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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

Climax ★★★★★

Climax is electrifyingly abstract and a true champion of 2018.

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Released: 21st September 2018 (UK)

Directed By: Gaspar Noé

Starring: Sofia Boutella, Romain Guillermic, Souheila Yacoub, Kiddy Smile, Claude Gajan Maull and Giselle Palmer

Reviewed By: Dion Wyn

Birth and death are extraordinary experiences. Life is a fleeting pleasure.

Master provocateur Gaspar Noé has been warping our fragile little minds for over 20 years. After the vast disappointment of Love 3D in 2015, he finally returned to Cannes this year. Where he won best picture at Director’s Fortnight; with his latest feature Climax. The win truly has reinvigorated interest and buzz of Noe’s work. The big question is does it actually live to the hype? Climax is set in the mid 1990’s, 20 French urban dancers join together for a three-day rehearsal in a closed-down boarding school located at the heart of a forest to share one last dance. They then make one last party around a large sangria bowl. Quickly, the atmosphere becomes charged and a strange madness will seize them the whole night. If it seems obvious to them that they have been drugged, they neither know by who nor why. And it’s soon impossible for them to resist to their neuroses and psychoses, numbed by the hypnotic and the increasing electric rhythm of the music. While some feel in paradise, most of them plunge into hell.

Climax grabs you and doesn’t let you go. Gaspar Noé’s fine form has returned with his sangria-soaked neon nightmare. Climax opens very subtly with interviews from the dance troop. We get a candid view into their lives and what drives their passion for dance. Noé shows the naivety of his cast before we enter the pressure cooker of the dance hall. Once the usual closing credits happen at the beginning, the true story starts to unfold. The opening dance sequence is electrifying and full of raw kinetic energy. You have succumbed to the euphoria of Noé, the camera becomes another dancer in the troop. We are witnessing the synchronicity and passion for the art of dance. You suffer from a slight come-down after the initial performance, but the depravity and relaxed inhibitions of the dancers start to flow out. There is no real script to Climax it is largely improvised, we delve into the sexual depravity of the dancers. These conversations are not for the faint of heart. You start to see where Noé is going with Climax or do we?

Climax Still Movie Marker

Once the LSD soaked sangria kicks in Noé begins his wizardry behind the lens. Distortion and blurriness are subtly put into frame. You can feel the sweat pouring through the walls. The music intensifies and the dance becomes a lot more aggressive. We have now entered the hellish nightmare we were expecting from the get go. It isn’t the drug trip we witnessed in Enter The Void either. Once the LSD has kicked in, you only see the reactions to their hallucinations. Gaspar Noé challenges you to think what is actually going on? The usual camera trickery now ensues, a classic Noé move. The journey warps your senses and you don’t always know what is going on. The crucial element in sustaining the tension is the killer soundtrack. It really is the beating heart of Climax (Vinyl has been pre-ordered all ready). After the explosion of this pressure cooker of a situation, the story goes no holds barred with scenarios of extreme violence, incest and self harm. Noé doesn’t create an in your face scenario in this instants, it is rather out of character for him.

Sofia Boutella has shed away the action star. Her raw and un-tameable energy is addictive. She flows so powerfully through Climax and you can feel her passion for dance. The casting of the dancers is a master stroke. They all bring a different element to the piece and the diversity of characters gives it great balance. Our inner darkest ideas and nightmares flow through Climax like a virus. You are tested from the get go and Climax is a true cinematic challenge. It is a true testament of youth and the ever flowing challenge of perfecting your artistry. Gaspar Noé’s Climax is electrifyingly abstract and a true champion of 2018.

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Featured Review

Hurricane ★★★

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Released: 7th September 2018

Directed By: David Blair

Starring: Iwan Rheon, Milo Gibson

Reviewed By: Van Connor

What is it about a good old brim ’n’ bluster war tale that lets a bit of charm and a whole heap of cheekiness carry a movie? There’s a bit more to David Blair’s Hurricane than that, but the prominence of its cheek ’n’ charm approach is undeniable. From the moment Game of Thrones baddie Iwan Rheon struts his way through a daring escape from the Nazis, the fun’s on for this engagingly peppy and likeable true story.

 This tight and tidy hundred and ten minute war story concerns the  formation of the RAF’s 303rd squadron in the wake of their exile from Poland, and the prejudice afforded them by their British allies. “England needs all the help it can get,” Rheon’s Zumbach explains; his fellow pilots, however, are more interested in seeing them remain on the ground. Add into this mix the friendship of a group of young female war clerks – including a rather fine performance by Stefanie Martini – and the stage is set for the 303rd to prove themselves worthy of history.

It’s not entirely unlike Red Tails, with the tale of Tuskagee airmen and their treatment by American pilots sharing similar beats. As you’d expect from any war story, there’s a lively cast of supporting players bringing up the ensemble – including winning turns from Marcin Dorocinski and Krystof Hádek – and even an amusingly thankless part for the token yank, in this case a role fulfilled by Milo “son of Mel” Gibson. Rheon’s the star here, though, with swagger and charisma to match the admirably-produced (for what’s presumably a lean budget) fireworks going off in the skies above them.

Blair helms with an able hand. He’s noticeably more confident in the dramatic quotient of the tale, but is aided immeasurably by some impressive VFX work. A misjudged score by Laura Rossi proves periodically distracting, though, its tone faintly too whimsical and overblown to remain in keeping with the smaller scale sensibilities that keep Hurricane focused and confidents. It’s down to a deadpan sense of humour that Hurricane ultimately takes flight, piloted largely by the charms of Rheon and a game cast, and emerging rather an endearing World War II biopic.

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Featured Review

Final Score ★★

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Released: 7th September 2018

Directed By: Scott Mann

Starring: Dave Bautista, Pierce Brosnan

Reviewed By: Van Connor

If you’ve ever surfed the wasteland that is the home platform-centric side of post-nineties action – that void off to the side of where the mainstream were being distracted by Bourne movies and Michael Bay – you might have caught the faint whiff of a particularly nasty little actioner back in 2009 by the name of The Tournament. Essentially a Playstation-plotted Contest of Champions romp, the tight-and-tidy beat ‘em up made director Scott Mann a fleeting name to watch out for; fleeting only because his rather forgettable sophomore effort, Heist – which starred Robert de Niro and Dave Bautista – came and went with none of the same fanfare. Now he’s back, and (to put it in genre terms)  he’s out to make Die Hard. Unfortunately, he’s landed closer to Sudden Death.

OK, that’s unfair. Call it two-thirds of the way between Sudden Death and Under Siege 2 (remember how that was subtitled Dark Territory? That got lost to history) with all the individual plot mechanics of Die Hard. Mann reunites with Bautistae, with the WWE-star-turned-surprisingly-loveable-actor starring, of course, as Navy SEAL Uncle Mike,   who’s suffering from one of those failed missions that’s left him minus his best friend, but plus a fallen bro’s widow and daughter, who he visits in London on a regular basis. 

Uncle Mike’s  ‘niece’ is one of those fun Kim Bauer types who seem sharp as a tack in conversation, but then merrily wander into danger at the most inconvenient moments. She’s probably the wrong person for Uncle Mike to take to see West Ham play on a regular day, let alone one on which there happens to be a group of terrorists stealthily laying siege to the grounds in search of an amnesty-exiled former warlord. There’s a frankly hilarious pandemic-style simulation displaying “Projected Civil Unrest” if the terrorists get ahold of their quarry, but it mostly just plays like the whole General Radek element of Air Force One, without the sense of dread.

The intentions behind Final Score appear to have been, in their entirety: “they’re demolishing West Ham, let’s make Die Hard there”, but even there this rather overlong and startlingly uninteresting effort falls vastly far off the mark. Bautista is back on WWE Studios autopilot (we all ironically like 12 Rounds, calm down), and nobody else involved seems in the faintest bit interested in being there either. To pick far from the lowest hanging fruit, Pierce Brosnan – star of I.T. – has never been so visibly bored, and, in a movie featuring such wince-inducing penmanship as “why did my dad have to do it? Die…” it’s hard to begrudge him the right.

Meanwhile, a bevy of genre clichés litter a pretty uneventful go around the action wheel, featuring stops to pick up everything from Token Hot Girl Terrorist: Kink Edition to a panicky Argyle-like sidekick  that the script (boasting the talents of no fewer than three writers) uses entirely for the purposes of eyebrow-raising racially-driven humour. 

As far as the laugh factor goes, it’s here that Final Score actually gets one in the net, though  that depends on how alluring you find it to mock a feature this unironically silly. On that front, it’s no Geostorm, by any means – it’s not even a Gamer, certainly no Shoot ‘Em Up – but there are arguably enough mechanically-derived set pieces and plot beats in there to appease the baser wants of genre die-hards (sic). The final score’s not a great one, but if you’re game for Sudden Death all over again, it’ll scrape through for you on penalties.

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