‘The Lobster’: a bizarre satire of loneliness

Yorgos Lanthimos’ “The Lobster” is a piece of performance art exploring the meaning of love.

Written by Greek writers Efthymis Filippou and Lanthimos and nominated for an Academy Award for best original screenplay, “The Lobster” is about a series of bizarre rituals in a dystopian society where uncoupled humans are harvested for blood and body parts and then transformed to spend the rest of their lives as an animal of their choice.

Couples get to live in the city and grow old together, but when a couple divorces or when a mate dies, their partners are checked into a painful purgatory of sorts.

That’s where this painstakingly long two-hour film begins: with David (Colin Farrell), a man recently separated from his wife of nearly 12 years.

Without time to grieve, David’s immediately checked into the hotel — where hospitality staff strip him of his clothing and monitor his moves.

Singles and couples are segregated here with couples on tennis courts and yachts while singles are quarantined to other single-designated areas. The catch: singles must find a partner with a similar physical feature within 45 days or else they will be forced to spend the rest of their lives as an animal.

Even if that isn’t enough pressure to find a suitable mate, singles are forced to watch propaganda on why coupledom is better. A wife can rescue a man from choking to death while a husband can protect a women from being raped.

Lanthimos film is a disconcerting journey because for much of the film, you feel lost — wandering a world without knowing its rules. The voice of your all-knowing narrator (Rachel Weisz) seems more focussed on bizarre details like the color of David’s shoes than helping you understand. Just when you begin to get your bearings though, you hear three unnerving cords that make your whole body tense.

“The Lobster” is a frustrating experience — as if you were a puppet guided by a cruel and whimsical god. This one, Lanthimos, sends your ship to whirlpools and sharp rocks. You survive and persevere, somehow, but even if loneliness isn’t torturous enough, perhaps love is just as absurd.

“The Lobster” was directed by Yorgos Lanthimos and written by Efthymis Filippou and Lanthimos. The film was nominated for an Academy Award for best original screenplay.    

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Watch: The two best songs of ‘Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’ season two

Bo Burnham was right.

Like he sang in his song “Sad,” “Laughter, it’s the key to everything. It’s the way to solving all the sadness in the world.”

Which is why “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” is the perfect pick-me-up to a bad day.

Created by Rachel Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna, “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” is at its best when its hope riding a wave of desperation.

Here’s two breakout performances from season two:

Even with bowel jokes, these songs are incredibly sad. Somehow, we manage to laugh anyway.

The CW’s “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” was created by Rachel Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna. The show’s first and second seasons are available on Netflix. 

‘Girls’: the voice of a generation

In the first episode of Lena Dunham’s HBO series “Girls,” Dunham’s character, Hannah Horvath, defines herself as “the voice of my generation” — the me-centric millennials still bankrolled by their parents, the anxious 20-somethings with crippling low self-esteem and the lost souls who dare to dream without knowing that they’d eventually settle before figuring out what they want.

As if to prove her point, Horvath backpedals a bit, clarifying her goal to be “a voice of a generation,” hoping to articulate what it’s like to be an age when the only thing you’re absolutely sure of is how unsure you are.

Written and directed by Dunham, “Girls” shows you what’s behind the Valencia-filtered Instagram photos: the minutes you’re questioning your entire existence and Googling “stuff that gets up on the side of condoms” in the middle of the night.

Dunham’s voice is full of disappointment that even though “Girls” is branded as a comedy, the show comes across as a series of awkward, emotional and sad events. While Horvath dreams of becoming a bohemian writer living in New York City, the reality is that she’s hardly living. She has no steady job and she can’t afford rent. To top it off, her ex-boyfriend (Andrew Rannells) tells her that he’s gay and that he gave her an S.T.D., her old boss (Richard Masur) gropes her at work and her undefined intimate partner (Adam Driver) treats her like her “heart is monkey meat.”

Her roommates Marnie (Allison Williams), Jessa (Jemima Kirke) and Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) are equally lost in their own ways. Marnie has a boyfriend from college (Christopher Abbott) that she’s been dating forever but doesn’t love. Jessa’s never worked before being hired as a baby sitter. And Shoshanna’s a 22-year-old college student who’s biggest baggage is still being a virgin.

Unhappiness unites them as they desperately seek love and adventures through a series of study abroad experiences, unpaid internships and casual sex with men who don’t text back.

If “Girls” is “a voice of a generation,” it’s an uncomfortable one — like a modern day “Sex in the City” with Esther Greenwood from Sylvia Plath’s “Bell Jar” as its narrator. It’s not very glamorous and Mr. Big hasn’t figured out how to adult either. But in 29-minute episodes, “Girls” captures the anxieties of being 24.

If we were to believe Dunham’s portrayal though, being 24 is one fear that you’d want to miss out on.

“Girls” was created by Lena Dunham. 

Dreaming of ‘Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart’

Told like one of Georges Méliès’ féeries stories, “Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart” is a balancing act — a Jenga tower that could have easily toppled over.

On one hand, you see the romantic and tragic tale of “Romeo & Juliet.” On top of that, you see the quixotic influences of Miguel de Cervantes, the surrealist paintings of Salvador Dali and the gothic characters often found in Tim Burton films.

The fragile balance is even more precarious when beautiful, almost life-like animation is interspersed with musical numbers in a steampunk world.

And then suddenly, Georges Méliès (Jean Rochefort, Stephane Cornicard) appears in an animated film he might have written, directed or invented once upon a time.

Written and directed by French author Mathias Malzieu based on his book and album, “La Mécanique du Cœur” (which translates to “Mechanics of the Heart”), “Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart” is a surrealist and dreamlike fairytale about another boy named Jack (Mathias Malzieu). This one didn’t nip at your nose, climb beanstalks or rip throats from prostitutes in London. This Jack was born in Edinburgh on a night so cold that his heart became encased in a block of ice.

Luckily, the witch doctor Madeleine (Marie Vincent, Emily Loizeau) was able to repair Jack’s frozen heart, replacing it with bits of gears and magic. Instead of a beating and bloody heart, Jack was given a cuckoo-clock, which chimed when it was startled and smoked when he felt any passion.

To protect his mechanical heart, Jack was given three rules to live by: 1. Never touch the hands of the clock; 2. Control his temper; and 3. Never fall in love. Naturally, he breaks the rules and becomes infatuated with a girl named Miss. Acacia (Olivia Ruiz, Samantha Barks).

Like Salvador Dali paintings, the film stretches time and probability. In one moment, you’re longboarding through desserts; in another, you’re climbing the sky — flying and falling through scenes filled with pop-up houses, bouquets of glasses, cats with elongated necks and smoke made out of paper.

Malzieu and his co-director Stéphane Berla present us a magic show walking the tightropes of a surrealist dream.

It isn’t a smooth walk. It floats and falls. Pushes and pulls. Flickers and stops in seemingly random bursts.

It’s a film full of contradictions filled with things that shouldn’t exist. A man with a spine of a xylophone. Humans with elephant ears. And a boy with the cuckoo-clock heart.

Yet somehow, all these pieces fit together like misfit toys — both ugly and beautiful, forgotten and loved.

“Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart” was directed by Stéphane Berla and Mathias Malzieu based on Malzieu’s book and screenplay. The film contains original music from Malzieu’s band Dionysos.  

Listening to ‘The Name of the Wind’

The best way I can describe how it felt like when I read “The Name of the Wind,” the first book in Patrick Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicle series, is that scene in William Goldman’s “The Princess Bride” — the one where the sick boy urges his grandfather to keep on reading.

It’s been a while since I’ve found an adventure quite like this — a page turner so engrossing that it consumes me entirely.

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“The Name of the Wind”
By Patrick Rothfuss
661 pp. DAW. $17.85
2007.

It’s broken heart is Kvothe, an unassuming barkeeper with vivid red hair and ever-changing greenish-colored eyes.

Kvothe’s story is illustrated in two parts: the past and the present — nestled inside each other like Penrose steps.

In the present, Kvothe is a haunted man, quietly trading stories to a traveling writer while hiding from the inevitable hellhounds.

But even as Kvothe tries to escape his past, it sweeps him up and defines him.

In the past, Kvothe was a myth more than a man — a thief who survived the cruelest of conditions, escaping caves of cyclopes beneath the bellies of sheep. Kvothe was a candle burning from both ends — a child prodigy who’s lived lifetimes within days.

Now within days, Kvothe narrates the stories of his lifetime: The stories he’s heard, stored and made.

“The Name of the Wind” is a minstrel’s song like Homer’s “Iliad or “Odyssey” — a clever and epic tale promising magic, fighting, torture, poison, true love, revenge, joy, sorrow, songs, heroes, villains, bullies, monsters, women, bandits, knights, patrons, kings, singers, tinkers, princesses, mercenaries, demons, fairies, pain, poetry, poverty, shipwreck, debt, lies, truths, passions, and miracles.

This story more delivers on its promises.

 

The story of ‘Life, Animated’

To hear Ron and Cornelia Suskind describe it: It was like some sort of grim fairy tale — you know, the one where your son gets kidnapped by fairies and leaves a changeling in its place. You’re never going to see your real boy again; it’s like he’s been kidnapped right before your eyes.

Of course, I’m paraphrasing here. Ron Suskind already told this story — wrote it in his 368-page book, “Life, Animated: A Story of Sidekicks, Heroes, and Autism.” Excerpts were published in New York Times Magazine in 2014.

Now, this story is retold in Rodger Ross Williams’ Oscar-nominated documentary, “Life, Animated.”

“Life, Animated” begins as a parents nightmare. Once upon a time, Ron and Cornelia’s three-year-old son Owen was diagnosed with regressive autism and losing cognitive abilities including the ability to speak. Autism was like a death sentence in the early nineties.

The breakthrough came, however, when Owen regained some communication and understanding of the world by parroting the lines and ideas in the collection of Disney movies he memorized.

“Aladdin,” “The Little Mermaid,” “The Lion King,” and “Bambi” became the lens in which he viewed the world and he thought of himself as these characters’ protector.

“Life, Animated” is a moving tale, but it’s far from a fairy tale. Owen, now in his early-to-mid twenties, still feels like “The Jungle Book’s” Mowgli, “The Hunchback of Notre Dame’s” Quasimodo, “Peter Pan’s” Peter and “Dumbo’s” elephant. He spent his high school years bullied. He still struggles to tie a tie. And his parents, in their mid-fifties, won’t be around forever.

But even if real life doesn’t have a “happily ever after,” you get the sense that everything will be OK.

“Life, Animated” was directed by Rodger Ross Williams, filmed by Tom Bergmann and edited by David Teague. The film was nominated for an Academy Award for best documentary feature. 

Why we’re ‘Homesick for Another World’

Ottessa Moshfegh’s “Homesick for Another World” is a book about pimples and obesity. It’s a book about women who wear too much makeup and men who wear women’s blazers.

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“Homesick for Another World”
By Ottessa Moshfegh
294 pp. Penguin Press. $26.
2017.

Each of the characters within this collection of 14 short stories perform little sins that show their inner ugliness. Sometimes it’s changing the answers to all their students’ state tests so that the students could pass their exams (“Bettering Myself”). At other times, it’s not calling their mothers (“Nothing Ever Happens Here”), staying with absent and paranoid boyfriends (“The Weirdos”), lusting after the young girl next door (“An Honest Woman”), not calling an ambulance when a pregnant woman starts bleeding inside their homes (“Slumming”), or going to a remote family cabin to smoke weed and escape an almost-due pregnant wife (“A Dark and Winding Road”).

Written in first person, these uncomfortable vignettes portray the minds of sinners shrouded within protective bubbles of arrogance and self-entitlement. A man with unemployment benefits collects cash from an old and dying uncle (“Malibu”). A recent widow tries to vengefully cheat on his dead wife after almost 30 years of marriage (“The Beach Boy”).

These stories are about loneliness and the search for human connection; however, more often than not, this quest leads us to lazy eyes and clumps of white deodorant under armpits. Moshfegh’s characters reek of humanity: the moist, stank of original sin. It’s a stench we’re painfully familiar with and why we’re homesick for another world.

‘The Grownup’: Gillian Flynn’s Rubin vase

You know that optical illusion where you swear you see a vase but your friend keenly sees two faces. That’s the kind of story Gillian Flynn’s “The Grownup” is.

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“The Grownup”
By Gillian Flynn
62 pp. Crown Publishers. $9.99 US.
2014.

Originally published as part of George R. R. Martin’s “Rogues” anthology under the name “What Do You Do?,” “The Grownup” is like the Rubin vase exercise, holding two images in the same frame.

The main character is an wannabe writer who is a voracious reader. She catalogs great lines for her memoir and begins with this one: “I didn’t stop giving hand jobs because I wasn’t good at it. I stopped giving hand jobs because I was the best at it.”

Written in first person, “The Grownup” is a classic story about an unreliable narrator. We don’t ever find out her name, but if we believe the narrator, she grew up conning people out of their money, telling them stories that they wanted to hear. Now she’s a fake aura reader who also gives hand jobs for money at this joint called Spiritual Palms.

This becomes problematic when she meets Susan Burke, a wealthy client whose family moves into Carterhook Manor, an 1893 Victorian mansion. Susan thinks the house is haunted and our heroine would love the extra cash; the latter, however, isn’t as easy as it seems.

At 62 pages, “The Grownup” is a slim novella. Yet within those 62 pages, Gillian Flynn (author of book-turned-movie “Gone Girl”) skillfully maneuvers the twists and turns she’s so well known for.

While “The Grownup” is a quick read, it’ll have your second guessing what you believe.

Why you should be binge-watching ‘Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’

Have you ever danced when no one’s watching? Really danced. You know, the kind of dancing where you’re blasting bad punk rock songs that somehow ends up in jumping on your bed doing ridiculous air guitar solos?

That’s what it kind of feels like binge-watching Rachel Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna’s TV musical rom-com “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.” It’s heroine Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom) is the kind of bad-ass that could give Emma Stone a run for her money in “Easy A” – the kind of fearless and impulsive heroine who quits her lucrative job at a big New York City law firm to move to middle-of-nowhere So-Cal to chase after an ex-boyfriend (Vincent Rodriguez III) that she had a brief two-month summer fling with at summer camp when she was 16.

Crazy and stupid? Yes. But on some level, it’s also absurdly amusing to watch. I mean, who hasn’t imagined that prince charming whose kiss wakes you up from your nightmares, that prince who rescues you from imprisonment, that prince who marries you out of poverty and generally makes your life more pleasant? And here’s a gal who’s taking charge of her life and actively trying to find him.

While we know real life doesn’t work this way and that a guy can’t fix our anxieties and depression, Bunch plays out these impossible fairy-tale fantasies — these fantasies that tells us that we can actually make it after quitting that miserable $95,000 job and moving to an island to scoop ice cream. That fantasy that we can be happy somehow and that we don’t have to medicate with pills or alcohol and that all your problems could magically disappear. To add to the fantastical and improbable, the cast at “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” occasionally break into original songs, singing about sexy French depressions, heavy boobs and urinary tract infections.

At times, the lyrics to the music sounds like the whimsical type of things a child would make up when narrating her whole life in song — not that that’s a bad thing. The “I have friends” song is extremely catchy and filled with cheerful optimism and self-denial.

At other times, the musical numbers parodies things we’re familiar with. It’s opening number “West Covina” (and its reprises) is a homage to those big, sweeping, Broadway musicals numbers where a character sings about those life-changing moments. In another number, a troupe of plaintiffs sing “Can you hear a trickling sound?” to the tune of “Les Miserables'” protest anthem “Do you hear the people sing?”

The music’s inspiration is wide and eclectic, though. The actors give a nod to Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers and old Hollywood in a song about settling for less.

A bartender (Fontana) plays a piano solo at an empty bar on Thanksgiving to the tune of Billy Joel’s “Piano Man,” a one-man boy band (Rodriguez) sings about kissing childhood dramas goodbye, and a pair of Jewish American Princesses perform a rap battle.

Even when “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” seems like it’s following fairy-tale conventions, it’s constantly breaking them. The show’s heroine (Bloom) sings about being the villain rather than the fairy-tale princess and a bird abruptly flies away when Bloom attempts to sing to it.

What’s more is that Bunch isn’t some silly, damsel in distress; she’s a smart, resourceful and successful lawyer with degrees at both Harvard and Yale. Her prince also isn’t a white John Smith who kidnaps Pocahontas; the leading man’s a really nice Filipino bro named Josh Chan with white sidekicks like White Josh (David Hull) and Greg Serrano (Fontana).

And while the show’s girl-chases-after-guy plot seems to throw feminism out the window, Bloom and McKenna also insert scenes girls wish would really happen in real life. A musical number showing a guy seeing the ritual a girl goes through when preparing to go on a date with him ends with the guy calling up all his past hookups and apologizing for taking how he took how they looked for granted.

Bloom and McKenna’s “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” is a guilty pleasure and binge-watching all 18 episodes of its first season feels eating a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Phish Food all by yourself, but even so, “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” is a refreshing show with substance — featuring a diverse and multiracial cast; witty, self-deprecating commentary; and encouraging the healthy kind of belly laughs that almost tastes as good as gooey marshmallow and caramel swirls with fudge fish.

The CW’s “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” was created by Rachel Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna. The show’s first season is available on Netflix. 

 

Why you should be binge-watching ‘Mr. Robot’

The first thing you learn about Eliot Alderson (Rami Malek) is that he’s an unreliable narrator.

He meets with psychiatrist Krista Gordon (Gloria Reuben). He talks about the men in black that follow him. He’s a junkie addicted to morphine pills. And he’s a depressed and paranoid schitzophrenic.

(You’re a voice in his head.)

But despite all this, Malik’s voice is hypnotic and even if his story sounds like a grand conspiracy theory, “Mr Robot” hits upon a nerve (this one encouraged people to Occupy Wall Street).

The tale Alderson spins is a superhero fairy tale, a modern retelling of Robin Hood. Actually, it’s one part “American Psycho” and one part “Robin Hood” — and the good and bad guys are painted in black and white like the bianary system of ones and zeros.

In Alderson’s story, anarchists work to dismantale the system of wealth and capitalism, to get rid of crippling student debt and eliminate the amount of money in your banking account.

Alderson’s twenty-first century superhero doesn’t don a mask, cape or sword. He wears a dark hoodie which wraps around him like a cloak. Behind a computer, he can take down child porn dealers, rapists and drug dealers. He’s hacked everyone he knows and fed online police tip lines.

But first back to Eliot, our paranoid narrator. By day Alderson works at Allsafe Cybersecurity, an online security firm with his boss Gideon (Michel Gill), his childhood friend Angela (Portia Doubleday) and her douchey boyfriend Ollie (Ben Rappaport). The firm’s contracted to protect big multi-national banking conglomerates like E Corp and it’s suppose to guard against hackers like him.

You can probably begin to see the problem here. By principle, Eliot cannot stand everything that E Corp, which he nicknames Evil Corp, represents. Evil Corp’s empire of 1 percenters is run by guys like Senior Vice President of Technology Tyrell Wellick (Martin Wallstrom) — guys with slicked back “American Psycho” haircuts who specializes in “murders and executions.” What’s more, Evil Corp, a symbolism for capitalism itself, supposedly owns 70 percent of the global consumer credit industry including a large portion of people’s debt.

Eliot’s occupation gives him insider access to Evil Corp and perhaps that’s why Mr. Robot (Christian Slater) contacts and recruits him to his fledgling vigilante hacker group fsociety. Their goal: to steal from the rich and give to the poor.

Created by Sam Esmail, “Mr. Robot’s” a wonderfully mad story that you wouldn’t believe. But recent current events seem to give this story credence. I mean, would you have believed that a child sex trafficking ring was held in the basement of a D.C. pizza joint with the help of top democratic politicians like Bill and Hillary Clinton? And if you did, would you have walked into this pizza joint with a loaded gun to investigate?

Or would you believed that a group of Russian hackers could sway a major U.S. election? And if you do believe in either of these things, whose to say there isn’t a small vigilante hacker group in Coney Island named fsociety who could topple world markets and eliminate all debt?

Clap your hands if you believe.

“Mr. Robot” was created by Sam Esmail. The first season is available on Amazon Prime.