Nice Places To Visit But You Wouldn’t Want To Live There… HIGH RISE and KONG: SKULL ISLAND Reviewed

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From the days before The Guardian embraced Neoliberalism, Austerity… and all that cal.

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Hairy palms… the first sign of insanity… or was it wanking?

The House Of Freudstein is a wonderful but sometimes strange and frightening place. There is no rule book. There was one, but it’s currently being used to prop up the short leg on The Doc’s operating table, so you’ll have to have it out with him if you want to read it. In the absence of the rule book, the standard operating procedure that’s evolved around here is to write about low-budget horror, schlock and sleaze. Yet here I find myself, on Good Friday 2017, about to pen reviews of two Tom Hiddleston films… strange and frightening indeed.

1 ) Get Off Of My Cloud… HIGH RISE Reviewed

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DVD. Region 2. STUDIOCANAL. 15

It’s become a cliché of lazy film critique (one on which I’ve frequently fallen back myself) to describe the works of Poe and Lovecraft as “unfilmable.” Plenty of film makers have had a go and some have done rather well, invariably by injecting new plot elements into the tenebrous sketches of EAP and HPL. The ’60s / ’70s countercultural holy trinity of Ballard, Burroughs and Dick have fared demonstrably worse at the hands of screen adaptors… well, PKD’s done OK, with major plot additions making not one but two lucrative Total Recalls (Kate Beckinsale’s in one of them… more on this attractive guitar-sucking actress later) out of We Can Remember It For You Wholesale and a cocktail of additions and surgical extractions transforming Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep into the all-conquering (apart from at the box office) Blade Runner. As for Ballard and Burroughs, two words are sufficient to convey what fucked-up film fodder their fiction can become… and those words are “Cronenberg” and “David”, though not necessarily in that order.

There are friends and peers who roll their eyes and wiggle their fingers around their temples whenever I have the temerity to question anything Cronenbergian, but guys… when DC’s Naked Lunch was released, in 1991, I had already spent the best part of two decades enthralled and repelled by the Burroughs novel and its immediate “sequels.” With their deployment of “cut up” and “fold in” techniques, these incendiary works were designed to advance the novel’s narrative techniques to the level of cinema so arguably the very act of adapting them to the screen was a salutary lesson in defeating the object of the exercise… but if there was any way to translate work of such challenging complexity to the visual medium, the spectacle of Roy Scheider ripping a Mission Impossible mask off to reveal that he is (da da!) Doctor Benway sure wasn’t it.  As for “Sexual ambivalence? I thought you said sexual ambulance”?… give me a fucking break! I concede that Cronenberg had the humility to dub this mess “Naked Lunch” rather than The Naked Lunch but then again, this is a film that has rather a lot to be humble about. Nor was I significantly more impressed by Cronenberg’s adaptation of Crash (1966), despite my innate predisposition to favour anything so despised by the Dailys Mail and Express. Once could even argue that Cronenberg’s feature debut Shivers (1975) was the closest he (or anyone) ever came to the literary spirit of Ballard and, by dint weird of weird synchronicity, High Rise was originally published in the same year. Must have been something in the air, or possibly the air conditioning… whatever, each provided a prescient taste of unpleasant things to come. The very next year Harold Wilson resigned under never-quite-explained circumstances and Callaghan and Healey (not, as is commonly misremembered, Thatcher) signed the UK up to the great neo-liberal experiment that is still sucking most of us dry today.

Fortunately there’s no longer any need to make that argument (the one I mentioned towards the end of the previous paragraph, bozo! Pay fucking attention, alright?) as Ben Wheately (A Field In England, Sightseers, Free Fire, et al) has directed High Rise (2015.) If Danny Boyle was the ideal man to stage the London Olympics’ opening ceremony (or was it the closing ceremony? Couldn’t bring myself to watch any of that stuff) then Wheatley’s the guy to orchestrate TV coverage of The Apocalypse. And while we’re all waiting for that…

Tom Hiddleston, who looks a bit like that kid out of Home Alone on steroids, plays Robert Laing (I was waiting in vain for characters named Janov and Szasz.) By day he teaches physiology in a hospital. Slicing into the scalp of some dead dude to peel his face off and reveal the skull beneath is as good as any a precis of the dionysian / dystopian dehumanisation that is to follow… more importantly, the fact that it causes one of Laing’s wise cracking students to faint is a gratifying (as far as I’m concerned, anyway) nod to the greatest TV program of all time…

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… Quincy M.E.

When he gets back to his swishy apartment in the eponymous High Rise, Laing’s just looking to be alone, but gets inexorably drawn into the complexly nuanced social nexus of his ultra-class conscious co-High Rise dwellers. Shit like this happens. I know, I’ve experienced it during the regrettable periods when I’ve been obliged to take day jobs. Thankfully, none of those degenerated into the “eating dogs and throwing people off roofs” scenario depicted here. Nor, rather regrettably, did they evolve into the kind of sordid sex orgies that seem to break out in High Rise at the first suggestion that the lifts aren’t working properly or the supermarket is out of sugar puffs.

As the High Rise goes to hell in a hand cart beneath him, its designer Anthony Lord (Jeremy Irons) squats atop it in the swishest apartment of them all (complete with rooftop recreation of an ancien regime garden), rather like Dr Eldon Tyrell in the Tyrell Corporation pyramid in Blade Runner. Rather like Roy Batty in Blade Runner, Wilder (Luke Evans) wants some face-to-face time with the man at the top… he wants more swimming pool privileges for his kids, fucker! James Purefoy (as Pangbourne) portrays the kind of psychotic smoothie he’s been specialising in since his Mark Anthony in that splattery mini-series Rome… he’s getting very good at it, too. If they ever decide to remake The Professionals, I’m hoping he gets the call for Bodie. I’ve always had problems telling the Siennas Miller and Guillory apart. Wheatley casts both of them here (I think they’re having a lesbian affair or something) to clear up… or possibly intensify any such confusion.

So often in the past I’ve expressed myself bewildered, exasperated and / or infuriated by the decisions of the BBFC but on this occasion I’m coming at it from an unaccustomed angle. I’m genuinely surprised that our pals at Soho Square deem the litany of atrocities trotted out in High Rise worthy of a ’15’ certificate. I remember an earnest young man who wrote a book in which he railed against the hypocrisy of the “video nasties” witch hunt, who would no doubt roll his eyes and wiggle his finger around his temple at my concern over the prospect of my daughter being exposed to Wheatley’s film. It’s a moot point anyway, as High Rise ticks precisely none of the boxes that might have tempted her to watch it… it’s not Japanese, it’s not animated and there are precisely no sensitive gay characters discussing their emotional problems in it.

Cast interviews in the bonus material give you the chance to decide which of the participants are playing ninnies and which of them are actually just ninnies. Hiddlestone sounds quite intelligent and thoughtful until asked what his dream, Anthony Lord designed apartment would look like and specifies that there would have to be a gym in it… bloody ninny! Sienna Miller, who seems to have made a career (at least if the things I’ve seen her in are anything to go by) playing underfed crumpet has never actually appealed to me but in these interviews she not only sounds a lot more intelligent than you’d give her credit for, but also looks absolutely incandescent… better than she does in the actual feature. It’s as though she’s taken the high rise elevator out of pleasant-looking Elizabeth Hurley mid-table mediocrity into the upper echelons where the grateful carpets are trod by the Kate Beckinsales of this world.

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Kate Beckinsale. Treading on a capet. Yesterday.

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Kate Beckinsale. Treading on a carpet. Sucking on a guitar. The day before yesterday.

 

Who shot these bonus interviews? Maybe Miller should put him / her on a permanent retainer. I’d definitely do so, were I not a penniless blogger.

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Just about the only mishap that doesn’t befall the residents of The High Rise (or at least, the only one it would be tasteful to make wise cracks about) is to encounter a giant gorilla climbing to the top of it. Hiddleston dons a vest and cargo pants to cross off this particular entry on his bucket list in…

2) Too Much Monkey Business… KONG: SKULL ISLAND (2017) Reviewed

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Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts.
Produced by Alex Garcia, John Jashni, Mary Parent, Thomas Tull, et al.
Written by John Gatins, Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein, Derek Connelly

Edited by Richard Parent.

Cinematography by Larry Fong.
Music by Henry Jackman.
Special FX by Chris Brenczewski and shedloads of others…

Starring: Tom Hiddlestone, Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson, John C, Reilly, John Goodman, Houston Brooks.

You wouldn’t want to live in Mansfield and it’s not even a particularly nice place to visit, nevertheless that’s where our Meerkat Movie vouchers have brought the Freudstein family on an expedition to check out Kong: Skull Island. The Odeon has dispensed with its ticket office since we were last here, you’ve got to print out your tickets on some infernal self-service device. Presumably this was intended to cut down the staff wage bill but there still seem to be countless callow youths standing around awkwardly in their cute uniforms, resolutely refusing eye contact in case – heaven forefend – they might be called upon to help you with something.

During the endless trailer reel we suffer Jason Statham running the gamut of emotion from A to B in a trailer for The Fast And The Fatuous Part 38 or whatever it is. “That looks shit!”, opines Freudette to her Mum… Christ on a fucking bike, wherever does she pick up language like that?

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Rather like our previous foray into mainstream cinema, Doctor Strange, which I reviewed elsewhere on this site (not that any of you fuckers bothered to read it!), Kong: Skull Island has had so much money chucked at it, there’s no way it wasn’t going to be entertaining, albeit in a stupid ass, knuckle-headed kind of way. There’s a prologue, during which we witness a Japanese and an American airman, who’ve just shot each other out of the sky in a WWII dogfight, about to conclude their death match when they’re interrupted by you-know-who raising his ugly, hairy head. Cut to the early 70s, where Tricky Dicky has just announced “peace with honour” in Vietnam and Lieutenant Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) feels that he and his grunts have been sold out. They don’t need much convincing to sign up to a geological study on Skull Island, under the direction of Professor Bill Randa (John Goodman), whose motivations aren’t exactly as stated. Nobody seems suspicious about a geological survey on a permanently storm surrounded rock (glorifying in the name of Skull Island) that requires a heavy-duty military attachment… not hunky James Conrad (Hiddleston, who would have done better to stay in the chic opium den where they found him), nor busty war reporter Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), whose along for the ride as Kong candy because Fay Wray is no longer available. Joseph Conrad is no longer available either, but because he penned Heart Of Darkness, from which this film, Apocalypse Now and many others have pinched so much, they thought they’d name a character after him. Kind of. Alongside the uncredited input of original Kong writers Edgar Wallace and Merian C. Cooper, you’ll easily spot elements of Moby Dick, Lord Of The Flies and Treasure Island just for starters. I did and I wasn’t really paying attention.

Anyway, Packard’s chopper squad fearlessly navigate their way through those perpetual storms but before you can whistle Ride Of The Valkyrie, the hundred foot ape turns up and starts swatting them out of the sky like Dinky toys. Conrad, who’s a pretty touchy-feely guy for the kind of black ops specialist he’s vaguely suggested to be, argues that KK was only defending his territory but Packard has conceived a mortal grudge against that monkey, unconvinced by the argument that his removal will lead to the island being overrun by H.R. Giger rejects from the centre of the Earth. In other words, Kong’s a big ugly monster bastard but he’s our big ugly monster bastard. The allegory of recent US foreign policy isn’t too difficult to discern and there are a few throwaway gags at Trump’s expense, but we’re mostly here to gawp at big beasties fighting each other rather than critique current geopolitical trends and it has to be said that the CGI creations are impressive, if lacking the charm of Harryhausen and O’Brien’s stop motion masterworks. I would have preferred to see KK slugging it out with some authentic looking dinosaurs than those Gigeresque jobbies, but what do I know?

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The soundtrack is nicely peppered with 70s rock classics and the Ben Gunn character gets to go home and enjoy the ballgame with a beer and a hotdog, not to mention his miraculously well-preserved wife. Conrad’s viewpoint vindicated, Kong is left lording it over Skull Island and multiple sequels are already in the works.

Sorry to get all prissy about ratings again, but Mrs F felt rather forcefully (and I’m inclined to agree with her) that this was pretty violent stuff for “12A.” Thankfully, Freudette doesn’t seem to have incurred any significant mental scars on account of it. One of my most vivid childhood memories is of my Mum taking me to see One Million Years B.C. when it came out in 1966 and now I’ve taken our kid to see a monster movie, it feels like the circle of life is being completed. Or something. At the time I was more enthused by the dinosaurs than the spectacle of  Raquel Welch in her fur bikini…

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… I dig the dinosaurs in that movie to this day, though my priorities did shift somewhat with the onset of puberty. What about Freudette… did she find the Hiddleston hot? (Dunno if I’ve mentioned this already, but I find him a bit of a ninny) Only, she tells me, in so far as she could imagine him in a passionate clinch with Benedict Cumberbatch. Apparently there’s a whole wing of the internet that’s obsessed with the possibility of such a romantic coupling. Perhaps that makes more sense to you than it does to me. Parenthood, like life at The House Of Freudstein, is a wonderful, sometimes strange and frightening thing.

The main feeling I was left with after consuming Kong: Skull Island was a desire to root out some of those batshit crazy Japanese Kong movies and review them on this site. So I’ll be doing precisely that, shortly.

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