Michael Bergeron
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Film Facts 5.27.16

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How apropos that Whit Stillman has adapted the Jane Austen novella Lady Susan into the feature film Love & Friendship. Stillman’s debut film Metropolitan (1990), about young Manhattanites caught up in debutante drama, was itself a reimagining of an Austen novel. It was Stillman channeling Lionel Trilling.Ross McDonnell

Love & Friendship reunites Whitman with two of his Last Days of Disco (1998) stars Kate Beckinsale, as Lady Susan Vernon, and Chloë Sevigny, as Alicia Johnson. Set at the end of the Eighteenth Century, the story follows the widowed Lady Susan as she traipses through the country estate of her in-laws, with her eye on a new husband for herself as well as her daughter. This is a film for those who refused to see Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

The charming nature of Lady Susan seems in opposition to the gossip mongering directed at her. Laugh lines are a mile a minute and Stillman propels the dialogue at the speed of screwball comedy.

If you saw the Greek film Dogtooth (2009) you know that writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos has his own version of the cinema of cruelty. His current film, The Lobster, his first in English, will instantly divide audiences. But whether you like it or hate it you will never be able to erase the images of The Lobster from your mind. And isn’t that why we go to the movies?lobster

There are elements of sci-fi, conventional thrillers, and absurdist comedy all mixed together like a jumbo fruit smoothie. Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Léa Seydoux, Ben Whishaw, Olivia Coleman, Angeliki Papoulia and John C. Reilly stand out in a large ensemble cast.

Single people are brought to a resort hotel where they have forty-five days to find a mate. If they don’t they are turned into an animal of their choosing. Farrell wants to the titular lobster because they live a century and “have blue blood like aristocrats.”

Meanwhile in the nearby woods a group of humans who rebel against the state of this dystopian society exist with their own bizarre rules. In addition to pushing comfort zone buttons with ease, Lanthimos also uses musical cues that wouldn’t be out of place in 1960s Jean-Luc Godard movies.

High Rise is helmed by Ben Wheatley, based on the novel by J. G. Ballard, and includes a tony cast including Tom Hiddleston, Elisabeth Moss, Luke Evans, Jeremy Irons, and Sienna Miller (whom I didn’t even recognize until the final credit roll).

Tenants of a high-rise condominium with a fascist architecture find themselves at odds with each other, floor by floor. The top penthouse suite, which occupies the entire overlooking floor and boasts a world-class garden and stable of animals, has the best parties.highrise

The lead character, a notable doctor by trade, played with subtle nuance by Hiddleston, gets invited to a party on the top floor. He shops on a floor that is a supermarket and buys a bottle of Riesling. However when he gets to the party dressed in a chic suit and tie, where a string quartet is playing Abba’s “S.O.S.”, he’s promptly told his bottle of wine is shite and ejected because he didn’t get the missive that everyone was to dress in late-18th century haberdashery.

Evans plays a BBC documentarian that wants to make a film about the societal injustice in the building. Moss plays a pregnant mom, one of many residents that show up on the floor that has a gym and swimming pool. Irons lords over everything he sees as the architect, and it’s a snug role for his condescending manner.

Celebs are a common image in Ballard’s books. In his novel Crash (made into a film by David Cronenberg) he has a character that wants to crash his car into the limo of Elizabeth Taylor who is shooting a film at a nearby studio. Ballard also wrote the autobiographical Empire of the Sun, made into a film by Steven Spielberg, and starring a young Christian Bale in one of his first roles.

High Rise could be genre related to Snowpiercer, which looked at the class struggle on a train car by train car basis, only here people are separated by floors. In the parking lot everyone is equal. Only it’s the luck of the draw as to which car hood will be crushed when someone jumps off a ledge in a medically mandated suicide.

Wheatley has never made a film as mainstream as High Rise. Even in the third act he gets loose and experimental and displays a death with a kaleidoscope eye. Wheatley films like A Field In England and Sightseers were highlighted by diversions into genre mixing. High Rise marches straight ahead to the beat of its own drum – a kind of lacerating expose of middle and upper class values colliding with the speed of a Large Hadron unit.

Things go from copasetic to anarchy, often in the blink of an eye. The ‘70s look to the film extends from its technology to its groovy dresses and suits. But it’s a story that unwinds as relevant to any decade, especially our own. The survivors of this single building rebellion are destined to resort to ancient myth to finally establish their new rules for living.

The Lobster and Love & Friendship open at area theaters while High Rise opens exclusively at the downtown Sundance Cinemas Houston.

— Michael Bergeron