Spaced out

Robert Pat­tin­son and Juliet Binoche are game for French au­teur Claire De­nis’s erotic take on the sci- fi genre, but there’s not much go­ing on be­neath the provoca­tive im­agery

The Scotsman - - ARTS - Alis­tair Hark­ness @ al­i­hark­ness

The idea of a Claire Denis­di­rected sci- fi film turns out to be more in­trigu­ing than the re­al­ity in High

Life. A me­an­der­ing med­i­ta­tion on what makes us hu­man, it sees the veteran French au­teur alight­ing on an­swers in­volv­ing au­to­eroti­cism, hu­man ejac­u­late and mis­guided no­tions of hero­ism in a film that can some­times be thrillingl­y ab­stract, but more of­ten than not is crush­ingly dull.

Star­ring Robert Pat­tin­son as the last adult sur­vivor of an ap­par­ently doomed in­ter­stel­lar mis­sion, the film starts creep­ily enough with Pat­tin­son’s char­ac­ter, Monte, car­ry­ing out es­sen­tial main­te­nance on his drift­ing- through- space ves­sel while a baby at­tempts to pacify her­self. As the cam­era drifts through the ship’s ster­ile cor­ri­dors and ver­dant garden, we get a sense that some­thing ter­ri­ble has hap­pened here, an omi­nous feel­ing un­der­scored by this in­con­gru­ous pair­ing and the un­set­tling ten­sion it

gen­er­ates. In space no one can hear you scream, claimed the tagline for Ri­d­ley Scott’s Alien, but try­ing telling that to a baby and her stressed out fa­ther.

Un­for­tu­nately, as De­nis starts fill­ing in the de­tails via flash­backs and a lot of very te­dious ex­po­si­tion

– it in­volves a dy­ing Earth and an eth­i­cally du­bi­ous ( and non­sen­si­cal) plan to save it by send­ing deathrow in­mates into space on sui­cide mis­sions to har­ness the en­ergy of black­holes – the film has no real idea of how to make its wilder ideas co­here into some­thing mean­ing­ful or com­pellingly outré.

Those ideas take shape mostly around Juliet Binoche’s char­ac­ter, Dr Dibs, a fer­til­ity ob­sessed medic with a dark past. In the flash­back time­line we see that she’s some­how high­jacked the mis­sion and is us­ing it to ex­per­i­ment on her fel­low crew mem­bers, ex­tract­ing bod­ily flu­ids in re­turn for phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal treats. She also lets them use her spe­cially de­signed mas­tur­ba­tion cham­ber ( though she doesn’t call it a mas­tur­ba­tion cham­ber), a blacked­out cu­bi­cle re­plete with handy lig­a­tures, a pom­mel horse- es­que chair with a re­tractable dildo, and au­to­mated car- wash- style rollers to clean ev­ery­thing down af­ter each onanis­tic ad­ven­ture.

Binoche – ever the game per­former – demon­strates the in­ner work­ings of this space in the film’s most erot­i­cally charged mo­ment, which sets her char­ac­ter up in stark con­trast to Monte, who at­tempts to ex­ert con­trol by prac­tic­ing ab­sti­nence. It’s not clear if Pat­tin­son’s cast­ing is part of a sly joke by De­nis here, riff­ing as it does on the celibacy

themes of Twi­light. What­ever the case, like David Cro­nen­berg be­fore her ( an­other di­rec­tor ob­sessed with sticky ex­cre­tions), she’s cer­tainly a ben­e­fi­ciary of Pat­tin­son’s will­ing­ness to re­ject main­stream Hol­ly­wood. What he’s get­ting out of it is an­other mat­ter, since De­nis, for all her art­ful di­gres­sions, seems un­will­ing to jet­ti­son con­ven­tion al­to­gether. The film even­tu­ally plays out like the umpteenth lo- fi riff on 2001 and

So­laris and it’s hard to es­cape the sense that she’s us­ing provoca­tive im­agery the way block­buster hacks use ex­pen­sive ac­tion se­quences: to prop up some generic sto­ry­telling.

Made­line’s Made­line, on the other hand, of­fers plenty of form­chal­leng­ing cine­matic rein­ven­tion, this time in the ser­vice of a re­mark­able com­ing- of- age film that drills down into the cre­ative process and the politi­ci­sa­tion of art and per­sonal ex­pres­sion in the cur­rent mo­ment. Co- writ­ten and di­rected by Josephine Decker, the New York- set film stars new­comer He­lena Howard as Made­line, a trou­bled 16- year- old who finds so­lace from her mother ( Mi­randa July) in an ex­per­i­men­tal theatre troupe. The troupe’s preg­nant di­rec­tor, Evan­ge­line ( Molly Parker), is strug­gling to find the right sub­ject mat­ter for the po­lit­i­cally charged col­lab­o­ra­tive show she’s try­ing to de­vise, but when she starts bonding with Made­line, she see’s an op­por­tu­nity to sub­tly ap­pro­pri­ate Made­line’s life story to make an au­then­tic work about men­tal ill­ness. What fol­lows is a qui­etly rad­i­cal film about who has the right to tell what story, one that cuts seam­lessly be­tween its three ex­cel­lent fe­male leads’ points of view to both de­con­struct what we’re watch­ing and trans­form it into an as­ton­ish­ing ex­plo­ration of the in­creas­ingly blurry and messy line be­tween life and art.

Cap­i­tal­is­ing on 2016’ s Poké­mon Go craze, Poké­mon: De­tec­tive Pikachu, sees the now 24- year- old videogame fran­chise get its first live­ac­tion film. Ryan Reynolds voices the epony­mous pri­vate eye, a fuzzy yel­low fur­ball who teams up with

Made­line’s Made­line is a qui­etly rad­i­cal film about who has the right to tell what story

the film’s 20- some­thing pro­tag­o­nist ( Jus­tice Smith) when the lat­ter’s fa­ther goes miss­ing in the hu­man/ Poké­mon me­trop­o­lis of Ryme City. The plot pretty much re­cy­cles Who

Framed Roger Rab­bit, but it’s fine for younger kids who per­haps don’t have the blad­der con­trol for Avengers

Endgame.

Ex­treme weather and a CGI po­lar bear are just some of the tri­als Mads Mikkelsen’s plane- crash sur­vivor has to battle in Arc­tic, a terse sur­vival thriller that gets some mileage out of its snow­bound set­ting. Un­for­tu­nately, a script largely un­in­ter­ested in the in­te­rior life of its main char­ac­ter proves the big­gest ob­sta­cle to this tran­scend­ing its

sta­tus as just an­other man- vs- na­ture en­durance test.

Ex­treme weather fea­tures again in Fi­nal As­cent: The Leg­end of Hamish

Macinnes, an en­gag­ing doc­u­men­tary about the Scot­tish climber. Macinnes lit­er­ally wrote the book on moun­tain res­cue, but hav­ing sur­vived count­less brushes with death on his var­i­ous ex­pe­di­tions, he faced a fairly ig­no­ble fate in his 80s af­ter be­ing sec­tioned for rea­sons that re­main a lit­tle hazy. The film charts his re­mark­able at­tempt to res­cue him­self from per­sonal obliv­ion by re- en­gag­ing with his well- doc­u­mented past – some­thing the film smartly uses as a cue to look back at his in­cred­i­ble life and ca­reer.

Clock­wise from main: High Life; Made­line’s Made­line; Fi­nal As­cent: The Leg­end of Hamish Macinnes; Poke­mon: De­tec­tive Pikachu

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