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Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Susan Granger at the Movies: ‘The Lobster,’ ‘A Bigger Splash,’ ‘Alice Through the Looking Glass’

By Susan Granger

Special to WestportNow

Without doubt, “The Lobster” is one of the most bizarre films I’ve ever seen.

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Set in the near future in an alternate universe, it’s an existential allegory about the determination within every culture to pair people off. Whether heterosexual or homosexual, conforming means being part of a couple.

When his wife leaves him for another man, David (Colin Farrell) has only 45 days to find another partner or face ‘Transformation’ into the animal of his choice. Most people want to be a dog, which is why there are so many of them. But David chooses to be re-embodied as a lobster.

To facilitate finding a prospective mate, David checks into a spa-like Hotel, where the Manager (Olivia Coleman) sternly explains the regimented schedule required of him and other newcomers – there’s one who lisps (John C. Reilly), another who limps (Ben Whishaw), a woman prone to nosebleeds (Jessica Barden) and one who is heartless (Aggeliki Papoulia).

While a maid facilitates sexual arousal, masturbation is forbidden. Not surprisingly, the guests grow increasingly desperate under the pressure to find a compatible companion. When a match is made, there’s a party and ‘honeymoon’ of sorts. If couples subsequently disagree, children are pressed upon them. “It usually helps,” declares the Manager.

With his crustacean reincarnation looming, David flees into the forest, joining ‘The Loners,’ a resistance group. Their militant leader (Lea Seydoux) enforces her own set of Kafkaesque rules, forbidding any relationships.

Then David meets his real soulmate (Rachel Weisz) – but is it too late?

Greek writer/director Yorgos Lathimos first garnered recognition with his Oscar-nominated “Dogtooth” (2009) about three grown children raised in seclusion by their parents. His follow-up “Alps” (2012) explored the grieving process. Co-written with Efthimis Filippou, this is his first English-language film.

Weird to the extreme, it’s, perhaps, the opposite of a melodrama. The acting is almost forcibly restrained as the grim, unconventional situation grows increasingly more primitive and punitive.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Lobster” is a strange, surreal 7, an audacious, absurdist satire.

“A Bigger Splash” introduces rock superstar Marianne Lane (Tilda Swinton) who undergoes vocal-cord surgery and is forbidden to talk during the healing process.

Marianne and her younger filmmaker lover, Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts), hide away in an idyllic villa on Pantelleria, a volcanic island on the strait of Sicily, not far from Tunisia.

They’re first glimpsed blissfully sun-bathing naked by the tiled pool. Suddenly, their friend, Harry (Ralph Fiennes), arrives unexpectedly, along with his newly-discovered, nubile daughter, Penny (Dakota Johnson). Harry’s an ebullient, often obnoxious music producer who was once Marianne’s lover and introduced her to Paul.

Now, he’s determined to reclaim her affections, disruptively insisting they dine at a quaint, picturesque restaurant known only to locals but overcrowded due to the upcoming Feast of San Gennaro.

As the dynamic backstory of this steamy foursome is gradually revealed through inference and innuendo in flashbacks, they sexually tease and deviously torment one another, casually indulging in wanton coupling and full-frontal nudity.

Loosely based on Jacques Deray’s erotic “La Piscine” (“The Swimming Pool”), it’s adapted by David Kajganich, who injects a tenuous subplot about illegal Tunisian immigrants, and subtly directed by Luca Guadagnino, who meticulously delineates each of the four characters, utilizing Marianne’s inability to speak as a metaphor for repressed emotions and guilty secrets.

Tilda Swinton’s angular, androgynous beauty is amplified by her haughty demeanor and languid, Euro-chic attire - in stark contrast with Lolita-like Dakota Johnson’s see-through tops and sultry shorts. Handsome Matthias Schoenaerts is suitably disdainful, but uninhibited Ralph Fiennes steals the show with an impromptu dance to the Rolling Stones’ “Emotional Rescue.”

FYI: Implying some great emotional moment, the title refers to an enigmatic 1967 David Hockney painting, showing a foaming wake in a swimming pool under a blue sky.

On the Granger Gauge, “A Bigger Splash” is a seductive, sensual 7, a slippery psycho-sexual thriller for adult audiences.

Bearing little resemblance to Lewis Carroll’s literary sequel, “Alice Through the Looking Glass” begins in 1874 with Alice Kingsleigh (Mia Wasikowska) as an intrepid sea captain, cleverly evading pirates en route back to London - as though she’d been taught by Capt. Jack Sparrow.

Arriving home, Alice must choose between losing her late father’s merchant vessel or leaving her widowed mother homeless. Familial business dealings grow tedious until the familiar blue butterfly, Absolem (voiced by Alan Rickman), leads Alice through a large mirror…a.k.a. Looking Glass.

Back in Underland, Alice finds the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) deeply depressed, mourning the loss of his Hightopp family. If she can travel back through the “Sea of Time,” Alice ay be able to save them, but that involves stealing the whirling Chronosphere belonging to Time (mustache-twirling Sacha Baron Cohen).

As part of her quest, Alice discovers how a sinister childhood deception triggered the huge-headed Red Queen’s (Helena Bonham Carter) petulant anger toward her sister, the White Queen (Anne Hathaway).

While screenwriter Linda Woolverton (“Maleficent”) has endeavored to create backstories for many of Lewis Carroll’s classic characters - with a nod to Victorian-era feminism, James Bobin (“The Muppets”) injects too many distractions in this implausible, incoherent live-action fantasy.

Tilting a bit too far toward the bizarre, Johnny Depp, his pupils dilated to psychedelic proportions, is almost unrecognizable under creepy clown makeup, topped with a shock of orange hair.

But the lavish, candy-colored CGI visuals are dazzling, particularly glimpses of Tweedledum and Tweedledee (Matt Lucas), White Rabbit (Michael Sheen) and Cheshire Cat (Stephen Fry).

On the Granger Gauge, “Alice Through the Looking Glass” is a curiously confusing, simplistic 6, an expensive extravaganza.

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( Editor’s Note: Westport resident Susan Granger grew up in Hollywood, studied journalism with Pierre Salinger at Mills College, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with highest honors in journalism. In addition to writing for newspapers and magazines, she has been on radio/television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic for many years. See her reviews at www.susangranger.com.)


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