2015: Part 9

Legend. Directed by Brian Helgeland. I am impressed by the work put in by Tom Hardy in his double performances as identical twin gangsters Reggie and Ronnie Kray; the characterizations are so well done that it’s easy to appreciate the brothers as two separate creations by Hardy. The rest of Legend, however, is either so-so or outright disappointing. Guiding us through this British period piece set in the East End circa the early-to-mid-60s, Emily Browning does well as our narrator, Frances Shea (Reggie’s girlfriend, later his wife), but I constantly felt that she was holding back and that she could have had more to do; the character wasn’t completely one-dimensional, but there had to have been better dialogue or opportunities for more powerful outbursts of emotion that Browning could have been given. David Thewlis is wonderful in his scenes as the Krays’ often exasperated financial manager, and Chazz Palminteri makes the most of his small amount of screen time as American mafioso Angelo Bruno, but the rest of the cast is wasted in their too-small and/or underwritten roles. Taron Egerton (a promising young star in British cinema) has very little to do as Reggie’s boyfriend, Teddy, while Christopher Eccleston barely registers as the detective seeking to bring the brothers down (I blame the script rather than the actor, whom I’ve liked ever since his “Doctor Who” tenure) and perhaps the biggest crime of all is that Tara Fitzgerald didn’t have more scenes as Browning’s mother, a woman who knows that Reggie Kray will bring her daughter nothing but agony. With the exception of one bravura fight scene (around an hour into the film) that pits Tom Hardy against Tom Hardy, the action/drama in Legend is a letdown.

The Lobster. Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos. I was surprised by how crowded The Lobster’s theater was at BAM two weeks ago, even for a 7:00 pm showing on a Saturday; other BAM screenings that I have been to on the same weekday at the same time haven’t been nearly so jam-packed. Clearly The Lobster’s favorable reviews have been successful in drawing audiences in, at least in Brooklyn.

Considering the matter of the movie itself, however, I don’t know how I feel about it. I just can’t figure it out – meaning both the cinematic experience and my own opinion. Unlike the theatrical outing that immediately preceded Lobster, Mad Max: Fury Road (more on that later in this post), in which I knew very quickly that I loved the film and couldn’t wait to tell everyone, I am much more indecisive about The Lobster. I appreciate the challenges that writer-director Yorgos Lanthimos (Kinetta, Dogtooth, Alps) sets for his viewers, both for their intellects and for their gag reflexes, in telling a tale of the dystopian future as a zany comedy. The premise is fairly simple: at some unspecified point in the future, members of society have decided that the only way to be a part of normal civilization is to be in a couple, and all single people are sent to a seaside hotel where each person must find a mate within 45 days (to make the task even more daunting, the couple must share a defining trait, like having a limp or a lisp) or else the still-single person will be turned into an animal of their choosing. When we meet our protagonist, a short-sighted man named David (Colin Farrell), he has just been ejected from his marriage and home by his wife, who has taken up with another man. The Lobster spends the next two hours observing David’s attempts to find a suitable partner among his new comrades at the hotel and elsewhere, after the action has shifted to different locations.

Many of the performances in the film are effective. Despite what his early appearances in big-budget, mainstream action flicks suggested, Colin Farrell has matured into a fine actor, doing great work for the past decade in smaller, more complex indie films like In Bruges (2008) and Seven Psychopaths (2012). Farrell continues to grow with his work in The Lobster, which, despite not having much memorable dialogue for him, does give him an interesting character to play. I also liked the performances by Rachel Weisz, Ben Whishaw, John C. Reilly, Léa Seydoux, Ariane Labed, Ashley Jensen, Angeliki Papoulia, Garry Mountaine and Emma Edel O’Shea. There were far too few scenes for Olivia Colman, who plays the manager of the creepy hotel; almost every one of her lines was hilarious and she has one especially wonderful scene in which she and her partner (Garry Mountaine) duet on the song “Something’s Gotten Hold of My Heart” (which I know best as a Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds cover from 1986) during a dance held at the hotel. (There is a more overt reference to the Bad Seeds later in the film when Colin Farrell sings part of Cave’s 1995 duet with Kylie Minogue, “Where the Wild Roses Grow,” while sitting on a riverbank. I don’t know if the Nick Cave connection to “Something’s Gotten Hold of My Heart” was intentional, but both songs’ lyrics mention the word “scarlet” – which is, of course, the color we associate with lobsters, albeit ones that have been cooked. Just a thought.)

So here’s the problem. For all of The Lobster’s complicated strangeness and how hard it works at being extremely bizarre, I could not translate an appreciation of the weirdness into love for the film. I respect Yorgos Lanthimos’ desire to tell a story unlike practically anything we moviegoers have seen recently (or ever), but by the time the end credits rolled, I did not feel moved or pleased by what I had seen; I merely shrugged and wondered why I didn’t feel more, which is funny since that’s how the film starts – Colin Farrell’s character can’t understand why his split from his wife has not made him cry or do anything else openly emotional. Evidently that’s just the way it goes sometimes.

P.S. I recommend seeing The Lobster with a big crowd. Even if you don’t like the film, the experience is better when you’re surrounded by a lot of other people, just to hear their laughter and their uncomfortable gasps.

Mad Max: Fury Road. Directed by George Miller. Seen in all the glory of the Museum of the Moving Image’s wide screen and excellent sound system on May 27, a friend and I had a lovely Friday night out with Fury Road. (I really regret not seeing it in IMAX last year, but this was a top-notch alternative.) George Miller’s apocalyptic tale of a man and a group of women battling a sadistic tyrant’s dystopian civilization deserved all of the Oscar win and nominations at this year’s ceremony. Margaret Sixel’s editing is clearly an extraordinary feat of skill,, while John Seale’s cinematography, Jenny Beavan‘s costumes, the score by Junkie XL (Tom Holkenborg) and the work done by the makeup team, special effects artists and sound editors/mixers further makes the film seem like an extraordinary product of technical achievements. Tom Hardy doesn’t say a lot as Max, but he does wonders with a single raised eyebrow or a low rumble in the back of his throat, and Charlize Theron is beyond awesome as Imperator Furiosa. Nicholas Hoult is also worthy of commendations, running the gamut as Nux, an impassioned young man who starts out on the dark side but eventually helps Max, Furiosa and company. Most of the film’s creepiness comes from warlord Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), the dictator against whom our heroes are fighting; it is also worth noting that with the exception of the Splendid Angharad (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley), I don’t think we ever hear the names of Immortan Joe’s other wives/sex slaves, who are played by Zoë Kravitz (there’s a missed opportunity: “Toast the Knowing” is so fun to say!), Riley Keough, Abbey Lee and Courtney Eaton. Still, the roles for women in Fury Road were miles better than anything else I can remember seeing in any other recent action movies. I wonder at what point it will start to be discussed in undergraduate and graduate film classes since there are so many aspects of Fury Road that are worth analyzing and debating.

P.S. One question for those who have seen the film: how did Nux know how to drive the War Rig even though Furiosa never told him about that complicated set of instructions? Unless the setup was still in use from when Max first took over driving and therefore Nux didn’t need to change anything? I assumed that all the button-pushing needed to be done every time the motor was started. Hmmm.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Directed by Guy Ritchie. Neither as intelligent as Snatch. (2000), as much silly fun as the first Sherlock Holmes film (2009) or as unforgivably bad as RocknRolla (2008) and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011), Ritchie’s reboot of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. has pretty costumes designed by Joanna Johnston (most of these appealing outfits are worn by leading ladies Alicia Vikander and Elizabeth Debicki), nice locales, well-cut action scenes (thanks to editor James Herbert) but little in the way of substance. Armie Hammer does a better job than I expected as KGB envoy Illya Kuryakin, a Soviet super-spy who is paired with American agent Napoleon Solo (played by the extremely boring Henry Cavill) on a mission of international importance: working with a young German woman (Alicia Vikander) to bring down a crime syndicate headed by an Italian heiress (Elizabeth Debicki) who employs Vikander’s uncle (Sylvester Groth, a great German character actor who I last saw playing Joseph Goebbels in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds) and Vikander’s long-estranged father (Christian Berkel) in a secret nuclear-weapon-building factory. I enjoyed the sight of Debicki sinking her teeth into her villainess character and Groth’s scenes with Armie Hammer – threatening the Russian agent with Nazi-style torture – were excellent. Regrettably, there is remarkably little for Hugh Grant to do in his glorified cameo of a role as a British espionage liaison working alongside Cavill, Hammer and Vikander, and it is unfortunate that much-underrated character actor Jared Harris (playing Cavill’s CIA boss) has even less screen time than Grant. At least the disappointing action and lack of good character development are supplemented by the aforementioned visuals, a zippy, guitar-heavy score by Daniel Pemberton and the inclusion of a superb song in the end credits, Nina Simone’s 1965 recording of “Take Care of Business.”

Rain the Color of Blue with a Little Red in It. Directed by Christopher Kirkley. As unusual as it may seem, this film is a Nigerian update of the classic Prince film Purple Rain (1984) and it works really nicely. Similar to the source of its cinematic inspiration, we see the tale of a struggling musician yearning for acceptance from his harsh father and trying to win the love of a local woman, in addition to competing for success in face-offs against a rival performer, shown here as a vehicle for the Tuareg singer-songwriter/guitarist Mdou Moctar. (According to the director, this is the first movie ever to be made in the Tuareg language, and the odd English translation of the title is due to the fact that there is no equivalent word for “purple” in that dialect.) I had the good fortune to see the film on May 7 at Lincoln Center’s New York African Film Festival; obviously the timing of this festival screening was a sad coincidence given Prince’s passing just two weeks earlier, but perhaps because of that, the audience was extra warm towards Kirkley’s feature. It was great having both Kirkley and Mdou Moctar in person for both an introduction and a post-film Q&A (as well as sticking around afterward to talk to moviegoers in the lobby), discussing the music world in Agadez (where the story takes place) and how the narrative tries to bridge the gap between that area’s culture and Western audiences. It helps a lot that Moctar is such a naturally charismatic person, charming both on and off the screen as well as being an amazing musician. According to him, the film has opened doors for him all over the globe, and going by the music heard in the film (my favorite is “Adounia,” a title that means “Life”), that’s a great thing; Christopher Kirkley mentioned bittersweetly that he had hoped that one day Prince would be able to see the film – a dream that will not come true now – but at least Mdou Moctar will now be known to brand-new markets ready for his sound.

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