Under the Skin Movie Review

Some movies come out of nowhere and completely restore your faith in the embracing power of cinema.
‘Under the Skin’ is that kind of groundbreaking masterpiece. British director Jonathan Glazer fills this beautifully strange spectacle with haunting dream imagery, a mesmerizing score by Mica Levi, and a terrific visual style.
Scarlett Johansann delivers a brilliantly controlled performance as someone who may be more than human who goes around a small town in Scotland, seduces men and then mysterious things start happening to them afterwards.
This may sound too weird or strange for some audiences to handle, however the film has a sort of transfixing dream-like pull that holds the viewer spellbound with its superb use of nightmarish images and naturalistic dialogue.
Glazer has already put an impressive mark on cinema with his fantastic music videos and his previous two films, the controversial ‘Birth’ starring Nicole Kidman’, and ‘Sexy Beast’ which featured a memorable Oscar-nominated performance from Ben Kingsley.
Loosely based on the novel by Michael Faber, ‘Under the Skin’ is Glazer’s first feature film in over nine years and it’s his most complex and satisfying work to date that’s altogether an enthralling cinematic voyage.
One of the film’s most haunting scenes is when Johansaan’s character meets an ‘Elephant Man’ like being that recalls the film sequences of David Lynch and David Cronenberg.
Glazer’s film is a magnificent examination of what it’s like to truly be a human and the film’s striking images will linger in your memory for days.
Glazer even uses secret cameras throughout his film to capture the naturalism of real people who aren’t actually actors.
Glazer also has an impeccable use of framing throughout this film which enhances the viewing experience exponentially.
This is Johansann’s greatest screen performance, requiring her to explore a wide range of emotional terrain.
Johansaan may seem like just another pretty face in Hollywood but lately she’s been picking bold and daring projects that challenge her own abilities as an actress.
Johansaan first really struck me as somebody with tremendous talent with her remarkably subtle performance in Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation but since then she’s been put in big glossy studio pictures that limited her extremely.
However, last year she delivered some of the most touching voice acting ever in film with her performance in Spike Jonze’s ‘Her’.
Now with her undisputedly ferocious role in ‘Under the Skin’ she’s officially deemed herself as an actress of not just true beauty but of true fearlessness.
It seems incredible that Glazer hasn’t made a feature length film in over nine years and it’s stunning that we’ve been left with the absence of a truly brilliant filmmaker for nearly a decade.
Nobody else makes as fascinating of films as Glazer does and perhaps that’s why he’s such an essential filmmaker to the world of cinema.
‘Under the Skin’ is now playing at The Flicks and is one masterpiece you shouldn’t miss.

The Spectacular Now Review

It’s quite nice to see a sweet, realistic teenage romance film handled in such a tender way, with absolutely no sentimentality or corniness. That’s thanks to gifted writer and director James Polstondt who made the indie gem Smashed last year which was about a young woman dealing with alcoholism. Now Polstondt is yet again showing these alcoholism themes through his character Sutter who parties and drinks all through high school and doesn’t really think about the future ahead of him. Sutter is played by Miles Teller who you may remember from Rabbit Hole and has been seen in many bad studio comedies such as Project X and 21 and Over. But here Teller delivers a breakout performance that displays his true talents as an actor. Sutter soon meets Amy, a shy, kind and lovely girl played by Shailene Woodley who fuels her character with tremendous sweetness and eager charm. Woodley was sensational as George Clooney’s daughter in The Descendants and here she shows even more incredible emotional range. Teller and Woodley were so terrific together that they both won acting prizes at this year’s Sundance film festival and they completely deserve it. The movie also features an impressive supporting cast that includes Kyle Chandler, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Bob Odenkirk, Brie Larson and Mary Elizabeth Winstead. Teller and Woodley both display wonderful chemistry through the entire film that constantly feels natural, true and honest and the same could be said about this wonderful film. 4.5 Stars out of 5

Prince Avalanche Review

Usually comedies these days always seem to feel in some way unsatisfying and empty. But Prince Avalanche is not that kind of comedy. It’s a quiet, hilarious and actually moving gem that pulsates with tremendous heart and feeling. It’s also quite refreshing to see writer and director David Gordon Green back in top form. Green started out making smaller indie gems such as George Washington and All the Real Girls and then he suddenly started to gear towards making more studio comedies such as Pineapple Express, Your Highness and The Sitter. He now has made a fascinating and wonderful blend of these two distinct styles of filmmaking. The film is actually a remake of an Icelandic movie called Either Way and Green puts his own unique spin on this story of two road workers who are repainting the lines on the road after a devastating forest fire. I’ve always felt that Paul Rudd has a great likability on screen but he seems to often be stuck in horrible studio comedies although here he shows us a side that we’ve never seen from him before as a stern, serious character and Emile Hursh is equally as impressive as a dim witted, immature character and yet both of these actors are playing against type, they’ve never been this wildly funny and memorable. Tim Burr’s cinematography is stunningly gorgeous, wonderfully capturing the damaged, beautiful landscape that serves as their background. The score by Explosions in the Sky is magnificent, which goes hand and hand with the film’s breathtaking shots of nature. David Gordon Green has created a thoughtful and delightful masterpiece that puts him right up there with the greatest American independent filmmakers of his generation, directors such as Gus Van Sant and Terrance Malick. 5 Stars out of 5 

Lee Daniels’ The Butler Review

Well, it looks like awards season has started already with this historical drama that feels like total Oscar bait. Still, this is a flawed but well made film directed by Lee Daniels who brought us the Oscar nominated Precious. Forest Whitaker gives a fine leading performance as Cecil Gaines, who worked as a butler at the White House serving eight presidents. When the movie opens we see Cecil as a young boy working at a cotton farm with his mom and dad. When Cecil’s father is killed at the farm, he’s taken in by an old woman played by Vanessa Redgrave to work as a house butler. This gives him much experience and he’s soon off to work as a butler in the city. Oprah Winfrey is surprisingly effective as Cecil’s wife who’s an alcoholic, chain smoker who starts cheating on Cecil with the next door neighbor played by Terrance Howard. The film spans many decades and goes through pretty much every major event in the civil rights movement. Cecil’s oldest son, Louis, becomes a part of all the civil rights protests in the South including being part of the Freedom Riders and soon becomes a Black Panther which Cecil firmly disapproves of. Louis is played by David Oyelowo in one of the film’s strongest performances. The presidents that Cecil serves are all played by an array of famous actors including Robin Williams as Eisenhower, James Marsden as Kennedy, Liev Schreiber as LBJ,  John Cusack as Nixon and Alan Rickman and Jane Fonda as the Reagan’s. It’s both entertaining and distracting to watch these actors try and morph themselves into their roles and I found the most effective to be Cusack who seems to get many of Nixon’s flaws just right. Whitaker, Winfrey and Oyelowo are all strong here but Daniels seems to have to play some of the dramatic moments a little too over the top and there are some scenes that feel that he’s just trying so hard to make it both powerful and inspirational. But even with all its flaws this is still enjoyable, crowd pleasing mainstream entertainment that some Oscar voters may root for. 3.5 Stars out of 5

Blue Jasmine Review

If you want to witness a truly magnificent performance this summer, see Cate Blanchett in writer and director Woody Allen’s latest film Blue Jasmine. She plays Jasmine, a once wealthy New York housewife to a rich businessman played by Alec Baldwin who winds up having a nervous breakdown because her husband ended up in jail and killed himself. Jasmine soon goes to stay with her sister, Ginger, played so superbly by Sally Hawkins in San Francisco. Ginger has a brutish boyfriend named Chili who’s played very well by Bobby Cannavale who doesn’t much approve of Jasmine living with her and that adds for icy tension between the two of them. Ginger also has an ex-husband who’s played in a surprisingly impressive performance from Andrew Dice Clay. She also starts dating Al who’s played by Louis C. K. who’s much more sensitive and sweeter then Chili is. Jasmine also finds a love interest in Dwight played by Peter Sarsguard who she meets at a party. Jasmine tries to start a new life in San Francisco but her past soon catches up with her again and secrets start to unravel about her life in New York. It’s quite a spectacle to watch Blanchett in an extremely emotionally difficult performance that could have been over the top but is executed perfectly. It’s a triumph that’s simply unmissable. Woody Allen, at age 77, has made one of his most moving films to date that’s easily one of the year’s best. 4.5 Stars out of 5 

Fruitvale Station Review

It’s incredibly hard to find a new, exhilarating voice in American cinema these days but first time writer and director Ryan Coogler is just that kind of talent. The film centers on the true story of Oscar Grant, a 22 year old former drug dealer who’s trying to get his life back together and on new year’s eve in 2008, after a fight on a subway train with someone he knew from prison, he’s shot and killed by a police officer. The movie follows him on the very last day of his life and he’s played with such humanity and charisma by Michael B. Jordan in one of the strongest performances I’ve seen all year. You may have seen Jordan in television shows such as HBO’s The Wire or Friday Night Lights but you’ve never seen him better. The rest of the cast is superb as well with some terrific scenes with Octavia Spencer as Grant’s mom. Melonie Diaz is wonderful as his girlfriend and Jordan has some sweet and tender moments with his daughter played by newcomer Ariana Neal. This won both the grand jury prize and the audience award at this year’s Sundance film festival and I don’t think this is the last time that we’re going to be seeing this movie win awards. The film opens with real cell phone footage of the killing so we know that it’s coming eventually but when it does happen it’s shocking and the last shot of the movie is completely devastating. This is a powerful, moving and emotional powerhouse of a movie that left me stunned. 5 Stars out of 5

Only God Forgives Review

In 2011 director Nicholas Winding Refn brought his flawless masterpiece Drive to theaters and it captivated the world of film. Now he’s back collaborating with his Drive star Ryan Gosling who takes the lead role in the film playing Julien,  an owner of a Thai boxing match who does a bit of drug business on the side. When his brother is murdered for killing a teenage prostitute, Julien goes after the sword swinging cop who let his brother be killed. His mother played by Kristin Scott Thomas arrives and she has a couple memorable scenes with Gosling. The film has some beautiful shots and cinematography and Cliff Martinez’s score is good but the movie is a complete mess. Gosling is one of the best actors working today and he can be so effective playing this type of character in films such as Drive and The Place Beyond the Pines but here he just stares with a blank expression with barely any emotion saying very little dialogue. The film feels unsatisfying, empty and unfulfilling with an ending that just doesn’t work.  When the movie premiered at this year’s Cannes film festival it was bombarded with booing and people walking out of the theater. This movie has a fascinating structure and it was certainly made with style and ambition but the story just never comes together much at all. There’s worse films out this year but nothing as crushingly disappointing as this one. 2 Stars out of 5

The Kings of Summer Review

Coming of age stories about teenagers going through their lives has been done to death lately in Hollywood. A few of these kind of films have mastered this sort of material like this year’s terrific comedy The Way, Way Back which got pretty much everything right from start to finish. The Kings of Summer, which also premiered at this year’s Sundance film festival is a mixed bag. The film has some funny moments but it’s also cluttered with a boatload of cliches. The central character is Joe played by Nick Robinson who’s living with just his dad played by the always hilarious Nick Offerman. Joe decides that he’s just had enough living with his strict dad and he’s just going to go live out in an abandoned forest. He brings two of his friends with him, Patrick played by Gabriel Basso who’s also sick of his parents and a strange kid named Biaggio played by Moises Arias. The parents go looking for them and the three kids hunt, explore and have the time of their lives together until a girl named Kelly shows up that Joe had always had a crush on. The film seems predictable at times and a bit corny with all its montages to rap music but it’s got a gooey sweetness to it that feels sincere. But if you only get to see one coming of age comedy this summer, The Way Way Back is way, way more wonderful. 3 Stars out of 5

The Way Way Back Review

Sometimes a comedy comes along and gets pretty much everything right. That’s the case with The Way Way Back, a sweet, tender and wonderful movie from Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, the Oscar-winning screenwriters of Alexander Payne’s masterpiece The Descendants who are making their directing debut with this and even act in small roles in the film. The story revolves around a 14 year old boy named Duncan played by newcomer Liam James who has just the right amount of awkwardness and teenage angst that fuels his character. His mother Pam is played by a superb Toni Colette who’s boyfriend Trent is played by Steve Carell. Trent is a very unsympathetic character and Carell plays it perfectly in a phenomenal performance that’s way against type. Trent brings his daughter, Pam, and Duncan to his beach house where they can all try and be a family together. Duncan soon becomes friends with a water park manager named Owen who’s played so well by Sam Rockwell. Duncan starts working at the water park and even finds a nice girl to connect with who’s played by AnneSophia Robb. This plot might seem corny and sure it’s a storyline that we’ve seen on screen before but Faxon and Rash make this film so charming with their witty and thoughtful dialogue and they put so much heart into it. Rockwell basically steals the show as Owen and nails every scene he’s in, being funny, touching and truly remarkable. The supporting cast is top notch, with some terrific turns from Allison Janey as an over-drinking neighbor and Maya Rudolph as one of the water park employees. This is the kind of feel good comedy that sticks with you and is near perfect. 4.5 stars out of 5 

The East Movie Review

Brit Marling always seems to have an exhilarating presence on screen, starring in an array of unique indie gems such as Another Earth and Arbitrage, in which she gave an impressive turn as Richard Gere’s daughter. Now she stars as Sarah, an FBI agent who gets hired to infiltrate an anarchist group targeting major pharmaceutical and oil companies that have poisoned citizens by dumping their oil into lakes or by selling harmful drugs with life-threatening side effects to the public. This eco-terroist group is led by Isabella and Benji who are played by Alexander Skarsgard, who is best known from the HBO series True Blood, and Ellen Page, who we all know so wonderfully as the title character in Juno. Marling is soon sucked into this group while gathering information about them and bringing it back to her boss played by the always great Patricia Clarkson. The anarchist group’s missions soon start to get more and more dangerous and Marling has to ask herself if what they’re doing is really such a good idea. Marling co-wrote the intelligent and thoughtful screenplay for this film with the director, Zal Batmanglij who also directed her in Sound of my Voice, which Marling also co-wrote in which she played a cult leader. The East has a few too many predictable and melodramatic twists and turns but it features many strongly effective performances from its very talented ensemble cast. This is a flawed but engaging thriller that raises some thought-provoking questions about our corrupt and greedy pharmaceutical and oil companies that still exist today. 3.5 Stars out of 5