Sunday, June 27, 2021

The Stunt Man

Movie Name:
The Stunt Man
Year of Release: 1980
Director: Richard Rush
Starring: Peter O'Toole, Barbara Hershey, Steve Railsback, Allen Garfield, Alex Rocco, Sharon Ferrell, Philip Bruns, Charles Bail, John Garwood, Jim Hess
Genre: Action, Comedy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 4
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review:
Based on the novel by Paul Brodeur, Richard Rush's adaptation of "The Stunt Man" follows the story of Cameron, a Vietnam veteran who is wanted by the police for attempted murder. While running from the law, he finds himself lured by a film currently being shot, focused on the adventures of a charismatic central character during World War I. He makes the acquaintance of Eli Cross, the director of the film, who invites him to become a stunt man, following an accident which occurred with a previous team member (someone who coincidentally almost ran over Cameron). While Cameron is fearful that the iconic director is selling him out to the police, Eli persuades him of the contrary, and starts performing the stunts asked of him. He also starts a romantic relationship with Nina, the movie's leading lady. Nina, who had had a relationship with Eli, falls in love with Cameron, who in turn tells her the reason why the police is after him. As they set out a plan to escape the set, they're stopped in their tracks by the police, forcing Cameron to go through the last, and most dangerous stunt in the film, involving a car going off a bridge, and the driver escaping unharmed.
Richard Rush, who passed away recently, had a lengthy career which started in the 1960s. While not very prolific, "The Stunt Man" was the film which garnered him the most attention. While the film definitely holds a certain fascination, particularly with the film within the film aspect, and the larger than life persona perfectly embodied by Peter O'Toole, it's nonetheless a film that lacks much insight into any of the characters. While the narrative focuses on the slightly perpetually lost and bewildered Cameron, his character is never truly given much dimension, or for that matter, explanation as to why he seems to be constantly angry/maniacal at the world. Peter O'Toole's Eli Cross character, ends up being the salvaging aspect of the narrative, since there's this whole aspect of slightly over the top maestro he's embodying, all the with sole purpose of getting his vision executed perfectly. This however is simply not enough, and the film ends up having a surprisingly shallow view of the film making world, while also never really working as a suspense narrative involving the central anti-hero. Steve Railsback is also poorly cast in the film, since he embodies the character almost like a psychotic, on the verge of breakdown, runaway, with only a semblance of normalcy when he's with Barbara Hershey's Nina (who sadly has very little to do throughout the entire film). It's a film that tries to be many things simultaneously, but sadly can never find its tone. Worth watching for Peter O'Toole's performance.

Predator

Movie Name:
Predator
Year of Release: 1987
Director: John McTiernan
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers, Bill Duke, Jesse Ventura, Sonny Landham, Richard Chaves, Elpidia Carrillo, R.G. Armstrong, Shane Black, Kevin Peter Hall
Genre: Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review:
John McTiernan's career really started to pick up with "Predator", following his debut "Nomads", which came out in 1985. The film also started a successful franchise, which lasts to this day (with 3 subsequent sequels, and 2 crossovers with the "Alien" franchise). The film follows the story of Dutch, a resilient and resourceful mercenary, who leads a small tight team of former army veterans, who get called to special assignments that are seemingly impossible to be sorted out by everyone else. This time around they're presented with a special mission, courtesy of a former colleague of Dutch, a colonel by the name of Dillon. A helicopter has crashed own in one of the jungles of South America, and the army wants to retrieve survivors. While the mission seems rather straightforward, the team very soon discovers there's more to it than what was originally described. They also realize there's something else at play in those jungles, something that is hunting and killing them systematically. Dutch and his team have to figure out a way to outsmart this foe and survive.
What has always been so consistent on the most successful films from John McTiernan's career, has been his ability to subvert the clich├ęs of certain genres, and actually make films that while having some of the trappings of a particular genre, still manage to intelligently surpass it. That's the case with "Predator", which at a first glance, could have easily been dismissed as just another Rambo film, in yet another jungle, and yet, John McTiernan manages to avoid that path, also thanks to a clever script from Jim and John Thomas. The director also understands that in order to make the film resonate effectively with the audience, it has to be populated with characters, motivations, quirks, which give them a reasoning and motivation to exist in whatever scenario is being set in motion. And he manages to do so, with the group of characters being established just enough, to bluntly define the relationships between them all. Another smartly woven aspect to this film, is the fact that the villainous creature never truly shows its face until the last chapter of the film. Much like Ridley Scott's "Alien", the director cleverly keeps the menace hidden, building a progressive sense of trapping and lethal menace within the jungle, something that applies to all the characters. While Schwarzenegger is his habitual self, the supporting cast provides enough diversity to keep the film persistently engaging. The score from Alan Silvestri is solid, as is the cinematography from Donald McAlpine. Entertaining and always worth revisiting.

Saturday, June 26, 2021

120 Battements Par Minute/BPM

Movie Name:
120 Battements Par Minute/BPM
Year of Release: 2017
Director: Robin Campillo
Starring: Nahuel Perez Biscayart, Arnaud Valois, Adele Haenel, Antoine Reinartz, Felix Maritaud, Ariel Borenstein, Aloise Sauvage
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review:
After the well received "Eastern Boys", writer/director Robin Campillo took this feature, "120 Battements par minute/BPM" to the Cannes Film Festival of 2017, where it won the Grand Prize of the Jury, which was one of the many awards and accolades the film went on to collect. The film follows the story of a group of young men and women, who are part of the association ACT UP in Paris, during the early 1990s. As the story initially unfolds, the group is involved in protests and marches against the government and pharmaceutical organizations, both of which they collectively feel have done very little to help all the patients suffering with HIV. The narrative then shifts its focus to the particular story of Sean, one of the more vocal members of the group, who is HIV positive and gets involved with Nathan, who recently joined the group and is negative. As their relationship cements itself, Sean's health deteriorates, something that the group has witnessed with other members. As they collectively try to bring awareness to the challenges of living with such a virus, Nathan tries to take care of Sean, and help him through what they both know to be his last days.
Robin Campillo who has also had a successful career as a screenwriter, usually working with director Laurent Cantet (they collaborated on "Entre Les Murs/The Class" and "L'Atelier/The Workshop"), has managed to create with "BPM" a film that simultaneously captures the harrowing times of a particular segment of society, while also providing a deeply humane and heartfelt look at a relationship between two people who know theirs has a very dramatic expiration date. Campillo is successful at capturing the energy of the group of people involved in the movement itself, providing just enough insight to the diversity of the group itself and what makes everyone so different, encapsulating in the process, a snapshot of French society in the early 90s. As the narrative progresses, and the ties between these characters become more apparent, particularly as relationships strengthen, the film also documents the fears, longings, and desires of the group members, particularly Sean and Nathan who become a couple. It's a film made of big statements and the observation of a struggle that is very real, and smaller moments, which includes two people getting to know each other, and living with health challenges which threaten to destroy all they're building. It's humane, candid, and possessed of a great deal of honesty, which makes it all the more impactful. The cast is uniformly great, with Nahuel Perez Biscayart, Arnaud Valois and Antoine Reinartz all creating indelible performances. Great film always worth watching.

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Malice

Movie Name:
Malice
Year of Release: 1993
Director: Harold Becker
Starring: Bill Pullman, Nicole Kidman, Alec Baldwin, Bebe Neuwirth, Peter Gallagher, Anne Bancroft, Joseph Sommer, George C. Scott, Tobin Bell, Debrah Farentino, Gwyneth Paltrow, Diana Bellamy, Ann Cusack, Joshua Malina
Genre: Thriller, Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 4
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review:
Following the success of "Sea of Love", director Harold Becker tackled another thriller, this time around hailing from celebrated screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, with co-authorship from the wonderful Scott Frank (who wrote the screenplay for Barry Sonnenfeld's "Get Shorty", Steven Soderbergh's "Out of Sight" and Steven Spielberg's "Minority Report", to name but a few). The film follows the story of a young married couple, comprised of Andy and Tracy Safian, who live in the Boston area, and have recently bought a Victorian house they've been restoring. Andy is an associate Dean at a local college and Tracy is an art teacher to children. They've been trying to have kids without much success. The college where Andy teaches has been under scrutiny due to female students being attacked and raped. One of them has to go through surgery following a vicious attack, but thanks to the intervention of a renowned surgeon, Jed Hill, manages to recover. As it turns out, Jed has recently moved to the area, and is actually an old high school friend of Andy's. As he's looking for a place to stay, Andy suggests he rents out the top floor of their house, much against Tracy's approval. After another student gets killed, Andy goes to the police station to clear out his name, and is informed his wife is in the emergency ward. As it turns out, Jed finds himself in the unfortunate position of having to remove her ovaries, since one burst due to a cyst, while the other seems to be in rough condition as well. As Andy agrees to the procedure, turns out, that the second ovary was indeed healthy. As Tracy recovers, she wants Jed to pay for that brutal malpractice, while also moves away from Andy. As insurance intervenes to pay a settlement, Andy starts uncovering some details that prove that not all is what it seems.
"Malice" is an interesting film that followed a trend common to some of the films from the early 90s: young couples and family units are either placed in dangerous situations, or aren't all that they seem to be. That was the case with John Schlesinger's "Pacific Heights", Jonathan Kaplan's "Unlawful Entry", Alan Rudolph's "Mortal Thoughts", Wolfgang Petersen's "Shattered" and Alan J. Pakula's "Consenting Adults". The main issue with "Malice" is the fact that it tries very hard to have multiple plot threads going simultaneously, with the focus initially being the attacks in the campus, before it turns around, and then focuses on the elaborate scheme being deftly placed in execution by some of the other characters. The anchor to both these threads is Andy, whom for the most part is reacting to the events, and who is somewhat of a blank canvas (as are most of the characters in this film). There is a surprising lack of depth for all the characters here, and while that at times can be effective in a taut and straight to the point B-movie, this film has seemingly loftier ambitions, particularly as it tries to place a fair amount of twists and turns before the big revelations start unfolding. While the film has a tremendous cast, Nicole Kidman somehow feels miscast (Michelle Pfeiffer at the time would have been a better choice), whereas Alec Baldwin, Bill Pullman, Anne Bancroft and Peter Gallagher, bring the most memorable performances to the front (even if the roles aren't exactly that different from what is expected from them). The production team is excellent, from the cinematography of the iconic Gordon Willis, to the score from Jerry Goldsmith. While watchable, this film could have benefited from a far more focused narrative thread. 

Saturday, June 19, 2021

#Alive

Movie Name: #
Alive
Year of Release: 2020
Director: Il Cho
Starring: Yoo Ah-in, Park Shin-Hye, Jeon Bae-soo, Hyun-Wook Lee, Hye-Won Oh
Genre: Action, Horror, Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5
View Trailer

Synopsis and Review:
"#Alive" is the feature directorial debut for Il Cho, following a career as a second unit director and assistant director, and had its debut through Netflix. The film follows the story of Oh Joon-woo, a young man who is alone in the apartment for the weekend, since his parents and sister are out of the town. He spends most of his time playing video games, and has an extensive network of gaming friends. During the weekend, he suddenly notices people outside are acting strangely, attacking each other in broad day light. The situation quickly escalates, and he notices that everyone seems to be infected by a similar affliction, which prompts people to attack  each other. As he looks to the news to learn more, he is informed this virus spreads very fast, upon a simple bite, and those who attack are very violent. He decides to barricade himself, and as the days pass, and his supplies dwindle, he decides to eventually end his life. As he's about to do so, another survivor from a neighboring building sends light signals, and they eventually strike a friendship. As they both decide to figure out a way to ask for help, Kim dangerously comes to his building, where they face some unexpected challenges.
"#Alive" is another feature in zombie genre, but one decidedly on a smaller scale than for instance, Zack Snyder's "Army of the Dead". This time around, the virus spreads in Seoul, South Korea, but the action is mostly circumspect to the character of Oh Joon-woo, the young gamer with an active social presence, and also the apartment where he lives. As claustrophobic and terrifying as the scenario unfolding actually is, from a character perspective, both for Oh and Kim, we never know much about who they are, solely that they're survivors, and are somewhat resourceful (Kim more so). It's a film that is nonetheless efficient in its storytelling, with some questionable motivational aspects of the plot, but nonetheless with some interesting observations on the alienation of people in the times of social media, and how those same tools can eventually save those same people. Both Yoo Ah-in and in particular Park Shin-Hye, create compelling characters. While not tremendously memorable, it's still a watchable film. 

From Dusk Till Dawn

Movie Name:
From Dusk Till Dawn
Year of Release: 1996
Director: Robert Rodriguez
Starring: George Clooney, Harvey Keitel, Juliette Lewis, Quentin Tarantino, Cheech Marin, Salma Hayek, Danny Trejo, Tom Savini, Fred Williamson, Michael Parks, Brenda Hillhouse, John Saxon, Ernest Liu, Marc Lawrence, Kelly Preston
Genre: Action, Crime, Horror
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 3
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review:
After making a name for himself with the low budget "El Mariachi", which put his name on the map as a talent to witness, director Robert Rodriguez quickly followed on his career path with the remake of his first feature, which came in the shape of "Desperado". After the anthology film "Four Rooms", "From Dusk Till Dawn" cemented his collaboration with actor/writer/director Quentin Tarantino, who also wrote the screenplay and acted in the film, from an original story by visual effects veteran, Robert Kurtzman (who has also ventured into directing, with "Wishmaster" to name one of a few). The film follows the story of siblings Seth and Richard Gecko, both of whom are on the run from the law, in the aftermath of a particularly bloody bank heist. As they head to Mexico, they take as hostages a former preacher by the name of Jacob Fuller, who is driving around the country with his two teenage kids, following a traumatic death of his wife. As they reach their point of destination, a colorful bar by the name of Titty Twister, and just as everyone seems to be getting ready to go on their own directions, things get even more challenging for the runaway criminals and their hostages.
Robert Rodriguez's efficient and economical directing style is adequate for this film, where for the most part the characters are briefly characterized and ultimately never gain much dimension to them. There's definitely a B-movie here, only with enough budget and talent to elevate the output. The film starts strongly, even if a bit unevenly, with the two brothers on the run having some traces of Oliver Stone's "Natural Born Killers", but as the narrative develops, and the hostages come into play, the extra dimension those characters need, is never fully expanded upon. Quentin Tarantino's early career's trademark are quite on display in the first part of the film, however he never truly expands much on the supporting characters, as he's been able to do in his subsequent features. Kate and Scott Fuller for instance, are never more than just the kids of the former preacher, the same way the former preacher doesn't have much of a narrative thread to himself. By the time the third chapter arrives, with the action focusing on the Mexican bar, the film and narrative loses much of its strength, becoming almost like a version of "Buffy The Vampire Slayer", only with more slapstick and with a series of cameos from well known actors from B-films of the 1970s. Overall it's a disjointed experience, with some of Tarantino's influences, and Rodriguez's own perspective clashing more than gelling. The talented cast is also sadly wasted, particularly the always wonderful Juliette Lewis, the same going for the excellent Harvey Keitel. Overall a waste of talent. 

Sunday, June 13, 2021

I Care A Lot

Movie Name:
I Care A Lot
Year of Release: 2020
Director: J Blakeson
Starring: Rosamund Pike, Peter Dinklage, Eiza Gonzalez, Dianne Wiest, Chris Messina, Alicia Witt, Damian Young, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Nicholas Logan, Celeste Oliva
Genre: Thriller, Comedy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 3
View Trailer

Synopsis and Review:
Another film to have premiered at the Toronto Film Festival of 2020, which has seen the light of day through Netflix in 2021. The film, written and directed by J Blakeson, follows his previous directorial effort, "The 5th Wave", which failed to create much engagement with both audiences and critics. The film focuses on the story of Marla Grayson, a grifter who has set up a very intricate process of targeting elderly people, whom she gets to take under her legal guardian wing, upon which she disposes of their assets, making a sizable chunk of money while at it. Of course, while she's milking the dividends with her partner in crime and life, Fran, those individuals slowly waste away in care facilities which she pays off, in order to control those same patients. Through a doctor in her network, she targets another woman in her early 70s, still very self sufficient, Jennifer Peterson. After corralling Jennifer, and dropping her off at the facility center, things start taking a darker turn, since Jennifer isn't actually who she seems to be, and her son, who has ties to the criminal underground re-surfaces, putting Marla's operation in danger. It will take all her resourcefulness and cunningness to overcome the challenges that are thrown her way.
This is a film that is an interesting mix of influences, including obviously David Fincher's "Gone Girl", but also Stephen Frears's "The Grifters", to name but a few. However, and unlike those aforementioned films, it fails to registers quite as successfully since once again, most of the characters on this film fail to have much dimension, or for that matter motivation, aside of course from getting money. It's a film where there's a desperate attempt to come across as intelligently built and cunning, particularly when it comes to Marla Grayson's character, but there are leaps of believability that are taken, that undermine how effective the film actually starts. As despicable and profoundly repulsive as the narrative is, the film originally holds some attention, since it analytically captures the process taken by Marla and her cohorts and making their operation works. However and instead of giving glimpses of the characters, the film takes a detour with the introduction of the criminal underground, which sadly registers more as slapstick, and never truly menacing or for that matter lethal. By the time the third act comes along, the film feels more like a soap opera, with a series of surreal events, all intending to showcase Marla's cunningness and resourcefulness. Unlike David Fincher's "Gone Girl", where Rosamund Pike brought Amy to life, with dimension, carnality, and intelligence, Marla however feels like a somewhat basic interpretation of what a smart, complex and resourceful woman is all about. The most interesting character in the film is of course Dianne Weist, who with her weary look and energy, manages to convey more rage, incredulity and a slow burn intensity than any of the other characters. For all that it sets out to comment and be critical of, it's a film that lacks dimension and heart, even if it is indeed a cynical one. Unbalanced and ultimately not very interesting.

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It

Movie Name:
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It
Year of Release: 2021
Director: Michael Chaves
Starring: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Ruairi O'Connor, Sarah Catherine Hook, Julian Hilliard, John Noble, Eugenie Bondurant, Shannon Kook, Ronnie Gene Blevins
Genre: Horror, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 4
View Trailer

Synopsis and Review:
"The Conjuring" series, which director James Wan and writers Chad Hayes and Carey W. Hayes started in 2013, with a modest budget, to much commercial success and fairly solid reviews, continues its path, this time around with Wan in the capacity of writer/producer, and the Hayes siblings no longer involved. The direction of the film fell to Michael Chaves, who has worked with James Wan's production company Atomic Monster Productions, in the 2019 released feature "The Curse of La Llorona". This time around the film follows another case being tackled by Ed and Lorraine Warren, who are called in to help with an exorcism. As the case isn't going very well, Ed actually has a heart attack during the intervention, and though the original victim of the case is seemingly saved, Ed witnesses the entity taking ownership of someone else. As days go by, the young man who is possessed ends up killing someone, upon which he's imprisoned, potentially facing the death sentence. The Warrens discuss with the defense attorney that they believe Arne, the young man who is at the center of the whole ordeal, is indeed possessed. As they set out to prove their case, and try to save Arne, they realize that the house, and those individuals in particular are part of a very sinister plan.
What has always been so interesting about "The Conjuring" films, in particular the first one, has always been the fact that James Wan manages to not only create credible scenarios and situations, but just as importantly, he allows for the characters in these stories to be developed, even if ever so briefly. Ed and Lorraine, though based in life persons, and of course fictionalized by the writers and the actors, have become this realized interpretation of a supportive couple, who share a joint history, which gives them strength, particularly as they go through challenging cases and situations. In the first film in particular, James Wan managed to also develop just enough of the victim's backstory, to create a true sense of agony and despair as events spiraled out of control. In this third film, the nuance that was showcased in the first films, starts to dissipate, as the story focuses more on the discovery of what lies beneath the grotesque crime which took place, and not much emphasis is placed on the characters themselves. The film ends up revolving more around the setting up of the dreaded environment of terror and menace, and less on actual characters to populate it, and actually emote something besides disbelief or fear. Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson are terrific as usual, but the supporting cast has nothing much to do, including the always commanding John Noble, who is sadly wasted in a minor role. The cinematography from Michael Burgess is at times almost too dark, but still effective, while the score of Joseph Bishara is perfectly on point, as is the production design from Jennifer Spence. While not as memorable or entertaining as the previous entries in the series, it's still worth watching, if anything for the central duo of performances. 

Saturday, June 12, 2021

The Player

Movie Name:
The Player
Year of Release: 1992
Director: Robert Altman
Starring: Tim Robbins, Greta Scacchi, Fred Ward, Whoopi Goldberg, Peter Gallagher, Cynthia Stevenson, Brion James, Dean Stockwell, Richard E. Grant, Sydney Pollack, Vincent D'Onofrio, Lyle Lovett, Dina Merrill, Angela Hall, Leah Ayres
Genre: Comedy, Crime
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review:
After the 80s, where he spent much of that decade recovering from the debacle which was his version of "Popeye", the 90s started off quite strongly for director Robert Altman in the form of "The Player". The film which premiered commercially and at the Cannes film festival in May of 1992, went on to achieve great critical success and was a comeback for the director, who quickly followed with the equally well received "Short Cuts". "The Player" which is based on the novel by Michael Tolkin, follows the story of Griffin Mill, a Hollywood Executive, responsible for hearing pitches from writers, and deciding on their quality, and their potential to actually move forward into development. His current job is being somewhat threatened by a new addition to the studio, the energetic and with dubious taste, Larry Levy. He's also receiving threatening postcards, which he attributes to a disgruntled writer whom he refused. He assumes that writer to be David Kahane, and following an attempt to offer him a job in the hopes of dissuading him to stop the death threats, that conversation goes nowhere and they get involved in a fight. The brawl sadly goes too far and Mill ends up killing Kahane. He tries to disguise the situation as a robbery, and quickly flees the scene. However the menacing postcards continue, and the police eventually trace the events back to him, wanting to know of his relationship with Kahane, and what happened that evening.
"The Player" is a satire focused on Hollywood, aiming to demonstrate how self centered and cold hearted  its universe actually is, particularly when it comes to its executives and key players. It's also a somewhat cynical view of how the dream factory that Hollywood is supposed to be, actually disguises an ego driven industry, where people literally get away with anything, including murder. The central character, the young and ambitious Hollywood executive, who knows just enough of film history to essentially get by and also green-light films, is a perfect embodiment of what the film sets out to criticize. Self absorption, somewhat unscrupulous, and without any vestiges of a conscience. As he briefly dabbles with paranoia due to the death threats, and then the murder of the wrong culprit, he conveniently sidesteps any moral niceties he may have had , and moves on with his life. It's a film that has its moments, and where the biting satire lives (and the numerous cameos are also an illustration of the vapidness of the industry), but also one where most of the characters are thinly characterized, where all these Hollywood archetypes don't actually gain much dimension (the always interesting Cynthia Stevenson and Whoopi Goldberg don't get much to do). The cast is uniformly solid, led by Tim Robbins, with great support from Fred Ward, Peter Gallagher, Cynthia Stevenson, Whoopi Goldberg, Dean Stockwell and Richard E. Grant. The score from Thomas Newman is impeccable, as is the production design from Stephen Altman and Geraldine Peroni. Entertaining and worth watching.

Sunday, June 6, 2021

High-Rise

Movie Name:
High-Rise
Year of Release: 2015
Director: Ben Wheatley
Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Miller, Luke Evans, Elisabeth Moss, James Purefoy, Keeley Hawes, Peter Ferdinando, Sienna Guillory, Reece Shearsmith, Enzo Cilenti, Stacy Martin, Tony Way, Bill Paterson, Neil Maskell, Alexandra Weaver, Louis Suc
Genre: Drama, Sci-Fi
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review:
The prolific Ben Wheatley tackled this adaptation of the J.G. Ballard book, which had been in development for quite some time, after making a name for himself with the films "Sight Seers" and "A Field in England". The film, which takes place in the 70s, focuses on the story of Dr. Robert Laing, whom we are firstly introduced to as he's moving into a modern and slickly designed towering building, designed by the reclusive Anthony Royal. The building is fairly self sufficient, containing a gym, supermarket, a pool and even a primary school. It's also organized by somewhat of a class system, with the more affluent individuals on the top floors, and the more modest families on the bottom. As Robert gets to know other people in the building, he strikes an amorous relationship with a single mother by the name of Charlotte, while striking a friendship with documentary film maker Richard and his wife, Helen, who is pregnant. As Laing meets Royal in one of his parties, he also starts noticing there is a distinct class clash occurring in the building. Also the building itself, has operational issues, with garbage disposal that doesn't work. As tensions start to increase, and more intimate relationships between some of the tenants are revealed, Laing's grip on reality also starts to fade. 
Interestingly enough, J. G. Ballard has had two great films adapted from his books, the first being Steven Spielberg's "Empire of the Sun", and secondly David Cronenberg's "Crash". "High Rise" at times almost shares some storytelling DNA in its adaptation, but unlike Cronenberg's view of the novel, this film fails to commit to what is actually trying to suggest. Cronenberg smartly distilled the essence of the novel and added his own point of view to it, particularly when it comes to the understanding of bodies, sexuality and ever changing nature of humans. Ben Wheatley manages to start the narrative quite strongly, setting up the characters and the environment, but as the cracks in that utopian building start to emerge, and the clash between classes and personalities erupts, the film somehow loses its bite and conviction. Just as the lead character somehow loses grip on sanity and himself, so does the film lose momentum to go all in, failing to depict not only the crumble of the frail social dynamics of the building, but also the relationships that exist between the characters. Casting wise, the film features a great performance from the always superb Jeremy Irons, with solid contributions from the underrated Luke Evans, Elisabeth Moss, James Purefoy and Peter Ferdinando. The cinematography from Laurie Rose is excellent, as is the production design from Mark Tildesley and score from the fantastic Clint Mansell. While not a terrible film, it's somewhat of a missed opportunity with all this talent available. 

Croupier

Movie Name:
Croupier
Year of Release: 1998
Director: Mike Hodges
Starring: Clive Owen, Alex Kingston, Gina McKee, Kate Hardie, Paul Reynolds, Nicholas Ball, Alexander Morton, Ciro de Chiara, Rhona Mitra, James Clyde
Genre: Drama, Horror
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review:
Veteran director Mike Hodges didn't have a very prolific output during the 90s, but "Croupier" still hails as one of the most interesting films on his resume, and a great gem which made its debut in the UK in 1999 and in the US in April of 2000. The film follows the story of Jack Manfred, a dashing young writer, who is having a hard time getting his book published. Originally from South Africa, he now lives in London with his girlfriend, and is struggling to make ends meet. Following a call from his father, who is somewhat of a grifter, he decides to take a job in a casino as a croupier. While he intends to just use the job as a means to get some money, it eventually draws him in, and he becomes invested in his position, eventually getting praise from his manager. The nightlife and his investment in it, eventually render him in trouble with his girlfriend. He also draws the attention of a client, something that is strictly forbidden as far as Casino rules are concerned. The woman by the name of Jani, who turns out, as also from South Africa, eventually becomes close, and discusses with him a planned heist to the Casino that is about to take place. She offers him an opportunity to be something of an inside man, and in the process make some easy money. As events unravel, and some of his personal relationships take a darker turn, Jack manages to persevere and find success.
Mike Hodges is very well known for two iconic films, "Get Carter" and the divisive "Flash Gordon". "Croupier" closely aligns itself with his gangster/thriller "Get Carter", and in this particular case, focuses on the narrative thread that is built around the central character, the suave and dashing Jack, who is also the narrator of the events for the audience. It works quite well, since the film is succinct in its character definition, and is possessed of a rhythm which makes it keep going consistently and always quite entertainingly so. While the whole premise of the heist isn't the most original one, that's also not what's so enticing about the narrative: that's essentially Jack's journey, witnessing how he navigates the murky waters of gambling, society and his own personal ambitions, of being a published and well known author. Clive Owen is perfectly cast in the role, since he manages to navigate the thin line between calculating and cold behavior, all the while also having a sincerity that can be disarming. The supporting cast is equally strong, particularly the always reliable Gina McKee, Alex Kingston and Paul Reynolds. Entertaining and always worth watching.

Cargo

Movie Name:
Cargo
Year of Release: 2017
Director: Ben Howling, Yolanda Ramke
Starring: Martin Freeman, Simone Landers, Susie Porter, Anthony Hayes, Caren Pistorius, David Gulpilil, Cliff Coulthard, Kris McQuade
Genre: Drama, Horror
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6
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Synopsis and Review:
Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke originally created "Cargo" as a short feature in 2013, and finally got a chance to expand it to a full feature length endeavor in 2017, with the film making its debut across a few film festivals (including Tribeca and the London Film Festival), before being released widely through Netflix. The film follows the story of Andy, at a time when an epidemic is spreading all over Australia, turning people into zombies. We originally encounter Andy, his wife Kay and their baby Rosie, unharmed, and planning an escape. That is until Kay is attacked and infected. Andy takes off with his family in the direction of the nearest hospital, in the hopes of still saving his wife, preventing the virus of transforming her. On their path, they suffer an accident, which prevents them from reaching help, with Kay finally becoming a zombie, and actually attacking Andy, and infecting him as well. Andy decides to carry Rosie, and find survivors who can protect her, since he knows he only has a few days left before the virus takes over. On that journey he finds the Vic, a rather unsavory character, and Thoomi, a young girl who is on a journey of her own, and who eventually becomes a welcomed ally. 
The zombie genre is always ripe for exploration, since it essentially allows for film makers to showcase how humanity deals with challenges that are both monumental and seemingly impossible to overcome. If Zack Snyder's "Army of the Dead" went for a hollow and adventurous take on the genre, "Cargo" goes in the opposite direction. The film aims and to a certain is successful in depicting the lengths a father goes to protect his family, and later on, his young daughter, at a time when it seems life is being eclipsed from everywhere. It's a testament to the film makers and to Martin Freeman's capabilities, that Andy is portrayed very much like an every day person, just attempting to hold on to a sense of normalcy, protecting his loved ones, and remain with whatever integrity and respect for human life as it is possible to do in the context that he finds himself in. The journey he embarks on is a cleverly portrayed one, even if the supporting characters sadly don't get much dimension to them, particularly the young Thoomi, who is desperately holding on to the memory of who her father was (we get a few flashbacks of their life prior to his infection, but not much reasoning for her desperate attachment). The film is nonetheless compelling, and features a solid performance from Martin Freeman, with apt support from Simone Landers, Anthony Hayes and Caren Pistorius. The cinematography from the great Geoffrey Simpson is impeccable, as is the production design from Josephine Ford. Worth watching.