The Light Between Oceans -Beautiful scenery and beautiful acting in this melodrama

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Michael Fassbender stars as Tom Sherbourne and Alicia Vikander as his wife Isabel in DreamWorks Pictures poignant drama THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS, written and directed by Derek Cianfrance based on the acclaimed novel by M.L. Stedman.

I learned something about myself in watching the melodrama The Light Between Oceans, and that is that my perspective watching Western movies has changed after watching so many Indian films.  I only got a little misty at the very ending.  It was meant to tug at my heartstrings, but it didn’t affect me very strongly.  (Meanwhile, the friend with me who has an adopted son, cried through most of the second half.)  The film is beautifully shot.  It’s gorgeous scenery, and I can’t find fault with the excellent acting of Michael Fassbender and Alicia Virkander.  It just felt a little flat to me.

Michael Fassbender plays Tom Sherbourne, a veteran of WWI who thinks spending months alone working on an island as the lighthouse keeper sounds wonderful.  He’s looking forward to peace and quiet.  Just before he leaves for the island of Janus, he meets the vivacious Isabel.  Isabel has lost both her brothers to the war, and there’s a quick reference to the lack of available men.

Tom and Isabel write to each other, and after knowing each other hardly at all, decide to get married.  The only way she could even visit the Island of Janus is as the wife of the lighthouse keeper.  I liked the romance portion at the beginning of the film.  Tom is reserved and numb from the war, and Isabel brings joy and life back to Tom.

the-light-between-oceansThey arrive at the island after their wedding at night, and her first time seeing the beautiful small stark island is the next morning.  I read a really cool way that the director, Derek Cianfrance, captured that initial wonder.  He blindfolded Alicia Virkander and so she didn’t see the island herself until she came out of the little house.  The awe and amazement at her surroundings is completely real.

Isabel suffers two miscarriages, made all the more difficult in that they are completely alone on the island when they happen.  The look on her face when she realizes she’s about to lose the second baby is really wrenching.

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Isabel is in deep depression, when Tom spots a boat off the island containing the dead body of a man, and a wailing infant.  Isabel convinces Tom to let them keep the baby, and present it to everyone on the mainland as their own.

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The melodrama comes when on a visit to the mainland, Tom comes across the mother of the baby.  He can’t live with himself that Rachel Weisz thinks her baby died with her husband.

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All the actors here were great.  Rachel Weisz plays the bereaved mother stricken with grief, and it was nice to see Australian actor Bryan Brown as her father.  Veteran Australian actor Jack Thompson also has a nice small role as Tom’s boss.

Michael  Fassbender and Alicia Virkander are two Oscar caliber actors who completely give their all to these parts.  The acting in this film is top notch, and the cinematography is gorgeous.  It’s that the plot is maybe too slight.  My friend called it an extended Hallmark card — although it did make her cry.  It’s based on a popular book, that I could see would make an excellent book group discussion book.  Would you go to live on an island where you’ll be alone with a husband you barely know?  Would you keep a baby that isn’t yours the way they did?  Who is a real mother — the biological mother, or the mother who has raised a child for 4 years?

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I loved the director, Derek Cianfrance‘s first film Blue Valentine with Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams.  I haven’t seen his second film, also with Ryan Gosling, The Place Beyond the Pines, but he excels at wrenching dramas about characters that feel like real people.  I can’t put my finger exactly on why this melodrama, The Light Between Oceans, didn’t completely satisfy me.  And again, I wonder if it’s because I’m used to so much more story and wrenching emotions in the Indian melodramas I’ve been watching.  But, glancing at the Rotten Tomatoes score and top critics’ views on the film, I’m not alone in my dissatisfaction.

Still, I love both actors, and I loved seeing them literally fall in love on screen.  The couple are now together in real life.

Four stars out of five for the stellar acting and beautiful cinematography and score.

Alicia Virkander won the Oscar for The Danish Girl, but run, don’t walk, to see her in the excellent Sci-fi film Ex Machina.  Now THAT is a fantastic film.

I loved The Lobster, every surreal absurdist minute of it

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I adored the absurd surreal film The Lobster.  I missed it at Sundance, where it premiered in January.  This is a love it or hate it kind of movie.  I loved it, but some of the people walking out of my suburban theater HATED it.  They really hated it.  For me, it was just my cup of tea, and a welcome standout after a string of mediocre films I’ve seen this past week.

The film opens with a woman driving in the countryside in the rain.  She stops her car, gets out and shoots a donkey in a field.  Gets back in her car and drives away.  It’s never referred to again, but that sets the tone of how absurd this world is that Greek writer/director Yorges Lanthimos has created.  We then first see David (Colin Farrell).   His wife is breaking up their 12 year marriage for another man.  And that means he has to leave immediately to be taken away to “The Hotel” to be paired up with another woman.  Singles and loners are not allowed in this near future dystopian world.

When David arrives at The Hotel (in County Kerry, Ireland), the manager (the always exceptional Olivia Colman) explains the rules to him.  He has 45 days to find a new mate or he will be turned into an animal.  He chooses a lobster, because they can live for 100 years and he’s always liked the sea.  “Excellent choice.”  He is warned that if he doesn’t find his true mate in time, he cannot couple after he is transformed if she picks another animal. “A wolf and a penguin could not couple because that would be absurd.”

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This film is populated by so many of my favorite character actors.  Olivia Colman of The Night Manager.  John C. Reilly is a man with an unfortunate lisp.  Ben Whishaw has a limp.  Ashley Jenkins of The Extras is known as “Biscuit Woman”.  Couples must come together with the same distinguishing characteristic.  Limping Man (Ben Whishaw) bangs his head against tables to get nosebleeds to pair with a woman with that frequent malady.  All the single residents of the hotel must go out on hunts into the woods with tranquilizer guns to search for “loners”.

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If they catch a loner, they can extend their stay at the hotel.  One unfeeling woman has bagged so many loners that she has an extra 160 days.  David (Farrell) has brought his brother with him, who has been turned into a dog.

Every one of the actors delivers their lines in a quirky deadpan manner.  I think that’s what inspired some of the hate of my fellow viewers at the theater, but I just thought it added to all the absurdity.  These actors commit to the bizarre rules of this film world.  It borders on absurd comedy, and then there are some sudden scenes of violence or drama.  Lisping Man is punished for masturbating in his room, by having his hand forced into a toaster, for instance.

The-Lobster-2016David escapes and becomes part of the Loner band in the forest where he meets Rachel Weisz.  They have to pretend to be a couple to venture into the city for supplies, and David enthusiastically falls into the playacting and kissing.  The young woman leader of the Loners is just as strict in her no fraternizing rules as the manager of The Hotel had been with her coupling rules.  Farrell and Weisz plot together to escape.

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The ending was a fade to black that left you hanging a bit, and was my most unsatisfying moment of the film.  The rest was just fantastic.  Colin Farrell gained 40 pounds for this movie.  He has quite the paunch and “dad bod”.  I think he relished being more of a character actor leading man in this film.  I thought he was so good, as was the always great Rachel Weisz.

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This film is not for everyone.  But if you love absurd surreal “Sundance” kinds of movies, this will be right up your alley.  Four and a half stars out of five.