The Lobster – LFF Review

The Lobster

In a world much like our own being single has become tantamount to a crime. Anyone finding themselves unattached through divorce, death, or simply unsuccessful dating must go to The Hotel. There they have 45 days to find a partner, essentially someone who shares one distinct trait with them, or be transformed into an animal of their choice. The Hotel is run by Olivia Colman who gives lectures on why being in a couple is a good things and how it might prevent you from dying or being raped. The message here is clear; if you are single you might as well not be human.

Out in the forests hides an outcast group who cannot live in polite society anymore. This group is known as the Loners and are led by a militant Léa Seydoux. In this group being in a couple is the ultimate betrayal and even kissing or flirting are punished violently. Independence is the only valuable attribute and each Loner is even expected to dig their own grave in case they die. Running away to join the Loners is your only alternative if your time runs out at the Hotel and you want to keep your human face.

Our guide through this peculiar world is David (Colin Farrell) who reluctantly checks into The Hotel at the start of the film with his dog-shaped brother in tow. He has 45 days to find himself someone with a matching distinguishing feature or he will find himself transformed into a lobster; the logical form to choose for his post-human years. Inside the hotel he is joined by a limping man (Ben Whishaw), a woman who has nosebleeds (Jessica Barden), a man with a lisp (John C. Reilly), a woman who loves biscuits (Ashley Jensen), and a heartless woman (Angeliki Papoulia). All of them, barring perhaps the heartless woman, are desperate to find whatever passes for love in this world. Meanwhile out in the woods the likes of Michael Smiley and Rachel Weisz do their best to be friendly but not flirty and evade capture from The Hotel’s residents. The cast is crammed with a fine selection of British actors and it is a great endorsement that director Yorgos Lanthimos chose to make this film in the UK rather than the US.

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Yorgos Lanthimos has brought his distinctly dry humour to his first English-language feature. As you can presumably tell from what I have described the film forms a scathing satire on the modern world of dating and selecting a partner out of desperation based on the most trivial of compatibility criteria. Every line spoken in the film in done so in a completely deadpan manner making the more absurd dialogue seem sane and turning mundane conversation surreal. I got the distinct feeling that Lanthimos has looked at the world, found it ridiculous, and wants to show us the insanity he sees.

The Lobster is an incredibly funny and smart film. It takes the norms of our societal rituals and expectations and blows them up to be seen for the madness that they really are. The film has a lot of clever ideas and humorous moments and is a pleasure to watch but struggles when trying to thread a plot through all the metaphor. This being a film about love it can’t resist having a love story rear its ugly head. The romance in question is sweet but the insistence on deadpan delivery dampens any emotions. That said the muted nature of the romance adds to the general mood and message of the film so is far from out of place.

The Lobster will provide you plenty of chuckles and a few wry knowing smiles and is a unique confection from one of our most creative modern filmmakers. Once you’re in sync with the film’s unique rhythm you’ll be lost in its world.

Lobster screens at the festival again on the 15th October but sadly has sold out. Luckily it is released on the 16th anyway so not to worry.

Cowboys – LFF Review

Cowboys

In a French community obsessed with country and western a teenage girl runs of with her Islamic boyfriend. In a haze of suspicious and xenophobia the girl’s father (François Damiens) fears the worst and embarks on fruitless trips across numerous countries with his son Kid (Finnegan Oldfield) in tow in search of the missing young woman. As the years pass Kid becomes disillusioned with the hunt and stay at home leaving his father to pursue his sister alone.

This first chapter of the film comes across as a decent thriller with a desperate father on the hunt for his daughter. I was expecting some conspiracy to be uncovered and for the father to come out victorious in a manner that would make Liam Neeson proud. This does not happen. Instead this section of the film comes to an abrupt end and we jump forward a few more years.

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Now our focus is on Kid who is working for what I assume was an aid agency in Asia. Here Kid quite literally stumbles across the path of John C. Reilly playing some kind of evangelical human trafficker. Naturally Reilly’s American wanderer thinks he might know where Kid’s sister might be and so the two embark on an adventure across the desert and into a rough urban landscape. After some dramatic moments we head back to France and jump forward a few years. Again.

Having had the thriller and the action adventure Cowboys ends with a shorter chapter more along the lines of an emotional drama. One that neatly brings the story to a close and ties together loose threads in a neat, not necessarily satisfactory bow. With that the film is done. The plot of the film having chopped and changed numerous times we finally reach some sort of conclusion.

Each of the three chunks of the film are well made with tonally appropriate direction and fine acting but the three sections don’t sit well when sat flush against each other. The tone of the film kept changing which made for a jarring experience and no individual chapter got the proper resolution they deserved; as soon as something got interesting it would abruptly stop so we could move a few more years down the line.

Cowboys is by no means a terrible experience but is too uneven to be a great watch.

Cowboys screens the festival on the 15th and 16th October and tickets are still available online.

Mild Concern BFI London Film Festival Awards 2011

Hello and welcome to the second annual Mild Concern BFI London Film Festival awards to celebrate and berate various films screened at the 55th BFI London Film Festival. Today I will be sitting in my tuxedo handing out the feted awards, the Raised EyebrowsTM, to any film which grabbed our attention in a positive or, equally likely, negative way.

Best Use of SymbolismWe Need to Talk About Kevin
A favourite to win a few bigger awards this year, even Best of the FestTM, but ultimately a few surprises took the crown. Instead Kevin is recognised for the amount of time poor Tilda Swinton is cleaning red off of her hands, her house and her car. Red is everywhere in Kevin. It’s not subtle but it’s certainly effective.

Best Use of Jon SnowCoriolanus
Jon Snow’s cinematic appearances are few and far between, it has been too long since Zombie Farm, but they are always a treat. Here he plays a newsreader with some classic Shakespearean dialogue. Best bit of the film.

Best Use of Felicity JonesLike Crazy
As the official Mild Concern crush we had to give Felicity Jones a mention. She is at the top of her game in Like Crazy and the film gives her a chance to show her acting chops, and captures her in a gorgeous light throughout. The more I think about the film, the better it seems.

Totally a Play AwardCarnage
Carnage was a hell of a lot of fun but, with four speaking parts and a set consisting of two rooms, hasn’t gained much in transitioning from stage play to motion picture. You’d struggle to find a theatre gathering this stellar cast though so all is forgiven.

Most Improved Performer – George Clooney for The Descendants
At last year’s festival The American was a major low point in my week, it was a dull and pointless film. Thankfully George Clooney took my criticism and returned this year with two films getting rave reviews. The Descendants takes the award for one good reason: it’s the one I saw.

Most Prolific Performer – John C. Reilly for Carnage, We Need to Talk About Kevin and Terri
John C. Reilly has the unique distinction of having a major role in three quality films at this year’s festival. In every film he is a less than perfect father figure to a troubled young boy. Don’t be fooled into thinking he is just playing the same role again and again, each time he plays a distinct character proving that Reilly is not a one trick pony.

Struggling to Stay Awake Award (Documentary)Crazy Horse
Visually beautiful and with a few nice insights into a famous Parisian club, Crazy Horse is a documentary with nothing to say but plenty of time to spend not saying it. I checked the time three times during the screening, willing the film to end and trying to keep my eyes open.

Struggling to Stay Awake Award (Feature)Last Screening
With Last Screening my battle to keep my eyes open was lost and became a battle to maintain consciousness. A film about a serial killer shouldn’t be boring, this is completely unacceptable.

Biggest Affront to Germaine GreerTales of the Night
In a series of fairy tales women fail to be anything more than pathetic damsels in distress. With the actors within the film amending some of the stories they fail to acknowledge women as competent human beings and give the female characters any initiative. It’s as if Buffy never happened.

Best Mix of Tears and Titters/Best Comedy50/50
I laughed, I cried (almost) and I found Seth Rogan funny throughout a film for the first time. 50/50 manages to fill a film about cancer with humour without ever belittling the disease. Good work people.

Scared to Walk Home Award/Best DramaMartha Marcy May Marlene
Stealing Kevin‘s award is a harrowing tale of a young girl who has escaped from a modern-day cult. A brilliant debut feature for director Sean Durkin and a stellar introduction to Elizabeth Olsen. You won’t ever want to be left alone again.

Best DocumentaryInto the Abyss
Werner Herzog certainly knows how to put together a documentary. Here he presents the story of a triple homicide without comment, simply allowing the people involved to tell the story from their point of view. Includes a moving scene where a man starts to cry as he tells a story about a squirrel.

Best AnimationAlois Nebel
So far from cartoon animation this gorgeous Czech film is a truly adult feature. The rotoscoped performances and mixture of CGI effects with hand drawn images make for a real work of art. Still not sure what was going on though.

Best Short FilmThe Monster of Nix
In a similar vein the best short film mixes live-action, computer animation and hand-painted background to make a gorgeous short film which could easily be extended to a full feature. If you’re listening Rosto, we want an extra hour please.

Best of the FestThe Artist
With so many heavy films the best thing we saw all festival was a French silent film set in Hollywood as the talkies began. Invigorating my love for cinema and hopes for its future The Artist is so much fun you can’t help but fall in love with it. It also has a release date now, get ready to smile on 30th December 2011.

A Note For Film-makers:
To collect your award simply send us an email with the address you’d like it sending to and we’ll post it on as soon as we cobble something together. And in case you’re wondering how to incorporate the award into your marketing campaign, here’s an example using Coriolanus:

If you missed any of our reviews, all films covered can be found by clicking on the appropriate thumbnail below:

Terri – LFF Review

Terri (Jacob Wysocki) is 15, overweight, lives with his senile uncle (Creed Bratton) and wears pyjamas to school. Naturally he isn’t the most popular of people but manages to make connections through his unorthodox vice-principal (John C. Reilly), fellow social outcast Chad (Bridger Zadina) and former popular girl Heather (Olivia Crocicchia). There’s no big plot, just Terri’s clumsy forays into friendship and a slight important in his levels of happiness.

From the opening shot of Terri sitting alone in the bath to his depressing arrival in school I was reminded of the aesthetics of films like Kes or the opening of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, gritty home life made all the grittier through being shot on film. Despite a (presumably) contemporary setting the slightly grainy footage gave Terri a timeless quality, differing it from other US indie fare which tends towards crisper digital images.

Terri is a charming film, funny throughout and almost as touching as it wants to be. Jacob Wysocki ably leads the film while John C. Reilly (again) provides an energetic performance that holds the film together. With no grand plot the film has nowhere to go and so slows down towards the end before stumbling at the finish line. Despite Terri’s troubling circumstances he never indulges in his own misfortune, this attitude makes the film entirely watchable and forgivable for any flaws.

Terri screens at the London Film Festival today at 12:15 and on Saturday 22nd October at 14:15 and tickets are available for both screenings.

Carnage – LFF Review

In Carnage the Cowans (Kate Winslet and Christophe Waltz) are visiting the Longstreets (Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly) to discuss the fact that the Cowans’ son hit the son of the Longstreets’ in the face with a stick. Everything starts off amicable with the couple being over polite and middle-class about the incident, but as things progress their facades slip and rivalries form.

At first there is a shift from two feuding couples to a battle of the sexes as the wives gang up against their husbands, but before long it seems as if each of the foursome hate one another in equal measure. A this film is adapted from a play there is only one setting, the film progresses in real-time and it all hinges on excellent dialogue from Yasmina Reza and Roman Polanski and quality acting from the ensemble. Each actor takes on a dual role, portraying both the compassionate version of their character and the unpleasant snob that lies beneath.

Kate Winslet gets a rare opportunity to give a broad comedic performance, Christoph Waltz displays an occasionally convincing American accent, Jodie Foster excellently plays a tightly wound wife and John C. Reilly, sadly neglected in our We Need to Talk About Kevin review, shines as a simpering pussy-cat turned alpha male.

Roman Polanski doesn’t bring any real cinematic quality to the film, instead allowing the acting to carry the film and so it could be argued that nothing is gained by putting this play on screen. However, the format allows a mainstream audience to see a quality play acted out by a collection of A-Listers you may never get together in the theatre. I love plays and I loved Carnage.

If you like to see four good actors having fun with a theatrical script that takes a swipe at middle class values then this is for you. Though if this applies to you, you’re most likely middle class, you hypocrite.

Carnage screens at the London Film Festival today and this Saturday and is in UK cinemas from 3rd February 2012.