Saturday, September 10, 2016

The Lobster (2016) *

It isn't usual for me to hate a movie as critically acclaimed as this one, but the fact is, I was not entertained. “The Lobster” is an absurdist, allegorical dramedy about the state of human romantic coupling. In this imagined world, people are not allowed to live singly. Every single adult is taken to a hotel where they are given 45 days to find a partner. Those who fail get turned into animals.

Finding a partner at this hotel isn't as easy as you would think. Everyone's interactions are stilted and lifeless, and people are only supposed to partner with someone who shares their “defining characteristic,” e.g a limp or a lisp. Once people do couple up, if they have any quarrel or difficulty in their relationship, they are assigned children, “which usually helps.” Sex is allowed between couples, but a hotel maid services the needs of the single men, as masturbation is strictly forbidden. Sexual satisfaction is only supposed to be obtained with a partner, no matter how mechanical and joyless the act is.

“The Lobster” seems rather clever until you reflect that it isn't as original as it seems. From “Sex and the City” to “Bridgette Jones's Diary,” the humiliations visited upon single people in a society obsessed with coupling have been well-explored. The difference between those other stories and “The Lobster” is that the other stories are actually enjoyable, filled with funny, interesting characters to whom you can actually relate. “The Lobster” has something to say, but it says it in such a dreary, washed-out way that the “defining characteristic” of this film seems to be its contempt for the audience. From its flat affect to its bizarrely redundant voice-overs, the film is painful to watch, despite occasional flashes of humor.

I have to confess here that I didn't watch the entire film. We gave up when the dog got kicked to death. (Seriously.) I read some synopses, however, and it seems that the tone of the film remains consistent. You are either up for it or you aren't. It's as if director Yorgos Lanthimos wants to deliberately punish his audience. I'm familiar with the concept that an artist like Lanthimos may suffer for his art, but I see no reason that I should suffer for HIS art.

1 star out of 5  

Sunday, September 04, 2016

Creed (2015) ***

The first “Rocky” movie was one of the great films. It was one of those rare movies that wins awards and is also imminently watchable. It's timeless. The sequels that followed, most would agree, got progressively worse. “Creed,” the newest installment in the franchise, re-captures some of that early magic, although it still isn't as good as the original.

“Creed” basically repackages the original plot. Adonis(Michael B. Jordan), Apollo Creed's troubled, illegitimate son, wants to be a professional boxer. He seeks out his late father's old friend, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), and begs him to train him. Adonis displays some promise, and then, because of his famous name, is offered a championship fight. Everyone figures the world champion will beat this upstart easily, but we've seen enough Rocky movies to know that it won't go that way.

It's all very much the formula of the first Rocky, including the upstart boxer getting a shot at the title, falling in love with a quirky girl, and lots of great training montages. The lack of originality would be unforgivable if it weren't for the top-notch performances. Michael B.Jordan is simply magnetic. He commits 100% to every scene, and he is clearly going places. It's Sylvester Stallone, however, who really elevates “Creed.” Watching his aged fighter retreat inward as he is given a cancer diagnosis is truly gutting. Watching him hike out to the cemetery to sit by Adrian's grave and read her the newspaper is heartbreaking. This may be Stallone's best work.

The fight scenes are as rousing as those in any “Rocky” movie, way more fun than watching actual boxing. The training scenes mostly recycle stuff from earlier films, including the old, catch-the-chicken game. Still, for a movie that doesn't really have much new to say, “Creed” is way more entertaining than it has a right to be.

3 stars out of 5