Alex Ross Perry offers a subtle portrait of a young woman’s emotional breakdown, aided by a powerful performance from Elisabeth Moss
Having broken through last year with his third feature, Listen Up Philip, writer/director Alex Ross Perry establishes himself as one of the most intriguing voices on the US indie scene with Queen of Earth (****). Once again starring Mad Men’s Elisabeth Moss (she played Jason Schwartzman’s long suffering girlfriend in Perry’s earlier film), it’s a darkly funny and increasingly disturbing portrait of a young woman’s descent into madness after the traumatic loss of her artist father. The woman’s name is Catherine (Moss), a painter in her own right who retreats to the lakeside holiday home of her best friend Ginny (Katherine Waterston) to recover from both the loss of her father and her subsequent break-up with her co-dependent boyfriend.
Though set up as a 1970s-style art house drama about privileged white people wallowing in their own neuroses – and the film comes replete with retro titles and hazy cinematography to tip us off to this – what happens next defies easy summation as the film cuts between the present day and a similar trip taken one year earlier when Ginny was recovering from her own emotional trauma and Catherine was in a better place romantically. Edited to make that past and present appear interchangeable, the film makes it seem at times as if the characters are having an ongoing dialogue with their younger selves, a dialogue triggered by simmering tensions that repeatedly flare up into sustained bouts of subtle psychological warfare.
On one level the film is exploring the fragility of friendships, with Perry exposing the fault lines upon which they’re sometimes constructed in adulthood via a remarkable eight-minute unbroken shot that oscillates between close-ups of Catherine and Ginny as they recount formative break-ups in their lives. But this is also an exploration of the destructive and isolating effect of depression and, from the opening shot of Moss’s tear-and-make-up-streaked face, Perry has a remarkable ability to put us inside the head of his protagonist, letting us see how her apparently rapid unravelling (the film takes place over a few days) is actually the result of a more gradual deterioration, one that may even have been taking place over Catherine’s entire life. The results are creepy and strange – and Moss is magnificent, subtly tracking Catherine’s escalating neuroses in ways that avoid cliché.
One of the only curious things about Now You See Me 2 (**) is how a sequel to an instantly forgettable blockbuster has become a franchise in its own right. The surprise $350m global box-office haul of the first film is, of course, the main reason. Even so, a movie about a bunch of renegade magicians called The Four Horsemen who fancy themselves as modern Robin Hoods is the sort of goofy nonsense that used to be straight-to-video fodder. Not anymore. This follow-up presumes the mythology and character dynamics established first time round are still in prominent in your mind, so after a prologue that provides a bare bones backstory for one of the main characters, the film rejoins Jesse Eisenberg’s illusionist, Woody Harrelson’s hypnotist and Dave Franco’s card trickster as they’re brought back together by their leader, Dylan (Mark Ruffalo).
In the intervening years they’ve been living off the grid, with Dylan using his improbable day job as an FBI agent to throw the government off their scent. But with a billionaire tech entrepreneur about to launch a new smart phone that has the power to steal everyone’s personal data, it’s time for them to step out from the shadows and expose him to the world. Or something. Replacing Isla Fisher as the film’s token Strong Female Character, Lizzy Caplan plays a magician whose major skill seems to be whipping her bra off when the moment doesn’t require it. Slotted into the team with minimal vetting, she’s introduced to the public as they take over the aforementioned smart phone product launch, which naturally is revealed to be a bit of a set-up. Daniel Radcliffe arrives soon after to ham things up with an ironic wink as a magic-hating criminal mastermind who wants the Horsemen to steal a microchip. The latter results in a lot of CGI-enhanced magic skills being demonstrated, which is only marginally less boring to watch than an actual magic show.
“They always go for the landmarks,” quips Jeff Goldblum as aliens blithely wipe out the London Eye and Tower Bridge in Independence Day: Resurgence (**). It’s one of the few amusing lines in this belated sequel, a reference, of course, to the entertainingly tasteless destruction of the White House in the first film 20 years ago. Sadly, Resurgence doesn’t offer much more than that quip to get excited about. The ubiquity of blockbuster cinema’s wrecking-ball impulse has diminished its impact in the years since, so even though the invading aliens’ space ship is “bigger than the last time” (or “3,000 miles in diameter!” as one observer marvels), it inspires a so-what? shrug as it casts its dark shadow on the planet and wipes out iconic building after iconic building. With Will Smith having allowed his character to be killed off, it falls to Goldblum’s alien defence expert and Bill Pullman’s ex-president to provide continuity with the first outing. Meanwhile, Liam Hemsworth and Jesse T Usher – playing the son of Smith’s character – bland things up as the new young guns ready to fight the alien threat on the front line.