Under the Skin

 

Jonathan Glazer is not exactly a prolific film-maker. Prior to Under the Skin, his films include Sexy Beast and Birth, both very unique films in their own right. Under the Skin however is something different entirely, and is not a film for everyone.  On the surface it is a film about a beautiful extraterrestrial being awakening on Earth and collecting human males for some unclear purpose. In my mind it is to collect their skins for further alien visitors to disguise themselves with, but that is just my interpretation. The full motive is never made clear.

However, that is just the surface level. Dig a little deeper and you find a film that looks at people from the outside in, and studies the way we deal with strangers. Scarlett Johansson, in a riveting  almost dialogue free performance, plays the alien in disguise. As she is on the hunt, we see how men react to her beauty at the expense of all else.   It is interesting to see the reactions as stereotypical gender roles are reversed.  The confusion that she emits when presented with crowds  of women, or acts of genuine empathy, feel very real and create an arc for this seemingly distant character. Her experiences with human kind change her, slowly but surely.

The film is awash in hypnotic imagery, and long slow takes lull you into a false state of calm that make the film’s few shocking moments really jarring. Glimpses into what the captives experience are surreal and beautiful. When they take a turn for the grotesque, the image is all the more powerful for the beauty it is juxtaposed with.

As I said, the film is not for everyone. Those looking for a tight linear narrative will likely be left scratching their heads, and those who don’t appreciate film-makers like Kubrick who know the impact of a lingering shot will likely end up bored. However, if you are ready for a surrealist journey through the human condition, then I highly recommend this character study wrapped in a sci-fi skin.

 

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Captain America: The Winter Soldier

 

Marvel really has done something astounding with their film franchise, creating a series of films and television shows that stand on their own individually, but together are greater than just the sum of their parts. Not content to just adapt their characters to the screen, Marvel has adapted the comic format. The comics’ ongoing tales that weave in and out of each other and captivated me so much in the 80’s and 90’s and sometimes still today have been reinterpreted in an ambitious ongoing film cycle. I can’t decide what is more astounding, that Marvel are actually doing this, or how well they are pulling ir off..

Captain America: The Winter soldier is the latest in the ongoing saga, and amazingly this far into the cycle, is one of the best. Winter Soldier has one of the tightest plots for a Marvel film so far, and yet is still bursting with the intense action you want in a comic book film. Steve Rodgers is still a man out of time, but not in the same way he was at the end of the first Cap film or in the Avengers. He is adapting to modern popular culture and technology just fine. It is all the gray in modern ethics and politics that leave him confounded. He does not want to just obey orders, he wants to be a good man, and in modern times that path is not clear-cut. In Winter Soldier the enemies come from within and without, and Cap is no longer sure who he can trust. I am going to try to discuss the film without spoiling the twists and turns in the plot, but suffice it to say that at every turn, the obstacles for Cap have both physical and emotional heft.

This film also has massive consequences for the Marvel continuity. It was exciting to see that Marvel was not afraid to let this film have far-reaching effects on all the other franchises as opposed to saving the big happenings for a team filled Avengers film. I eagerly to see how the fallout from this film is dealt with in both the Agents of Shield TV show and the upcoming films.  

Winter Soldier also deals with a very timely political subject matter, and it was nice to see a tent-pole film with something on its mind. At the core of the plot is SHIELD’s launch of three  3 interlinked hover craft assault vehicles, tied to personal data of the population,  to prevent terrorist and other threats before they happen. Clearly the film makers have today’s political climate in their cross-hairs as the film stands as a condemnation of drone technology and the loose security of our personal information. There are questions raised about a climate where phone records, computer activity, and personal history are all traced by vague government entities. Again, nice to see more than things going boom.

As I watched the film with my nine-year-old son, I remembered how at his age we could only dream about these characters coming to life in such a grand way. How lucky our children are to have this addition to their imaginations. The Mighty Marvel machine rolls on, and long may it roll!

 

 

 

 

Noah

 

Darren Aronofsky’s Noah is a great many things. But before I get to those, I’d like to discuss what Noah is not. Noah is not a slavish, Ten Commandments-style re-telling of the biblical tale of  Noah’s ark. It has many of the pieces of that tale, and certainly is true to it thematically. However, rather than being a note for note recreation of  the bible tale,  Aronofsky’s film uses the original as  a springboard for the film he has chosen to make. Some folks take issue with this off the bat, which brings us to the second thing Noah is not. Noah is not a Godless work that takes aim at religion in any way. In the film, God is referred to as the Creator. Repeatedly. And often. The Creator is ever-present in this tale, as are his miraculous works, meditations on faith, and other methods of indicating his presence.

So what IS Noah? Well, for starters it is a fantasy epic. It is anachronistic, existing out of time and place, and it is filled with wondrous sights. It is full of adventure and drama, and at the surface can be enjoyed simply as spectacle. It is visually beautiful and dramatically full, and works well as a film on that basic level. Russell Crowe stands tall as a Noah full of grit and determination and Jennifer Connelly is haunting as Naameh,  a wife who is willing to follow her husband, up to a crucial point. Anthony Hopkins’ wise grandfather figure Methuselah is touching and resonant. The fallen angels are a digital effects marvel.  

However, Noah is also a lot more. Noah is a parable addressing man’s role as steward of the Earth and it’s inhabitants. A line is clearly drawn between stewardship and dominion. Animals are innocent beings, and those who kill them, for food or otherwise, are clearly denoted as being of the line of Cain, who committed the original murder. Going against the Creator’s intended role of man, that of protector and shepherd to the earth and its animals, is one of the clear signs that man has strayed and the world needs to start again.

Abel’s murder at the hand of Cain hangs heavy over the film. Clearly this is the demarcation point, as Noah is a descendant of the line of Seth, the third brother. The descendants of Cain stand in opposition to Noah, and in addition to mistreating the animals, they are clearly linked to industrialization, and subsequently the war machine. Noah stands as a condemnation of man’s warring nature, and of the harm done to the earth in the name of industrial progress. In an anachronistic example of this theme, Tubal-Cain, leader of the descendants of Cain, has crafted a rudimentary Gun, which he uses in the charge against the Watchers, fallen angels who are encased in the rock they were cast down into, who now side with Noah in hopes of returning to the creator’s good graces.  

In the films latter portion, Noah faces a crisis of conscience. He has decided that while the world must start again, mankind must end. The line of man will end with Noah’s youngest, Japheth. Noah  therefore determines that he will not bring wives aboard the ark for his two youngest sons. His eldest, Shem, loves Ila, who joined Noah’s family when they saved her at a young age. Noah is not concerned as he believes Ila barren. However, with Methuselah’s intervention on behalf of Naameh, Ila has conceived. Will Noah now need to kill his own grandchild?

Here Noah becomes an exploration of extremism. Driven by his own faith, Noah has become so convinced that he is intended to bring upon the end of mankind he fails to see the Creator’s miracle at work in providing the path for mankind to rise anew. Religious extremism has the potential for disastrous consequences. Noah’s refusal to aid his middle son Ham in rescuing a young woman to be his wife aboard the ark turns Ham against him, with also potentially devastating fallout. Had Noah seen past his own righteous arrogance to see the spark of love in Ham he would not irreparably damage his relationship with his son. The film leaves subtle hints at the later biblical repercussions of this rift between Noah and Ham.

Noah the film stands a triumph of ambition, and a wonder of a film to come through the studio system. Deep and full of meaning, while at the same time full of visual splendor, Noah is a feast for both the eye and the mind. Not to be missed.