Film Review: HIGH LIFE (UK/France/Germany/Poland/USA) ****

High Life Poster

A father and his daughter struggle to survive in deep space where they live in isolation.


Claire Denis

Claire Denis’s films take on the recurring them of human conflict in different scenarios.  In her first and in my opinion best film CHOCOLAT, Denis looked at what happens to black and whites in a confined space in Africa.  In BEAU TRAVAIL, the foreign legionaries were examined for their actions and behaviours and in her latest, HIGH LIFE, the audience takes a look at astronauts (some of whom are hardened criminals) confined in a spaceship as they interact with each other.

The results of her latest film is a mix between genres, Denis’ style which makes for one of the most intriguing films of the year.  And Denis delivers in HIGH LIFE – a mix of horror sci-fi and human drama where anything can happen and does.  The film can be described as a mix between Stanley Kubrick and Andrei Tarkovsky and perhaps a little Ridley Scott.

The film is set in the near future.   A spaceship proceeds on a mission to find a new energy source.  Its destination: the black hole within closest reach of Earth. The ship’s crew is a collection of dangerous prisoners with nothing left to lose.  The first scene has Monte (Robert Pattinson), the only crew member awake, rigorously tending to the computer and life-support system to keep everyone alive as they hurtle through deep space.  Monte is also caring for a baby daughter who was born on board — an anomaly that is just the first sign of the chaos to come.  As Monte’s self-discipline slips, the crew awakens and conflicts erupt.  

The crew are as unpredictable as their travels through space.  The horrors are the unknown – both in  space and of the crew’s personalities.  The curiosity of the travel through the black hole works.  The molecular cloud that kills one crew member is particularly horrifying to watch.  As for the action of the prisoners, the film includes two rape scenes and a very violent beating.

The film boasts two stars, Robert Pattinson and Juliette Binoche who both play nasty characters.  Binoche plays a doctor who rapes one of the astronauts under sedation while he gets a hard on.  Another character also commits rape and is beaten to a pulp.  This is also one of Denis’ most violent films.

The atmosphere and production sets of the spaceship are stunning and one admires Denis for the marvellous futuristic look in her first futuristic film.

Make sure to stay for the end credits.  The song “Willow” (also the name fo the baby girl in the film) is a haunting and beautiful piece that deserved to be listened to in its entirety.  

Denis moves her film in a non time linear manner so the story flashes forward and back quite often.  The film might be a bit confusing at first till one sits down and pieces the puzzle together.  With that, it must be stated that HIGH LIFE should be seen a second time in order to appreciate the film’s worth.  And the film is well worth it.



Film Review: GOOD TIME (USA 2017 ) ****

GOOD TIMEA bank robber finds himself unable to evade those who are looking for him.

Directors: Benny Safdie, Josh Safdie
Writers: Ronald Bronstein, Josh Safdie
Stars: Robert Pattinson, Benny Safdie, Taliah Webster

Review by Gilbert Seah
GOOD TIME features Robert Pattinson in the role of bank robber unable to display love for his brother that will have critics screaming that Pattinson can act.

Though the film is called GOOD TIME, no one in the film appears to having one at any point. The film begins with Nick (Ben Safdie) under psychiatric treatment before his brother Connie (Robert Pattinson) takes him on a botched bank robbery where he is arrested and put into hospital after running through a glass door. Connie tries to spring Nick out but takes another felon, Ray instead.

The scene where Ray, already half beaten up with his face covered in bandages, scales a high fence, finally falling to the other side hurting his bad shoulder even more, best describes the entire film. Intense, f***ed-up and painful to watch! But Ben and Safdie’s film is a minor miracle, already garnering accolades of praises after Cannes, in the desperate journey of Constantine “Connie” Nikas (Robert Pattinson) in trying to right a wrong.

It is interesting to note that at one point in the film – Connie’s somewhat mentally challenged brother has been replaced by Ray, the wrong guy Connie springs out of the hospital. Not only do the two look somewhat alike, but if the film had gone on with the brother instead of Ray, not much would have changed and the film could have resulted in the same sorry outcome. The only difference in the plot would be the bottle of acid that Ray came up with. This is a bromance that has gone totally wrong, and one in which Connie wants to show love towards his brother or to Ray for that matter, but is unable to do so.

The directors are fond of close-ups, with the bank robbery shot mainly with close ups without the camera moving back at all to show what the rest of the customers at the bank are doing. The close-ups of the faces, often revealing the film’s characters in trouble, heightens the intensity of the film.

‘Oneohtrix Point Never’ won the Cannes soundtrack award in creating a one-of-a-kind soundtrack containing in many parts, a screeching metallic sound that is as unnerving as the film’s plot. The film also features an original song.

Pattinson delivers what might be the best performance of his career, as the edgy bank robber trying to help spring his brother while keeping himself out of the law’s reach. Jennifer Jason Leigh has a small role as Corey and one wishes there would be more of her. Co-director Ben Safdie whom plays the brother and Buddy Duress as Ray are equally good but the small role by Barkhad Abdi as the poor amusement park security caught in the crossfire deserves mention. Abdi can be best remembered for his role as the pirate in CAPTAIN PHILLIPS that earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

The film shifts focus between Connie and his brother. At the film’s start and end, the camera is on Nick and what is happening to him. While the majority of the film switches and stays with Connie, the film oddly leaves out what has happened to him after his arrest.

The film is bookended by Nick in his prison psychiatric sessions. The film also questions the effectiveness of the prison system is rehabilitating criminals who are not all there mentally. The film’s most disturbing segment is the prison scene where Nick is beaten up for changing the TV channel while another fight breaks two between two black inmates.

Ben and Josh Safdie is to be commended in their absorbing, fresh and exciting caper movie that captures the seediness and desperation of NYC street life.


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Film Review: LOST CITY OF Z (USA 2016) ***

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the_lost_city_of_z.jpgA true-life drama, centering on British explorer Col. Percival Fawcett, who disappeared while searching for a mysterious city in the Amazon in the 1920s.

Director: James Gray
Writers: James Gray (written for the screen by), David Grann (based on the book by)
Stars: Charlie Hunnam, Robert Pattinson, Sienna Miller

Review by Gilbert Seah


LOST CITY OF Z is an exploration film about British explorer Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnan) obsessed with finding the lost city which he nicknames Z (pronounced zed in Britain and in the film and Zee in North America) in the wild Amazon jungles of Bolivia in South America.

The film is as expected of this sort of big productions, a handsomely mounted production with lots of candid shots of the horrors as well as the beauty of the wild. But it follows the same mould as many past exploration films, those that say track the expeditions into Africa or up Mount Everest or into Antarctica.

These films normal includes the identical premise consisting of:

getting limited or no funds for the expedition.

The same can be said for LOST CITY OF Z. Though Percy is first coerced into taking up the plight to Bolivia, he is initially reluctant. He is a soldier and a major (he gets promoted later to Lieutenant Colonel) in the British military. There is extended segment of him fighting in World War 1, always advancing towards the enemy lines, showing him the titular hero, but distracts from the main story at hand. In fact, Percy makes no less than 3 separate expeditions. For his final expedition – he had to fight for funds, most of it provided by the Americans and secondly but he British Geographical Society. It is ironical that the film was also financed by the U.S. with director Gray (THE YARDS being my favourite film of his), an American director offered the job of director. He was himself surprised, as many, for the reason he was offered the job.

The objection of the explorer’s immediate family to the task and the conflict that ensues.

The wife, Nina (Sienna Miller) objects but also decides to join him, though never realized. A strong argument is given here to update the film on a strong feminist point of view. The son (Tom Holland, the new SPIDER-MAN) objects vehemently but buries the hatchet at the end by joining his father n the third expedition.

The white man always doing what is right in the wilds

It is odd to see white men in full uniform or suits traversing the humid and wet jungles. Percy is often seen in full military garb in the incredibly uncomfortable hot weather.
But there is always something fascinating about watching a film about explorers making an expedition to foreign lands. This fascination is present and Gray capitalizes it with the strange vegetation and dangerous insects and animals around. There are scary scenes involving piranhas devouring human beings and native shooting arrows at Percy and his men.

The film is based on a true story. Percy and his son never returned from the last expedition,. This fact elevates the film out of the normal exploration films. Gray etches the main character here to a romanticized hero, worthy of the audience’s time at the cinema.

LOST CITY OF Z is long and runs close to 140 minutes. But the 3 expeditions and the war segment make the time run fast. Still, Gray’s film is a beautiful piece of filmmaking.


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Happy Birthday: Robert Pattinson

robertpattinsonHappy Birthday actor Robert Pattinson

Born: Robert Douglas Thomas Pattinson
May 13, 1986 in Barnes, London, England, UK

Read reviews of the best of the actor:

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