Tag: jeremy irons

High-Rise


High-Rise (2015)
★ / ★★★★

If given the choice to watch “High-Rise” again or to get punched in the face, I would choose to get punched in the face because at least the terrible experience would last only a split-second. Sure, the sting might last for a couple of minutes more but the alternative would lead to feeling confused, insulted, and outraged all over again. It were as if Amy Jump and Ben Wheatley, the writer and director, respectively, used the screenplay and film to wipe their asses and they had the audacity to present it to the world as art. Pretentious art. Bad art. Less than worthless art. Needless to say, I hated this film.

Although based on the novel, the picture is as subtle as unsuspecting hands on the table being struck with a hammer repeatedly until all the bones are crushed. The messages it attempts to convey about socioeconomic status and the short- as well as long-term effects of economic turmoil are obvious, turns repetitive quickly, and becomes so boring that there comes a point where every minute that trickles by feels like an eternity of pulling teeth. There is not one character worth empathizing with and so there is a lack of dramatic gravity.

One might think that by casting a charismatic dramatic performer like Tom Hiddleston to play Dr. Robert Laing, a recent occupant in a high-rise tower where the poorer tenants live on the lower floors while the wealthy throw extravagant parties on the upper floors, it would resurrect dead material. Instead, Hiddleston is not given anything to say or do that is remotely interesting. Once in a while, however, he is required to take his shirt and pants off in order to appeal to his admirers. I found the whole thing to be increasingly frustrating and disgusting.

The look of the picture is dull and uninspired for the most part. Before deplorable conditions take over the building, the pristine white floors and walls have a certain artificial look to them that is unconvincing even for a dystopian future universe. It looks too movie-like, a set, and so it is all the more a challenge to buy completely into the story being told. Just the same, when the state of the building turns to filth and the residents result to participating in torture, murder, rape, consensual orgies and the like, none of it is believable.

We get the impression that everyone is acting crazy because they are directed to act in such a manner. Long-winded dialogue is sprinkled from time to time but take a moment to look into the performers’ eyes: There is no conviction behind them and so what is paraded on screen appears to be a sham, a really bad, tasteless joke, simply random scenes cobbled together with seemingly minimal effort barely holding them together.

Since the material fails to provide a detailed and thorough context in terms of plot and why certain subplots are introduced—when, as it turns out, they serve little to no impact later on—in addition to the unimaginative aesthetics, it leaves the viewers no avenue to connect with the material in a meaningful way; it keeps us from a great distance and we are supposed to be impressed somehow.

There is a way to make allegories, metaphors, and symbolisms fascinating and worthy of exploration but “High-Rise” is not written, not directed, and does not function on a high enough level to earn viewers’ deep attention and insightful thoughts. It is an assault to the intelligence and patience of those hoping for an accurate and timeless satire about the social ladder—and, more importantly, those simply hoping to watch a good movie.

Inland Empire


Inland Empire (2006)
★ / ★★★★

When the movie ended, I felt thankful—thankful that the torment was finally over.

An old woman (Grace Zabriskie) visits an actress, Nikki Grace (Laura Dern), who is waiting for a phone call from her agent. For some strange reason, the visitor is not only aware of the role that Nikki is hoping to get, she appears to have prior knowledge that Nikki has in fact booked the job. The film is called “On High in Blue Tomorrows” and although the actress and her co-star (Justin Theroux) are led to believe that it is an original work, the director (Jeremy Irons) confesses later on that it is actually based on a Polish gypsy folktale and the story is said to be cursed. A prior film that attempted to tell the story was unfinished because the two leads ended up dead.

Written and directed by David Lynch, “Inland Empire” is very well-acted by Dern and the scenes between Dern and Theroux are fiery-good, sometimes sexy, but I found the picture’s dream-like approach to be so pretentious that a potentially fascinating story ends up overshadowed by the technique. The subplots are a drag and whenever Dern is not front and center, I lost interest completely.

It is weird for the sake of being weird. Do not believe anybody who claims to have the answer as to how scenes involving people in rabbit suits relate to the main plot. The writer-director tries so very hard to be mysterious that for a second I was convinced he is actually turning his work into a parody—which would have been a more interesting avenue given his reputation for creating movies that are insular.

Its attempts to surprise, shock, or scare do not work. One of the reasons is due to a lack of buildup. The most common approach is a character entering a dark room and either one of two things will almost always happen: a sudden, bright flashing light fills the space or a cacophony of sounds blast their way through the speakers. I suppose Lynch is trying to replicate dreams but if one were to really think about it, dreams do not have loud or shrill noises. There is no bright flashing light meant to surprise or scare. We begin to realize we are in a dream state when we notice the small but incorrect details.

A technique that works is the camera’s tendency to be real close on the performer’s faces to the point where it is real unflattering at times. It makes otherwise beautiful or interesting faces look bizarre. Couple such images with elliptical dialogue, a specific mood is created—that something strange may be brewing.

The picture’s saving grace is Dern, a consummate performer. She has a special talent in controlling her face so she seems capable of delivering just about any emotion required in a scene. She knows how to change her expression in small ways—often within a shot—and so we are convinced that her character always has something going on in her mind. Lastly, she knows how to utilize her limbs in such a way that they often create interesting angles. We are convinced that the character she plays has been in more than a handful of films. So when she receives news that she has gotten the job, not only is it not a surprise, it is likely to be well-deserved.

“Inland Empire” starts with a certain level of intrigue, mostly due to the conversation between the old woman and the actress, but it devolves into lurid mumbo jumbo. After three hours of near-total confusion, one just feels thankful that the experience is over. Credit to Lynch for being ambitious but that is not enough. The work must actually be, in the least, not incomprehensible.

Damage


Damage (1992)
★★★ / ★★★★

Stephen (Jeremy Irons) locks eyes with Anna (Juliette Binoche) at a party. Stuck in an increasingly passionless marriage with his nonetheless loving wife, Ingrid (Miranda Richardson), Stephen yearns to have Anna. She wants to have him, too. However, the ravishing woman across the room turns out to be the girlfriend of Martyn (Rupert Graves), Stephen’s son, and the two have plans of creating a future together.

Based on the novel by Josephine Hart, I watched “Damage” in complete fascination because of its directness in dealing with needs and wants. While it could have been too easy and cheap to show only the man wanting to have sex with another woman outside of his marriage, I liked that Anna is given scenes in which she brazenly makes the first move. After all, breathing life into an affair usually involves two people.

The scenes involving sex are titillating but never exploitative. In order to understand Stephen’s need to possess and Anna’s need to be wanted, we are required to see them in various carnal situations and what they wish to do to each other to quench their hunger.

We observe their ritual. They are always only a phone call away. An invitation to meet is consistently met with acceptance. For Stephen, putting his hands around Anna is an uncontrollable itch that needs to be scratched. His obsession is passionate but can be scary at times. For instance, being a member of the Parliament, he has a meeting in Brussels. Just as it adjourns, despite not getting any sleep, he takes earliest available train to Paris to see Anna, all the while knowing that she is with Martyn on a getaway. We are made to wonder if deep inside he hopes to get caught in order to save himself the trouble of having to explain that what he and Ingrid have is no longer viable.

For Anna, being wanted by Stephen is like reliving a time in her life when she feels truly loved, but the love was considered wrong and immoral. One of the darkest and most intriguing scenes involves Anna talking about her past and how the tragedy she experienced has found a way to reside and lay dormant within her. The mysterious sadness she exudes is what attracts Stephen—and his son—to her.

While the nature of Anna and Stephen’s relationship is open to interpretation, not for a second was I convinced that what they share is love—at least not the kind that can last. In my eyes, love is between Stephen and Ingrid: dealing with the routine of the every day and learning to be content and see the bright side even if things may go wrong slightly. Despite Stephen and Ingrid not having one sex scene, the combination of David Hare’s screenplay along with Irons and Richardson’s nuanced acting suggest a long and loving history between the husband and wife.

Directed with a critical eye by Louis Malle, “Damage” is a fascinating portrait of a man willing to risk it all, crossing lines as if he were a blind man without a cane. We keep watching because we know that the risk is not worth the reward and he does not. Or perhaps he does but he is unwilling to accept it because any change when it comes to his marriage—even crushing it completely—serves as a reminder that he is still alive.

Reversal of Fortune


Reversal of Fortune (1990)
★★★ / ★★★★

Sunny von Bülow (Glenn Close) has fallen into a coma, her second time within the past year. Overwhelming evidence point to the guilt of her husband, Claus von Bülow (Jeremy Irons), and so the jury sentence him thirty years in prison. Although the toxicology report indicates that high levels of insulin is present in Sunny’s blood in which bottles of the drug are found by the maid (Uta Hagen) in Claus’ possessions, the husband insists that he is innocent. Greatly despised by the public for his alleged murder attempt, Claus hires Alan Dershowitz (Ron Silver), a Jewish Harvard law professor with a reputation for defending the poor and the oppressed, to prove his innocence on the critical second trial.

Based on a book by Alan M. Dershowitz, the best decision that the filmmakers of “Reversal of Fortune” is its adamancy to remain vague about intentions and motivations. The question of whether or not Claus really did try to insidiously kill his wife with insulin remains in our minds up until the very last unsettling but intriguing scene. Specific events that play out, such as how Sunny ends up in the bathroom face-down with her dress pulled up, are left for speculation. Because the answer is not obvious, the characters, all of them very smart, are challenged to weigh the possibilities–and so are we.

Although Alan is the main character with whom we rely on to ascertain the facts, his team, majority of whom are his students, hold a mirror to reflect some of his ideas and, more importantly, why some of them might be perceived as flawed. Minnie (Felicity Huffman) is especially critical of the types of questions brought up by her colleagues in order for them to successfully defend the case. There is a wonderful scene between Minnie and Alan when the former expresses her disapproval toward the latter defending publicly perceived scum like Claus. While Alan’s argument depends on the ideals of everyone deserving to have someone fight for his or her rights, the exchange is executed in a heated but insightful way. If anything, the argument is not really about rights but to show us Alan’s steely resolve.

Irons’ performance scared me at times, his movements reflects that of a feline encircling his prey. His character is supposed to be the kind of man who is naturally cold even to those he loves most. Whether he is speaking to his wife, children, or mistress, his voice carries a certain level of detachment. Although he has a strong sense of propriety, some might cite elegance, I just had trouble trusting him. Then I began to wonder: Is the picture testing our own prejudices? In other words, just because a person seems consistently emotionally neutral, does that necessarily imply that he or she is capable of murder? How is Claus different from someone who is diagnosed with schizoid personality disorder? Or is he at all different from them?

Based on the screenplay by Nicholas Kazan and directed by Barbet Schroeder, “Reversal of Fortune” treats us as if we are one of the jury members. Facts, interpretations, and point of views are presented and it is up to us to decide whether Claus is culpable.

Being Julia


Being Julia (2004)
★★★ / ★★★★

Julia Lambert (played brilliantly by Annette Bening) was a great theater actress. She was so great, she could not stop acting even though she was not on strage. Most people around her saw her life as nothing but glamorous and fans craved to be around her either for the fame, money, or to advance their careers. This made her bitter and depressed; not even her husband (Jeremy Irons) was sensitive enough to realize that she was overworked and on the verge of breakdown. So when she met a significantly younger American admirer (Shaun Evans) who seemed to genuinely care for her, she decided to take a risk and allowed herself to fall in love with him. I thought the movie took its time to build the rage inside of Julia and it only really started to pay off toward its halfway point. Furthermore, the appearance of Julia’s dead mentor (Michael Gambon) was a big distraction for me, especially when the film did not establish their relationship prior. Although I have to say that the second half was very engaging because we eventually saw who the characters really were and their true intentions. Despite Julia’s sometimes tiresome histrionics, I came to understand why she was angry. Everyone believed that she was on the top of her game but at the end of the day she was the one looking at herself in the mirror and noticing her age show and health deteriorate. She did not know how to deal with the fear of becoming considered as past her prime and lacking a genuine support system did not help her increasingly desperate situation. The only true person in her life was her son (Tom Sturridge–quickly becoming one of my favorite actors) but he was always away. I was in love with the scene when he knocked on her mother’s door, found her crying, and made the decision to share something really personal with her–something that even I am not sure I can share with my parents no matter how close we are. The implications in that scene were rewarding because they were open to interpretation. That scene was special because the look and feel of that scene was a nice contrast to the scenes involving the lies and deceit of showbiz. The last few scenes impressed me because it truly encapsulated Julia’s perspective–the theater was when she felt home and and the real world was just an acting class. It was so bittersweet and I finally saw how strong she was even though she could turn on and off her tears at the drop of a hat. “Being Julia,” based on the novel “Theatre” by W. Somerset Maugham and directed by István Szabó, sometimes felt elegantly cold but it was eventually able to open up and show its warmth. It had strong performances especially by Bening and Sturridge and I wished that the two had more scenes that explored the crucial mother-son relationship.