Friday, 20 February 2015

Noteworthy Films of 2014: Under The Skin

“Pretentious” is a word that has been heavily linked to Jonathan Glazer’s skeletal adaptation of Michel Faber’s sci-fi novel. And while it’s not hard to understand this criticism, Under The Skin was the only film that I felt warranted a second viewing. Inarguably a challenge to fully comprehend, the film’s somewhat basic plot is hurled into an intense atmosphere of unease and dread skilfully crafted by the film’s visuals and the haunting score. While it has proven to be a polarising affair between critics and audiences, Under The Skin’s trance-like approach was one of the year’s best cinema “experiences”, and I emphasise the use of term “experience”. 

Those looking for a conventionally structured sci-fi story, will be undoubtably frustrated by the film’s general lack of substance. Taking fragments from the original novel, Glazer and screenwriter Walter Campbell never truly delve into the novel’s original structure of internal monologues from the alien seductress and her victims. The result is a purposely worked ambiguity to the whole feature that offers uncertainty rather than definitive answers. With the absence of extensive dialogue, Scarlett Johansson’s performance is mainly conveyed through body language and subtly. And it’s a relatively strong one. 

Visually, Under The Skin has a distinct, dreamy wash throughout. From the actual “harvesting” process to the aggressive nature of the film’s Scottish locations, the film is simply stunning. Long, drawn out shots of scenery, and the sparsity of cuts are unfortunate stereotypes of “art house” cinema and while they’re present here, they’re used with a sincere level of restraint. Scotland’s wilderness and cityscapes offer a striking contrast in flux with the changing demeanour of the film. Meanwhile the radiant light from car dashboards and Glasgow’s street lights highlights interesting perspectives and temperaments. Coupled with this is the soundtrack. Mica Levi’s score is strangely hypnotic and suitably haunting, with long drawn-out strings and sharp shifts in tone that complements the surreal nature of the visuals. It’s probably my favourite soundtrack of the year. 

A genuinely unnerving and intense affair, Under The Skin was more an experience than a film per say. Patience is paramount as the visuals and the score flood the senses, leaving a grin to cover for a slightly traumatised psyche. 

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Noteworthy Films of 2014: Captain America: The Winter Soldier

While Captain America: The First Avenger was a rather mediocre affair, it’s sequel highlighted a very different approach to the character, the genre and Marvel Studio’s overall direction. Look back throughout the history of “superhero” cinema and it’s clear that the origin story and the standard “arrival of a new threat” approach has been done to death. However Winter Soldier evoked memories of 1970’s espionage thrillers such as Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and The Conversation, maintaining a strong balance between action and an engaging plot. Suspicion, conspiracy and ulterior motives provided a narrative that felt refreshing and relevant both to the character and the nature of S.H.I.E.L.D. The rise of Hydra and fall of S.H.I.E.L.D has indefinitely left a creative platform for Avengers: Age of Ultron and Captain America: Civil War to build on, which should be interesting to see how it all plays out.

Captain America is quickly becoming my favourite superhero character alongside Black Widow, and this has been helped by Chris Evans. He lives for the role, and it’s clear that he has melded perfectly with the character, providing a touch of charm and genuine charisma to the role. Meanwhile Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow and Anthony Mackie’s surprisingly enjoyable Falcon offered a strong supporting cast, so too did Robert Redford as the film’s main antagonist. Marvel Studio’s first menacing villain makes his appearance, the Winter Soldier, and even though he’s only a small part of the bigger picture, he still proved an impressive and formidable adversary with some impressive set-pieces and brawls. 

Winter Soldier is my favourite film from the Marvel, blending intense action with an engrossing plot that feels relevant to the character and the franchise. Though the burdensome prospect of a yearly barrage of superheroes over the next 5 years is worrying, I still have hope for Captain America’s own cinematic progression.

The Long Awaited Update

Since moving to Japan my cinema-going days have been drastically cut to the point where I rarely have the opportunity to watch the latest releases. My love and passion for film still remains and I regularly keep up to date with regards to the news in the industry and upcoming features. But I’m afraid to say that my fortnightly cinema days are over. You may have also noticed that I have failed to write anything for the blog in nearly a year. As you can imagine, my new job and life in Japan have become the centre of my attention. It’s a shame because I love to write and talk about cinema. 

However, as a result of settling into my employment and my current situation, I have decided to return to the world of “blogging”, in a somewhat smaller sense. I will therefore be trying to update on a semi-regular basis with mini-reviews and mini-features. The first will be a series on “noteworthy” films of 2014 that I managed to watch. Obviously with the lack of access to the front-runners and nominees of Award Season, the list won’t be a comprehensive one but will cover some of the more major releases.

As an example of my recent decline in “cinema-visiting” form, here is a list of films that I desperately want to watch, but with Japanese releases and the extortionate price of media it’s proving to be rather difficult: 

Two Days, One Night
Inherent Vice
The Babadook 
A Most Violent Year 

Hopefully I’ll be able to catch them in the near future, but for the time I’ll have to suffice with what is readily available and obviously what I've already seen.

Best regards, 

Jack Singleton