Based on JG Ballard’s seminal novel of the same name, High-Rise (StudioCanal) follows Dr Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston, The Night Manager), who – reeling from a family tragedy – moves into a new apartment block two miles west of London, seeking solace in soulless anonymity.
Laing quickly comes to realise that the building’s residents have no intention of leaving him alone, from esteemed architect Anthony Royal (Jeremy Irons, The Borgias) in the penthouse suite, down to aggressive media professional Richard Wilder (an excellent turn from Luke Evans, The Hobbit) on the lower levels, and allows himself to be swept up by the increasingly debauched way of life that the high-rise has to offer. As the power supply dwindles, and the sleek building’s facilities start to crumble, Wilder spearheads an uprising against the privileged upper floor residents, and middle-class anarchy ensues. Laing, meanwhile, is smart enough to adapt to his new surroundings, and keeps a cool head as life inside the tower block collapses into bloody mayhem.
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As dark comedies go, High-Rise is pitch-black. Part dystopian farce, part seething psychosexual drama, it is not only a faithful interpretation of Ballard’s queasy vision, but also a cracking film in its own right. If there were any question marks regarding how Ben Wheatley would cope with a bigger budget – not to mention bigger expectations – he has answered in emphatic fashion. The 1970s backdrop (the book itself was published in 1975) gives the film a tremendous retro-futurist visual palette, and the director proves that his eye for striking imagery hasn’t deserted him, with grotesque details looming large.
High-Rise is Ben Wheatley’s best – and most ambitious – film to date by some distance, and I hope it encourages more filmmakers to investigate Ballard’s work, as his tremendous back catalogue is ripe for further scrutiny. Suffice to say, High-Rise is my favourite movie of the year to date. Sublime.
Set in 1872, Forsaken (Universal) tells the story of trigger-happy gun-for-hire John Henry Clayton (Kiefer Sutherland, 24), who returns to his hometown of Fowler, Wyoming, and vows to hang up his guns, in the hope of repairing his relationship with his estranged father, Reverend Clayton (Donald Sutherland, Don’t Look Now). However, he soon learns the town is in turmoil, as the railroad is poised to cut through town, and a criminal gang controlled by ruthless businessman James McCurdy (Brian Cox, Manhunter) is terrorizing ranchers who refuse to sell their land. Despite constant harassment, John Henry remains true to his vow to not wear his guns, ignoring the pleas of the townsfolk, who have increasingly turned away from Reverend Clayton’s preachings of non-violence, urging the younger man to help them stand up to McCurdy and his thugs.
Surprisingly, Forsaken – a long-gestating project conceived by Kiefer Sutherland and long-time 24 director Jon Cassar during their time working on the hit show – represents the first time that Sutherland and his father have shared the screen on film; while they have co-starred in the past, they have never shared a scene! After a torpid start, the film takes on an entertainingly bullet-strewn quality. The narrative holds few surprises, but the script is peppered with smart dialogue, and there are some decent bursts of grisly violence. Among the supporting cast, Michael Wincott (The Crow) is particularly good value as ‘Gentleman’ Dave Turner, a hired gun employed by McCurdy to keep Clayton at bay. Forsaken is slight, but likable, and the climactic showdown certainly makes up for the stodgy storytelling elsewhere.
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Originally aired back in 2010, The Booth At The End – The Complete Series 1 & 2 (Simply Media) is a bizarrely addictive drama about an apparently random group of strangers who each enter into a Faustian pact with a mysterious figure (Xander Berkeley, 24), who they believe possesses the power to grant them any wish – in exchange for which they must carry out a very specific task that he assigns them. The dramatic action is entirely conveyed through a series of conversations between ‘the Man’ and his clients, which all take place in the eponymous ‘booth at the end’ of an archetypal American diner. Xander Berkley is excellent as the deal-broker, and this deftly-scripted show becomes more engrossing the more you watch, and the scenarios slowly start to intertwine. A low-key gem.
Dicte: Crime Reporter – Season One (RLJ Entertainment), which is based on the books of author Elsebeth Egholm, focuses on the journalist Dicte Svendsen (Iben Hjejle, High Fidelity), who investigates crimes while dealing with a torrid family life. More of a soap opera with crime flourishes than a fully-fledged crime drama, Dicte is undermined by its title character’s scattered priorities and the jarring detours into wine-guzzling whimsy. Not that the content isn’t dark – the first storyline concerns a black-market surrogacy ring – but the cheesy theme tune and breezy pace felt ill-judged and derailed my interest in the show. Egholm was the creative force behind the less-than-successful Those Who Kill series, and Dicte seems likely to underwhelm UK audiences in the same way. That said, Those Who Kill spawned a US remake starring Chloe Sevigny, so maybe this show will have a similar crossover appeal. Either way, Nordic noir isn’t the force it once was!
Finally, Blood Orange (Metrodome) stars music legend Iggy Pop as Bill, a reclusive, half-blind retired rock-star, who lives in Ibiza with his young trophy wife Isabelle (Kacey Clarke, Grange Hill). When Isabelle’s step-son – from a previous marriage – appears, bearing a huge grudge, the blissful Mediterranean atmosphere is tainted. Factor in a hunky pool boy who is besotted with the sultry Isabelle, and you have a recipe for disaster. Unfortunately, disaster is the right word. Despite his grizzled charisma, Iggy’s limitations as an actor are left badly exposed by the wooden supporting cast, and the low-octane erotic thriller fizzles rather than sizzles. Without Iggy Pop this movie would be unwatchable. With Iggy Pop it is barely watchable. Underwhelming.