Wednesday, December 31, 2014

My Year at the Movies - 2014

Happy New Year!

Here is a chronological list of the 2014 movies I saw in theaters this past year. My top ten favorites of the year are accompanied by images.

Jack Ryan
The Invisible Woman
The Monuments Men
Winter’s Tale
300: Rise of an Empire
Need for Speed


I enjoyed this surreal, sci-fi rendition of the Biblical story of Noah and the flood. Russell Crowe stands out as an Ahab-like captain of the Ark.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Although I was not always totally engaged by this film, I have to say that this is without a doubt the most meticulously conceived film of the year. Some of the sets are so full of color and detail you wish for the camera to linger longer - or you wish for the characters to return to that set but they don't. Though some parts work better than others, this film is always visually arresting.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Under the Skin

I’ve never seen anything like this movie. The surrealistic depictions of what the “alien” does with her victims is bizarre. The shots of Scotland are awe-inspiring. The film hits you in the gut in a number of places, and Johansson is perfect for the role.

Spider Man 2
X-Men: Days of Future Past
Million Dollar Arm

Edge of Tomorrow

I saw this a number of times at the movies, and I’ve watched it multiple times on DVD. Clever story, great editing, and an excellent Cruise performance as he mixes humor with serious acting. The year's most watchable movie full of humor and action.

The Fault in Our Stars
How to Train Your Dragon 2
The Rover
The Immigrant
22 Jump Street
Transformers: Age of Extinction
Dawn of the Apes
Planes: Fire and Rescue


Johansson strikes again in this violent but wildly bizarre action film that's basically about Scarlett Johansson turning into the Internet. At first you think that Lucy will just be this vastly intelligent and superior killing machine. Then the film takes Lucy where no action heroine has gone before.

The Giver
If I Stay


Real moments follow stilted moments and make this film worth watching. More than a film, it is a visual experiment that chronicles the real growth of a real boy throughout his ups and downs.

Guardians of the Galaxy

This engaging film takes tropes from Star Wars and has a lot of fun with them. One of the most delightfully entertaining films of the year.

The November Man
A Walk Among the Tombstones
The Maze Runner
The Equalizer
Gone Girl
The Boxtrolls
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
The Judge


This grim depiction of the last year on the western front in World War II features a thrilling tank duel and a solid performance by Brad Pitt and even an excellent supporting performance by Shia LaBeouf


This creepy, uncomfortable, suspenseful film features an amazing performance by Jake Gyllenhaal.


I saw this film six times at the movies. This doesn’t mean that it’s flawless. It means that I think it’s the best movie of the year for its epic vision, its transporting visuals, and the, excellent performances by Matthew McConaughey and Jessica Chastain.

Big Hero 6
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1
The Theory of Everything
Exodus: Gods and Kings
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
Night at the Museum: The Secret of the Tomb
Big Eyes
Into the Woods

Monday, November 17, 2014

Space Odyssey

Here is my contribution to the Voyage to the Stars Blogathon, John Hitchcock's very imaginative blog challenge inspired by the recent release of Nolan's Interstellar.

Here is my crew for my mission:


Janek - Idris Elba - Prometheus (2012)

He's the commander with a commanding presence but he still knows the importance of a sense of humor. "Try not to bugger each other." "Are you a robot?" Also, with his Christmas tree and vintage accordion, he's got character.


Victoria - Andrea Riseborough - Oblvion (2013)

She will make our crew "a perfect team"! She's attractive and very capable, in high heels or spacesuit.


Penny Robinson - Angela Cartwright - Lost in Space (1965 - 1967)

Well, she's classic, and she's had a lot of experience dealing with different planets, dimensions, aliens, robots, and weird doctors.


Nadia - Antje Traue - Pandorum (2009)

She will be able kick mutant or alien butt if we get attacked, but she still looks sexy when she's covered with grime. She can keep plants and meal worms alive under adverse conditons.


Cassie - Rose Byrne - Sunshine (2007)

She has that sensitive bedside manner that will soothe us through the long voyage, and she's not likely to vote anyone off the spacecraft if supplies run low.


Dr. Josh Keyes - Aaron Eckhart - The Core (2003)

He can fix anything, solve any scientific conundrum, and he can figure his way out of an inner-spaceship sunk at the bottom of the sea.


HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Re-programmed, he has promised to be good. Risky, I know, but his voice will keep us calm in an emergency, and he's really smart!


Only light travels at the speed of light. Okay, so ship and crew have been transformed into beams of light although from the point of view of the travelers, fellow astronauts and ship are solid entities. How will we do this? No need to explain. This is science fiction.

Traveling at the speed of light, we can go far, where no man or woman has gone before. The mission is to find extraterrestrial life. Half the crew members believe they will find nothing; we are alone! The other half disagrees. We shall see!


We originally thought a 3 to 3 ratio of male to female passengers was essential. Then we decided the more sharp female thinkers the better. In order to defray possible partnering conflicts, we found women who would be more than happy to pair up and go in for a threesome with one of the two male crew members. Use you imagination as to who will trio up with whom.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Leap of Faith: Interstellar

I’ll take an epic movie any day, and thank God Christopher Nolan is willing to oblige – especially considering the narrowly envisioned, copycat films released one after the other.

The thrill of Interstellar is its masterful juxtapositioning of touching, earthbound family drama with mind-blowing space odyssey, its cutting back and forth between hardships at a dilapidated farmhouse in a rural dustbowl and a surrealistic journey into a black hole.

Thrilling, too, is how the film starts out in the dusty cornfields, with Matthew McConnaughey as Cooper, a farmer struggling, with the help of his father-in-law (John Lithgow) to preserve his crops of corn and raise his son and daughter. The daughter, Murph, as played by Mackenzie Foy, is an example of Nolan’s casting at its best. As a budding math and science genius fascinated by strange piles of dust on the floor, Foy gets your attention in every scene she’s in, and she sure as hell looks like a younger Jessica Chastain who plays the older Murph.

On the other hand, Matt Damon as a crazed Robinson Crusoe-like character stranded on a frozen planet doesn’t always work out. And what the hell is Topher Grace doing in this film? He does nothing as the unsuitably wimpy partner for the amazing Jessica Chastain who, as the grownup Murph, uses her brain power to solve the story’s physics conundrum while her father uses his courage and instincts to pilot a spacecraft where no film has gone before. Meanwhile, Anne Hathaway is mostly just servicable.

I will say little else about the plot because the joy for me was seeing Interstellar knowing nothing more than its basic premise – Earth is dying and a mission is sent into space to find a suitable planet to colonize. That the film takes you from a dusty farm to different levels far beyond space and time is what makes it special.

Though the story might get shaky with stuff that only Stephen Hawking really understands, the film is always lifted up by the performances of McConaughey as the father, and Chastain, as the daughter, separated by light years, but battling together to save the human race. Throw in some dazzling shots of the belittling vastness of space, mix in some space-action tropes, keep taking the story to another surprising level – like the multiple dream levels in Nolan’s Inception - and Nolan thankfully delivers a substantial epic.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Up in the Air: Birdman

In Birdman or The Unexpected Virture of Ignorance Iñárritu makes nifty commentary about the illusory nature of cinema and stage drama as well as about the power of social media to diminish anyone’s talent – when anyone can be a star on YouTube and any trivial thing can be more popular than legitimate theater. Meanwhile, his following shots down dingy, narrow backstage corridors capture the unseen shabbiness behind the façade of playacting. Raucous, unnerving, sometimes irritating drums accompany the frantic passage down those hallways of Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton), a has-been actor who made a name for himself playing a superhero called Birdman and who is now trying to make an artistic comeback by staging an adaptation of a Raymond Carver story, employing, as an audience draw, an incorrigibly egotistical stage star, played brilliantly by Edward Norton, whose penchant for realism goes to the extent of drinking real alcohol and showing a real erection on stage. Another strong supporting performance comes from Emma Stone as Riggan’s lost, in-and-out-of-rehab daughter, and she gets the credit for one of the best moments in the film when she shows her father the power of that little iPhone screen we all carry or would like to carry. Keaton does a fine job as the desperate, fading performer; like Riggan, Keaton is attempting his own comeback in films these days. Keaton’s Birdman voiceover, in a deep, raspy tone imitating The Dark Knight, is, however, mostly as irritating as the drum score. I like many of the individual parts of this film, but the plummeting, fiery asteroid; the dead, beached jellyfish; the pointed commentary about the world of theater – especially the moment in which Riggan enters the theater in his underwear, just in time to enter his scene through the audience – all of this is meant to be brilliant, sometimes forced to be brilliant, and that’s what makes me feel indifferent about this film, that it’s all so deliberate about saying something without making you feel anything, like all the bits in which Riggan’s Birdman persona intrudes upon his real life with demonstrations of telekinesis and flight that are sometimes startling but ultimately “full of sound and fury,/ Signifying nothing.”

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Three Tries

Three character-driven films include strengths but fail to become compelling overall.

The best of the three - A Walk Among the Tombstones - features Liam Neeson in his usual guise as the tough-guy-who-feels-pain-both-inner-and-outer as he searches for and fights two gruesomely psychotic serial killers. There is a taut showdown among the tombstones, but the final act turns unnecessarily lurid and derivative.

In the same way Neeson’s guilt-ridden Matt Scudder bonds with a young outcast in a diner, Denzel Washington’s smoldering loner Robert McCall strikes up a relationship with a teenage hooker in a diner in East Boston in The Equalizer. Denzel’s diner scenes with Chloe Grace Moretz are superbly shot and performed. The rest of the film turns into an excessive, often silly, deluge of blood spilt as McCall sets out to eradicate all the bad guys involved in victimizing the “innocent” girl.

Finally, Gone Girl is mostly a dull ride as Ben Affleck goes through the motions as the framed hubbie, and Rosamund Pike comes off as mostly unchilling as the cold-blooded "Amazing Amy" Dunne. What happened here? Part of the problem is that the novel is a long and drawn out melodrama that stretches credibility to the snapping point. David Fincher seemed promising as the kind of director who could turn it into something visually arresting and disturbing, but Fincher is tame until a stand-out scene of orgiastic blood-letting that certainly woke me up. Ultimately, however, the film as a whole is a bland disappointment.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Terry Gilliam's The Zero Theorem

In The Zero Theorem Terry Gilliam borrows way too much from Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (overcrowded megacity glutted with advertising; the meaning of existence; blonde in tight skirt; pigeons) and his own film Brazil (bureaucratic dystopia; totalitarian control; bizarre computers; unlikely relationship; escape into fantasy; tubing) to be an experience as refreshing and original as The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. In addition, Gilliam allows his performers to slip into weirdness to the detriment of the story's essential seriousness. Here, Christoph Waltz plays an agoraphobic, misanthropic computer hacker assigned the job of proving a perplexing theorem that suggests that life has no meaning – while at the same time trying to determine the meaning of life. Despite a promising first scene, and a number of arresting images, Gilliam leaves us with a disappointing resolution, whereas a more spectacular denouement seems to be promised by the film’s opening image. Still, I can’t help but marvel at the amazing detail and outlandish, Pythonesque weirdness of Gilliam’s expansive imagination.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Teen Summer

This summer, the big, loud action blockbusters came out roaring, booming, and punching, but they subsided quickly into the vast realm of the forgettable. Meanwhile, teen-oriented films based on popular young-adult novels offered viewers some lasting emotional impressions. The Fault in Our Stars, The Giver, and If I Stay all have their silly moments, but two of them offer fine performances, by Shailene Woodley and Chloë Grace Moretz, and all of them provide touching moments that are a refreshing break from the ubiquitous blockbuster action made up of extravagant explosions and endless, pounding fisticuffs between heroes and villains. In addition, this summer, Boyhood, a realistic, touching examination of a boy growing up into teenhood, drew young viewers to “art-house” theaters.

We are in the midst of a growing trend. The thriving young-adult fiction market churns out dystopian, post-apocalyptic, and romance novels that get teens reading and hankering for the inevitable film version of the more popular ones. Teen viewers might complain that the filmmakers left out or changed this or that scene, but they love visualizations of their favorite books, and the only pounding is the pounding of their hearts during the romantic scenes – which tend to have a more lasting impression than the noisiest action and the biggest explosions.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

When the Moment Seizes You: Boyhood

Boyhood, Richard Linklater’s epic portrait of a boy’s life from age 6 to age 18, was filmed over a twelve-year period with Ellar Coltrane playing Mason, Jr., as the boy, while Ethan Hawke and Praticia Arquette play his divorced parents and Loralei Linklater plays his sister. As these performers age over the 12 years of filming, they play out a simple drama about everyday life. Mason Jr. wonders about the world, makes friends, submits to temptations, develops a passion for photography, has a high school girl-friend, breaks up, and goes off to college, all the while questioning the meaning of life and looking for his place in the world. What’s it all for? Meanwhile, his mother struggles as a single mother trying to get an education to get a better job; she also gets into, and out of, two bad marriages with alcoholic, abusive individuals. The boy’s father, Mason, Sr., played by Ethan Hawke, is a wandering free spirit, also looking for his place in the world. Though Hawke has played a similar sort of character in the Before Sunrse trilogy, he develops his character substantially over the twelve years of filming, and at times Hawke unifies a film with very little, if any, pervading conflict.

At times a little stilted and aimless, the film very effectively presents life’s mundane moments and real dramas, both painful and touching. Some of the film’s moments are so naturalistically depicted that, for example, you can smell the fried food in the restaurant kitchen where Mason Jr. flirts with a co-worker or feel the Texas sun on your back when the boy and his father take a dip in the water on a camping trip. The long tracking shot down an alleyway when Mason Jr. talks to a gossipy school girl as he walks next to her on her bicycle is sharply realistic and suggests the countless moments like this that make up a childhood.

Although not as expansive or awe-inspiring as The Tree of Life, another vivid depiction of growing up in a Texas town, Boyhood is awesome in its scope as it takes you convincingly from the moment when a young boy lies on his back and wonders about the universe to the moment when he goes on a hike with new college friends and wonders about a possible future with someone he seems to connect with. The film stresses the importance of each moment in life, and within its 165-minute length, it covers many of those moments in a twelve-year span with an honest minimalism.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Best Actor: Andy Serkis for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

In Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) the skillful agility and facial expressions of Andy Serkis, rendered by means of motion-capture CGI, brought the character of Caesar alive in a re-imagining of the Apes saga.

In this year’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes Serkis continues to prove his talent for what is mostly silent acting, further developing the character of Caesar through expressive body language and subtle facial inflections.

At this point in the year, Serkis is my nominee for Best Actor, 2014. The new Apes film is not as taut or compelling as the first installment. Its first half is the better half as it establishes the visuals and atmosphere of the Apes’ colony in Muir Woods. The image of apes riding horses is an immediate reference to Planet of the Apes (1968), and I enjoyed visual touches like that. The film’s latter half, however, subsides into a clichéd battle between apes and men and comes to a climax with a combat between Caesar and his rival, Koba, that reminds you of every last boring fistfight between a long list of boring superheroes and their boring foes. Nevertheless, throughout the film, Serkis as Caesar is a compelling driving force.

For the inevitable sequel, I would like to see the dawn of a lot more imagination as the filmmakers re-imagine what comes next.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Recent Viewings

The Rover, with Guy Pearce and Robert Pattinson, makes The Road seem cheerful. Well, not quite, but this bleak post-apocalyptic shoot-'em-up might even depress Cormac McCarthy. Pattinson does a good job of channeling James Dean as Lennie Small.

Excellent performances by Phoenix, Cotillard, and Renner in The Immigrant, the story of a Russian immigrant sacrificing herself to get her sister off Ellis Island. Superb art direction. Very authentic atmosphere that transports you to 1920s New York City.

Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum are indeed hilarious together.

Yes, I saw it. And it took my mind off things for nearly all of its epic two hour and forty-five-minute length. Two hours and forty-five minutes! Geez louise! What temerity. But, I have to say, Mark Wahlberg carries you through it with his wide-eyed action movie sincerity, and he invests himself in his role as a father trying to save his daughter - and the world. "It's a transformer!" Who else could have said that with the same geeky passion? Also, there's some nice humor as he objects to his daughter's relationship with an older guy while they are running away from the bad bots. The film downplays the clish-clash cacophony of clattering contraptions constantly crumpling into cars - and we get some very interesting action aboard the huge, gothic alien spacecraft as well as a clever fight between good guy and bad guy in a high-rise slum in Hong Kong. All the action played out in Hong Kong is nicely filmed.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

How to Train Your Dragon 2

It would be hard to recapture the magic of the original How to Train Your Dragon in a sequel. How to Train Your Dragon 2 contains a few moments that reprise the special feelings of the first film – but then things get overblown with too many Vikings riding too many odd-sized dragons for too long, and it gets too preachy about being kind to the animals. At least in the first installment the Vikings got to be disgusting, dragon-hating savages for most of the time. Toothless is still the best thing about the whole story, but he seems to assume a secondary role here, and there’s none of the whimsy of the developing relationship between boy and dragon that was so great about the original. But Dragon 2 still displays a rich, magical fantasy world that is never boring to look at, and the film’s artwork carries you through the overlong battle with its multiple climaxes.

Friday, June 13, 2014

The Fault in Our Stars

The most irritating thing about the hugely popular teen romance novel The Fault in Our Stars is that just about every sentence uttered by Hazel Grace and Gus – teen protagonists in love and terminally ill – is so cleverly sardonic, ironic, or full of elevated vocabulary and literary allusions. A major advantage of the film is that the dialogue is made more realistic – in keeping with this very realistic treatment of love, death, and dying. But the film’s best asset is the performance of Shailene Woodley as Hazel Grace. Woodley’s maturity and poise as an actress suit the maturity and poise of the principal character and, even when the film slips into excessive sentimentality or sheer silliness, Woodley’s invested performance is the driving force that makes this a film worth lining up for with bevies of teenage girls.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Edge of Tomorrow

This depiction of a futuristic Invasion of Normandy (released on June 6th - ooh, ah!) - repeated countless times as Cage (Tom Cruise), a coward, must brave the battle over and over again in order to get a warrior heroine (Emily Blunt) to where she needs to be to end an alien virus - delivers solid entertainment; committed performances by Cruise and Blunt; a fun performance by Bill Paxton, as though he's being directed by James Cameron, as a drill sergeant; a vast battle in which things change every time we revisit it; the inevitable head-scratching time-travel conundrums; and a healthy dose of humor and frenetic action to make up for the film's borrowed premise.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

“So where are your May movie reviews?" or Sometimes the Dragon Gets YOU!

Got a brief e-mail from my friend out in Yuba City, California. A couple of sentences, not much longer than the question in the SUBJECT slot: “So where are your May movie reviews?”

Let me tell you about Yuba City Guy. He and I were in the Peace Corps in Morocco together. I was there for three years. My first year coincided with his last year in a small town in a Pre-Saharan wasteland or rocks and dust. He and I and two other volunteers weathered the isolation and boredom by playing Scrabble. After the Peace Corps, he and I went into fulltime teaching and about the extent of our communication was an exchange of Christmas cards.

For the past four years, however, since he retired from teaching and licked a bout of cancer, we have kept up a consistently regular and often prolific e-mail correspondence which consists mostly of me responding to the items on his numbered list of comments – many of which berate me with mercilessly sardonic diction - because I'm not reading the books he's reading, or because I don't follow Downton Abbey, or because I didn't post on Philomena, or because I didn't like a movie he loved or I loved a movie he thought was trash.

Thus, I had better respond to his question, or I am in trouble.

Why haven’t I written my May movie reviews? I’ve been busy. No, that’s not why. That’s a lame excuse I detest. This is my sixth year writing this blog, and in the past years I have always found time to post, meanwhile being married with two kids to raise, meanwhile teaching full-time, meanwhile pursuing a number of personal creative projects.

Yeah, I’ve been busy with the end of the school year, but I haven’t been too busy to post. It’s just that my soul has felt kind of bruised, and while I’ve mustered the spirit to teach enthusiastically, devote time to family, and even work on my fiction, I’ve relegated the blog to the neglected last item on my list of priorities.

What's caused the bruises? Life. It could be worse. It could always be worse. But it started in February when I flew back to San Mateo, California, to meet my two brothers so that we could get power of attorney and take my mother, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s or some other sort of dementia, out of a reclusive situation and put her in a “Memory Care Community” in Belmont, California. There, my 92-year-old mother - who immigrated to Canada from Germany in 1925, who lived on a farm on the Canadian plains during the Great Depression, whose father was interned for most of World War II, who visited war-torn Germany in 1946, carrying suitcases full of food, wearing multiple coats to give to her relatives, who traveled all over the world in her days of leisure - gets up in the morning and takes the clothes out of her drawers and packs them in her carry-on every day because - even though she has stubbornly refused to accept this community and refrains from participating in activities and excursions - she wants to be ready just in case she decides to go on the outing to Paris or London.

After being called “Judases,” my older brother flew back to Oregon, and I flew back East. Since then, there have been other blows and bruises within my family and at the work place, but those factors are too complicated to address here.

Amidst all this, I haven’t found the meaning in posting on the movies I’ve seen. I'm just happy to go to the movies. Since my last post, I have seen Captain America (even too much noisy violence for me), Transcendence (a nifty sci-fi premise that goes nowhere), Bears (oh, how they lumber along looking for salmon, and looking for salmon, and looking for salmon, and when they find them, they catch them and eat them, one after the other after the other), Spider Man 2 (dreadful; I do have taste, Yuba City Guy), Neighbors (doesn’t approach the hilarity of Superbad or 40-Year-Old Virgin), Godzilla (weak beginning for a monster movie; not enough Godzilla), X-Men: Days of Future Past (I wish superhero movies would go away, and I'm not a big X-Men fan, but this is a well-constructed movie that stands on its own and doesn’t require pre-knowledge of the mythology), Million Dollar Arm (excellent, touching movie about India and baseball), and Maleficent (enchanting in the beginning; visually stunning at times; Jolie is just okay; falls flat).

Posting on movies is not so important to me anymore. What’s always been important to me is just going to the movies. Most any movie. If you can’t go to Godzilla or a Disney movie and let yourself go, I’m not sure you love movies enough. Yuba Guy berates me for wasting my time on trash. He likes those PBS-esque little English dramas with Judi Dench. But I see indies and foreign films he never sees. In December, I often drive up to Cambridge to the Landmark to see three of them in a day. I finally did see Philomena, just to get the man from Yuba City off my back, and I admitted that I liked it, but I have to admit that I’d rather see an X-Men movie than a quiet, sensitive film with Judi Dench. I was all poised to drive to the Cape Cinema on Friday to see Belle with the usual audience of Dennis intelligensia, but I realized that Maleficent had opened and my daughter wanted to see it, so she and I went, and I was glad for the reprieve. I will probably like Belle well enough when I catch it later on pay-per-view, but I have to say I was looking forward to the big battle and the fire-breathing dragon more than I was to the sentiments of outrage voiced over tea and crumpets in a sprawling English manor. Sorry, Yuba Chap.

My work-week routine includes going to the movies every Friday. Friday night is busy with end-of-year functions at school, so I will take in an advanced showing of Edge of Tomorrow tonight. When I sit in the theater and the lights dim, I breathe a sigh of relief. I feel like I’m taking a hit of opium or something. I am programmed to feel an immediate sense of detachment from my worries whether the film I am going to see is a summer blockbuster or a high-brow art-house film.

Thinking of PBS shows like Downton Abbey and movies like Philomena, I must confess a preference for MOTION pictures. Earlier this week I watched Zulu (1965). It has the elements that first made me love the movies with an indelible passion. It transports you to another time and place; it includes panoramic location shots; it involves gripping drama, action, motion. In an opening shot, a carriage pulls away from the kraal of the Zulu king. It is an exquisite extreme long shot with the village set in the middle of a beautiful landscape. No CGI here. I yearn for films like this. Nowadays, unfortunately, those grand vistas are rendered by means of CGI but, for the most part, they take my mind away from my problems and me. I need movies to get me through.

In regards to posting or not posting, it’s not just that I’m busy or I’m worn out.

In the recent film The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013), which I enjoyed for how it takes Walter and the viewer on an adventure to memorable outdoor panoramas that are not CGI, Walter (Ben Stiller) pursues famous Life photographer Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn) to the Himalayas where he is attempting to locate and photograph a rare snow leopard. O’Connell tells Walter to keep quiet as the leopard reveals itself. But he doesn’t take the shot. When Walter asks why, the photographer explains that sometimes you just have to experience the moment. Sometimes you should just see it and feel it and not record it. When the snow leopard leaves, O'Connell sees more meaning in seizing the moment and joining his Sherpas in an impromptu soccer game.

That's how I feel about going to the movies these days. Like a junkie, I need my fix, but I don't really feel like recording my opinions. Opinions are all over the Internet, and right now I don't really care what anybody thinks. Right now, I just want to watch the movie.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Movies Monthly - April - Part 2: Under the Skin

On the surface, there isn’t much to Under the Skin, Jonathan Glazer’s enigmatic, mind-teasing science fiction art film, but in comparison with all my viewings this year, including The Grand Budapest Hotel, it’s the most dazzling thing I've seen and definitely the most profound.

For the most part, the dazzle comes from Scarlett Johannson’s understated performance as an alien seductress trolling the streets of Edinburgh for human victims for some purpose left up to your imagination. Using her eyes and a soft voice that develops empathy, Johannson demonstrates she can carry what is essentially a single-performance film.

Accompanying this performance, majestic shots of the Scottish wilderness provide a dramatic setting for a mysterious alien experiment from which Johannson’s unnamed character strays as she becomes fascinated by what makes human’s click, and what makes them work under the skin. An episode on a rugged beach is the setting for a powerfully visceral shocker.

This is the kind of film that makes you scratch your head from time to time, but it perplexes in a good way. It’s the kind of film you want others to see so you can discuss its mysteries. One critic I read said that the opening images are inscrutable, but I know exactly what’s going on – though my theory might be totally antithetical to what other viewers might conclude. Under the Skin challenges the viewer to settle into its often uneventful progress and ponder what it's all about.