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LFF 2015: Queen of Earth

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Queen of Earth Poster

Release: Awaiting UK Distribution 

Director: Alex Ross Perry

Starring: Elisabeth Moss, Katherine Waterson, Patrick Fugit

Perhaps inadvertently so, Alex Ross Perry has crafted the most unsettling horror movie of the year. His responsive effort to 2014’s excellent Listen Up Philip reunites the indie auteur with lead actress Elisabeth Moss, and together the twosome deliver something wholly unique and entirely unforgettable.

Queen of Earth opens with a truly tone-defining scene: a brutal close-up of Catherine (Moss) in a state of harrowing emotional torment. Her hair matted and sodden, her make-up-stained eyes like endless pits, her nose and cheeks a burning shade of crimson. It is perhaps the most inescapably direct introduction to a motion picture all year.

Her heartache comes from the abandonment of now-ex-boyfriend James (Kentucker Audley) – someone with whom she was far too dependant on; both emotionally and spiritually. Maintaining tradition, she heads to best friend Virginia’s (Waterson) remote and tranquil lake house for her annual vacation, but her visit this time is heavily steeped in sadness and remorse.

Across the week, her privacy is ‘invaded’ by local neighbour Rich (Fugit) who is striking up a relationship with the homeowner. It becomes quickly and awkwardly apparent that their personalities clash, and soon Catherine begins to resent the twosome for penalising her period of grief.

If this all sounds unfathomably depressing, well that’s because it is, but only speaking contextually. With Queen of Earth, Ross Perry confirms himself as one of the brightest bulbs in the American tanning bed; his lyrical, uncompromising vision is both knife-twisting in its bitterness and intelligence – a character study developed with equal parts acidity and excellence. Had the film gained UK distribution in 2015, this would likely feature atop of many ‘Best Of’ lists, and rightly so.

Beautifully precise editing unveils darker, denser shades to the friend’s chemistry. It comes to fruition that the year prior, Virginia was made to feel like the third-wheel when Catherine randomly brings James along on holiday; tainting their girl-time together and putting barriers on their connectivity. Fast forward twelve months and the roles have reversed, but whilst Virginia’s cocksure wit can cover her inner bruising, Catherine is struggling to gather the fragments of her life at the very best of times, let alone being confronted with Rich and his stern cynicism.

There are two scenes in particular that are a cut above the competition tenfold, and both are entirely static. Ross Perry’s deeply invasive camera hangs still like a cruel voyeur as his actors occupy the frame. The first features Moss and Waterson slumped in a hallway, reflecting in turn – and in detail – about past tribulations with their men. His ferociously charged screenplay fizzes and burns as it rolls off the tongue; it’s a wicked broth that begs for a further spoonful.

The second, is well, completely towering, and comes as the film draws to a close. One will not spoil but Catherine’s definition and diagnosis for depression is both painstakingly accurate and unrelenting brilliant. The monologue has the power to both draw a tear of sorrow and a sour cackle of glee – that is quite frankly brilliant filmmaking.

Moss is one of the finest actresses working right now and has that rare ability to convey fragility and power simultaneously. Being the great writer-director that he is, Ross Perry knows how to perfectly exploit this fact. After her exceptional work in The One I Love and of course Mad Men, it would be hard to think she could further, but alas.

Catherine is without doubt her greatest character performance to date. It’s so good that in a just world (of which this is not; just watch the film to further that point…), she’d be a big winner during awards season. Moss is both shattering and terrifying  -the kind of person you really want to support, but are too scared to approach. Her delirious and delicious descent into madness borders on insufferable, and that’s perhaps the greatest praise one could offer.

Waterson and Fugit are equally excellent too; they serve as the perfect counterbalance to the psychologically untethered Catherine, which in turns, makes them more unpredictable. As Ross Perry refuses to coherently see the film through particular eyes, we must decipher what it ‘real’ and what is a bleak projection of a tarnished mind. We anchor ourselves to Virginia for the most part; whilst she’s rough around the edges and certainly damaged, she is approachable, yet her perceptions of Catherine’s madness are heavily bias – namely due to her vocal opinions of James and the couple’s bizarre behaviour.

Queen of Earth’s deepest authenticity lies in its conclusion. Like the honest, emotional turmoil of heartbreak, it offers no quick-fix or easy resolution, rather drip-feeds the psyche with progressive malice. It is a challenging watch, an exceptionally disarming one in fact, but it is also one of the most vividly perfect films all year.

Film fanatic and UFC obsessive. Avid NFL fan and Chelsea supporter. Maintains a BA (Hons) degree in Film Studies attained from the University of Brighton. Adorer of Michael Haneke, Woody Allen, Pixar Animation Studios, James Bond 007, American Indies & French New Wave.

Movie Reviews

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

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Released: 16th October 2018

Directed By: David Yates

Starring: Jude Law, Johnny Depp. Also Eddie Redmayne.

Reviewed By: Van Connor

The magic’s well and truly faded with this second instalment of the erstwhile Harry Potter prequel series, as The Crimes of Grindelwald shifts the action to Paris, but its own sensibilities entirely too far into the franchise world-building spectrum that could threaten to unravel it. It never does quite unfurl from the exhaustion of it, that would, after all, suggest there were anything of note at its core. There isn’t. The Crimes of Grindelwald is precisely the patronising box-office-centric cash-grab any decent cynic’s always accused the Harry Potter series of being under the surface; all that’s changed is that, this time, they really can’t be bothered to attempt to mask it beneath any kind of fun.

One of those sequels you can rather obviously tell was never meant to exist, this very-much-a-part-two kicks off unceremoniously (it has no other setting, as you’ll discover over the course of a mind-numbing two and a quarter hours) by setting about undoing literally every closing plot mechanic of what’s come before. Did a character end up in Point A last time? Well, this time they’re going to be reintroduced via what’s either an interesting and poorly lit set-piece or clunky exposition in order to set themselves up at Point B instead, regardless of whether or not it makes sense for them to do so. Only then may the plot of The Crimes of Grindelwald begin. And plot it has. Lots of plot. Tons and tons of plot. In fact, it has very little else but plot. So, it’s somewhat mystifying that David Yates’ sixth venture into what’s evidently now branded as the Wizarding World should ultimately amount to so little.

From what little you’re able to glean of the plot, proceedings involve the immediate escape of evil wizard Gerrett Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) from the prison to where he was sent last time. On the loose once more, Grindelwald sets about exacting his master plan to ensure magical dominance over the human race, a plan that involves the formation of a dark wizarding army and the utilisation of one Credence Barebones (Ezra Miller), with the latter’s death evidently no obstacle for the likes of his contract’s sequel options. The only wizard capable of stopping Grindelwald, we’re told, is that rebellious master wizard Albus Dumbledore (now played in a younger form by Jude Law), but Dumbledore can’t, you see, because… reasons, and despatches a reluctant Newt Scamander to do so in his stead. Because, again, reasons.

Now, you can be forgiven for taking that plot in and wondering just how in the hell Eddie Redmayne’s Newt need in any way be present for any of this, and, frankly, you’d be right to do so. Certainly, Eddie Redmayne appears to be wondering the same – his contingent of the cast (essentially the main four from the last movie) each make what can charitably be described as diminishing returns, offering more outright effort in their performances to a film that really can’t be bothered to do much with them. They’re not important, you see, Dumbledore is. Grindelwald is. And creator/screenwriter/living cash hoover J.K. Rowling genuinely cannot be bothered to pretend otherwise. That movie snotty naysayers claim they always somehow see whenever there’s a new superhero movie out? The one that’s nothing but nonsense, world-building and a half-hourly set-piece? That movie actually does exist. And its title is The Crimes of Grindelwald.

Losing the magic of even its own musical arrangement, The Crimes of Grindelwald is an outright disaster not just of a seasonal tentpole release, but of a franchise picture full stop. Its script works exhaustingly to tie itself in knots to go essentially nowhere, its culmination consisting of literally nothing more than two pieces of unceremonious lore being shouted about in canon, each essentially lionised by Rowling so that at least one of them can no longer be called out as the laziest, most cynical, and ethically bankrupt product of the entire franchise. She fails in this endeavour, as, indeed, does Yates in delivering a dreary and uninvolving film to which his cast aspire to inject life, only to reanimate the narratively dead instead.

Legions of Potterites will doubtless flock to the nearest multiplex the moment the doors open, and, to be fair, that is absolutely the power the brand has and ours is not to question. If the priority of this series, though, genuinely is the continued pumping of revenue into the Rowling estate landscaping fund, would it really be too much to ask to even attempt to make it a good time? Can we not at least get some enjoyment out of this? A big ask, I know. But it’d behove Rowling, Yates, and everybody involved in this shill of a series to at least consider we might want some excitement next time around. Maybe when the second act stops dead for ten minutes to give us a canon origin story for the damned sorting hat.

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Featured Review

Hell Fest ★★★

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Released: 16th October 2018

Directed By: Gregory Plotkin

Starring: Amy Forsyth, Bex Taylor-Klaus, Reign Edwards

Reviewed By: Van Connor

In the pantheon of cinema, the slasher movie sits alongside only really Die Hard and the western as being unfathomably easy to retrofit for any occasion with “…but with this unique location instead!” Hell Fest is a textbook case of this. It has no ambition beyond merely being a slasher movie set within a specific gimmick-driven environment, no desire to offer up anything more than stock Hollywood teens being violently murdered one at a time, and is under no illusion about whether or not you’ve ever seen this movie before or even care. What it is concerned with, though, is fun. And it has that in spades.

It’s literally nothing more than “the slasher movie at an adult horror theme park”. A concept, it turns out, that you can make a fair amount of mischief with, as our group of six abhorrently gorgeous twenty-eight year-old teenagers find themselves fixated upon by a sinister figure in a wooden mask and brandishing a kitchen knife. This being the eponymous theme park, naturally there are a multitude of places for our teens to hide, but, as is par for the course in Hell Fest, where you hide could just as easily be the very means by which our masked murderer will gut you. Fun!

Though none of the cast leap out as being particularly noteworthy (Arrow’s Bex Taylor-Klaus and MacGyver’s Reign Edwards are arguably the biggest geek pulls here), each serviceably handles their limited place within the story. Amy Forsyth’s a perfectly fine Final Girl, not memorable, but likeable enough, and the rest of the cast conduct themselves to more or less the same standard. Blumhouse alum Gregory Plotkin shifts to the big chair for this one, proving he’s got pretty lively chops for a good ol’ down n’ dirty slasher flick, and Seth Sherwood and Blair Butler’s script knows just how to play with the mechanics of the formula that everyone involved can unashamedly enjoy themselves without the overwhelming need to reinvent the genre wheel.

By virtue of being set within a merchandised horror world, Hell Fest has great fun in exploiting that set up for some wonderfully cheap scares, making for an enjoyable and OTT bloody night at the pictures that will never challenge, but certainly entertain. There’s no mythology to this, no franchise being built before us, and there’s even a genre icon making an almost obligatory appearance to sanctify it all. Sure, you won’t lose your head with Hell Fest, but you will whoop and cheer. It’s just a shame it had to arrive three weeks after Halloween.

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Movie Reviews

LFF 2018 Review – Colette

Colette can feel a tad velvety at times but is lifted by Keira Knightley’s sensual performance and liberating battle that painfully resonates today.

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Director: Wash Westmoreland

Stars: Keira Knightley, Dominic West

Released: London Film Festival 2018

Born in 19th century France, Sidonie Gabrielle Colette wrote more than 80 volumes depicting her childhood, her life, her pains and pleasures. Her writings were sensual, vivid and all published under her husband name, “Willy”.

No stranger to female-centric stories, Wash Westmoreland follows up on “Still Alice” and “Echo Park, L.A.” with this dazzling period biopic starring Keira Knightley and Dominic West.

The film starts, the young country girl, Colette (Knightley), marries writer and critic Henri Gauthier-Villars (“Willy”) who introduces her to Parisian salons. Willy soon finds himself in debts and is desperate enough to seek his wife’s help. She will write. Colette writes what she knows and her first novella, “Claudine à l’école” (Claudine at school) is a success. Willy forces her to write the next ones, locked in a golden cage, to ensure his fame and success.

The settings are sumptuous and we gladly follow the camera through the stunning but confined Parisian apartments where the outside light only comes through when she feels inspired. Costumes evolve, as Colette, from heavy and restricted dresses to wild and daring clothing as if Mademoiselle Chanel had designed them herself.

Colette finally loosens from her husband and experiments with woman, society and dancing, feeding her inspiration. Forced and uncredited, Colette cannot enjoy writing and runs off to perform in the music-hall in her own name. In like most biopics, we go from one key event to another, regrettably quickly and often without knowing how we got there. Willy’s sudden appointment of his wife is left as unexplained as the abrupt ending that could have potentially seen Colette, a happy writer.

In the second part of the film Westmoreland seems more interested in looking at the awakening of a young woman rather than at the birth of an author whereas Keira Knightley shines in the lead role. Often known for playing the innocent and rebellious youth, Knightley still pulls off the young Colette in the first part of the film but is at her best when she evolves into a mature woman, aware of own desires. The best scenes of the film come when Colette is free and herself, usually in the company of other woman, particularly the terribly charming Missy (Denise Gough). Westmoreland multiplies two shots and close ups and creates impactful intimate scenes but regrettably gives up on them too fast.

It is a change to see a character such as “Willy” that is both ridiculous and loving. This duality creates, perhaps, a more truthful relationship between the two. No one is born an artist and behind every writer there is an intuitive editor (and in 20th century France, who else could it be than a man?). For Westmoreland if there is no Claudine without Colette, there would have been no Colette without Willy.

With its lavish setting and jumping plot, Colette can feel a tad velvety at times but is lifted by Keira Knightley’s sensual performance and liberating battle that painfully resonates today.

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