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Entries in Jonathan Glazer (9)

Tuesday
May072019

The New Classics - Sexy Beast

Michael Cusumano here to revisit one of the most indelible performances of 2001 for our new series "The New Classics"...

Scene: Don Logan converses with his reflection

How many viewings of Jonathan Glazer’s Sexy Beast does it take before you realize Don Logan is the most sympathetic character in the movie?  

Don shows up in Spain with two missions: to reconnect with his old friend Gal, and to see if he has a shot with his lost love, Jackie. And what does he find? Not only does his friend attempt to blow him off, but the object of his affection is married to some spineless twit and can’t stand so much as to look at him. My heart goes out to the guy...

Click to read more ...

Tuesday
Dec022014

Team FYC: Under the Skin for Visual Effects

Editor's Note: For the next ten days, we'll be featuring individual Team Experience FYC's for various longshots in the Oscar race. We'll never repeat a film or category so we hope you enjoy the variety. And if you're lucky enough to be an AMPAS, HFPA, SAG, Critics Group voter, take note! Here's Amir on Under the Skin.

Generally speaking, if you drop the adjective Best and replace it with Most, you come to a better understanding of what the Academy Awards are often about.”

That statement is taken from Nick Davis’ review of The Lives of Others written several years ago, but it’s a sentiment I have not only shared, but have come to recognize as the defining element of my relationship with the Oscars, responsible for the bulk of my disagreements with their choices. Nick called the application of his theory to the visual effects category “self-explanatory” and it’s hard to disagree with him. How often do we find nominees in this category that subtly work their visual effects into the narrative? Filmmakers who employ effects as a storytelling device rather than a show-stopping juggernaut of colors and flying objects? This isn’t to say that some worthy work hasn’t been rewarded in the process. No one can argue with the impressive quality of what is on display in Gravity, but the emphasis is on “on display.” Visual effects in Cuaron’s films are equivalent to an oiled up body in a tight thong, flexing muscles in your face, and that type of “most” visual effects is what the Academy has come to reward repeatedly, even when the results aren’t quite as impressive or innovative, which brings me to this year.

None of the films that are bound to be nominated in this category will have imagery that is as iconic or memorable as the understated work in Under the Skin.  Yet, Jonathan Glazer’s masterpiece – his third from three tries – faces two very big hurdles on its road to nomination. First, the film isn’t in the Academy’s wheelhouse or likely to get any other nominations. Second, that the visual effects aren’t showy. In the words of its VFX supervisor, Dominic Parker, the techniques “are supporting the film, not the main event.”  

Technically, Under the Skin isn’t doing anything that Kubrick didn’t do fifty years ago; one particular sequence – the disintegration of one of Alien’s preys, which is the only colourful segment in the film – unmistakably mirrors the colored vortex sequence in 2001: A Space Odyssey. But the application, completely at the service of the story and actively designed to go unnoticed, is what makes the experience memorable.

The plain black void in which the alien’s victims, lit in blue hues, float endlessly until their moment of implosion is the year’s most terrifying, unshakable imagery. The sense of inescapable horror that these sequences create is precisely due to their sleek emptiness. Similarly, the emotional gravity of the final moment, a literal stripping to bare the soul, or lack thereof, is conveyed with such weight because of the simplicity of the non-obstructive effects. Still, one need not look further than the film’s opening "creation" scene to see the genius of the effects. Glazer and his team trimmed down the concept of this scene from the formation of a full human body to just the eye and ended up with sheer minimalist brilliance. The gradual, shocking revelation of what it is we’re witnessing is the most wondrous sensation in the film, a moment of genuinely awe-inspiring quality. Here’s hoping Academy voters take note.



Previously on Team FYC
The Homesman for Cinematography

Tuesday
Jul222014

Hit Me With Your Best Shot: Under the Skin

Each week we pick a film and ask brave cinephiles to choose what they think of as its Best Shot. Next Tuesday is Ingmar Bergman's Oscar winner for Best Cinematography Cries & Whispers (1973) but before we get to that dying sister merriment, let's travel to Scotland where Scarlett Johansson is luring men to their doom. Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin is mysterious enough that it need multiple eyes to decipher it. And the film even repeatedly suggests you do the looking what with it's eyeball construction (?), predatory gaze, and actual dialogue.

Do you want to look at me?

We do, Scarlett, we do.

I normally show the choices in chronological order within the context of the film but given Under the Skin's brooding enigmatic events and telling repetitions, the articles are displayed in the order they were brought to my attention from the Best Shot club members. 

BEST SHOT(s)  UNDER THE SKIN
Directed by Jonathan Glazer. Cinematography by Daniel Landin.
19 shots / 23 participants. Click on the images for the corresponding article
MAJOR VISUAL SPOILERS FOLLOW - DO NOT CLICK IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN THE MOVIE

Click to read more ...

Tuesday
Jul222014

Under the Skin and Into the Fog

Formless void and darkness. And then light, blinding light. Jonathan Glazer and his gifted cinematographer Daniel Landin present them in that Biblical order. They toy with them for the remainder of Under the Skin, separating them like they're playing god.

Honorable Mention

Perhaps they are since this haunting film begins, as far as I can tell, with Creation, or a creation of sorts. Is it our protagonist being formed (?) or, rather, assuming a new form complete with vocal exercizes to play the role. (The mystery woman is never named in Under the Skin, and none of the men she entices and lures into her formless void, ever think to ask her for it so we'll refer to her as "She" or "Her" since it's Scarlett Johansson we're talking about). What She needs language for is something of a mystery. She seems to communicate best telepathically in the eery repeated shots of her and her driver/accomplice staring at each other or staring into windows / mirrors. That's as good an explanation as any for how she understands the thick Scottish brogues around her when English is not her mother tongue.

Though the details of what exactly is occuring in any given sequence of this great picture are often indecipherable, the artistry of the film is not. It's alternating visual schemes of darkness and light, its elemental preoccupations (water, air, fire... and, well Earth, all play key roles) and its weird asides (the blinking mask, that golden shimmer interlude, the cake!) and Scarlett's fascinatingly alien comportment all prove more rewarding on second viewing. 

Runner Up

The most powerful recurring image and in some ways the most inexplicably frightening is watching the men slowly sink into blackness, like sailors willfully drowning for a siren's call. You may have your own ideas about what exactly She is harvesting their skin for but I assumed it was the creation of more faux humans like herself. And if so, how perverse that Creation is always doubling as Destruction. 

And speaking of perversity, Here's my choice for Best Shot, below. In a film full of startling imagery, it's something as mundane as a car on the road, and a woman in the fog, from the point of view of a car's dashboard. It's a visual choice as it continues the film's often ingenious play on stark blacks and bright whites while reversing the now familiar feeling of men swallowed up in blackness. It's a narrative choice, marking as it does the transition to the film's last act and reverses our usual view of looking out the car's window with her and for a moment, the same view looking at her. It's an emotional choice as I forgot to breath watching it. She has rejected her calling, an apostate suddenly wandering in a strange land without purpose.

Best Shot. Into the Fog

Glazer leaves us waiting for Her return a full 14 seconds before we join her in the fog. Her emotions are still totally alien to us as she rotates in place, staring into the liquid air. Looking for what? Everything that should be mundane, including this view from inside a car we've spent half the film in, is riddled with complexity and eery wonder. Glazer has the power to render the familiar alien and by the film's end, and rather movingly, the alien familiar.

I'm not otherwise a religious person but the cinema is my church and Jonathan Glazer is one of the new gods. I've watched Under the Skin twice now, both times with equal parts reverent awe and abject fear. I'm a true believer. 

See the whole roster of chosen shots from 22 other HMWYBS participants

 

Sunday
Apr202014

Easter Podcast: Noah, Under the Skin, Budapest Hotel

SEASON PREMIERE
Ready for another year of the podcast? The gang is back: Nathaniel R, (The Film Experience), Joe Reid (The Wire), Katey Rich (Vanity Fair) and Nick Davis (Nick's Flick Picks) reunite to discuss this unusually robust auteur spring at the movies. 

This week's topics: Darren Aronofsky's peculiar muddy vision for Noah starring Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly & Emma Watson; Jonathan Glazer (Birth) and Scarlett Johansson's Under the Skin; and Wes Anderson's biggest hit The Grand Budapest Hotel. Did we want to check in and stay?

Under Noah's Skin at the Budapest Hotel
00:00 Noah (story diversion, auteur vision, character work)
18:45 Under the Skin (visual storytelling, interpretation, Scarlett)
29:00 Noah and Under the Skin (in communication)
36:30 The Grand Budapest Hotel (inside & outside friction, accepting Wes, art direction)
44:30 Ralph Fiennes and the movies Oscar buzz
49:00 Other movie recommendations: Le Week-end and Blue Ruin.

You can listen to the podcast at the bottom of the post or download the conversation on iTunes. Continue the conversation in the comments.me, I Heart Huckabees, Taxi Driver, King of Comedy, Goodfellas, Cape Fear, Children of Men, Y Tu Mama Tambíen, 

Under Noah's Skin at the Budapest Hotel

Thursday
Jan302014

We Can't Wait #4: Under the Skin

Hey y'all. Now that I'm back from Sundance I can join in the "We Can't Wait" fun as we near the top of the Team Experience list. The team has been highlighting our top 14 (collectively) most anticipated films of the new cinematic year. We've already covered 13+ great movies and it falls on me to write up our fourth highest ranker.

Under the Skin
In which Scarlett Johansson plays an alien searching for man meat or skin or something. The men she seduces are never heard from again.

Talent
The entire reason this is on the list is surely The Film Experience's collective devotion to 2004's Birth, the misunderstood masterpiece by Jonathan Glazer. I don't have a pass/fail checklist of requirements for my team members here at TFE but if I did "Do you like Birth?" would be on the questionnaire. For reasons that are too too horrible to contemplate Glazer hasn't made a film since which makes Under the Skin something of a unicorn. Does it really exist? It must since we've seen stills of its delectable leading lady Scarlett Johansson all over the place and some lucky souls saw it at TIFF in the fall. I purposely avoided reviews hence this very vague write-up. I want to be surprised and transported. 

Why We Can’t Wait
Here's where I just repeat the intro points again: Glazer of Birth. Rare like a unicorn. Scarlett Johansson as extraterrestrial succubus.

But We Do Have To Wait
But only about 63 more days since A24, that godsend of a specialty distributor, is bringing it to us on April 4th.

 

Previously on "We Can't Wait"
05 Inherent Vice (Paul Thomas Anderson adapts Pynchon)
06 Into the Woods (Rob Marshall adapts Sondheim)
07 Snowpiercer (Boon JongHo does sci-fi)
08 Nymphomaniac (Lars von Trier Gone Wild)
09 Boyhood (Linklater's long-gestating family drama)
10 Big Eyes (Tim Burton back to the bio) 
11 The Last 5 Years (the Off Broadway classic goes cinematic)
12 Gone Girl (David Fincher thrills)
13 Can a Song Save Your Life (Keira Croons)
14 Veronica Mars (TV Sequel... hey, what's this doing her?)
runners up  just missed the cut