Movie reviews: The Lobster, Pan, The Program

Set in the near future, The Lobster (15A) is a dark fable that satirises modern society’s obsession with finding a life partner.

In this world, those who find themselves living alone — such as David (Colin Farrell) — are sent to The Hotel, where they have 45 days to find themselves a soulmate; if they don’t, they are turned into an animal.

Written and directed by Yorgos Lanthimos (Dogtooth), The Lobster follows David’s fumbling attempts to find love, or — given that David appears to be a dour, independent spirit content to live unhappily ever after — enough of a facsimile of love to persuade the powers-that-be to allow him remain living as a human.

There’s a vaguely Orwellian flavour to Lanthimos’s vision of the future, as the inhabitants of the Butlins-style Hotel are subjected to a quasi-fascist regime complete with vapid propaganda (“Life is better when shared”), and the impression is enhanced by the passivity of David and his fellow inmates Limping Man (Ben Wishaw) and Lisping Man (John C Reilly) as they go along with the appalling scenario. 

Their blind compliance is all part of the absurdity, of course, which only increases when David escapes to live with the Loners in the woods beyond The Hotel, and where he meets Short-Sighted Woman (Rachel Weisz).

It’s a fascinating scenario, and one superbly executed (Farrell in particular is excellent at maintaining David’s emotional and physical monotone throughout); but despite its many flashes of black humour, The Lobster’s unremittingly bleak worldview makes it a film to admire rather than love.

Conceived as an origins tale to JM Barrie’s Peter Pan, Pan (PG) opens during the Second World War, with the orphan Peter (Levi Miller) sold by Mother Barnabas (Kathy Burke) to the fearsome Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman). 

Transported to Neverland, Peter is put to work in the island’s vast quarry mining for fairy dust, only to discover that an old prophecy declares that a flying boy will become the messiah to set the island’s fairies free of Blackbeard’s tyranny.

The basic storyline works perfectly fine, as Peter joins forces with Hook (Garrett Hedlund) and Neverland Native princess Tiger-Lily (Rooney Mara) to confound Blackbeard, but it’s in the eye-catching set-pieces that director Joe Wright appears to have lost the plot. 

Scenes in which flying pirate ships do battle with Luftwaffe Messerschmitts in the night-sky over London are as impressively inventive as the scenes in which a quarry full of lost boys welcome the latest arrivals to Neverland with a stomping rendition of Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’, but they also serve as an unnecessary distraction from the plot. 

Are they there to remind us that the story of Peter Pan has become a timeless tale that reinvents itself for successive generations? Or simply because Joe Wright wants to stamp his unique vision on the Peter Pan mythology?

If you can ignore the more heavy-handed aspects of Pan (not easily done, when Wright also chucks in a Ramones tune as a war-chant), young Levi Miller’s lively performance and Jackman’s scene-chewing turn as Blackbeard might just be enough to make this worth your while.

Lance Armstrong (Ben Foster) was the greatest rider ever to grace the Tour de France, but The Program (15A), which is adapted from Irish journalist David Walsh’s book Seven Deadly Sins: My Pursuit of Lance Armstrong, tells the story of Armstrong’s fall from grace.

It’s a compelling true-life tale of a Faustian pact: when a promising young cyclist contracts testicular cancer, he somehow manages to return to the sport leaner, stronger and faster. 

A hero to millions, not least for the courageous way in which he beat the odds and prospered in one of the toughest sports in the world, Armstrong appeared to be untouchable — but David Walsh (Chris O’Dowd) simply refused to ignore the evidence that piled up against Armstrong.

Directed by Stephen Frears, the film doesn’t really tell us anything more about Lance Armstrong than we already knew, but by condensing the events into a 90-minute movie he gives the story a superb dramatic arc by contrasting the single-minded will of both protagonists. 

Ben Foster, meanwhile, is excellent in the role of Armstrong, whom he plays as a kind of Jekyll-and-Hyde character, simultaneously hero and villain. 

Even those who despise Armstrong as a cheat who embodied the cynicism of professional cycling might be able to empathise with Foster’s performance, as he contrives to make Armstrong an arrogant bully capable of super-human acts who is also a fragile character vulnerable to the frailties and weaknesses of all human beings.


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