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Scarlett Johansson’s Literally Killer Body Stars in ‘Under The Skin’: A Movie Review

Scarlett Johansson’s Literally Killer Body Stars in ‘Under The Skin’: A Movie Review

Scarlett Johansson’s Literally Killer Body Stars in ‘Under The Skin’: A Movie Review

“Under the Skin” and the Sexualization of Scarlett

The opening essay in Chuck Klosterman’s 2006 collection, IV, is about an interview the author (him, not me. I only refer to myself as I, me or my (hell, you got three examples in the last sentence and a half)) did for Esquire with Britney Spears. The year was 2003, and only 36 hours prior to the interview, Spears had announced that she had sex with Justin Timberlake when she was 18. Prior to then, she was sold to the American public as the virginal sex kitten. It’s the same trick Jessica Simpson’s handlers used for their client, but to lesser success. Spears was the girl you wanted to touch, but never could. Even, supposedly, if you were her pop-star boyfriend. Strangely, with her cat (so to speak) out of the bag (she was photographed pantless for the cover), she spent the entire interview denying she was any kind of sex icon or that there was anything overtly sexual about her music, her videos or her personality. It’s impossible to believe even an infant could be less self-aware.

I happened to read this entry the day before I saw “Under the Skin,” the latest film by director Jonathan Glazer (“Sexy Beast,” “Birth”), which stars Scarlett Johansson as an alien traipsing around Scotland in attempt to seduce men into an apparently mobile pool of liquefied blackness. If that sounds bizarre, I’m not here to dissuade you from your initial reaction. To be honest, I wouldn’t be 100% confident in the alien thing if it weren’t mentioned by other critics and there wasn’t a short shot of three pinkish lights in the sky – which you assume to be UFOs – shortly after Johansson’s character arrives on Earth. It seems like the kind of thing that would’ve been put in the press kit, just to make sure critics were certain of at least that much. It reeks of something spelled out in a way the film never bothers – nor needs – to do.

The extraterrestrial Johansson roams around the Scottish country- and city-side in a white van, attempting to lure lone men into her vehicle, by doing that most stereotypical of female driver actions, asking for directions. Though that sentence would make the film seem sexist, it’s done with a nod toward empowerment. It’s like a gender-reversal version of the long-running pornographic trope of a man picking up a girl on the street to have sex with him in his van (Why do I know this? Let’s just say it’s because I’m smart). In the film, the alien Johansson at least has the decency to pull off to an abandoned home for the next step of her plan. She’s the one who wields the power.

Unlike Britney Spears, Johansson has never struggled with her sexuality, at least on-screen. In a what-would-like-to-be-believed-by-young-boys-as-apocryphal story from “The Island,” Johansson wanted to be shown nude, and it was the film’s director, Michael Bay, who dissuaded her. This is the same Michael Bay who cast a longing camera at Megan Fox’s glistening torso in “Transformers,” after an almost-certainly-not-apocryphal story about her audition for the film, in which Bay forced her to wash his Ferrari in a bikini, while he filmed the affair. Doesn’t quite sound like the same guy. Nevertheless, the first time I’d ever laid eyes on Johannsson, she was offering to give Billy Bob Thornton a blow-J (© “Superbad”) in the Coen Bros.’ “The Man Who Wasn’t There.” That’s something not even a “Slave 4 U”-era Britney was doing.

under the skin pic

One of the chief discussions around Johansson’s prior film, “Her,” was of the actress’ ability to solely use the sultry tones of her voice to convey sexiness. The simple idea of not having the easiest conveyance for this ideal – her body – at her disposal was, for most, worthy of calling for an Oscar nomination. “Under the Skin” gives her a British accent, her body back and also lets her finally do the nudity she was supposedly so willing to present to Bay’s cameras back in 2005. I normally wouldn’t note this, but I imagine it’s the producers’ only hope of competing with “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” and they’d want the word out if it could lead to any additional box office take. Johansson’s E.T. role allows the actress to flex every muscle she has and use every weapon at her disposal in a way she’s never fully been granted. She’s seen as a seductress. Let her seduce some men. Like Charlotte Gainsbourg seems perfect for the weird world of Lars von Trier, Johansson fits in exquisitely in the Earth of “Under the Skin,” at least as Glazer has depicted it.

The director strips the connective tissue of comprehension bare, leaving not much more than chronology. Even the male victims of the alien speak in a Scottish brogue so thick the company hired to create subtitles for home video will have difficultly deciphering the meaning of every word. But his images are both haunting and glorious. The Salvador Dali-esque inky darkness swallowing the alien’s victims, transporting them into a swimming pool, bloating – then dissolving – them of their insides is a nightmare worth reliving. However, he also manages to capture whole scenes of complete captivation, like the alien’s soft appeal to a wary, facially-disfigured young man. Though we know what the end-game-to-come is, it’s hard to not be touched with the tenderness by which she treats him. Glazer presents scenarios that will linger in the recesses of my brain like the alien’s victims in their post-seduction/pre-skinning state.

The film is based on a 2000 book of the same name, by Michael Faber. My first instinct is to try reading it to get at some answers, much like my initial reaction to seeing “2001: A Space Odyssey” was to find out what Arthur C. Clarke was willing to provide us in text that Stanley Kubrick wasn’t on film. I never did and probably never will. Only part of the reason being there apparently aren’t many more answers contained within the book. There’s a similar mysterious quality to “Under the Skin” that makes the allure of explanation potentially more fulfilling, but at the same time lending fear to knowing the perhaps better off unknowable. If things are straightforward, a work of art loses its ability to provoke debate. It’s what keeps the Mona Lisa the most discussed painting ever created (I’m not saying this film is on par with the Mona Lisa, I’m saying it’s better. Only Dan Brown has made me care about Da Vinci’s “masterpiece”).

“Under the Skin” is not an easy film. But sometimes, as a viewer, it’s good to be challenged. Alfred Hitchcock once said, “Some films are slices of life. My films are slices of cake.” In this case, Glazer’s is a slice of brain you were forced to eat in a dream you once had. But it’s a dream you wish to have again. However, if you’re the type that needs the extra incentive, you get to see Scarlett’s boobs (hey, if it can be pointed out in an Academy Awards opening number, it can be pointed out here). For those crying sexism, there’s also more male genitalia between this and the “Nymphomaniac” films than I’ve seen in the mirror the past month. Though Britney Spears may have been unaware of her appeal, Johansson and “Under the Skin” know how the bills are paid and you might just get something unique out of the experience.

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Director Lars Von Trier’s ‘Nymphomaniac Vol. II’ Movie Review

Director Lars Von Trier’s ‘Nymphomaniac Vol. II’ Movie Review

Lars Von Trier’s ‘Nymphomaniac Vol. II’ Movie Review

“I am whatever you say I am.” – Eminem “The Way I Am”

A self-fulfilling prophecy is that if you believe something to be true, it will likely result that way. It’s one of the key points from “The Secret,” the video/book/key-to-happiness that was all the rage a few years ago. It gave people the belief that if they just concentrated hard enough on a certain goal, they would achieve it. The selling point behind “The Secret” concept was more wish-fulfillment, like a mental magic lamp, but the theory behind it was sound. After all, this guy wanted to go out with Drew Barrymore, so he made a movie about his pursuit called “My Date with Drew” and his stalk was granted.

When last we left Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) from “Nymphomaniac Vol. 1,” she was in a state of battered rest, sipping healing tea and recounting her sexual transgressions to the professorial Seligman (Stellan Skarsgard), who happened to find her semi-lifeless body outside his abode. He listens intently to her stories, which she recalls prompted by the surroundings of the room in which Seligman has brought her to recover. However, unlike most of the men Joe has told these tales to, Seligman is not titillated. His interest is only from a theoretical standpoint, as he has no way to sexually relate. He describes himself as asexual. The Mr. Glass to Joe’s David Dunn.

But his non-arousal enables to Seligman to withhold any judgment about Joe, which is what she’s expecting. Before her, she sees a man. And men only view her as a sexual object, especially after her described experiences. She believes herself to be a bad person and is therefore pre-disposed to doing bad things. Alas, she’s just a human being.

At one point, Seligman and Joe discuss the philosophical idea of how people develop perversions. She’s looking for an answer to explain how she’s come to be. She believes it stemmed from a lonely moment lying among the grass as a twelve-year-old when she had her first orgasm and a vision of what she assumed was The Virgin Mary. Seligman assures her based on the description, the vision actually contained the wife of Emperor Claudius as well as the Great Whore of Babylon. He tells her Freud’s theory of the development of sexual perversion, that when a child is born, all kinds of perversions exist and that through childhood, some of them drop off, as opposed to the child being initially bereft and acquiring them through other means. Nevertheless, Joe insists she is a “nymphomaniac,” even against the preferred nomenclature of the leader of an employer-prescribed sex addiction meeting.

As much as the first half of the film (“Nymphomaniac Vol. 1”) belonged to the portrayer of Young Joe, Stacy Martin, “Nymphomaniac Vol. 2” is all Gainsbourg’s. If Leo DiCaprio is Martin Scorsese’s muse (yes, I’m aware that role belonged to Robert DeNiro at one point), Gainsbourg is surely director Lars von Trier’s dirty clay to mold to his basest desires (one’s that according to Freud and Seligman were probably there since birth and just never left him behind). With this now her third collaboration with von Trier, it’s practically impossible to imagine Gainsbourg as an actress in anything that’d be roundly deemed non-risque. Not that any of that matters, of course. At least not to viewers.  Though she’s nobody’s definition of “classicly beautiful” (or probably any definition of the word), her willingness to put herself in any position von Trier asks makes her indispensable in an art form where vanity typically trumps value (I’m reminded of a scene in “Project Greenlight” where Bonnie Hunt tells the director of “Stolen Summer” how she should be lit). Just because there may not have been another soul to actually take on the role of Joe, doesn’t mean Gainsbourg isn’t perfectly fit for it.

Nymphomaniac Part 2 pic

I described “Nymphomaniac Vol. 1” as being as close to a romp as von Trier gets. “Vol. 2” certainly puts him back in a familiar position. If “Vol. 1” were “Under Siege,” “Vol. 2” is certainly its sequel. This is “dark territory.” At 18, Joe loses the ability to orgasm and ventures into the seedy underbelly of addiction, seeking to once again find the high of climax. She encounters a sadist named K (Jamie Bell) who delivers punishment so harsh it’s soon to be adopted up by disgruntled Marines to be administered to trouble-makers in their barracks. Their intercourse is nil. Instead, he slaps her with a leather glove stuffed with quarters, binds her to a couch and whips her ass not in the competitive way, but in the Roman-punishment-sense. He checks her for lubrication like removing a dipstick from a car’s engine and degrades her to a degree where he refers to her only as “Fido” in lieu of ever learning her name. I like to imagine K’s backstory as actually having been Billy Elliot, suffering a ballet-career-ending injury and having to toward sadism to get any satisfaction (hell, maybe that would’ve also answered the Rolling Stones’ problems).

This bout with the mar-K de sade is just a step in the dark direction on Joe’s journey to self-discovery in Seligman’s bedroom. Her stories come in the form of verbal chapters, taking cues from her surroundings. The last chapter is provoked by an image of a gun, but I’ll let her tell you that story, just as she tells it to her would-be savior.

Though the visual flourishes of “Vol. 1” didn’t entirely carry over here (aside from the dueling nymphos vision and a recurrence of the 3+5 graphic) there were moments when I found it impossible to watch the film without my mouth agape. This is a film-viewing expression I usually reserve for bouts of how-did-they-think-of-that brilliance, like so many moments in Christopher Nolan’s “Inception.” Here, my awe was for audacity. These fly-catcher-causing scenes mainly occurred with K and Joe. There was something about the mixture of the pain-pleasure threshold and the painstaking patience the actors, characters and camera had in creating the situation and having it play out to maximum effect. I can’t say I didn’t miss some of the visual ingenuity from “Vol. 1,” but this was a harder-edged half of the story to tell. All fun was out the window. Even so, we’re still in the good hands of a master manipulator.

As a two-hour film, “Nymphomaniac Vol. 2” had some gaps in storytelling where Joe seemed to leap into a new part of her recollection, instead of telling a nice throughline, which “Vol. 1” pretty much maintained. Prior to release, there was talk of a five-and-a-half hour cut of the film, which needed to be trimmed to four hours and thus split into two halves. I wonder if some of these holes would be filled (pun might as well be intended) by the extra footage, which we supposedly someday may see. Udo Kier is in the film as a waiter for one brief scene, whom I don’t think has any lines beyond “did you get a spoon?” Certainly seems like a cutting room casualty.

“Nymphomaniac Vol. 2,” like its star, her character and its director is nothing if not self-assured. Though Joe expects Seligman to judge her, the film would prefer you to do as Seligman does and withhold any prejudice. One of the highest compliments you can pay a film is that it knows what it wants to be. There are no qualms here.

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Lars Von Trier’s ‘Nymphomanic Vol. 1′ Review: Journey vs Destination

Lars Von Trier’s ‘Nymphomanic Vol. 1′ Review: Journey vs Destination

Lars Von Trier’s ‘Nymphomanic Vol. 1′ Review: Journey vs Destination

The pursuit of sex is what drives romantic relationships. Even abstinent ones are adhered to with the promise that the pursuit will one day be fulfilled. For them, marriage is just an obstacle toward getting there. It’s the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, only usually less illusory. A sitcom called “Mixology” recently debuted (and may be cancelled by the time you read this) on ABC, all about the characters’ desire to have sex with one another. The dramatic hook of the show is whether they will or not. If that sounds horrible, it apparently is. If art indeed imitates life, “Mixology” is the douche-bro you’d be wise to avoid. I’m sure the show can proudly count Richie Incognito among its 1.1 million person fanbase. As long as sex is on the horizon, who cares about the through-line? The destination is all that matters to these people.

Nymphomaniac Vol. 1” opens in a moist, brick-lined courtyard. Water slithers down the concrete façade. A foreboding and foreshadowing necklace of nuts (of the “and bolts” variety) adorns a pipe, like a pelt of ears serrated off a scalp. Sprawled out in the center of the area for display, is a battered, bruised and barely conscious Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg). A man with a “ridiculous name” (as Joe tells him), Seligman (Stellan Skarsgard), discovers her near-corpse and after her steadfast refusal of accepting an ambulance or police arrival, suffices to invite her inside for some tea and recovery.

When Seligman inquires about Joe’s state of physical duress, she professes herself to be a bad person. He immediately dismisses the notion that anybody is preternaturally “bad” and proceeds to approach Joe as a psychologist would, fascinated with her life to this point in time. Joe declares her reasoning for feeling this self-assessment is due to her nymphomania and proceeds to regale him with tales of her sexual past and how she came to be the picture of ill-health in front of him. If sex is a destination, her life is a series of skipping the journeys.

Though Joe is played by Gainsbourg, her character’s flashback portrayer is embodied by an according-to-IMDb fresh face audiences have never seen before, named Stacy Martin. “Nymphomaniac” (Volume 1, at least), is Martin’s movie. She’s fearless and uncompromising. Not in the “nudity equals fearless” way, as any porn actress would deserve to have that label slapped on them like a frat-boy-paddle to the ass, but she is assured. A literal man-eater (in a sense). Martin’s Joe is the portrait of a woman who cares little about anything but herself, although she waxes poetically about her love for her father (Christian Slater) in the least Oedipus complex way.  Though sex is supposed to consist of two-way pleasures, Joe is one-track minded.

At fifteen, Joe takes her virginity not literally into her own hands, but at least hand-selects her suitor. He’s a mechanic named Jerome (Shia LeBeouf), who thrusts such a minute amount of times that Joe can recall the exact number years later to Seligman and director Lars von Trier posts them on the frame in fit-to-screen sized font. He doesn’t do this to belittle the character, but to weigh the impact the event would have on Joe’s life. Jerome turns out to be the only recurring sexual partner Joe relays to her caretaker.

Nymphomaniac Pic

The “only sleep with the same person once” mantra is something developed by Joe and her friend B for a club they found for like-minded ladies. Their escapades begin in a quite literal metaphor of the journey versus destination ideal, as Joe and B challenge each other on a train trip to bed as many males as possible before the train reaches its destination. They’re measuring their journey based on how many destinations they can meet. The wager? A bag of chocolate malt balls. To them, that’s the ultimate destination. Or at least the object of marking a fun time. If Joe wasn’t conscious of the power she potentially wields with her body, this sequence is where she becomes self-aware. She devises tactics to increase her “score” and learns how to get what she needs to satisfy her selfishness. If the question for Joe is “love or lust,” the answer is “neither.” At least according to her, she’s not doing it to fill some type of void in her life. She’s doing it because she’s just “a bad person.”

Von Trier, has become known as a bit of a provocateur as of late (if he wasn’t always labeled as such) and crafting a four-hour epic named “Nymphomaniac” in which the “O” is composed of two parentheses designed to look like a woman’s labia majora is not the simplest way to dismiss that notion. But the film, at least through these first two hours, is not designed to ruffle feathers, regardless of the reactions it elicits from the types of people who picket theaters for exhibiting movies they’ve never seen. It’s a character study about a woman with an addiction that a lot of society views as a joke. Tiger Woods can use it as an excuse for his philandering and it’s used for primarily comic effect in Chuck Palahniuk’s “Choke,” but von Trier provides little giggle room.

Though I wish the film had a few more laughs, this isn’t the sex addiction version of “Leaving Las Vegas,” either. I’ll happily endure repeat viewings with pleasure (written with the least titillation in mind as possible). Joe hurts people and ruins lives. Just watch for a standout scene with Uma Thurman, as Mrs. H, a wife and mother with a husband Joe victimizes with her addiction.

Though darkness abounds, von Trier brings some spunk (don’t test me) to the images. With the aforementioned thrust-count posted in the virginity scene with Jerome, von Trier also cuts to a chalkboard scorecard in the train game between Joe and B, equates Joe’s addiction with fly fishing through intercut images between those juxtaposed acts, draws a diagram onscreen for Jerome to show Joe’s preciseness in which she’s able to park his car (not a euphemism) and finally provides close-ups of flaccid members as Joe describes the parade of penises she’s pulsed upon. It’s as if he took David Fincher’s IKEA price-tagging from “Fight Club” and Quentin Tarantino’s (“Don’t be a”) square (Uma Thurman again!) from “Pulp Fiction” and applied it to a darker-themed film in order to alleviate it. It’s as close to a romp as von Trier gets.

Unlike previous depictions of sex addiction in art as portraying someone needing to “get their rocks off” (as Chuck Palahniuk would put it), “Nymphomaniac Vol. 1” is really about love versus sex. As she exits the club she helped co-create, B tells Joe that love is the secret ingredient that provides sex with an extra feeling she can’t capture until she experiences it. Until then, Joe’s chasing a high she’s never really felt in the first place. She’s trying to get to the destination by skipping past the journey. Luckily for us, we have to wait another month before “Nymphomaniac Vol. 2” is released before we reach our destination (although I have to doubt love is the conclusion to which our protagonist is coming (okay, that one’s for you)). For now, we get to enjoy the journey, even if Joe can’t. “Mixology” characters and fans need not apply.

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‘Roman Polanski: A Film Memoir’ Review – The Director Speaks On His Life

‘Roman Polanski: A Film Memoir’ Review – The Director Speaks On His Life

Roman Polanski: A Film Memoir – The Director Speaks On His Life

Ed. note: You can view this film on iTunes, Amazon, youtube and other digital formats.

Does free will exist or “is it all written?” That is the question philosophically posed at the end of Roman Polanski: A Film Memoir. The documentary about the infamous director’s life – in his own words, as told to one of his best friends – reveals more about the man while still leaving a few questions slightly unanswered.

To many, Polanski is known equally for his film exploits and his extradition from the United States for pleading guilty to unlawful sex with a minor, Samantha Geimer, in 1977. Those that know only of Polanski through the media will naturally have come to some conclusions about the man without knowing the truth. A Film Memoir sheds light on the incidents of 1977, while covering everything from a rough childhood, his rise to fame, the death of his pregnant girlfriend, and several things in between.

A young RoPo in happy times.

Polanski has been through unquestionable tragedies. From his childhood, much of which is depicted indirectly in his film The Pianist, which won Best Picture at the Oscars and allowed Adrian Brody to take home a statue while stealing a kiss from Halle Berry; to his adult life, post his extradition, the director speaks candidly on multiple subjects from his perspective. It is shocking knowing the amount of pain and suffering, the struggles he has had to overcome and the perseverance he has shown in order to become the success he has.

The film is an interesting piece of work, though a standard conversation largely from a format standpoint. Polanski’s work has often echoed images or instances from his life and had them placed on celluloid. The film deftly handles many of these in the first third of its 90-minute running time. The film covers tragedies in each “act” and still leaves the viewer with perhaps a few questions, particularly surrounding the 1977 incident. Only you can be the judge about what you hear and see, but for those with even a modest curiosity about the director, this is a worthwhile biographical piece to endure. Recommended.

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‘Gravity’ Review: Strong Acting and Absurdly Impressive Visuals Betrayed By Story

‘Gravity’ Review: Strong Acting and Absurdly Impressive Visuals Betrayed By Story

”Gravity’ Review: Strong Acting and Absurdly Impressive Visuals Betrayed By Story

I’ll be honest – and I am going to get this out of the way right up front – I probably didn’t love Gravity as much as most people (at least critics) have. That’s not to say that it is not a good film and a spectacular visual achievement, but there is more to a movie than this alone. The spare and probably inaccurate, unbelievable script at times is what is in part keeping me from crushing on this movie. Or alas, perhaps it was the lofty expectations, with it’s 98% Tomatometer and 9.1/10 rating which is about as high as any movie I can ever recall seeing rated via RT.

Okay, Gravity is about a scientist turned astronaut (Sandra Bullock) who is on a repair mission 600 km above Earth, with a veteran on his last mission (George Clooney) and a disposable part who we never really meet. Director Alfonso Cuaron (the lauded Children of Men) tosses us into space with outstanding glory in space – this will be like no movie has ever shown you space before – right from jump. We see Earth in all its spectacle from above, an experience few of us will ever get the chance to experience for real, all well and good.

gravity pic

“Destruction, terror and mayhem” for Bullock’s scientist.

Things go awry when a meteor shower strikes the crew working on the space shuttle which launches us into a series of escapes and plans to return home. The plot reveals some touching back story and the acting is very good if just short of great. Clooney is perfect in his role and Sandy falls a little short of brilliance in hers, but the real star is the special effects and seeing the destruction and continuously revolving camera in the weightlessness of space.

Cuaron gives us a groundbreaking achievement in technical filmmaking. This is a visually impressive film to say the least and nothing I can note in accolades will do it justice, you must see this movie. The script gives us, nothing spectacular at all, which is why when you see the film, you must know you are seeing it for the visuals and not for any other real reason. A touching moment or two aside, I just wasn’t as involved in the story of this film as I could or should have been, and that is the fault of a spare script.

The experience gets high marks overall, which is why I recommend Gravity with little hesitation, but the everlasting effect of a power of storytelling on celluloid falls a bit short. A dual review would say Gravity falls slowly to Earth in story (it’s not a crash and burn but it just doesn’t match the potential) but stays higher than space in visual treats.

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Stoker Review: Nicole Kidman Lends Talents to Chan-wook Park’s American Debut

Stoker Review: Nicole Kidman Lends Talents to Chan-wook Park’s American Debut

Nicole Kidman & Matthew Goode Burn Slowly in Chan-wook Park’s ‘Stoker’: A Review

Stoker is a slow-burning Hitchockian-style piece of filmmaking that hits more than it misses. With Stoker, acclaimed Korean director Chan-wook Park, of Oldboy fame, makes his English language debut for American audiences. The film, which was one of the top screenplays in Hollywood yet to be made was originally to have bigger names until budget concerns led to the cast that ultimately came with the film. The film stars Nicole Kidman and Matthew Goode with Mia Wasikowska.

Kidman’s Evelyn plays mother to India (Wasikowska), a troubled teenager who can’t fit in in high school and has never connected with her Mom. Once India’s Dad passes away, this dynamic is forced to come to light as mother and daughter attempt to reconnect with little success. Enter India’s Uncle Charles, who has a disconnected family history at best. What unravels is a trail of murder and intrigue – who did what, who trusts who and who falls for who. It’s interesting stuff.

Kidman Stoker pic

The oft-fetching Kidman seems less inviting in this ‘Stoker’ pic.

The film takes a while to get moving. It’s a very silent piece of filmmaking with mostly reserved, though solid, performances (particular from Kidman). Sounds go from small to big; footsteps and piano chords carry extra weight. Park takes his time unveiling the story and the evil that may or may not lurk within the characters. Park is a highly stylized director and he uses the color yellow to special effect in the film. Additionally, several shots place the camera in a unique position giving worthy tension to the piece. The film does falter in that it does feel soulless at times. From the performances to the painstaking pacing, particularly early on, this is a cold, didactic work.

Still, the “big” finish is fun stuff and Park shows he can do more than mayhem. He’s obviously drawn to dark characters and this film is no exception. It should please fans of his and Hitchcock in particular. I don’t see the film doing particularly well at the domestic box office though, so it does leave in doubt Park’s standing as a director working in Western cinema. Kind of curious that his first attempt is with a cast of foreigners – stars on some level though they may be – in what amounts to an Independent film. However, in the end, Stoker stokes the fire to Park’s career. He has style and versatility, akin to David Fincher, perhaps. Where it goes from here I don’t know, but I am eagerly on board to follow.

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‘Side Effects’ Review: Soderbergh’s Last Film(?) Is Best of 2013 (So Far)

‘Side Effects’ Review: Soderbergh’s Last Film(?) Is Best of 2013 (So Far)

‘Side Effects’ Review: Soderbergh’s Last Film(?) Is Best of 2013 (So Far)

Director Steven Soderbergh has made a career out of telling unique stories with flair and precision on the big screen. From his indie debut Sex, Lies & Videotape to Side Effects, what reportedly may be his final big screen film, he’s never lost his edge and continued to develop and push himself within the medium. Side Effects, a title which hints at the side effects of drugs which play a huge role in the film, is a solid, calculating film that brings more to the table than you would expect.

Rooney Mara (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo) and Jude Law star as patient and psychiatrist in the film. Mara’s Emily awaits the return of her husband (Channing Tatum) from prison after four years served for financial fraud (insider trading). Emily though, can’t handle the stress of her life and tries to kill herself by crashing her car. After survival, this leads her to the psychiatric care of Law’s Dr. Banks who begins to prescribe drugs for her to make her healthier and happier.

 

Jude Law Side Effects pic

Dr. Banks (Jude Law) is blindsided in mysterious ”Side Effects’.

What unfolds is a series of situations that result in upping the ante of drugs for Emily and after a tragic event, Dr. Banks and Emily become tied to one another as events unravel. Soderbergh shoots the film with a tight focus on the subjects, which blurs the background, known as a shallow depth of field. The purpose is to have the audience semi-participate in the feeling of being drugged. Of course, beyond what is a clinical study, a thriller unspools on screen, a side effect, which means that there is more than than meets the eye.

Side Effects is not an outstanding film, but it is the best so far of 2013. It tells a story that you think you know and surprises the audience at the same time. It would be a shame if Soderbergh really does not direct for the silver screen any more. The auteur of Out Of Sight, Erin Brockovich, Traffic, Ocean’s 11 and more, has shown consistently that he is one of the better directors going for nearly two decades. Perhaps he moves on to another venture, but a man so skilled would be greatly missed in a medium often becoming more cookie cutter. That would be an undesirable side effect to his departure from directing. Let’s hope he keeps going.

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‘The Impossible’ Review: Film Based On True Story Packs Emotional Wallop

‘The Impossible’ Review: Film Based On True Story Packs Emotional Wallop

‘The Impossible’ Review: Film Based On True Story Packs Emotional Wallop

The Impossible is based on a true story about a family that survives the 2004 tsunami that devastated Thailand. The film is from Spanish director J.A. Bayona, who is known for horror film The Orphanage. Ewen MacGregor and Naomi Watts (particularly strong) star as Henry and Maria Belon, parents of three young children all on Christmas vacation at a Thai beach resort. The devastation that disrupts their paradise sets their incredible story of survival in motion.

The tsunami that levels the resort and just about everything around it is the clear centerpiece of the film. The event is depicted in what appears to be remarkably realistic, horrifying detail. The movie spares little in this event, willing to take you inside the family and their thoughts as the storm rips apart the resort and the fivesome, as it turns out. The storm’s wind, water and special effects are top notch, as is Bayona’s ultra close camera centered on Maria and her teenage son Lucas (Tom Holland) as they fight through the storm and try to reunite with their family.

The Impossible Movie Pic

The Belon duo clings to life on a mattress after a tsunami devastates Thailand.

The film falters in that it merely becomes more of a documentary in a sense after that. Yes, there are emotional moments, heightened by a continually present score that attempts to ring every tear out of you it can muster. After feeling swept up in this endeavor once or twice, the pull became resistible and you can sense the movie’s manipulation at work. Ultimately, the film lingers too long on some potentially emotional scenes and the survival portion of the film is not met with any real challenges. The family simply manages to not give up on their quest to seek each other out.

The Impossible may have been a nearly impossible story in real life, and the film makes you understand that during its devastational set piece. Unfortunately, while well done and emotional overall, the wear and tear of realizing this is simply a family that wants to reunite, without particularly tangible challenges outside of logistics played out on screen, luck becomes more of a factor in the film than anything else. You realize that the story is good, the acting is strong and the situation harrowing, but the film still feels a little over the top when not many twists and turns get in the way of the family’s survival.

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