Under the Skin

“Here’s a recent one that I felt I sorta missed the boat on. When it was out (in limited release, but easily available to me in Boston), I hadn’t really heard much about it until it started to disappear. There was a general “”that’s a good movie”” buzz, but not enough for me to want to put what would now be effort into finding it. I figured I could always watch the DVD. And that’s what I did, putting it on a wishlist and keeping an eye on the price until I just had to get it. Then, I got obsessed with Mr Robot this summer. When talking about influences on the show, so many of my favorite movies came up: Fight Club, American Psycho, A Clockwork Orange. Under the Skin also came up a few times, which cranked it up my priority list, if it was part of a conversation that involved all those others.

Does it hold up next to those sacred films for me? Eh. I was more confused than impressed. It just seemed like not a lot was happening, and when things did happen, I didn’t fully grasp what they were. Scarlett Johanssen is the nameless and mysterious woman at the focus of the film. She drives around Scotland interacting with seemingly lonely men, some of whom she brings back to her lair for some mysterious and possibly nefarious purpose. Who/what is she and why is she doing that? Well, not of that is ever really clear.

Some of the synopsis for the film do begin with an assumption of who/what she is, but I’m on the fence about whether or not it’s a spoiler. I think I would have been even more lost had I not known what I knew, which helped me dismiss some of her stranger behavior. But would some of the later events have had a greater impact if there was a surprise? Maybe, but it would still hinge on how well I could follow it up to there.

It’s a great performance for her, leading a film by relying more on emotion and expression than dialog. That’s one thing that was always unanimous among all the things I’d heard about it. But clearly much of the film was just lost on me, as I didn’t seem to enjoy or appreciate it as much as I was led to believe I would have. Oh well, there’ll be other movies. God knows I do see enough of ’em.”

Room

“I’m just going to cut right to the chase. The kind of visceral emotional reaction I had to this movie is rare. Even rarer was that all that occurred during the middle of the movie. But wow this was fantastic. Easily making my year’s top ten, possibly even right behind current winner The Martian. (Then again, we still haven’t seen Tarantino’s latest offering)

I’d heard about the book back when it was first released. I think EW had a review of it or something. I put it on my wish list, and occassionally looked for it at the bookstore. First I put it off thinking I could wait until paperback, and then put it off when I heard about the movie. Now that I’ve seen the movie, I do need to go find the book.

Brie Larson is a mother who has been forced to live in a small one room shed with her five year old son, Jack. She’s been trapped here seven years, and it’s the only home her son has ever known. She’s done her best to keep her son safe and happy, and shielded from their captor’s visits. It seems as though the official synopsis for the film goes further, but I’m going to leave it there, where the book synopsis ends. I’d rather not spoil what happens in the middle that was so affecting, even if it closes up various commentary I could explore.

Larson has been somewhat of an indie darling lately, and may be finally poised for her first oscar nomination (there were those who thought she should have earned that with Short Term 12). I adore her, and she is certainly among my favorites. Watching this, she kept reminding me of Jennifer Lawrence, which I take as a good thing since she is considered the most respected and formidable actress of her (our) generation. Larson carries much of the film and exhibits a wide range of emotions throughout. It’s a very raw and honest performance, and I do hope that she gets the mainstream recognition that seems due her.

However, even more impressive than Larson was her son, played by Jacob Tremblay. Oh my God, this kid is supposed to be five? Clearly, he must be a year or two older, but damn, his would be a difficult role for an adult actor. Okay, quick internet search tells me he was eight when filming, and that he is garnering some awards buzz, which may hinge on whether he goes lead or supporting. Damn. He displayed a maturity beyond his years while still being a wide eyed innocent child. Most of the story is seen thru his eyes, and he’s pretty much in every scene.

Now that pretty much everyone who cares is caught up on The Martian, Room is now going to be my default movie recommendation for the next couple weeks. Such a compelling and striking movie, and worth seeking out as it expands into more theaters

Room – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/”

The Last Witch Hunter

“Heh. Yeah, so I saw this one. I hadn’t really planned to. I saw the trailer once and was unimpressed. Not to mention that I’m still haunted by such fantasy disasters as I Frankenstein and others that I purposely avoided. But I am a fan of Vin Diesel (especially when playing Riddick, XXX, or Dominic Toretto), and I know that he’s a closet D&D fan, which this film was said to draw from. That would suggest he’d actually put some effort into this movie, instead of phoning it in, which is often the downfall of the genre. So I kept it on my radar, never really expecting to go. And then the weekend’s movie schedule came out, and it perfectly lined up with my one must movie of the week, esp since this would be a before noon discount show. What the heck, how bad can it be? Worst case scenario, I force myself to take a nap mid-movie to make it go quicker (which is how I got thru both Tusk and Tomorrowland).

The opening scene played out, and I was preemptively rolling my eyes, and then I realized I could kinda get behind it. Move on to the next scene, hey there’s Michael Caine! Really? Huh, maybe there was some divine intervention in the movie schedule. Next scene, Elijah Wood?! Okay, God really did intend for me to see it.

Diesel plays Kaulder, a man who was part of a witch hunting party 800 years ago, after having lost everyone he loved or cared about. He kills the witch responsible for the Black Plague, who curses him with immortality in return. Fast forward to the present, after centuries spent fighting evil, and he encounters a big bad who may be linked to that first bad witch.

I’m not going to say this is a good movie, by any stretch. I will say that I had a good time, though. I’m sure a big part of that is simply due to the low expectations game. At some point, I think I also subconsciously made the decision not to judge the movie, which helped. Because I wasn’t thinking too hard about what was happening, I could kinda go with it. Yes, the third act was a mess of special effects and little substance. Yes, there were some questionable decisions made along the way, both by the characters and the film makers. For this moment in time, that was all okay. I could let my dork side take over and enjoy the experience. Unless you’re a fan of this genre, approach with caution, if at all. But if you can dig this sort of thing, it’s not the worst use of your time. You might just have a hard time admitting in public that you’ve seen this.

The Last Witch Hunter – \m/ \m/ \m/”

Back to the Future Part II

“Welcome to the future, ya’ll! It’s a pretty safe bet that if you were anywhere near the internet in the past week, you know that this past Wednesday was October 21, 2015. Okay, you didn’t need to be online to know the date, but even those of you not thoroughly plugged into pop culture should know the significance of that date. In Back To the Future Part II, when Marty and Doc travel to the future, that’s the date they go to. The world’s been abuzz evaluating what they got right and what they got wrong, and generally celebrating one of the greatest movies of all time. So of course on such a significant pop culture occasion, I organized a movie watching party at work!

For me, watching the movie was mostly about an excuse to revisit a classic. So many wonderful moments I remembered, some that I had long forgotten, and some that I’d never noticed before. This really is an incredible series with great characters and captivating plotlines. Time travel is so hard to get right. Keep it too simple, and you can’t buy it. Make it too complicated, and everything else is lost. Here they found the right balance between the two, and they don’t get bogged down in the details.

So how does that future compare to ours? Besides our current lack of flying cars and hoverboards of course? The major difference is the internet. So much of our technological advances in the past 30 years are due to that, which was a concept that no one had grasped in the mid to late 80s. Most of the film’s future technology revolves around improving and/or automating our day to day objects, whereas in reality we’ve mostly left things as are and invented new stuff. Still, the movie has influence somed real life replicas.

Possibly the biggest strength of these moves are our leads, Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd. They breathed such life and charisma into our main characters, that you really do want to follow them throughout all time and space. What’s even better is how game these two are for reliving and celebrating those films. Fox celebrated the occassion with a visit to Jimmy Kimmel. The pair teamed up with Toyota for a special commercial. They know how much we love these characters and they love them too.

I was born in ’85, when the first film came out, which means I would have been 4 when part 2 was released. So it must have been a ways down the line before I saw them. I don’t know how much I’d look to that future and wonder where I’d be at 30, but reflecting now, I’m pretty sure I never really imagined where I currently am. It may not be the future Spielberg imagined, but it works pretty well for me.”

Crimson Peak

“Can you describe a horror film as beautiful? Because that’s the word I keep coming back to for describing Crimson Peak: beautiful. But aren’t there creepy skeletal ghosts and what looks like blood dripping everywhere and various other spookies that go bump in the night? Well, yeah, but can’t those be beautiful too?

I often refer to Eli Roth as the current master of horror, but the truth is, he is the master of a current subset of the genre, the more active scare you out of your seat and show lots of blood type. If you want more of a classic, gothic horror, Guillermo del Toro’s your guy. He’s the one that will create incredible and emotive imagery, building out the world of his fantasy (or nightmares). He’s not going to run up behind you and say “”boo””, but he’ll immerse you in his unsettling atmosphere. Just watch Pan’s Labyrinth if you have yet to be converted to the church of del Toro.

Crimson Peak takes us back a few eras, to the turn of the 20th century. Young Edith (Mia Wasikowska) is sought after by her familiar old friend Alan (Charlie Hunnam), and mysterious stranger Thomas (Tom Hiddleston). Distraught from a family tragedy, she runs into the arms of Thomas, who soon whisks her away to the crumbling mansion he shares with his sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain). The mansion itself provides host to many horrors that disturb Edith and invoke a ghostly warning she received in her childhood.

Okay, creepy, but how is that beautiful? The one point that I found absolutely brilliant was that the house was built in an area that was rich in red clay, which Thomas was trying to mine for profit. This meant that there was thick red blood-like substance everywhere: flowing down the walls, seeping up from the ground and staining the snow, dispersed along the floor and tracked onto the bottom of garments, which by themselves, the period costumes were stunning. As someone who does love the ambiance of horror, the clay was so effective in setting the scene as a clever solution to have a similar effect as gore, without actually going there (except for a couple key scenes). On top of that, the decrepit house had a gaping hole in the roof, causing it to snow into the foyer. The snow would gently fall as the viscous clay would slowly run, creating a setting unlike anything I’d ever seen.

Right, so visuals, check. Story? Fairly simple, but well structured around mystery. Things unfolded at that pace that is just above frustrating, where you’re just dying to know what the underlying cause is for everything. What’s the mystery around these strange siblings? What was with the ghost’s warning about the mansion? Why are there ghosts inhabiting the house? Each question hanging for long enough that their resolution was deeply satisfying. And such a superb cast, kicking things up a notch.

Nearly two weeks ago, I was at Universals’ Haunted Horror Nights in LA. There was a Crimson Peak maze. I was excited to go thru it because I expected much of the beautiful horrors that the film’s trailer had teased (I hadn’t yet seen the film). While the maze may have been a bust in that respect (it was still scary, but not particularly remarkable), the film itself delivered far more than I expected. Now as the fall air gets colder, I just want to wrap up in blankets with hot chocolate and rewatch Pan’s Labyrinth and The Orphange, really basking in the gothic beauty del Toro is capable of.

Crimson Peak – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/”

Bridge of Spies

“I was a little wary of this. If you had just shown me the trailer, and I had no idea who Tom Hanks or Steven Spielberg are, I would have been bored. It looked like another stark and sleek conflict film. The first few watches, I somehow misinterpreted the timeline as WWII instead of the Cold War, and the overabundance of such stories didn’t impress me. I just thought that it looked like it’d be drawn out and epic and not interesting. Thank God for Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg. Only for them, did I go see what turned out to be a truly engaging (and true!) story.

Hanks plays an insurance lawyer who is brought on to defend an accused Russian spy. Despite the rest of people involved in the judiciary process who wanted to quickly usher the spy to a conviction, Hanks’ Donovan makes his best effort to defend the man, Abel. Shortly thereafter, an opportunity arises to exchange Abel for an American spy captured in Russia. However, due to the political climate of the time, no government agent is able to officially arrange and mediate the exchange. Donovan is brought in and shipped out to figure out the details and bring all sides to an agreement.

I very much appreciate how streamlined the story was kept. Besides a couple small early branches that eventually folded into the rest of the plot, it was pretty much one through story. Some of the details of the politics involved may have been a little confusing, but the focus was kept on Hanks’ character. Sure, he may be playing the same “”everyman”” character we know and love him for, but there’s a reason we know and love him for that. That reason being that he’s damn good at it. He’s able to take us along on this fish out of water journey where he commands our sympathies.

I could have (and even might have) so easily skipped over this one, but this is one of those occasions where giving in to the sheer obsession of the movie theater was worthwhile. At the very least, it gave him a great excuse to do kid theatre with Jimmy Fallon.

Bridge of Spies – \m/ \m/ \m/”

Steve Jobs

“All hail the mighty Aaron Sorkin. Long may he gift us with his screenplays.

Yes, I’m a Sorkin fangirl (could you tell?). Strangely, I think it was an impulse buy of an irresistably cheap boxset of Studio 60 that turned me onto him. By the time I finally got around to The West Wing (which incidentally is what finally pushed me to get netflix), I had been long converted, and his generally accepted to be best work was like a delicious and decadent dessert.

Up to this point, it was his dialog that most impressed me. Wordy but insightful and clever. Not every actor could handle it, but the ones that could were elevated to an even higher level of awesome (how many Emmys did Allison Janey win?). I love his complex and flawed characters, and the compelling situations he puts them in. They’re always so unapologetic and bold, and able to command such great attention, which is needed for the previously mentioned wordy dialog.

Watching Steve Jobs, I came to appreciate Sorkin’s ability to structure a script. The majority of biopics are these big sprawling epics, trying to fit as many events into 2 hours as possible, cradle to grave, womb to tomb, sperm to worm. Lately, there’s been a trend of going the Lincoln route and focusing on one event or specific time period. Sorkin did something different with Steve Jobs. He chose 3 events, or rather, the build up to those three events. In this case, the events were 3 different product launches throughout his career. The scenes played out in real time (a gimmick I’ve always loved, I mean, I was a 24 fan) with minimal flashback peppered in. Sorkin tied the three together with some common themes, and really focused in on those he could carry out. It worked brilliantly.

Now of course, coming in on the heels (okay 2 years later) of another mainstream film about Steve Jobs, there’s gonna be a lot of comparisons. I’m sure even sight unseen, everyone will feel that this later one is superior, as they should. Danny Boyle directing Michael Fassbender and Kate Winslet, of course that wins. However, while the two featured most of the same characters and touched on a lot of the same events, they’re wildly different. Jobs did go the full biopic route, starting from the garage whence Apple was started thru the launch of the iPod. One key difference was in how Jobs himself was depicted. Before, while we did see some flaws, he was mostly put up on a pedestal, revered as a god for his contributions to technology. Clearly, some Apple fanboys were behind it. The current film, on the other hand, was not afraid to tear him down and show him as a fallible human. And that, I think is far more interesting. There’s so much more to explore and convey, and even despite its limited scope, gives the filmmakers and the audience so much more to sink their teeth into.

And yes, phenomenal cast. Fassbender is currently at the forefront of the conversations for Best Actor. While I certainly support him for a nomination, I’m not that sold on a win yet (though he would deserve it). There wasn’t quite the emotional arc I like to see in my leads, so I’m holding out to see the rest of the pack before placing my bets. (Plus, I’m holding on to hope that maybe it’s finally Leo’s year). Winslet, despite a little accent trouble (could not catch it at all in the first act), owns her role. Her character is viewed as the only person who can stand up to Jobs, and Winslet may well be the only actress who could stand up to Fassbender. And even though The Newsroom may be over, it’s good to see Jeff Daniels get a little bit more of Sorkin’s crisp dialog to savor. Rumor has it, instead of using the film’s screenplay, auditions were done scenes from The Newsroom. Clearly, Daniels is the current Sorkin champion.

As with the previous film, my favorite real life character in the whole thing was Steve Wozniak. Last time, when played by Josh Gad, he was the real heart of the film, and the only reason I’d ever suggest anyone should bother watching. This time, Seth Rogen decided to follow in the footsteps of his friends Jonah Hill and James Franco, and he took on this serious (for him) role. I loved him. Yes he provided the heart of the film once again, but more than that, Rogen nailed the absolute joy that perpetually emanates from Woz. I say this, having seen Woz on DWTS a few seasons back. The boy couldn’t dance to save his life, but you’d be hard pressed to find a happier guy trying. It is quite a stretch for the usually sarcastic man child comic (and not just because his voice is a couple octaves lower than Woz), but he nailed his spirit and even some of the mannerisms. Woz has stated that while most of the specific conversations depicted didn’t actually happen as such, the general feel and direction of them was accurate for the time. It’s always wonderful for the real life subject of a film to give their approval, if for no other reason than it can lead to some wonderful promotion of the film, besides just the street cred it gives it.

And thus begins the Oscar race! Any bets as to how many this’ll be up for? Screenplay should be a given. Lead actor is a definite possibility. What else?

Steve Jobs – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/”

Pan

“I usually manage to see at least one movie while I’m on my annual LA vacay, but this year the prospects looked dim. Pan was originally at the top of the priority list, but given its negative reception, I didn’t really wanna subject my friends to it. I often end up with an afternoon or two to myself, so I thought I’d bank on that. However, my some miracle, LA friend was able to swing some time off. And by some other miracle, he suggested we see Pan. Partly because we’d have some time to kill, partly because there was some curiosity there, but mostly because he knows that movies are my favorite thing, even if they’re bad.

I wouldn’t say Pan was bad, per say. The word I would use is dull. Which you would not expect from such a big epic looking fantasy. It looked pretty, that’s for sure, but not a whole lot was happening. It took a good twenty minutes or so for me to even engage with it. And things played out so slowly, it was hard to maintain interest.

Okay, one element I will say was flat out bad. For some unknown reason, they decided to pull a Moulin Rouge and incorporate 2 modern songs into their setting. Two songs that I love, one of which I consider to be the most sacred song of my generation, and both of them mercilessly butchered without serving any purpose. Not even the mochi ice cream I was eating could console me.

Also, why is it that the few times we’ve gotten to see Hugh Jackman break bad, it’s been in a bad (okay I’m going there) film? He seemed a bit over the top, but I don’t fault him for it. I think he was trying to match a certain level of fantasy and absurdity that just wasn’t there with the rest of the film. So it came off as too much. I love director Joe Wright’s sense of style, but this film relied on it too much.

Just overall it was very unsatisfying. We didn’t get all of the answers or story I expected us to, possibly because they were banking on a sequel that will likely (hopefully) never happen. At least all I had to do to fall asleep on my red eye flight that night was to just replay the movie in my head. Didn’t wake til I touched back down in Boston.

Pan – \m/ \n”

The Intern

“Sometimes you just want an uplifting movie. After a weekend that included a bunch of downers (even if really good), The Intern was a nice way to wrap things up. Maybe the vibe is something you’d think would be out of character for me, and you’re prolly right, but the cast was one that I just could not turn down. Not only leads Robert De Niro and Anne Hathaway, but supports like Andrew Rannells and Adam DeVine as well.

Hathaway is the overwhelmed young CEO of an up and coming tech company, that’s growing too fast for her to handle. DeNiro is a widower looking for some direction and purpose in his life, who takes an internship with Hathaway. Okay, I’m pretty sure you know how it’ll all play out and all the beats it’s gonna hit along the way. And I’m pretty sure you’re right on all of them. But that didn’t matter, for me at least. The connection between our leads and the playful tone throughout was thoroughly enjoyable.

I really shoulda written this before I disappeared on vacation for nearly a week and forgot about everything that happened.

The Intern – \m/ \m/ \m/ \n”

Sicario

“For the past week or two, all the buzz around this movie has been about how incredible it is. Is it okay that I didn’t really like it?

An FBI agent, Emily Blunt, is recruited by Josh Brolin to join a task force to combat the drug wars going on across the border. So far so good, I think. Honestly, I can’t really tell you too much more of the plot because it kinda lost me. I get that we’re seeing the story unfold thru Blunt’s eyes, and to start, she doesn’t have a handle on what’s going on. Fine, that can work. Except I never quite got my footing, and spent most of the two hours in utter confusion.

Now a lot of the positive chatter is around Emily Blunt, and on that I agree. First off, just fantastic that we have a woman leading in a movie like this and in a role like this. This is something we need much much more of. And Blunt pulls it off with grace and aplomb. She showed us last summer with Edge of Tomorrow that she can be strong and badass, and a force to be reckoned with. This just furthers that, and from early talk, could even result in some award nods. I just wish I could appreciate her role more, which I would have if I could get behind the rest of the movie. Hopefully she’ll continue this trend and pick up another meaty role like this soon

Sicario – \m/ \m/ \n”