Film reviews: Tower Block | Hysteria | Now is Good

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AFTER a teenager is brutally murdered on their doorstep, the remaining residents of a condemned high-rise find themselves being used as target practice by an assassin in this latest broken-Britain exploitation film.

Tower Block (15)

Directed by: James Nunn, Ronnie Thompson

Starring: Sheridan Smith, Jack O’Connell, Ralph Brown, Russell Tovey

* * *

Unlike a lot of similar efforts that have turned up in cinemas over the last year or two, Tower Block does work as a film, largely because it scales back the blunt social commentary suggested by its setting and concentrates more on being a straight-up genre thriller. Debut feature directors James Nunn and Ronnie Thompson may not always successfully get to grips with the plot machinations (there are certainly a few too many scenes of the suddenly up-against-it protagonists sitting around in corridors freaking out about what’s going on), but along the way there are things to admire, including some surprisingly brutal and unexpected action beats, and a couple of entertaining performances. As a drug-dealing thug whose hero status eventually comes to the fore, Jack O’Connell is particularly good at giving the kind of charismatic, memorably over-the-top turn upon which genre cinema thrives – although commiserations must also go to Russell Tovey, whose sad-sack alcoholic winds up participating in the most laughable Die Hard homage imaginable.

Hysteria (15)

Directed by: Tanya Wexler

Starring: Hugh Dancy, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jonathan Pryce, Felicity JoneS

* *

“BASED on true events.…really!” So reads the tag line of Hysteria, which should clue you in to the nudge-nudge, wink-wink tone adopted by this period romp about the invention of the vibrator. Set in London in the 1880s, it casts Hugh Dancy as Mortimer Granville, a physician whose advocacy of germ theory has made him virtually unemployable within the outdated medical fraternity of Victorian England. Desperate for a job, he takes a position with Dr Robert Dalrymple (Jonathan Pryce), whose private practice is doing a roaring trade alleviating “hysteria” – an apparently widespread condition affecting mostly uptight society women that is treatable by a discreet and clinical massage of, well, you probably get the idea. The joke that the film’s makers clearly imagine will reduce us to paroxysms of laughter is that neither doctor acknowledges that their treatment is providing sexual pleasure. Instead, Granville is more focused on the hand cramps he’s suffering, something that, inevitably, leads him to help pioneer an electronic stimulus that will accomplish the same feat with less effort. The film tries to weave in some context about the emerging rights of women via a subplot involving Maggie Gyllenhaal as Dalrymple’s rabble-rousing daughter, but really, this is little more than a dressed-up Carry On film.

Now is Good (12A)

Directed by: Ol Parker

Starring: Dakota Fanning, Jeremy Irvine, Paddy Considine, Olivia Williams

* *

“LOVE means never having to say you’re sorry,” said Ali MacGraw in the archetypal terminal illness saga Love Story. Flash-forward four decades and apparently now it means never having to say goodbye, such is the long-drawn-out nature of this melodrama about a Brit teenager with leukaemia whose imminent demise is prolonged way past the point it actually makes sense in the film. Dakota Fanning – all forthright attitude and wavering accent – is Tessa, a Brighton belle with a bucket list of things to do before she dies: among them taking drugs and losing her virginity. After a disastrous attempt at the latter she meets hunky new neighbour Adam (Jeremy Irvine), whose virtuous presence results in lots of gooey scenes featuring languorous walks, helmet-free motorbike rides and the kind of grand romantic gestures that ensure any sex will be accompanied by appropriately amorous feelings. Alas, despite the terminal nature of Tessa’s condition, writer/director Ol Parker refuses to let her die without first resolving the numerous issues he’s saddled her friends and family with. By the umpteenth almost-death scene, your own will to live might be severely tested.

The Myth of the American Sleepover (15)

Directed by: David Robert Mitchell

Starring: Claire Sloma, Marlon Morton, Amanda Bauer, Brett Jacobsen

* * * *

THIS thoughtful film about a group of American teens celebrating the last weekend of the summer embraces the condensed, set-over-one-night structure of coming-of-age classics such as American Graffiti, Dazed & Confused and more recent comedies such as Superbad. Where it differs is the way in which writer/director David Robert Mitchell uses audience familiarity with this format to slyly interrogate American cinema’s portrayal of adolescence as a hedonistic, event-filled rush into adulthood. True, there is a certain romanticised dreaminess to the suburban Detroit setting of The Myth of the American Sleepover, but its teenage inhabitants are presented in a more naturalistic way and, as they awkwardly shuffle through what is, ostensibly, their last big night before school starts again, we get to observe them simultaneously trying to make sense of their emotions while trying to suppress niggling feelings that they’re perhaps not having the kinds of experiences that movies – even very good, truthful movies – have convinced them that they should be having. Boosted by likeable performances by a cast of unknowns who actually look like real teenagers, this is both a refreshing take on a beloved genre and a useful corrective to that other strain of kids-gone-haywire films that treat adolescence as a ludicrously high-stakes, life-or-death proposition.

Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel (PG)

Directed by: Lisa Immordino Vreeland, Bent-Jorgen Perlmutt, Frédéric Tcheng

* * *

STYLISH and scathing, the late Diana Vreeland was the empress of American fashion long before Anna Wintour arrived on the scene. As editor of Harper’s Bazaar and then Vogue, she brought the bikini to America, turned models into stars (and stars in models), dressed Jackie Kennedy during her husband’s election campaign and helped transform fashion journalism from something that offered advice to socialites to something that changed the way people looked at couture.

On top of that she was an outré and outspoken figure, something that this documentary portrait (co-directed by her granddaughter-in-law, Lisa Immordino Vreeland) captures with a kind of spirit befitting a woman who overcame her mother’s disappointment at her lack of conventional beauty by developing her own understanding of style. Mixing archival footage with contemporary reflections from those who knew her, the film also dramatises a series of interviews Vreeland gave to George Plimpton, using them to narrate a remarkable life in high style. The tone may never be anything other than celebratory, but a few (respectfully) dissenting voices mean that her flaws aren’t completely airbrushed out of the picture.