Tag Archives: island

THE LIGHTHOUSE is the movie event of the year.

Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson in Robert Eggers The Lighthouse, now in theaters. [Image from KDSK]

I’m usually a bit jittery about movies that bring a lot of anticipation bolstering their US premiere because the more the promotion, the less likely it’s warrant to deliver on its premise or be watchable past opening night. Fortunately, this wasn’t the case with Robert Eggers’ The Lighthouse. Knowing next to nothing other than its bare-bones synopsis of two men stranded on a remote location tending to a lighthouse, I walked in, and let his story unfold.

The Lighthouse stars Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson, two actors who have been involved in back to back projects that have only managed to cement their status as two of the best working actors in cinema today. Both star as a pair of lighthouse keepers who must take care of the building for a total of five weeks. It’s a task that sounds simple enough — do your duties, rinse and repeat — but soon enough, isolation starts to sink in, and the need for the men, who already don’t like each other, to relate to something human while asserting their own presence starts to play mind games… or does it? Pattinson’s character one night walks out into the dark open to see what looks like a mermaid swimming in the waters beyond. DaFoe stands in front of the huge beaming light of the lighthouse in complete ecstasy, but what is that tentacle quickly seen and that disappears? A sea gull turns out to be more menacing than just bothersome.

Could the night and the fog and the lighthouse itself hold some dark secret?

Robert Eggers never reveals what, in fact, might be the ghost that haunts the grounds where the fabled lighthouse stands, and that is perfect for me. Exposition and backstory are kept to a minimum, only enhancing the entire movie’s mystery and whatever it is that haunts the twosome. All we get is that the previous lighthouse keeper went insane and killed himself. Pattinson’s character longs for some peace and quiet far into the Canadian country and thought this could be a next step into achieving the goal. DaFoe has been chained to the island and the sea for 13 years, a thing that took a toll on his marriage. Meanwhile, in the present, the men go through their daily chores, making irritating small talk (well, technically, DaFoe is the one who talks the most while Pattinson, who starts out as silent as a moonless night, let’s him take center stage), engaging in petty banter over who does what.

Still from the Angelika Film Center, NYC.

The more they engage in the mundane, the farther away they creep from reality. Soon, even a simple dinner sequence becomes a nightmare of repetition in hell with two men aching companionship devolving from mates to enemies to back in a furious kaleidoscopic whirlwind. Eggers movie becomes a ferocious battle of wills to see who will remain the last madman standing, all the while the looming, sinister figure of this lighthouse, the all-knowing sentient spirit, observes without pity or passion.

This is the most cinematically gorgeous movie I have seen this entire year — or this decade, as a matter of fact. It is rare to see black and white, treated with such care that even seeing it at a two-dimensional ratio one can almost see depth in the style of deep focus, and have that morph seamlessly into German Expressionism, only to do a fade out like David Lynch’s Eraserhead towards the ambiguous end. Eggers’ movie seems as though it came out of the lens of someone living and making movies 100 years ago: it is dense, exotic to a letter, alien, mythical, and yes, haunted. Two actors helm the entire production and carry it to next-level narration, something strange and sinister, with fart-jokes and base-level humor to pepper it through as if reminding you these are two uncouth men sharing tight quarters together while the endless storm rages on and they lose their minds. I firmly believe this will a film that will be studied well past tomorrow, and a template for future directors wanting to get behind a camera to make a story come alive.

Unless anything comes along the road that can surpass this movie, I will call The Lighthouse the movie of 2019. Done.

SWISS ARMY MAN

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

 

SWISS ARMY MAN (2016) Daniel Radcliffe and Paul Dano
SWISS ARMY MAN (2016)
Daniel Radcliffe and Paul Dano

Seeing a movie that is playing to a packed audience and gauging their reactions to the string of scenes being displayed out in front of them and witnessing their — and my own — laughs, which happened by the plenty right up until the movie got too creepy for its own good, almost makes me not want to write this review. What for? It doesn’t really matter what I think; the truth of the matter is, the audience will be the one to decide. I should know. Many times I’ve gone to see something that made critics rave and all but explode in a litany of praises that made me wonder what the heck was it that they saw that I couldn’t see, or was I too dumb to appreciate a good movie when I saw one?

Clearly, the audience wins in this case. They ran with the scatological images and sounds that the directors seemed to provide at a rate of one per minute with brief pauses in between gave space to commentaries on life, sex, and The Meaning of It All. And all this happened while Paul Dano’s Hank and his dead buddy Manny (Daniel Ratcliffe, clearly in on the fun and distancing himself even more from Harry Potter as his character’s body gets used as a vessel closer to the stuff of tall tales) escape the island at the start of the movie (by the power of farts alone, yes, you read that) and land in some remote wooded area that suggests perhaps the Northwest. And I have to say, for almost its entire run, I ran with the jokes myself. You really have to see it to do a WTF. I won’t even dare spoil it for you; it’s that flat-out weird you can’t react in any other way but with nervous, then straight out, balls to the wall laughter.

The point where the movie goes a little creaky, however, arrives at the place where Hank starts to place less emphasis on being rescued and more emphasis on bonding and even remaining in the woods with Manny. We find out that Hank is a compulsive loner unable it seems to relate to anyone outside of his own self, The girl in Manny’s cellphone (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is someone Manny used to date. Hank then concocts a way to use this image to somehow propel Manny’s apparently superhuman corpse to civilization. I really can’t do justice to the barrage of scenes that constitute Swiss Army Man’s middle section. You really have to witness this and judge for yourself. Let’s just say, therapy doesn’t have to involve sitting on a psychiatrist’s bench. Oh, no. The Daniels (as the directors refer to themselves) have a lot more meta-story up on their sleeve.

At surface value Swiss Army Man is beyond ridiculous once you get past the solid first forty minutes and settle in to see just how all this will play out. When you realize that — and I’m not ruining anything — the entire thing may be a twisted allegory of extreme isolation, if you don’t cringe like I did, then something is definitely amiss. Don’t get me wrong — this is a pretty good movie that just doesn’t deserve to be known as the one where the dead body farts and does things no dead body should ever do. There is a lot more going on with Paul Dano’s character alone that merits a close look. If you can get past the unhinged presentation (unique in itself), you have yourself a disturbing comedy that reveals just how twisted it is towards its finale. You might blame its fierce adhering to its comedic sensibilities that Hank’s situation becomes somewhat trivialized and reduced to the stuff of a horny but super awkward teenager. I think it actually enhances it (and we see just how, all over Winstead’s face).

See Swiss Army Man for yourself.  By the end you will have walked out having seen a completely different picture that defies categories.