Under the Skin (R)

9 Stars

‘Alien’ is a misnomer.

More accurately Laura, played by Scarlett Johansson, is an ‘extraterrestrial organism.’

A being who exists beyond our frame of reference. Seems puzzling, no?

Well it’s certainly elaborate, but not needlessly confusing.

Under the Skin is smart and mandates a brief personal yarn.

During movie viewings, my buddy and I rarely talk or utilize the pause feature.

We pressed the freeze button thrice while watching Under the Skin in order to clear up confusion.

Our choice to abandon the usual procedure proved beneficial, because UTS is a lot easier to follow when combining noggins.

Rotten Tomatoes’s summarization explains, “Its message may prove elusive for some, but with absorbing imagery and a mesmerizing performance from Scarlett Johansson, Under the Skin is a haunting viewing experience.”

That little lady’s on quite a streak. She’s been in six huge movies since The Avengers in 2012. Her last eleven are Certified Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes!

A topless Scarlett may be the sole draw for certain viewers, but I suspect they’re the same folks who’ll find its message elusive.

Under the Skin is a great movie that hasn’t received the credit it deserves. It’s a mixture of sci-fi, fantasy and horror and if you dig this cinematic breed I highly recommend the rental.

It’s currently available for instant streaming via iTunes and Amazon as an HD rental ($4.99) or purchase ($9.99).

According to Box Office Mojo, it cost $13.3M to produce Under the Skin, and so far it’s just shy of a $5.4M gross worldwide. Which is a bummer because passion and effort should be rewarded.

Jonathan Glazer did an excellent job directing this movie. A massive chunk of thought went into each scene. The workload’s palpable.

The audio and visuals are simply stunning. Everything feels ‘intergalactic.’

The plot’s creepy and unnerving. Certain details seem like red herrings, but the film’s so polished their exclusion must be purposeful.

Under the Skin is wildly thought provoking and hits the spot.

If you seek uplifting content, search elsewhere, chum. Several moments are on the warmer side, but the majority’s unsettling and quizzical.

Follow my example and catch this flick with a loved one.

Let’s hope Laura runs across Lucy (from Lucy) and Samantha (from Her) and finds solace in their company somewhere in the metaphysical ether.

Elysium (R)

10 Stars

I’ve put this off to avoid overselling it.

But Elysium is the best motion picture released in 2013.

Written and directed by Neill Blomkamp, this is his follow-up to District 9, which was nominated for best picture back in 2009.

I hesitate to use the word “perfect” to describe movies, so I’ll say that Elysium is ‘seamless’ instead.

You can watch films in one of two modes: Regarding it much like a critic, or a willing member of the audience. I always try to consider both sides of the equation, but I lean more towards the audience. I’m slightly more forgiving of stretch marks and minor chinks in the armor.

That being said, I couldn’t find any in Elysium. It’s seamless. You might be able to come up with something, but it’d be a far-reaching criticism.

The narrative unfolds at a swift pace with high stakes and an intelligent undercurrent running beneath. The CGI is excellent and the futuristic technology is realistically depicted.

All of the characters; their motivations, conflicts, societal positioning, relative levels of power, etc. are so well thought out and polished. It’s a vast group of players in this narrative; each with a complex and justifiable problem.

So enough general talk about Elysium – if you haven’t seen it, stop reading. I’m going to spoil some things now.

It’s almost a story where ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ have zero effect on the end result, and yet, goodness triumphs in the most satisfactory way.

If you really think about the tension underlying the different scenes, you’ll notice the conditions are truly horrific.

The interaction between Damon and his robotic parole officer is one of many brilliantly dark moments. The aggravation is palpable when he tries to explain himself, and the robot interrupts with, “Stop talking. Stop talking. Stop talking.”

In a way, it’s a beautiful and chilling scene. The higher class of humanity has become so far removed from the judicial system of the lower classes that all tasks have been delegated to inhuman mechanisms. The parole officer illustrates the inefficacy of robotics streamlining interpersonal relations, especially when moral judgment becomes a factor. A misstep, momentary foolishness or poor decision can’t be allowed in a realm governed by pure efficiency.

This theme of intertwining humanity and robotics is touched on heavily throughout. It’s explored in several intriguing ways, including the mechanical parts Matt Damon integrates into his biological makeup.

The cocky, loose-tongued and rabble-rousing protagonist has been done so many times, yet Damon performs the role excellently. Even while interacting with a gun-toting CGI robot!

That man sure is talented. When he gets mouthy with the guard in queue, it’s the type of exchange that is so easily criticized as a cliché but he makes it work, creating a truly disturbing scene.

I don’t like Jodie Foster as a person, but her character in this movie is spectacular, and she deserves serious praise for her performance. Her role might be the most compelling character in the story. When she dies it feels like the moral synapses in my brain are twisted. I want to keep talking about her character, but I must move on.

If you’ve seen/read enough stories in your life, much like a critic, it’s easy to notice commonly recycled narrative elements. Such as ‘the parable.’ It’s tough to write one into a story without it feeling abrasive to the critical eye.

Blomkamp’s playful use of a parable is, for me, the crowning moment in Elysium.

Three months after seeing the film, I was explaining to my mom why it’s such a great scene where Damon interrupts the girl’s story about the hippopotamus and the meerkat. We were in the kitchen and I think she was chopping onions, because I had to leave the room without finishing my explanation. I got so choked up I couldn’t get the words out.

If you buy in, it’s a profoundly moving moment.

Sure the ending’s been done before. I bet there are critics who’ve compared his work to that of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John’s. But that’s silly, and I truly admire Blomkamp’s decision to write it the way he did.

All in all, Elysium‘s a great film that hasn’t received the credit it deserves.

Despite its lack of praise, I hope it won’t be lost in the buzz of award season, and eagerly await Blomkamp’s next project.