⋆⋆½ out of four stars
Rated: R for violence, disturbing images, strong sexual content/graphic nudity, language and some drug use.
The late English novelist J.G. Ballard, the George Orwell of postmodern science fiction, was fascinated by the dystopian collision of modern technology and human vulnerability. His 1975 novel “High-Rise” explored a sky-high city undergoing social collapse. Each hulking concrete floor was the habitat for a distinct class, rising from proletarian, to elites, up to the architect literally ruling the roost from the penthouse. On the premium levels, balconies offer broad views to residents willing to lean forward out of balance.
Ben Wheatley’s adaptation of the fable casts Tom Hiddleston as a cranial physician newly moved onto the 25th floor, where he is disdained from above, resented below. He explores the building’s huge indoor swimming pool, gym, vast grocery and floor-wide weekend drug parties calmly at first. He arrives in the building with the cucumber-cool nonchalance of a first-class passenger on the Titanic’s maiden voyage, but charming, cultured, disciplined skull-slicing doctors can have their barbaric sides, too. Just ask Mr. Hyde.
Jeremy Irons plays the godlike designer of the building, hosting the upper crust’s crowded costume parties as nasty, Versailles nobility. There are plenty of sadistic boors in the working class, as well, and glitches that make the building a claustrophobic 24-hour migraine. After a couple of months, this luxury laboratory for social progress descends into a decadent, slow-mo, adults gone wild, rape-filled version of “Lord of the Flies.”
The film nails the mid-’70s love/hate aesthetic of hip little cars, bell-bottoms and Abba hits, twisting each to sulfuric ugliness. Portishead’s cover of “SOS” turns it from Swedish disco pop to a sonic nightmare. Still more unsettling are the halls strewn with garbage bags, broken bottles, graffiti, excrement and the blood of the weak. It’s an interesting experiment in bemused, ironic entropy, provided you can suspend disbelief start to finish and keep your last meal in your abdomen.
⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars
Unrated: In subtitled Italian and French.
Stunning European locations where two women generations apart deal with their contentious relationship and themselves. That’s the art-cinema theme of the moment for French film icon Juliette Binoche. She and Kristin Stewart confronted that premise in the Swiss Alps during last year’s ambitious drama “Clouds of Sils Maria” playing a veteran actress and a young newcomer threatening her career. She faces a different moody midlife crisis Sicilian-style in “L’Attesa.” Binoche plays a single mother living with her son’s naive young lover (Lou de Laage) at her Mediterranean villa, spending time with her as they await his arrival. It’s not happening soon. The film’s name is Italian for “the wait,” and Binoche’s character is in no rush to tell the girl what is causing her boy’s absence. The opening shot, suggesting the tragic image of the Virgin Mary holding her lifeless son’s body in her arms, explains her silence. A complicated drama with many unanswered mysteries, director Piero Messina’s film is visually breathtaking, turning simple dinner scenes or stained glass windows into high art. The story is minimal, but the imagery — and the hypnotic Binoche — are masterful.