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Out in Theaters: ‘THE LOBSTER’

Being single is illegal. Those unfortunate enough to remain unspoken for are forced into unbecoming ponchos to hide out in perpetually drizzly U.K. forests, dodging trigger happy hunters locked, stocked and loaded with tranquiler guns, motivated to track them down and capture them. The remaining option for singletons comes in the form of a one-way ticket to a matchmaker hotel where they’ll endure 45 days of punishing “romance” seminars in hopes of finding a mate. Those who “don’t make it” are turned into an animal of their choosing. David’s (Colin Ferrell) desired animal is a lobster. And such is Yorgos Lanthimos’ demented lifecycle in his fifth feature film The Lobster. Read More

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Out in Theaters: ‘SPECTRE’

Before 2006, it might have seemed unreasonable to list a slew of gripes and grievances over the convenient scripting and utter ridiculousness of a Bond movie. This is a character who’s faced invisible cars, bagpipe flamethrowers, underwater jet-packs, cigarette rocket darts, deadly hats, and nigh unkillable nemeses. He once even fought a giant on the moon. Historically, Bond is an over-the-top super agent less grounded in reality than the WWE (emphasis on the word ‘historically’). But upon taking up the mantle in 2006, Daniel Craig has ushered in a new era of Bond; a super-serious, no-BS generation of the beloved super spy, 007. Craig’s a Bond more comfortable with a kill than a quip; an alcoholic outsider with rage issues, and yet someone who legitimately grapples with his license to kill. His Bond has been called gritty and callous, and for good reason. He’s been equal parts savior and butcher, still reeling years after the death of Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) and regularly drinking himself into moody reticence. This modern Bond is more character than caricature; a believable emblem of super-spy badass whose cloth more closely resembles Bourne than Batman. It should come as a major disappointment then that Spectre, the 24th onscreen iteration of the infamous British agent, is a monumental slip backwards into a 00-Stone-Age of yesteryear’s lackluster Bond. Read More

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Out in Theaters: THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL

“The Grand Budapest Hotel”
Directed by Wes Anderson
Starring Ralph Fiennes, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Murray, Jude Law, Tilda Swinton, Saoirse Ronan, Edward Norton, Harvey Keitel, Jason Schwartzman, Lea Seydoux, Owen Wilson, Bob Balaban, Mathieu Amalric, Tom Wilkinson
Comedy, Drama  
100 Mins
R

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Fiennes, Brody, Dafoe, Goldblum, Murray, Law, Swinton, Ronan, Norton, Keitel, Schwartzman, Seydoux, Wilson, Balaban, Amalric, Wilkinson. Wes Anderson‘s latest may have more big names working for it than ever before but their characters are more paper thin than they’ve been, more fizzle than tonic, more Frankenstein’s creations than humans. His company of regulars – joined by a vast scattering of newbies – are relegated to playing furniure-chomping bit roles, filling the shoes of cartoonish sketches, slinking in long shadows of characters. From Willem Dafoe‘s brutish, brass-knuckled Jopling to a caked-up and aged Tilda Swinton, gone are the brooding and calculated, flawed and angsty but always relatable characters of Wes yore. In their place, a series of dusty cardboard cutouts; fun but irrevocably inhuman.

Here in 2014, Anderson’s ability to attract such a gathering of marquee names to his eccentric scripts has never been as potent. He’s a talent magnet and his tractor beam is set to high. It’s just too bad that this gathering of the juggalos is as caricaturesque as they are (arguable even more than the animated Fantastic Mr. Fox). But what can you expect when your face is painted up and you’re dressed like a Slovenian underground fashion show. Upon dissecting what he’s got to offer, the seemingly indelible Wes Anderson appeal is as clear as day.

In the jungle of Hollywood, roles are mostly relegated one of two ways: the tentpole blockbusters, where characters are written like ham steaks – vessels for plot diversions, jukeboxes for one-liners, sarcophagi for the next action scene – and the smaller budgeted “independent” movie, wherein the tone is usually somber, the scenery is left unchewed, and emotional preparation ought to be through the roof. Anderson’s films flirt a very thin middle ground, a Bermuda triangle between indie cred and mainstream. To his credit, it looks like a blast.

Inside his pictures, Anderson’s stars are afforded a chance to play dress up in the midst of gorgeous sets at exciting locales. What’s not to love? Plus, this particular project had an added advantage: European travel. For these thespians, being a part of Anderson’s playground is like being a kid again. However, their childishness is more apparent here than in any of Anderson’s finest work (save for maybe Moonrise Kingdom). But through the haze of these colorful yet superficial oddities shines Ralph FiennesMonsieur Gustave, a beacon of complexity in an otherwise skin-deep cast of characters.

Gustave is a relic of the past. He’s an icon of chivalry, a servant dedicated to his craft, a well-groomed pet for his adoring clientele. He sluts it up for the elderly ladies who pass through his hotel (but he enjoys it too, so he tells us), making him a bit of a tourist attraction in himself. A hot springs for wilting feminine physiques, Gustave becomes the recipient of a pricy artifact (an ironic art piece called “Boy with Apple” – the customary brand of wry Anderson platitudes) when one of his doting golden-agers (Swinton) bites the dust. With her family trying to discredit him and blame the murder his way, Gustave must go on the run.

The cat and mouse, European romp to follow is as much an episode of Tom and Jerry as it is The Great Escape. Fiennes’ soulful gravitas brings immeasurable life to what is otherwise a series of cartoonish escape plots and hijinks. Anderson’s offerings are easy to consume and his persnickety eye for detail and Fiennes’ brilliant performance brings life by the pound to the otherwise far-fetched proceedings.

In this recent turn in his career, Wes Anderson has almost becoming a mockery of Wes Anderson. Though I thoroughly enjoyed The Grand Budapest Hotel it lacks the rounded emotional honesty of his pre-Fox efforts. He’s lost the intellectual intensity he had going in Rushmore, The Royal Tenanbaums and (I know I’m in the minority here) Darjeeling Limited, largely replaced by quirk by the bucket and enough billable names to make your head spin.  Nevertheless, Fiennes is magical; a perfect vessel for Andersonisms, the savior of the show.

B+

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Out in Theaters: BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR

“Blue is the Warmest Color”
Directed by Abdellatif Kechiche
Starring Adèle Exarchopoulos, Léa Seydoux, Salim Kechiouche, Mona Walravens, Jérémie Laheurte, Catherine Salée, Aurélien Recoing
Drama, Romance
179 Mins
NC-17

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Before seeing Blue is the Warmest Color, ask yourself: am I interested in seeing two women in the buff pleasuring each other in unprecedented NC-17 fashion? Even if the answer is yes, there’s still a good chance you’ll find yourself squeamish, crunched in a theater surrounded by strangers as two au naturel ladies hump on screen like jackrabbits OD-ing on Viagra. Although Lars Von Trier‘s slated 5-hour sexual odyssey Nymphomania (sigh) will probably outdo anything set to screen here, Blue is the Warmest Color certainly charters new ground in terms of sexual depictions onscreen at this particular moment in time. But regardless of how risqué the scenes of full-blown love making are here, they add nothing to the context of the story and in one fell swoop redefine masturbatory filmmaking.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for some girl-on-girl action but I’d much rather experience that in the comfort of my own home rather than sitting next to a 65-year old gawking geyser who’s probably never heard of the internet. All the spanking, rug-munching, and disappearing fingers makes the audience uncomfortable and, it seems to me, that that is not the intention of filmmaker Abdellatif Kechiche. I’m not one to balk at gratuitousness in movies so long as it services the film. Here though, they’re just servicing each other. 

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The film centers on Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos) and how her sexual self-exploration parallels her growth as a person so it’s no wonder that we are to witness to some of the more carnal of her erotic acts. But by the time we get to these controversial lesbian love-making scenes, the hope is to unearth some kind of new found passion – a natural rigor unlocked from the union with another woman. Kechiche wants his audience to feel the explosive force of their love as we curl into our voyeur’s chair and watch the lovemaking unfold, but this “making love” looks a lot more like banging, and there’s little to “feel” other than a rumbling in your pant’s region. The lengthy scenes to follow are simply pornographic, making this just about the worst movie in the world that you could see with your mother.

Criticism of controversy aside, Blue is the Warmest Color itself stands out for its down to earth look at human relationship and depth of character. However easy it may be for some feeble-brained individuals to simplify Adèle down to the most basic elements of her lesbianism, she is remarkable because of her sexual complexity. More than being straight or gay or bi, Adèle is sexuality as experimentation. A pinch of this, a taste of that, all’s good in her witch’s brew of fleshy exploration. Rather than stick to the narrow road society has laid for expectations of lesbian culture, Kechiche sees his characters as people first and foremost, women second, a gay lastly. No matter what label we adhere to, he says, we are all sexual beings overflowing with desire and helplessly jealous. After all, we’re just human.

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From her electric blue hair to her eccentric allure, Léa Seydoux‘s Emma’s unorthodox simplicity is a puzzle for Adèle. While Adèle sorts out her way through her world, Emma is steadfast in hers, a statue of self-secure lesbianism. Adèle can’t quite seem to get a read on the doting Emma and her personal brand of traditionalism. They are ying and yang, point and counterpoint – a memento of a familiar relationship we’ve all had. Every time Adèle shies away from watchful eye of the masses, Emma embraces it. As the film winds on, they circle each other, souls intertwined but never blended into one. However close they come, they cannot see the world through each other’s perspective.

Adèle‘s internal confusion is counterbalanced with a wholesome dose of curiosity. She’s eternally insecure, never really willing to commit to one side of herself or another before she’s sampled every treat in the candy shop. Society’s resolute demand for conformity is probably what prompts her to torture herself with thoughts of self-identification. Is she gay? Is she bi? Is she straight? Kechiche’s film says: it doesn’t matter either way. At any rate, it’s the process of trying to fit everything into a box that causes this toxic brand of internal confusion.

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As Adèle navigates her way down the long path of figuring herself out, we gain incredible insight into the mind of a fence-sitter – a woman gravitating towards that with the strongest pull in the moment. Years pass and Emma’s electric hair fades to cool blue and eventually into a mousey brown mop as Adèle spirals in her own sink of sexual trial and error. We witness the ups and downs, the roots and fading foundations, and see a relationship raw and rounded.

But that intimacy comes with a price as the three-hour time tag is more than enough to drive people away. And for good reason. Adèle‘s introspective saga is complicated but unnecessarily lengthy, another example of excess in a film brimming with it. With 15-minutes or so of pure porn (which has already become more of a talking point than its victory at this year’s Cannes Film Festival) there is more than enough that could have easily been cut to produce a sharper, cleaner film. Sadly enough, it seems that the allure of the NC-17 might be more provocative than the result.

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Seydoux and Exarchopoulos are so unwaveringly committed to the roles that there is no question as to how far they go to with each other, raising questions about where the line ought to be drawn between method acting and smut. But beyond their bare-bodied romps, they each offer intimate portrayals of flawed characters, embodying their characters with the stuff of masters – suffering their inadequacies and reveling in their joy.

Despite how fleshed out Adèle, Emma, and their relationship are, we still only need to know them so well to get the message and three hours gives us a much larger window than we ever need. Strangely enough, the story was adapted from a graphic novel by Julie Maroh and that probably accounts for the episodic, long-drawn nature of the film. But as this cuming-of-age story goes round and round, monotony sets in and we slowly start to not really care where Adèle and Emma get dropped off.

C+