Finding Vivian Maier (2013)

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Director: John Maloof, Charlie Siskel

Cast: John Maloof, Phil Donahue, Mary Ellen Mark, Joel Meyerowitz, Tim Roth

Screenplay: John Maloof, Charlie Siskel

83 mins. Not Rated.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Documentary, Feature

 

Each year, I find at least one strange documentary that really pulls me in. As a film nominated for this past Academy Awards, Finding Vivian Maier was that documentary. It tells the story of John Maloof who comes across cases of film negatives at an auction and discovers they belonged to an incredibly inspired photographer named Vivian Maier. As Maloof searches through her past, he discovers that Maier’s photos are almost as mysterious as her life was.

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This documentary reminded me a lot of Searching for Sugar Man from a few years back. It is the story of a fan and his search to uncover the truth of an unknown artist. As layers are peeled back from Maier’s life, I was confused and yet still more intrigued. This is an excellent documentary on multiple levels. My one complaint is that I still don’t know if I know Vivian Maier by the end, or if I ever knew her. Perhaps that is the point of the film.

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Finding Vivian Maier is a strange film. It pulled me in, messed with my perceptions, and dropped me off with a lot more questions than answered, and yet, I enjoyed every minute of it, from Maloof’s inciting curiosity to the art show he organizes.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[#2015oscardeathrace] Begin Again (2013)

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Director: John Carney

Cast: Keira Knightley, Mark Ruffalo, Hailee Steinfeld, Adam Levine, James Corden, CeeLo Green, Catherine Keener

Screenplay: John Carney

104 mins. Rated R for language.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song (“Lost Stars” by Gregg Alexander, Danielle Brisebois) [Awards Not Yet Announced]

In Begin Again, Dan (Mark Ruffalo, The Avengers, Foxcatcher) is an recently unemployed music producer who has just discovered Gretta (Keira Knightley, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit), a young woman with a rare voice who isn’t interested in pursuing a character. Dan has a strained relationship with daughter Violet (Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit, Pitch Perfect 2) and her mother Miriam (Catherine Keener, Captain Phillips, Enough Said), but not Gretta provides a much-needed inspirational boost to Dan who wants to use her to get back in the game.

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Begin Again is little more than a cheese-filled sandwich trying to disguise itself as a movie of substance. These characters are flat and uninspired and there are better versions of them sprinkled throughout better films. I found myself checking my watch out of boredom several times here.

The film is almost completely improvised and it proves one thing very well: these actors should not improvise lines. There are entire sequences of uninspired and uninteresting exchanges between the characters.

As for the Oscar nominated son “Lost Stars” from Gregg Alexander and Danielle Brisebois, it isn’t that bad. A nice song sung in several different ways throughout the film. Not deserving of the award, but perhaps worth the nomination.

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Begin Again is a carbon-copy of so many other films just like it, with one exception: somebody smudged this copy somewhere along the line. Just keep in mind: there are better films about the music industry. Many.

1.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[#2015oscardeathrace] Ida (2013)

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Director: Pawel Pawlikowski

Cast: Agata Kulesza, Agata Trzebuchowska, Dawid Ogrodnik

Screenplay: Pawel Pawlikowski, Rebecca Lenkiewicz

82 mins. Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, some sexuality and smoking.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Foreign Language Film of the Year (Awards Not Yet Announced)
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Cinematography (Awards Not Yet Announced)

 

The foreign language Academy Awards will very likely soon be relegated to an unseen technical award given out before the ceremony. People just don’t care about foreign language films. I happen to find a couple gems each year, but our breed is dying. Maybe the style is unusual to them, or perhaps they are too lazy to read subtitles (this makes me sad), but for whatever reasons, these films are looked over. I was able to get my hands on Ida on Netflix, and it is a different film than I am used to, but that’s why I needed to see it.

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Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska) is about to take her vows and become a nun, but beforehand, she is sent to meet her aunt Wanda (Agata Kulesza, Suicide Room, The Mighty Angel) and learn about her parents. What she learns about them opens up her view of life and causes her and her aunt to learn about their vastly different lifestyles.

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Ida has a beautiful cinematography to it, colorful in its black-and-white grandeur. The performances of the two Agatas work well together for characters who take on a bit of role reversal in understanding each other. Anna’s journey of discovery is an interesting one, one that I enjoyed taking part in, and her aunt Wanda’s dual-emotional tragedy of a woman who equally embraces her lifestyle and loathes it works well. The film isn’t perfect, but has a tightness to it that flows nicely. Ida may just take away the award this year (the foreign language one, not the cinematography one). So yeah.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Oscar Madness] Gravity (2013)

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Director: Alfonso Cuaron

Cast: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney

Screenplay: Alfonso Cuaron, Jonas Cuaron

91 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense perilous sequences, some disturbing images and brief strong language.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Achievement in Cinematography
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Achievement in Directing
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Achievement in Film Editing
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Achievement in Sound Editing
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Achievement in Sound Mixing
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Achievement in Visual Effects
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Motion Picture of the Year
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role (Sandra Bullock)
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Production Design

 

Gravity’s trailer won me over because it did something that too many trailers to wrong. It teased plot, but didn’t give it all away. There has been a recent trend in trailers which have been very good at not spoilering the whole freaking movie. Frozen and Monster University have actually been like short films teasing the tone of the movie while not ruining the experience, while Star Wars-Episode VII: The Force Awakens gives us just moments to titillate us, and it worked. Gravity’s trailer just touches on the first ten minutes. That’s it. A tease.

Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock, The Proposal, The Heat) and Matt Kowalski (George Clooney, Ocean’s Eleven, The Monuments Men) are astronauts on a mission to fix and update some parts on the Hubble Telescope. While on a spacewalk, their shuttle is hit by debris from a chain reaction satellite explosion, causing them to be stranded out in space. Now, they must find a way to get back to Earth with no shuttle in the new film from Alfonso Cuaron (Children of Men, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban).

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I may not like Sandra Bullock, but this is easily her best performance in years. She just knocks in out of the park.

George Clooney provides some terrific work in a supporting role as Matt. He has the confidence of a man on his last mission.

Cuaron had to develop new filmmaking techniques to handle the cinematography of weightless space and increase the capabilities of an all-CGI film. It took at least four years to get there, but it was worth it, and we all knew it was taking those technical awards at the Oscars. Here’s a tip: if your film has to invent new processes and equipment, you will win Oscars. It just happens.

The film is edited to together to keep movie and it features some really long sequences to keep the audience involved in the movie. It certainly works, because it literally left me shaking. I wish I could’ve paused it so I could leave for a few minutes to calm back down.

Innovative lighting techniques also create an involved experience.

The sound, or lack thereof, and the minimal use of music really assist in making the film real, and few space films utilize the silence of space so well.

Awesome CG! Just sayin’!

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Gravity is everything I wanted it to be. This uplifting space adventure kept me on the edge of my seat that I was fearful I would fall out of it. If this film doesn’t leave you breathless, you don’t have lungs.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Man of Steel (2013)

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Director: Zack Snyder

Cast: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Kevin Costner, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Antje Traue, Ayalet Zurer, Christopher Meloni, Russell Crowe

Screenplay: David S. Goyer

143 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence, action and destruction, and for some language.

 

So what happens when the king of green-screen takes on the most famous superhero in history. Why, you get Man of Steel. My review is here.

On the far-off planet of Krypton, science officer Jor-El (Russell Crowe, Gladiator, Noah) tries to convince his dying planet that they do not have any time left and must abandon all hope to the stars. As he quells a coup from military leader General Zod (Michael Shannon, TV’s Boardwalk Empire, Take Shelter), Jor-El realizes that all hope for saving his race are gone except for a miracle which has resulted in the first natural birth in years. His son Kal-El is born. Jor-El does one of the most insane things in comic book history by launching his infant son off into space in hopes of saving the Kryptonian species.

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Years later, an adult Kal-El (Henry Cavill, Immortals, The Cold Light of Day), now under the guise of Clark Kent, tries to keep his superpowers under wraps as he lives a normal life raised to Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner, Dances with Wolves, Draft Day) and his wife, Martha (Diane Lane, Unfaithful, Secretariat).That is, until General Zod comes to Earth in search of taking the planet and terraforming it for his own. Now, with the help of Lois Lane (Amy Adams, American Hustle, Her), Superman must stop Zod and save the human race from extinction.

I wanted to like this movie. I am a major fan of the Superman mythos. I love director Christopher Nolan and his work with The Dark Knight series, so when I saw his name on the producer credits for Man of Steel, I was overjoyed. I even like somewhat likable director Zack Snyder, and find him to be a slightly more skilled director than Michael Bay, so I was excited. Then I saw it.

It felt like the team behind the film didn’t know anything about Superman or why his character is so important. We see virtually none of Clark Kent. He reveals himself to Lois Lane way way too early for there to be an actual romance to develop. I like General Zod, but he isn’t nearly as strong as previous incarnations have made the character. He comes off as a lost little leader looking for someone to blame as opposed to the cold and calculated military beast he should be. His flunkies are not anything more than flat uninspired flunkies.

The film has some strong performances from minor characters due to great work by Costner, Lane, and Crowe as well Laurence Fishburne (TV’s Black-ish, The Matrix) as Daily Planet bigwig Perry White and Christopher Meloni (TV’s Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For) as Colonel Nathan Hardy, but unfortunately, when you cast an unknown, you might get a dud. Henry Cavill is a dud.

Then there is Zack Snyder (300, Sucker Punch), who definitely brings the spectacle, and a lot of it, but he doesn’t give us any heart. This film is all spectacle, no substance. We don’t get any Daily Planet or Jimmy Olsen. We don’t get any Lex Luthor (though I can get waiting on the sequel for him). We don’t get what an origin story needs. Here’s some advice. Don’t do an origin story if the previous incarnation did it so well. Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie did the origin so well, so why try to top it. Do what The Incredible Hulk and just skip past it while referencing little moments. This film was too much like The Amazing Spider-Man and not enough like a reboot should be.

And if I might have a moment to speak to David S. Goyer. Sir, please take a break from superheroes. It’s becoming a little weird.

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Sadly, Man of Steel was not the movie I was looking for. The character of Superman has a little camp, and that’s fine, at least Marvel took on the camp with their version of Captain America: The First Avenger and embrace it a little. Have a little fun. Isn’t that what superheroes usually are about (with the exception of a select few). Hopefully this team can pick up the pieces with Batfleck and fix it for Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice. I said hopefully.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

31 Days of Horror: Day 16 – Odd Thomas (2013)

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Director: Stephen Sommers

Cast: Anton Yelchin, Willem Dafoe, Addison Timlin, Nico Tortorella

Screenplay: Stephen Sommers

97 mins. Rated PG-13.

 

From the moment I heard about the character of Odd Thomas, created by Dean Koontz for a series of novels, I knew that he would eventually get a film series. I was probably a little incorrect. I doubt he will get a “series” after this meager film.

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Writer/director Stephen Sommers (The Mummy) has been slowly killing his career for years now, but I’m starting to think that Odd Thomas might have been the last nail in the coffin. Odd Thomas is all about, you guessed it, Odd Thomas. Have you heard that name too many times? Good, I prepared you for the film, which entails our hero (Anton Yelchin, Star Trek, Burying the Ex) who, along with Police Chief Wyatt Porter (Willem Dafoe, Spider-Man, John Wick) and girlfriend Stormy Llewelyn (Addison Timlin, Derailed, The Town That Dreaded Sundown), must track down the mystery concerning a man with dark secrets to apocalyptic things. Honestly, I’m trying to make it sound good, but I stopped caring long before the plot began lugging forward.

This movie was just kind of boring. The plot really went nowhere, and I applaud the attempt at something original, but it is a bore. Odd Thomas is the kind of film that looks like it was a pilot to a television series that might have aired over a decade ago. It is cheap looking, and it is slow moving, and it has a group of talent that is wasted on weak script and a knock-off narrative.

I liked that Stephen Sommers was trying to push the story forwards, and he gives it a look with style similar to comic books, but I just didn’t give a shit about these characters after a while.

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And the ending, my God! How could a film fall back so quickly towards a cheap and uninspired ending like Odd Thomas did. I feel sad that they likely won’t be continuing this story, I hear great things about the book series, but sadly, we are in a world of supernatural serials and one of them just had to fall by the wayside. I hope this doesn’t ruin Yelchin’s career, I mean, he has Chekov to fall back on, but I can’t say the same for Sommers.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

31 Days of Horror: Day 15 – The Sacrament (2013)

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Director: Ti West

Cast: Joe Swanberg, Amy Seimetz, Kate Lyn Sheil

Screenplay: Ti West

95 mins. Rated R for disturbing violent content including bloody images, language and brief drug use.

 

Ti West’s The Sacrament is a cult movie. By that I mean it is a movie about a cult. Presented in found footage, it tells the story of a news crew who follow a young man searching for his sister (Amy Seimetz, TV’s The Killing, You’re Next) who has gone to live in a community called Eden Parish run by a mysterious leader known only as Father. As the mystery surrounding this supposed Paradise begins to unravel, it is clear to the crew that they may not make it out of Eden Parish alive.

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I have not always been the biggest Ti West fan. I happened to believe that his only quality work came from his section of the phenomenal found footage film V/H/S, and I can now add The Sacrament to the list of good works by West. Honestly, this movie has the potential to piss people off, and it should. This is one of those horror films where the horror is right there, real, powerful. It isn’t some demon or ghost, but is a man, and that has the potential to make it even scarier. Man is real, and man is dangerous.

The performances in the film are good enough for believability, with special honors to Gene Jones, who portrays Father. His is a chilling performance. I remember asking if he was some sort of monster as the movie moved on, and I was right, kind of.

I didn’t find the found footage all that hampering to the film here as well. So many recent movies have taken the Paranormal Activity route and have come up with nothing good (we all know I’m talking about Devil’s Due), but here, it makes sense and is fluid to the story. Not perfect mind you, but serviceable.

One of the best parts of this movie is the ending. I won’t say much except that it surprised me for a found footage film. I was shocked by the ending. That’s all I will say.

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The Sacrament is not a perfect film. It has the luxury of producer Eli Roth, who has the potential to create something truly terrifying. Hopefully Ti West will realize what worked in this movie and what didn’t. Hopefully he will learn, because this was some pretty scary shit.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

31 Days of Horror: Day 8 – The World’s End (2013)

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Director: Edgar Wright

Cast: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Paddy Considine, Martin Freeman, Eddie Marsan, Rosamund Pike

Screenplay: Simon Pegg, Edgar Wright

109 mins. Rated R for pervasive language including sexual references.

 

I would say that a lot of people had high hopes for the concluding film of The Blood & Ice Cream Trilogy (beginning with Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, sometimes called The Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy) and in that way, I think people walked out of The World’s End feeling as though it didn’t stand up with its brothers in the world of hilarity. They would be wrong. The World’s End, much like its predecessors, takes warming up and multiple viewings to truly appreciate. As of today, I have enjoyed it more and more through the several times I have viewed it, and I will show you why later.

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The World’s End is the name of a pub. The final pub of a legendary pub crawl that, years ago, Gary King (Simon Pegg, Shaun of the Dead, Mission: Impossible 5) and his friends attempted to complete. The night did not go as planned, and ever since, King has been stuck in a version of his teen years, but now, Gary is ready to give it another go, and to do that, he needs the help of his friends. All but Andy Knightley (Nick Frost, Cuban Fury, Hot Fuzz) are convinced fairly quickly that this could be a fun bit of nostalgia for the boys, but Andy has other memories of that night and the following years. As the friends begin to attempt “The Golden Mile” a second time, strange occurrences lead them to a realization. The small town of Newton Haven is being overrun by aliens.

The World’s End features Pegg’s best performance to date. When originally reading the synopsis, I was shocked to read the role reversal for Pegg and Frost, as usually Pegg would have been the hard-ass of the group and Frost would have played King. Not only does this reversal feel fresh, but Simon Pegg dials in a performance that is equal parts extremely comedic and painfully sad. Nick Frost also controls his controlling character Andy. Also in this film, we get a lot more comradery in the friendships they share with Steven Prince (Paddy Considine, The Bourne Ultimatum, The Double), Oliver Chamberlain (Martin Freeman, TV’s Sherlock, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey) and Peter Page (Eddie Marsan, Sherlock Holmes, God’s Pocket). There is also solid work from Rosamund Pike (Pride & Prejudice, Gone Girl) as Oliver’s sister and Steven’s love interest Sam. The entire cast masters their respective roles and the relationships between them are both complex and relatable. It is a story of bygone friendships, the past coming back to you, and trust, and the film becomes much more personal in that way.

Director Edgar Wright (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) handles the piece very well, offering us sweeping visuals and dazzling fight scenes (I just love the bathroom brawl). He treats this film, like his previous work in The Blood & Ice Cream Trilogy, as though they were of the genre he is parodying. The music of the film has a very 1980’s feel to it, from the songs to the score, it is an older electric mood, very befitting of the science fiction tale.

The costumes here as well are gorgeously put together, especially Gary’s, who has been wearing the same getup for over 20 years.

Now, I said I would mention some of the interesting background humor. First of all, pay close attention to the titles of the bars, as each one offers some laugh-out-loud hilarity. Notice as well, the background parking lots which contain an awfully staggering amount of the exact same vehicle (I looked it up, apparently it is a Vauxhall Ampera, an electric car, also funny). Now it is true that there isn’t as much callback in the dialogue as is fare in these films, but the callbacks are different. Wright and Pegg’s screenplay has emotional callbacks.

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The World’s End is a hard-hitting comedic gem that will gain appreciation with age, and it contains some of the finest performances of its very funny cast, including the best work from Simon Pegg yet. This film stays with you and gets better with each viewing. Start your callback with this one. Highly recommended.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

31 Days of Horror: Day 7 – World War Z (2013)

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Director: Marc Forster

Cast: Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, James Badge Dale, Matthew Fox

Screenplay: Matthew Michael Carnahan, Drew Goddard, Damon Lindelof

116 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense frightening zombie sequences, violence and disturbing images.

 

Last year saw the release of World War Z, the adaptation of the book by Max Brooks (that is, son of Mel Brooks). World War Z, the book, was a written account full of transcripts, interviews, and news information pertaining to a worldwide outbreak of the living dead and the many people who contributed to finding a solution. World War Z, the film, is a bland and tasteless attempt at a popcorn flick with virtually none of the subtext of the novel for which it is based. There is one main character as opposed to the books cadre of first-person POVs.

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It stars Brad Pitt (Inglourious Basterds, Fury) as Gerry Lane, a scientist who just might be able to solve this epidemic, if only he would stop risking his neck and almost dying. We are talking about someone that allows his wife (played by Mireille Enos of TV’s The Killing and If I Stay) and children come dangerously close to death themselves because he cannot protect them. These are really unmotivated, undriven, and underdeveloped characters.

Matthew Fox appears in the film as Parajumper, a role significantly reduced by rewrites from Drew Goddard (The Cabin in the Woods, Cloverfield) and Damon Lindelof (TV’s The Leftovers, Prometheus). Matthew Fox’s character was initially very multifaceted and was supposed to be setup as the villain for a sequel. He was so rewritten and removed from the film that he now has five measly lines of pseudo-exposition. The irony here being that both of these writers worked on Lost, and removed its star from this film completely.

The newly formed screenplay gleans very little from the novel, so much so that the film is practically unrecognizable at this point.

The only major win here is that this film featured Peter Capaldi as W.H.O. Doctor, an in-joke as the filmmakers were well aware of his appointment as the new Doctor Who. Kind of made me giggle.

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I hold out hope that the possibility of World War Z 2 may actually get it right, but I don’t know how long I can hope on that. Skip this disappointing fair. There are better zombies.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

Under the Skin (2013)

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Director: Jonathan Glazer

Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy McWilliams, Lynsey Mackay

Screenplay: Walter Campbell, Jonathan Glazer

108 mins. Rated R for graphic nudity, sexual content, some violence and language.

 

For all you folks who think that ScarJo is secretly a sexy alien seductress bent on eating you alive, boy do I have a film for you! It’s my review of Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin!

Under the Skin is kind of simple. We have an alien or humanoid creature (Scarlett Johansson, Lost in Translation, Lucy) who arrives on Earth in Scotland, steals a van, and tours the streets, picking up lonely men for means of consumption and sustenance. That’s really what I can say on the plot, there isn’t much else to it. Oh, and spoiler alert, you get to see a naked ScarJo. Also, get ready to see some wieners.

Johansson is an incredible force of mood in this picture. She says very little, but you can certainly feel her journey. It isn’t easy to make you feel for this woman, but she pulls you in. Her and the camera are the driving power of this film. Glazer’s cinematography is amazing here. He put a lot of homage to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey; in fact, there is a lot of Kubrick in this film. Not just his strengths, but also a few weaknesses. For example, there are stretches of this film where I find the plot repetitive and nothing new. It drags……..on and on. I personally feel as though the director of a film is the captain of the ship, giving us a tour of the surrounding areas. He decides which directions we will take. He tells us to look out to the starboard side to see this or the port side of the ship to see that. I feel as though Glazer, just like Kubrick often did, gets up and jumps off the boat, leaving us to fend for ourselves. His presence is just gone from the middle of the film and he doesn’t come back until the incredibly disturbing finale.

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Under the Skin has a lot of wins, and a lot of losses. Either way, this film is at least worth a viewing. Check it out at least once, and stay until the end.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe


Under the Skin (2013) on IMDb

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