Queen of Earth – Film Review

Queen of Earth

Catherine (Elisabeth Moss) is in a troubled place. Left by her boyfriend a few months after her revered artist father committed suicide, she looks for solace in her old friend Ginny (Katherine Waterston) and a lakeside retreat. Bad choice. Catherine is with the last person who can help her come to terms with the tragedies that have come her way, while arguably, Ginny has no good reason to offer help in the first place.

I knew almost nothing about this film before seeing it, only that it was a low-budget drama led by two women, pretty much putting it in my wheelhouse. Another Martha Marcy May Marlene, maybe? I was excited!

Queen of Earth switches its timeframe between Catherine and Ginny’s present break in the cottage and their equivalent stay the year before. It shows how their actions on the first holiday have had consequences for the second and Waterson and Moss both put in thoughtful performances of two friends who really shouldn’t be any more.

Everything about the film is designed to maximise your discomfort. From too-close shots of people’s faces that make you want to physically lean away from them, to the suspenseful music that never once lets up. By the end of the film I was exhausted from being bullied into feeling tense for the whole 90 minutes. Despite the score’s hard work though, I was frequently bored.

Queen of Earth 2

Long monologues – expositional turnings over of past, personality-shaping relationships – can easily be imagined in the context of a conversation with real-life friends who are trying to analyse how they got to where they are now. However, they’re just tedious when you are the spectator of characters who you don’t even like. Without exception, I grew to loathe everyone on screen, as the behaviour of both main and supporting characters pushed the believable boundaries of what a person would be willing to put up with from their ‘friends’, let alone strangers. Despite the strength of the lead actors, the script failed to convince me that Catherine and Ginny were ever friends in the first place and so I had nothing on which to hang my belief that they’d be willing to endure each other’s unpleasantness now. It was also surprising how, for a film that almost never leaves these two women, it struggled to pass the Bechdel Test.

It isn’t hard to imagine this as a very different review. A parallel-universe me could be praising Queen of Earth for its suspense, dark reading of interpersonal relationships and insightful portrayal of depression. Sadly, in this universe Queen of Earth left me frustrated and worn-out, and no amount of admiring the craft can mitigate that.

There is an interesting film to be made about growing away from your old friendships but not breaking the bond. I don’t think this is it.

Night Bus – LFF Review

Night Bus

Welcome to the night bus: a place where tired people returning from alcohol-fuelled nights out inflict their heightened emotions on their fellow passengers. Mild Concern is no stranger to this form of London public transport and I was intrigued to see what kind of film could be spun out from it. Turns out that it’s one that is very like its inspiration: bleak, a bit uncomfortable and filled with annoying characters.

All the action occurs on a bus taking the (fictional*) N39 route towards Leytonstone late on a rainy Friday night. As someone with more than a passing knowledge of east London, the complete disregard for its geography was very distracting. The bus essentially appeared to be circling Stratford and it definitely wasn’t going south, as the driver once claimed.

The film takes the form of dropping in and out on the various passengers and their conversations, and the timeline is fractured and jumbled up. All the typical passengers are there, from arguing couples, to singing drunks, to youths playing music through their mobile phones, to those who just want-to-get-home-with-the-minimum-of-fuss-thank-you-very-much. While occasionally clunky, the dialogue is structured well enough to give a solid sense of what’s going on in so many characters’ lives. Almost all of the performances are pitch perfect – realistic in both dialogue and tone. Unfortunately, as virtually everyone you’re forced to share a real night bus is very irritating, this means so is almost every character in Night Bus.

Night Bus 2

There is no plot to speak of, just prevailing themes, and after a while only seeing snippets of the lives of these (mostly unhappy) people feels a bit pointless and sad. There are funny moments, particularly the many ways people who don’t have the bus fare try to get a free ride, but my overriding emotion by the end was sympathy for the bus driver.

Night Bus is a very London-centric film and as such it’s hard to imagine anyone without the same experience having much patience with these characters. As a Londoner myself, it served mostly as a reminder of how good nights out can end in a dispiriting manner; while bad nights out are capped off with almost unbearable journeys. I admire how well the film has represented the reality but this is also its downfall – it’s hard to think of a reason why anyone would want to spend more time on the night bus than they have to.

*The 39 actually shuttles between Putney Bridge and Clapham Junction in the south west and it doesn’t operate a night route.

Night Bus has no UK release date yet.

BFI LFF 2014

Out Now – 28th February 2014

the-book-thief-out-now

The Book Thief
The story of a young foster girl in WW2 Germany who collects books while the Nazis are burning them. I can heartily recommend the novel; disappointingly, the critics don’t seem to be able to say the same about this film adaptation.

Non-Stop
Liam Neeson does the action thing again. This time he’s an Air Marshal in a thriller that sounds a bit like Speed. Except instead of on a bus, the action’s on an aeroplane. Upping the stakes in hijack films is one of the less frequently discussed consequences of 9/11.

Ride Along
In order to marry Ice Cube’s sister apparently you must “ride along” with him on a police patrol to prove your manliness and then get into lethal/comedic hijinks. Maybe your sister doesn’t need her brother’s permission to get married? Ever consider that, Ice Cube?

We Are What We Are
Exclusive from the Mild Concern Drafts folder: Tim has a review for this brewing. In further groundbreaking news, he informs me that it’s “a surprisingly good horror”. He’ll expand on this opinion with more words once he has an internet connection again. Maybe you should go watch it first then see if you agree with him.

Shaadi Ke Side Effects / The Side Effects of Marriage
A Bollywood film “about a young couple who experience many comic events after their marriage” – I assume after the husband has successfully survived the comic events on his ride along with Ice Cube.

Yurusarezaru mono / Unforgiven
Ken Watanabe stars in this Japanese remake of the Clint Eastwood classic, which people are describing in such glowing terms as “not as redundant as it sounds“.

Bramman
A Tamil film about two cinema-loving friends when long after their lives diverge, the less successful one searches out the more successful one for a favour. This is likely to be me and Tim in 20 years time – but who’ll be the one with all the success? (Tim, obviously.)

Om Shanti Oshana
According to the Wikipedia page, this is a romantic comedy that follows Pooja, “a naughty school girl who loves trends”, whose best friends are “Neethu, a flirt and Dona, a junk foodie.” I like how every character’s personality is conveniently summarised in one descriptive term. Other featured characters are “Rachel Aunty, a wine maker” and “Dr Prasad Varkey, her young and enthusiastic teacher”.

Funny Face
Re-release of the Fred Astaire and Audrey Hepburn musical, which I dimly remember as being pretty but ludicrous. Back in 1957, The Times reviewed it as “…a displeasing piece of work, pseudo-sophisticated, expensive and brash in approach, vulgar in taste and insensitive in outlook. This, in fact, is the American “musical” at its worst.”

Why I am, to my surprise, enjoying The Voice

The Voice series 3

‘Nice’ is an underrated quality in a TV talent show but it might be a good reason to watch The Voice.

I’m not much of a fan of reality television. I have dabbled in Britain’s Got Talent, because you sometimes see something genuinely original, and have consistently kept up with Strictly Come Dancing, because it’s pretty dancing, glamourous outfits and fundamentally meaningless fluff. But I don’t touch anything in the Big Brother / I’m a Celebrity vein and hate, hate, hate The X Factor. So it’s caught me by surprise to discover that I’m enjoying series 3 of The Voice.

When it first came to our shores, my reaction was total indifference. Another singing talent show? Yawn. Having the judges pick their teams based only on what the contestants’ voices sound like, without being influenced by appearance put a slightly interesting twist on the format, but that point of difference disappears after the blind auditions. I had no idea who one of the judges, Danny O’Donoghue, was (nor heard of his band, The Script), and didn’t really see what level of expertise he and Jessie J, who had released one album by this point, could bring to the show. So, the entire of series 1 passed me by.

I caught a very tiny bit of series 2 because of a minor personal connection to Leah McFall, the eventual runner-up, but I saw none of the early audition rounds. However, a few weeks ago, while waiting for dinner to cook, I got sucked into an episode of the current series, and have been watching it since. This is why:

You do not have to witness anyone be humiliated.
I know that some people watch reality TV auditions purely for the people whose self-belief does not match their talent. I am not one of those watchers. I desperately will everyone to be good, to perform well and when it turns out they really can’t sing/dance/make people laugh, I cringe as I share their embarrassment and disappointment. Everyone who makes it to the television stage on The Voice has already auditioned in front of the producers and so you are guaranteed that they meet a decent standard of vocal ability. This takes a lot of nervous tension out of my evening.

Jamie Lovatt - The Voice

The coaches have credibility…
Jessie J and Danny O’Donoghue did not return for series 3. They were replaced by Ricky Wilson, who has made as many albums with the Kaiser Chiefs as both Jessie and Danny put together, and Kylie Minogue, who, well, is Kylie. Alongside (Sir) Tom Jones and Will.I.Am, long-time artist and producer in his own right (Black Eyed Peas notwithstanding), this set of judges carry more industry weight that the previous line-up conveyed.

…and they actually seem to like each other
I don’t know what the chemistry between the coaches was like before and these four could all just be really good at pretending to get on, but I enjoy the interplay between the professionals. Maybe it’s because Kylie is so adorable. Maybe it’s Ricky’s charming everyman. Maybe it’s Will’s left-field wackiness. Whatever it is, they bounce off each other entertainingly (while Tom looks on, bemused) and their chatter doesn’t make me cringe. I don’t see any of the weary cattiness that I associate with these judging panels.

The Voice - Kylie and Tom

It’s only positive
The combination of the above reasons means that the whole experience feels like it can only be positive. Because all the contestants can actually sing, the judges never have to be harsh with anyone. The people they don’t pick, even though they haven’t got what they wanted, are encouraged to keep going and given constructive advice for improvement. They get a lot of personal interaction (and a whole lot of hugs) from the coaches – who do seem more like mentors than judges. There isn’t a Simon Cowell panto villain anywhere.

The blind auditions are now over, and with it the show’s selling point, so maybe the following episodes with their confusing ‘battle’ structure will lose me and perhaps the competition between the mentors will escalate and detract from the camaraderie I like so much. Even so, I’m looking forward to finding out and a few months ago, I wouldn’t have thought that I’d be saying that. Sometimes, it’s nice to be surprised.

Dave Gorman Makes the Red 2 Poster Better

red-2

Regular readers may have noticed that we’re fans of a bit of ridiculous Photoshopping, so imagine how much we love comedian Dave Gorman for swapping around the faces on the Red 2 poster to make them match the names they’re under.

Red2Corrected-DaveGorman

Read the full post on Dave Gorman’s blog