Tag Archives: tom hiddleston

Four minute film review: Thor: Ragnarok

These are good times for comedy. Giving the most maverick wing of the MCU outside Guardians of the Galaxy – this one ripe for resurgence following a shaky sequel – to a reliably off-the-wall comedy genius managed to be both a brave and low-risk move from Marvel; fortunately, Taika Waititi doesn’t disappoint.

In his first work to involve massive budgets and existing characters, he effortlessly pins his intimate, wise-cracking style on the overblown, operatic drama of the Thor franchise. It gives Thor (Chris Hemsworth) ample opportunities to stretch his comic muscles while letting Loki (Tom Hiddleston in the best terrible wig so far) a little off the leash and channelling the dry wit in the latter’s constantly challenged dignity rather than the raw rage seen in previous incarnations. The plot is messy but fun, the set pieces full of opportunities to lovingly re-create comic book panels and the director’s fondness for pratfalls lampoons any moments that threaten to crumble under their own CGI. Jeff Goldblum’s Grandmaster is neon joy and Cate Blanchett’s death goddess utterly beguiling if a fraction underused; on the flipside Karl Urban will join Don Cheadle and Dick Van Dyke in bad accent purgatory and – the biggest shame – Tessa Thompson hasn’t hit her stride yet, largely lacking conviction. You’ll laugh, and then you’ll laugh some more as Waititi blends humour and warmth so deftly he ought to have James Gunn sharpening his pencils – and his wits. This is my Guardians – and I loved it so much more.

*written in four minutes. Because this.

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Film review: High-Rise – Empire Gala and UK Premiere, BFI London Film Festival

Not even quite all of the massive ensemble cast of High-Rise.

Not even quite all of the massive ensemble cast of High-Rise.

“I went in with no expectations, and came out with no clue.”

My fellow attendee’s bafflement was in some ways at complete odds with my own experience – I went in with fearful expectations came out inspired and relieved – but at the same time I could relate. High-Rise is a beautifully bewildering experience, as well any combination of Ballard and Wheatley might be.

Confession: I’ve never read any Ballard (I shall, I shall, hold the nagging). I’ve also never seen any of Wheatley’s previous films. I’ve read about them, lingeringly, fascinatedly – and then backed off wondering if I have the stomach for them. My colleague Suni, when he heard what I was going to see, gleefully told me about how far out of his comfort zone Kill List  had taken him. Yet this one seemed like the one to take the plunge with. The lure of the star was there, of course, but more than that what I knew of the book seemed to suggest now was the perfect time for it to come to life on screen.

Ben Wheatley, Tom Hiddleston, Sienna Miller and Elizabeth Moss field questions after the screening.

Ben Wheatley, Tom Hiddleston, Sienna Miller and Elisabeth Moss field questions after the screening.

Dr Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston) moves into the 25th floor of a beguiling and beautiful new high-rise block, quickly discovering the hierarchy within via the bewitching Charlotte (Sienna Miller) – herself only on the 26th floor but still apparently a door to the architect, Royal (Jeremy Irons), safely cushioned in the rarefied air of the 40th. Along with his neighbour Wilder (Luke Evans) – a mass of neurotic, barely concealed rage complete with perma-pregnant wife (Elisabeth Moss) – Laing is swept up in the social climbing until the lights literally start to go out, and the social infrastructure disintegrates as rapidly and catastrophically as the physical.

Following the canny yet childishly naive everyman through the nightmare landscape where everyone else seems to hold the puzzle pieces without ever revealing the whole picture is always an unsettling experience; with the 1970s setting, the drugs, debauchery and dog-eating, it would be easy for High-Rise to just be an exhausting mass of colours, of noise. Wheatley, however, is far, far too skilled to fall into the trap of directing an extended music video. Far from being a technicolour descent into madness, it’s the shades of grey – metaphorical and literal – in High-Rise that make it so compelling.

More Q&A - Hiddleston possibly answering questions about preparing for the role with a pathologist visit.

More Q&A – Hiddleston possibly answering questions about preparing for the role with a pathologist visit.

Hiddleston provides the almost perfectly calm centre around which the madness swirls; his rare moments of violent animation are almost immediately countered – withdrawn by an apology or an outstretched hand. Jarring against this is a spectacularly eerie performance from Evans who paints a figure both shambolically laughable and terrifyingly unhinged. In between Miller dances on the edge of disaster, switching roles as easily as she changes outfits: doting mother, louche party girl, mysterious stranger.

In many ways, High-Rise could best be described as a full-length McGuffin. As much as it doesn’t shy away from the grotesque or graphic, you’re left with the lingering suspicion that almost everything of note has happened where you – and Laing – can’t see it. Notes are written and screwed up without the contents being revealed. People are carried away and reappear some time later changed – but exactly what’s happened in the interim is unclear. When it comes to some of the most vile acts, including a particularly violent rape, almost nothing is seen – but a central suicide is lingered over in almost unbearable detail. The film’s priorities are Laing’s selfish, confused, insecure priorities – ours, in other words. There’s absolutely nothing subtle about the messages here, but – odd as it is to say in a film that includes a dream sequence with dancing cabin crew and a bludgeoning fist fight over a can of paint – there are layers of nuance in the delivery, and there can be a delicacy and beauty in the brutality.

I thought that at best I might emerge from High-Rise not traumatised. Instead I was oddly energised. In the Q&A afterwards, all the cast agreed that if they moved into the building they’d all have been out and in a hotel after the first night. But I think they might be lying to themselves just a little bit. After all, as they looked out onto the avid faces of the audience eagerly hanging onto their every word, they must have known that to us mere mortals they do, to some extent, represent the 40th floor. And the top is always the last bit to come toppling down.

No disclosure: I attended in my own capacity as a BFI Member. And because I’m an enormous nerd, I wore a vintage 1960s gold lurex dress. See thoughts on Suffragette here; Trumbo here.

See the program and get tickets for further #LFF events here.

Thoughts on The Theory of Everything and Only Lovers Left Alive

Aside from an abundance of English accents, the above have little in common. However, I happened to see them in the same week and while one is too old to review and I probably don’t have enough to say about the other to warrant a whole post, I had a few thoughts about each I wanted to set down.

First, the Hawking movie. It would, I think, simply be silly to be remotely critical of Eddie Redmayne here; he was as close to perfect, and as far from impression or parody, as anyone could ever ask him to be. I don’t for a minute question whether he deserves all the accolades heaped on his head; with that in mind, I also think there’s a great deal to be said for the direction, at least from a performance perspective. However, I was left feeling largely like I’d missed the point. Usually with a biopic there’s an arc, a focus – an overall reason for telling this story, at this time and in this way. Unquestionably, Stephen Hawking has led a life that is out of the ordinary in a number of ways, and that makes it a compelling proposition. But where the oft-compared The Imitation Game largely focussed on a particular period in Turing’s life, and came with a healthy dose of social justice polemic to boot, The Theory of Everything is essentially a greatest hits of Hawking’s life from MND diagnosis to the end of his marriage to first wife Jane.

Of course the primary reason for this time span is that the source material is Jane’s book (and how good to see a woman’s story and perspective for a change). But in trying to summarise everything it feels like a thread has snapped somewhere along the line. Perhaps because both are still alive, and in spite of Felicity Jones being marvellous, Jane seems oddly airbrushed; actually, the whole film has a soft-focus, with any sexual or gory medical detail much more inferred than displayed. Again, I think, a side effect of choosing a living subject – a largely private one, at that.

There is, thankfully, no hokey disability narrative; the Motor Neurone Disease Association appeal shown just before the film deftly made the point that Hawking’s length of life post-diagnosis is pretty unusual and the film, to its credit, doesn’t try to imply that there’s any special strength of spirit that is the cause of this. It actually does an admirable job of acknowledging the considerable challenges of living with MND, whilst allowing a full characterisation of the subject as a complex – and obviously hyper-intelligent – human being. Still, there was one moment where Hawking imagines stepping out of his chair to pick up a student’s dropped pen – one of those inescapable cure-fantasy moments that seem to come built into any story where disability is an essential part of the story.

A little soft-focus, a little abbreviated, a little airbrushed… is it better, perhaps, to be as accurate and respectful as one can be about reality than to basically make bits up for dramatic effect, as The Imitation Game has been accused of? Perhaps for the subject; but I can tell you which makes better cinema.

And yet, having just complained about the lack of structure in The Theory of Everything, in the same week I hugely enjoyed a film with absolutely no real plot to speak of, Only Lovers Left Alive.

I’ll generally watch any old vampire crap as long as it’s not full-on horror, and there is something wholly irresistible about the idea of Tilda Swinton as the undead. Throw in John Hurt – as Kit Marlowe, no less! – and Tom Hiddleston (finally out-manoeuvred on-screen by his manifestly more experienced colleagues, but still very good), and I’m already sold. But I generally have little patience for excessively self-indulgent faffing, and the first few minutes of the film, beautiful though they were, threatened to annoy my short attention span. And yet… touches of unexpected humour, jarring references to YouTube and Apple product placement, captivating moodiness and just the right touch of self-aware silliness… altogether, frankly, it was a little gem. Every so often, a burst of activity threatens to add a storyline, but then it just sort of rolls on – as well life might if you’ve been alive and married for centuries.

Perhaps that’s exactly the difference between a biopic that rattles from station to station with no clear destination and a drive through the desert with no road at all.

Five things you should do over the Christmas break…

As with many bloggers, I find myself with many post ideas brewing in my head – but I occasionally lack the time to actually write them. It seems to me that many of the things I’ve been thinking about lately are things I’d like to do when I have more time. And while I’m still working throughout December, there is always more time around Christmas for doing Things and also Stuff. So here are five things I’d either like to do or recommend doing during the downtime – in whatever amounts you get it – before the new year.

No resolutions necessary – unless you want to.

1. Read Joanne M. Harris’s The Gospel of Loki 

…and while you’re at it, follow her on Twitter, for she is delightful.

I’d actually fallen a little out of love with some of Harris’s writing after somewhat bingeing on it after Chocolat. Around the time of Five Quarters of the Orange I’d felt like there wasn’t much more I wanted to read. It happens sometimes, and it doesn’t really necessarily have as much to do with the author as where you are right at that moment.

Anyway, a few months ago I started to see tube posters for this, and it looked very different. And I think no Tom Hiddleston Marvel fan could quite resist being plunged back into the Norse mythology that has spawned a thousand books, comics, films, plays, artworks and Allfather knows what all.

The Gospel of Loki delivers in spades. For a start it’s extremely funny – sometimes just in the turn of phrase, but often in the broadly grotesque characterisation that our fiendish narrator employs to breathe life into his antagonistic fellow Asgardians. And then it is by turns gut-wrenching, guiltily relatable and uncomfortably tense. Loki, forever a victim in his own head, is the perfect anti-hero, and incredibly cleverly drawn; he walks the extremely delicate line between sympathy and disgust, being largely a terrible individual that you somehow root for anyway. The delightful episodic storytelling took me right back to childhood and falling in love with the stories from The Odyssey, and there’s nothing like starting a new book with a cast of characters (except maybe a map. Books with maps = the greatest).

2. Wear something ridiculous

A lot of lucky people (like me) will be working from home for at least part of the festive season, but to be honest I’ve worn every single one of these ridiculous articles into the office in the last three months (yay creative industries!).  So let out your most ridiculous side because honestly? It really does make you feel weirdly happier.

bifrosted

loki thor

I imagine you might be picking up on a theme here, but don’t worry – that’s about it. At least for this post. Maybe.

3.  Give something… extra

If you’re sitting there thinking “well, it’s Christmas, duh!” I don’t blame you, but I’m not talking about the usual presents for friends and family. I’m talking about considering how you can spread a little cheer to a stranger (or even not a stranger, but someone you wouldn’t usually give something to – perhaps even the time of day). It could be a donation of money or time, a present to someone who isn’t expecting one or even a clear out for your local charity shop.

I’ve been thinking about this a fair bit after we had a bit of a mess up with a Disney Store order that didn’t arrive. In the interim I nipped into an actual bricks and mortar store to buy the key item just in case it couldn’t be resolved by Christmas Day. I kept the receipt thinking I’d return the excess item if all worked out.

Disney Store has now resolved the issue, and we have both items. But then I started thinking about doing something else with the spare one (it’s a dressing up costume). I could give it to another child as a Christmas present, and I might. But I could also get in touch with a local hospital and see if they could do with something new for the children’s ward. Or I could auction it on eBay and set the proceeds to go 100% to a charity (won’t make as much as the original sale price, but I can top up AND someone who perhaps can’t afford the full whack will still get the gift). Or I could return it and donate the money. I haven’t really worked out what I’ll do yet, and it might well not get to anyone by the big day, but I figure presents are welcome all year round. The point is, there are opportunities to be generous even in places you didn’t expect, so maybe consider even more options than you already do (if you haven’t already).

In related news: if you’re not a Kiva lender already, do consider making that a giving resolution.

4. Start (or review) a gratitude box

At the end of 2013 we put a big tub in the kitchen and labelled it ‘good things’. Then we started popping stuff in it like theatre tickets, travel mementoes, letters from friends, little notes on which happy moments were scribbled and anything else that generally spoke of a joyful moment that happened that year. My notes are as random and varied as “Armistead Maupin called me ‘wise’ on Twitter” through to “got a promotion at work”. It’s basically #100happydays, but in physical form, and it’s pretty awesome.

Thing is, I haven’t looked at it since then (and I’ve got a little lax about filling it). It’s time to review all the amazing experiences we’ve been privileged to have over the past year and think about what’s around the corner – that we know of. Sometimes I can be guilty of only placing significance on big things, and that just leads to a kind of vague and unhelpful dissatisfaction with everything. A little gratitude goes a long way.

5. Watch something you haven’t seen before. And something you definitely have.

Last year, I saw Elf for the first time. And it was… quite good? Better than okay? Not my favourite Christmas movie*? Whatever. I can’t really be arsed to watch it again, but I won’t turn it off if it’s on. The point is, it was nice not just spending the entire festive period watching classics and favourites, but potentially allowing for a new classic or favourite – even if Elf turned out not to be it. This year I haven’t yet decided what it will be, but I have some shameful gaps in my film viewing and, having bullied Ash just this past week into watching both Network and Edward Scissorhands since he hadn’t before, I think it’s important to bully myself a little too. Because even in the midst of the most cosy, nostalgic, comfortable familiarity, a touch of newness is healthy.

And yet of course Christmas is the season for binge-watching your absolute favourites – whether they’re festive classics or not. Obviously we’ll be having a family sit down in front of The Avengers / Avengers Assemble*  on Boxing Day and I will be as enthralled as ever in front of the underappreciated gem that is Ratatouille.  Because it wouldn’t be Christmas without an ambitious rat… right?

——

*Die Hard. YES IT IS A CHRISTMAS MOVIE. THE HO HO HO JOKE WOULDN’T WORK OTHERWISE, WOULD IT? WOULD IT?!I

*Pick your regional variant. Amusingly, the first time I saw this I blundered in about a quarter of the way through, completely confused, and I hadn’t yet seen Captain America: The First Avenger  or Thor and I was all “who the hell is this guy with the unfortunate hair? WHY IS HE WHINING ABOUT EVERYTHING? Loki my arse – he’s like Louis from Interview with the Vampire…”. So.. yeah. Give things a second chance. Watch them in their proper context. *cough*