The film of 2016 will be set in a block of flats.

The past year of two thousand and fifteen has been one of fantastic range in the cinematic landscape; we’ve had record-breaking franchise renewals, animation packed with emotion, and the inevitable slew of mediocre cash-grabs. I’m going to allow some time for the dust to settle (and enough time for some hasty viewing) before I put together a selection of what I deem to be the very best that the past year had to offer. But for now, I’m going to give some time to looking forward to my most anticipated film of the new year.

Despite the title of this post, the film I speak of is unfortunately not Attack the Block 2, sadly because it does not exist. Instead it is High-Rise which is due for release on the 18th March 2016. But what is High-Rise and why am I so keen to see it? Allow me to elaborate.

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The source is a 1975 novel written by renowned author J.G. Ballard. Even if you don’t recognise his name there’s a chance that you’ll recognise his work since he is best known for Empire of the Sun, for which Steven Spielberg helmed the film adaptation. His other association with the film world comes from the controversial adaptation of his novel Crash. I understand that some of you might be still in the dark, so let’s press on.

High-Rise is mainly centred around Dr. Robert Laing, a new occupant of a towering block of flats. A block of flats larger than previously seen and designed to contain all the luxuries of modern life within its walls, from supermarket to swimming pool. Due to varying accommodation standards and a diverse group of tenants, the building itself reflects an economically driven class strata – working class on the lower floors all the way up to the penthouse where the designer of the building itself resides. With this set up, Ballard takes us through the events during a hot summer that sees this carefully structured vertical society break down from the inside. That’s where I’ll end the description because that was enough to get me to pick up the book last year when the adaptation was announced.

This might not appear as the most enticing of cinematic prospects, but I would argue that it is exactly the matching of director Ben Wheatley to the novel that will make this one to watch, and to keep this simple (since this is entirely speculative!) I’m going to break it down to 2 reasons by looking at another of his films.

1 – The darkness of the human psyche…

Wheatley hasn’t quite set out to warm the hearts of viewers with his films thus far, in fact it could be argued he’s deliberately gone for the opposite. His films usually contain some form of fracturing in the minds of his characters, and the main couple in Sightseers are a great example of this as they end up carrying out a series of random grisly murders on their caravanning holiday. As unsettling as this is, perhaps what is most chilling is that the characters have all the outward appearance of normal people. They easily embody the sorts of people you might meet wandering around a National Heritage site, they could easily live down your street, or perhaps across the hall from you…in a block of flats.

2 – …and the unexpected comedic results

The deft trick that Wheatley pulls in Sightseers is handling the absurdity of the scenario. It teeters on the edge of ridiculousness with just enough of a lean that quite often the knee-jerk reaction is one of laughter. Some of the more horrific moments are even deliberately set up for laughs with the expressed intent to make you giggle and then awkwardly stop once your brain has caught up with your eyes. Trust me when I tell you that a cyclist being run over will make you chuckle. Consider then that a recurring element in Ballard’s novel is the many hedonistic parties that are held seemingly one after the other even whilst the society of the building falls apart. Sounds like a gold mine for absurdist humour to me.

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There you have it. Wheatley’s understanding of flawed humans, the darkness in the psyche, and the absurdity of its breakdown should mesh wonderfully with the pseudo-sci-fi setting of Ballard’s novel. A talented cast led by Tom Hiddleston won’t hurt either. If you’ve ever wanted something more from your cinema excursion, come March 18th I recommend you join us at the High-Rise.

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Raptors with Cameras – Jurassic World (2015) Review

Jurassic World posterWhen did we start letting blockbusters off the hook so easily? When did we start expecting so little of them that we allowed studios to churn out generic sequel after generic sequel? When did we become so content as to replace enjoyment from originality with enjoyment from references to an older, better film? If one thing defines our cinematic era it is the power of nostalgia and our willingness as audiences to give into it with each passing franchise iteration. This power is rampant in Jurassic World, a gigantic and spectacular beast that worships at the altar of its first ancestor with an unsettling post-modern grin.

Mere seconds after practically breaking the fourth wall with her welcome to this new dino-park, confident operations manager Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) strides purposefully towards the camera, investors in tow, and states that “no-one is excited about dinosaurs any more”. This typifies the blatant self-awareness that pervades Jurassic World as it emerges as the fourth film in a series that has failed to dazzle audiences since its first outing way back in 1993. It’s a film that’s all too knowing of what it is; as a sequel, as a summer blockbuster, and as a money-making product. It’s also acutely aware of the problems it faces with its apparently jaded audience; going so far as to use them to set up the thin narrative and state them in dialogue time and again. But for all this seeming intelligence Jurassic World is surprisingly dumb, opting for more as the answer under the misapprehension that it equates to better. Someone forgot to tell the writers that you can’t just wink and state the problem – you have to come up with a creative solution.

As is clear from the title, things have moved on in the twenty-two years since the grand failure of the original attraction as a viable business. The ‘Park’ is now a ‘World’, jam-packed with visitors, rides, and more dinosaurs than you can shake a flare at. Plus a monorail, an aquatic section, a pyramid, and probably fifty separate Starbucks and McDonalds establishments (even if you can’t see them on screen). But audiences are bored to death of de-extinction and want something new, so not-a-mad-scientist Dr. Wu (B. D. Wong) cooks up the Indominus Rex using a ludicrously dangerous cocktail of DNA that gives it all the tools it needs to be the perfect prehistoric killing machine – adaptive camouflage, anyone? All the park staff, except the sage yet stoic Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), think this is a cracking idea and totally safe. Verizon even sponsor and present the I-Rex. But tradition must be adhered to and things go pear-shaped quicker than you can say “hubris” and we’re along for another prehistoric rampage.

Contrary to Claire’s earlier statement, the most exciting parts of Jurassic World are when the reptiles break free and stomp around devouring the guests. Where the original built suspense it barrels ahead with fast-paced action and whilst entertaining at times it subsequently fails to capture much of that unique blend of wonder and dread. Director Colin Trevorrow – with no more than one indie film under his belt – ably handles the carnage and it’s still fun to see dinosaurs chomping people (even if one character does meet with an uncomfortably drawn-out demise), but these highs are not lasting and seldom inspire awe, even when Giacchino kicks the John Williams score up to eleven and the camera sweeps elegantly across the vast expanse of the attraction.

Moments like these expose Jurassic World as a messy but safe creation, hamstrung by the considerable history behind it, never able to tell a convincing story because it’s too busy nodding at the previous films. The characters – once so strong with the likes of Malcolm, Sattler, and Grant – are barely given enough attention for us to root for them. In fact, in this outing the dinosaurs are given as much depth as the humans, severely reducing the fear factor they once possessed. Case in point – Owen’s pack of raptors with which he somehow communicates using plain old English and a clicking device, able to placate them with an outstretched palm.

The more one thinks about this and the rest of the film as a whole, the sillier and crucially duller it becomes – using dinosaurs for military applications has to be the height of ridiculousness, and don’t get me started on the out-of-the-blue conclusion. The film-makers have set about the task of reinvigorating the franchise with their pieced-together script in one hand and a giant Jurassic checklist in the other, and have judged the latter to be far more important than anything resembling narrative. So in the end that’s what we get with Jurassic World, a handsomely made pile of references that’s just bigger and more on the surface. It’s still raptors, but this time they’re tame…and they’ve got cameras.