Jungle Book

With only superhero movies or 15 certificate films as alternatives, my daughter and I opted for the Disney live action remake of Jungle Book. It was more interesting and engaging than either of us had anticipated. Firstly, the CGI is mostly convincing. This allows Disney to finally make the kind of live action movies they’ve always wanted to create. The previous versions relied on real footage of animals (Incredible Journey), which, let’s face it, you never liked as much as cartoons. The choice of voices for Jungle Book is fantastic – Bill Murray, Christopher Walken, Idris Elba and Scarlett Johansson all imbue their characters with authenticity (Walken is particularly brilliant).

It’s more or less a straight remake of the animated version, but with live action the narrative has more drive, rather than being a sequence of musical set pieces (the nods at the original music in this remake seem forced). It also racks up the peril when you have realistic, fire-scarred tigers or dark, brooding jungle. This film could be quite significant in two respects. Now that CGI and live action really works, Disney will be busily combing their back catalogue to remake all their classic animated films. A live action version of Pinocchio, complete with being swallowed by whales, boys transforming into donkeys and a freaking puppet that comes to life, would be terrifying. When these stories look real and are played relatively straight, we’ll appreciate how dark they really are. And now that the CGI/live action mix has been cracked, one wonders why studios will bother with animation at all?

High-Rise

Ben Wheatley’s adaptation of JG Ballard’s dystopian novel is all about the aesthetic. At the start of many of those found footage movies there is often some cheesy text along the lines of “this footage was found in the basement, and has been edited together to tell the story”. Although it’s not found footage, High-Rise looks like a rediscovered movie, you could imagine a similar opening sequence proclaiming “This movie was found in the vaults of controversial 1970s auteur Claus von Billow. Only now can it be shown.” Wheatley bravely opts to make it as if it had been filmed when the book came out, and he captures this superbly: British Leyland cars, paper, concrete, even an Ollie Reed look-a-like. This is no nostalgia “do you remember Spangles” trip though. Truffaut declared England an uncinematic country, and his verdict is borne out in many British films, but in this (and other Wheatley films) the mundane items take on the aesthetic of the film.

At the start of the film Hiddlestone’s character Robert Laing declares that “He found it difficult to believe they were not living in a future which had already taken place.” That is perhaps the only nod to the meta-narrative the audience must take on, after that it has the confidence not to explain or justify the past version of the future. Hiddlestone is a new resident in the brutalist, concrete, high rise block where “people don’t care what happens two floors above or below them.” You can’t get out of the lift without tripping over an allegory – the allocation of resources, privilege, social mobility, immigration. All these are handled adeptly without being clunky. Even the cinematic cousins of High-Rise seem to be of the era: Abigail’s Party, Rosemary’s Baby, Soylent Green.

But the film lacks any sense of foreboding, even when Hiddlestone meets the powerful Architect (who lives on the to floor, amid bright gardens and horses, in stark contrast to the browns and greys below), there is no real menace. You don’t get the feeling of Laing being pulled into a story that he can’t control, as we saw with such devastating effect in Wheatley’s Kill List. Ultimately it’s a case of aesthetic over narrative, but given the only aesthetic we have in movies currently is “dark superhero’ that is no mean achievement.

These Final Hours


This isn’t a current release (it’s 2013), but it’s my blog so I’ll allow myself the occasional one that I missed at the time.

Set in Australia after a meteor has wiped out Europe and a fire storm is heading their way, it can be viewed as an update of Shute’s On the Beach. In twelve hours everyone will be dead. The film follows shallow James as he leaves one girlfriend to head to an end of the world party with another. Along the way we see how quickly civilisation crumbles with suicide, murder, rape and brutality around every corner. He rescues Rose from two paedophiles and becomes her reluctant protector.

This is a downbeat, low-budget apocalypse movie. There is no last minute rescue mission, no ark or bunker. At the end a leader doesn’t make a stirring speech about how in their final hours humanity showed their finest qualities. Neither does it use the end of the world as a backdrop for philosophical musings between articulate characters. Things go very bad, very quickly for everyone – they do indeed escalate quickly. The attendees at the end of the world party are despicable and unhinged. All the people the pair meet on the road are like characters from Dante, it would be no surprise to come across an Ugolino devouring his children. Yet through all the anarchy and inhumanity we get a well played form of redemption. Without histrionics or sentimentality it manages to be genuinely moving.

This should be shown in a double bill with something like The Day After Tomorrow. Then go to the pub and discuss humanity.

The Invitation

Difficult to say anything about this film without big SPOILER, and it’s better to see it without any prior knowledge. So don’t read on if you think you might go and see it.

This film has Will (Logan Marshall-Green) going back to the house where his son died, for a dinner party reunion with his ex wife, Eden (Tammy Blanchard) and her new partner. Old friends are there plus some new acquaintances who we learn are part of some life-affirming cult Eden and her new man have joined while in Mexico. We know it’s not going to be a party where they break out Twister when the guests are shown a recruitment video of a woman dying, surrounded by the cult members.

I don’t like dinner parties, I really wouldn’t like a dinner party full of Hollywood, middle class types. If you added in to that new age culty dippy stuff, I would have made my excuses and left early. They didn’t even have a Wii for chrissakes. But for some reason the guests stay. There is some doubt cast as to whether Will’s suspicions are just his paranoia, or if there is something more sinister circling around. The film itself circles around, at times it feels like one of those talky, middle class angst films, or a dinner party play. In that sense, the action, when it comes, is a relief. Thank God it’s not just going to be Hollywood types being self-indulgent you think.

It is a film that has a lot of confidence. There are lots of close up shots of Marshall-Green’s face, looking confused and sad. It dips towards the horror genre a couple of times and then pulls away again. It is only in the last 15 minutes or so that it becomes the home invasion (well, home lock-in) thriller you suspected it was. I admire this, so it’s worth seeing for this alone. But I didn’t enjoy it as much as others have suggested. It didn’t quite do enough to subvert the genre and for this horror fan didn’t then do enough to fulfill it. As well as all those crazy gore-fest French home invasion movies (with Ils, Inside, and High Tension the French have pretty much cornered the gory home-invasion market as if there were European subsidies on the genre), I preferred You’re Next, which is a much less classy film, but gets on with the horror early. Maybe what this film is telling us is that a dinner party is the real horror.

Triple 9

The heist movie is a sub-genre that, like England in a World Cup, continually fails to deliver against even rather modest standards. It should be easy to make a decent heist movie, all I want is the basic elements: getting the gang together, planning the heist, a tense set-piece robbery sequence, the inevitable aftermath. I don’t want originality particularly, just well executed simple set of rules. And yet it is so hard to find a reasonable example of this genre and one is continually left disappointed. It’s akin to trying to get a decent cup of tea in the US – simple one would think, but oh so elusive. There is the embarrassed heist movie that feels being just a straightforward one is beneath it, such as Now You See Me. This is the equivalent of the tea latte – too much going on and just wrong. Then there are the flavours of heist – comedy (Tower Heist), action chase (The Heist), sci-fi (Inception). These are the peppermint, blackcurrant, flavoured teas of the heist world – fine if you like that sort of thing, but not really, you know, the pucker deal. Like coming across any halfway decent cup of tea, any heist movie that is not bad makes you overrate it (The Town).

Triple 9 isn’t really a heist movie. It probably wants to be. It wants to be lots of things – True Detective, Internal Affairs, Heat. It wants to be Heat so bad, it’s painful. It has promise, as it gets the cast mostly right – Ejiofor and Affleck in good leads, plus your favourite characters from your favourite TV shows. It also has Woody Harrelson with some dentures and Kate Winslet borrowing Gary Oldman’s Russian accent from Child 44. It starts ok with a robbery going wrong, which involves some corrupt cops and a link to Russian mafia. But then it never really does anything right. There is no sense of claustrophobia as we build towards the final job which involves killing a cop, no feeling of tension in the investigation of the corrupt police, no air of menace from the Russian overlords. It goes along, some people get shot, there are some overlapping storylines, you don’t really care, then it ends. It’s rather typical of the genre and of tea in America – it’s not served hot enough, too much milk is added and in the end it’s just a weak, disappointing solution.