High-Rise (2015)


An open house you may not want to attend.

An open house you may not want to attend.

(2015) Thriller (Magnet) Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Miller, Luke Evans, Elisabeth Moss, James Purefoy, Keeley Hawes, Peter Ferdinando, Sienna Guillory, Reece Shearsmith, Enzo Cilenti, Augustus Prew, Dan Renton Skinner, Stacy Martin, Tony Way, Leila Mimmack, Bill Paterson, Louis Suc, Neil Maskell, Alexandra Weaver, Julia Deakin, Victoria Wicks. Directed by Ben Wheatley

Florida Film Festival 2016

It is part of human nature to divide people into class by their wealth; the upper classes – the haves – all the way down to the lower classes – the have-nots – and in between. Some places, class distinctions are much more concrete than others; the British have made an art form of it.

Set in 1975, this film based on a J.G. Ballard novel posits something that back in that time was only beginning to catch on as an idea but is more prevalent today – the lifestyle apartments. You know the kind; the ones that have shopping and sometimes even office space in the same building, allowing those that live there to need never venture beyond the walls of their high rise. This particular one sits just outside of London.

The middle class inhabit the lower floors with few amenities; the further up you go, the more amenities there are (gymnasium, swimming pool and so on) and of course the wealthier the resident. On the very top floor is Royal (Irons), the reclusive architect of the whole she-bang and his shrewish wife Ann (Hawes). Their luxury penthouse includes an outdoor garden where there is enough room for Ann to ride a horse and Royal to work on the other four towers of the five he has planned.

Into this environment comes Dr. Robert Laing (Hiddleston), a physiologist who is single and immediately catches the eye of Charlotte (Miller), the resident nymph who raises her son Toby (Suc) on her own as a single mom, who catches the good Doctor sunbathing nude. She invites him to a party where he meets Wilder (Evans), a dissatisfied television news reader who has the hots for Charlotte and a little bit too high of an opinion of himself.

The building is brand new and starkly furnished in the style of the time, but cracks begin to show in the facade. Electrical outages at first affect the lower floors before spreading and ending up in a complete blackout. The store where all groceries are bought fails to get resupplied and eventually panicked residents ransack it.

The social order breaks down quickly as the haves and have-nots arrange themselves into violent tribes. The women begin to gravitate towards men who can protect them from the violence and chaos going on in the building. The upper classes gravitate towards Royal as a leader (as he is the wealthiest) while the lower classes choose Wilder because of his fearlessness. Before long, civilization is a distant memory.

Ballard’s allegorical commentary on how thin the veneer of civilized behavior is was controversial in its time, although given recent events one can’t help but wonder if he erred on the side of caution. It also isn’t a particularly lightbulb-glowing concept, that the classes don’t like each other much. In some ways, the point was made better and earlier by Jonathan Swift in his A Modest Proposal which suggests that with overpopulation and food shortages inevitably befalling any civilized nation that the wealthy should look to eating the poor. And you thought Ballard was cynical!

Hiddleston has been coming on lately as a legitimate leading man presence. He has a bit of an edge compared to guys like, say, Matt Damon; I think of him as more of a ‘70s archetype for a leading man, which makes him perfectly cast here. Initially, he’s got a bit of a shy and reclusive nature, which might be what draws the ladies to him (including Wilder’s very pregnant wife Helen (Moss) with whom he has a dalliance late in the film) although it might be more due to the fact that he’s got crazy good looks. I know at least a few ladies who have him on their list of five (five men they get to do anytime, anywhere even if they are married). He’s also a hell of an actor and we watch his descent into obsessive insanity, although he never quite hits bottom. While Hiddleston is known for his villains at present, I would imagine leading roles in big-budget franchise films are just around the corner for him.

I was a teen in the era that is depicted here and there’s a bit of a shock in seeing how many people smoked (according to iMDB there are people smoking in 80% of the film) including pregnant woman. There was also rampant sexuality going on, including a crapload of extramarital affairs and plenty of drug use. All of which is captured here, which while I found unsurprising, still seemed jarring when given today’s mores. Still, I ended up feeling a bit grimy just watching it.

Likewise there are things that sort of rock the logic meter to its core. For instance, why don’t people just LEAVE? After all, the chaos is limited to this one building; if the situation became that out of control, wouldn’t you just walk out the door and be done with it? Also, why doesn’t the grocery store get restocked? That’s never addressed.

I think a lot of how you’re going to digest this movie is going to depend on your own social situation. People who are wealthy and/or conservative are going to identify with the upper class tribe; those who are working class and/or liberal might well identify with the lower class tribe, although the latter were guilty of some unspeakable acts which might give you a hint as to where Ballard’s own sympathies lie (or at least the filmmakers; I haven’t read the source novel yet). Quite frankly, from what I’ve read the jury is out as far as opinions regarding the book’s sympathies.

Similarly, the movie is polarizing – people either love it or hate it. I wanted to like it more than I did, but like Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle pointed out, watching any five minutes of this film will convince you that it is brilliant but watching the whole of it will not – he called it the best disappointing film you’ll watch this year and in that he is absolutely correct.

REASONS TO GO: Class warfare for dummies. Hiddleston shows some star power.
REASONS TO STAY: Logical holes abound. Makes you feel like a full ashtray has been dumped on your head.
FAMILY VALUES: There’s some fairly disturbing stuff here; violence, rape, graphic nudity, sexual content, drug use, foul language and a partridge in a pear tree.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Author J.G. Ballard published the novel this is based on in 1975, the same year that ABBA’s “S.O.S.” was released (the song was covered by two different artists on the soundtrack).
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/26/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 62% positive reviews. Metacritic: 65/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Snowpiercer
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made

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Sleeping With Other People


Getting laid in the Big Apple is easy for these two.

Getting laid in the Big Apple is easy for these two.

(2015) Sex Comedy (IFC) Alison Brie, Jason Sudeikis, Adam Scott, Adam Brody, Natasha Lyonne, Amanda Peet, Jason Mantzoukas, Katherine Waterston, Marc Blucas, Skylar Gaertner, Andrea Savage, Anna Margaret Hollyman, Margarita Levieva, Billy Eichner, Jordan Carlos, Margaret Odette, Sawyer Shipman, Brian Berrebbi, Michael Delaney, Remy Nozik, Victoria Frings. Directed by Leslye Headland

There is that age old question of whether or not men and women can be friends with each other without being sexually attracted. According to When Harry Met Sally the answer is no, and since it’s been 26 years since that classic hit the theaters, writer-director Leslye Headland thought it was high time that question was re-explored.

Jake (Sudeikis) is a serial womanizer who just can’t keep it in his pants. It seems to be a by-product of his commitment phobia for when any woman he’s spending time with wants to get close, he does something spectacular to push her away (generally sleeping with her best friend or sister); one recently made an ex-girlfriend reacts by shoving him in front of a taxi.

&At a self-help meeting for sex addicts, he runs into Lainey (Brie), the girl who was his first back in college (he was her first as well). She’s still hung up on the gynecologist, Matthew (Scott) that she was in college, much to Jake’s amusement. Matthew has all the personality of a wet sock and he can’t for the life of him figure out what she sees in him. In any case, they decide to hang out and develop a deep friendship.

Not wanting to mess things up with sex, the two decide to remain platonic and even institute a “safe word” when they start to feel sexual attraction for each other. Needless to say, everyone around them, particularly Jake’s friends Xander (Mantzoukas) and Naomi (Savage) who are married to each other see full well what the two don’t – that they are perfect for each other. And of course they both know it too, but are too scared to take action on it. So they both take refuge in old behaviors, just like many of us do when confronted by the scary.

Headland has written a smart, modern romantic comedy that is incredibly sexy. In fact, the onscreen sex is much more graphic than most mainstream films usually show in terms of body movement and facial expressions; however, there are no genitalia on display which is a bit odd considering that at various points in the movie there are some rather graphic conversations, including one where Jake demonstrates the finer points of female masturbation to Lainey so that she can curb her urges.

Sudeikis has been knocking on the door of stardom ever since graduating from Saturday Night Live and here he does the best work of his cinematic career. This is the movie that defines his strengths in a nutshell; it doesn’t hurt that he is given some wonderful dialogue that’s both snappy and smart. At one point, he dismisses Matthew as “the Pontiac Aztek of people” which is a hoot especially if you’ve ever driven one.

Brie has also been someone who has been knocking on that door, but her career is a lot less established than that of Sudeikis. She shows here that she has the chops to be as good a comic actress as any out there, including such names as Kristen Wiig and Tina Fey. She certainly in many ways is as good as Greta Gerwig who gets more indie love. Perhaps after this movie, which was a big hit at Sundance and Tribeca, that will change.

The only issue here is that there are some situations that reek of New York indie cuteness which is a disservice to the film. I don’t expect every movie to innovate, but I would at least hope that one that is as smart as this one at least avoids some of the same cliches that other films have fallen victim to, but at least it doesn’t hurt the movie too much.

It helps that there is some fine talent in supporting roles, many of whom are literally there to be conquered sexually by either Jake or Lainey. Many critics are comparing this to When Harry Met Sally and while this is much more graphic than that film, the basic man-woman friendship vs. sexual attraction thing is still at the forefront, and like that movie, there is intelligence and depth. Does it come to the same conclusions as that iconic rom-com? I will leave it to you to find out for yourself because this movie is certainly worth the look. As for me, I’ll have what they’re having – and fortunately for me, I already am.

REASONS TO GO: Excellent dialogue. Sudeikis at his very best. Intelligently written.
REASONS TO STAY: Too many cute indie cliches. Might be too sexy for those sensitive to such things.
FAMILY VALUES: Lots of graphic sex (but no graphic nudity), sexual dialogue and some drug use.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Scott and Mantzoukas both appeared together in Parks and Recreation.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/9/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 59% positive reviews. Metacritic: 64/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: When Harry Met Sally
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT: Reversion