The Lobster Review: Dark yet Hilarious

The Lobster is the latest film directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, a Greek filmmaker known for the film DogtoothThe Lobster represents a huge step in the career of Lanthimos. It his first film to receive widespread exposure and stars Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, and John C. Reilly.

The Lobster is set in a dystopian society where all single people must live in a hotel where they have 45 days to find a partner. Those who fail to find a partner are turned into an animal of their choice. Colin Farrel’s character David is sent to this hotel after his wife leaves him for another man. David picks the titular lobster as his animal of choice. David is an interesting character. He’s an architect who rarely says more than he needs to. David eventually tries to seduce the most heartless woman in the hotel. David and the heartless woman become a couple but the heartless woman soon learn that David has more emotion than he lets on. So the heartless woman kills David’s dog/brother leading David to cry in the bathroom. Under dire circumstances, David incapacitates the heartless woman and escapes from the hotel. Going much further into the plot of this film would perhaps reveal too much. Here’s what you need to know: The premise of this film is both inventive and terrifying

The first thing I should tell you is that I found The Lobster hilarious. If you appreciate dark humor, then you will absolutely enjoy this film. The first half of this film is especially entertaining when it utilizes its bizarre premise for humor. The various procedures and rules of the hotel are designed to foster pairing between the guests no matter the cost. For example, masturbation is a punishable offense, yet sexual stimulation by the hotel maid is mandatory. Having now seen two of Lanthimos’s films, I can see the beginning of a pattern. Both Dogtooth and The Lobster place characters in tragic yet hilariously absurd situations. That this technique works is a testament to Lanthimos’s cinematic skill.

The Lobster is separated into two parts. The first half taking place in the hotel while the second follows David’s escape into the forest where he meets the loners and a woman who becomes his natural partner. The world of the loners in the forest is as intricate as the world of the hotel. The loners abide by oppressive rules similar to the inhabitants of the hotel. No matter where David goes, he will be suffer from oppression, specifically focused on the rules of attraction. If David possesses any one motivation, it is to circumvent these rules undiscovered. David is an independent thinker in a sea of single-minded dogma. At its core, The Lobster is a film about the desire to rebel against the rules of society.

I really enjoyed this film. Apart from the interesting story, I also found the cinematography and score to be both effective elements of the film. Lanthimos is definitely a filmmaker to watch and it will be interesting to see where he goes next.

 

 

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Election (1999) Analysis

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed Election. The movie captivated me from beginning to end. A rare feat nowadays. Ostensibly, the film is quite simple, yet there is a lot of fertile ground for analysis. As soon as the movie finished, I wanted to watch it again despite it being about two in the morning. I consider this proof of the movie’s entertainment value. In this post, I will attempt to decode the elements of this film to find out why I liked it so much. Hopefully I can discover something useful and relevant to my own creative endeavors.

Election stars Matthew Broderick as Jim Mcallister, a high school social studies teacher in Omaha, Nebraska. Jim is popular with students and he runs the annual school election. His life becomes complicated when Tracy Flick, an overachieving and self-important student, runs for president. Mr. Mcallister dislikes Tracy so he goes to great lengths to prevent her from winning the election. He persuades the high-school quarterback to run against Tracy and even attempts to rig the vote in the quarterback’s favor. The various characters portray the types of politicians usually scene in national elections. The film is prescient as it was made when politics and elections were very relevant in the United States.

One of the reasons I enjoy Election so much is because it refuses to cater to easy interpretations. While watching the film, I was tempted to make broad conclusions about the characters. I wanted to label Tracy Flick a villain because she represents a kind of person that I loathe: the overachieving and success-driven woman who will do anything to get what she wants. I simply wanted to categorize her to make my interpretation easier. Yet I could not conclude this so easily because the film also paints her admirably. She’s incredibly disciplined and driven so how could I hate her too much?

Tracy Flick is an anti-hero in all the right ways. She might be a total try-hard, but she has something worthwhile underneath. I believe this is what makes her an effective character. I simultaneously wanted Tracy to win and wanted her to fail. Matthew Broderick’s character is fashioned in  a similar way. His flaws are not as apparent as Tracy’s but they still exist. Broderick is living a stagnant life yet he is convinced that everything is great. His level of self-denial is astounding. On the surface, he is hard-working, likable, and popular, but this veneer hides the darker side of his personality. I wanted to see Mr. Mcallister as the righteous hero of the film even though some of his actions are objectively villainous.

Election has a very uncensored attitude towards sex. It straddles the line between creating a realistic depiction of sexual relations and using sex as a means entertainment. Election does not had the fact that both teachers and students are interested in sex. The film surprised me with its lack of censorship. It throws down the sexual gauntlet early and does not back down. This element is very much a successful one for Election and its creators.

This film has a lot going for it so why did it take me so long to discover it? It achieves a balance of comedy and drama in a way that few films do. It has something relevant to say about politics and its characters are well-rounded and relatable. Do yourself a favor and watch Election.

Hail, Caesar Review

 

Hail, Caesar is an interesting movie.

It has a lot of great actors and actresses performing at a very high level. It has some of the most hysterical scenes in recent memory and it looks amazing, however I found myself bored watching the film. At a certain point, the story started to drag. I stopped caring about the protagonist’s journey and started looking at my watch.

Hail, Caesar focuses primarily on Eddie Mannix, a “studio fixer” employed by Capitol Pictures. His goal is to keep the studio running smoothly. This entails dealing with movie stars such as Baird Whitlock, Hobie Doyle, DeeAnna Moran and Burt Gurney. Each of these performers has their own interesting thread, but the central story involves Baird Whitlock who plays the lead role in Capitol Pictures’ prestige film, Hail, Caesar. Whitlock is kidnapped and it is up to Mannix to find Whitlock while Mannix balances his personal and professional affairs.

It turns out that the people who kidnap Whitlock belong to a Marxist study group. My favorite moments of Hail, Caesar are when Whitlock speaks with his captors who present a very compelling argument for why they deserve Capitol Pictures’ money. They argue that the studio owns the “means of production” and thereby exploits the common man. Income inequality is at an all-time high in the United States, so this part of the movie seems prescient. The film does not portray those working in the studio system as morally righteous. Mannix’s main conflict is his choice between staying at the studio or accepting a better paying and less demanding job with a different corporation called Lockheed. The film portrays Hollywood as corrupt but valuable.

In the end, Mannix chooses to stay with Capitol Pictures. After retrieving Whitlock from the Marxists, Mannix hears Whitlock’s argument that the studio system is exploitative. Mannix responds by slapping Whitlock in the face twice and telling him to go finish his movie. Regardless of his success, Mannix refuses to see the sense in Whitlock’s argument. Mannix’s response seemed to me like an outright dismissal of Whitlock’s speech as crazy talk.

“Capitalism and logic are incompatable”

This seems to be the film’s thesis. Put another way, creating value is the ultimate pursuit in life and the best measure of value is cash. Mannix also places value in the feeling of belonging. This is the other part of his argument for continuing his job with the studio.

What really is belonging?

Belonging means being accepted as a member. Sure, there is a pleasure in being part of a group, but what does this cost? Mannix may be happy staying at the studio for this reason, but the film seems to think otherwise. The true victims of the film are Mannix’s wife and children. They are only present for one scene and it’s clear that Mannix does not value them as much as his career. Mannix’s wife expresses a sadness that her husband must constantly be at work. By forcing Mannix to work long hours, the studio system punishes Mannix’s wife and children. Not only does the studio system exploit its most valuable workers, it also hurts families.

Hail Caesar poses interesting questions about the ills of capitalism in an easy-to-digest package. Capitalism may be harmful, but at least it produces high-quality entertainment. One could look at the present economic state of the U.S. and point out even more problems caused by unhindered capitalism. While Hail Caesar is not the most entertaining Coen Brothers’ film, I appreciate its existence. The Coen Brothers’ may not be making the insanely entertaining films of their past, but they have focused on larger issues.

The Big Short

The Big Short is directed by Adam Mckay and stars Christian Bale, Steve Carrell, and Ryan Gosling. Each of these actors plays a different man but they share the same goal: to short the housing market based on subprime mortgage loans. The film takes place in the years leading up to the financial crisis in 2007. No one in the world could foresee the crisis because the fraudulent activities of banks were hidden from view. The film highlights the unique sort of person who discovers the housing bubble before the herd and thus gains access to the bet of a lifetime.

Of all the characters in the film, Christian Bale’s performance as Michael Burry was the most impressive. Burry is a real person and a doctor who quit being a neurosurgeon and found financial success by looking for value in unexpected places. His approach is based on hard data and he stumbles upon subprime loans simply by looking at the numbers himself. His decision to invest all of his fund’s liquidity into credit default swaps angers his investors. No matter how assured Burry is that his investment will pay off, his investors will not trust him. Bale’s performance garners sympathy because of his outsider status. Burry is autistic and never able to feel  like he belongs. Fortunately this outsider perspective enables him to find the value that no one else sees.

Steve Carrell’s performance as an angry hedge funder might be the central role in the film. Carrell carries the emotional weight of the film. His character is predestined to sniff out inconsistencies wherever he can find them. This inclination is what leads him to a career as a financial analyst. He is a troubled man dealing with the recent death of a child. He is the character most likely to voice his opinion in an obnoxious way. When the crisis hits, Carrell’s character is the last one to hold onto his credit default swaps, refusing to let the wrongdoers off easy. The character thrives by pointing out the hypocrisy of others but he is unaware of the conflict within himself. He thinks of himself as a hero when his true motivation is profit. Every character in the film is motivated by one thing: money. Carrell’s character is no different.

It is also worth mentioning the two men behind the garageband fund that is Cornwall Capital. These two are young compared to other characters, yet they find something that no one else sees. They discover that the triple-A rated securities in the tranches are actually triple-Bs in disguise. The rating agencies rules for rating the quality of the securities are completely dependent on what Wall Street wants them to be. The level of fraud in the system is remarkable. Discovering this allows these guys to make more money than any of the other characters.

The film also touches on Cornwall’s investment strategy prior to the events of The Big Short. The two men started their fortune by betting on events that people had underestimated. People don’t like to think about bad events happening, so they underestimate their likelihood. Cornwall’s strategy profits by finding bets with potential gains exceeding the potential losses.

The most troubling thing in the film is the level of fraud it exposes. After a second viewing, I was profoundly aware of how fraudulent the system was. Wall Street gamed the system to serve their own needs without regard for the effects. Fraud extended from Wall Street to rating agencies to insurance companies. The burden of repayment eventually fell upon the taxpayers. The system continues to function and its likely that another recession will happen.

The Big Short works on many levels. It works as a comedy, drama and half-true documentary. As someone interested in economics, I was completely enraptured by the film. I recommend The Big Short as one of the funniest and most interesting films of 2016.