I Got It at the Library: High-Rise

Recently I was watching Amy Jump and Ben Wheatley’s adaptation of the J.G. Ballard novel High-Rise.

Adapting Ballard novels for the screen is always a challenging proposition. Even the great David Cronenberg had problems with his notorious 1996 adaptation of the Ballard novel Crash .

Now director Ben Wheatley and his co-conspirator Jump have tried their hand. U.K. film-maker Wheatley does have a gift for highly visual (and often disturbing) imagery but despite that and committed performances by a British A-List cast that includes Jeremy Irons, Tom Hiddleston and Sienna Miller, Aussie import Luke Evans and America’s Elizabeth Moss it was hard to tell what was driving the alleged plot.

high-rise poster

I guess one of the things Mr. Wheatley was aiming for was a broad satire on class distinctions (the idle rich live in sumptuous spreads at the top of the building and the struggling lower classes live in the lower part of the building and understandably want to move up) but that whole thing was done better (and more coherently) in South Korean film-maker Joon Ho Bong’s Snowpiercer. 

To paraphrase Will Shakespeare (or whoever wrote Macbeth) “Tis a tale written by an auteur, full of sound and fury, signifying something.”

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WTF?

 

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Asian Action Flick: The Original Is Still the Greatest!

I’ve learned two things while watching The Raid 2 (now streaming on Netflix): 1) “Pencak Silat”, a term used to denote a certain type (or types) of Indonesian combat style (or styles) may be the most polite form of martial arts.

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A single combatant (among an army of bad guys) lines up to test the skills of our hero (Iko Uwais), only to be crippled within seconds. Then, another combatant steps to the plate, only to be crippled within seconds. And so on … 2) Once a young director (Welsh-born director and enthusiastic advocate of martial arts Gareth Evans, in this case) has seen his original  become an unlikely commercial and artistic hit (The Raid: Redemption even played at several prestigious film festivals) he uses what is presumably a bigger budget to stage even more fights and, of course, a car chase (no action flick worth its body count is complete without it.) The frightening thing here is that the writer/director has stated in interviews that The Raid 2 is the movie he wanted to make in the first place – except he didn’t have the money.

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So The Raid:Redemption had to be confined to one building. It was that compression of action combined with tight editing, unique setting (Jakarta, Indonesia) and introduction of novel fighting skills that arguably made The Raid:Redemption such a respected box office hit in the first place. To make the same film again, but  even with more fights,  the obligatory car chase and an expanded plot (Our hero now takes on the criminal kingpins of the Jakarta underworld) did not bode well at the box office for the filmmaker … despite the favorable critical and audience rating on rottentomatoes.com.

Maybe I am old school but a bewildering number of fight set pieces stitched together with a semblance of a plot (John Woo’s Manhunt also got a nod of approval on the RT site) does not a great action movie make.

And while I am on the subject. how come the most charismatic action stars these days are all young Asian guys like Donnie Yen, Tony “Ong-Bak” Jaa and the aforementioned Mr. Uwais?

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Iko Uwais In Action

(If you want to include Asian women in this line-up. how about Ziyi Zhang or the great Michelle Yeoh)  Probably cuz they do can execute the most complex,choreographed fight scenes and look cool doing it. (Although the coolest star of them all, for my money will always be Chow Yun-Fat.)

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Writer/director Gareth Evans

John Woo’s Manhunt: Not a Killer Film

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“Manhunt” (currently streaming on Netflix) plays like a remake of “Hard-Boiled” (with Chinese actor Hanyu Zhang and Japan’s Masaharu Fukuyama as reluctant team-mates, replacing Chow Yun-Fat and Tony Leung) – with a few of Mr. Woo’s other, better films from his ’90s heyday thrown in for good measure. (Yes, there are white doves , one of Mr. Woo’s trademarks, but no Chow Yun-Fat this time around). Perhaps reviving “Hard-Boiled”  is not as cynical as it may seem. According to various sources, a remake of Mr. Woo’s Asian action classic “The Killer” is in the works (by film-maker Woo, of course)

The alleged (and only barely coherent) plot seems to be just an excuse to string together a series of action set pieces (Mr. Woo’s specialty) including a galvanizing speedboat chase (hmm! think I saw something like that in a Bond picture). The dialogue careens crazily (and for no apparent reason) between English and what I can only assume is Chinese and Japanese. (I am informed that most Asian exports utilize this practice but I still found it distracting. Thank NF for subtitles!)

Back in the Nineties Mr. Woo had highly paid Hollywood heroes like John Travolta and Nicolas Cage working for him and Quentin Tarantino raving about his skillz as an action auteur.

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Then came “Windtalkers” and “Paycheck” and suddenly John Woo didn’t look so golden.

Oh well, there was always the burgeoning Asian market. But after several period dramas (the Red Cliff and The Crossing series) John Woo is back in America lensing action sequences that defy gravity and heroes that never seem to perish despite multiple wounds.

Critics with fond memories of the original “The Killer”and “A Better Tomorrow” and/or Hollywood hits like 1996’s “”Face/Off “and 1997’s “Broken Arrow” give this film a passing grade (67%) but the audience (14%) was less than enchanted.

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And in this case I’d have to agree with the audience. Although, considering where Mr. Travolta and Mr. Cage’s careers have migrated in the meantime, perhaps a re-teaming with John Woo may be a good idea for all three.

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John Woo

It May B All Greek 2U: The Killing of a Sacred Deer

Judging from some of the comments online, not everyone “gets” the films by Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos and his screenwriting partner, Efthymis Filippou.

I’ll admit it. Watching the twisted family dynamics in Dogtooth (Oscar nominee – Best Foreign Film – 2009) was kinda bizarre.

The duo’s follow-up film, The Lobster (Oscar nominee- Best Original Screenplay- 2017) is even harder to figure (Colin Farrell, playing against type, is a lonesome, socially awkward bachelor, who checks into a special hotel where residents have 45 days to find a mate among their fellow guests or be transformed into an animal of their choice. His brother, who failed the test, has been turned into a dog.)

The latest effort, The Killing of a Sacred Deer (Winner – Best Screenplay – Cannes Film Festival- 2017), is, I am informed, inspired by Greek tragedy. Mind you, a person would have to be sharp to pick up on this. The title of the film, as it was explained to me, dates back to Iphigenia in Aulis by the 4th century BC playwright Euripides. And, of course, there is a random reference to Iphigenia in the screenplay.

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One critic has suggested that Lanthimos has traded in “theatre of the absurd” for “theatre of cruelty”. Certainly Sacred Deer is a heavy watch. (Even Colin Farrell, portraying a heart surgeon who makes a fatal mistake , has told an interviewer that he was “f—-ing depressed” while shooting the film.)

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Colin Farrell in “The Killing of a Sacred Deer”

The cast also includes Nicole Kidman.

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Does this woman have a portrait in the attic a la Dorothy Gray? (Or is that Dorian). No matter.  She gives a deeply committed performance as usual.  Barry Keoghan (you may have spotted him in Dunkirk) is especially spooky.

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The film starts out slowly at first and gradually tightens like a noose around your neck on its way to its remorseless, chilling conclusion. Yikes!

 

 

 

Random Mutterings #1: They Don’t Know Jack About Taylor

…. Looks like they are turning one of my favorite fictional tough guys into a pussycat. They’ve even given Jack Taylor (played in the TV series and the movies by Iain Glen …. I guess they couldn’t afford Liam Neeson) a girlfriend. (Siobhan O’Kelly has replaced Nora-Jane Noone but the movie has kept the character’s name, Kate Noonan, and presumably used the replacement as an excuse to involve Jack and Kate in a relationship.)

Author Ken Bruen is obviously so chuffed they are making his novels into TV and movie stuff that he doesn’t care whether the screenplays take radical turns away from his novels. He even refers to Iain Glen in one of his novels and has a cameo role in a movie based on  a book.) One thing hasn’t changed from the novels, though. Jack is still letting people down. (He promises to be there to lend support prior to Kate’s cancer surgery and arrives late. Sure, he has a good reason. There is always a good reason. Isn’t there? )

Reviewers who have praised the books as “hard-boiled fiction” are not just whistling an Irish jig. The novels may be too dark for the movie and TV types. But, yes, at the risk of using the cliche, I liked the books better.

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Iain Glen as Jack Taylor -A Real Pussycat

 

When Elle Wanted to Be Un Homme

I have always regarded Elle Fanning as the youthful essence of cinematic femininity (check out The Beguiled or Somewhere) but in  3 Generations she depicts a teen-age girl who for reasons of her own wants to transition into a boy. (The film was originally entitled About Ray).

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Director Gaby Dellal says she got the original idea for the film from a man who was moving furniture for her sister. “I said, ‘How are you?’ and he said, ‘It’s been a tricky day today because my daughter’s just told me she wants to become my son,” the director told NYLON magazine. ” I had never come across any transgender people at that point, not directly, and so I was fascinated. Not only was he open, he was very adjusted by it…. He was so proud of his child and so positive about him, and that’s what really inspired me.”

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Elle Fanning as Ray

3 Generations also explores the effect of Ray’s decision on the adults around her, including her single mom (Naomi Watts) and grandmother (Susan Sarandon).

Ms. Dellal defends her choice of casting Ms. Fanning in the title role (“I’m so proud of her characterization and her enormous amount of work and sensitivity to the character that she was playing …. NYLON) but the UK-based filmmaker told VANITY FAIR’s online newsletter HWD DAILY that if she was making 3 Generations now (the film bowed at Cannes in 2015 but was probably shot much earlier) she would have cast a trans actor in the lead role.

3 Generations is not without its flaws (scoring 47 out of 100 on Metacritic) but, as Darren Ruecker writes in wegotthiscovered. com the film “will hopefully inspire discussion and reflection among people who may have never been exposed to trans issues, and that alone makes it valuable.”

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GUILTY PLEASURES: It’s Bloody But Not Simple

Think of an Australian version of Blood Simple (one of the Coen Bros’ early films) and you’ll have a vague idea of what’s going on in this pitch black comedy noir from first-time scripter James McFarland and budding Aussie auteur Kriv Stenders.

Add an Oz A-list cast (Bryan Brown, Teresa Palmer. a pre-Westworld Luke Hemsworth) and Simon Pegg as a cheerfully homicidal hitman (really!).

The film was shot in 2014 and remains obscure. (I signed out my copy from the local library, curious about the cast) but if this sounds interesting to you, hunt for it. Could be a cult film in a few years.

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