At the end, it clicked together. The easiest (and surprisingly effective) way to describe Ben Wheatley’s High-Rise is as Snowpiercer in an apartment building. Turns out the movies have more in common with each other than their premise. Thematically, they’re fairly similar. Although Snowpiercer was very proactively revolutionary in suggesting that the only way to find equality is to destroy our inherently oppressive system altogether, while High-Rise isn’t interested in providing any answers to the problems it presents. And it provides a problem similar to Snowpiercer‘s. When the residents of a hierarchical apartment building decide to start the revolution, they grow as comfortable with the violence and chaos of their new order as they once were with the casual oppression of the previous system.
The movie is based on the work of science fiction writer J.G. Ballard, and from what I hear, it’s considerably different from its source material. The movie is a marvel of design. The building of the title is characteristic of the horrible block-of-cement architecture of the seventies, while the costumes are similarly representative of an idea of the seventies more than they resemble realistic clothing (many characters wear the same clothes throughout the whole movie). There are disturbing and gory parts as the whole building goes to chaos, and Wheatley has a lot of fun constructing beautiful images out of decadence and chaos, including a fantastic montage set to ABBA’s “S.O.S.” In the end, though, too many montages numb the mind. By the time the movie’s themes clicked together in its last couple scenes, I started to wonder if I needed all of the middle to get what it was saying.
Grade: 6 out of 10
I would never claim to be a Jane Austen expert. Although I’ve enjoyed it thoroughly, I’ve read very little of her work. I do think, however, that even the very best big screen adaptation of her work don’t fully capture the depth of irony, cynicism, and social critique that can be found in her humor. Now, Whit Stillman’s Love & Friendship, which was adapted not from a famous Austen novel but from one of an unfinished manuscript titled Lady Susan, may not capture many of the aspects that make Austen such a beloved aspect, but it definitely captures her wit.
The big key here, and the reason why this manuscript is such a great fit for Stillman, is that the lead character, Lady Susan herself, is not your typical Austen heroine. She is not a smart and sensible young woman like Elizabeth Bennett, but a cunning seductress who will not stop until she secures her future by marrying off her daughter, and herself. Kate Beckinsale stars as Lady Susan in what is very clearly the role of her career. She provides a blend of wit and frivolity that makes her an irresistible character. In a just world, Beckinsale would be a front-runner for the Best Actress Oscar.
What’s even more exciting is Lady Susan, by being incredibly selfish and searching only her own gain, becomes one of the great feminist heroes of cinema. Susan might not always be the smartest person in the room, but there is no room that she is the cleverest. Her plans are intricate, and the people around her mere puppets. Some people might perceive her as despicable, but I can only watch in admiration at a woman who will do anything in her power to gain a system rigged against her.
If there is a weakness to Love & Friendship, it’s the plot, which doesn’t quite measure up to Austen’s best, those wonderful stories that are full of complicated characters and emotions but are simultaneously very easy to follow. However, what Stillman lacks in structure he makes up for in amazing dialogue and funny touches, which are served with gusto by a fantastic ensemble, including Chloë Sevigny, Stephen Fry, and Tom Bennett, who steals the show as a most incompetent suitor who insists we must follow Our Lord’s twelve commandments.
Grade: 8 out of 10
Shane Black came into the scene as the screenwriter of Lethal Weapon, and throughout his career, defined and perfected the buddy-cop formula to the point that he became the highest payed writer in Hollywood. Then, his star faded, and he had to reinvent himself by getting on the director chair and subverting the narratives that had given him fame and fortune with his debut feature Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Now that he’s been reaccepted into Hollywood (and directed his own Marvel movie), he seems to be more than happy to go back to his beloved formula of old.
Back in the mid-nineties, The Nice Guys might have seemed like yet another tired entry in a tired genre. Today, however, it comes as a breath of fresh air set to liberate us from the exploding buildings and super-powered warriors of the early days of summer movie season. The movie is set in the seventies, perhaps a smart way for Black to make his admittedly now passé style feel appropriate. It stars Russell Crowe as a tough enforcer with a heart of gold, and Ryan Gosling as a sleazy grief-stricken p.i. who team up to solve the case of a disappeared young girl and a series of murders connected to the porn industry.
Let’s be upfront and recognize that The Nice Guys doesn’t have anything particularly pressing or deep to say about humanity, or the state of the world or anything like that. It is a well-enough crafted movie (the plot, character motivations, themes are all merely serviceable) that is designed to be fun. And it is a lot of fun. The editing is a little too loose at points, and the filmmaking a little pedestrian, but if you want a good ol’ action comedy with lots of laughs and solid performances, you could do much, much worse than this. These days, The Nice Guys is as welcome an addition to my moviegoing year as it gets. And while we’re here, let me tell you Ryan Gosling is outstanding in this, one of the best performances of his career.
Grade: 8 out of 10