Category Archives: Favorite Films of 2014

Under the Skin Review, A Mesmerizing Look at Human Existence

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Under the Skin

Directed by: Jonathan Glazer

Starring: Scarlett Johansson

When you look at science fiction you always end up with two different kinds of executions. On the one hand you have the ones that rely on action and on the other hand you have the slow burning think pieces. Under the Skin is the perfect example of the second one. The movie is vague and purposely so. The director made it this way so that the audience can think and figure out the purpose of the film on their own instead of being explicitly told what the movie means. It works to the movie advantage because it leaves this sense of mystery. The actions of the main character are never spelled out for you, it’s left to you to figure it out. A TV trailer compared the director to Stanley Kubrick. I wouldn’t agree with that entirely. I feel like the movie feels like a Kubrick movie. Kubrick’s films have the same level of mystery to them. He liked to challenge his viewer and make them think. He has made films that no one else can duplicate but Under the Skin accomplishes the mystery that Stanley Kubrick’s movies were able to portray.

In Scotland, an unnamed motorcyclist (Jeremy McWilliams) retrieves the body of a dead woman on the side of the road. At an undisclosed location, a naked woman (Scarlett Johansson) strips the dead body of it’s clothes and taking up the position that she held. She rebrands herself and starts on her quest to lure men into a trap and harvest their skin for her alien race. Along the way she begins to feel the emotions that plague the human race. She abandons her quest and makes her way into the foothills of Scotland.

This movie says a lot about how fragile we are the human race. The men in this movie want to feel affection from a more attractive individual. It makes us feel special when someone notices us and finds something interesting about us. Our lives depend on the affection of other, especially the opposite gender. The male characters in this movie all essentially let themselves go for woman. The main female is played by Scarlett Johansson and I don’t think anyone else could have played her. She is cold and beautiful yet at the same time very vulnerable and curious. In the beginning, she is the killing machine, on the prowl, for lonely men and does’t care about them only for their skin, a necessity for the alien race to blend in. As time goes by she begins to evolve and learn about the emotional state of human kind. Due to encounter with a young man, who suffers from the disease neurofibromatosis, and after their encounter she begins to see the beauty in the world and the curiosity about the live of humans. You see life through the eyes of another being. She is like a newborn baby, always discovering new things and learning about the world around them. You get an interesting look at a character that has fresh eyes towards the human race. The development of her character is done so well without to much exposition or dialogue, they are given the ability to develop along with the story.

Like The Rover, Under the Skin is minimalism at its best. Unlike other movies this year, Under the Skin uses the idea of less is more. Nothing is spelled out in this movie and it adds to the mystery of the film. Scarlett Johansson’s performance is by far the best work she has done and it shows that she is much more than a pretty face. Many people know this movie as “the movie in which Scarlett Johansson gets naked”. For whoever plans on seeing it for that fact alone than you should probably watch a different movie. She is never overtly sexualized but it is used for the character and he curiosity with human life.

The production values of the movie are spectacular. For such a low budget you wouldn’t even be able to tell that it was so cheap. The cinematography is something of note. It uses long takes to linger on the world around her. The shots linger a little longer than most but I feel that is a strength of the movie. The look of the film is bleak and beautiful. The soundtrack is also breathtaking. It gives it a haunting and foreign feel to it.

Mind you the movie is a lot more fun to think about that it is to watch but I feel the need to watch this movie. It is simply amazing and that’s what I can take away from it. I loved every minute of it and I know that I will be returning to it in the future.

Grade: A+

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes Review, A Summer Blockbuster Done Right.

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Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Directed by: Matt Reeves

Starring: Andy SerkisJason ClarkeGary OldmanKeri RussellToby Kebbell, and Kodi Smit-McPhee

Back in 2011 when Rise of the Planet of the Apes was released I immediately fell in love with the direction the filmmakers where electing to take this aging franchise. It felt fresh and not a lazy remake that the Tim Burton version was. Instead of focusing on the astronaut lost in time on an alternate version of earth, it brought us back to the origins and how it all began. It, brief, goes into how the human population started to diminish and how the apes became intelligent. It was a fresh and smart way to introduce us back into the universe of Planet of the Apes. It never really relied on action but straight up story and character development. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes follows suit but certainly apps up the action compared to the first.

10 years after the outbreak of the simian flu, humans are on the brink of extinction while the apes are starting to rise to great heights of intelligence. After encountering Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his gang of apes in the forest Malcolm (Jason Clarke) begins trying to make peace with the apes while both sides believe it is a terrible idea. All Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) wants is to return power to San Francisco via the dam in the Redwoods and he’ll let nothing stand in his way. On the other side, Koba wants nothing more than to have Caesar wage war against the humans. The two sides wage war while Malcolm and Caesar want nothing more than to reconcile peace between the two factions.

It’s amazing just how well special effects have come since it’s inception. The original was considered to be the pinnacle of special effects when it was released back in 1968. Now the special effects today look so realistic that it’s hard to tell that it’s just actors in motion capture suits. I think that the way the apes look in these two movie look so much better than actors wearing ape costumes. It’s the reason Tim Burton’s was so bad. The Apes just looked like actors in makeup and not apes.

Once again Andy Serkis completely becomes the character and makes the movie completely believable. He’s isn’t the only actor portraying the apes and all of the other actors do a fantastic job. The story does a great job of setting up the universe that these characters live in. I do have to say that the story is a little used up but with it works perfectly with this storyline. It shows that even with hyper intelligent that they still act human. Rivalry exists between the apes to the point of one trying to over throw the other. It portrays apes as “humans” and shows that intelligent creatures will always face rivalry even if they aren’t human.

From a technical standpoint it is the best thing to come out this summer. The sound is impressive in creating the chimps movement and “voice”. The cinematography is gorgeous, perfectly making the world grim and destroyed. The scene with the apes attacking the humans on horseback and guns is brilliantly shot. The tank scene looked fantastic. Matt Reeves proved himself with Let Me In and even Cloverfield but this is best film to date.

If you are looking for a movie this summer I’d highly suggest seeing this movie over anything else. It is a smart and fresh blockbuster that provides action and story without compromising either.

Grade: B+

The Rover Review, A Simplistic Tale of Complex Characters

The-Rover-posterThe Rover

Directed by: David Michôd

Starring: Guy Pearce, Robert Pattinson, and Scoot McNairy

Now I am not a huge fan of Australian Cinema. Walkabout is the first film I saw out of Australia and I can say I borderline hate that movie. It was tough, minimalistic, and left me dry. It didn’t really have a narrative only a story and The Rover is similar in style and substance. With Walkabout you have two characters trying to survive the wilderness of Australia after their father attempts to kill them. I feel that Australian cinema focuses more on the journey rather than the story. You run into characters that are interesting but a story that is really lacking. The Rover does suffer from this but not to the level that Walkabout does.

The Rover begins with a man, stricken with grief, stopping at the local watering hole. While he is minding his own business, three criminals come speeding down the same road only to crash their car only feet from his car. The three criminals steal Eric’s (Guy Pearce) car. What insures after this is a chase for the rest of the movie while Eric is hell-bent on revenge towards the criminals. At the next stop on the road, Eric picks up a gun and another traveller, Reynolds (Robert Pattinson) the dim-witted brother of Henry (Scoot McNairy) the main criminal. The two begin traveling together, only for the same reason, to locate Henry and Eric’s car.

The story is incredible simple and could have ended sooner than it did but that in way takes away from the movie. What you have instead is a movie solely focused on characters. Both Eric and Reynolds are given so much depth to their characters that it’s fascinating to watch them grow over the course of the movie. Pattinson gives his best performance to date as the simple-minded Reynolds. He brings a certain life to the character that it’s hard to see that he is the same actor that played Edward in Twilight. Guy Pearce is as ferocious as ever. When he is working with Australian directors I think he bring this quiet intensity that I haven’t seen much. Like his character in The Proposition, he is a quiet character that goes on with the task at hand and he brings layers to the character that aren’t necessarily written that way.

This is minimalism at it’s best. The takes are long, focusing on the characters rather than the action. You have a scene with Reynolds that takes place in a motel room. There is a knock on the door and after seeing the military earlier he believes that they are knocking on the door. He takes a shot, killing a girl instead. The military responds by opening fire into the room. All the while the camera focuses on Reynolds instead of the action unfolding. He sits there, fearing for his life, as bullets are flying past him. This all takes place to show how the character is reacting to the situation. This is a character study and the way that Michôd portrays it makes you feel sorry for the character by showing that this isn’t a side to him. On their journey the character begin to connect and in the end the final scene shows just how much they did connect.

The major problem for me is the score. I like the score but it was so powerful and intrusive that it did take away from the scenes at hand. It always felt out-of-place to me and didn’t add much to them. Outside of that I liked a lot about this movie and think that focusing on the characters instead of the plot so much was the wisest decision to make. Reynolds makes a comment half way through stating “It doesn’t always have to be about something” and I think this line explains the movie the best and it shows just how the movie is meant to be. It’s strictly about character and the scenes don’t always have to mean something in a big way just to showcase characters living in a dire situation.

I highly recommend this to film fans, like myself, more so that I would to someone looking for an entertaining movie. It is by far one of the best movies of the year.

Grade: A