Monday, April 14, 2014

Film Reviews: Dom Hemingway & Under the Skin

"Dom Hemingway"  *** (out of ****)

Dom Hemingway (Jude Law) is a guy every thug knows. He served a 12 year prison sentence. He did a good thing though. He lived by the code of ethics among thugs, he didn't rat anyone out. He was a goodfella. No, wait, sorry, wrong movie. Well, sorta.

Now that Dom has been released from his sentence he wants payback. During those 12 years he was away his wife died of cancer, he never had the chance to say goodbye and he never got the chance to see his daughter, Evelyn (Emilia Clarke) grow up. Now she has a son which Dom never knew about. In fact she doesn't even meet Dom when he is released. Instead his old friend Dickie Black (Richard E. Grant) picks him up.

Given all that has happened to him, Dom expects Mr. Fontaine (Demian Bichir) to pay him back. Mr. Fontaine is a top thug. The man Dom protected. All Dom had to do was give the police a name and his sentence may have been reduced. But, then that would have made Dom a rat. Which is unacceptable. Mr. Fontaine knows he owes Dom.

"Dom Hemingway" is a Guy Ritchie / Quentin Tarantino-esque movie that was directed by Richard Shepard who also directed "The Matador" (2005) and a few episodes of the HBO telelvision show "Girls". And that's largely the problem. Shepard is no Ritchie or Tarantino. He lacks their visual flair. Their inventiveness.

Though "Dom Hemingway" has its own charms. Jude Law is very good in the lead. Some of the dialogue is good. But the movie feels slight. It shifts tone. It goes from a revenge thug almost comical story to a sentimental tone dealing with a man trying to reconnect with the daughter he never knew.

"Dom Hemingway" is no classic but it puts on an entertaining show and has a good performance by Jude Law, who really carries the movie.

"Under the Skin"
 * 1\2 (out of ****)

Jonathan Glazer's science-fiction adaptation of Michel Faber's novel of the same title was the big art house movie release over the weekend.

Many people were greatly looking forward to this film. Glazer has previously directed "Sexy Beast" (2001) the fantastic gangster film with Ben Kingsley and "Birth" (2004) the divisive reincarnation movie starring Nicole Kidman. I personally enjoyed both and was also looking forward to "Under the Skin".

"Under the Skin" has opened to mainly positive reviews both in the U.K., where it was released a month earlier and the U.S. But if people thought "Birth" was an audience divider wait until they see "Under the Skin" (2014).

In "Under the Skin" Scarlett Johansson plays an alien, who isn't given a name. She takes the form of an attractive young woman who is an uncanny double for Scarlett Johansson. She prowls the streets of Glasgow in a van looking for unsuspecting lonely young men, who no one would miss if they should disappear. When she finds a potential victim she brings them back to her secret hideaway where the men mysteriously vanish in a black liquid which is almost like quicksand. The men eventually evaporate and only their skin remains.

Not much is thoroughly explained in this movie. What is the ultimate goal of these aliens? What is this black liquid? Why only go after young men?

The movie seems to hit on some themes concerning beauty, being human and the powerless nature men face when confronted by a beautiful woman.

The alien played by Johansson goes through a shift and starts to show compassion towards humans after she meets a young man who suffers from neurofibromatosis, played by Adam Pearson. Initially she picks him up with the intention of taking him to the hideway but she lets him escape. It is what I like to call "the beauty and the beast" syndrome. The beautiful woman takes compassion on the ugly male. Examples are of course "Beauty and the Beast", "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" and "The Kings of Queens". It reinforces the concept the media and society has tried to shove down our throats that women are compassionate. They have a maternal instinct. And Johannson isn't even human in this movie yet exhibits "typical" female traits.

These moments clash with earlier scenes where Johansson leads these men to their demise and a scene on a beach involving a baby.

Those that like this movie say they enjoyed the style of the movie. They like the cinematography, the music and the eerie quality Glazer gives the movie. But no one talks about the substance. Every critic that I have read says they don't quite understand the movie but to them it doesn't matter. The style is so overwhelming. To me this is a typical example of style over substance. If critics didn't feel this is an "important", "artistic" movie they would say "Under the Skin" is a mis-guided convoluted mess.

Yes, you can sense the movie wants to be about something. There is some sort of commentary going on but I am not convinced the movie goes about presenting those themes in the best way possible.