I Saw The Light Review

Another year, another musical biopic. Last year we had Love and Mercy (The Beach Boys) and the rather well made Straight Outta Compton (N.W.A.). Now for something more classic, folk and country singer Hank Williams in I Saw The Light. 

I Saw The Light stars Tom Hiddleston, Elizabeth Olsen and Cherry Jones and is written and directed by Marc Abraham. The film follows the real-life story of Hank Williams, a folk and country singer from Alabama, his sudden rise to fame and his death at the age of 29.

Tom Hiddleston was the reason I was interested in seeing I Saw The Light. After his phenomenal performance in High-Rise and rumours that he may be the next James Bond, I’m intent on watching any film knowing he’s in it. Sadly though, I Saw The Light is one of the films I should have probably skipped. Hiddleston mostly shines (even with a ridiculous Southern accent) but everyone around him is either boring or forgettable. Elizabeth Olsen comes on screen now and again to be passive-aggressive towards Hiddleston, skipping between showering her love over him and then arguing with him.

I can attribute most of the problems to the story. It’s too unfocused. We start with Williams first touring around small clubs, playing on radio before finding his big break. It jumps all over the place and despite getting time stamps counting the years I was mostly lost as to where it was in William’s life. It feels more like a highlight reel of his defining moments rather than a full story, only for people who know his life and want to see Hiddleston try and find his way through it.

The film tries to hit all of William’s major points in his life, but even at two hours it feels rushed. Hiddelston downs one beer at breakfast and suddenly he’s a alcoholic. He takes a couple of pills on the road and snorts a couple of lines in a single scene and now he’s a drug addict. We see one woman leaving his hotel room in the entire films and he’s a compulsive cheater. If like me, you didn’t know Hank Williams’ story before you watched I Saw The Light, then you’d probably be completely lost as to what was going on.

I Saw The Light tries to fit in Amy style “talking head” interviews, filled with actors as the real life people who knew Williams. It’s an interesting mechanic for telling the story, but once again it’s under-used. We get a couple in the beginning, before a long dry spell and then another two near the end. If it had dispersed them throughout, it would have been an interesting feature, and if it had used more people, Williams’ wife, his children, his mother rather than just a couple of music record executives, we would have been able to get a nice side-view into his life. The newsreel footage of his tours and his funeral back in Alabama is used well and ends the film fittingly.

The saving grace is the music. Hiddleston sings and plays guitar in all of the concert sections and even though these are the best moments of the film, looking back they just feel wasted. You could have the exact same experience as watching I Saw The Light as listening to a Hank Williams best-of CD at home. You would get the best part of the film minus all of the things that don’t make the film work or bring it down to a much lower level.

In summary, I Saw The Light was just plain boring. You might get some enjoyment if you’re a Hank Williams fan or you know a lot about his personal life as you can fill in the blanks, but for everyone else, you can miss this one.

Score: 3/10 Hiddleston and the songs keep it from getting any lower.

High-Rise Review

Another film that was meant to come out back in 2015, High-Rise has been in different stages of production for around 30 years, with several tries falling by the wayside. Finally, it’s with us, so it’s about time that I reviewed it.

High-Rise stars Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Miller and Luke Evans and is directed by Ben Wheatley. Based on the book of the same name by JG Ballard and set in an alternate 1970s, the film follows Dr. Robert Laing (Hiddleston) who has just moved to the High-Rise. He is caught in the middle when all-out war breaks out between the poor tenants at the bottom and the rich at the top.

High-Rise boasts an impressive cast and all of them are doing top work. Luke Evans as Wilder, the instigator of the class war, Jeremy Irons as the wizened old architect Royal or Siena Miller as the temptress Charlotte, they are a great selection of actors. There are smaller roles of Elizabeth Moss (with a rather silly upper class accent) and an unrecognisable Keeley Hawes who are filling in the sides. And since it’s set in the 70s, the men are in flared trousers and moustaches and the women are in mini-skirts, and all of them have bad hair. It’s good costume design and might cause a buzz at next year’s award season.

The standout performance though is Tom Hiddleston as Laing. Laing is an outsider, we don’t know much about him at the film’s start and we know just as little by the end. He’s slimy but also charming at the same time, it’s a bit like Hiddleston’s performance as Loki in the Avengers. There have been rumours that he could be the new James Bond, and High-Rise is a promising audition. Hiddleston can show he’s suave and stylish but also ruthless and shady when it comes to it.

The story is set in motion by power failures on the lower floors while consistent power is running at the higher and penthouse suites at the top. The lower flats are styled in the 70s fashion, gaudy apartments filled with faux-wood and plastic chairs and tables, and are always shown in semi darkness. The top floors are brightly lit, painted all in white and furnished with rugs and extravagant pets. The tenants in the top floors are dressed like it’s the 1800s. They wear powdered wigs and ball gowns and tailcoats, they gorge on canapés and expensive alcohol and they behave like spoilt children. Laing fits right in the middle and is both played and plays for both sides of the conflict.

When the first cracks begin to appear between the floors, it soon turns to violence pretty quickly. Just imagine something like The Hunger Games if it was set in the tower block from The Raid and you’ll be around the right mark. It reminds me of something like Bioshock or 2013’s Snowpiercer, which was another film that dealt with the lower classes rising up against the upper class, but here we don’t see a lot of the large clashes of violence. We see the small fights but mainly the aftermath; the blood spilled on the floor, the rubbish piling up in the corridors and the household object that had been repurposed as weapons during the skirmishes. Anything and everything is used, scissors, golf clubs and sometimes just bare fists.

They fight over things like fresh food and candles as well as the alcohol, drugs and women that fuel their parties. Even while going toe-to-toe, both lower and higher floors find time to party all night, with the corridors turning into weird, drug-fuelled raves. Cinematographer Laurie Rose captures all of the decadence superbly through a mix of steady shots in the beginning before moving into the handheld camera to get right in the face of the depravity that unfolds.

I didn’t know what to expect when going into High Rise but in the end I was blown away by the sheer craziness of it all. While it does feel a tad overlong, it’s worth every moment just to see the beautiful mess that High Rise becomes.

Score: 9/10 Sexy, smart and sophisticated…while being completely mad at the same time.

Crimson Peak Review

Guillermo Del Toro is one of the most famed directors to come out of South America. With hits such as Hellboy (1 and 2), Cronos, Pacific Rim and Pan’s Labyrinth, the man from Mexico has a series of excellent, auteur-driven hits under his belt. Does Crimson Peak follow in his older work and stand out amongst the others in theatres?

Crimson Peak stars Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain, Tom Hiddleston and Charlie Hunnman and is directed by Guillermo Del Toro. When Edith Cushing (Wasikowska) marries Thomas Sharpe (Hiddleston), he takes her to live at his family home in Crimson Peak, where strange happenings from the past haunt the family house.

The story of Crimson Peak is set during the turn of the 20th century, and it feels very much like a pulp novel from the same time. Books like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (which gets name dropped within the first two minutes), The Picture Of Dorian Gray and Wuthering Heights, Crimson Peak owes a debt to each of them, melding several ideas from different sources to create a new film. It’s very old-style horror, so no loud-bang jump scares are in the film. The horror is suggested and rarely glimpsed, which may put off a few viewers who want their horror to be viewed and visceral. It’s a slow start, with the horror only really coming in around the halfway mark, but after the slow beginning, Crimson Peak really brings some of the best horror of the Halloween season.

Mia Wasikowska does an alright job as Edith, a woman getting increasingly scared and sick at staying in the old house, even though her dialogue hardly changes from whispers and whimpers. Tom Hiddleston plays his usual British self, and seems to be a lot more relaxed and confident in his role now he’s not shackled to the 12A rating of a Marvel property. But the stand out is an almost unrecognisable Jessica Chastain as Thomas’ sister, Lady Lucille. Chastain, like her on-screen brother, is having fun as the quiet but menacing Lady Lucille, and once act three starts and the house lets loose the horrors of the past, Chastain kicks her performance into high gear, with a brilliant final set piece set against the white snow daubed with blood red soil.

The red on white finale is one of the spectacular sets of the film, but Crimson Peak is full of standout moments. Tom Hiddleston remarks early on (and in the trailer) that the house atop Crimson Peak is alive, and through sweeping and tracking shots in the house we see something akin to Shadow Of The Colossus or Del Toro’s earlier work, Pan’s Labyrinth, as the house starts to breathe, move and even bleed. The missing roof allows the snow and leaves to continually flutter through and collect in the main hall, adding to the effect that the house is more one with nature than something that has been built. All these extraordinary sets add up together to make Crimson Peak one of the most visually striking films of the year.

My only complaint of the film would be one I touched on earlier, namely that the film takes a while to get going and the film is almost halfway through until it actually gets to Crimson Peak. I know this is in the style of the novels that inspired the story, but the film really does faff about with story points that don’t really add anything to character or narrative. Don’t mistake that for the film being overlong, it fits it’s running time well, but these scenes really could have added some back-story to the characters or lore to the world.

All in all, Crimson Peak is another cracker of a film for Guillermo Del Toro. While it’s slow start and lack of modern horror tropes might turn a few off, if you go with it you’ll get one of the most fantastical film this year. If you choose to watch any film in the cinema this Halloween, let it be Crimson Peak.

Score: 8/10 A good, old-fashioned ghost story from one of the genre greats.