Sunday 4 December 2016

Tower of Babel, American bunker, a deluded diva and animals at war

* High-Rise (16, 119mins), 3 Stars
* 10 Cloverfield Lane (15A, 104mins), 4 stars
* Zootropolis (PG, 108mins), 3 Stars
* Marguerite (No Cert, IFI, 33mins), 3 Stars

Paul Whitington

Published 19/03/2016 | 07:00

Noir thriller: 'Zootropolis' is fun for all the family.
Noir thriller: 'Zootropolis' is fun for all the family.

I've been a huge fan of Ben Wheatley's work to date, and in High-Rise he takes on his most ambitious project yet. JG Ballard's 1970s science fiction novels have attracted and frustrated numerous film-makers, who've found their elegantly dystopian tone elusive. In fairness to Mr Wheatley, he has a right old go at catching it in High-Rise, a nightmarish drama set in an alternate 1970s.

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Surgeon Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston) thinks he's arrived when he moves into a luxury London tower block designed by a reclusive architect (Jeremy Irons) who lives on the top floor. Laing is impressed by the mod cons and bold design, but soon notices that the tower has an unfinished feel. All is not well with the tenants either: the poorer ones live at the bottom, and proletarian rumblings about iniquitous conditions promise darker times ahead.

The allegoric intentions are obvious: the tower is a microcosm of laissez faire capitalist society, which proceeds to malfunction spectacularly. The visual boldness is deeply appealing, and a fine cast that includes Sienna Miller, Luke Evans, Elisabeth Moss and Keeley Hawes handle the story's dark sarcastic overtones well. But High-Rise explodes in an ill-disciplined orgy of mayhem late on which reminded me of Ken Russell at his worst. Interesting film, though.

10 Cloverfield Lane is neither a sequel, nor a stand-alone original. Its relationship to JJ Abrams and Matt Reeves' 2008 found-footage thriller Cloverfield is tangential, and was tacked on to an existing idea. But happily, none of this need concern us, because it's a fine and slyly witty low-budget thriller.

Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is driving through rural Louisiana when her car crashes and she blacks out. She wakes in a concrete cellar, and begins to fear the worst when she discovers she's been chained to the bed. A portly gent called Howard (John Goodman) then presents himself, and tells her he rescued her from the roadside. America, he elaborates, has been attacked, the atmosphere outside is toxic, and she will only survive if she stays underground with him.

Michelle is sceptical, but another survivor called Emmett appears to back Howard's story. They proceed to play happy families in the well-supplied bunker, but all the while Michelle is planning her escape. 10 Cloverfield Lane is a lean, mean and mercilessly efficient film that skips along at a perfect pace and shifts gears dramatically near the end.

If you're looking for something to distract the nippers over the Easter break, you could do a lot worse than Zootropolis. A bright and breezy Disney animation, it's set in an animal-only world where predators and prey have learnt to live in harmony. But what if the lions, wolves and polar bears suddenly forget their manners? That's the nightmare that confronts Judy Hoops, a plucky rabbit who's just enrolled in the city police force when she's drawn into a murky case involving out-of-control predators.

Zootropolis takes the form of a jovial noir thriller, is nicely voiced by the likes of Jason Bateman and Ginnifer Goodwin and should go down very well with the smaller viewer.

The first of two new films inspired by the life of Florence Foster Jenkins, Xavier Giannoli's Marguerite stars the excellent Catherine Frot as Marguerite Dumont, a wealthy but lonely socialite who's become convinced she's a great opera diva. When she performs at private charity benefits, her society friends play along, but she hasn't a note in her head and cruel exposure looms when she's encouraged to put on a real concert.

This very handsome period film had a kind of Downton Abbey watch-ability but is pretty silly, and becomes an out-and-out pantomime at the end.

Coming soon...

Batman v Superman (Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill); My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 (Nia Vardalos); Disorder (Matthias Schoenaerts); Court (Vira Sathidar).

Irish Independent

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