Tag Archives: film review

Under the Skin – film review

24 Apr

Last month I went down to the Curzon in Soho – who wouldn’t want to eat a cheeky Konditor & Cook brownie before a film? – to watch the indie flick, ‘Under the Skin.’  I’d briefly looked at reviews, most of which seemed to be positive, and I thought the premise sounded interesting:

A voluptuous woman of unknown origin combs the highway in search of isolated or forsaken men, luring a succession of lost souls into an otherworldly lair. They are seduced, stripped of their humanity, and never heard from again. Based on the novel by Michael Faber, this film examines human experience from the perspective of an unforgettable heroine who grows too comfortable in her borrowed skin, until she is abducted into humanity with devastating results.

The thought of Scarlett Johannson as this ‘voluptuous’ woman (for some reason, it tickles me that this word is included in the description) roaming the grim landscape of Glasgow intrigued me.  I’m not a huge fan of her acting; I thought she was great in ‘Ghost World’ and ‘Lost in Translation’ is one of my favourite films, but since then, her sex-bomb Marilyn Monroe-esque image hasn’t really captivated me in any way (perhaps this is due to the fact that I am not a young, hot -blooded male).  Anyway, I’d heard that some of the scenes where she goes round to pick up men are real, filmed with hidden cameras, and that was definitely one of the better aspects of the film.  It was something of a novelty to watch Scarlett Johannson, an A list movie star, driving around in a van, trying to pick people up – it was interesting, awkward and comical at the same time.

What I had an issue with was the slow pace of the film.  I am usually a fan of slow films, lingering moments, and unspoken words that add something to the scene (for how to do this well, see the aforementioned ‘Lost in Translation’).  However, with ‘Under the Skin’ I felt that this was all there was – shots of Scarlett looking dazed into the distance, putting on lipstick, the beautiful but grim Glaswegian landscape etc – to the point that it started to dull any poignancy or impact it initially had.

The scenes where the men found their humanity stolen consisted of a naked man walking in slow motion into a black pool which ends up enveloping and trapping him.  I understand the significance of the image but found that the repetition of these scenes, accompanied with the dramatic music, unintentionally comical.

That aside, I did enjoy the second half where Scarlett the alien-type creature, has a touching moment with a severely disfigured young man, and starts to become more human, and there was a genuinely tense moment at the end when she is chased by a man in the woods and you see her emotional advancement.  However, I felt these parts were overshadowed by the fact that the film was too long and overly repetitive making what sounded like an amazing plot into something that was often dull and tedious to watch.


Ghost World

4 Dec

Every time I watch Ghost World, I am transported straight back to being 17 years old again.  That was around the time I was studying for my A-Levels and to escape from my world of Pure Maths and memorising facts, I’d wander round the local HMV store to browse for something that could take me away from the tedium of my daily life.  During one of these browsing sessions, I came across Ghost World and I’m bloody glad I did as it spoke VOLUMES to me as a cynical, melancholic and precocious adolescent.  And let’s face it, who hasn’t been one of those?!


The film is actually based on a comic book by Daniel Clowes and this is carried through the film with vivid, almost cartoonish imagery.  The main character, Enid (played by the underrated Thora Birch), is a cynical, pseudo-intellectual teenager and the story follows her and her best friend, Rebecca (played by a baby Scarlett Johannson before she became a Hollywood clone) the summer after they graduate from high school.  Their boredom leads to them playing a cruel trick on the unsuspecting and adorable Seymour, who is played by the amazing Steve Buscemi.  Both eccentric misfits with Seymour openly acknowledging that he ‘can’t relate to 99% of humanity’, their relationship develops into one of genuine affection and Birch and Buscemi play their parts superbly.   Enid’s witticisms and sense of superiority over the rest of society is something familiar to most teenagers, and her increasing confusion as she wrestles with the elusive  question of ‘What’s this all about?’  results in a moving, poignant conclusion.

The sense of apathy and restlessness that pervades the film is key to its beauty, along with its gorgeous cinematography and the soundtrack (which made me start listening to 60’s Bollywood music).  The script is incredibly clever and speaks volumes about how utterly alone and fearful you can feel after school, in a world that values the superficial (demonstrated hilariously by Enid’s caricature of an Art Teacher, who humiliated Enid’s drawings by dismissing them as ‘cartoons’ and praises a tampon in a cup because it contains so many “issues”).

The Iceman

12 Jun


Yesterday I watched ‘The Iceman’ which follows notorious contract killer, Richard Kuklinski from his early days in the mob all the way to his arrest years later.  The film begins with Kuklinski and his soon-to-be wife, Deborah, on a date in a cafe, at the beginning of their courtship.   The scenes between Kuklinski (played by the brilliant Michael Shannon) and his wife, Deborah (played by my 90s girl crush, Winona Ryder) are particularly touching as he emanates a vulnerability and warmth with her that is near impossible when portraying such a cold-hearted killer.  On first appearance, he seems almost shy, finding it difficult to engage in deep conversation but Shannon’s portrayal of Kuklinski is ultimately an endearing one.  There are suggestions that he has been exposed to poor male role models as his views on machismo seem to be highly skewed – when Deborah questions the tattoo of the Grim Reaper on his hand, he says that he got it to appear tough – and this appears to be a recurring theme throughout the film.  That is not to say that this is supposed to justify his actions.  What the film does incredibly well is raise many questions regarding whether someone can be inherently evil.  Kuklinski was convicted of over one hundred killings and in his interviews he showed no remorse; however, the depth of his feeling towards his family (his brother was also a convicted murderer) and the abuse he received as a child seem to point more strongly towards the ‘nurture’ argument.

The best thing about the film was undoubtedly Shannon’s raw and riveting performance.  There is something so interesting and enticing about his face, his presence and his whole demeanour that it is very difficult to take your eyes away from him.  I’m not usually into films that fit into the ‘True Story’ genre as I find many to be overly  cheesy; however, this was not a problem for ‘The Iceman.’  I felt that the film explored Kuklinski’s career as a contract killer and his life as a family man in just the right amounts so ‘The Iceman’ never veered into mindless violent territory or sentimental mush.   

The dialogue was good, though I can understand some of the criticisms it has received in that at times it can seem slightly predictable and forced, but Shannon’s performance more than makes it up for me. I enjoyed the film immensely and walked away from it wanting to learn more about the real life Kuklinski – a fascinatingly sinister character.

One of my favourite films…

8 May

…is ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’.  Written by Charlie Kaufman, it stars Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet in what I think are their best performances so far.  Before watching this, most people associated Carrey with his exaggerated slapstick comedy and perhaps were slightly reticent about his broader acting skills (although ‘The Truman Show’ demonstrated his innate potential); however, I was blown away by his subtle and utterly convincing performance as Joel Barish, a sensitive and introverted character who is heartbroken after his girlfriend Clementine Kruczynski breaks up with him and has memories of their relationship erased.  I should probably state here that the film falls into the genre of ‘romantic dramedy science fiction’.  Admittedly this is an incredibly niche area but please do not be put people off if you are not usually keen on sci-fi as the film seamlessly and convincingly transports you into this alternative universe where erasing memories is possible.


It is directed by the amazing Michel Gondry, who has worked on music videos for ‘The Chemical Brothers’ and ‘Cibo Matto’, so already I had high expectations.  The film explores the nature of memories – their transience and randomness which is highlighted by the non-chronological sequence in which the viewer observes Joel’s recollections.  The title is from the poem, ‘Eloisa to Aberlard’, by Alexander Pope:

How happy is the blameless vestal’s lot!
The world forgetting, by the world forgot.
Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!
Each pray’r accepted, and each wish resign’d;

And who hasn’t, at one point or another, felt that ‘forgetting’ would improve things?

Upon finding out that Clementine has erased all memories of Joel, he immediately plans to do the same; however, in the middle of this process, he finds himself trying to cling desperately onto the memories of their relationship.  Whether good or painful, they are dear to him and he finds out too late that he does not want to lose memories of what time they spent together.  I am sure this is something that we can all relate to; the wish to blot out the past and move on afresh.  However, what this film so beautifully demonstrates, sadness and happiness are part of being real and human.  To erase this is to erase your experiences which make you the person you are.


Another reason I love the film is because of the character of Clementine.  She’s not your typical female character; she can be inconsiderate, selfish but more importantly, she’s a lot more real than the average Hollywood starlet.  One of my biggest gripes in films is the stereotypical portrayal of the ‘quirky’ female lead (thanks, Zooey Deschanel).  No, you are not quirky or a little bit ‘wacky’ simply because you have a fringe, wear babydoll dresses with coloured tights and retro glasses.  Nor are you quirky because you spout ‘random’ inane statements that people find odd but also quite cute.  Give me an outright mental female character any day, complete with mental patient gown and straggly hair – there’s just something so formulaic about this twee shite that seems so ubiquitous at the moment.  Clementine is probably one of the best portrayals of real, insecure and flawed female lead in film history. On the outset, she appears extroverted with her colourful hair and her eccentric taste in clothes.  She is fickle, cheery and noisy but there is nothing pretentious about her.  I think it is something to do with her acknowledgement and acceptance of her flaws and imperfections (‘I’m just a f**ked-up girl who’s lookin’ for my own piece of mind’) that is particularly appealing.  Her fiery personality is in stark contrast with Joel’s and that is what makes him (and most of the viewers, I’d imagine) love her.

Falling for film noir

2 May

I am by no means a film buff but I do appreciate a good film.  Gone are the days when I would go to the cinema to watch any old rubbish (Hot Tub Time Machine, anyone?!), just for the ‘experience.’  Time is too precious to watch bad films (or read tedious books, for that matter) so I usually go and watch a film because the synopsis has drawn me in or I think the director is particularly talented.

At the end of last year, a friend and I found ourselves in a lovely independent cinema in Edinburgh, watching the 1957 film noir classic, ‘Sweet Smell of Success.’  We chose this out of all the other  films that were screening as there is something universally comforting about watching a black and white film on a lazy Sunday afternoon.  The film definitely did not disappoint.

I had watched some film noir before and liked the stylistic cinematography and the melancholic and cynical themes that the genre frequently explores.  The sharp dialogue sometimes takes a little time for you to properly adjust to but once I did, I found myself thoroughly immersed in the quick-talking, fast-paced world.  On perhaps a more superficial note, the sharp and glamorous outfits add an exciting dimension to the production and I found myself lusting after Susan Hunsecker’s fur coat the entire way through.

sweet smell

‘Sweet Smell of Success’ had me hooked from the start with its exploration of corruption, intimidation, manipulation and dysfunctional sibling relationships.  The plot, in simple terms, revolves around Tony Curtis’ character who is a smarmy press agent and will do anything to curry big-shot columnist Hunsecker’s favour (played by Burt Lancaster).  While Curtis’ character is corrupt and in many ways unlikeable, Hunsecker is the ultimate villain, whose overprotective and obsessive behaviour towards his sister manifests in trying to destroy her relationship with her boyfriend (Steve Dallas).  Curtis is so desperate to get his clients in Hunsecker’s column that he becomes embroiled in a plot to shame and oust Steve Dallas, which ultimately leads to his own downfall.

Tony Curtis is brilliant as a charismatic cunning press agent. Apparently, though, fans of Curtis did not like his departure from the ‘nice guy’ character he had played so many times before – not unusual, of course; change is always met with resistance – which meant that his performance was initially not well received at the preview screening of the film.  Burt Lancaster’s performance as the bullying and intimidating columnist, Hunsecker, was also brilliant – Hunsecker was both convincing and terrifying.

Thankfully, though,  ‘Sweet Smell of Success’ gained in popularity and acclaim over the years as people were able to appreciate it for the stylish and ingenuous insight into the power held by the Manhattan press.

The Place beyond the Pines

17 Apr

I have a feeling I’m in the minority here but I watched the long-awaited ‘The Place beyond the Pines’ last week and HATED it.  Well, perhaps, ‘hated’ is too strong a word; there were positives, for example Gosling’s raw performance, the beautiful cinematography and the soundtrack.  However, what started out as a semi-promising film soon disintegrated into an oversentimental and thoroughly predictable plot.


I had expected great things from director Cianfrance, as ‘Blue Valentine’ starring Ryan Gosling (again) and Michelle Williams was heartbreakingly beautiful.  I have the DVD at home and it never fails to move me.  Part of Blue Valentine’s appeal was its realness when looking at the painful process of a relationship breaking down.  While some of these themes are revisited in ‘The Place Beyond the Pines’, it is the realness that is missing.  There are far too many ‘coincidences’ and the shifting through time is unnecessary and incredibly cheesy.  I found myself wanting to walk out when the film shifts to ’15 years later’ when, by a coincidental twist of fate, the two sons of Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper’s characters become friends.  The portrayal of teenagers and the god-awful accent of AJ (Cooper’s son) was almost too much to bear.  I was unable to empathise with the characters by this point – instead, they exasperated me and I was really starting to grow impatient with their sloppy character portrayal.  Although Bradley Cooper’s character was initially intriguing and had the potential to be developed further, most of the second half was embarrassing, clunky and awkward – it literally made me squirm in my seat because of its awful dialogue.

Thoroughly disappointing.  Although, one thing I have discovered is that Gosling’s acting never fails to impress me; however, this time, not even him wearing a Metallica t-shirt with tatts, giving off a Marlon Brando vibe was not enough to save the film…