for her, which leads him to the woods. There, he meets the Short Sighted Woman (Rachel Weisz), who is near-sighted like he is. They connect, but the militaristic Loner Leader (Léa Seydoux) forbids all romance—punishable by mutilation. “We dance alone,” she tells David as she hands him an iPod. “That’s why we only play electronic music.”

Written by Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthimis Filippou, the screenplay feels like a Chuck Palahniuk novel. The story is so bizarre and far fetched that it seems silly on paper, but proves incredibly powerful once in motion—in the same way that Being John Malkovich, another film I love that requires the same suspension of disbelief, didn’t sound like much to me before I saw it. Lanthimos has a taste for sadness and the macabre, and he liberally infuses The Lobster with both. He doesn’t take a dim view of relationships, but he notices the dim things people do to have one. The cinematography by Thimios Bakatakis is fabulously drab, with a cool, monotonous, faded color palette that creates a sense of distance and evokes a sense of resignation. Classical music plays throughout to add a kind of Clockwork Orange weirdness to the whole thing.

Despite the mood here, the story turns out to be oddly beautiful. Farrell gives one of his best performances—he drops all his rakish charm to become a colorless, big-bellied middle-aged schlub I found myself rooting for with each predicament he gets into. The inability of David and the Short Sighted Girl to express their feelings for each other is damn near heartbreaking. The entire cast is outstanding, and not a single character is superfluous. The second act is noticeably slower than the first, and perhaps could have been shorter than it is. Regardless, the momentum continues to build to a brilliantly ironic ending that comes about through David’s nearsightedness.

The Lobster doesn’t resolve in the end, which is my favorite thing about it. The viewer is left to decide what happens—and I’ve already discussed different opinions others have about whether David did, or didn’t. It’s the kind of film that lingers on in your memory and forces you think about it even though you’ll never know for sure.

Side note: the film’s website has a quiz that determines your suitable animal. Mine were an elephant, a horse (which finds pleasure in carrots, music, and oral sex), and a water bear. I chose a horse, of course.

119 minutes
Rated R

(ArcLight) A-

http://thelobster-movie.com

 

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Sing Street

(Ireland 2016)

The Eighties are back again as evidenced by CNN’s The Eighties series and recent films like Richard Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some!! and John Carney’s Sing Street. This time around, the emphasis is squarely on nostalgia.

Dublin, 1985: hair, shoulder pads, and music videos are big. Very big. 15-year-old Conor Lalor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) is having a tough go of it: his parents are broke and on the verge of divorce. His father (Aiden Gillen) is unemployed and drinking, while his mother (Maria Doyle Kennedy) is having an affair. They can’t afford his fancy Jesuit education anymore, so they transfer him to another all boys school in Dublin—Syngh Street Christian Brothers School, a haven for hooligans. His low-rent classmates call him “posh” and openly mess with him, getting personal and physical. Class bully Barry (Ian Kenny) corners Conor in a filthy restroom and proves to be an ongoing menace. Even schoolmaster Br. Baxter (Don Wycherley) gives Conor a hard time, starting with the color of his shoes. The whole thing is, to borrow from Duran Duran, about as easy as a nuclear war.

Enter Raphina (Lucy Boynton), a mysterious and cool beauty who lives in a home for girls near Syngh Street C.B.S. and claims to be a model. Conor gets her number by telling her that his band just so happens to need a model for its latest music video. She agrees to star in it. Now, Conor just needs a band.

Sing Street is a lot of fun, and no doubt will appeal most to those who came of age in the Eighties. I loved so much of it because of its references. The discussion between Conor and his older borther Brendan (Jack Reynor) about the artisitc merit of Duran Duran as they watch the video for “Rio” and their father’s response (“They’re certainly not the Beatles, are they?”) is perfect, mirroring many a conversation I’ve had. The impact of Head on the Door on the band, named Sing Street after the school (get it?), made me want to let out my own Robert Smith yelp. The band’s various incarnations clearly influenced by the music the members are into at the moment are funny and smart. The first video shoot is hilarious: who knew Sing Street is a bizarre bargain basement version of Prince and the Revolution complete with frilly bits and paisley underneath that Irish Catholic exterior? The many wry references to Depeche Mode, a-ha, Spandau Ballet, the Clash, M, Joe Jackson, Hall & Oates, and even Phil Collins made me giddy. The Back to the Future dream sequence finale is priceless. So yeah, I liked this film a lot for the warm memories it conjured up—it’s sheer nostalgia.

All that said, even if being into the Eighties helps, anyone can relate to Sing Street because its themes are simple and universal; indeed, the themes are practically Eighties pop songs: listen to your heart, don’t stop believing, things can only get better, everybody’s looking for something, be true to yourself and you can’t go wrong, give a wham give a bam but don’t give a damn, don’t forget that your family is gold. Music is redemptive: it serves as expression, escape, identity, a bond. Sing Street sounds tighter and better as Conor’s confidence grows and he gets closer to Raphina. Conor’s parents and even Brendan represent a sort of death of the soul that happens when one foregoes his dreams. Speaking of Brandon, there’s also a theme of passing the torch and sibling love, which is probably why the film is “dedicated to brothers everywhere.”

Sing Street has a few thin moments and some minor historical inaccuracies—for example, “Rio” was a hit in 1982 and Duran Duran was already huge by 1985, so the jury was not “still out” on them. Regardless, none of these shortcomings is enough to detract from its misty, dreamy, and perhaps pastel-colored charms. The wardrobe choices are nicley restrained, and as a result come off realistic and not as parody. The original compositions are hit or miss, but they all sound vaguely like U2 whether Bono and The Edge cowrote them or not—I read that they did, but I didn’t see them in the credits. Sing Street is totally disposable, but so were cassettes—and they were fun while they lasted.

(Landmark Century) B

http://www.filmnation.com/sing-street/

Room

(Canada/Ireland 2015)

Although shortened and accelerated, Room is still a fitting adaptation true to Emma Donoghue’s novel. Some of the nuance is lost in transition from page to screen, but the story is told as much as it probably can be on film from the point of view of Jack (Jacob Tremblay), whose fifth birthday begins our involvement. Tremblay, who is seven years old, does an astounding job; he uses silence as much as sound to convey what’s going on in Jack’s head. Brie Larson as Jack’s mother, Joy, is quietly intense, at least until later; when she explodes, however, her intensity is a bit overdone. Old Nick (Sean Bridgers) initially is shown only in intermittent bits and pieces, keeping his role in the story a mystery– a nice touch. Joan Allen and Tom McCamus, the latter arguably the sole redeeming male character aside from Jack, serve as calming anchors. William H. Macy appears very briefly as Joy’s father.

Director Lenny Abrahamson definitely gives us the claustrophobic feel of “Room.” His depiction of Jack’s foray into “World” about halfway through is the most intense and suspenseful part of the film; I literally held my breath at points. It was done really well, using choppy, moving camera work and tweaky color to illustrate the foreign, unfamiliar appearance of mundane objects to Jack– and how trippy his first experience outside is for him. The rest of the film is quieter, focusing on both Jack and his mother’s assimilation into the real world (Akron, Ohio, in the film– I don’t remember that from the book). I suspect most will agree that the first half of Room is far more compelling.  Still, it’s worth seeing and the story will stick with you after it’s over.

(Landmark Century) B

http://roomthemovie.com/#/