Month: October 2015

Crimson Peak Review

downloadEarly into Crimson Peak, young writer Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) attempts to pitch her novel to an obnoxious publicist (The Strain’s Jonathan Hyde in a cameo). He dismisses it arrogantly as a ghost story to which she replies ‘No, it’s a story with ghosts’. This description is Guillermo Del Toro’s way of letting the audience know that Crimson Peak is not a traditional horror film. Instead it has more in common with a gothic romance, although one which happens to feature spectral forces emerging from dark corridors and locked rooms. Edith, after the death of her father (a terrific Jim Beaver), marries the charming and seductive Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) and finds herself swept away to his remote mansion in the English hills. Also living there is Lady Lucille (Jessica Chastain), Thomas’ sister and protector who appears to harbour dark secrets regarding her family. Able to communicate with the dead, Edith tries to decipher the mystery behind the ghostly visions that haunt her new home.

The film is embedded with features of both gothic literature and gothic horror cinema. It tips it’s hat to the original gothic horror Nosferatu – through its use of old-fashioned camera tricks such as wipes (as transitions from scene to scene), along with the moment in which the shadows of Edith’s dead mother’s long fingers creep against the walls of her bedroom. The plot, like most traditional gothic tales, not only revolves around the duality and multiplicity of certain characters, but also, the revelations of past crimes which are often, as scholar Jonathan Risner points out, inextricably linked with a certain place, predominately lurid and secluded mansions. Del Toro’s stylish and lavish direction enforces the visual codes of the gothic e.g. gorgeous, vast expansive shots of the titular old castle and also it’s inner labyrinthine architecture. The building, in which the majority of the film’s second half takes place, is at times symbolic of the psychology of the character’s motives. The castle contains hidden chambers, subterranean vaults and secret passages which are metaphors for the dark, mysterious desires of characters. As these secret rooms and chambers are uncovered, the mystery of the plot begins to unravel.

download (1)The fact that Crimson Peak is such an unabashed homage to gothic literature in terms of plot means that the story is already overly familiar and therefore quite predictable in certain places (if you do not see the twists coming you are really not trying). However, Del Toro manages to keep the film compelling. He is aware that the reason this tale is told so often is because it is a good tale. With this in mind he allows the plot to play out as it should and instead focuses more on visuals and setting. Like his previous work there is an emphasis on both bright amber and bold dark red colours. The castle lit by candlelight is bathed in a gorgeous glow and the red clay, in which the ground is situated on, as it melds with snow is one of the most jaw-droppingly exquisite images of the year.

Although the film doesn’t have many truly terrifying set pieces, Crimson Peak deserves strong praise for its presentation of its ghouls. Doug Jones (Abe Sapien in Hellboy, The Fawn in Pan’s Labyrinth) is incredible again in his motion-capture roles (he plays both male and female spirits). Although the visuals are CGI, Jones lends a certain physicality to the ghosts’ movement. There is an element of uncanny terror as Jones appears to, at times, walk like a human and then later, crawl like a demon. These spectral forces are depicted as bright red (due to the clay) which only serves to heighten the horror of their otherworldly and unfamiliar appearance.

why-crimson-peak-is-the-most-important-horror-film-this-halloween-season-667088The performances are universally excellent. Wasikowska manages to keep her character compelling, which is a monumental feat when Hiddleston and Chastain’s characters are so much more dark, brooding and interesting. Hiddleston embodies his character with both a charm, which makes you understand why Edith would be attracted to him rather than Charlie Hunnam’s kind doctor character, but also at times a sense of desperation – as if he is man who is far too in over his head and is forced to live with his consequences. Chastain slightly overplays her character’s mental state (one of the elements which makes the film predictable), however, she truly shines in the excellent final act in which she becomes vicious and almost feral. Without spoilers, the bloody and violent last act of the film is thrilling and worth the price of admission alone.

Verdict: 3.5/4

Predictable, but nevertheless bold and beautiful. Crimson Peak is another excellent work by a world-class director.

Hot Prospects ‘Week 3’ – Sicario, Macbeth and Knock Knock

In this podcast, Me, Thomas and our special guests Aengus and Sacha, discuss white-washing in Hollywood, the recent Macbeth adaptation, the importance of cinematography, Guillermo del Toro’s next project after Crimson Peak and our classic film of the week, Blade Runner. Also Thomas and I rave about Sicario, I review Eli Roth’s Knock Knock and the new season of Fargo, Aengus discusses the brilliance of Mark Millar’s Wanted comic book and Sacha (a real life frenchman) quotes Jean-Luc Godard.

The Knick S02E01 ‘Ten Knots’ Review

key-artjpg-995e9c_765wIf anyone still doubts the skill of Steven Soderbergh as both an editor and director, I dare you to watch The Knick and not be slightly impressed. Directing each episode, he has taken a subject which could easily be an American Call the Midwife and managed to make it gritty, tense and exciting. He directs with a flair which more closely resembles an eerie, dark dystopian thriller than a period drama – this is evident in abundance in the season two premiere ‘Ten Knots’.

Following, the aftermath of season one finale Crutchfield (one of the best hours of television I’ve ever seen), Dr. Thackery is in rehab being weaned from his cocaine addiction with daily doses of heroin – because that’s what people did back in 1901. Meanwhile, Dr. Edwards, the temporary head of surgery at The Knickerbocker, is suffering from a detached retina – a result of the bone crunching bar brawl from season one – which threatens his ability to perform. Dr. Gallinger (Eric Johnson) refusing to take orders from a black man, kidnaps Thackery from his rehabilitation centre in order for him to go cold turkey and be reinstated at the hospital.

images (2)The frame, although featuring gorgeous, evocative imagery (which comes as close as possible to rivaling the period detail of Boardwalk Empire), is constantly jittering and pulsating. Not in a distracting way but in a way which implies hyper-realism and that the action is shot on location. It’s only a minor vibration during long-takes but it subtlety captures the feeling of restlessness. As doctors Thackery (a terrific Clive Owen) and Edwards (Andre Holland) battle filth and pestilence in the form of disease, the camera work distils the urgency of their circumstances. Suffering from withdrawal, Thackery appears to have a revelation – if he treats his addiction like a disease, there must be a cure – no doubt laying the ground work for the main drama of The Knick’s sophomore season. The screen pulsates in the way blood pumps through a body. It also helps that Cliff Martinez (Drive OST) electro-heavy score is constantly thumping in the background of each scene like a heartbeat.

The Returned S02E01 ‘L’enfant’ and S02E02 ‘Milan’ Review

images (1)The Returned is a sci-fi show that feels remarkably human. In the same way as HBO’s The Leftovers and BBC’s In the Flesh, it takes a fantastical premise but rather than explore the cause for the event in depth, it focuses on character and emotion. Episodes are not centred upon faux-scientific dialogue or action-heavy sequences. Instead, the real revelations are to do with personal discoveries. Often, more emphasis is placed upon subtle gestures such as a tear or a smile than the speed the plot barrels through. The Returned is a slow-burn which takes the time to allow one to become fully invested in its protagonists.

Slow-burn does not mean to imply the show is a slog. Quite to the contrary – it is gripping. The premise of the show is intriguing. In a mountainous French countryside town, people who have died begin to return. However, they do not appear to resemble the decaying extras in The Walking Dead. Instead they look exactly the same as they did when they were alive and have no knowledge of their death. Although, readers may be thinking ‘that’s terrific for those who lost loved ones’, the show predominately deals with the negative consequences of this event. The dead return to their relationships only to find that their significant others have moved on and fallen for other people. Those who died under suspicious circumstances begin to investigate their own killing. How do the people whose loved ones did not return cope with the situation? It’s a scenario which can be mined for interesting stories, which is exactly what the opening episodes of season two, ‘L’enfant’ and ‘Milan’, accomplish.

960Set six months after the finale of season one in which the dead abandon the living as the town’s dam bursts, leading to mass flooding, the military have intervened. However, people are not telling the true story – either the military do not believe them or the community choose to not reveal their secrets out of fear that the returned will be taken away by the authorities. However, the military have assigned a man named Berg (Laurent Lucas) to investigate the circumstances for the flood who threatens to expose the secrets of the town. Adding to this tension is more dead being resurrected in the shadows of the dark forests which surround the area.

Swann Nambotin as the enigmatic child Victor

Swann Nambotin as the enigmatic child Victor

The show establishes some intriguing mysteries for season two, particularly regarding Victor (the child on the promotional posters for the show) and his past, since his mother is part of the new-wave of ‘zombies’. The flooded city provides an amazingly dream-like setting a la Ryan Gosling’s Lost River. Laurent Lucas is an excellent addition to the cast in the role of Berg. He was compelling as the psychopathic Kaz Gorbier in the similarly tense and atmospheric French drama Witnesses so it will be interesting to see him clash with the unofficial community leader Pierre. Post-rock band Mogwai’s score remains as subdued and unsettling as ever and the creepy visuals ensure that the show is a must-watch.

Fargo ”Waiting for Dutch” Review

Fargo’s first season was a tremendous feat The_Strain_64523. It managed to capture the bizarre brilliance of the Coen Brothers film while still having its own identity. It placed itself within the universe of the 1996 movie, while creating an intriguing mystery that even appealed to those who were repelled by the thought of a TV adaptation. After the very mixed reactions to the similarity formatted anthology True Detective’s second season, people began to worry as to whether or not season two of Fargo would be as good as its predecessor. On the basis of the season opener ‘Waiting For Dutch’, it may be even better.

Fargo’s second season is set in 1979 and revolves around the investigation by State Trooper Lou Solverson (Patrick Wilson, older version of the character appeared in season one) into the murder of a judge and how it affects beautician Peggy Blomquist (Kirsten Dunst) and her husband, butcher Ed (Jesse Plemons). As one could guess, this season is fully loaded with topical and aesthetic nods to 70’s American culture – paranoia and fear is in the air as friend of Lou, conspiracy theorist Karl Weathers (played terrifically by Nick Offerman) name checks the J.F.K assassination and the Watergate scandal. There is also a strong use of split screens, no doubt as a homage to 70’s films which cultivated this style such as Carrie, Woodstock and The Andromeda Strain.

Kieran Culkin

Kieran Culkin

However despite the emphasis on the political nature of the time, the show has not altered into a more serious show. In fact, it has only gotten funnier and more confident in tone. The opening of the episode provided a hilariously deadpan view into the production of the Ronald Reagan-starring (fictional) movie The Battle of Sioux Falls (although Reagan did not appear onscreen, Bruce Campbell is slated to appear in later episodes). Writer Noah Hawley has a gift of making even the strangest occurrences never feel wrong or out-of-place. When local gangster Rye (Kieran Culkin – excellent), under the influence of cocaine, witnesses a U.F.O after a murder he commits, Hawley manages to make it feel quirky but never irksome. This humour is important to Fargo as it makes the shocking acts of brutality far more unexpected and chilling. Fargo appears to be a town filled with kind and charming people (a local policeman puts his coat over a woman’s corpse lying in the snow because ‘she looked cold’), who find themselves further and further engulfed in a world of crime completely by chance.

Screenshot 2015-10-13 21.08.02We also get a glimpse into the crime syndicate of Fargo and its rival Kansas. Rye is the youngest of Fargo’s powerful Gerhardt family crime ring. His father Otto has suffered a stroke which has left him incapacitated, leading to a power struggle between his wife Floyd (Jean Smart) and sons Dodd (Jeffrey Donovan) and Bear (Angus Sampson). Adding further strain to this family is the Kansas City crime syndicate looking to muscle in on the Gerhardt’s territory.

Fargo’s anthology format allows the show to go deeper into what makes Fargo such a unique and odd place. This season perhaps will lay the groundwork as for why such a quiet and snowy town is so blood simple. We know from the previous season that there was an event in Lou’s life relating to Fargo, in which bodies were stacked so high one could reach the second story of a house. This premiere hints at how small acts of chance could snowball into something so unimaginably gruesome.

Sicario Review

sicario-posterHe who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you. – Friedrich Nietzsche.

Sicario (Spanish for hitman) revolves around idealistic FBI agent Kate Macy (Emily Blunt), who is enlisted by an elected government task force to aid in the escalating war against drugs at the border area between the U.S. and Mexico.  The premise is familiar – the battle between American institutions and the Mexican drug cartels is a recurring trope of U.S crime cinema. Films such as Stephen Soderbergh’s Traffic, Robert Rodriguez’s Once Upon a Time in Mexico and Machete and even Ridley Scott’s The Counsellor have all tackled the subject with varying degrees of seriousness and success. What elevates Sicario above the ordinary is an intricate script, strong performances and terrific work behind the camera.

The film’s major recurring trope is the crossing of boundaries both literally and figuratively. Drugs transported from Mexico are shown to have infected American society as evident by the strong opening of Sicario. The scene, which plays out almost as the opening to a horror film, depicts Kate and her team’s raid on a house suspected to have housed cartel members. On entering the house they discover dozens of corpses hidden in the walls – the bodies of illegal immigrants, apparently murdered in a kidnapping gone array. Kate and her new task force led by the mysterious, shadowy figures of Matt (Josh Brolin) and Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro) use private planes, both public and hidden roads and dark, secluded tunnels to slip back and forth between countries, while their actions further blur the lines between moral and reprehensible. They are a team without jurisdiction, dedicated to cleaning up both the streets of America and Juarez, where the action takes place in Mexico. Juarez is depicted as a hellish place, where dead bodies are hung in the streets by the cartels in order to send a message.

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Emily Blunt

Alejandro insists that taking out the head kingpin would be like finding a vaccine to a disease ravaging society. At first we agree, but the genius of Sicario is how it constantly keeps the viewer guessing as to the true motives of the characters. As the bodies pile up due to Alejandro and Matt’s actions, we begin to question them. As they become more and more criminal, we question who the true Sicario of the title is. On both sides of the law, there are multiple killers in Taylor Sheridan’s complex and razor-sharp script. This duality, as Mark Kermode notes in his Sicario review, is nothing new to director Denis Villeneuve as he’s covered this topic in both the moral mazes of Prisoners and the doppelgangers of Enemy.

Emily Blunt is excellent in both a physical and dramatic role. She is the audience member in the film. Kate, like us, is constantly left in the dark by her new superiors as to what they are doing and is the first to question the morality of their actions. The film is mostly seen from her perspective and the audience only gains knowledge of the unfolding plot as she does. Brolin is clearly having fun in the role of mysterious, flip-flop wearing ‘spook’ and Del Toro has never been better in a far more subdued but menacing role. Although the entire cast is outstanding (Jon Bernthal, Daniel Kaluuya and Maximiliano Hernandez also shine in minor roles), the true star of the film is Roger Deakins brooding cinematography. The expansive overhead shots of Juarez, a lightning strike on a desolate desert motorway and a raid seen through night-vision goggles deserve to be seen on the largest screen possible.

I also appreciate the lack of cuts in between scenes. The film delves into Zero Dark Theory and Heat territory in its approach to its action. While many films favour the use of fast cuts to capture the intensity and chaotic nature of the unfolding action, Sicario allows scenes to naturally build slowly so that when the violence does finally erupt, it is all the more tense and thrilling. Sicario’s final act left my palms sweating and the last scene of the film is both chilling and understated.

Verdict: 4/4

Deep, complex and intelligent, Sicario takes a possibly derivative story and elevates it through strong performances, directing and cinematography.

Macbeth Review

MacbethBeing one of the many Irish students who studied Macbeth for the Leaving Cert, it is the Shakespearean text that I am most acquainted with. However, I worry that those who are unfamiliar with the text may suffer whilst viewing this new adaption. Although Macbeth is an intensely bloody and violent play, it is filled with some of the most beautiful speech and monologues of English literature. Justin Kurzel (following in Orson Welles, Akira Kurasowa and Roman Polanski’s footsteps in bringing this behemoth work to the screen) favours visual poetry over spoken word. Often the beauty of the language is lost as thespians such as Michael Fassbender, in the leading role, Paddy Considine, as Banquo, and Sean Harris, as Macduff, both growl and whisper their way through the Bard’s lines in authentic, but often difficult to fully comprehend, Scottish accents.

However, Macbeth, although brutal and savage, is gorgeous to behold. There has been slightly unfavourable comparisons to Braveheart, and even 300, due to Kurzel’s depiction of the war scenes – employing a use of slow-motion to depict the barbarous nature of battle. However, I would argue that these scenes are more akin to a moving tableau – something that can now fully be represented onscreen through the magic of special effects and editing. While critics cite the films mentioned above, I was reminded most prominently of Nicolas Winding Refn’s Valhalla Rising, a film which not only conveys the stark and desolate nature of the Scottish mountains but also employs stylistic features, particularly the bold use of dark reds, in order to convey violence and danger. The third act of the film is breath taking as Macbeth and Macduff duel to the death in the glow of red flames. As they move, they become like silhouettes, emphasising the battle between light and darkness.

Valhalla Rising - war movie with an emphasis on bold red colours, perhaps an influence on Macbeth

Valhalla Rising – war movie with an emphasis on bold red colours, perhaps an influence on Macbeth

This film is indeed a war movie. Macbeth’s actions are no longer committed under the command of his cruel and manipulative wife, but are instead the result of post-traumatic stress disorder, combined with the loss of his young child. This is a time in which killing was an intensely physical and personal experience. It is difficult to kill even with a gun, but imagine doing it with only a knife or sword, watching the life slowly drain out of a person’s eyes– Kurzel captures this atmosphere. We see characters such as Macbeth, Banquo and Macduff not only in battle, but also carrying physical scars on their face. Macduff has a wound that looks extremely realistic that stretches from the middle of his forehead, over his ear, to the back of his neck. The film clearly links PTSD to Macbeth’s mental breakdown. Instead of a floating dagger leading Macbeth to the room in which King Duncan lies drugged, he is handed the dagger by a vision of a young comrade killed in battle earlier in the film. It is an interesting take on the classical text, particularly in relation to American Sniper, a film which last year was criticised for glorifying the actions of a man who murdered 160 people in the line of duty.

Dark red visuals in the final act of Macbeth

Dark red visuals in the final act of Macbeth

However, by focusing on how Macbeth’s war experience has led him to commit regicide, the film does unquestionably side-line Lady Macbeth. Although Marion Cottilard does fantastic work, particularly her ‘to bed’ speech which she delivers as an unbroken monologue straight to camera in which her face occupies almost the entire frame, it is frustrating to see her under-utilised. She is a fierce, ferocious character in the play, who could be argued to have laid the groundwork for the femme fatale figure in literature and film. Cotillard in films like Inception and The Dark Knight Rises has proven that she can play deranged and powerful characters. The fact that Lady Macbeth is portrayed as a more human and sympathetic character undercuts the dramatic tension of the film. It doesn’t help that there are two unnecessary sex scenes involving her which failed to further the narrative in anyway.

The performances are universally excellent. Fassbender is compelling in the title role, Sean Harris is incredibly intense in the role of Macduff and Elizabeth Debicki manages with limited screen time to be heartbreakingly believable in the role of Macduff’s wife.  Throughout the film there is a recurring motif of children which I found extremely interesting. In the first scene we see Macbeth’s child’s funeral. Then we witness the Witches with a young girl and then later holding a baby. A dead teenage soldier hands Macbeth the deadly dagger and Fleance is helped by a child vanish into fog as he escapes his father’s assassins. I believe that this is symbolic of the life cycle, particularly in a time where human life is cheap. Speaking of Fleance, the ending of Kurzel’s adaption, which provides further information into the fates of Malcolm and Fleance, is the most intense crescendo to a film in recent memory.

Verdict: 3/4

Strictly for fans of the source. Kurzel’s adaption is bold, striking and visually inventive. However it is frustrating in its depiction of Lady Macbeth.

Knock Knock Review

knock_knock_47042890_ps_1_s-lowKnock Knock is the fifth film by Eli Roth, although his fourth The Green Inferno has not been released in Ireland yet (premiering 24th October 2015 at IFI’s annual Horrorthon). I only mention this because although The Green Inferno has not been officially released, it has garnered controversy for its excessive level of violence. Knock Knock, released two years after his unreleased film was first screened at festivals, feels like a self-conscious departure from the extreme depictions of gore and sex that one can witness in Roth’s previous films such as the Hostel franchise and Cabin Fever. It revolves around Evan (Keanu Reeves) a former DJ, architect, devoted husband and father who is left home alone for the weekend. Two stranded young women, Genesis (Lorenza Izzo) and Bel (Ana de Armas), unexpectedly knock on his door asking for help. Evan allows them into his home, however, this kind gesture results in a dangerous seduction and a deadly game of cat and mouse.

Ana de Armas (left) and Lorenza Izzo (right)

Ana de Armas (left) and Lorenza Izzo (right)

The film begins very strongly. Evan’s family is portrayed as almost too perfect and blissful. The dialogue is so loving and kind that it often comes across as fake, hinting Roth and co-writers Nicolas Lopez and Guillermo Amadeo are satirising the notion of the perfect family. In fact, the entire first half of Knock Knock is expertly crafted as the two women arrive, who at first appear innocent, but slowly and slowly through incidental lines of dialogue reveal themselves to be less victims of circumstance and more like seductresses. Keanu Reeves is very well cast. Although not the greatest actor in the world, he definitely has a charm and warmth that works two-fold in Knock Knock. Although he is 43 and the girls claim, at first, to be in their 20s, Reeves is likeable enough to understand why these women would be attracted to him. It is also very entertaining to see him becoming increasingly concerned by the situation in which he finds himself. As they inch their way closer and closer towards Evan, he awkwardly shuffles to another chair, dodging their advances. However, they are persistent and at around the forty minute mark he succumbs. Credit must be due to Roth who dodges the leery visuals of his previous films during the sex scenes, in favour of a more elegant, tasteful touch.

As it mutates into a sleazy torture thriller, Knock Knock becomes slightly repetitive. That’s not to say the film completely loses momentum. There is a very entertaining and humourous variation on quiz show ‘Who Wants to Be a Millionaire’ in which Evan’s DJ equipment is utilised into an instrument of pain. However, it falls into a pattern of scenes in which Reeves’ character is just punished in various different ways. Although there is an emphasis on psychological violence rather than physical, prior to these scenes, Knock Knock felt as if it were trying to make a grander statement about monogamy and married life – with Genesis and Bel becoming figures sent to test and punish Evan for his transgressions. As the movie settles into its later groove, Genesis (despite very strong work by Izzo) and Bel just appear increasingly insane. They lose what made them interesting in the first place and just become thumbnail sketches of deranged characters. The ending feels not only quite anti-climactic but also like a cop-out as it contradicts the actions of the women up until this point.

Verdict 3/4

A surprisingly restrained effort from Eli Roth, Knock Knock is entertaining, despite a slightly predictable second half and an anti-climactic ending.

Magic Mike XXL Review

Screenshot 2015-10-03 18.31.38Magic Mike, directed by Steven Soderbergh, was one of the biggest successes of 2012. However, its ad campaign was slightly deceiving. What appeared from trailers and other marketing to be a raunchy comedy centred upon male strippers was in reality, an indie coming of age story which dealt with timely issues such as the economic recession. Of course, there was plenty of stripping and bare skinned males but it was a surprisingly smart film. Tatum, in interviews, has stated that their goal with Magic Mike XXL was to create the film that audiences expected the first to be. The plot this time around is that Mike, having successfully started the furniture company he longed for in Magic Mike, has become disillusioned by his normal daily life and longs for one last blow out with his team of male entertainers. They all reunite for one last performance in Myrtle Beach at the annual Strippers Convention (I personally love how the event is actually called the Strippers Convention). Instead of a coming of age narrative, this time we are presented with a series of vignettes structured around a road trip.

Channing Tatum

Channing Tatum

These vignettes vary in quality. The best revolves around Nancy (Andie MacDowell, playing a more sexually liberated version of her Sex, Lies & Videotape character). The gang are invited to her house by her daughter and are provoked into entertaining Nancy and her cougar-esque friends. The worst is a romance between Mike and Zoe (Amber Heard) which feels cliched and unnecessary. Although Alex Pettyfer and Matthew McConaughey do not reprise their roles from the original, there are some fun additions to the cast – Jada Pinkett Smith as a hype man for Mike and his crew, Elizabeth Banks appears as the host of the stripper convention and Donald Glover as a stripper who is picked up by the group on the way to Myrtle Beach.

From left to right: Matt Bomer, Kevin Nash, Joe Maganiello, Channing Tatum and Adam Rodriguez

From left to right: Matt Bomer, Kevin Nash, Joe Maganiello, Channing Tatum and Adam Rodriguez

The highlight of Magic Mike XXL is simply being allowed to spend more time with these characters. The gang (pictured to the left) are extremely likeable and feel like well-rounded people. They share great chemistry with each other and the scenes in which they discuss their futures after the road trip are oddly melancholic, particularly Kevin Nash delivering a poignant monologue about love. Although Soderbergh didn’t return to direct (he is executive producer and cinematographer), the film feels like an example of the smart cinema, of which his debut Sex Lies & Videotape was an example. Soderbergh’s long time collaborator Gregory Jacobs directs, and the film feels like Soderbergh taking an outrageous premise and then filling it with believable characters and dialogue.

Strong use of neon colours during the inventive dance routines

Strong use of neon colours during the inventive dance routines

Channing Tatum is excellent once again in the role of Mike. He not only embodies the character with a warmth that makes him hard not to root for, he is a wonderful dancer and delivers an intensely physical performance. The opening dance number of the film, in which he performs a routine while he welds and nails furniture is jaw-droppingly terrific. In fact, the dance sequences throughout are inventive and exciting – particuarly in the last twenty minutes which is fully dedicated to the team’s various routines. The cinematography is gorgeous by Soderbergh – with a colour pallet consisting largely of neon reds and blues. The soundtrack is also quite infectious, ranging from the catchy opening to Paolo Nutini’s Numpty, the humourous use of The Backstreet Boys’ I Want it That Way, the sexy Nine Inch Nails’ Closer and the seductive end credits to Glass Animals’ Gooey.

Verdict: 3/4

Magic Mike XXL is a worthy sequel. Fans of the original will not be disappointed.

Queen of Earth Review

Screenshot 2015-10-02 16.27.37Queen of Earth is the second film of the year from writer-director Alex Ross Perry, following his critically acclaimed dark dramedy Listen Up Phillip. Like his previous film, Queen of Earth is less focused on plot than on character. It revolves around a woman named Catherine (Elizabeth Moss, Top of the Lake) who suffers from depression. After her father commits suicide and her boyfriend breaks up with her, she retreats to her best friend Virginia’s (Katherine Waterston, Inherent Vice) parent’s summer home for the two’s annual getaway.

One of the most interesting aspects of Queen of Earth is how it plays with genre. Perry blends many different influences and styles and creates a film which can be read in a number of different ways. Perry is known for being an avid reader of literature (his first feature Impolex was an adaption of Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow made for 15,000 dollars) and the film shares many elements with Anton Chekhov’s dramas such as Three Sisters or The Cherry Orchard. Like these plays, the film takes place entirely in the home (even flashbacks are from earlier visits to the house). There are also long discussions about aristocracy and of patterns that cannot be broken which feature heavily in the best of Chekhov’s work. However, at times Queen of Earth could be read as a horror film. It’s astounding score by Keegan De Witt is deeply unsettling and wouldn’t feel out-of-place in a Brian De Palma chiller such as Sisters. At any moment, one can’t help but feel that the drama could easily slip comfortably into terror.

Screenshot 2015-10-02 16.49.26

Katherine Waterston (left) and Elizabeth Moss (right)

However, it’s probably best summed up as a psychological drama in the vein of Ingmar Bergman’s Persona. Both films deal with the fluidity of identity. Through flashback we see that Virginia suffered a breakdown the previous summer and Catherine was unable to console her. There is a constant duality at work. Catherine and Virginia are almost mutually dependent upon each other. They are never in the same states of mind. Either one is sad and one is happy or vice-versa. In order for these characters to be convincing, Perry needed committed performances and praise must be given to both Moss and Waterston for being utterly convincing as long friends whose emotions are co-dependent on each other.

Screenshot 2015-10-02 17.06.47

Strong use of close up

The film opens with a striking image of Elizabeth Moss crying while being broken up with by her boyfriend (who is offscreen). Perry utilises a close-up which lasts for three minutes and using solely her face, Moss manages to make it the most compelling three minutes of cinema all year. She is terrific as both the bubbly, contented figure we see in flashbacks and the manic and slightly feral character she is in the present. Katherine Waterston is equally excellent in a more low-key, downplayed role. Without uttering a word, she displays a world-weariness. Through her body language during the scenes in which Catherine breaks down, she hints ever so subtly that this is not the first time that she has been forced into this position.

Perry’s direction is stylish but unobtrusive. There is an emphasis on static mise-en-scene and long close-ups on characters faces. These stylistic choices which help to create slow and quiet scenes signify the disengagement and disinterest that the characters feel with regards to life. Patrick Fugit (Gone Girl, Almost Famous) also deserves praise for his role as the on and off boyfriend of Virginia’s. He is slimy and obnoxious and the scenes in which he butts heads with Catherine are when the film veers as close as possible to horror.

Verdict 3.5/4

Dark and brooding, Queen of Earth establishes Alex Ross Perry as a major talent.