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Catching Up on 2016: Josh Reviews The Lobster

In Yorgos Lanthimos’ film The Lobster, Colin Farrell stars as David.  Upon discovering that his wife has left him for another man, David checks into a hotel where single people have 45 days to find a life partner, or else they will be transformed into an animal of their own choosing.  David makes friends with two of the other single men there, Robert (John C. Reilly) and John (Ben Wishaw).  Eventually, Ben runs away from the hotel and begins living with the “loners” who live in the woods nearby.  Though the loners forbid any sort of romantic connection between two people, David finds he has feelings for a woman (Rachel Weisz) he meets there.

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The Lobster is an incredibly bizarre film, one that creates a fascinating alternate reality to our own.  Though much of the world of The Lobster looks and sounds just like our own, we are presented with two fanatically extreme versions of society: one in which coupling is so important that failure to do so results in the end of one’s human life, and another in which coupling is absolutely forbidden.  The film is a compelling commentary on societal pressure to find romance and a life-partner.  How critically important to one’s life and happiness is finding a romantic partner?  Why do we, as a society, put so many rules on people’s love lives, on what is expected and what is permitted?  The Lobster is a rich satire that prompts deep questions.

Colin Farrell is terrific in the lead role, marvelously underplaying the character of David.  Mr. Farrell is beautifully naturalistic and honest in his performance.  While the world of The Lobster can feel outlandish at times, Mr. Farrell provides a critical anchoring to the proceedings with his emotional honesty, and his depiction of a man at a crossroads, struggling to figure out who he is and what he wants and whether he feels he has any self-worth.  The film works as well as it does 100% because of Mr. Farrell’s strong performance.  Mr. Farrell is a handsome man who usually exhibits a ferocious, kinetic energy in his performances.  But here, beneath a paunch and glasses and a ridiculous moustache, it’s as if he has drained every ounce of life and energy out of himself in order to bring the sad-sack David to life.  It’s quite spectacular.

John C. Reilly is always great, and he’s a ray of light in this mostly downbeat film.  His character, Robert, is lonely and unhappy, but Mr. Reilly brings a little spark to every one of his line readings that brings a sense of fun and play into what is, when you think about it, a very broken character.  Ben Wishaw (… [continued]

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Josh Reviews Spectre

Spectre, Daniel Craig’s fourth outing as Ian Flemming’s James Bond, is not a completely terrible film but it’s a huge missed opportunity for the franchise and is probably the worst of Craig’s four Bond films.  (That’s right, I think Spectre is weaker than Quantum of Solace.)  This film should have been the triumphant and thrilling return of the best and most iconic Bond villains — S.P.E.C.T.R.E. and Blofeld — after forty years on the shelf, but instead it’s a humdrum head-scratcher and I am left wondering what the heck went wrong.

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Spoilers ahead, gang.

One of my favorite things about the Daniel Craig Bond films has been the continuity between the films.  I loved that Quantum of Solace directly picked up on the events of Casino Royale, specifically Bond’s grief at Vesper’s betrayal, as well as bringing back characters such as Mathis and Mr. White, who was revealed to be connected to a criminal organization called Quantum (or perhaps Q.U.A.N.T.U.M.).  (One of my complaints about Skyfall, which I enjoyed but didn’t view as the triumph that most everyone else seemed to, was that it was a stand-alone adventure that didn’t continue the development of Quantum.)

This sort of continuity in the Bond series feels like a radical new idea, but in fact it’s a very old one.  Though the series became famous for each film’s being a totally stand-alone adventure, the original Connery Bond films had a gentle continuity between them.  Characters carried over from one film to another (such as Sylvia Trench) and we gradually got to learn more about S.P.E.C.T.R.E., the criminal organization behind much of Bond’s troubles, and its leader Ernst Stavros Blofeld.

A turning point in the Bond series — and what stands as the series’ greatest missed opportunity (though boy does Spectre give it a run for its money) — is the abandonment of that continuity following the terrific cliffhanger ending of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.  That film under-performed and audiences did not respond well to the newly re-cast Bond, played by George Lazenby.  And so while the follow-up should have been the grand culmination of the story that had been slowly developed over the course of the first six films, an emotional and epic climax to Bond’s fight with S.P.E.C.T.R.E., now taken to an intensely personal level following the murder of Bond’s wife, the producers made the decision to totally abandon that story and quickly do away with Blofeld and S.P.E.C.T.R.E.  From that point forward, the films became stand-alone adventures and, following a brief and stupid appearance of a Blofeld-like character in the opening of For Your Eyes Only, that was the last we ever heard of Blofeld and … [continued]

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From the DVD Shelf: Josh Reviews Layer Cake

I saw Layer Cake in the theater, probably because I loved Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, and so I was excited for another British crime flick, and because the great Colm Meaney (who I had grown to love because of his years portraying Miles Edward O’Brien on Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) was in it.  I remember absolutely loving the film, right up to the final minute, which I absolutely hated.  Hated!  The ending totally soured me on the movie.  For quite a while now, particularly after becoming more of a fan of director Matthew Vaughn, I have been wanting to revisit the film to see what I would think of it on a second viewing.  I am pleased that I loved the first 99% of the movie just as much as I did when I first saw it back in 2006. As for the ending?  Well, I’ll get to that in a moment.

Daniel Craig plays a smart, calm British drug dealer.  He’s fairly low-level in the larger scheme of things, but because he is clever, patient, and risk-averse, he has managed to thrive and to build a fortune.  He is ready to get out of the business, but his boss, Jimmy Price, asks him to do him a small favor: find the missing daughter of a fellow crime-boss, Eddie Temple (Michael Gambon).  Meanwhile, a shipment of ecstacy has been stolen from a Serbian drug lord, who has sent an assassin to kill the thieves and return the drugs.  These two events will soon collide, with Daniel Craig’s character stuck right in the middle, forced to bloody his knuckles and to use every ounce of his cleverness to try to navigate the conflicting goals of all of the violent criminals surrounding him in order to get away with his head intact.

Layer Cake is a ferociously entertaining, complex, twisty crime caper.  It’s far more serious than the jokey Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, though there are a few moments of humor in the film.  Layer Cake is a complicated story of double and triple crosses, as a large cast of characters collide, each competing with one another for wealth and power.  The film was written by J.J. Connolly, adapting his own novel, and I love how incredibly dense the film’s story is, daring the audience to keep up with the layers upon layers of twists and turns.

I first became aware of Daniel Craig when I saw his riveting supporting role in Road to Perdition (a vastly underrated movie that I should write more about one of these days).  Layer Cake was Mr. Craig’s first big lead role, and he is … [continued]

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“Our Lives Are Not Our Own” — Josh Falls in Love with Cloud Atlas

Well, my friends, I have a new front-runner for my favorite film of 2012: the magnificent, heart-breaking, life-affirming Cloud Atlas.

I was never a rabid fan of The Matrix, but I certainly loved that film and felt it represented a bold promise of continuing great work by Andy and Larry (now Lana) Wachowski.  At last, thirteen years later, I feel that promise has been fulfilled as the two, working with Tom Tykwer (who directed the phenomenal Run Lola Runclick here for my review), have written and directed a film that feels to me like a masterpiece.

Adapted by the Wachowskis and Mr. Tykwer from the novel by David Mitchell (which I have never read), Cloud Atlas tells a series of connected, over-lapping stories.  In 1849, a young man faces great peril as he crosses the sea in an effort to deliver an important contract to his father.  In 1936, another young man talks his way into an apprentice-ship with a great but aging composer, hoping the old man will be his sponsor and partner as he works to create what he believes to be a great symphony.  In 1973, a young woman puts her life at risk to investigate the claims made by a now-dead whistle-blower at a nuclear power plant.  In 2012, an elderly book publisher runs afoul of gangsters and his own brother, eventually finding himself committed to an old-age home where he feels he does not belong.  In 2144, a genetically-engineered fabricant created to do nothing more than serve fast-food to the “consumers,” her customers, discovers a chance for freedom from the life for which she has been designed and built.  And 106 winters “after The Fall,” a primitive but good-hearted tribesman is visited by one of the “Prescients,” the few-remaining technologically advanced humans on the planet, and he joins with her on a momentous quest.

Each one of these stories is fabulous and compelling, but the way they weave in and out of one another is nothing short of astounding.  I cannot imagine the challenge of editing this movie together.  There isn’t a simplistic pattern of regularly cutting from one story to another.  Instead, the stories dance in and out of each other.  Sometimes we might cut away to one story for nothing more than a quick shot, or a line of dialogue, before moving on, and other times we linger in one of the time-periods for an extended amount of time.  Sometimes I felt like the film would circle through all six of the main time-periods, while at other times it felt more like we were just traveling back and forth between two or three of the tales, letting those stories play … [continued]

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Fifty Years of 007: Josh Reviews Skyfall

November 12th, 2012
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Well, after an unexpectedly lengthy hiatus, James Bond has returned, just in time for his fiftieth anniversary.  To the pleasure and relief of fans of Bond, James Bond, Skyfall is evidence that the redoubtable secret agent (and his franchise) has plenty of gas left in the ol’ Aston Martin tank, though I must confess that this is the second Bond film in a row that doesn’t quite succeed at living up to the promise suggested by Casino Royale.

NOTE: This is a hard film to write about while avoiding spoilers.  I will avoid ruining any of the big plot twists, but I would nonetheless advise not reading this review until you’ve seen the film.

The Opening/The Music: Skyfall’s opening sequence is thrilling, surely ranking amongst one of the very best Bond opening sequences. It’s a spectacular extended chase sequence, from car to motorcycle to train and beyond. (It’s a far more coherent action sequence that Quantum of Solace’s thrilling but hard to follow opening car chase.)  It’s a tremendous, thrilling opening, and I was totally hooked in. But thing got a little shaky as soon as Adele’s theme song began, and for much of the next hour I was a little worried about how things were going.  More on that in a few minutes.  I am lukewarm on Adele’s theme song.  It’s fun to have a Bond song once again using the same title as the film (after two films in a row in which the songs had different titles than the film, a divergence from the standard Bond-movie procedure), though trying to make a song based on the bizarre title of Skyfall, without spoiling the terms’ meaning in the film, is a task in which Adele and her team do not quite succeed.  Also, I tend to prefer my Bond songs to have a bit more of a propulsive beat, and to be a bit more hummable.

The bad: After the terrific opening sequence, the film hits the brakes and it takes a good long while, in my opinion, to really get going again.  The first hour is very hit and miss.  The film looks gorgeous with some truly stunning, cleverly designed sequences.  Bond’s fight with an assassin atop a Shanghai skyscraper, bathed in the reflection of neon lights, is particularly notable.  But I found myself filled with questions as to the unfolding story.  All sorts of little plot points niggled at me.  Why the hell did Bond keep those bullet fragments in his arm all that time?  Why perform surgery on himself when hes right in the middle of MI6, with plenty of trained medics all around him?  Wouldn’t that only further damage the usefulness of … [continued]