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Peter T Chattaway

Under the Skin (2013)

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Link to our thread on Glazer's last film, Birth (2004).

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Scarlett Johansson to Play Alien Seductress in 'Under the Skin'
Scarlett Johansson as the perfect woman? A perfect alien woman?
That is what FilmNation is selling at AFM, launching Under the Skin, a sci-fi drama from Sexy Beast writer-director Jonathan Glazer.
According to the company, and sure to please many of Johansson’s many admirers, “Johansson plays an alien on earth, disguised as the perfect aesthetic form of a mesmerizing woman. She scours remote highways and desolate scenery looking to use her greatest weapon to snare human prey -- her voracious sexuality.”
But, wait, there’s more. “She is deadly efficient, but over time becomes drawn to and changed by the complexity of life on earth. With this new found humanity and weakening alien resolve, she finds herself on a collision course with her own kind. Taking her point of view throughout, the film presents a unique look at our world through alien eyes.” . . .
Hollywood Reporter, November 3


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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If it weren't for Glazer being in the director's chair, this sounds like the perfect straight-to-Syfy feature.


"I feel a nostalgia for an age yet to come..."
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Shooting has commenced. The first images are now online:

FP_8066915_BIG_Johansson_Scarlett_03_07.jpg


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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So,,, Species meets Avatar?

...meets Mars Attacks?

“Johansson plays an alien on earth, disguised as the perfect aesthetic form of a mesmerizing woman. She scours remote highways and desolate scenery looking to use her greatest weapon to snare human prey -- her voracious sexuality.”

Remote highways and desolate scenery? Wouldn't she find easier pickings in a city, or at least in the suburbs?


Let's Carl the whole thing Orff!

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It's big. It's fat. It's Greek.

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Reshoots! Edited by Peter T Chattaway

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Scott Foundras is unimpressed:

 


Glazer has always been longer on atmosphere and uncanny moods than on narrative, but the fatal flaw of “Under the Skin” isn’t that not much happens; it’s that what does happen isn’t all that interesting. The world as seen through alien eyes, it turns out, looks much like the world as seen through the eyes of a schizophrenic (“Repulsion”), a paranoiac (Lodge Kerrigan’s “Keane”) or a sociopath (Cristi Puiu’s “Aurora”) — which, if it’s Glazer’s point, is one he makes early and often, Johansson doing her best to convey varying degrees of blankness and incomprehension at her own actions and those of others.

Owing to the dominant GoPro video aesthetic, “Under the Skin” becomes visually monotonous, too, only in a few more conventionally staged sequences featuring the kind of sharp, painterly images that graced Glazer’s prior features and the opening moments of this one. Similarly, all of the pic’s tech qualities are intentionally rough-hewn, with the combination of noisy location sound recording and cast’s thick Scottish brogues rendering large swathes of dialogue incomprehensible.

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Five stars from The Guardian.

 

TimeOut London tweets:

 

REVIEW: A full 5 STARS for eerie Scots sci-fi Scarlett Johansson vehicle (yep, you read that right) UNDER THE SKIN:

 

 

Guy Lodge tweets and tweets:

 

UNDER THE SKIN (A-) Sleek, stainless imagery belies raw nerves aplenty in exquisite bodily invasion study. Brilliant score. Scarlett ideal.

 

 

UNDER THE SKIN is also the very best kind of literary adaptation: the kind you'd never guess was a literary adaptation.

 

Edited by Overstreet

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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I'll be seeing this in less than a week's time at TIFF. I chose it based on Glazer's reputation, mostly.

 

Now come the raves (and dissents) and the trailer, which is the best kind of trailer in that it only gives the tone of the film (if the film does maintain it) and only hints at the plot. If Foundas is correct in saying the film is mostly "atmosphere" and "uncanny moods" over narrative, I don't really care. My interest is only increasing at this point.

 


"A director must live with the fact that his work will be called to judgment by someone who has never seen a film of Murnau's." - François Truffaut

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Reviews and essays at Three Brothers Film.

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Really interested to read that some of Scarlett's encounters with men were filmed on hidden cameras - just gives a great image of this big name Hollywood actress luring skanky Glaswegians into an old van...

 

Anyway, here are two very contrasting reviews from the British 'papers:

 

1 star from The Independent. (SPOILERS IN LINK)

 

 

 

Over its long gestation period Glazer also seems to have forgotten the plot of the novel - about an alien who masquerades as an alluring woman, kidnapping hitchhikers and selling them back home for food. None of the motivation makes it onto the screen. Indeed it’s not completely clear that the main protagonist is an alien until the final scene. Glazer didn’t forget the alluring woman though, and Johansson spends plenty of time sizing herself up in the mirror and wearing pretty underwear. She delivers a muted performance, befitting her character, but there is nothing for the audience to empathise with. She’s a blank canvas, something to look at as she wanders around picking up men.

 

5 stars from The Telegraph.

 

Johansson is nothing short of iconic here; her character is a classic femme fatale in the film noir tradition, down to the plump red lips and deep fur coat, but with a refrigerated nothingness at her core. She looks at her fellow cast members as if they are from another planet – which is, of course, exactly as it should be. Even the Scottish landscape looks alien: dawn mist rolls across lochs like curls of space dust.

Glazer’s astonishing film takes you to a place where the everyday becomes suddenly strange, and fear and seduction become one and the same. You stare at the screen, at once entranced and terrified, and step forward into the slick.

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Justin Chang at Variety:
 

...this unsettling and eerily erotic study of a come-hither extraterrestrial (Scarlett Johansson) was far and away the best film I saw in competition at Venice — at once lucid, seductive and mesmerizingly strange. No film since perhaps “Lost in Translation” has made more perfect use of that sly, elusive sexiness that Johansson has, melding her character’s perspective with ours to the point that we wind up regarding our fellow man through a glass darkly, rendering humanity at once familiar and alien. (The movie in some ways suggests a “Gravity” in reverse, another story of a discombobulated space traveler operating well outside her comfort zone.)

Artfully distilled from Michel Faber’s novel, Glazer’s film develops into a free-roaming essay on the human capacity for empathy, vulnerability and predatory behavior in the guise of an alien-abduction saga. Even more than “Birth,” which similarly relied on mood and the power of suggestion while leaving its narrative enigmas unresolved, “Under the Skin” is a tour de force of sensual and sensory filmmaking, with an arresting Mico Levi score that refuses to leave my memory. And so it almost goes without saying that Glazer’s bold, imagistic approach and refusal of easy explanations will prove commercially problematic (yawn), win very few awards (double yawn), and frustrate at least as many viewers as it wins over.


P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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DON'T WATCH THAT TRAILER.

 

I'm so glad I hadn't seen any of those images before I saw the film, because everything great about Under the Skin is in the filmmaking, and seeing those images in context is constantly shocking and terrifying and wonderful (as in, full of wonder). That said, I'm mixed on the film as a whole.

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I laughed when I received a screening invite for this film just now. It includes this:

 

Starring:  Scarlett Johansson

 

Rated R for “graphic nudity, sexual content, some violence and language.”

 

I'm imagining the Pavlovian response that will elicit among male recipients. (Thankfully, I'm immune to such juxtapositions. Well, largely immune.)


"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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Did I never post my review from TIFF? I guess not. Here it is:
 

Glazer said the film started with a feeling, not a plot, and that he was looking for a language to “communicate visually how [Laura] feels.” Once I understood that, the film not only made more sense to me, it became somewhat poignant.

 

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Clear your schedules. 

 

See it.

 

You have to see it.

 

Even if you hate it, you have to see it.

 

Although I own the Criterion Stan Brakhage set, I haven't watched enough of it to have a feel for the filmmaker's work as a whole. But watching Under the Skin, it was Brakhage I finally settled on as a possible Glazer influence (I've not seen Glazer's other work). Maybe I was seduced by the film's soundtrack, which reminded me, oddly, of one or two Brakhage shorts.

 

I just Googled to see if anyone else had made this comparison. Nope. Nothing like drawing a comparison between two filmmakers who are unfamiliar to the person making the comparison, then seeing that no one else has made that connection, to confirm one's foolishness. Although comparing Under the Skin to Kubrick seems like a real stretch, too.

 

EDIT: After I'd turned off my computer and was going to bed, I thought, "Of course it has elements of Kubrick." The very first note I took? "Wild opening. Echoes of 2001." So, duh on me.

Edited by Christian

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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The preview makes me want to see it, but a possible Brakhage influence connection (even if only as an idea) makes me all the more. I've seen most all of Brakhage's work that I know of, and a few several times. I saw Brakhage in person over two successive evenings in the mid-80's. One night he showed his own films, and the other night he introduced us to other filmmakers' work. He also spoke a great deal, ready poetry, and was constantly chewing tobacco and spitting into a flask that he kept in his pocket. Those two evenings have been with me ever since.

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Matt Zoller Seitz gives it four stars, calls it "hideously beautiful," and compares it to The Tree of Life, Upstream Color, and...Spring Breakers.

 

Seitz says: 

Does it contain mysteries that can only be unpacked with repeat viewings, or is it a shallow film whose assured style and eerie tone make it seem deeper than it is?

 

 

My answer, at first viewing, is "The Latter."

 

In spite of its intriguing cinematography, the movie's narrative lost my interest very quickly.

 

The opening 15 minutes, which had me thinking about so many of my favorite sci-fi movies, never reached a turn at which I became immersed in this film. I just kept on thinking about other movies, waiting for this one to eventually take hold of something truly its own. And I never found it.

 

The plot seems annoyingly simplistic: [Careful: what follows are extreme plot spoilers]

 

Monstrous Alien — indifferent to human beings' goodness or badness — goes about seducing, ensnaring, immersing, and enbalming any stray and horny (or, at the very least, lonely) male who will follow her. We see her do this again and again, all carried out with stunning visuals. But then she shaken up, takes a fall, starts to feel some empathy, inspires the panic and urgent pursuit of her own kind, and then ends up ruined by a human who turns out to be — surprise, surprise — as monstrous as she was at her worst.

 

Whatever. I just don't sense much to think about here.

 

The Elephant Man sequence stands out as an exception — a sequence so original and riveting that I felt the movie reach past my studious cinephile gaze and actually take hold of my heart for the first time. What a courageous storytelling venture that was, and so beautifully filmed. That character will haunt me for years to come. 

 

But then the movie lost that momentary grip on my emotions and returned to its fundamentally sensual, and somewhat intellectual, mode. 

 

It's often fascinating visually, with shadows as rich and complex as I've seen since... what, The Godfather? And its use of sound and music recalls There Will Blood.

 

But nevertheless, where both Sexy Beast and Birth (titles that could have fit this film just as well as the title it has) worked on all levels for me, this one didn't. It felt like a stylistic road trip through murky backroads of Scotland, with only one stretch of road that made me care.

 

My first big disappointment of the year. I "cleared my schedule" in spite of some heavy writing deadlines, and I'm really regretting it. Now I'll be staying up late to do my homework in the bummed-out slump of a movie letdown.

Edited by Overstreet

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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The preview makes me want to see it, but a possible Brakhage influence connection (even if only as an idea) makes me all the more. 

That's a great story, Tucker. Since you're familiar with Brakhage's work, I'd be curious to know if you see any connection to Under the Skin. I want to emphasize that I was stretching for a comparison, any comparison, to this film, which struck me as original in its treatment of the story. 

 

I've seen Brother From Another Planet, and I recently (finally) saw John Carpenter's Starman, stories that have a surface similarity to Under the Skin. But what Glazer is doing visually approaches the avant garde in ways that those other movies don't. And the music -- oh, the music! I'd listened to a stream of it a couple of weeks ago and knew I was in for something strange. The movie doesn't disappoint on that level, or on any other level.

 

I'll have to read Matt Zoller Seitz's linked review, because as the film played, it struck me as a possible landmark film, as I consider some of the other films he mentions in the excerpt above to be. 

 

EDIT: OK, I've read Seitz. Beautiful. Full of questions. He says he'd been chewing on the movie for a week before writing. Like him, I have no idea what this movie's about, although it suggests several possibilities. And, he writes, "The opening of "Under the Skin" might remind you of the openings of "2001," which I'd just added this morning as an edit to my previous post (see above).

Edited by Christian

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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