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Under the Skin

Under the Skin film posterSynopsis

Very loosely based on the novel by Michel Faber.  It’s about an alien (Scarlet Johansson) who visits Earth.  She apparently steals the body of a human and then tracks down prey in her van, travelling through the streets of Glasgow.  She takes pity on one of the victims and lets him go.  She witnesses a drowning at sea and leaves a child helpless.  She travels around Scotland.  A forester tries to rape her and discovers her true identity…

Review

I will confess I was deeply disappointed with this movie which refuses to make cerebral compensation for this wilfully low budget appearance.  It’s a familiar sci-fi story: an alien comes to Earth and responds to human reality.  Robert Heinstein wrote Stranger in a Strange Land in which his alien’s benign nature inadvertently satirises human corruption.  Bowie’s Man Who Fell to Earth is based on this.  Bowie’s alien is a family man who is angelic, abused by sinful humans.  Then there is the silly ’90s film Species, which effectively was Geiger’s Alien meets Baywatch. Someone who reads the book tells me it’s about wolf-faced aliens who abduct earthlings and fatten them ready for eating.  For the first ten minutes of Under the Skin we get electric mutterings (learning our language?) within a brilliant circle of light and shade, pierced by a hypodermic threat (?) in an electrified screech.  This is reminiscent of 2001‘s aligned moons and the ‘avant garde’ films of Jordan Belson.  Then it’s on a steep gradient into posturing banality.  There is the unamusingly gimmicky prank of the alien (Scarlet Johansson) picking up unsuspecting members of the Scottish public; they are genuinely unaware that they’re in a film. The film crew are hidden in the back of Johansson’s van and for a lot of the time I felt like I’d been kidnapped and stuffed into the boot of that van.  This is a suffocating and self absorbed journey.  Perhaps all this is meant to emphasise the chance/nature of extraterrestrial visitation, a million miles from “take me to your leader”.  This alien is no Michael Rennie from The Day the Earth stood Still.  She takes her victims to a place of black liquid emptiness where bodies morph into Francis Bacon grotesques of boneless flesh.  This is futurist vampirism.  Okay, I get it, the insidious creepiness of this alien in the guise of a film star has satirical possibilities (which the film is too solemnly portentous to exploit).  The sight of Scarlett Johansson in a Glaswegian street is as unlikely as an alien visitor.  Her would-be visceral darkness and scary blankness mask an oily dark reptilian who looks like a reject from X-Men but a lot of the time she just looks vacant.  The things she sees are strange to her and should be strange to us but the film looks like a minimalist joke of nihilist posing.  There is no plot, of course, just art house self absorption and non-acting.  A waste of time..

 

 

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Posted by on April 2, 2014 in At the cinema, Film Reviews

 

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The Angels’ Share

The Angels' Share posterSynopsis

Set in Glasgow at the start, it’s a film by Ken Loach about a group of offenders at Glasgow’s City Court.  They get community service under the supervision of Harry (John Henshaw), a Mancunian.  He mentors Robbie (Peter Brannigan), who is on a serious assault charge, but his girlfriend is pregnant so he’s on community service.  Robbie is pursued by vicious thugs and his girlfriend’s father tries to pack him off to London.  Harry gets the offenders interested in whiskey, and at a whiskey tasting conference in Edinburgh they learn about a very expensive whiskey.  They go up to northern Scotland where this whiskey is being auctioned.  They steal it and plan to sell it.  Robbie does a deal with a buyer’s agent and they might live happily ever after…

Criticism

This is another film by Ken Loach in which the jolly capers of crime have replaced the political debates of his earlier films.  In Looking for Eric  Eric Cantona and friends get revenge on Mancunian gangsters, here the thuggish Robbie finds a purpose in his skilled taste for whiskey but he’s still a criminal as he gets one up on the world.  This is like a jokey Cooke’s Tour of working class Scotland.  Loach, like Mike Leigh, has a lifelong interest in the quaint anthropology of the working now under-class and its brutal life.  Here the working class gets the less noble savage treatment (as opposed to the political films), presumably he’s given up on attempts at socialist politics.  Apparently, Robbie and his friends are not professional actors, so they display the usual wooden self-consciousness of the non- professional.  This is supposed to make things more authentic, after all aren’t the underclass uneducated and inarticulate?  They use their wits to get the hugely expensive whiskey and make money from it, but it looks just like another attempt at caper hilarity.  There is no redemption for Robbie through inner struggle, just him and his friends getting the better of other people.

In Harry Loach recycles the kindly mentor role of Colin Welland in Kes and he looks like Brian Glover (the sports teacher from that film).  There is the same superior fascination with the antics of working people with a hobby, in Kes it’s the training of a kestrel and in Angels’ Share it’s whiskey.  Robbie and co have learned nothing except to steal from the rich (a barrel of whiskey worth a million pounds), yet we’re supposed to find this pseudo-Robin Hood stuff quite endearing.  Loach has stopped making thoughtful films and now looks as if he is theme-parking the sad remnants of the industrial working class for global consumption.  The Angels’ Share of the title refers to the 2% of whiskey that evaporates in the cask throughout the year, and it looks as if we don’t get much more in the way of a sympathetic film.  An unlikeable and exploitative film.

 
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Posted by on June 13, 2012 in At the cinema, Film Reviews

 

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