September 29, 2014
It’s weird to think about Jimi Hendrix (Outkast’s Andre 3000) being just another guy trying to pay the bills, but before he was discovered by Linda Keith (Imogen Poots, Need for Speed) that’s all he was. “All is by My Side” chronicles the year before Hendrix set fire to the stage in Monterey (literally). 
Back then he was just a struggling musician who got noticed by the right person. The Hendrix estate was not consulted at all for the making of the film. Consequently, the movie paints a somewhat uneven and unusual picture of the guitar god. At times the flick feels more like a mood piece than a coherent film based on someone’s life. It borders on tedious; sometimes seeming like just a series of conversations that are flashes into the life of a music icon. 
But there’s something intriguing about the experience of a biopic that strays from the obligatory mythologizing and dips into candid snapshots — for better or for worse. Here we see Jimi Hendrix, the man, through a sort of unwieldy temperament that would do its protagonist proud. 
Ultimately it’s too long and unfocused to handle its lofty goals. Writer/director John Ridley (who also penned the script for 12 Years a Slave) made the decision to live by Hendrix’s “come what may” lifestyle. Andre 3000 nails the rambling style of Hendrix’s cadence, but there’s not enough agency there for the audience to stay invested in. Part of what made Hendrix a household name was the spontaneity and creativity. Those feelings are all there — and would make for a nice subversion of the stale biopic formula — but without Jimi’s full energy this film won’t be remembered like its leading man.  

It’s weird to think about Jimi Hendrix (Outkast’s Andre 3000) being just another guy trying to pay the bills, but before he was discovered by Linda Keith (Imogen Poots, Need for Speed) that’s all he was. “All is by My Side” chronicles the year before Hendrix set fire to the stage in Monterey (literally).

Back then he was just a struggling musician who got noticed by the right person. The Hendrix estate was not consulted at all for the making of the film. Consequently, the movie paints a somewhat uneven and unusual picture of the guitar god. At times the flick feels more like a mood piece than a coherent film based on someone’s life. It borders on tedious; sometimes seeming like just a series of conversations that are flashes into the life of a music icon.

But there’s something intriguing about the experience of a biopic that strays from the obligatory mythologizing and dips into candid snapshots — for better or for worse. Here we see Jimi Hendrix, the man, through a sort of unwieldy temperament that would do its protagonist proud.

Ultimately it’s too long and unfocused to handle its lofty goals. Writer/director John Ridley (who also penned the script for 12 Years a Slave) made the decision to live by Hendrix’s “come what may” lifestyle. Andre 3000 nails the rambling style of Hendrix’s cadence, but there’s not enough agency there for the audience to stay invested in. Part of what made Hendrix a household name was the spontaneity and creativity. Those feelings are all there — and would make for a nice subversion of the stale biopic formula — but without Jimi’s full energy this film won’t be remembered like its leading man.  

September 28, 2014
Show me a movie based on a young adult novel that captures the voice in a simple, mature way, and I’ll show you a surprised critic. Probably a panel of them. But that doesn’t always mean it’s a bad film, which is something worth remembering that, going into a film like “The Giver.” 
Based off the famous 1993 novel by Lois Lowry, it follows Jonas (Brenton Thwaites, Maleficent, Oculus) through the utopian future he lives in. There’s no war, there’s no strife, there’s no pain. In its place is sameness, and a society run by elders (headed by Meryl Streep, The Devil Wears Prada, Doubt) that — nicely — governs the lives of its citizens so thoroughly it observes them and then assigns them a job when they come of age. 
And so Jonas passively accepts his new role to take over for the current Receiver of Memories (Jeff Bridges, The Big Lebowski, True Grit), a rare position that he’s warned will cause pain and isolate him from the rest of society. 
Next to a veteran like Bridges — an actor whose permanent disposition is followed by his own drummer — Thwaites’ Jonas seems even more like a sheep getting the wool out of its eyes. As he’s exposed to his first taste of difference, color, and life beyond the society, there’s more and more of Bridges’ natural-Dude persona oozes out of him. His mannerisms are caught somewhere between the actor’s showmanship and the movie’s (intentional, I’m guessing) forced acting. Bridges walks the line the best, staying believable but not revolutionary to the societal norms, where others can’t quite break out of their two-dimensional boxes. 
Like most teen films it won’t win any awards for acting. The script just isn’t there for the actors to grow from, but, importantly, the skeleton of the book is. Sure, there’s the compulsorily added romance and action sequence, and ultimately the insightful magic of the novel gets lost in translation. But that’s it. “The Giver” clearly has its heart in the right place (the novel) even if the messages can’t quite be broadcasted in the same way. Director Phillip Noyce has a solid grip on the simple, visual grace of the world; using color and flashbacks to effectively communicate to the audience whether they read the book or not. It’s a shame the Hollywood packaging can’t quite give it enough staying power the novel had.

Show me a movie based on a young adult novel that captures the voice in a simple, mature way, and I’ll show you a surprised critic. Probably a panel of them. But that doesn’t always mean it’s a bad film, which is something worth remembering that, going into a film like “The Giver.”

Based off the famous 1993 novel by Lois Lowry, it follows Jonas (Brenton Thwaites, Maleficent, Oculus) through the utopian future he lives in. There’s no war, there’s no strife, there’s no pain. In its place is sameness, and a society run by elders (headed by Meryl Streep, The Devil Wears Prada, Doubt) that — nicely — governs the lives of its citizens so thoroughly it observes them and then assigns them a job when they come of age.

And so Jonas passively accepts his new role to take over for the current Receiver of Memories (Jeff Bridges, The Big Lebowski, True Grit), a rare position that he’s warned will cause pain and isolate him from the rest of society.

Next to a veteran like Bridges — an actor whose permanent disposition is followed by his own drummer — Thwaites’ Jonas seems even more like a sheep getting the wool out of its eyes. As he’s exposed to his first taste of difference, color, and life beyond the society, there’s more and more of Bridges’ natural-Dude persona oozes out of him. His mannerisms are caught somewhere between the actor’s showmanship and the movie’s (intentional, I’m guessing) forced acting. Bridges walks the line the best, staying believable but not revolutionary to the societal norms, where others can’t quite break out of their two-dimensional boxes.

Like most teen films it won’t win any awards for acting. The script just isn’t there for the actors to grow from, but, importantly, the skeleton of the book is. Sure, there’s the compulsorily added romance and action sequence, and ultimately the insightful magic of the novel gets lost in translation. But that’s it. “The Giver” clearly has its heart in the right place (the novel) even if the messages can’t quite be broadcasted in the same way. Director Phillip Noyce has a solid grip on the simple, visual grace of the world; using color and flashbacks to effectively communicate to the audience whether they read the book or not. It’s a shame the Hollywood packaging can’t quite give it enough staying power the novel had.

September 22, 2014
I find it amusing that many movies that try to navigate the premise “can men and women be ‘just’ friends” as if it were incredibly novel. It’s a genre that you’ll find on an Olive Garden menu: incredibly generic and predictable. “What If?” (released as The F Word in Canada) may not be so bland as to be at Olive Garden, but it still doesn’t break any boundaries for the genre. 
The romantic leads this time are Wallace (Daniel Radcliffe, Harry Potter, Kill Your Darlings) and Chantry (Zoe Kazan, Ruby Sparks, In Your Eyes). The two meet by chance at a party and hit it off immediately through their shared offbeat senses of humor but, despite their undeniable connection, things hit a snag when Chantry reveals that she has a boyfriend so their relationship must stay platonic. You can see where it goes from here. 
There are no surprises or any sense of creativity in the writing of plot.  As soon as one situation is presented, it is predictably laid out in front of you. You have some laughs here, some sexual tension there, and everything is wrapped up nicely with a bow to close it out. Although there are some profound nuggets here and there, it’s so overrun with cliches that the deeper points can easily go unnoticed. 
The main draw of the film would be the charismatic performances of the players that breathe life into such a tired plot. Adam Driver (TV’s Girls, Frances Ha) is certainly going on the up and up with such a recent solid and busy filmography. His zany performance perfectly lands every punchline and plays scene stealer for the film.  
However, the film’s soul lies with it’s leads of Radcliffe and Kazan. Radcliffe easily sheds any whiff of his wizarding days and can easily keep up with Kazan’s usual heartfelt performance.  The two have a palpable chemistry that allow the film to carry enough emotional heft to keep us invested to their budding and trying relationship. 
But ultimately the movie is less “What If” and more “When.” If you aren’t down to digest another “will they won’t they, but actually they will eventually” scenario, this is not the movie for you. But if the genre tickles your fancy, you surely won’t be disappointed and Radcliffe and Kazan will be sure to give you some feelz for the rest of your night.

I find it amusing that many movies that try to navigate the premise “can men and women be ‘just’ friends” as if it were incredibly novel. It’s a genre that you’ll find on an Olive Garden menu: incredibly generic and predictable. “What If?” (released as The F Word in Canada) may not be so bland as to be at Olive Garden, but it still doesn’t break any boundaries for the genre.

The romantic leads this time are Wallace (Daniel Radcliffe, Harry Potter, Kill Your Darlings) and Chantry (Zoe Kazan, Ruby Sparks, In Your Eyes). The two meet by chance at a party and hit it off immediately through their shared offbeat senses of humor but, despite their undeniable connection, things hit a snag when Chantry reveals that she has a boyfriend so their relationship must stay platonic. You can see where it goes from here.

There are no surprises or any sense of creativity in the writing of plot.  As soon as one situation is presented, it is predictably laid out in front of you. You have some laughs here, some sexual tension there, and everything is wrapped up nicely with a bow to close it out. Although there are some profound nuggets here and there, it’s so overrun with cliches that the deeper points can easily go unnoticed.

The main draw of the film would be the charismatic performances of the players that breathe life into such a tired plot. Adam Driver (TV’s Girls, Frances Ha) is certainly going on the up and up with such a recent solid and busy filmography. His zany performance perfectly lands every punchline and plays scene stealer for the film.  

However, the film’s soul lies with it’s leads of Radcliffe and Kazan. Radcliffe easily sheds any whiff of his wizarding days and can easily keep up with Kazan’s usual heartfelt performance.  The two have a palpable chemistry that allow the film to carry enough emotional heft to keep us invested to their budding and trying relationship.

But ultimately the movie is less “What If” and more “When.” If you aren’t down to digest another “will they won’t they, but actually they will eventually” scenario, this is not the movie for you. But if the genre tickles your fancy, you surely won’t be disappointed and Radcliffe and Kazan will be sure to give you some feelz for the rest of your night.

September 17, 2014
Great horror movies have been built around the idea that the person you spend the rest of your life with is a monster. Rosemary’s husband worked with the devil, and Jack Manningham gave us the psychological term “gaslighting.” These stories prey on that insecurity that deep down the person sleeping next to you isn’t who they appear to be. 
It’s the element that makes “Honeymoon” so successful. As Bea (Rose Leslie, TV’s Game of Thrones) and Paul (Harry Treadaway, currently on TV’s Penny Dreadful) travel to Bea’s remote family cabin for their honeymoon they seem to be basking in post-marital bliss. But after Paul finds Bea wandering and disoriented in the middle of the night, he begins to wonder if something more than sleepwalking happened in the woods. 
“Honeymoon” is peculiar, in that it seems to do too much telling, yet also not enough. Lights pass over them as they sleep, power flickers in and out, a rustling in the woods. I wish that first-time director Leigh Janiak had held back a bit more of the clues along the way as to what happened on that fateful night. Its developments of “The Body Snatchers” formula keep it engaging and gripping throughout, but it would’ve better served the secondary job of the film: penetrating the metamorphosis that so many people fear in marriage. But it’s nothing that can’t be chalked up to inexperience, since the movie barely needs the later horror developments at all. Suspense permeates the narrative, and even at its slowest the plot builds somewhere you can’t quite expect. 
While you’re not certain you know exactly what happened, there’s enough (too much) telling being done to give you a pretty good idea. That’s where Leslie and Treadaway come in. Their performances manage to communicate the challenging reality of their situation in what is basically a two-person show. Leslie in particular, who deals with both the more demanding physically challenging moments, skillfully portrays the subtle and overt changes in Bea. 
Like most thrillers the ending of “Honeymoon” might not please anyone. As a fan of thrillers (we’re talking watching even the crappy ones on cable just to get a fix) I know I was prepared to be disappointed, and like I said there’s certainly room for Janiak to grow. It’s kept vague enough to linger in the minds of audiences but overall it feels a bit rushed. It doesn’t fully satisfy the premise, but it’s more than enough newlywed nightmare to last me until “Gone Girl.”

Great horror movies have been built around the idea that the person you spend the rest of your life with is a monster. Rosemary’s husband worked with the devil, and Jack Manningham gave us the psychological term “gaslighting.” These stories prey on that insecurity that deep down the person sleeping next to you isn’t who they appear to be.

It’s the element that makes “Honeymoon” so successful. As Bea (Rose Leslie, TV’s Game of Thrones) and Paul (Harry Treadaway, currently on TV’s Penny Dreadful) travel to Bea’s remote family cabin for their honeymoon they seem to be basking in post-marital bliss. But after Paul finds Bea wandering and disoriented in the middle of the night, he begins to wonder if something more than sleepwalking happened in the woods.

“Honeymoon” is peculiar, in that it seems to do too much telling, yet also not enough. Lights pass over them as they sleep, power flickers in and out, a rustling in the woods. I wish that first-time director Leigh Janiak had held back a bit more of the clues along the way as to what happened on that fateful night. Its developments of “The Body Snatchers” formula keep it engaging and gripping throughout, but it would’ve better served the secondary job of the film: penetrating the metamorphosis that so many people fear in marriage. But it’s nothing that can’t be chalked up to inexperience, since the movie barely needs the later horror developments at all. Suspense permeates the narrative, and even at its slowest the plot builds somewhere you can’t quite expect.

While you’re not certain you know exactly what happened, there’s enough (too much) telling being done to give you a pretty good idea. That’s where Leslie and Treadaway come in. Their performances manage to communicate the challenging reality of their situation in what is basically a two-person show. Leslie in particular, who deals with both the more demanding physically challenging moments, skillfully portrays the subtle and overt changes in Bea.

Like most thrillers the ending of “Honeymoon” might not please anyone. As a fan of thrillers (we’re talking watching even the crappy ones on cable just to get a fix) I know I was prepared to be disappointed, and like I said there’s certainly room for Janiak to grow. It’s kept vague enough to linger in the minds of audiences but overall it feels a bit rushed. It doesn’t fully satisfy the premise, but it’s more than enough newlywed nightmare to last me until “Gone Girl.”

September 15, 2014
Is there anything more heartbreaking than a gorgeous film that can’t live up to its graphics? Probably. But as we watch Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Looper, Brick) drive down into Sin City, it’s hard not to let the excitement build up beyond what the movie ends up fulfilling.
His chapter is just one of many in Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller’s co-directed return to Sin City. “A Dame to Kill For” follows a pattern similar to the first one: three stories clenched together with dark scenes and stunning graphics in Basin City. Gordon-Levitt plays Johnny, the new kid on the block who’s set to take the spot of Sin City’s highest roller. Meanwhile Dwight (Josh Brolin, Guardians of the Galaxy, No Country for Old Men) chases after the dame broad that stole his heart, while elsewhere Nancy (Jessica Alba, Machete, Sin City) loses herself in life post John Hartigan (Bruce Willis, Moonrise Kingdom, Die Hard), who (nine-year-old spoilers) died protecting her in the first “Sin City.” 
All three sagas are told in serial form, just like its prequel. Except where the former managed to glide — or at least distract — with its sleek graphics and creative storytelling, “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” misses its mark. The movie is sluggish, weighed down by the amount of attempted grit that peeks through with every move. Though it picks up a bit in the middle, the film feels more like a parody than an homage — except nobody told Rodriguez and Miller. 
Maybe it’s too much to expect from a film (or maybe, more accurately, Miller) that’s constantly harkening back to the gritty days of noir to have better treatment of women. But the film is irresponsible at best. Gone are the highlighted femme fatales of old, back are the damsels. They may not always be in distress, but they always need a man — either to sexualize or complete them. The first one at least felt it needed to justify when someone (a woman) dies; “A Dame to Kill For” practically keeps a score card. 
Sure, it was all probably there in “Sin City.” But with “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” the formula feels devoid of the energy that was there; stale in a way that feels more like trashy pulp than the slow-boiled noir of its predecessor. 
Some say fans of the original “Sin City” flick won’t be disappointed, and certainly those hoping to return to the grungy city and its vivid visuals won’t be. But for anyone looking for the wit and artistry of the first “Sin City” keep looking. It may be “A Dame to Kill For,” but by the end it just feels like a two-hour exercise in male bravado.

Is there anything more heartbreaking than a gorgeous film that can’t live up to its graphics? Probably. But as we watch Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Looper, Brick) drive down into Sin City, it’s hard not to let the excitement build up beyond what the movie ends up fulfilling.

His chapter is just one of many in Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller’s co-directed return to Sin City. “A Dame to Kill For” follows a pattern similar to the first one: three stories clenched together with dark scenes and stunning graphics in Basin City. Gordon-Levitt plays Johnny, the new kid on the block who’s set to take the spot of Sin City’s highest roller. Meanwhile Dwight (Josh Brolin, Guardians of the Galaxy, No Country for Old Men) chases after the dame broad that stole his heart, while elsewhere Nancy (Jessica Alba, Machete, Sin City) loses herself in life post John Hartigan (Bruce Willis, Moonrise Kingdom, Die Hard), who (nine-year-old spoilers) died protecting her in the first “Sin City.”

All three sagas are told in serial form, just like its prequel. Except where the former managed to glide — or at least distract — with its sleek graphics and creative storytelling, “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” misses its mark. The movie is sluggish, weighed down by the amount of attempted grit that peeks through with every move. Though it picks up a bit in the middle, the film feels more like a parody than an homage — except nobody told Rodriguez and Miller.

Maybe it’s too much to expect from a film (or maybe, more accurately, Miller) that’s constantly harkening back to the gritty days of noir to have better treatment of women. But the film is irresponsible at best. Gone are the highlighted femme fatales of old, back are the damsels. They may not always be in distress, but they always need a man — either to sexualize or complete them. The first one at least felt it needed to justify when someone (a woman) dies; “A Dame to Kill For” practically keeps a score card.

Sure, it was all probably there in “Sin City.” But with “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” the formula feels devoid of the energy that was there; stale in a way that feels more like trashy pulp than the slow-boiled noir of its predecessor.

Some say fans of the original “Sin City” flick won’t be disappointed, and certainly those hoping to return to the grungy city and its vivid visuals won’t be. But for anyone looking for the wit and artistry of the first “Sin City” keep looking. It may be “A Dame to Kill For,” but by the end it just feels like a two-hour exercise in male bravado.

August 23, 2014
I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about “Mood Indigo.” The surreal world created by Michel Gondry (Of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind fame) and Luc Bossi could, at worst, be described as messy and undercooked, and at best be described as a stylistic emotional roller coaster. 
Its protagonist, Colin (Romain Duris, Populaire) is a well-off eccentric who doesn’t care for much. While he certainly cares about the people who help him, he doesn’t seem passionate about much; his life revolves around him. He shoves plates into the trash when he’s done, he invents a piano that makes cocktails when played, and (when his best friend Chick announces he’s in love) decides it’s time for him to be in love as well. 
On paper (and a bit in the movie, to be honest) he sounds like a bit of a dick. The movie’s magical realism aspect just always seem to align to fulfill Colin’s every whim. Duris’ aberrant acting somewhat plays against him, but overall he manages to convey a sense of vulnerability in the role. 
It’s played nicely off of Chloé (Audrey Tautou, Amélie), the sweet girl who’s taken by Colin’s awkward love for her. Thanks to all the wacky mis-en-scene their love is full of vibrant whimsy and quirk. And as their relationship grows and the movie turns dark, Gondry’s talent for combining oddity and emotion shines, creating an atmosphere of loss without ever invoking it too literally. As the sadness creeps into their lives the color glowers, the sun can’t get through the unstoppably dirty windows, and the walls inch closer and closer to the couple, the movie takes a dark turn and Gondry clearly paints a picture of illness without ever expressly saying it.
For all the visual appreciation I have for “Mood Indigo,” I wouldn’t say I found it to be Gondry’s most compelling work. The idiosyncrasy can often be — and I mean this in the kindest way — exhausting and borderline incomprehensible. It feels as if the film just keeps throwing gorgeous and clever ideas on the screen to the point where it’s a bit overwhelming and distracting. While it uses its fresh take to unravel familiar ideas; underneath all the layers of the sugar-coated layers of imagination. With the first ten minutes Gondry will blow your mind with his inventiveness, but the next 80 will weaves a bit of a knotted mood.

I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about “Mood Indigo.” The surreal world created by Michel Gondry (Of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind fame) and Luc Bossi could, at worst, be described as messy and undercooked, and at best be described as a stylistic emotional roller coaster.

Its protagonist, Colin (Romain Duris, Populaire) is a well-off eccentric who doesn’t care for much. While he certainly cares about the people who help him, he doesn’t seem passionate about much; his life revolves around him. He shoves plates into the trash when he’s done, he invents a piano that makes cocktails when played, and (when his best friend Chick announces he’s in love) decides it’s time for him to be in love as well.

On paper (and a bit in the movie, to be honest) he sounds like a bit of a dick. The movie’s magical realism aspect just always seem to align to fulfill Colin’s every whim. Duris’ aberrant acting somewhat plays against him, but overall he manages to convey a sense of vulnerability in the role.

It’s played nicely off of Chloé (Audrey Tautou, Amélie), the sweet girl who’s taken by Colin’s awkward love for her. Thanks to all the wacky mis-en-scene their love is full of vibrant whimsy and quirk. And as their relationship grows and the movie turns dark, Gondry’s talent for combining oddity and emotion shines, creating an atmosphere of loss without ever invoking it too literally. As the sadness creeps into their lives the color glowers, the sun can’t get through the unstoppably dirty windows, and the walls inch closer and closer to the couple, the movie takes a dark turn and Gondry clearly paints a picture of illness without ever expressly saying it.

For all the visual appreciation I have for “Mood Indigo,” I wouldn’t say I found it to be Gondry’s most compelling work. The idiosyncrasy can often be — and I mean this in the kindest way — exhausting and borderline incomprehensible. It feels as if the film just keeps throwing gorgeous and clever ideas on the screen to the point where it’s a bit overwhelming and distracting. While it uses its fresh take to unravel familiar ideas; underneath all the layers of the sugar-coated layers of imagination. With the first ten minutes Gondry will blow your mind with his inventiveness, but the next 80 will weaves a bit of a knotted mood.

August 13, 2014
Most people would probably not turn down an invitation to go home with Scarlett Johansson. But most people would also not expect Scarlett Johansson to be an alien out to harvest human organs. That provocative notion is the exact premise of Jonathan Glazer’s, Under the Skin.
As could be inferred from the premise the best word to describe the film would be unsettling, and Glazer certainly deploys all the cinematic techniques in his arsenal to reach the desired ambiance. The visuals are bold and terrifying, using blaring lights and criss shadows that pain us to watch but find difficult to look away. He is also able to able to contrast that with more muted grey palettes that create foreboding landscapes. All of this is accompanied by one of the most purposeful scores of the year. The combination of a deep pulsating percussion and cacophonous screeches make sure that anxiety never leaves the room.  
Despite being rather polished from a cinematic perspective, the film finds itself lacking in both pacing and structure. The first half of the films plays like a monster movie from the perspective of the monster, where we see Scarlett Johansson as “The Alien” lure unsuspecting men into their eviscerated deaths. Then, there is a tonal shift in the second half, where The Alien begins to sympathize with humans and drudges throughout England pondering her isolation and identity. 
While this shift could have certainly made for an intriguing narrative, the execution failed to live up to its lofty goals. The first half of the films becomes very repetitive in its stalk and capture structure while the second half feels drawn out and aimless. Scarlett Johansson certainly flexes her acting chops in the role, by moving between a seductive killer and melancholy wanderer, but because the film is barely tethered to it plot, we never truly identify with her character or the overall story.  
As one of the more challenging films of the year, Under the Skin is sure not going to whet every filmgoer’s appetite.  Those who enjoy more experimental works such as David Lynch’s Eraserhead can look tol appreciate it’s bizarre and existential look on scifi horror.  For the rest of us, it might just get under our skin.    

Most people would probably not turn down an invitation to go home with Scarlett Johansson. But most people would also not expect Scarlett Johansson to be an alien out to harvest human organs. That provocative notion is the exact premise of Jonathan Glazer’s, Under the Skin.

As could be inferred from the premise the best word to describe the film would be unsettling, and Glazer certainly deploys all the cinematic techniques in his arsenal to reach the desired ambiance. The visuals are bold and terrifying, using blaring lights and criss shadows that pain us to watch but find difficult to look away. He is also able to able to contrast that with more muted grey palettes that create foreboding landscapes. All of this is accompanied by one of the most purposeful scores of the year. The combination of a deep pulsating percussion and cacophonous screeches make sure that anxiety never leaves the room.  

Despite being rather polished from a cinematic perspective, the film finds itself lacking in both pacing and structure. The first half of the films plays like a monster movie from the perspective of the monster, where we see Scarlett Johansson as “The Alien” lure unsuspecting men into their eviscerated deaths. Then, there is a tonal shift in the second half, where The Alien begins to sympathize with humans and drudges throughout England pondering her isolation and identity.

While this shift could have certainly made for an intriguing narrative, the execution failed to live up to its lofty goals. The first half of the films becomes very repetitive in its stalk and capture structure while the second half feels drawn out and aimless. Scarlett Johansson certainly flexes her acting chops in the role, by moving between a seductive killer and melancholy wanderer, but because the film is barely tethered to it plot, we never truly identify with her character or the overall story.  

As one of the more challenging films of the year, Under the Skin is sure not going to whet every filmgoer’s appetite.  Those who enjoy more experimental works such as David Lynch’s Eraserhead can look tol appreciate it’s bizarre and existential look on scifi horror.  For the rest of us, it might just get under our skin.    

August 10, 2014
There’s plenty of familiarity in Woody Allen’s 44th feature, “Magic in the Moonlight.” An odd pairing of people who debate philosophies in a beautiful location. This time, it’s the gorgeous southern France in the 1920s, where Stanley Crawford (Colin Firth, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The King’s Speech) is taking a break from his stage-duties of a magician in yellowface as “Wei Ling Soo.” Persuaded by his childhood friend Howard (Simon McBurney), he ventures to the Catledge family mansion hoping to debunk young Sophie Baker (Emma Stone, The Amazing Spider-man series, The Help) as a clairvoyant swindling the family out of their money. 
Though it’ll likely go down in history as one of the weaker entries to Allen’s extensive canon (especially after last year’s Blue Jasmine), overall “Magic in the Moonlight” is certainly a lighthearted one. It’s not quite a farce, but it’s not prime-Allen either. With only a 97-minute run time it’s lightness can venture on uneven at certain points, especially as a not too romantic romcom. 
But its leads, Firth and Stone, are adept at picking up some of the slack. The pair, mismatched as they may seem, does find something adjacent to chemistry, if only due to their own likeable styles. They make the most of Allen’s witty script, giving the flick a charismatic Wildean feel. 
But all things considered the movie generally softballs what would have the potential to be a really sharp comedy. There aren’t many twists, turns, or surprises to make the film happen organically, rather than just as it needs to happen. As Firth and Stone battle wits and beliefs in the unexplainable, the film expects its audience to just trust that there’s a growing love between them. 
All in all though, the film is too light on its feet to really get bogged down. Though its scope is vast (Allen’s classic musings on death and the bigger meaning run rampant), the film strolls along, at an easy pace through scenic backdrops, focused on the vexation of love and trickery, as well as curing Stanley Crawford of his woefully cynical disposition. It takes after its leading lady: though it’s not going down as one as one of Allen’s modern classics, it sure does have a lot of charisma. 

The verdict: In terms of Woody Allen’s magic touch, this one is a bit more “Scoop” than “Annie Hall.”

There’s plenty of familiarity in Woody Allen’s 44th feature, “Magic in the Moonlight.” An odd pairing of people who debate philosophies in a beautiful location. This time, it’s the gorgeous southern France in the 1920s, where Stanley Crawford (Colin Firth, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The King’s Speech) is taking a break from his stage-duties of a magician in yellowface as “Wei Ling Soo.” Persuaded by his childhood friend Howard (Simon McBurney), he ventures to the Catledge family mansion hoping to debunk young Sophie Baker (Emma Stone, The Amazing Spider-man series, The Help) as a clairvoyant swindling the family out of their money.

Though it’ll likely go down in history as one of the weaker entries to Allen’s extensive canon (especially after last year’s Blue Jasmine), overall “Magic in the Moonlight” is certainly a lighthearted one. It’s not quite a farce, but it’s not prime-Allen either. With only a 97-minute run time it’s lightness can venture on uneven at certain points, especially as a not too romantic romcom.

But its leads, Firth and Stone, are adept at picking up some of the slack. The pair, mismatched as they may seem, does find something adjacent to chemistry, if only due to their own likeable styles. They make the most of Allen’s witty script, giving the flick a charismatic Wildean feel.

But all things considered the movie generally softballs what would have the potential to be a really sharp comedy. There aren’t many twists, turns, or surprises to make the film happen organically, rather than just as it needs to happen. As Firth and Stone battle wits and beliefs in the unexplainable, the film expects its audience to just trust that there’s a growing love between them.

All in all though, the film is too light on its feet to really get bogged down. Though its scope is vast (Allen’s classic musings on death and the bigger meaning run rampant), the film strolls along, at an easy pace through scenic backdrops, focused on the vexation of love and trickery, as well as curing Stanley Crawford of his woefully cynical disposition. It takes after its leading lady: though it’s not going down as one as one of Allen’s modern classics, it sure does have a lot of charisma.

The verdict: In terms of Woody Allen’s magic touch, this one is a bit more “Scoop” than “Annie Hall.”

August 9, 2014
Director and writer Jesse Zwick’s debut film “About Alex” picks up right as Alex (Jason Ritter) tweets out a suicide note. Yup — tweets. As news spreads to his best friend Ben (Nate Parker) and his long-time girlfriend Siri (Maggie Grace) they pass along the word to their gaggle of college friends, and they all come out to Alex’s country house for a weekend away.
Sound familiar? If it does it’s because it’s essentially the same premise of the 1980s film “The Big Chill,” except in that one Alex’s suicide is successful. Here, Zwick uses Ritter’s sheepish style to provide a catalyst for all the simmering tension and jealousies that run rampant through the group. Sarah (Aubrey Plaza) has a tricky sexual past with Josh (Max Greenfield), but also has always had a thing for Isaac (Max Minghella), who comes to the weekend with his new, younger girlfriend Kate (Jane Levy).
With all those balls in the air, “About Alex” is tackling too much and too little, all at once. Beyond the depression and disassociation current that haunts the house, the characters themselves are dealing with “millennial problems:” Their careers haven’t quite gone the way they thought, and they’re weighed down with emotional baggage left and right. It’s a lot for any movie to grasp. 
Clearly “About Alex” isn’t the first of its kind, and it likely won’t be the last. The strength in this incarnation lies in the actors, who find a sort of low-key intimacy in their relationships. They carry their problems on their shoulders into each scene, resonating value and nature of well-established friendships.
And yet, Zwick never really manages to make the dramatics feel like more than the whims of the screenplay. Where real relationships are a product of details and lives lived, “About Alex” expects its audience to fill in the cracks — a device that would be realistic if it wasn’t also riddled with awkward exposition.
Ultimately, the movie just isn’t as deep as it thinks it is. There’s plenty of emotion to be had, but “About Alex” seems to ask the audience too become too enthralled by the raw, overdetermined reactions. For all its flaws though, it still manages to be a sweet and moving portrayal of twenty-somethings grappling with the world. It’s satisfying and sweet, even in its familiarity, bringing an indie quirk with Zwick’s oversight. Although the memory of the film might not make a lasting impression, there’s certainly enough emotion to set the tone of your day.

Verdict: Not entirely original or innovative, but the film is still all about the heart.

Director and writer Jesse Zwick’s debut film “About Alex” picks up right as Alex (Jason Ritter) tweets out a suicide note. Yup — tweets. As news spreads to his best friend Ben (Nate Parker) and his long-time girlfriend Siri (Maggie Grace) they pass along the word to their gaggle of college friends, and they all come out to Alex’s country house for a weekend away.

Sound familiar? If it does it’s because it’s essentially the same premise of the 1980s film “The Big Chill,” except in that one Alex’s suicide is successful. Here, Zwick uses Ritter’s sheepish style to provide a catalyst for all the simmering tension and jealousies that run rampant through the group. Sarah (Aubrey Plaza) has a tricky sexual past with Josh (Max Greenfield), but also has always had a thing for Isaac (Max Minghella), who comes to the weekend with his new, younger girlfriend Kate (Jane Levy).

With all those balls in the air, “About Alex” is tackling too much and too little, all at once. Beyond the depression and disassociation current that haunts the house, the characters themselves are dealing with “millennial problems:” Their careers haven’t quite gone the way they thought, and they’re weighed down with emotional baggage left and right. It’s a lot for any movie to grasp.

Clearly “About Alex” isn’t the first of its kind, and it likely won’t be the last. The strength in this incarnation lies in the actors, who find a sort of low-key intimacy in their relationships. They carry their problems on their shoulders into each scene, resonating value and nature of well-established friendships.

And yet, Zwick never really manages to make the dramatics feel like more than the whims of the screenplay. Where real relationships are a product of details and lives lived, “About Alex” expects its audience to fill in the cracks — a device that would be realistic if it wasn’t also riddled with awkward exposition.

Ultimately, the movie just isn’t as deep as it thinks it is. There’s plenty of emotion to be had, but “About Alex” seems to ask the audience too become too enthralled by the raw, overdetermined reactions. For all its flaws though, it still manages to be a sweet and moving portrayal of twenty-somethings grappling with the world. It’s satisfying and sweet, even in its familiarity, bringing an indie quirk with Zwick’s oversight. Although the memory of the film might not make a lasting impression, there’s certainly enough emotion to set the tone of your day.

Verdict: Not entirely original or innovative, but the film is still all about the heart.

August 5, 2014
It’s pretty Groot. 
Since Marvel released “Iron Man” in 2008, the studio has proved two things: first, that there was a place for humor amid the sordid lives of superheroes, and second, that it was about to weave one of the greatest cinematic universes of all time. So it may be surprising that “Guardians of the Galaxy” takes one giant leap away from that world to follow a group of 31st-century screwballs across the universe. But don’t fear: they’ve still got the same ol’ Marvel wisecracks. 
Peter Quill (Chris Pratt, The Lego Movie, TV’s Parks and Recreation) was abducted from Missouri as a child in the mid 1980s and never quite grew up. And after being raised by galactic smugglers and listening to the same old mix tape for 20 years, who could blame him? So when he finds himself in possession of an unusual orb being coveted by the genocidal radical Ronan (Lee Pace, Lincoln, TV’s Pushing Daisies), he’s far less concerned with potential war than he is with getting paid. 
It’s exactly the kind of protagonist that Marvel and Pratt rock. Caught somewhere between a Labrador and an action hero, Pratt gives Quill — or Starlord, as he’d like to be known — an idealistic dimension to his everyman role. His comedic timing is on point from start to finish as he dances his way through the film. In the hands of an actor who was not as downright charming, it might be obnoxious, but instead Starlord comes off as a less-damaged and more goofball version of Tony Stark.

He’s offset by Gamora (Zoe Saldana, Star Trek Into Darkness, Avatar), a ruthless alien assassin who’s dispatched by Ronan to get the orb and isn’t interested in Starlord’s tomfoolery. Her tactics hit a bit of a wall when she’s faced with the team of Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper, The Place Beyond the Pines, Silver Linings Playbook) and Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel, The Iron Giant, Fast and the Furious series), a CGI mercenary team who (except for all the gun play) look like they’ve wandered out of a fairy tale and are also trying to track down Quill. After all being sent to prison together, the ragtag group bands together with muscle man Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista, Riddick) to break out — and maybe even save the galaxy.
There really isn’t anything about the premise that isn’t slightly ridiculous, and the movie is keenly aware of that. But “Guardians of the Galaxy” manages to be the exact right amount of not taking itself seriously. While the jokes sling as freely as bullets, they all manage to land. And a stunning galactic backdrop makes a vibrant and dazzling setting for the effects, quips, and action that gives the film a swagger from the opening to closing credits. 
Its scope is not unlike the star system it portrays: simultaneously a vast epic that creates peril for whole planets and races, while also feeling grounded in the characters. Each “hero” gets their moment in the spotlight, and each does it with flair to boot. Between Gamora and Drax’s straight-faced, no-nonsense attitude that simultaneously makes for a great straight man and punchline to Groot and Rocket’s jibber jabber, there’s more than enough snark and heart to go around. Despite the fact that one repeats the same three words over again with different inflection, Cooper and Diesel deliver performances with just as much warmth as their non-animated counterparts. 
It’s definitely a departure from the established Marvel universe. The plot barely intersects with the Earth we know and love; coupled with the lack of teaser at the end of the credits (though there is a tag early on),* it seems like Marvel was prepared for this to be a one-off if it flopped. But with everything from a kickin’ soundtrack to sincere action heroes, Marvel fans will no doubt be hooked on a feeling from “Guardians of the Galaxy.”
The verdict: We may have a new Marvel favorite on our hands. 

*THIS JUST IN: apparently they cut out the end scene in the screening we were at. What the fuck, right? 

It’s pretty Groot. 

Since Marvel released “Iron Man” in 2008, the studio has proved two things: first, that there was a place for humor amid the sordid lives of superheroes, and second, that it was about to weave one of the greatest cinematic universes of all time. So it may be surprising that “Guardians of the Galaxy” takes one giant leap away from that world to follow a group of 31st-century screwballs across the universe. But don’t fear: they’ve still got the same ol’ Marvel wisecracks. 

Peter Quill (Chris Pratt, The Lego Movie, TV’s Parks and Recreation) was abducted from Missouri as a child in the mid 1980s and never quite grew up. And after being raised by galactic smugglers and listening to the same old mix tape for 20 years, who could blame him? So when he finds himself in possession of an unusual orb being coveted by the genocidal radical Ronan (Lee Pace, Lincoln, TV’s Pushing Daisies), he’s far less concerned with potential war than he is with getting paid. 

It’s exactly the kind of protagonist that Marvel and Pratt rock. Caught somewhere between a Labrador and an action hero, Pratt gives Quill — or Starlord, as he’d like to be known — an idealistic dimension to his everyman role. His comedic timing is on point from start to finish as he dances his way through the film. In the hands of an actor who was not as downright charming, it might be obnoxious, but instead Starlord comes off as a less-damaged and more goofball version of Tony Stark.

He’s offset by Gamora (Zoe Saldana, Star Trek Into Darkness, Avatar), a ruthless alien assassin who’s dispatched by Ronan to get the orb and isn’t interested in Starlord’s tomfoolery. Her tactics hit a bit of a wall when she’s faced with the team of Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper, The Place Beyond the Pines, Silver Linings Playbook) and Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel, The Iron Giant, Fast and the Furious series), a CGI mercenary team who (except for all the gun play) look like they’ve wandered out of a fairy tale and are also trying to track down Quill. After all being sent to prison together, the ragtag group bands together with muscle man Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista, Riddick) to break out — and maybe even save the galaxy.

There really isn’t anything about the premise that isn’t slightly ridiculous, and the movie is keenly aware of that. But “Guardians of the Galaxy” manages to be the exact right amount of not taking itself seriously. While the jokes sling as freely as bullets, they all manage to land. And a stunning galactic backdrop makes a vibrant and dazzling setting for the effects, quips, and action that gives the film a swagger from the opening to closing credits. 

Its scope is not unlike the star system it portrays: simultaneously a vast epic that creates peril for whole planets and races, while also feeling grounded in the characters. Each “hero” gets their moment in the spotlight, and each does it with flair to boot. Between Gamora and Drax’s straight-faced, no-nonsense attitude that simultaneously makes for a great straight man and punchline to Groot and Rocket’s jibber jabber, there’s more than enough snark and heart to go around. Despite the fact that one repeats the same three words over again with different inflection, Cooper and Diesel deliver performances with just as much warmth as their non-animated counterparts. 

It’s definitely a departure from the established Marvel universe. The plot barely intersects with the Earth we know and love; coupled with the lack of teaser at the end of the credits (though there is a tag early on),* it seems like Marvel was prepared for this to be a one-off if it flopped. But with everything from a kickin’ soundtrack to sincere action heroes, Marvel fans will no doubt be hooked on a feeling from “Guardians of the Galaxy.”

The verdict: We may have a new Marvel favorite on our hands. 

*THIS JUST IN: apparently they cut out the end scene in the screening we were at. What the fuck, right?