Under the Skin

2014review_scifi

Thanks to the continued popularity of superhero movies and YA literature adaptations and now the reignited interest in monsters, the joined genres of science fiction and fantasy are giving us what seems to be more releases than ever. It helps that computer effects are cheaper and easier for the benefit of indies and that so many makers of shorts see simple yet impressively visualized stories involving robots, dystopias and alien invasions as the perfect calling card for Hollywood. The plethora of works dealing with the unreal and as yet impossible means that while last year a Hobbit movie made the cut, this year the final chapter did not. It means that a new sci-fi film from Terry Gilliam, my longtime favorite director, also fell below our limit of the top 14. And it also means there was just too much out there for me to get around to. Apologies to Space Station 76, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1, The Boxtrolls, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, The Frame and many others. Some interesting trends to note about the year in sci-fi and fantasy before we get going: at least a few 2014 movies involve doppelgängers or doubles or clones or alternate versions of some sort; another bunch feature a plot similar to Groundhog Day; and a lot were not mere magic and space opera but rather emphasized the science side of sci-fi by at least promoting scientists and innovation (if not also always getting the tech or theories quite right). Also Scarlett Johansson.

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2014review_rob

2014 has been a brilliant year for movies. We can talk all day long about the disappointments and straight-up garbage shoveled our way, but that’s a waste of time and effort when so much greatness is available too. So lets talk about the great ones. One quick note: There are always acclaimed films that slip by and go unseen before the year-end deadline, and this year is no different. So for what it’s worth, at the time of this writing I have yet to see Citizenfour, Foxcatcher, Inherent Vice and Selma.

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2014review_performer

Lost In Translation wasn’t Scarlett Johansson‘s screen debut — she had brushed up against leading lady status with a few films beforehand — but it was the first time people took real notice of her ability to hold their attention through her performance. (The underwear scene helped too, but let’s stay on point here people.) The next decade saw her star in twenty one films of varying quality — from the highs of Her to the subterranean lows of The Spirit — across all manner of genres from comedy to drama to action to kids movies. 2014 saw her continue that trend by appearing in four films — four fairly disparate films — that not only earned a collective $1.25 billion worldwide but that also saw her flex a wide variety of muscles, both acting and otherwise. The roles vary in what they demand of her and what she delivers, and they show a performer at the top of her creative, risk-taking game in a way that very few others (male or female) matched this year. (Sorry, but while we love Chris Pratt in The LEGO Movie and Guardians of the Galaxy they’re both basically just Andy Dwyer with different name badges.) There were better performances in 2014, but none of those other actors found anything close to the critical and commercial success Johansson achieved while moving so effortlessly from blockbuster to art film to supporting role and back again.

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2014_review_horror

Great horror films were not hard to find this year, but as is usually the case the best ones didn’t open wide in theaters nationwide. The studio efforts were once again the year’s lesser genre entries, and while I had some fun with the likes of Annabelle and As Above So Below the fourteen films below offer far more when it comes to chills, thrills and creative atmospheres. And a quick note on some of the other titles you won’t find below… both Afflicted and Willow Creek were on last year’s list, and several movies — Black Mountain Side, Cooties, Creep, Cub, The Editor, It Follows, Spring, What We Do In the Shadows and Zombeavers — would have made this year’s, but they’ve only played festivals and have yet to see an official U.S. release.

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THE LAST DAYS discs

Welcome back to This Week In Discs! If you see something you like, click on the title to buy it from Amazon. The Last Days Marc is living in the office building he used to call his place of employment, and he’s not alone. Humanity worldwide has fallen victim to a deadly form of agoraphobia. Walk outside, and you’re dead within seconds from fear. Three months into the epidemic Mark and another survivor manage to set out via the sewers in search of Marc’s pregnant girlfriend, but their journey reveals a species on the brink of extinction. This Spanish production tackles a familiar subject — the post apocalyptic world — and imbues it not only with a fresh premise but also with real heart and character. It looks good too as special effects and production design come together to create a believably devastated world, and all of it is enhanced with a script that manages to hit some familiar beats without feeling redundant. The film is solid throughout, but the final thirty minutes offer some touching and exciting turns. Fans of the underseen but fantastic Perfect Sense should most definitely give it a shot. [DVD extras: Trailer]

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2014-halfway-best

2014 is half over, and while that means we’re still six months away from our official ‘Best Of’ lists it also means it’s time to point out several great movies that you may very well have missed so far. Granted, if you’re a regular reader here at FSR than you’ve probably already heard us praising some or all of the films below, but either way the list of films here should serve as a guide of movies to seek out when you’re in the mood for something other than studio releases. As we did last year Landon Palmer and I have selected ten fantastic films from the past six months that we think deserve more attention than they received. It’s worth noting though that we’re not including festival-only titles and instead are limiting ourselves to small releases that have had some degree of exposure in theaters or on VOD. This made it a little bit tougher as half of my own top ten of 2014 so far only played Sundance (or other fests) while the other half are wide releases. But while these ten films may not be the ten best of the year so far they are great movies well worth watching.

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Guy Pearce and Robert Pattinson in THE ROVER

Lionsgate was a pioneering label for brooding dramas, compelling imports and insightful nonfiction until it partnered with Tyler Perry, Jigsaw, and a certain YA book series. Miramax was the flagship of envelope-pushing American indies until the Weinsteins became better known for re-cutting films than for supporting filmmakers. Focus Features was the home of young early-aughts visionaries like Sofia Coppola, Michel Gondry and Joe Wright until CEO James Schamus was ousted to “broaden its portfolio.” As indie distributors and studio subsidiaries refocus their efforts towards studio-sized earnings, their previously coherent brand identities as vessels of imaginative filmmaking quickly fade out. Since the indie boom of the ‘90s gave way to the ‘00’s bottom lines, it’s been increasingly difficult and frustrating to rely on name distributors to continually devote their efforts toward risky films. All of which makes it all the more incredible that A24 has made itself into a distributor dedicated to anything but convention – and, at that, has assembled a slate of films defined by a certain amount of risk and subversion. With its 2013 slate – which included Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers, Coppola’s The Bling Ring, Sally Potter’s Ginger and Rosa and James Ponsoldt’s The Spectacular Now – A24’s first year was (intentionally or not) focused on films that produced a dark, incisive and more complex vision of youth than can be found elsewhere. But A24’s 2014 films have provided something even more needed in the current cinematic landscape: central performances that openly defy cinematic convention and expectation.

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Scarlett Johansson Movies

Last year, Steven Spielberg postulated that sometime within the next few years, a series of subsequent major flops will, in effect, dismantle the blockbuster mentality that has dominated Hollywood since Spielberg himself became a well-known director. While this doesn’t look like it will occur anytime soon – certainly not in 2015 – it’s not hard to imagine that the culture industry of remakes, sequels, adaptations, umpteenth reboots and general unoriginality will one day go the way of the September 2008 stock market. It’s happened before. When Hollywood attempted to compete with the rise of television, studios produced an onslaught of lengthy widescreen Technicolor historical pictures, all with massive star power and even bigger budgets. But this model of putting so much money into fewer individual films proved unsustainable, and now even massive hits like Cleopatra are remembered as flops in part because the stakes were so high and their productions were so troubled. It’s hard to believe, but the series of epics that Hollywood produced during the 1950s and 1960s are a blip on the radar of Hollywood’s history compared to the exponential bloating of budgets and expanding of franchises now. We’ve been swimming in the Blockbuster Mentality since 1980 and it’s only intensified since. Hollywood has dug its heels in, only to continue reproducing the same existing properties – thus limiting both the imaginations of audiences and filmmakers – in a way that’s unstoppable unless a West coast economic catastrophe happens. Well, at least, that’s the conventional wisdom.

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Nicole Kidman in Birth

It’s a little too early to be celebrating the 10th anniversary of Birth, a movie where “10 years later” has significance, but I’d like to get started on paying commemorative tribute to Jonathan Glazer‘s 2004 masterpiece for a few reasons. Each of these reasons is actually a new movie with some relevance to Birth, and while that makes it sound like the earlier movie is something so ahead of its time that it fits better among the output of 2014, the pertinence is mostly a coincidence. The first reason/movie, however, is rather obvious. Glazer’s first feature since Birth is currently in theaters, and it couldn’t be any more worth the wait. Outside of both movies beginning with a kind of natal moment for a main character and the way they could be aesthetically connected, reverse-sequentially, through snow-filled settings, there’s little similarity between the movies. The new one, Under the Skin, is about an alien disguised as a human woman (Scarlett Johansson) who predatorily lures men into a trap. Birth is about a little boy (Cameron Bright) who claims to be the reincarnation of the husband of a wealthy widow (Nicole Kidman). Her family thinks it’s all a ruse, maybe to predatorily lure the woman into some sort of financial trap.

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Scarlett Johansson in UNDER THE SKIN

There are great films and terrible films, and while there are far too many of the latter and the majority land somewhere in the middle no movie lover is suffering from a lack of quality cinema. But rarer than films we love are the ones that seep into the fleshy fibers of our brains and hearts and take up residency for an extended period of time. More than a simple memory they instead become fodder for active thoughts, things we mull over and re-experience again and again as we work through the film’s secrets and intentions. Under the Skin is one of those unforgettable movies that promises to stay with you long after the end credits have rolled. It spoils nothing to say that Scarlett Johansson plays an unnamed visitor from… elsewhere, and that she’s arrived in Glasgow, Scotland with a very specific mission. Specific, but not entirely clear. After relieving a seemingly paralyzed woman of her clothes and dressing in them herself, Johansson’s character (who we’ll call Milly going forward because why not) begins to prowl the streets of the city behind the wheel of a white panel van. She’s looking for men, the kind that won’t be missed anytime soon, to bring back to her ramshackle abode with the unspoken promise of sex. Instead Milly leads them hypnotically into an inky black morass that will be their doom. And then she goes out to do it all again.

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Scarlett Johansson in UNDER THE SKIN

The Weekend Watch is an open thread where you can share what you’ve recently watched, offer suggestions on movies and TV shows we should check out (or warnings about stuff to avoid), and discover queue-filling goodies from other FSR readers. The comments section awaits. I’ll get the ball rolling with the movies/TV my eyeballs took in this weekend.

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Scarlett Johansson in Under the Skin

No one could ever accuse Jonathan Glazer of opting for quantity over quality. The British filmmaker has made only three movies in the span of 14 years, including his latest, Under the Skin. During that time, and before he made his feature debut in 2000 with Sexy Beast, Glazer directed music videos for Radiohead, UNKLE, Massive Attack, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and more of your favorite bands. He’s also done commercials for Nike, Audi, Guinness and Motorola. Glazer has a résumé to brag about. He’s done well for himself, which is probably why our interview with him is at the Chateau Marmont, which smells of money. Maybe it’s all the 20-year-olds coming in and out with their Rolls-Royces that gives it that scent. Still, the rather cozy and surprisingly low-key hotel is an ideal place to speak with Glazer. And the 49-year-old director is in good spirits when we meet him. He’s proud of a very important fact: whether you like Under the Skin or not, he made the movie he wanted to make.

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Cabin in the Woods

The best movie culture writing from around the internet-o-sphere. There will be a quiz later. Just leave a tab open for us, will ya?

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A24

We’re not even halfway into 2014 and already this is proving to be a terrific year for movies. In March alone we had a slew of quality films: Enemy, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Raid 2, and Bad Words. This month is even better. What’s nice about this March and April is that they’ve given us some quality blockbusters that we’d expect from the summer without having to wait for the heat. While Noah had its flaws — a lot of them, to be exact — it was a grand and ambitious drama with the scope of a summer movie. A more consistent summer film is opening this week, and if you pay any attention to the world, you know which. A hint: it’s the one about a super soldier who was frozen for over 60 years and is now fighting a man with a metal arm that’ll make a gazillion dollars. The movie, not the guy with the metal arm. Not sure what his day rate is. The Marvel juggernaut isn’t the only movie you need to see this month, though. There are two movies in particular that will surely stand the test of time: Under the Skin and Only Lovers Left Alive. Those are experiences, not just movies. Before the busy summer movie season begins, make sure to make the time for them, in addition to these other eight Must See Movies:

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Under the Skin

As the folks at @A24Films pointed out on Twitter, the Scarlett Johansson-led sci-fi thriller Under the Skin is about a month away here in the United States. Director Jonathan Glazer’s latest is the story of an alien sent to Earth to seduce and capture human males, presumably for some sort of cosmic research project. Of course, her curiosity begins to get the best of her, leading to a number of unexpected consequences. The result is a sexy, mind-twisting alien thriller that’s already received a large amount of praise from critics and audiences at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival, landing it on our own list of the 52 Most Anticipated Movies of 2014. Needless to say, we’re interested to see this one when it hits theaters on April 4. But first, A24 has released a brand new domestic poster featuring a bit of innuendo. As well, artist Neil Kellerhouse — who was responsible for the stunning posters of David Fincher’s Girl with the Dragon Tattoo as well as numerous other recent favorites — has created a number of Under the Skin posters in support of the film’s UK release this weekend. It’s all quite minimal, sensual and gripping. Prepare to be seduced and captured by Scarlett Johansson’s gams.

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under-the-skin

English director Jonathan Glazer has never shied away from the more off-kilter aspects of filmmaking, and his latest, Under the Skin, is no exception. Based on novelist Michel Faber’s book of the same name, the story centers on an alien named “Laura” (Scarlett Johannson), who preys on hitchhikers in Scotland. If the narrative remains true to the novel, what happens to these poor saps is pretty horrid, as their departure from this mortal coil is not mercifully speedy at all. Check out the red-band teaser trailer below:

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Under the Skin

After first being introduced to us via a truly puzzling little teaser trailer, Jonathan Glazer‘s Under the Skin is still a bit of a head-scratcher in it’s full-length trailer form. But it’s that strangeness that makes this watch so mesmerizing. Scarlett Johansson, as we have learned, is an alien bombshell who drives around Scotland in her mystery van looking for foolish men to lure in with her charms. Once they’re thoroughly seduced by her Attractive Human Woman Form, she feasts upon the men and presumably bathes in their sad male tears. It’s what keeps her hair so shiny. The film is based on the novel by Michel Faber of the same name, so there’s the place to go for more details about why she’s after Scottish men specifically, or even why she’s been sent to this planet in the first place. This trailer isn’t giving up much else. Visually, though, it’s a fascinating look into a bizarre sci-fi thriller where it seems that the sky is perpetually darkened and something sinister’s about to happen around every corner. Then again, I’ve never been to Scotland so this might not be Glazer’s doing. Johansson also does “alien trying to be human” right by wearing a fur coat to the beach and looking supremely uncomfortable in a night club. Check out the trailer for yourself here:

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under-the-skin

The best movie culture writing from around the internet-o-sphere. Just leave a tab open for us, will ya?

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under-the-skin

Normally, a trailer- even a teaser- will lay down some basic foundation about the movie it’s advertising. Story, characters, setting. Something. Then there’s Under the Skin. The first trailer for the upcoming sci-fi film has just been released, but I hesitate to call it a trailer (or even a teaser) despite the video being labeled as one. Maybe “brief collection of quick shots that will probably be in the film” would be more accurate.

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published: 12.19.2014
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published: 12.18.2014
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published: 12.17.2014
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