Review: Boogie Nights

Boogie Nights (1997)
Mark Wahlberg, Julianne Moore, Burt Reynolds, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Don Cheadle, John C. Reilly, William H. Macy, Heather Graham, Luis Guzman. Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson.

boogie1It took me nineteen years to get to this. I can hardly believe it’s been that long; Boogie Nights was always right on the edges of my awareness, a film I’d heard so much about from so many people I respect, that it doesn’t seem possible I’ve had it in mental queue for this many years.

boogie2I was sure I would like it, and I like it very much. From its long, opening Steadicam take to its wistful end, I was infected by the vibrancy of a filmmaker who has a meaningful vision and who just seems to enjoy what he’s doing. It’s a feeling of “I’m having fun making this movie” I only sense when I’m watching Tarantino films, and Tarantino may be my favorite director. Every actor—and just look at this cast—plays as if he or she is in the role of a lifetime, and that goes as much for minor supporting actors like Robert Downey Sr. and Joanna Gleason as some of my favorite headlining actors today, like Don Cheadle, William H. Macy, and Julianne Moore.

boogie3Yes, it’s a movie about people living in the strange world of pornographic filmmaking, with all its weird dynamics and supposed realities, but it’s really a movie about family and relationships as they are defined in this very specific world, with Burt Reynolds as the father, Julianne Moore as the mother, Mark Wahlberg and Heather Graham as the kids, and everyone else as nieces, nephews, cousins, and uncles. You could almost forget that they are all involved with making porn, except of course you can’t because there’s a lot to remind you. I’m mildly surprised that this didn’t get an NC-17 rating.

I was so taken by the characters, dialogue, acting, and production that I watched it three times on consecutive nights, the last two with the director’s and actors’ commentaries. I could have watched it another five nights in a row. I can’t think of one thing I dislike about it.


Review: The Lobster

The Lobster (2015)
Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Lea Seydoux, John C. Reilly.  Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos.  Written by Lanthimos and Efthymis Filippou.

lobster1The world can be unkind to romantically unattached singles, many of whom spend their whole lives searching for someone who will connect with them in some deeply meaningful way.  Or, barring that, someone who will at least agree that life spent with just about anyone at all is better than spending it with nobody.  This is not a new theme in film or in any other realm exploring the miserable stuff of life.

Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Lobster takes our preoccupation with love (or at least couplehood) to absurd extremes in a way that’s supposed to be funny but leans so far over into terrible that I found it difficult to laugh even when I knew I was supposed to, although most of the time I wasn’t sure whether scenes were meant to make me laugh, cry, or recoil in utter horror, which I suppose is the point.  Characters go to ridiculous lengths to establish connections with potential lovers, one of them arriving at the baffling conclusion that it’s easier to act like you don’t care about someone who doesn’t like you than it is to act like you do care about someone who does like you.

lobster2Considering what’s at stake, it’s difficult exactly to judge any of them, for in this dystopian Ireland, newly single people check into hotels and are given forty-five days to find new partners.  If they don’t, they are turned into the animals of their choice.  When David, the film’s main character, is abandoned by his wife, he brings his dog to the hotel, because the dog is his brother.  The hotel has strict rules, all of them designed to encourage partnering up before the grace period is over, and although everyone is there for the same reason as David, connecting with someone just isn’t easy.  That woman is very pretty, and this woman is sweet and friendly, and that sexually uninhibited one over there keeps inviting you to her room, but…but…but…

Lanthimos does interesting work in framing the love-obsessed world, but then he rotates the image, skewering and condemning unapologetic singles who pass judgment on couples. This next-leveling turns what would have been a creative but rather shallow black comedy into something much more interesting in a kind of not-so-fast-you-in-the-condescension-corner-yeah-I’m-talking-to-you way.  If I like this movie at all, it’s because I found myself tsk-tsking in the first half and dodging the finger of accusation in the second.  What a neat, amusing, and embarrassing experience.

lobster5Everything about this film is cold.  The lighting is cold.  The acting is cold.  The dialogue is cold.  Even the score, mostly chamber-type classical music, is cold.  It’s tempting to call the acting flat and inhibited, but there’s something stirring down there, beneath the surfaces of these characters who seem so insipidly conceived.  They don’t have names, and only one or two have backstories.  I don’t know what the rationale was here, but this approach makes the film more challenging than seems necessary.  Still, flashes of warmth and realness by Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, John C. Reilly, and a few of the others give the impression that there’s some real acting going on, and I may need another viewing to get a better idea of what the actors are doing.

The Lobster is easily a movie about love, but I wonder if it’s not also about faith, or politics, or education, or anything else with a dominant culture, a defiant counterculture, and people who can’t seem to find their place in the tiny space between.  Either way, I find it an inspiring film despite this weird feeling that I’m not supposed to be inspired by it.