Tag Archives: Robert Pattinson

Review: High Life

High Life

The conception of High Life on its own would be strange enough: septuagenarian French auteur Claire Denis decides to make her first English-language film a sci-fi adventure starring Robert Pattinson. But let me tell you, the result of all that is something much weirder even than you’d expect.

Falling not so much into the “exciting space adventure” subgenre (e.g. Gravity and Apollo 13) nor the “supernatural space horror” subgenre (e.g. Alien and its various offspring), High Life aligns better with the “existential space dread” subgenre that’s been exemplified in films like 2001: A Space Odyssey and Moon. The films opens with astronaut Monte (Pattinson), alone in an austere space ship but for a sole baby. From there, we flash back to the earlier days of Monte’s space journey – including scenes with the crew that originally joined him – and learn how he ended up where he is.

There are no easy answers or zippy plot points in High Life. There are, however, a lot of bodily fluids. Denis does not shy away from how strange and sometimes grotesque the baser aspects of human existence can be. And then, of course, she magnifies them for narrative effect. The result makes for a pretty uncomfortable watch. Not because High Life is extremely explicit or gross, but because there is a boldness to how unblinking it all is. Only someone with as steady of an eye as Denis could interweave all of that with the film’s more bizarre aspects in a way that feels believable.

There is a sadness to High Life, as well. Denis seems very interested in examining the effects of loneliness, isolation, and exclusion (which, as the film seems to suggest, are certainly all separate things). And Pattinson, shaved head emphasizing his interesting but intense features, proves to be a great lead to help convey this.

Things are presented ambiguously enough that I think everyone will take different things from the viewing experience. It’s also a film that enthusiastically invites rewatches; personally, I don’t feel confident enough to say that I “got” everything that High Life is doing (or aiming to do) on first viewing.

Perhaps thanks to the film’s lack of explanation, there was also something about it that felt a bit incomplete by the end. Denis’ vision is undeniable, and on a literal, shot-by-shot basis, this is a stunning film to look at. However, I do usually prefer a little more clarity in the narrative when it’s a film with such a large scope.

Now that I’m a couple days out from watching and have had a chance to let things percolate, though, I think I appreciate it more. It’s a film that’s less about the viewer’s scene-to-scene reaction, and more about the feeling they’re left with at the end, and during the days after.

Certainly don’t go into High Life looking for answers. But if open to the sometimes-uncomfortable questions it poses, you’re likely to find a rewarding (if slightly befuddling) end to the journey.

Water For Elephants (2011)

Technically, I am a teenage girl (though I won’t be for much longer…The “teenage” part, I mean. Not the “girl” part.) So therefore, I suppose I am in the target demographic for Water for Elephants. Overall, though, my hopes for the film were not especially high, since it looked like a somewhat melodramatic love story, and I’m not a huge fan of those types of films. However, it wasn’t quite what I expected…

Water for Elephants is based on the 2006 debut novel by Sara Gruen. It tells the story of a young man, Jacob (Pattinson), in depression-era America who hops a train that turns out to be home to a travelling circus. After joining on with the band of misfits, Jacob begins to fall for the show’s mysterious star attraction, Marlena (Reece Witherspoon), who is married to the eccentric ringmaster and Boss, August (Christoph Waltz).

It sounds like a pretty standard “forbidden love” story, right? Well, in some ways it is. But Water for Elephants is also incredibly entertaining. I found the story entirely compelling, and it moves along at a brisk enough pace to prevent Twilight-esque scenes of endless, longing gazes. It puts the characters in peril, and even though the film becomes increasingly melodramatic, it also becomes exciting and tense. I actually cared about what happened to the characters, and director Francis Lawrence built suspense very effectively.

The standout of the cast for me was definitely Waltz. Borrowing from his Inglourious Basterds role, he teeters between disarming calm with hysteria, and he makes for a pretty sinister and unique character. He, like all of the leads, seems to get more comfortable as the film goes on, and he’s magnetic on screen.

Witherspoon also does a very capable job as Marlena, but the surprise for me was Pattinson. He turned in a solid performance, and it’s easily the best I’ve seen him on screen. It’s a role that demands a lot more emotional range than he’s previously shown, and he’s up to the task. There is still some affectation in his performance and certainly room for improvement, but he finally convinced me that he has the potential for some interesting performances after Twilight.

Water for Elephants is also a very elegantly shot film. It basks in its smoky, nostalgic 1930’s backdrop, and it also captures the “magic” associated with vintage circuses. The costumes and art direction are beautiful, as well, and I challenge anyone to watch this film and not have the slightest pang of wanting to join the circus.

As well, Lawrence gives us some breathtaking shots that reinforce the monotony of the nomadic lifestyle. There’s an almost Groundhog Day-like
quality to setting up the tents and animals at each stop, only to pack everything up a day or two later and do it all again.

But while the film does give us an interesting look at the circus lifestyle, the romance is ultimately at the heart of Water for Elephants. And while I don’t know if it fully articulates the process of Jacob and Marlena falling in love, once they are in love and trying to be together, I believed it, and I was along for the ride.

I’ve seen a lot of people compare this film to The Notebook, which in some ways is valid. But speaking as someone who never liked The Notebook, I think that Water for Elephants is much more effective and tells a more interesting story. I don’t even think that the love story overwhelms in Water for Elephants, and between the circus plot and surprising amount of “action” scenes, it’s not strictly a chick flick. (For what it’s worth, the guy friend in our group really liked it.)

Water for Elephants is a little sappy at times, but overall, it’s a really fun cinematic ride. Though it comes just short of being a “great” film, it’s one of the best romance movies I’ve seen in a while, and I could even see it becoming one of those love stories that lives on, for better or worse (think The Notebook, Titanic, Love Story, etc.) It won’t please everyone, but if you get swept up in the story like I did, you’ll probably have a pretty good time.

7/10

The Twilight Saga: New Moon (2009)

Well, I saw it.

I’ll admit, I’ve read all the books. While I enjoy them, I think I have a decent perspective on what they are. Call it a guilty pleasure, if you want. It’s not great literature by any stretch, and anyone who says those books are well-written is delusional. But I won’t begrudge those who like the series and get excited for the movies. I thought the first movie, last year’s Twilight, was better than many people gave it credit for, but still a flawed movie. So I wasn’t sure what to expect with this one, with their new director and bigger budget. Here’s what I thought:

The Twilight Saga: New Moon begins with Bella Swan brooding (as usual) on her 18th birthday because she is now officially older than her vampire boyfriend, Edward Cullen (except that he’s actually 100+ years old and trapped in a 17-year-old boy’s body. Creepy? Yes.). At the birthday party that the Cullens coerce her into having, Bella gets a paper cut while opening a gift, and her blood sends the Cullens into something of a frenzy (side note: it seemed like an awful lot of blood for one tiny paper cut, didn’t it?). Shaken up by this close-call, Edward leads her deep into the forest and tells her that they can no longer be together, and that he is ostensibly leaving forever. A few months pass, and Bella apparently never moves from her perch by her bedroom window. She finally gets up the courage to face the world boyfriend-less (I’ll save my rant for another time), and finds a companion in her newly ripped friend, Jacob Black. Bella discovers that doing dangerous things causes ghostly apparitions of Edward to appear, and this causes her to do a number of incredibly idiotic, dangerous things in order to see his face. Meanwhile, Jacob’s going through some tough times himself, since he’s just now finding out that he happens to be a werewolf. Cue the budding romance, brooding gazes, abs, and suicide threats.

If you enjoyed the books, you probably won’t mind the sillyness of this movie. Anyone else will likely be really confused as to why this franchise is so popular. But as ridiculous as it all is, there is something there, obviously. I’m not going to go into some pseudo-psychological deconstruction of it all. I just know that it’s shamefully enjoyable. A lot of the fun comes from Robert Pattinson (who plays Edward, if you somehow weren’t aware). All of his theatrical brooding is beyond over-the-top, but he does have a weird magnetism on the screen. Am I saying this because I’m an 18-year-old girl who finds him attractive? Probably. But he does bring a boatload of charisma to the movie just by dopily gazing into space. He and Kristen Stewart, who plays Bella, have some decent onscreen chemistry, and while her stilted delivery is easy to mock, it works pretty well for the character.

Taylor Lautner (Jacob) may be one giant hunk of eye candy (there were a few cheers in my theatre when he made his debut), but he comes across as surprisingly bland. I doubt that many of the people going to see this movie really care about his acting, but any time the role called for an emotion that wasn’t “jovial”, things took a turn for the worst.

The special effects are also much better. Now, when Edward Cullen steps into the sunlight, the special effects are just laughably silly, rather than laughably silly AND awful. The werewolves (though rather underused) come across much better than the trailers suggested. That whole, weirdly aquatic atmosphere of the first film is still here somewhat, but new director Chris Weitz wisely tones it down a bit.

I really could have done without the three segments of the film that involved lengthy 360-degree camera shots revolving around the characters (two of which were only minutes apart). I get that Bella is disoriented in a world without Edward, but I don’t need to feel like I’m watching Cloverfield in order to understand that.

I always liked the Bella/Jacob bond in the book, yet I felt like the pacing of that section of the movie (which was the entire middle part of the film) was all over the place. Things got more interesting in the last half hour of the film, when Bella goes to Italy and meets the Volturi (some kind of law-enforcement vampires?). Michael Sheen and Dakota Fanning are so much fun as two of the sinister vampires, and really elevate the film far beyond anything that happened in the first hour and a half.

It’s not by any stretch a good film, but you can have a lot of fun at New Moon, if you’re willing to go along with it. Even the audience at my screening, who seemed legitimately interested in the movie, burst into laughter at a random shot of Edward Cullen running through the woods in slow motion. I laughed at New Moon, but I did ultimate find myself getting absorbed in the story. Not as much as I did with the first one, but it was still an enjoyable, if not largely flawed, film.

5/10