High Rise

Based on J. G. Ballard novel of the same name, High-Rise, observes life for the residents of a high tower run out of control.

Newport Beach Film Festival – 2016
Amy Jump
Director: Ben Wheatley
Cast: Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Miller, Elisabeth Moss

High Rise, I think, is an allegory about class warfare. It’s a very strange movie, and I’ll describe it as best as I can. Dr. Robert Liang (Tom Hiddleston) is a upper-middle class doctor that moves into a futuristic high rise building. The building is an essentially a self-contained country. The rich and affluent live on the higher floors while the poor live on the lower floors. Living on the penthouse level is the architect of the building, Royal (Jeremy Irons), who designed the entire project.

The beginning of the movie, everyone starts moving into their individual apartments. The high rise has its own market, workout room and every amenity imaginable. But quickly things start to fall apart. Liang first attends a party by the lower middle-class residents. Not to be outdone, the rich decide to throw an even better party.

As the movie progresses, documenting a three-month period of time, the society within the high-rise begins to deteriorate. Food becomes scarce, the electricity and water fail and garbage begins to pile up. The upper-class bunker into their floor and the lower class wonder why nothing is improving. Or at least, that’s what I think is happening.

I am absolutely baffled by this movie. Clearly the film is some kind of statement about class warfare, but I can’t really tell you what that statement is. It is based on a popular novel that I have not read, but I’m sure many people have. I should have to read a book to understand a movie.

The main problem a film has when it’s hard to follow. It gets boring fast. I start looking at the clock. I keep hoping this act is the last act. But the end doesn’t come, and I am forced to endure more torture.

The movie is littered with strange and odd images. Visually, the high-rise appears as a sleek modern building of today, but over time, the building deteriorates. Halls are littered with trash and the ungodly. Even food becomes moldy, and water becomes cloudy.

The strange thing is I hear laughter, and I see people who are enjoying this movie. I begin to wonder, am I just too stupid to enjoy this film? Then paranoia sets in, and I wonder if the movie is making fun of me.

I love Tom Hiddleston, and I am a fan of Jeremy Irons. They are good actors and light up the screen. It was probably the only thing that helped me get to the finish line that is the ending of this movie.

I’ll just come out and say it. I didn’t get this movie, and if there was a point or commentary about life and class warfare, it was lost.

4 out of 10 stars

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Realizing they are falling behind, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is the latest entry from Warner Brothers to cash in on their share of superhero dollars. Is this a cash grab or a serious attempt to be a real player in the superhero genre?

Release Date: March 25, 2016
Writer: David Goyer
Director: Zach Snyder
Cast: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Diane Lane, Gal Gadot

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is a decent action movie. Unfortunately, it is loaded is popular DC comic book characters and has Marvel Studios setting a high standard for comic book movies. The movie delivers on its title. The all-powerful Superman battles the street-smart vigilante Batman and the battle itself is fun to watch.

The problem is everything leading up to this moment was thrown at us in rapid-fire succession and not developed well. Before we go into the problem, I’ll say what was good about the movie is Ben Affleck’s Batman was not bad, and the action/fights are good.

The main problem with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is its need to present a lot of information and only having two and a half hours to present this information. Sadly, the movie needs another two hours to tell its story and no one wants to sit through that.

The movie starting strong with the final battle between Superman and General Zod but seen through the eyes of Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck). Bruce for some reason is in Metropolis, and he is trying to get to some guy trapped in building owned by Wayne Enterprises. Of course, this building is destroyed as collateral damage from the aforementioned fight and the guy, who we only know as Wayne’s good friend perishes. On top of that, we are once again treated to flashback memories of the death of Bruce Wayne’s parents. Already that is a lot.

Next, we jump to Lois Lane (Amy Adams) in the middle east attempting to get an interview with some alleged terrorists. This moment serves only to reintroduce Lois as the main character and her relationship with her protective lover, Superman (Henry Cavill). Later, there is a discussion with Lois and Superman in a bathtub, which is super-hot. Other than that, Lois as a character serves only to expose ultimately Lex Luther as the mastermind of the tragic events that are about to happen.

The next storyline follows the newly discovered Kryptonite. Lex (Jesse Eisenberg) needs help from Congress, led by Senator Finch (Holly Hunter), to import the substance to his lab in the U.S. so it can be used as a weapon against Superman. The twist occurs when the substance is stolen by Batman so that it can be used as a weapon against Superman.

Let us now return to Batman’s story. Haunted again, by the death of his parents, Batman sees the only salvation the world has is the death of Superman. Of course, Batman is conflicted. He also doesn’t trust Lex. Batman hacks into the phone of Lex’s henchman to discover the identity of four “meta-humans” who may be able to help defeat Superman.

Back to Lex, who is upset about his stolen Kryptonite, manages to blame Superman for another national tragedy, figures a way to instigate a fight between Superman and Batman and finally discovers all of Superman’s secret by accessing Zod’s ship from the first movie.

Now to Superman, who only wants to bring peace to his new home and protect his girlfriend. Look, this movie suffers from too much plot. There is so much plot going on that every strand of the plot is not serviced adequately leaving it weak and full of holes.

Another problem, secondary characters only serve to move story along. Lois Lane exists to slowly reveal the mystery of Lex and the Kryptonite and Lex Luther is the vehicle the film uses the pit Superman and Batman against one another and to ultimately unite them together. You could have interchanged Lex with other DC villains and still told the same story.

Lastly, the introduction of the Justice League is weak and underwhelming. As seen in the trailers, Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) is introduced late into the action. Very little is said about her and she kicks ass, which is what we want, but clearly anything related to the Justice League feels last minute and serves only to create excitement about the Justice League movie.

It’s hard not to feel like Batman v Superman is a movie that needed to exist because Warner Brother’s was falling behind in the superhero race. The difference is that Marvel built its universe over the course of 10 years and Warner Brothers started two years ago with Man of Steel.

The tone of Batman v Superman is dark and moody. There is very little humor in the film. I don’t necessarily have a problem with this. One, it sets itself up as a different kind of filmmaking compared to Marvel. Two, it’s borrowing from brooding tones of the Dark Knight. My only problem is that Superman has always been a character of hope and justice. His storyline, beginning with Man of Steel, as the misunderstood alien just isn’t striking the right tone for Superman.

There you have it. A movie with both Batman and Superman, an introduction to Wonder Woman and soon the Justice League. That’s the best thing you could say about Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

6 out of 10 stars

Jungle Book

In the 2016 Disney adaptation of Jungle Book, director Jon Favreau brings stunning beauty and realism to the 1967 classic.

Release Date: April 15, 2016
Writer: Justin Marks
Director: Jon Favreau
Cast: Neel Sethi, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson, Christopher Walken

Jungle Book is more a remake of the classic animated feature rather than the writings of Rudyard Kipling. What a writer, like Justin Marks, does is take the animated feature and fill in the missing gaps of story logic and adds more meat to the story.

For example, in the animated feature Shir Khan is a villain from a far off place. He comes to the jungle to kill Mowgli. In this film, the jungle is experiencing an extreme drought and the only source of water is the peace rock. As long as the peace rock exists and the water is scare, no animal will kill another around the watering hole. Shir Khan (Idris Elba) uses this location to demonstrate his fierceness and threaten all the animal kingdom not to allow a human to live amongst them.

As the story of the Jungle Book unfolds, you can’t help but think, that make sense and so does that. Why do the wolves take in Mowgli (Neel Sethi) as their cub? Why are they so willing to defend him? How did Mowgli come to the jungle in the first place? It is clear that story and story logic are important to the overall story.

Where to movie falls short of perfection is the moment it becomes a musical. I loved the original songs from the Sherman Brothers, but half way through the film, no one sings and as viewers we’re immersed in the world and story of the Jungle Book. The first song, Bare Necessities, I can forgive. Baloo (Bill Murray) and Mowgli recreated the iconic lazy river journey and in a moment of peace, Baloo hums Bare Necessities. This is a nice homage to the original. But when Mowgli is face-to-face with King Louie (Christopher Walken), the encounter becomes an elaborate musical number. It literally takes you out of the movie and feels out of place. They should have kept the story dramatic.

The Jungle Book is also a visually-stunning movie. The sets feel real as if they leap off the animation cells of the original. There have been numerous talking animal movies in the past, and Jungle Book feels the most real. Animal mouth movements are real for that specific species as well as emotions from facial expressions.

The Jungle Book is also available in 3-D and I have talked a lot about how 3-D is a waste of money and should be avoided. The Jungle Book is that rare exception. Objects are crisp and clean. This is especially true for the ending credits. Individual scenes from the movie are presented as a pop-up book. Movies watched in 3-D should have added value, because you pay extra for it. Only in The Jungle Book does the 3-D truly immerse you in the landscape of the story.

The real star of the movie is Neel Sethi as Mowgli. The way a film is made should have nothing to do with how a movie is reviewed critically, but this kid is literally the entire movie. Sethi is perfect in the role and comes across as a real boy, who is a child of the Jungle. I can not think of many children who can pull off not only being in every scene of the film but also act entirely on a sound stage with green screen and also have to act with imaginary actors. Sethi was the solid choice of the film and he along made it work.

8 out of 10 stars

10 Cloverfield Lane

It’s not a sequel nor is it a reboot. In 2010, J.J. Abrams produced the movie, Cloverfield. It was about an alien attack on America. Is it possible that his new movie 10 Cloverfield Lane is attached somehow to the original? 10 Cloverfield Lane is a mystery, thriller story.

Release Date: March 11, 2016
Writer: Josh Campbell, Matthew Stuecken, Damien Chazelle
Director: Dan Trachtenberg
Cast: John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Gallagher Jr.

10 Cloverfield Lane is one of those movies that is best no talked (or written) about in depth. The less you know that better. The movie works best as a mysterious story that gets better as it unfolds. At the same time, it reduces its repeat value.

After getting into an accident, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) awakens in an underground bomb shelter. Her wounds have been bandaged by the mysterious Norman (John Goodman). Also in the bunker is Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), Norman’s neighbor who helped build the bunker. Michelle is told that the earth has come under an attack and condition above ground are toxic.

The film is about the mysterious circumstances. Is Norman telling the truth about the earth? Is he really just trying to be a hospitable host? Who is Emmett and why does he trust Norman?

The film is essentially told from Michelle’s point of view. She knows nothing of her situation and her predicament. Information is slowly revealed and the pieces of the puzzle are assembled at the right time and the right pace. What makes this a good thriller is that you are along for the ride from beginning to end and you are on the edge of your seat.

John Goodman is fantastic as Norman. You never really trust him, but he somehow manages to come off as authentic. John Gallagher Jr. brings the just needed levity in an incredibly tense situation. It will keep you guessing from beginning to end. As the heroine, Michelle, Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays the average person and you, as the viewer, easily slip into her role. You can’t help but wonder what you would do next and who do you really trust. Then to finally ask yourself, what the hell is going on.

10 Cloverfield Lane is a mystery, thriller from writers Josh Campbell, Matthew Stuecken, and Damien Chazelle. Director Dan Trachtenberg sets the right tone and pacing to keep the mystery alive considering most of the movie takes placed in a small confined space.

7 out of 10