In a world where people are defined by their relationships, we follow one man on his search for compatibility. David (Colin Farrell) is confined to the Hotel, where must find love in 45 days. If he fails to do so, he will be transformed into an animal of his choosing and banished to the forest.
Alas, there is another hope – a group of loveless rebels, “Loners,” also inhabit the forest in order to escape the tyranny of the Hotel, the tyranny of love. Falling in love as a Loner has some gnarly consequences. But of course, we all know that romance can be found in the most unlikely of places.
I thoroughly enjoyed this film. It’s surreal, dark, and clever – not to mention, social commentary galore. And it prominently features music from Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, so bonus points there.
When David flees the Hotel, he is stripped from society’s preconceptions, and like the surrounding fauna, is ruled by instinct. Though forbidden amongst Loners, David finds himself drawn to a nameless near-sighted Loner, who I’ll call “Lady” (Rachel Weisz). Of course, Lady is sweet on him, too.
We as people have such strange views on relationships in our society. Decades of advertising have taught us that sex is something we preen for and deserve, lest we end up a sad, lonely loser. The Lobster takes parts of this concept and adds base commentary on objective matchmaking, as well as the addition of children to unhappy homes.
And yet, despite what he and Lady go through in order to pursue what we could deem a “normal” relationship, David is driven by societal standards to make everything worse. This decision in the end is bittersweet: he changes because that is what society has taught him to do, but also by doing so, he can wholly share a world with Lady. Though an abstract portrayal of the things we do for love, I think it’s fair to say that the metaphor is an apt one.
Twisted, strange and oddly beautiful, The Lobster offers all sorts of allegories between the lines. It’s a film that must be watched and discussed. Undoubtedly, it’s something you’ll either get or you don’t – and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Oh boy, who doesn’t love a list?
Lately, when I’m not working or playing videogames, I’ve been drifting around YouTube for just random things. When it’s not cats, creepypasta, or children falling over, I find some nice short films to watch. So here’s a list of four short films, in no particular order, that I’ve found to dub creepy, but nice.
He Took His Skin Off For Me
2015, Directed by Ben Aston – 11mins
Behind this gory facade lies a lovely tale of the sacrifices we make for loved ones, and the love we show and return. Sweet, intimate, and at times, uncomfortable, He Took His Skin Off For Me is a lovely metaphor for trust and vulnerability – not to mention how far we’re willing to go for the ones we love.
2012, Directed by Pablo Larcuen – 9mins
This is a movie that genuinely melted my heart to the point that it was oozing from my eye sockets. Elefante is the tale of Manuel, an average pencil-pusher who hates his job, his only friend, and struggles to be loved by his family. Things only get worse when he discovers that he’s turning into an elephant. Just watch and see.
2015, Directed by Jordana Spiro – 13mins
Oh hey, there’s that word “skin” again. This one’s a little…different. More of a coming-of-age story about isolation, puppy love, and just generally wanting to be accepted. And there’s bad taxidermy, which is a plus.
Death and the Robot
2013, Directed by Austin Taylor – 11mins
This short is beautiful. Two lonely entities discover one another, creating a legacy to change their world, despite heartbreaking sacrifices. Not really “creepy” per se, but nice none-the-less.
That’s all I wanted to share for now. Perhaps I’ll throw together more lists in the future. Have any to recommend? Please feel free to share!
I’ll come out and say it: I dig the McConaissance. Coined by the New Yorker through Dallas Buyers hype, it was believed that Magic Mike was the film to kick off this star’s return. Personally, I think it started before that, with smaller titles such as Bernie and Killer Joe. Soon after came a little gem now available on Netflix, Mud.
Mud is a charming little coming-of-age drama about a pair of friends in De Witt, Arkansas, Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland). These boys spend their days riding around the Arkansas River, selling fish and talking about boobies. One day Neckbone discovers a mystical boat stuck in a tree. The boys decide to claim the boat to themselves, until they find it’s already home to a mysterious drifter called Mud (McConaughey).
Mud tells the boys that he’s returned to De Witt to find his lost love, asking them for food in exchange for the boat. The boys oblige, only to find that the law also has it out for their new friend. Meanwhile, Ellis has entered a delicate phase, leaving him to question his moral standing on love and good and evil.
Mud adheres to the charm and sensibility of Stand By Me, met with the mild burn of Southern Comfort. It’s really quite mushy if you think about it – Ellis is witnessing each stage of love lost, whether it’s his parents’, Mud and Juniper (Reese Witherspoon), or his soul-crushing encounter with his first lady-friend. Of course, childhood love stories are boring without a little gunfire.
As wonderfully shot as it is acted, Mud is an incredibly enjoyable film wrought with originality.
I hate the play this card, but all of the women are the cause of all the pain and misery to be had. The only saving grace is when Ellis’ father tells him, “Women are tough. They’ll set you up for things.” We then proceed to witness a more dynamic shift in the mother’s portrayal in order to make her more empathetic.
Granted, Ellis spends the most time with his father and they’re going through a separation, so obviously Senior’s view is going to be skewed. Then again, both Ellis’ girlfriend and Juniper do some mean, nasty things – poor Ellis can’t seem to catch a break.
The Alright, Alright, Alright
Despite my beef about the ladies, Mud is a great watch. Even through the grit and heartbreak, the end of Mud’s story is nothing short of satisfying.
Adam and Eve are a pair of vampire lovers. Though they have survived centuries together, Adam (Tom Hiddleston) has grown despondent, ever distraught by the state of the world and how it’s being ruined by “zombies” (aka, non-vampire folk). Once Eve (Tilda Swinton) re-enters his life, she convinces him to relish in the wonders and beauty the world has to offer. However, their content home-life is interrupted once Eve’s sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska) pays a visit.
Like all Jarmusch films, the crux of the story is in the characters themselves. By simply looking at our lovers, we can easily read their interests: Eve adores the exotic, as well as art an literature, whereas Adam dwells in a dilapidated home surrounded with musical instruments and all sorts of gadgetry. Furthermore, Eve resides in Tangiers while Adam prefers Detroit – no doubt a commentary on America’s fallen empire (especially when they visit the Michigan Theatre).
When together they make a perfect yin-yang (possibly represented by their hair-color), and as a couple they complete each other.
Essentially these two are the movie – which is why it’s so jarring when Ava comes into the picture.
It’s clear by Adam’s, erm, lack of enthusiasm, that Ava is not welcome in his house. Wasikowska plays this role to a tee, but sadly doesn’t offer much else. Ava is simply the most loathe-able, degenerate teenager in existence. Of course, using the phrase “teenager” loosely. Granted I could just be an old curmudgeon like Adam, but damn is she annoying.
I would actually love to know her story, like when did she become a vampire and why? Why don’t we ever learn what she did to piss off Adam to begin with? Also why didn’t he take advantage of a certain spoilery plot-point? That would had made things a lot easier.
At the same time, I suppose focusing more on the vampire mythology would remove from the romantic narrative – though if I’ve learned anything while writing about Her, I tend to get distracted by origins (or lack thereof). I need to remind myself that this isn’t a film about vampires, but of lovers, and what it means to only have each other. That’s sweet and all, but I feel as if the overall tale was lacking – Ava’s intrusion is really the only event that occurs, but as soon as she’s there you want her gone.
Overall, Jarmusch’s staple tonality and character focus is certainly there, but I feel as if the romance angle was a bit of a one-trick pony. Come for the characters and atmosphere, but stay for the music.
Final Grade: B
In the heart of Europe lies the Republic of Zubrowka, a fictional land of provincial villages and ski resorts, that is threatened by a looming war. A beacon of escape and repose still remains despite this trouble: the Grand Budapest Hotel.
When debonaire and devoted concierge M. Gustave H. (an amazing Ralph Fiennes) is charged with the murder of an elderly hotel guest (Tilda Swinton), it is up to his faithful lobby boy Zero Mustafa (Tony Revolori, later F. Murray Abraham) to rescue his beloved mentor from certain death. Many years later, a young writer (Jude Law, later Tom Wilkinson) learns the story of Zero and Gustave, and now the tale is bequeathed to us, the audience.
Of all the Wes Anderson movies, Grand Budapest is easily the most Wes Anderson-est: we have the costumes and the actors (an incredible ensemble, I might add), every multi-layered set and centered shot, all wrapped up in a color-scheme that makes your sweet tooth squirm with delight.
A new convention utilized in this film is the multi-framing of the narrative. Not only is the story told to us from the Author’s perspective, but we’re given M. Mustafa’s iteration as well. Anderson conveys this to us by switching up the aspect ratios, one viewpoint at a time – thus fitting the dialogue and visuals to suit respective needs.
Personally, I would have loved to see this concept challenged more often throughout the film, but it is understandable not to do so, being that the narrative could have easily been disturbed otherwise. Additionally, by keeping this meta-perspective in mind, the visual spectacle we’re subjected to is completely understandable, if not expected.
The other issue to be taken is that the relationship between Zero and Agatha (Saoirse Ronan) is more implied than experienced. But because Zero himself is telling us about their adventures, the very mention of Agatha is pained and in a sense, neglected – unless their interaction is directly related to the main plot.
I’m not going to spoil anything this time around, but there is a reason Zero does not want to talk about her – and thanks to the genius of F. Murray Abraham’s Oscar-winning story-telling ability, we as an audience understand his hesitance completely. More so, this tonal shift compliments the underlying theme of combating loneliness – a trait carried by both Zero and M. Gustave.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – I love Wes Anderson movies. I understand that for those unfamiliar with his work or style, watching something like Grand Budapest is like witnessing an inside joke. Similarly, I obviously carry a favorable bias. Despite these possible barriers, I find these facts to be certain: The Grand Budapest may be a character profile film, but below its colorful candy shell is a core of loneliness and longing. While these darker matters are often distracted by shenanigans, there is a resinating desire for closure while not being totally bogged down in the process, resulting in a tale of whimsy and well, humanness.
Witty, colorful and shenanigans abound, The Grand Budapest Hotel is a satisfying reminiscence of love, loss, mystery, escapism, and most importantly, etiquette.
Final Grade: A
As you may have noticed in my last What You Should Have Watched that I posted forever ago, I had alluded to a Tom Hardy movie (which I’ll do next time). However, due to Philip Seymour Hoffman’s sudden and tragic passing, I’ve decided to tell you about the enigmatic masterpiece that is Synecdoche, New York. Of course, assuming you have yet to see it.
Much like The Fountain or even Beyond the Black Rainbow, I could see why a film like Synecdoche would be a daunting experience. In fact, there are those who would argue that Synecdoche is just Charlie Kaufman’s pretentious self-absorbed opus. I, on the other hand, think that this is a treasure trove of metaphor and meaning, built by incredible talent and fantastic set design. But you don’t have to take my word for it.
Synecdoche, New York is the story of Caden Cotard (PSH), a playwright who is caught between his work and personal life, while obsessing over his own mortality. His marriage to a micro-painter named Adele (Catherine Keener) soon crumbles under the stress, and she’s off to Germany with their only daughter, Olive. Despite these troubles, Caden soon receives a MacArthur Fellowship, and sets on creating a play which will be far more brutal and honest than his previous works – reality and fantasy spiral and entwine as we embark upon Caden’s über-meta oeuvre.
The unreliability of this world is not solely based on our protagonist – there are other characters who experience what we as viewers would see as lapses in reality. Thus Synecdoche presents for us a strange but entirely original environment, which compliments the storytelling in creating/portraying visual and contextual metaphor. More so, not only are we given a playfully surreal atmosphere, but we also deal with the heaviness of Caden’s isolation and obsession.
Okay, now I can see why people would start rolling their eyes – but really, this movie is worth checking out! Despite the heavy nature of Caden’s attempts to portray his meaning of life, the universe, and everything, his story is depicted with a fine balance of humor and sympathy. Not to mention the metaphors alone – personally, each time I watch this film I discover a new aspect or theme. Also there’s no shame in consulting wikipedia for some explanation.
Perhaps sometime I could give a better analysis of the many meanings weaved throughout this film, but for now I’m going to stick to a general WYSHW recommendation: Synecdoche, New York is a remarkable film. Charlie Kaufman has not only proved himself as a gifted writer, but as a substantial director as well (as if he needed to prove himself to anyone). Likewise, the cast is exceptional. Philip Seymour Hoffman breathed so much life into this performance – Caden is a broken man striving for excellence while discovering the purpose of his existence, and ultimately, well, I’m not going to spoil anything this time. His journey is sad, true, and beautiful – most importantly, it is something we all can relate to.
I’ll miss you.
American Hustle is the sort of true story of the ABSCAM operation that went down in the late 1970s, as told from the perspectives of the con artists brought in by the FBI to aid in the sting. Rather than your typical dramatic biopic, we’re given more of a caricatured portrayal of a time and place, crafting an experience that is not only fun and flashy, but also touches on real-life drama without going too over-the-top. It’s actually pretty impressive.
When dealing with a cast of this magnitude, it’s really hard to pinpoint which star shines the brightest, especially given the fact that the entire leading cast (sans Jeremy Renner) has been nominated for an Oscar. Many would argue Christian Bale chews the most scenery out of the bunch: Irving Rosenfeld comes off as a cartoonish, sweet-talking buffoon, but he’s actually portrayed with a great deal of depth and charisma. Personally, I feel as if everyone did a wonderful job…except that lady playing Bradley Cooper’s fiancé. She only had one line, and she delivered it as flatly as possible (I’d link a clip if I could). Did anyone else notice her? Regardless, I won’t let that ruin my good time.
At first I was a little concerned about the portrayal of the ladies in this film, considering the male focus as well as the power-struggle theme. At first they seem typically shallow and manipulative, and especially in Rosalyn’s (Jennifer Lawrence) case, stereotypically crazy. Then you have to remember, these are meant to be caricatures of actual people – these people are bold and flashy and act accordingly. However, with the every instance of garish insanity, there is heart behind the performance – as only Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence can deliver.
American Hustle is incredibly solid film. Any worry that these stars would outshine each other is quickly effaced while they play off of each other splendidly. On the whole it’s just a really good time – the costumes and sets are fantastic, and the soundtrack and score could not have been better. Would I call it “mind-blowing?” No, not particularly. But is it worth checking out? Absolutely.
Final Grade: A
The future is a strange, mysterious place, where letters are artificially hand-written and men wear high-waisted pants. In this version of tomorrow, Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) is a introverted-sweetheart-writer-soon-to-be-divorcee with a penchant for video games and nighttime sexychats. After buying himself an AI-based OS who calls herself “Samantha” (Scarlett Johansson), Theodore becomes fascinated with her love of discovery, and through her finds the means to enjoy life again. Sorry, but there are some spoilers.
Originally I was thrown off by the OS-angle, only because I felt it’s been done so many times before. We as people are absolutely obsessed with technology, and this is not the first, last or only time this commentary has been made. In fact, there’s a whole genre of anime that is based on the concept of an other-worldly women changing the lives of their men, while simultaneously criticizing technological reliance.
Additionally, I found Samantha’s adaptive ability to be a little ridiculous – for instance, how does she understand humor so quickly? Or how does she experience the equivalent to a female orgasm? Not that she says that’s what was going on there, but how did she know to replicate that kind of sensation, audibly? (Great call blacking out the screen on that one – very immersive.) How does she “feel” exactly? Does she just pull from a massive database of reaction videos, or is the concept of feeling programmed? Why not make a movie on programming subjective behavior – I think that would be a more fascinating analysis.
Sorry about the digression. I need to stop myself from picking at these technical things – I realize that really these nuances don’t really matter in the context of the story (until it has to be an inevitable plot point or two), so I’ll get on to the heart of the matter – the complexity of human relationships and emotion, as well as the cruciality of communication.
Despite my gripes of technological fabrication, I really to have to commend Spike Jonze’s ability to blend the lines between artificiality and organicism. For instance, the opening piece of music blends from electric distortion to recognizable acoustics. More so, whenever we hear Samantha or any other OS speak to Theodore, there is no distinct separation between voices, which is to say that that the artificial voices are closer to viewers than the humans’ – it’s as if we are in Theodore’s mind with Samantha. Suddenly in a world where people are just perverse, characteristic shells, we get a glimpse that there still is a soul in there.
By allowing us a taste of such closeness, we are granted a look at the fact that people are flawed and are forever trying to figure themselves out. We turn away when we are most hurt, we desire connections but fear the intimacy of a conversation. Fortunately Theodore isn’t the only human in this film with these problems. With the help of a mediator, Theodore finds that he can be comfortable with another “being” again, and more importantly, with himself.
I think it’s fair to say that Her is one of those movies that I like more and more as I think about it. I’m still not sure where I stand when it came to the self-aware AI character, more so Theodore’s expectations of her. Is it weird that I found his possessiveness creepy? I mean, he does technically own her after all – did that conversation ever come up? Isn’t Samantha really just a hired therapist/personal assistant/sexbuddy? Sorry, sorry, I’m thinking too much about this again.
Technobabble aside, this film does a great job externalizing otherwise internal emotions… which Jonze unfortunately beats to death with his use of shapes and color schemes, but beautifully juxtaposed through Phoenix’s and Amy Adam’s performances. Though I harp on about the questionability of the technology in this film, I still find solace within the portrayal of the message that we’re all in this together. There may be ups or downs, but there’s always a forward.
Final Grade: B+
Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller), is a pretty average guy – a lonely workaholic for a dying publication, whose only job is to handle incredible photographs from other peoples’ adventures. Enclosed by his self-made isolation, he spends most of his time escaping into incredible fantasies. When it’s announced that Life magazine will be publishing its final issue, Walter discovers that he has lost the photo for the final cover. Walter takes it upon himself to find the elusive traveler to recover the lost negative, no matter where the journey may take him.
From what I’ve googled, this is hardly anything but inspired by the Thurber story, or the 1947 film starring Danny Kaye – and honestly, I’m okay with that. Perhaps a title change would have been in order, considering that he doesn’t refer to his stories as any sort of truth, but hey, I didn’t make the thing. Instead we get a story of a man who dreams of the impossible in order to rekindle with the extraordinary, bit by bit, taking some chances and having an adventure – first for love, then for obligation, then finally himself – realizing his fantasy world has only gotten in the way of his reality, as well as his potential.
I can’t help but take into consideration the constant backlash over Mitty‘s use of blatant product placement, and personally, I don’t see what the big deal is. Though various brands were mentioned casually, I think it’s fair to say that the biggest offender was Papa John’s. It’s not like the characters were talking about eating the pizza or discussing how delicious that garlic butter sauce is or anything – it was just the first place Walter worked at a young age, setting the stage for his corporate devotion. It wasn’t even positive product placement – in fact Papa John’s was more of a source of resentment, regardless of being a place of familiarity in a foreign environment. Besides, considering that this is a movie that begins and ends with big brands (i.e. Life), why stop at food? As if you didn’t know that a Cinnabon is just frosting-coated heroin.
It can also be argued that Walter as a character isn’t too identifiable. Unlike other characters of such caliber, Walter is not boring – he actually does have ideas and dreams and a family – he’s merely introverted. He’s the little guy, pinned against a corporate douchebag (a detestable Adam Scott) – an antagonist I only wish was entirely fictional. Personally, I think by making real-world references we can empathize with Mitty’s reality that much easier. This is a man who realizes the only thing holding him back is himself – and like the rest of us, all he needs is a little push.
Walter Mitty may be pining for Oscar-bait a tad, but ultimately this is a sweet little film: it’s stylish, sincere, funny, and at times, even inspiring.
Final Grade: A