UNDER THE SKIN (2013) – FILM REVIEW – PAUL LAIGHT

UNDER THE SKIN (2013)  – FILM REVIEW – PAUL LAIGHT

**Contains plot + interpretative spoilers**

UNDER THE SKIN (2013)  - FILM REVIEW - PAUL LAIGHT

UNIQUE filmmaking comes along every so often into the Multiplexes. This is cinematic Art of the highest quality, a sheer visual treat and an unnerving and very memorable experience.

NAKED and nameless at the start Scarlett’s character is a literal void or blank; her birth begins with an eye filling the screen backed by ambient, eerie and almost silent noise.  We then find her — against a stark white background — removing the clothes of a seemingly dead woman as she appears to steal her identity.

DEATH hangs over the film she is dropped at a grim rotting house located somewhere in Scotland and provided with a white van with which to seduce and kill unsuspecting men.   Her only contact here is a male “handler” or “pimp” on a motorcycle who cleans and collects her victims after she has led them to their demise.

EROTICISM initially drives the film as an often naked Scarlett becomes the focus of our gaze.  But her murderous actions render all sexual feelings redundant as we become accomplices to her crimes.

RELATIONSHIPS between Scarlett and the men is at the heart of the narrative. She connects with them coldly relying on her looks to hook them in then ends their lives and seemingly passes them onto her handler.

TORMENTED by her actions Scarlett becomes trapped by her mission. The story hinges on how the character becomes affected by her actions.  She slowly connects with her prey and ultimately becomes the hunted having gone absent without leave.

HORROR arrives not from shock tactics but the slow build-up of tension as events occur at a glacial pace. The scene on the beach is one of the most horrific I have seen at the cinema in recent years. Hack cuts and slashing music so prevalent in modern horror is eschewed in favour of strangeness, visual imagination and intense performances.

EERIE and unnerving the score is atmospheric while the dialogue is stripped naked and bare. Nothing is forced. The film is both highly stylised but seems natural simultaneously. You only have to look at Glazer’s work on music videos and adverts to know nothing is by accident.

SCARLETT Johansson is incredible under fantastic direction from Jonathan Glazer. My understanding is many of the scenes were improvised with untrained actors supporting her. She uses her sexuality to great impact but also shows an intensity perhaps not seen in her other performances.

KILLING and murder is shown in an incredibly imaginative way; shot in a dark room where she strips and leads the men to a weird liquid where they drown.  This is very surreal and symbolic. What this symbolises is down to the audience to decide. Like the rest of the film the makers deny us easy explanations refusing to spoon-feed meaning and reason into our Hollywood factory-fattened guts.

INTROSPECTIVE and moody the film really moved me. Scarlett’s character is a tragic figure who gains our eventual sympathy from being used, sexualised and pursued by men. She doesn’t want to be a murderer and desires herself humanity and attempts escape but finds she is unable to get away from an oppressive, pervasive patriarchy. This is reflected by a stunning ending that will haunt me for some time.

NOT quite a non-narrative film this is a surreal treat which while linear owes much to the work of David Lynch and Luis Bunuel. Based on Michael Faber’s novel I understand the lead character is an alien killing men for their flesh but this is totally left out of the movie version.

UNDERSKIN4

I am happy that a British independent film got a proper release. I would hazard a guess Jonathan Glazer’s poetic, visceral and disturbing mood poem has found distribution amongst the popcorn strewn, coke-guzzling reaches of the Odeons and Vues due to the impressive presence of bona fide movie star and sex symbol Scarlett Johansson.

Overall, I wasn’t sure about Under The Skin (2013) after I had seen it. But like all great art it stayed with me and I could not get it out of my mind. And I still can’t. It’s not a super-hero film. It’s not a date movie. It’s not a 3-D CGI sick-fest. It’s pure, pulsing, hypnotic cinema of the highest quality that – IN MY OPINION – is about the exploitation of foreign sex workers brought to this country without hope, humanity or identity.

UNDERSKIN5

 

 

Advertisements

TEN THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU #1 – ZACK SNYDER’S MAN OF STEEL

“I made “Watchmen” for myself. It’s probably my favorite movie that I’ve made. And I love the graphic novel and I really love everything about the movie. I love the style. I just love the movie and it was a labor of love. And I made it because I knew that the studio would have made the movie anyway and they would have made it crazy. So, finally I made it to save it from the Terry Gilliams’ of this world.”  ZACK SNYDER


TEN THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU #1 –
MAN OF STEEL (2013)

This new strand for my blog is a chance for me to vent spleen and displace and transfer dissatisfaction with my own life onto a movie or moviemaker who has pissed me off.  Welcome ultra-all-technique-no-substance-human-photocopier-film-hack Zack Snyder!

Now, I’m just a lowly Office drone working in South London but when Snyder attacked my cinematic mate Terry Gilliam I felt the need to step in and have a go back.   Gilliam’s recent output has been sparse but overall he’s also been involved in some of the most intelligent, original and imaginative films of my lifetime:  Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975), Jabberwocky (1977), Time Bandits (1981), Brazil (1985), The Fisher King (1991), 12 Monkeys (1995),  Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998).

Snyder on the other hand has directed three enjoyable facsimile-films (Dawn of the Dead (2004), 300 (2007), Watchmen (2009) all derived from other more talented artists ideas. But after that he has directed some right turkeys notably Sucker Punch (2011) which I can safely say is one of the worst films I have ever seen.  It’s so bad it’s not even so bad it’s good.  AND HE STILL GOT THE MAN OF STEEL GIG!!  Here’s 10 reasons why I hate Man of Steel.  There could’ve been more.


#1 – MAKING GOOD ACTORS LOOK BAD

Firstly, Henry Cavill was a great choice as Superman and the supporting cast comprising of Russell Crowe, Michael Shannon, Amy Adams, Kevin Costner, Diane Lane etc. were well chosen but the performances aside from Cavill just seemed off to me in both timing and tone.  Shannon especially just came across as totally misdirected. Watch him in Revolutionary Road (2008)  and Boardwalk Empire to see how good he can be.




#2 – POOR CONSTRUCTION

The ghost of Batman Begins (2005) hangs heavy over the David S. Goyer’s screenplay structure. But where the back-and-forth cutting between past and present seemed to work with Nolan’s film I don’t think it worked at all well in MoS.    It’s an amazing looking jigsaw but with the pieces put in the wrong order.  To me the most interesting part of the film from a character point-of-view was the early stuff with young Kal-El growing up and these scenes were brilliant but thrown away so Snyder could crow bar in more explosions and soulless CGI set-pieces.

#3 – LOIS LANE

Lois is a strong character in the original comics and previous Superman films. But she was so poorly introduced that the she never ever recovered in MoS. Not so much a character but more a pawn in the plot, dramatic damsel-in-distress (why did Zod take her on the ship), or vessel to reveal background information about Kal-El; present in scenes physically but without emotional resonance.  A waste of one of my favourite actresses Amy Adams.


#4 – BAS-EL EXPOSITION AND OTHER AWFUL DIALOGUE

This film has some of the worst dialogue I have heard in a movie ever!  You might say that Snyder didn’t write it but as he’s helming the ship he has final say.  And in this instance the filmic boat sank.  Characters speak in either unrealistic “movie-speak” notably Costner’s surrogate father and I don’t mind that because I know this is a comic-book world and can handle statements like:

“He sent you here for a reason, Clark. And even if it takes you the rest of your life you owe it to yourself to find out what that reason is.” 

But what I cannot stand is characters telling us out aloud their jobs or back-stories or events already seen.  Crowe’s character pops up throughout to reveal history and updates the audience on important plot points even though we have already seen his planet explode at the start.  Further, we’re told Lois Lane has won the Pulitzer Prize IN THE DIALOGUE!  Show us a plaque or her getting an award!  WHATEVER HAPPENED TO SHOW NOT TELL!!  SHOW NOT TELL!!

#5 – OVERALL STYLE & PACE

Snyder has the timing of a teenage pregnancy.  I tried to watch MoS on Blu-Ray again recently but had to turn it off before the end as it is unwatchable.  Snyder went TOO Avatar from the start in my view – Crowe riding some stupid flying beast.  He also copied many of the mistakes he made with Sucker Punch such as over-blown action set-piece on top of over-the-top CGI firework fest without characters we care one bit about.   Any elements of subtlety and nuance are raped by computer images smashing and crashing through in a destructive fit-inducing-ADHD-driven nightmare.

#6 – WHY SO SERIOUS?

Aside from a couple of moments such as the bar-room truck driver’s ride being dismantled there is very little humour in MoS.   It tries so hard to emulate the tone of the Dark Knight but fails miserably and the decision to try and make Kal-El some kind of Christ-like figure was woeful. This is a comic book movie and should be fun!   Marvel’s movies are full of humour. I understand that it doesn’t have to be zingers and punchlines throughout but there’s more humour at a funeral than in MoS.

#7NOT SO MUCH PLOT HOLES AS PLOT CAVES!

My theory on the disappearance of the Malaysian plane is that it flew into and vanished into the abyss of Man of Steel’s screenplay which has more black holes than the whole of space.  It’s a joke really as we get the scenes where Zod’s army of rebels suddenly turn up to wreak havoc on Earth with some ridiculous unbelievable flashback telling us how they got there. Plus, how does Clark get on the Arctic expedition having only just worked at a bar?  Plus, how convenient that two soldiers would talk about a top secret find within ear-shot of our hero. Plus, would Kal-el really let his father die?  Plus, given our media-driven society could Kal-El/Superman really have lasted that long without coming under some kind of scrutiny or investigation beforehand.  Need I go on?


#8 – TOO MUCH STORY

Man of Steel is like a series of long, long, long sentences without proper punctuation. It basically crammed the stories of Christopher Reeve’s Superman 1 and 2 into Man of Steel and the whole film suffers in my view.   As aforementioned the boy’s childhood is skimmed over with a few really good scenes stuck into flashbacks and Lois Lane’s and Kal-El’s relationship is rushed in favour of launching us into an over-extended final act of ridiculous action.  By the end of the film I was exhausted.   I like big block-busting-roller-coasting-comic book films when they are done right. Iron Man (2008) and Avengers Assemble (2012) showed what a blast comic book films could be but they had humour, wit, pacing, action, charismatic actors all well directed and many more assets that Snyder’s piss-poor effort lacked.

#9 – UNBELIEVABLE UNBELIEVABILITY

Aside from the scenes when he was a kid I just didn’t believe any of it.   Emotionless, insipid and draining it felt like one long extended video-game with someone else holding the controls.  And while it looked great the action had no tension or suspense either. The phrase “less is more” is definitely NOT applicable here.  Plus, the overly science-fiction feeling of the film did not work for me.  In J. Michael Straczynski’s screenwriting book he talked about writing fantasy and sci-fi and said that as a writer you must strive to make believable unbelievability.  Whedon got this right with Avengers Assemble (2012) as did Lucas with Star Wars (1977) as did Terry Gilliam is the majority of his work.  In some ways I think the computer-generated movie era has lost that magic I witnessed when growing up.  Perhaps I’m to blame having seen too many movies. Who knows?  I just didn’t believe Man of Steel.

#10 – WE COULD HAVE GOT ARONOFSKY!

Here’s how:

“Over at Warner Bros., studio chief Jeff Robinov‘s fierce loyalty to director Zack Snyder is being tested June 14 with the $225 million Man of Steel. The relationship dates to the 2007 hit 300, even though Snyder’s three subsequent Warners films – Watchmen, Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole and Sucker Punch – disappointed. However, while giving him Man of Steel (over the other finalist, Darren Aronofsky), Robinov took out insurance with producer Christopher Nolan, the studio’s most important filmmaker (Batman, Inception). “Chris had the confidence in Zack, and based on the movie I’ve seen, Chris was spot-on,” says Warners president of domestic distribution Dan Fellman.”

So we could have got Darren Aronofsky for Man of Steel but instead got Zack Snyder.  Who is going to save us from the Snyder’s of the world?!?    Lord help us!

NON-STOP – Film Review by Paul Laight

NON-STOP - Film Review by Paul Laight

NON-STOP – Film Review by Paul Laight

**CONTAINS CLIPS & SPOILERS**

Having recently been intellectually challenged by heavyweight cinematic offerings such as 12 Years a Slave (2013), The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) and The Lego Movie (2014) I decided to go see Liam Neeson’s latest actioner for a change of pace and mood.  Indeed, Non-Stop (2014) wears its’ B-movie credentials proudly and passes as very serviceable entertainment if you don’t want to have to think too hard for 106 minutes.

The story is an intriguing one.  Bill Marks (Neeson) – identikit tragi-alcoholic-cop with bereaved past – is a US Air Marshal responsible for flight security.  However, this journey is going to be a very bumpy ride as one mysterious passenger has it in for Bill.  The baddie is going to kill someone on the plane every 20 minutes if their demands aren’t met.  This plays out with a great deal of suspense and Neeson fighting against the clock to save lives as death comes-a-knocking.  The claustrophobic nature of the setting really cranks up the tension and there’s a neat little twist as Marks’ himself becomes the main suspect.

The film opens slowly establishing all the players and as it progresses it reminded me of an Agatha Christie mystery with Neeson playing rugged, brutish and ever-more frantic detective.  It’s great fun as the criminal gives Marks the runaround as they kill off passengers in some imaginative ways. Everyone becomes a suspect and the plot deftly keep you guessing with misdirection as your suspicions move from one character to another. It reminded me of another decent B-movie I saw last year Red Riding Hood (2011).    In all honesty the film falls apart slightly at the end with a mildly ridiculous reveal that’s masked during the rip-roaring final set-piece. But overall I enjoyed this unpretentious movie helmed by the very competent genre director Jaume Collet-Serra.

The main asset of Non-Stop is an excellent cast notably one of my favourite actresses – the stunning Julianne Moore.   Moore, Corey Stoll, Linus Roache, Scoot McNairy add some quality in support to the main man: Liam Neeson.   The tough Irishman rises above some  silly dialogue and clichéd characters as he once again proves himself an excellent action hero. Who would have thought the star of historical epics such as Michael Collins (1996), Schindler’s List (1993) would’ve carved out a latter-day career as an ass-kicking tough guy.  But he’s always mixed it up throughout his career appearing in big budget blockbusters and lower budget movies.

Interestingly, Neeson is reportedly have turned down the role of James Bond in the 1990s. Which is a shame because as he demonstrated in massive sleeper hit Taken (2008), really good Euro-thriller Unknown (2011) and Non-Stop (2013) he is a magnetic presence on screen, someone who you root for and also very decent in a punch-up.  While socio-politicists may argue Taken was xenophobic and tapped into a subconscious fear of foreigners – who really cares!  Sometimes you just want to watch a film where a bloke built like a brick shithouse beats the crap out of a load of bad guys! And Neeson does this with aplomb in Non-Stop, but this time it’s wrapped in a murder mystery whodunnit set in the mile-high club.

INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS (2013) – Film Review by Paul Laight

INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS – Film Review by Paul Laight

**CONTAINS CLIPS & SPOILERS**

It’s always a good reason to carry on living when you know Joel and Ethan Coen are bringing out a new film. Their sophisticated melding of genre and art movies are always beautifully shot and carefully constructed  with terrific scripts and casts.  They also have an inimitable quirkiness, memorable characters and a fantastic use of music. Even their remakes are generally better than most filmmakers’ “original” offerings.  What I’m saying is that I really wanted to enjoy Inside Llewyn Davis  and do you know what: Inside Llewyn Davis rocked. Well, it melodically swayed to its’ own harmonious beat.

The Coen Bros.  last film was the impressive big budget remake of John Wayne horse-opera True Grit (2010) while Inside Llewyn Davis is a lower-budget affair with more akin to their dark character comedies Barton Fink (1991) and A Serious Man (2009). It centres on eponymous anti-heroic folk-musician Llewyn (Oscar Isaac) as he struggles with both his personal and professional life on a day-to-day basis in 1960s New York.  He’s not a likeable character but is a wonderful musician with an earthy if not wholly commercial talent.  Here the film works as companion piece to Woody Allen’s Sweet and Lowdown (1999) which was also about a talented but far more scummy jazz musician.

The Coen Bros. often place their characters in interesting settings e.g.  the snowy landscapes of Fargo (1996);  or give them jobs not usually seen in movies such as the Barber in The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001) and Gym Instructors in Burn After Reading (2008); or hobbies like the bowling dudes in The Big Lebowski (1998).  Moreover, they are also very fond of period pieces and have featured the 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s etc. within their oeuvre; in fact the only era they may not have covered is the future. Inside Llewyn Davis is a nostalgia-filled journey back in time to the 60s folk and smoke-filled, bohemian, beatnik back bars of Greenwich Village, New York. I don’t know much about this period of Americana but it is a time that is beautifully evoked and stunningly designed; browns and beiges dominating a cool yet also warm wintry palette. It is a expertly crafted simulacrum that never slips into parody either as shown in the songs used which are faithful renditions of traditional and original numbers.

Episodic in structure the film drifts like couch-surfing Llewyn Davis introducing us to a whole new set of Coenesque eccentrics. Our ‘hero’ is an archetypal rolling stone gathering no moss but rather a whole host of issues. These problems range from a missing neighbour’s cat, pregnant “girlfriend”, homelessness, family dysfunction, indifferent agent, lack of money and career prospects.  Described as an anti-Midas by Carey Mulligan’s very angry Jean, Llewyn’s life has stalled and while he plays and sings beautifully he is more menstrual than minstrel. He’s a rather pathetic character drifting through life having seemingly fallen out of love with music despite still pursuing a career as a solo artist.   Throughout, actor Oscar Isaac delivers a phenomenal performance full of anger, pain and heart all with an underlying glint of sly humour.

As someone who has been in a band when I was young and someone who continues to try a forge some semblance of a path as a filmmaker and comedian I recognised much of the jaded feelings the character experienced and empathised with the continual rejections he faced. But I also felt distanced as in my opinion one should relax a bit and enjoy the journey. Llewyn Davis has a gift — more talented than I could ever hope — but is a character that is depressed by his current existence and nothing seems to be able to shake him out of the funk. There is an air of self-destructiveness, anger and bitterness too which affects his relationships with the decent group of people around who try to help him. The Coen Bros. have in the past been accused of making films that lack heart. I never agreed with that but could see why people may see their work as more style than substance. This film strums away such accusations with a truly mesmerising character study full of heart and soul and regret and fear, humour and emotion.

On the surface the film could be described as a “musician trying to make it” film but underneath it’s about loss and grief in my view; loss of a career following the death of his double-act partner, loss of direction, loss of love for music.   Part mood-poem, part-road-movie, part-musical, part-comedy it has a brilliant cast and some wonderful acting and musical performances.  I’m not a fan of folk music per se, and have little knowledge of the era but that didn’t matter as this is a gem of a film; a cyclical-structured study of loss about an unlovable loser and struggling artist with a bit of Greek tragedy thrown in. If you love the Coen Bros. you’ll certainly love Llewyn Davis.