High-Rise: Is Ben Wheatley the new Terry Gilliam?

The audience sits in stunned silence. On screen Tom Hiddleston, covered in blue paint, gives a pregnant Elisabeth Moss a seeing-to from behind. To which she describes him as ‘the best amenity in the building.’ So, er, what did I just see? Something many will probably be saying to themselves after coming out of Ben Wheatley’s latest offering, High-Rise.

For it is bonkers I say, unfiltered madness. And all the better for it. To backtrack a sec, if you’ve not studied up on Wheatley’s filmography, he’s not been a big name director for long. Indeed, many would still say he’s up and coming. His debut was the critically acclaimed Down Terrace in 2009, he then hit us with brutal horror Kill List, then darkly comic Sightseers, and utterly surreal offering A Field In England followed, and now this. Not a bad trajectory, all things considered.

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And his style – if you insist on pigeonholing – is perhaps a hybrid of Terry Gilliam and Terence Malick, but with added horror and insanity. So… perfect for adapting a dystopian J.G. Ballard novel then? This one focuses on the residents of a futuristic (yet set in the ’70s and to us now, quite retro) tower block, one which quickly descends into madness, hedonism, sex and violence; as the building suffers teething issues with power and food supplies and residents try to one-up each other when it comes to throwing debauched parties.

Still with me? We’re in Ben Wheatley territory here.

It’s worth pointing out that this sort of source material and auteur director is bound to attract many a skilled actor, which by golly it did, for Wheatley’s cast is, ahem, long and distinguished. We have Elizabeth Moss, Luke Evans, James Purefoy, Sienna Miller, Jeremy Irons and, of course, Tom Hiddleston, the latter who leads the show as the cool and enigmatic Dr Laing. New to the High-Rise he likes to hit the gym and sunbathe naked on his balcony. Which draws the eye of Sienna Miller’s character who, in turn, is pined after by Luke Evans’s character, who’s meant to be with Elisabeth Moss’s character. So it’s all a bit incestuous.

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Not that that is what it’s about, not really. But it provides a bit of a meandering story from which to hang these deranged individuals. Think Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas in a tower block with added mad Luke Evans. In short, it probably helps if you’re on something to watch it, as it veers back and forth between dark comedy and surrealism. Thanks, in no small part, to Wheatley’s director of photography, Laurie Rose, who has done a fantastic job.

Seldom has chaos looked quite so sumptuous.

So for audiences gorged to bursting on straight line films where you’re spoon-fed the plot (superhero flicks I’m looking at you), this is a harsh yet refreshing antidote and perhaps much-needed at this time of year. And in the way you’d pair a good wine with a nice meal, this film might make a nice double bill with In Bruges, or if you want slightly crazier, try Brazil. Or if happy to dine alone, go in armed with a dark sense of humour and an odd lens through which to view the world and you’re bound to get something out of it.

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Trailer park: Ultron, Tomorrowland, Crimson Peak and Aloha

To butcher Led Zeppelin lyrics a little, there’s a whole lotta love out there for a whole lotta films coming out in the next few months. Too many to go through in much depth, but here’s a few I’d like to briefly pick out for your consideration.

Avengers: Age of Ultron
Ok, not everyone is a fan of this current glut of superhero films, yet this one really does look impressive. And so it should, given the budget, cast and studio muscle. At one point or another it’s all going to implode, it has to. But for now, I’m on board.

Tomorrowland
This film started life as a theme park ride and whether it turns out to be a franchise behemoth a la Pirates of the Caribbean remains to be seen. What we do know is that Clooney is attached, and he rarely joins doomed projects, so it could be a blast.

Crimson Peak
It’s high time Guillermo del Toro got back to what he does best… inhibiting a niche genre perhaps only rivalled by Tim Burton. But where Burton comes at his stories from more of an oddball outsider perspective, del Toro opts for horror and macabre fantasy.

Aloha
Ah, the sweet and observant writer-director Cameron Crowe, who doesn’t love his films? His last beautiful little story was We Bought a Zoo in 2011, so he’s been out the game a while. This looks like a good return to form with a cracking cast to boot.

Rachel Weisz – her top 5 performances

A few years ago there was a survey of celebrity ladies in a men’s style magazine. To the question ‘Who would you most like to marry?’ men unanimously went for Weisz.

At the time she was single and responded saying ‘So I’m the most marriable but I’m not married?’ Perhaps because it took an alpha, Bond-esque male for her to say yes. Damn.

Anyway, my slightly convoluted point was to illustrate how the thinking man holds her in high regard. She’s one of those actresses that flies slightly under the radar at times. Whilst obviously stunningly beautiful she chooses her roles intelligently, mixing blockbusters with more considered, indie projects. Not every actress has the skill, star appeal and versatility to pick and choose roles in this manner.

I recently posted a list of a thinking man’s top actresses and shamefully didn’t include her. This post, I hope, will make amends. Below is my pick of her five best performances.

  1. The Deep Blue Sea (2011)
    You’ve got to hand it to Weisz, she’s maturing like a good single malt whisky (better than a fine wine in my opinion). Last year she gave us one of her finest performances to date as Hester, the lady at the centre of a love triangle, in an adaptation of Terrence Rattigan’s 1955 play.
  2. The Constant Gardener (2005)
    After a string of average action blockbusters, she fought to get this role and it’s clear she had desire to play the part with conviction. Her performance as Amnesty activist Tessa was accessible and compelling and the results won her an Oscar.
  3. The Fountain (2006)
    Choosing to work with up-and-coming indie Director and partner at the time, Darren Aranofsky, her performance is raw, affecting and heartfelt. I wonder – in an alternate universe – what she’d have been like playing Nina instead of Natalie Portman in Aranofsky’s Black Swan. Would she have bagged an Oscar as Portman did?
  4. The Brothers Bloom (2008)
    After success of indie noir thriller Brick, Director Rian Johnson made this film, echoing Wes Anderson’s style. It didn’t make much on release but gained a cult following afterwards. Weisz is great in it – quirky, bubbly and loveable. Again, her desire to work with up-and-coming Directors must have been a factor – Johnson followed this with critically acclaimed sci-fi Looper.
  5. Confidence (2003)
    Playing a budding con artist, she had an interesting chemistry with Ed Burns. Seductive, sultry, hard-to-read – the perfect foil to Ed Burns and his smug approach to conning. This film really reminds me of her timeless beauty – the perfect femme fatale in any era.

Honourable mentions should go to The Mummy (1999), About a Boy (2002) and The Bourne Legacy (2012). All considerably lifted by her presence. The Mummy, in particular, launched the action side of her career, putting her on the map for many people. Plus she gets added kudos for making Brendan Fraser bearable.

So there’s my list. If you’ve not seen all the ones in my top 5, seek them out and watch them soon, particularly if you’re a Weisz fan. If you’re not, you’ll soon become one I promise you. I’ll leave you with the photo-shoot that accompanied the survey in the men’s style magazine I mentioned at the start of this post. Enjoy!