"Under The Skin" changes cinema in 2014

Jonathan Glazer's "Under The Skin" comes out in a week. It will polarize people, anger them, frustrate them. Others will get blown away by its vision and call it brilliant and say there hasn't been anything like it. If that's your type of movie then by all means go ahead and watch the film, because it is my type of movie and ever since I saw it more than 6 months ago I couldn't get it out of my head. It did cause the most walkouts out of any movie I've ever seen, and that's saying a lot, but again aren't you intrigued? I do think Glazer does push it a bit too far at times, testing our patience, but most importantly we get rewarded with a picture that is visionary and extreme in its uniqueness.

Much press will be made about how naked Scarlett Johansson gets in this picture, so I will come out and lay it to rest and state that yes she does get naked and yes it is needed for the kind of story that is being told here. One about seduction, humanity, extra terrestrial life etc. Have I lost you yet? I hope not.   Johansson is an alien sent to earth to seduce as many men as possible into her car and then kill them. The repetitiveness of the film's narrative might have turned off many but i had a blast watching Glazer's film. Its originality and absurdity is what I liked the most about it and of course Johansson who is just perfect for the part. She's had a real comeback of sorts lately with this and her voice work in "Her", indie queen in the making perhaps? maybe that's pushing it a bit too far but I like what she's been doing with her career of late and I do hope it continues the way I think it will.

What Glazer has accomplished here is quite remarkable and shouldn't be forgotten. He's made a picture that defies all cinematic conventions and has reinvented a new kind of language. He showed real promise with his first film "Sexy Beast" back in 2000, a cerebral and intense film that paved the way for Ben Kingsley's best performance. He followed it up with "Birth" which was kind of all over the place and not as successful as I wanted it to be and now he's really surprised me with this one, an out of left field vision that will really put many people off guard. I don't know if I've actually managed to convince you to see this film and I didn't really want to reveal too many details because a) there isn't so much to reveal plot-wise and b) whatever that needs to be revealed shouldn't really be revealed if you want to fully experience this film for what it is. After reading what I have to say about "Under The Skin" I think you'll figure out if this picture is for you or not.

Wes Anderson's world in "The Grand Budapest Hotel"

Wes Anderson's "The Grand Budapest Hotel" comes out with a storm of expectations. The 9pm showing I went to on the weekend was packed with 800 people waiting to see what his next quirky vision would be like. Suffice to say he didn't disappoint the least bit with this new one. It's not just the distinctive visual and narrative style that makes this an incredible achievement, it's also the fact that he has infused his obsessive dollhouse-like world with real heart and passion for character. Moreso than usual, something I haven't seen from a Wes Anderson film since quite possibly "The Royal Tenenbaums" back in 2001. It helps that the film is anchored by a remarkable Ralph Fiennes performance -maybe the best of his career?- a theatric yet compassionate performance that is filled with depth and persuasiveness. To mention Fiennes as a Best Actor contender this early in the game would be foolish and understandably irresponsible but he is so good in "The Grand Budapest Hotel" that it would be a real shame if he gets forgotten amidst the October-December awards shuffle of contenders.

It's not just Fiennes, the entire cast is uniformly good, as expected with any Anderson film, he even finds the time to sneak in long time collaborator Bill Murray for 10 minutes. It's just that kind of movie, one where anything goes and the fun comes in watching the director perform a balancing act with his odd narrative structure. And what a balancing act it truly is. In fact, in this and every other picture of his the story itself is only secondary to its execution. Anderson juggles three different timelines and eras and plays around with the assortment of characters he has created in his little dollhouse. From the fake sets to the lightning quick camera angles, to the OCD-like attention to detail, his movies are not for everyone but those willing to give Anderson a chance might get rewarded.

What I like best about Anderson's films is how they get better with each subsequent viewing. This one is no exception, the attention to detail and the uniqueness of it all will most likely make secondary viewing as essential as any of his previous films, particularly "The Fantastic Mr Fox" and "Moonrise Kingdom" which at first seemed distant but slowly revealed themselves as fantastic art by looking closer. Which is why having a final opinion on "The Grand Budapest Hotel" after one viewing is just not fair to its creators and to the film itself. There is a lot to digest upon first viewing and I find that with Anderson, moreso than any other director working today, watching his films a second time plays an essential and integral part in understanding his language and body of work.  What I do know is that this is probably the first great movie of 2014 - anything else of high quality come out?

a few mini reviews

★★1/2 (R)

I had a few problems with last year's "Prisoners", most of which having to do with its pacing and its total resemblance to most of David Fincher's filmography. It was as if director Denis Villenuve was trying to out-Fincher Fincher, which we all know is impossible. Nevertheless the film was interesting and so well shot by Roger Deakins that it earned him another Oscar nomination. Being a big fan of Villeneuve's previous pictures - especially the Oscar nominated"Incedies"- it still came off as a major letdown. Of course "Enemy" which again stars Jake Gyllenhall is a more moody and ambitious picture even if it has one of the more ambiguous and confusing endings I've seen in recent memory. Gyllenhall plays a Toronto professor that finds out he has an exact look alike living in the same city. It’a film very much inspired by Cronenberg but that also lets Villeneuve bring his own voice to the picture. This is smart, sexy, mysterious filmmaking that bites more than it can chew. My personal advice is just go along with it and don't let yourself ask any questions until the house lights come back on. It is another addition to the doppelgänger genre which has existed in cinema since the very beginning with "The Student Of Prague" in 1913.

★★1/2 (PG-13)

It's really no surprise that Liam Neeson is starring in yet another action vehicle, it seems like that's all he's been doing as of late, what's most surprising is that his new film "Non-Stop" is actually not that bad. It's a murder mystery whodunit set on a plane that is relentless in its action, although I could have done without the convulted finale which just had me rolling my eyes in anger. Then again the thrills that came before it were never less than thrilling. Neeson has become a real natural in this game, his tall, imposing, everyday-man presence the right fit for what has become a stalled genre in the movies. The action movie has just not really been the same for, oh I'd say, 20 years? And it doesn't look like Arnold will really make a successful comeback plus don't get me started on Sly who's jingoistic attitude towards the action movie is repulsive at best. Who else do we have? Jason Statham who's limpingly carried the torch since those Crank movies jolted audiences more than 8 years ago. Neeson is in a class by himself: a mature, professionally trained actor with, shock, charisma. In "Non-Stop" he more than takes hold of the screen, he commands it. He plays an Agent that is sent texts by an unknown villain who threatens to kill off one passenger every 20 minutes if 150 million dollars is not deposited onto a bank account. Yeesh talk about a dilemma but all joking aside I'm a sucker for whodunnits and there are plenty of suspicious characters on that plane. It is a real shame that Julliane Moore signed up for this though, she is highly under utilized and it feels like she just doesn't belong here. Dear Julianne, PLEASE stick to what you do best and make movies that invigorate and provoke. In other words just let Neeson do his job alone, ever since he starred in 2008's Luc Besson penned "Taken" -still the best action film he's done-  he's proven he's the best a this game.