Tuesday, November 22, 2016

High-Rise (2016)

Film: High-Rise (2016)
Stars: Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Miller, Luke Evans, Elisabeth Moss
Director: Ben Wheatley
Oscar History: No nominations
Snap Judgment Ranking: 2/5 stars

When I was growing up, the phrase "weird for the sake of being weird" was something I believe I first heard on The Simpsons, but it was also something that my parents occasionally would impart on me.  I remember going into an art exhibit, and my mom, while waiting for my dad who has always been intensely slow in museums, saying "let's go into the modern art exhibit" and we were greeted with fur-covered antlers and sprawling canvasses painted entirely white, and if I remember correctly, a Donald Judd exhibit that had a very touchy alarm system that my mother set off (twice).  Aside from the Judd exhibit, we were both a bit dismissive of the whole thing, essentially falling into the pattern of "weird for the sake of being weird."  Since then we've become a bit more accustomed to the art, at least asking the question "what is special enough about this to have it hanging in a museum?" and are aware it's slightly a condescending argument, but there are times when I see a movie and think "this is kind of what we were talking about."

(Spoilers Ahead) High-Rise is a film that looks great in a trailer but frequently capsizes under its promise.  I, at this point, treat all dystopian pictures as future documentaries (Trump's America and all that), but even I think we'll probably have a chic-er investment than what this movie comes up with if Armageddon hits.  The movie unfolds with Lang (Hiddleston) a wealthy doctor who has moved into a posh, expansive high rise tower in London, learning about his neighbors.  The building is filled with different castes (the higher up, the better), and we find that it's a bit of literal class warfare, as the lower classes, led initially by Richard Wilder (Evans) try to take back the building, which is experiencing electrical outages and issues with the water supply.  He threatens the owner of the building Royal (Irons), and chaos ensues, with Lang going increasingly mad after tricking a young man into suicide.  The film ends with the building left in tatters, and Lang completely out-of-his-mind after most of the people in the film have died.

The film is hard to grasp-it feels like it's paying homage to the 1970's Sci-Fi films that dealt with this sort of hyper-sexualized dystopia.  Indeed, perhaps the best thing to lend itself to this film is that Hiddleston, Evans, and Miller have never looked more alluring, even with their deep character deficits, and that's probably appealing if I can't find much else to go upon, and the set is specific and ornate-I'd recommend it for an Art Direction Oscar nomination if someone wanted to ask me for such advice.

But that's about it, because the plot is easy to see coming, and the editing is purposefully choppy.  I feel the way about High-Rise as I do about films like Oldboy.  There's style there, surely, and it's provocative, but what else is there?  If I just wanted to look at the world's sexiest Annie Leibowitz shoot, I'd ask for that.  This feels like a series of Dior commercials, without much substance to lend to it.  It's higher ideals have been done, better and repeatedly, for years in film and this feels like it's more a reaction to Thatcherite England than anything approaching our modern-day consumer excesses.  A period piece about dystopia is a weird juxtaposition, and it doesn't translate easily enough over to modern-day.  Plus, I have to say it, it's kind of boring-a movie with this much action and this much sex appeal shouldn't be as dull as it is, and yet I just kept kind of hoping it would be over.

I also want to ask, and I mean it in the nicest way possible, but at some point we're going to get a truly seismic performance out of the trio of skinny, attractive British actors that we've spent so much time with in the past four years, right?  I'm talking of course about Hiddleston, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Eddie Redmayne.  All of them have been good in films before (particularly Hiddleston in The Deep Blue Sea and Redmayne in Les Miserables), but since they turned into leading men, doesn't it feel like they're falling flat?  I find them charming when they're on Graham Norton (forgot the italics there until I edited-though I'm sure Graham wouldn't have minded the double entendre), and they all seem lovely, but I'm not wowed by them in the way I'm supposed to be wowed by someone who has achieved this stature.  At what point is one of them going to cash in on the many chances they're given and just wow us completely?  I'm waiting...

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