High-Rise (Review)

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⭐⭐ (Poor)

Director: Ben Wheatley 
Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Miller, Luke Evans, Elisabeth Moss
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 119 mins

‘High-Rise’ is an adaptation of the same novel by J.G Ballard that has been deemed “unfilmbable”. It’s faced a long history of being brought to the screen since the 1970’s when producer Jeremy Thomas tried to get the film made with Nicolas Roeg directing but it could never lift off the ground. Finally in 2013 after a few more efforts, Ben Wheatley, most famous for ‘Kill List’ and ‘Sightseers’, stepped into the director’s chair with his wife, Amy Jump, adapting the book into a script. This is Wheatley’s largest budget film to date and his direction doesn’t always appeal to mass audiences. The film has received rather polarising reviews with some labelling it as a masterpiece to some downright hating it.

‘High-Rise’ starts off well enough and has an intriguing premise but the film descends into an indecipherable mess that is poorly handled by Wheatley who doesn’t seem to have a firm-enough grasp on the material. There are also some excellent performances here from Tom Hiddleston and Elisabeth Moss  but it’s not enough to save this hodgepodge of a film. Any tension built up towards the film’s climactic third act is lost and the film becomes very dull. Hats off to Wheatley for giving this a go but this ‘Lord of the Flies’ meets ‘Ex_Machina’ mash-up unfortunately doesn’t meet the bill.

The cast is a mixed bag – Tom Hiddleston and Elisabeth Moss are the standouts here, particularly Hiddleston who owns the role as the lead character, Laing. He is really turning into one of Great Britain’s national treasures when it comes to acting. Laing is constantly kept in the dark as to what the true intentions of his fellow neighbours in the high-rise are up to and as an audience, it is interesting to see his character develop and ultimately morph into a figure who suits this high-rise life. Elisabeth Moss is also very good here in a supporting role as a pregnant neighbour who is quite vulnerable and doesn’t quite know how to tread around her husband. Luke Evans who plays him is downright awful here and his character seems wildly out of place here and is annoying and animalistic. Jeremy Irons and Sienna Miller round off the main cast and both are sound.

The story details an almost Marxist, volatile environment that crumbles during the course of the film. It does have the potential to be a really interesting film but Wheatley cannot deliver on the tension-building first act and the film turns into an indecipherable mess as it comes to its final act. It drags on and on (the film is only 119 minutes though) and this lack of tension results in some dull stretches. Even the Clint Mansell score, which is one of the highlights of the film, cannot save it nor can the stellar cinematography by Laurie Rose.

It’s a real shame that ‘High-Rise’ isn’t as good as it should be as the material has the potential to make an interesting, moral-questioning watch but Wheatley just doesn’t seem to have a firm grasp on the material. The film is ultimately extremely dull in parts, especially in its overlong final act. However, ‘High-Rise’ is not a totally wasted experience as the performances by Tom Hiddleston and Elisabeth Moss are excellent here as is the cinematography and score and the film’s promising first act.

⭐⭐ (Poor)

Grimsby (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Director: Louis Leterrier
Starring: Sacha Baron Cohen, Mark Strong, Isla Fisher, Rebel Wilson, Gabourey Sidibe, Annabelle Wallis, Ian McShane, Penélope Cruz
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 83 mins

Carl Allen “Nobby” Butcher, is the latest creation of comedy genius Sacha Baron Cohen in ‘Grimsby’ (otherwise known as ‘The Brothers Grimsby’ in America), the man behind Ali G, Borat, Brüno and General Aladeen. This time he plays a football hooligan with multiple kids living in the seaside town of Grimsby who tracks down his brother who is a spy for MI5. The actual town of Grimsby is very negatively portrayed in the film and has caused controversy. The film is directed by Louis Leterrier who has a very patchy track record with his films – he has directed the first two instalments of ‘The Transporter’ series which was poor and then ‘The Incredible Hulk’, ‘Clash of the Titans’ and ‘Now You See Me’ all of which were well-intentioned but very flawed. So to have Leterrier directing someone as talented as Sacha Baron Cohen in a comedy which he has never tackled before causes very mixed feelings.

‘Grimsby’ is one of the best comedies of the decade – it is consistently hilarious (although quite vulgar in parts) and the cast are wonderful, in particular the two leads, Sacha Baron Cohen and Mark Strong, who displays a real panache for comedic roles. Louis Leterrier has really developed as a director and seems to have a flair for comedy.  However, the only criticism is that Leterrier still cannot quite grasp how to direct an action scene and this is a recurring theme in all of his films. It’s a real shame how this film has been almost completely misunderstood and has garnered rather mixed reviews.

‘Grimsby’ boasts a strong cast, particularly with the duo of Sacha Baron Cohen and Mark Strong who really elevate the film. One would expect Sacha Baron Cohen to pull off comedic roles as this is what he is most famous for and ‘Nobby’ is another ingenious creation to add to his repertoire but equally as impressive is Mark Strong who is fantastic here. He displayed a comedic side in last years, ‘Kingsman: The Secret Service’ which he was excellent in too and he emulates his success here.  The rest of the cast are rounded out by talents such as Isla Fisher, Rebel Wilson, Gabourey Sidibe, Annabelle Wallis, Ian McShane and Penélope Cruz who are all sound but this film really does belong to the main duo.

The film is consistently funny from beginning to end which is very rare for a comedy film which generally tend to lose steam at some point. ‘Grimsby’ is one of those rare films that bucks this trend and one has to admire it in this respect. The ‘British’ humour works best and the film can be quite vulgar at times but what ruined Baron Cohen’s previous works was the fact that the humour overstepped the mark and was consistently crude. A lot of the success here is down to the script penned by Baron Cohen and Phil Johnston who both seem to have a love of this story and the script feels very refined and polished with humour constantly thrown into the mix.

‘Grimsby’ has also got a great heart to it as well which adds another dimension to this film and really elevates its quality. Not many comedies can balance comedy and emotion and this manages to handle this very assuredly. There are many flashback sequences that delve into the disturbed childhood of the main characters that are wonderful to watch on-screen as it really develops the characters and allows the audience to really feel for them.

However, one of the only criticisms that I have of ‘Grimsby’ is Leterrier’s ability to craft action sequences. Leterrier resorts to using ‘shaky-cam’ which make some of the action incomprehensible to interpret on-screen rather than using slightly longer shots to detail the action. This is also true in his other films and with all the character development and humour, this does unfortunately let it down a little bit. Part of this is down to cinematographer, Oliver Wood who takes a mis-step here as he is capable of greatness as he shot ‘The Bourne Ultimatum’ which had enthralling action sequences.

Overall, ‘Grimsby’ is an excellent film that is consistently funny and is one of the very best comedies of the decade so far. Sacha Baron Cohen and Mark Strong are a perfect match and both manage to pull off their roles extremely well and the film’s heart really manages to elevate its status.  It is, in my opinion, Sacha Baron Cohen’s best work but the reviews for this film have been very mixed which I find quite hard to understand.  It would seem that audiences tend to prefer the more crude humour that Baron Cohen is capable of. That said, the entire audience in my screening were all laughing from start to finish which is testament to the quality of the film. An excellent effort from all involved.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Hail, Caesar! (Review)

 

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⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Joel & Ethan Coen
Starring: Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich, Ralph Fiennes, Jonah Hill, Scarlett Johansson, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, Channing Tatum
Certificate: 12A
Run Time: 108 mins

Originally conceived in 2004, ’Hail, Caesar!’ is the latest film directed by the zany auteurs, the Coen Brothers behind hits such as ‘Fargo’, ‘The Big Lebowski’ and ‘No Country For Old Men’. It tells the story of a ‘fixer’ Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) who is working for Capitol Pictures, a film studio in the 1950’s who is trying to deal with the abduction of a cast member, Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) who disappears during filming. Unfortunately, the film was shelved until 2013 when the Coens picked it back up again after finishing on the stellar, ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’. Critics have generally reacted positively to the film whereas audiences have been very mixed in their opinions. So do the Coens manage to continue their winning streak or is it a disappointment?

‘Hail, Caesar!’ is usual business for the Coen Brothers – they have crafted a smart and fascinating study into the film industry model and the film features some fantastic performances of the Coens’ typically quirky character creations. It brings out some of the Coen’s best qualities but they do also fall into a couple of bad habits, namely going off on a couple of completely unnecessary narrative diversions. That said, it is very easy to see why ‘Hail, Caesar!’ has been polarising to say the least. It is a film that requires multiple viewings and almost certainly a subsequent reassessment and I’m still not sure if the film’s message is genius or irrelevant. It is the ‘Inherent Vice’ of 2016.

One of the Coens’ main strengths and why one would go and watch one of their films is their ability to create vivid and quirky characters. The film really does belong to Josh Brolin and George Clooney who both are wonderful here and are given the most material to contend with. Josh Brolin, in particular, has had a brilliant year and has given good performances in films such as ‘Everest’ and ‘Sicario’.  Newcomer Alden Ehrenreich really shines here and is a talent to watch out for – the Coens’ were able to spot talent in him by casting him in a significant role here and it’s paid off. The rest of the cast aren’t given particularly much to do but Ralph Fiennes, Frances McDormand and Channing Tatum are fantastic, despite only being in a handful of scenes. Ralph Fiennes, still relatively hot off ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ continues to demonstrate a real flair for comedy and there is a particularly funny, typically Coen-like moment in the film where there is an encounter between Fiennes and Ehrenreich. Channing Tatum continues to redesign himself from the actor who would give mediocre performances in very mediocre films to someone who has really upped his game. This, in combination with his dark turn in Quentin Tarantino’s, ‘The Hateful Eight’ earlier on in the year is proof of this. He clearly seems to be a winner with what are regarded as some of the top directors in the industry. Finally, Frances McDormand (who is the wife of Joel Coen) has one scene and her portrayal is satirical, yet resemblant of this period in Hollywood cinema.

As for the Coen’s direction, they are at the top of their game in places and there are many standout sequences which demonstrate their ability. A scene early in the film details Brolin’s character discussing the religious accuracy of the portrayal of Jesus’ run-up to his crucifixion and it’s so typically Coen-like and very smartly crafted. Another standout sequence is an encounter between Ehrenreich and Fiennes which again is genius. This is what the Coen’s are best at, crafting standalone sequences that are very intelligently crafted yet a little odd. Perhaps the reason why ‘Hail, Caesar!’ hasn’t appealed to audiences as much as it has to critics is that their intelligence and carefully constructed references to other films, both historical and their own is a little too much for some audience’s grasp. That’s not to say that audiences are stupid, but in order to fully appreciate this film, you need to have a love for cinema and have some background knowledge. This film is ultimately the Coen’s love letter to cinema.

However, the Coen’s continue with their bad habit of pursuing narratives that divert from the main story and ultimately detract the audience from the film. In, ‘Hail, Caesar!’, this unfortunately happens too often particularly within the middle of the film where the Coen’s can’t quite decide what direction to take the unfolding narrative in. Now this mistake isn’t too detrimental as it can be in some of their other works but it’s what prevents the film from being brilliant as there are too many dull moments mixed in with the genius that the Coen’s are capable of. This also could be why audiences have had mixed reactions to the film.

From a technical standpoint, Roger Deakins’ cinematography is stellar as usual and here, chooses to use stock film as opposed to digital to compliment the Coen’s vision. Deakins even revealed he would shoot on an iPhone if that’s how a film would look best. Roger Deakins is a cinematographer who always has a unique vision and understands how to shoot a film so it would be interesting if he ever did decide to shoot a film on an iPhone. Carter Burwell’s score is sound and is used fairly sparingly as the film is very dialogue-heavy.

Overall, ‘Hail, Caesar’ is a fascinating and satirical deconstruction into the Coen’s viewpoint of how the Hollywood studio model worked in its Golden Age and is important in how the film industry continues to function in the present day. It demonstrates a lot of the Coen’s best traits but unfortunately, the narrative does divert a little unnecessarily at times. The acting here is generally superb despite several prolific actors being sidelined and Roger Deakins continues to prove why he is one of the best cinematographers in the film industry. However, it’s very easy to see why the reception to this film has been mixed by some and it’s a film that requires several re-watches and is a film that will almost certainly require further reassessment in the future. But for a Coen Brothers film, it’s very entertaining and intelligent film but its narrative does sometimes goes off the rails.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)