Monday, May 5, 2014

Under The Skin

The six-foot-tall poster in the lobby of the North Hollywood Laemmle proclaimed Under My Skin to be "a blazingly brilliant piece of filmmaking" and "best science fiction in a decade".

I wasn't fooled. While critics have grown increasingly gaga over this, audiences are decidedly not.

But, as I mentioned previously, it's an odd Spring, without a lot of wholehearted recommendations, at least among the fiction films, so The Boy jumped on this rather than catch The Lego Movie at the second run theater, and The Flower came with us mostly looking to score some popcorn.

The popcorn was good, she said, but not worth it.

The Boy did not care for it, either. And that's with oodles of naked Scarlett Johansson.

Ms. Johansson is, by far, the most interesting thing about this film. She gets fully naked, more than once, and:

1) She does not have abs.
2) She does not have a "thigh gap".

This is something of a revelation, really. Mostly, when actresses know they have nude scenes, they starve, they work out like crazy, they do whatever they can to promote an "impossible" image. Ms. J seems to have just brought genetics.

And if she did do all that stuff, that's even better, because it means she doesn't buy into the skinny-boy aesthetic.

I mean, I hate to dwell on the superficial social issues that obsess our society but, really, this is a pretty threadbare movie.

Besides her body, she also, apparently, can act. I think we've seen her act before, like in Lost In Translation, but I'm not sure it's ever mattered that much before. She was also very good in Captain America: Winter Soldier, which I see now I've forgotten to review.

But Under The Skin is carried almost entirely by her, and she does a very good job except in one regard that was probably a directorial decision. The acting challenge is akin to Starman/K-Pax/Mork/whatever, where an alien tries to pass as a human without understanding human emotions.

But since the premise has her stalking and seducing men, she's perfectly normal seeming while she's doing that, yet completely unmoved by any aspect of their stories or lives, and the fate she condemns them to.

This is basically a punt: It would've been more challenging and interesting to have her not be, essentially, a smooth serial killer, but learning how to be seduce awkwardly. (After all, she's still in that body, and men are very, very dumb indeed.) Arguably, this would have added an unwanted element of humor—but there were actually a lot of those anyway.

So, she has a character arc of coming to be more human, and in (at least) an interesting change, the glibness she has early on fades, and she stops talking much at all.

The kids both complained that the movie had no plot, because the movie simultaneously didn't spell anything out while beating certain aspects of the story to death. (There were a lot of seductions.)

But, in fact, it did have a plot: It had a plot straight out of a Roger Corman potboiler. Oh, you don't get the details, because the aliens never talk to each other with words. But this movie is, in essence, a variation on the Not Of This Earth/Not One Of Us/Alien Avengers genre.

Those movies are all from the '90s, because that's the last time I recall it coming up, but they were remakes of (or inspired by) films from the '50s.

What this movie brings to the genre is no exposition. That's probably for the best: The exposition spells out the dumbness of such plots, where super-advanced societies for some reason need human blood. Besides that, it allows the filmmaker to indulge in some of the films more memorable imagery without that imagery having to make a whole lot of sense.

But, really, it's a hoary old trope, the alien harvest. (Impossibly, Alien Harvest is not the name of a movie, but if it were, this would be its plot.) The angle this takes on it, is the change from alien to woman.

You may recall that from "Star Trek" episodes "By Any Other Name", "Catspaw" and "Wink of an Eye", presumably only one of which could really have qualified for blazingly original given the similarities of story arcs.

I actually began to suspect that the reviews used on that movie poster were fake, so I checked out the two sites ("Cinevue" and "The Playlist"). Both sites are aggregators and I couldn't find the reviews so-quoted, but they are, of course, as meaningless as saying "BEST MOVIE EVER — some Internet guy who may have been paid to say so".

I don't want to say it's awful, exactly. There are some good visuals. It's kind of cute that SJ picked up those guys for real, i.e., they didn't know they were going to be in a movie. It does give an authenticity to the proceedings. But it's not exactly a revelation that most guys would accept a lift from her, regardless of intentions.

I've sort of gravitated away from Jonathan Glazer's previous films (2004's reincarnation drama Birth and 2000's Sexy Beast) but I don't really know where I stand on the guy. Props for trying to breathe some life into an old genre, I guess.

But I wonder if using SJ didn't work against him: The PR is going to overshadow the film, and nobody will see it anyway. They'll just download the clips from the 'net.

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