High-Rise

Diretor: Ben Wheatley (2016)

This towering cinematic achievement offers the audience a dark view of modern life.

British director Ben Wheatley brings to J.G. Ballard’s 1975 blood soaked satirical sci fi novel vividly to life.

With The Kill List (2011) Sightseers (2012) and A Field In England (2013) under his belt, he has the most singular vision of any British director working today.

Aided by his scriptwriter and wife Amy Jump, Wheatley has erected another uniquely English construction of comedy, horror, politics, sex and violence.

Currently starring in TV’s The Night Manager, Tom Hiddleston is hugely impressive as Dr. Robert Laing.

He’s just moved into a skyscraper and is determined to fit in to the rigid social hierarchy.

Living in the penthouse with his nostalgia obsessed wife and her private menagerie is the pointedly named Anthony Royal.

It’s another intelligent performance from Jeremy Irons. The buildings architect a godlike figure who can’t understand the free will of the chaotic people who populate his creation.

Royal believes he has left one crucial ingredient out of his building, but he hasn’t taken account of the effect of the building on the people who live there.

Laing has a short lived affair with the single mother who lives on the floor above. As the seductive and brittle Charlotte, Sienna Miller relishes the opportunity offered by the role to essay a complex character and delivers a strong and memorable performance.

Luke Evans and Elisabeth Moss as the fertile working class couple on a lower floor are among the strong supporting cast.

As it’s cutting edge 1970’s technology fails, the high-rise deteriorates and Laing starts to suffer a nervous breakdown.

While the penthouse hosts regency themed cocktail parties and swingers accumulate on the shag pile rug, the poor are blamed for their own misfortunes.

There are riots in the supermarket and violent class war descends into animal behaviour.

Styled in the 1970’s the decade the book was written, it’s a concrete, plastic and polythene world dressed in lurid shades of nylon sportswear.

The concept of recycling is in the future, nature is absent or seen as polluting, a hindrance, and a threat. Organic matter is something to be fenced off, bagged up and removed.

A smart script, great design, excellent performances and brilliant use of music combine in powerful critique of social engineering.

Although containing many ideas which are prescient, the power cuts, bodies and bin bags piling up are powerful reminders of headlines of the decade but the historical relevance may need explaining to a younger audience.

But seen from a distance, none of this undermines the soaring strength of the storytelling technique.

 

 

Mississippi Grind

Director: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck (2015)

A pair of gamblers chase a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow in this engaging bitter-sweet fable.

It’s flush with award worthy performances, an intelligent script and a tremendous soundtrack.

Ben Mendelsohn plays a real estate agent in hock to debt collectors. He spends his nights at spit and sawdust casinos.

Gerry’s luck changes for the better when he meets the charming Curtis at the tables.

Ryan Reynolds gives a career best performance as the charismatic storyteller with dreams of travelling to Machu Picchu in Peru.

Gerry is as untrustworthy and entertaining as a leprechaun. The first image we see is of an enormous rainbow which stretches across the screen.

Believing Curtis to be his lucky charm, Gerry throws the dice on a trip to New Orleans.

Together they plan to win enough money en route playing poker to buy their way into a high stakes game.

The Mississippi River leads the jokers into dangerous waters as they encounter whiskey, cardsharps and working girls.

Sienna Miller and Analeigh Tipton provide the possibility of redemption and soften what could be but never is a very macho experience.

Directors Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck co-wrote the script and Boden also edited. Cinematography is by Andrij Parekh and the film was well received and picked by at Sundance this year. (2015).

In a satisfying final hand we fear for the self-deceiving duo as reality threatens to deal the cards.

Foxcatcher

Director: Bennett Miller (2015)

In this chilly, complex and exceptionally crafted thriller based on a true story, actors more famous for action and comedy give great dramatic performances.

In mood, tone, subject matter and careful execution it is similar to Miller’s Capote (2005) for which the late Philip Seymour Hoffman won the best actor Oscar.

US gold medal wrestling champ Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) is being coached for for the Seoul Olympics by older brother Dave (Mark Ruffalo).

Aggressive in the ring, the emotionally stunted Mark lacks social confidence and struggles financially. Dave has acted as father as well as brother but now prioritises his wife Nancy (Sienna Miller) and children.

As in American Sniper, Miller demonstrates she’s capable of excellence given the opportunity, it’s a shame that in both films she isn’t given more to do.

At no point does Dave consider himself to be a contributor to Mark’s issues.

Mark is overwhelmed when patriotic multimillionaire wrestling enthusiast John du Pont (Steve Carell) demands to help the US Olympic cause, flying Mark out to his secluded Foxcatcher estate where he has built a state of the art training facility.

From behind prosthetic nose, paunch and grey hair, Carell offers a mesmerising performance, hinting at a complex internal conflcits, not least his feelings towards his emotionally cold mother Jean (Vanessa Redgrave).

Flexing his financial muscle, du Pont brings on board the entire US wrestling team, names them Foxcatcher after his estate and hires Dave to train them for Olympic glory.

The wrestling scenes are convincing and comprehensible while the muted tone, autumnal colours and nuanced performances create a creeping foreboding.

Desperate for affirmation by his wealthy associates, du Pont parades his pet project around town while tension develops between du Pont and Dave as they compete to exercise an unhealthy degree of control over Mark.

With a shocking violence, the cold blooded and tragic end offers further punishment but no redemption.

★★★★★

American Sniper

Director: Clint Eastwood (2015)

Astonishingly nominated for six Oscars and almost comical in feverish flag-waving patriotism, this celebration of a real-life cold-blooded killer is way off target.

Set during the Iraq war, it’s action scenes are directed by Eastwood at his most gun-lovingly, gung ho.

Rodeo-rider Kyle is a dim and unquestioning believer in the need to protect god, country and family.

In the backwoods as a boy his father taught him to shoot deer and be independent; to be a sheepdog not a wolf or a sheep.

As Kyle, the most successful sniper in US history, Bradley Cooper hides his charisma under a bushy beard and a beefed up physique. These are dog-whistles for nominations at the Academy during the awards season.

After the atrocity of 9/11 Kyle signs up for the navy SEALs. After a brief romance and some basic training (or possibly some basic romance and brief training) he’s off to Iraq where he kills women, children and other anonymous Iraqis while equally anonymous comrades fall.

Four lethal tours rush past in a cloud of dust and bullets. Kyle becomes a celebrity and is nick-named the ‘Legend’, though humbly, mumbly dismisses any uncomfortable hoopla.

Sienna Miller as home-alone wife Taya does her best in a role than demands she only be sexy, nagging or pregnant. Their long-distance phone calls are unpardonably ill-timed and unconvincing.

Two neither particularly interesting or formidable bad guys contribute to a ragged script structure with Kyle’s sights split between them.

One’s a driller-killer leather-clad maniac called The Butcher and the other a sniper called Mustafa.

He and Kyle engage in a long distance duel during which Kyle chooses to put his entire squad in danger. Though considering Kyle’s loose cannon approach and the amazing levels of military mis-management, it’s not much of a surprise.

Eastwood directs in his usual pared-down style, at 84 years old it’s doubtful he’ll be trying new tricks any time soon.

Working with a familiar crew, the editors Joel Cox and Gary Roach are multiple Oscar nominees – mostly for Eastwood pictures – and their work brings a solid dynamism.

We see Kyle suffer a touch of post-traumatic stress disorder and the film ends abruptly, just like the life of all the people he shot from a mile away.

If even the mafia’s Sonny Corleone (James Caan) questions the validity of your approach to killing, a little self-awareness might go a long way.

★★☆☆☆