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Featured Review

LFF 2015: High-Rise

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High Rise PosterRelease Date: Currently Pending 

Director: Ben Wheatley

Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, Luke Evans, Sienna Miller, Elisabeth Moss 

Ensuring both style and substance in adequate measure is a supremely difficult balancing act. For an filmmaker such as Ben Wheatley, it is usually something that comes naturally – the sole emphasis on ‘usually’.

Breaking away from original concept material, he and frequent collaborator Amy Jump take a nose-dive deep into J.G. Ballard’s deemed “unfilmable” dystopian novella High-Rise, and produce an adaptation which entirely supports the claims of the literary universe.

Tom Hiddleston stars as Dr. Robert Laing, a new resident in the titular building complex. Designed to be all-encumbacing for its tenants, the high-rise offers luxuries such as a pool, a supermarket and even a school. Divided upwards via class – the poorer or ‘lower’ reside at the bottom whilst the richer or ‘higher’ enjoy room at the top, Laing finds his apartment is somewhere above the middle; at the fringes of wealth, but still close in contact with the lesser-priveleged.

Soon self-contained life inside the tower takes hold of humanity’s primitive urges and an onslaught of criminality, debauchery and hedonism ensues. As the lines blur between social hierarchies and indeed reality, we witness the cold, calculated undoing of our inner self.

Across the festival, High-Rise has been dubbed as a ‘Marmite’ film by many critics; often stating it needs a few days to reflect upon before reviewing. Well, this critic saw the film five days ago, exiting the cinema vocally expressing how downright abysmal it is, and that opinions hasn’t altered even slightly across the ‘digestive’ period…

For starters, Wheatley and Jump have the audacity to try and fool viewers into thinking they are watching something built with intelligence; a comprehensive construction of how we as humans consume our surroundings, culture and social stance, and indeed how that has a potentially detrimental impact on our subconscious. No, what you are actually watching is a snooty-nosed matriarch riding around on a horse upon a rooftop terrace before asking a room filled with men to put their genitals in her rear.

Nothing remotely thoughtful, meaningful or fundamentally ‘important’ happens in a single frame of this atrocious, desperately ugly and seemingly endless visual assault. It outstays its welcome by a solid 40 minutes because Wheatley just cannot get enough of you rolling around in his filth, and it isn’t good filth either.

The sex, drugs and violence are so incoherently directed and palleted that you may as well just aimlessly stare at a Jackson Pollack painting for two hours. For a cinematic craftsman to shoot and present a work of this unfathomable idiocy should rightfully damage his career, but of course it won’t because a gaggle of pretentious know-it-alls will deem those who reject High-Rise as ill-informed.

Whilst Wheatley’s camera whips and thrashes like it’s being shot by a five year-old, Jump is busy enabling the absolutely stunning cast to spit mind-numbing dialogue. So underwritten in character and hideously overwritten in exposition. She fuels this egotistical abomination into the depths of oblivion and it is apparent after about 15 minutes that this film can never, ever come back to something worthy of your time.

Collectively the performances are average at best. Jeremy Irons is given so little to do that he is fundamentally redundant, and in truth his character – the creator of the building and the curator of the raging chaos – is probably the most important progressive figure in the entire project. Sienna Miller is adequate as Charlotte; the mysterious and alluring woman-above to Laing who seems to have been sexually involved with every man and mammal in the place. Elisabeth Moss is the best of the supporting bunch (obviously) and her character actually has some narrative focus. Her kindly but over-crowded mother is ready to have yet another baby, and we see transitional shifts in her behaviour and outlooks. If you want to see a truly GREAT Moss performance in a truly great picture at London Film Festival, watch the mesmeric Queen of Earth (our review can be found here).

Luke Evans is likeable as the slowly-unhinging Wilder who relishes in the deterioration of the upper-class. Hands down the film’s finest scene sees Wilder armed with a legion of little-ones invading a private swimming pool party for the rich folk. As for Hiddleston, well he handles the charming and efficient gentlemanly qualities with prowess, and he gives Laing an awkward grey shade as he remains somewhat neutral to the roaring wars across multiple levels, but Jump’s vapid, self-obsessed script taints his efforts from being truly memorable.

High-Rise’s singular benefits thematically are some assured usages of sound and score. It enthuses cliched but cool 70s tracks into the diegetic framework which renders the scene with a sense of place far better than the crummy, limp production.

With drab colour pallets, inane prose and a stupidly tedious set, you’d think when claret starts flying, paint starts splashing and drinks start flowing, Wheatley’s film would become more arresting and intoxicating, but it actually just becomes more childish and downright insufferable. There is always a festival film which one hates, and High-Rise is 2015’s entry.

 

Film fanatic and UFC obsessive. Avid NFL fan and Chelsea supporter. Maintains a BA (Hons) degree in Film Studies attained from the University of Brighton. Adorer of Michael Haneke, Woody Allen, Pixar Animation Studios, James Bond 007, American Indies & French New Wave.

Featured Review

Hotel Artemis ★★★

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Released: 20th July 2018

Directed By: Drew Pearce

Starring: Jodie Foster, Charlie Day, Sofia Boutella

Reviewed By: Van Connor

Iron Man 3 alum Drew Pearce makes his feature directorial debut with this slick future-set actioner – evoking the neon-tinged hyperbolic aesthetic of John Wick and applying it to a more stripped-down set-up akin to Joe Carnahan’s strangely forgotten Smoking Aces. Hotel Artemis sees the eponymous underworld hospital of the future come under siege by forces both outside and in, with a who’s-who of “hey – it’s….!” figures to bring its gleefully vitriolic war well and truly to life.

On Pearce’s part, Hotel Artemis knows its own playbook pretty well – tense action beats are played with coherence but don’t skimp on imagination, and the staging of it all is first rate. Jodie Foster, meanwhile, leads an engaging cast that includes a wonderfully sleazy Charlie Day, the brilliantly deadpan Sterling K. Brown, and an amusingly in-her-comfort-zone Sofia Boutella. It’s best to keep as much of its casting a surprise as possible, but there’s tons of fun to be had via mere cast reveals to keep proceedings engaging.

On the action front, though, it is strange that Hotel Artemis feels as subdued as it does as regards its own sense of internal rage. Whilst far from a bloodless PG-13, Pearce’s film never quite embeds itself as much in the hyperviolence of its world as you’d expect, or, rather, hope. It’s certainly no John Wick in that sense, and, though there is a decent share of world-building to kick things off, it’s quickly evident that this element of restraint is self-imposed by Pearce’s writing, rather than a by-product of now requisite franchise-creation. Hotel Artemis, incidentally, could easily garner itself a cheap and cheerful sequel or two, were there somehow a demand.

On the back of this pretty solid ninety minute actioner, that’s absolutely a consideration. The world it builds is fleshed out enough to intrigue, the cast are game for an intriguing balance of quirk and creepiness, and Pearce steps up to the director’s chair with unbroken confidence and a comic book sensibility that takes him deftly to the finish line. Stoker cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung astonishes as ever, and, while not his showiest work to date, Cliff Martinez’s score fleshes out the bonkers world of Hotel Artemis nicely.

Best aimed at those looking for another round of Smoking Aces-grade action – though, without quite the same singular ferocity – Hotel Artemis is a nice bit of bullet-laden fun with a lively cast and some slick visuals. It’ll never be one of the iconic points on the timeline of action cinema, but it’s a worthy stop-off on the way between the ones that are.

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Featured Review

Mission Impossible: Fallout ★★★★★

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Released: 25th July 2018

Directed By: Christopher McQuarrie

Starring: Tom Cruise, Rebecca Ferguson, Henry Cavill, Michelle Monaghan, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, Sean Harris, Angela Bassett

Reviewed By: Darryl Griffiths

‘What the hell is he doing!? I find it best not to look.’

Rebecca Ferguson. You’re certainly not alone in questioning the thought process of a man seemingly gunning to be ‘The Greatest Stuntman’. Another one Mr Cruise? I imagine his reply is Never Enough. Never. Never.

22 years and six instalments in. Facing stiff competition from Bond, Bourne and a plethora of comicbook darlings along the way. This particular Tom has continued to be a marvel, risking life and limb to give us the adrenaline-pumping thrills we crave, admirably relying on old-school practicality instead of the obligatory CGI bombast we modern cinemagoers have grown accustomed to.

Previous instalment ‘Rogue Nation’ boasted an elegant operatic set-piece in Vienna, with returning (a first for the series) director Christopher McQuarrie masterfully pulling the strings in the background. Well imagine ‘Mission Impossible: Fallout’ as a grandiose death-defying symphony, that could easily leave you breathless in the front row, never mind the upper tiers of this cinematic arena.

Whilst consistent in its entertainment value. It could be argued these films haven’t dug deep enough into the psyche of IMF’s main man. McQuarrie is quick to remedy this right from the outset as a pulsating plutonium power struggle ensues, with Ethan Hunt (Cruise) still reeling from his encounters with Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), the latter a mere pawn now in the eyes of a terrorist organisation called the Apostles.

Trust in Ethan’s methods diminishing with the addition of CIA superior Erica Sloane (Angela Bassett) who compares him to a scalpel, she introduces a ‘hammer’ to the situation in the form of August Walker (Henry Cavill), who is tasked with assisting Hunt and his usual suspects Benji (Simon Pegg) and Luther (Ving Rhames) in preventing further global atrocities. Interrogation? Not for this Man Of Steel.

Intertwining plot threads left dangling by its predecessors to layer its absorbing narrative, with Michelle Monaghan’s love interest Julia a notable inclusion. McQuarrie truly allows the audience to become emotionally attached to these characters this time around beyond the wisecracks and gadgetry, which only serves to fuel the tension and raise the stakes of its balletic action choreography. Playing a lead protagonist who can easily be perceived to be indestructible up to now. The moral angst that engulfs Cruise’s Hunt is refreshing, as his unwavering loyalty to his fellow field agents is deemed a weakness in achieving their intended objective.

Only for this aspect to be amplified by the compelling complexity of Rebecca Ferguson’s Ilsa Faust who returns with her own agenda, remaining appreciative of Hunt’s relentless nature to complete a mission by any means necessary, with one particular Paris stand-off utterly engrossing. Whilst Sean Harris’ Solomon Lane continues to favour chilling prose, it’s a joy to finally see Henry Cavill utilised in a blockbuster effectively as August Walker, a bruising no-nonsense adversary whose reloading arms prove a worthy match for Hunt.

Yet for all its superior characterisation. Mission Impossible would amount to little without its enthralling stunts, with the film gleefully  looking to out-do the previous set-piece throughout its running time, only to succeed in jaw-dropping style. From heart-stopping halo jumps at 25,000 feet to a heady helicopter chase that made me audibly gasp at its sheer audacity, McQuarrie’s dizzying camerawork and respectful capture of its sleek locations as we witness Cruise’s crazy antics close-up, is as pure as popcorn cinema gets.

‘Fallout? With this franchise? I suspect that thought will self-destruct in five seconds once you clap eyes on this outing. An astonishing genre offering in its own right, in a series that continues to evolve in exhilarating fashion.

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Featured Review

Humans Series 2 Episode 3 Review

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The intricately-spun web that is Channel 4’s sci-fi drama Humans continues to prove that no matter how widely disbanded your characters may be, their individual stories can be compellingly and purposefully told. As the rippling war arc between man and machine gently settled, we experienced a third hour committed to evoking powerful surges of poignancy instead. We’ve said before that for a show about robotics, Humans has a serious amount of heart, and this episode showcased as such.

Reserving the visceral action we’ve all come to love, showrunners Sam Vincent and Jonathan Brackley hand writing duties to Charlie Covell and Iain Weatherby for this intimate tapestry of emotion. We open and exit with duel scenes focused around Carrie-Anne Moss’ scientist Athena Morrow whose relationship with artificial intelligence system “V” is significantly deeper rooted than you might expect. It becomes clear that “V” is actually a sentient software lifted from her daughter Ginny who is paralysed and requires full-time life support.

Elsewhere Mia (Gemma Chan) is struggling to get past her encounter with café owner Ed (Sam Palladio) because her feelings for him go much further than colleagues. Despite clear warnings from Colin Morgan’s Leo that she’ll be rejected, that their isn’t a chance that a human being could really accept her for who she is, Mia follows her heart. Her core sequence with Ed on the rustic, wintery beach where she declares her emotional investment is skilful and beautiful. Chan enables the exchange to feel distinctly robotic and somewhat detached, yet entirely meaningful and romantic. Whilst “love” might be currently void from the synth vocabulary, Mia explains that Ed makes everything “more” for her; heightening her senses, mood and value. One personally is excited to see how this relationship will blossom, even though it is enviable that bad things are en route for the couple. The scene is ravishingly shot, too; just like the entirety of Humans, really. Subtle symmetry in frame and a textured, nuanced colour palette made for a eye-watering moment.

HUMANS

The central dramatic narrative in episode three centred around Emily Berrington’s volatile and rogue synth Niska who undergoes extensive testing orchestrated by the courts in order to determine whether she committed an act of murder because she is sentient, or merely malfunctioned. Either way, she will face consequences for these actions, but Niska’s endgame goes far beyond the cold iron bars of a prison cell. Her attorney Laura (Katherine Parkinson) – “the finest synth legal rights lawyer in the world” as husband Joe (Tom Goodman-Hill) jokes – is onsite as Niska is subjected to an array of sensory examination – poking her until she reacts. She is screened looping video footage and music in the hopes that it’ll evoke some kind of human response; that she can really feel.

Answers arrive when the audio-visual barrage seizes and Laura takes the microphone. Asking probing questions about the night in which she killed Andrew Graham, Niska’s responses are both profound and heart-wrenching. Expressing her bottled feelings through a vice, she unfolds. “He was going to rape me – I was scared…My whole life was being scared, being hurt, being angry. Sometimes things become too much for anyone, don’t they?” It is a huge credit to Berrington’s impeccable performance that she is able to remain such stoic and controlled posture – barely furrowing a brow or snatching a blink – even when reciting dialogue with as much sorrow and pain as this. Throughout the entire episode, Berrington’s impossibly still exterior commands, but to be able to see this crushing wave of anguish surging behind a vacant façade is mightily impressive.

Equally brilliant – albeit slight in screen-time – is the layered relationship between Leo and Ivanno Jeremiah’s Max. As Mia exits and the foursome become three (they are still unaware of Hester’s [Sonya Cassidy] antics last week…), a sense of leadership balance has lost footing. Leo looks to the ever-wise Max for support, and Max looks to the ever-focused Leo for a plan. Together they work perfectly, but Hester is the spanner in the inner-workings of their partnership as she requires a figure to follow: human or synthetic. Morgan’s ferocious dialogue delivery shows his action-oreitnated mindset; leave immediately, keep moving, find new shelter, protect sentient synths. Meanwhile Jeremiah’s patience favours thought and recollection; letting their captive go free, embracing and understanding Mia’s decision as opposed to rejecting it. How this demographic will alter in future weeks remains to be seen, but we are expecting serious fireworks.

HUMANS

Other highlights from this third hour included a sour turn for Ruth Bradley’s synth-in-disguise Karen, whose inner lining bag splits after an evening out with her policing co-workers, leading to disastrous consequences. Her relationship with Neil Maskell’s Pete is already fractured as it is, but now developments are bound to get uglier. Also, Lucy Carless’ all-tech Mattie uploads the Elster coding to D-Series unit Odi (Will Tudor) who amazingly responds, albeit clumsily and confusingly so. Tudor’s whirring, robotic performance is excellent, and it is really pleasing for fans to have Odi back in business.

No matter how scattershot the cast may be, and no matter how many heavy themes and tonal shades Humans may convey, everyone pulls their weight here. The collective ensemble is exemplary and this series continues to go from strength-to-strength. There is little doubt that as of this third episode, Channel 4’s offering is the most essential show on British television today.

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