London Film Festival 2020: AMMONITE

★ ★ ★

If one were to be slightly facetious, an alternate title for Ammonite might be Portrait of a (Cornish) Lady on Fire.

What rubbish! Mary Anning was from Dorset, I might hear you cry, and you would be correct. Francis Lee’s follow up feature to the low budget but hugely well-received God’s Own Country plays, however, in much the same wheelhouse as Celine Sciamma’s feminine potboiler which has taken the film world by storm over the last year (I need to give it a second watch as it left me powerfully indifferent). Comparisons between both films will be evident, as Lee’s semi-historical narrative dials into the lovely story between Kate Winslet’s brittle palaeontologist Anning and Saorise Ronan’s depressed city wife Charlotte Murchison – a scientist herself in real life but portrayed more for dramatic effect here as the spouse of a paleontology ‘tourist’ and wealthy boor.

Historical accuracy isn’t first and foremost the point of Ammonite.

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London Film Festival 2020: ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI…

★ ★ ★ 1/2

London Film Festival 2020 is running from October 2nd through to October 19th, and I’ll be variously covering a few films from the event this year…

On one calm evening in 1964, in the heart of Miami, four men gathered who would, in their own way, influence not just black culture but 20th century American history.

One Night in Miami… is that story, the ellipsis at the end of the title in service of the urban fable that such a confluence suggests. This quartet reflect four quadrants of experience as the Civil Rights movement was gathering steam in counter-cultural America, each overlapping the other. Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), founder of the Nation of Islam and black power scion; Cassius Clay (Eli Goree), the self-proclaimed greatest boxer there ever is, ever was or ever will be, on the verge of Muslim conversion; Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge), NFL linebacker and legend who has grown weary of his path; and Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr), one of the greatest voices in soul who ever lived, currently trapped within a sphere of white middle-class appeasement he cannot escape.

Regina King’s debut feature is a contained night in the life; a reckoning between four black cultural and political titans heading in the same direction while treading very different roads to get there.

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London Film Festival 2020: SHIRLEY

★ ★ ★

London Film Festival 2020 is running from October 2nd through to October 19th, and I’ll be variously covering a few films from the event this year…

All through Shirley, it was hard to work out if the film was intentionally or unintentionally pretentious. The answer still eludes me.

Josephine Decker’s film, her follow up to 2018’s celebrated Madeline’s Madeline, and adapted from the novel of the same name by Susan Scarf Merrell, brews up passion and obsession within the smoky yet starch world of New England academia, as brilliant yet troubled author Shirley Jackson (a mesmeric Elizabeth Moss), at the behest of her blowhard professor husband Stanley Hymen (Michael Stuhlbarg), takes on newly married young couple Fred & Rosie Nemser (Logan Lerman & Odessa Young) to help with household chores, both unaware they’re being drawn into a somewhat twisted psychological battle between the married elites involving seduction and academic prowess.

Shirley, therefore, is a psychosexual, theatrical piece buoyed by the magnetism of Moss and Stuhlbarg’s powerfully loathsome performances, but sometimes at the expense of riveting drama.

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London Film Festival 2020: RELIC

★ ★ ★

London Film Festival 2020 is running from October 2nd through to October 19th, and I’ll be variously covering a few films from the event this year…

The feature length debut of film short director Natalie Erika James, Relic slots neatly in the pantheon of a new, emerging sub-genre: familial horror.

Picture the quiet, deliberately introverted set up. Set in the woodland wilderness of New Zealand, Kay (Emily Mortimer) and her daughter Sam (Bella Heathcote) respond to the disappearance of their family matriarch Edna (Robyn Nevin) from the home she lives in alone, an elderly lady suffering from dementia who has vanished out of nowhere. The eeriness begins as Edna, after Kay returns to a homestead she hasn’t visited in some time and reconnects with her past, suddenly reappears but begins to display strange behaviour that goes beyond her degenerative disease, connected perhaps to the dreams Kay is having of the withered corpse inside an old woodland shack. Is Edna becoming more than just a dying old woman?

Well… that would be telling. The clues are there, however, as Relic dials into creeping terror within the home, using quiet, pastoral surroundings to engage with dread. It doesn’t really do anything new with the material, but it often manages to work.

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