Noirish sci-fi ‘Under the Skin’ is both artful and annoying

Under the Skin posterUnder the Skin/2013/Film4, BFI et al/108 min.

“Under the Skin,” a noirish sci-fi film by Jonathan Glazer (“Sexy Beast,” “Birth”) is austere and visually striking, inscrutable and haunting. It’s also a meditation on what it’s like to be a woman in contemporary society. Or not.

The “woman” here is an alien in disguise, played by Scarlett Johansson, who has come to Earth to hunt men. After climbing into the pretty skin of an expired human, she dons a fluffy black wig and tarty clothes, and applies a bright pop of color to those famous pouty lips.

Her trap set, she drives a van through the streets of Glasgow and seduces her victims, leading them, zombielike, into pools of black gunk. Then the tables turn; she shows vulnerability and becomes the hunted.

Shot on a low-budget often with hidden cameras and using a mix of professionals (like Johansson) and non-actors, “Under the Skin” feels dually creepy – it tells a strange story and, reportedly, the everyday Scotsmen she picks up didn’t recognize the raven-haired, English-accented Johansson or know that a movie was being made.

Glazer artfully creates a mood of anxiety, dread and mystery – to that end, he puts dashes of Polanski, Hitchcock, Kubrick, DePalma, Scorsese, Cocteau and Buñuel into this cinematic stew. What’s not in the recipe is meat – we get virtually nothing in the way of back story, exposition or even a suggestion as to why any of this is happening (a question that is answered in the source novel by Michel Faber).

Though the spare dialogue adds to the tension, it also keeps us in the dark in terms of a traditional narrative. But perhaps that is Glazer’s point: since we are watching a story of an alien it’s fitting that it unfolds not in a common language but in ambiguous images.

Depending on your taste, “Under the Skin” will be exquisitely harrowing or peculiarly maddening.

“Under the Skin” opens April 4 in New York at the Regal Union Square 14 and AMC Empire 25 and in Los Angeles at the ArcLight Hollywood and AMC Century City 15. On April 4 and April 5, at the Regal in NYC, director Jonathan Glazer will do a Q&A after the 7:20 p.m. shows. The film will expand nationwide throughout April.

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The Aero hosts an evening with Sofia Coppola in person

Sofia Coppola

Having just seen “The Bling Ring,” Sofia Coppola’s terrific new neo-noir based on real events, I am especially excited about An Evening with Sofia Coppola, presented by the American Cinematheque.

The night begins with 2003’s “Lost in Translation,” starring Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson, as two Americans who cross paths one night in a luxury hotel bar in Tokyo and form an unlikely friendship. The film earned Coppola an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.

Next up is “The Virgin Suicides,” Coppola’s adaption of Jeffrey Eugenides’ novel exploring adolescent repression and rebellion in an upper-class Detroit suburb in the 1970s. The local boys are mesmerized by the mysterious Lisbon sisters, who are kept on a short leash by overprotective parents James Woods and Kathleen Turner. When one of the girls (Kirsten Dunst) strikes up a relationship with one of the guys (Josh Hartnett), it sets in motion a chain of events that ends in tragedy.

There will be a discussion between films with Coppola.

An Evening with Sofia Coppola takes place on Wednesday, June 5 at 7:30 p.m. at the Aero Theater in Santa Monica.

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Dita Von Teese to appear at perfume event in Los Angeles

Dita Von Teese photo by Ali Mahdavi

Dita Von Teese will appear at an in-store perfume event in Los Angeles this Saturday, Dec. 15. The event runs from 2-6 p.m. at Fred Segal, 8118 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood, 90046, 323-651-1800. This will be the launch of the second DVT fragrance, Rouge. As Dita puts it: “Perfume sets the mood and I’m in the mood to seduce.”

Dita Von Teese perfume is available online in most countries from RonRobinson.

On Sunday, Dec. 16, makeup artist Julie Hewett, who created Scarlett Johansson’s Janet Leigh look in “Hitchcock” and draws from film noir in her product line, is scheduled to give 30-minute private consultations from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Blushington, a makeup studio at 8591 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, 90069. Call 310-652-5874 to make an appointment. You’ll be charged a $50 deposit at the time of booking, which can be used toward product purchases.

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Highly entertaining ‘Hitchcock’ lacks inherent drama

For me, the much-awaited “Hitchcock,” which had its world premiere at AFI Fest 2012 presented by Audi, is the cinematic equivalent of the curate’s egg: parts were good. And the actors were quite good (Oscar-worthy some say) in their parts: Anthony Hopkins as director Alfred Hitchcock, Helen Mirren as his wife Alma Reville and Scarlett Johansson as actress Janet Leigh.

We meet the Hitchcocks in 1959, enjoying the success of “North by Northwest,” Hitch and Alma having made the critical flop “Vertigo” the year before. At 60, the great auteur was at the height of his fame and yet was unable to convince Paramount to finance his next film, “Psycho,” a story based on Robert Bloch’s lurid novel about a serial killer. So the couple decide to finance it themselves – a huge gamble that paid off nicely at the box office and with critics. The movie was nominated for four Oscars.

Against this backdrop, director Sacha Gervasi depicts the artist as a brilliant, shrewd, canny and compulsive man with no end of personal peccadilloes (overeating and obsessing over elegant blondes top the list) and renders a portrait of a marriage that was at times strained but resilient enough to last 54 years.

Upon accepting the AFI Lifetime Achievement Award in 1979, Hitchcock said: “I beg permission to mention by name only four people who have given me the most affection, appreciation, and encouragement, and constant collaboration. The first of the four is a film editor, the second is a scriptwriter, the third is the mother of my daughter Pat, and the fourth is as fine a cook as ever performed miracles in a domestic kitchen. And their names are Alma Reville.”

Arguably, their ultimate bond was the work – making movies that masterfully blend high art, humor and entertainment in a way that has been often repeated and only rarely rivaled.

With its luscious looks, meticulous period details and engaging performances (even if Hopkins sometimes veers into a slightly mannered impersonation), Gervasi’s “Hitchcock” entertains, to be sure. The opening sequence and the scenes where we see Hitch directing Leigh are especially memorable.

But as I watched this glossy yarn, I couldn’t help wondering why this story was being told, what it was adding or subtracting to the legacy of Alfred and Alma. In other words, because “Hitchcock” lacks an inherent drama and an editorial stance by Gervasi, it also fails to involve us deeply or move us. That said, there’s an intrigue to the back story of a film as famous as “Psycho” and, to that end, “Hitchcock” doesn’t disappoint.

“Hitchcock” opens today in limited release.

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AFI Fest 2012 starts tonight with ‘Hitchcock’ world premiere

I’m very much looking forward to the 26th annual AFI Fest, which starts tonight in Hollywood with the world premiere of “Hitchcock” directed by Sacha Gervasi and starring Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren and Scarlett Johansson.

Other galas include: “Life of Pi” (in 3D), “Lincoln,” “On the Road,” “Rise of the Guardians” (in 3D) and “Rust and Bone.” For an overview of the festival, read Anne Thompson and Sophia Savage’s nifty preview piece here. AFI Fest 2012 is presented by Audi.

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Hitch bio-flix premieres, ‘Psycho’ and ‘Dressed to Kill’ at Aero

Decades after making “The Birds” (1963) and “Marnie” (1964) with Alfred Hitchcock, actress Tippi Hedren said the director harassed her and hindered her career, after she rebuffed his advances. “The Girl,” a recounting of her side of the story, premieres Saturday at 9 p.m. (8 p.m. Central) on HBO.

Directed by Julian Jarrold and written by Gwyneth Hughes, ”The Girl” stars Sienna Miller and Toby Jones. If other Hitchcock blondes, such as Eva Marie Saint, Kim Novak, Ingrid Bergman and Grace Kelly, received similar treatment, they did not publicly reveal it. You can read Richard Brody’s excellent review of the movie here.

Writing for HuffPo, TV critic Lynn Elber describes the “stunned silence” after a private screening of the “The Girl,” held for Hedren, her friends and family, including daughter Melanie Griffith.

According to Elber, Hedren had this to say after the event in Beverly Hills: “I’ve never been in a screening room where nobody moved, nobody said anything. Until my daughter jumped up and said, ‘Well, now I have to go back into therapy.’”

It will be interesting to compare that treatment to “Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho,” which opens the AFI Fest 2012 on Thursday, Nov. 1. (General release is Nov. 23.)

Directed by Sacha Gervasi, the film highlights Hitchcock’s relationship with his wife Alma Reville and her contributions to his work, particularly 1959’s “Psycho.” The film stars Anthony Hopkins as Hitch, Helen Mirren as Alma and Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh. (Imelda Staunton plays Alma in HBO’s “The Girl.”)

And, tonight at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica, there is a great double bill: “Psycho” and “Dressed to Kill” (1981, Brian De Palma), starring Michael Caine and Angie Dickinson.

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Coen Brothers’ ‘Man’ is darkly moody, handsomely shot

The Man Who Wasn’t There/2001/Good Machine, et al/116 min.

Scarlett Johansson plays a high-school student in this 2001 film.

What would life be without a dark and handsome companion at night? One I highly recommend is “The Man Who Wasn’t There” by master filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen. This homage to vintage film noir, gorgeously shot in black and white by cinematographer Roger Deakins, conjures a guy you’ll always remember.

Set in 1949, the film introduces us to a choice cast of characters. Top of the list is introspective and blasé Ed Crane (Billy Bob Thornton), who has fallen into a comfortable, if dull, life in Santa Rosa, Calif. He’s fond of his wife Doris (Frances McDormand), both cynical and oddly sweet, but there’s never been any passion between them.

To earn a living, Ed cuts hair with his brother-in-law Frank (Michael Badalucco) at the family barbershop. (“I don’t talk much,” Ed tells us. “I just cut the hair.”) Doris is a bookkeeper at Nirdlinger’s, the town’s big department store, and together they have it “made” – after all, Ed points out dryly, they have a garbage grinder built into the sink.

When he’s not working or tossing scraps down their fancy drain, Ed kills time mainly by smoking and taking care of Doris after she’s had too much to drink, which is quite often. Doris passes the hours of their lives by playing bingo and having an affair with her boss at Nirdlinger’s, Big Dave Brewster (James Gandolfini), a blustery WW2 vet. Dave’s married to Ann Nirdlinger (Katherine Borowitz), whose family owns the store. Ed knows about the affair but, as he does with everything, takes it in stride.

Ed’s life changes forever the day that unctuous big-mouth businessman Creighton Tolliver (Jon Polito) walks into the barbershop as it’s about to close, gets a very quick trim and happens to mention that he’s in town trying to raise money to invest in drycleaning, which he’s convinced is “the biggest business opportunity since Henry Ford.”

Ed decides later that night that he wants in on the putative drycleaning empire and figures he can raise the requisite $10,000 by anonymously blackmailing Dave. No sooner does Ed get the cash than Tolliver takes off with it. And because Tolliver is so quick to bend ears and beg for money, Dave gets to the bottom of the blackmail scheme and intends to get his money back.

What Dave doesn’t count on is that Ed’s mild facade hides nerves of cold steel; when cornered, Ed’s response to him is quick, instinctive and deadly. But, after news breaks of Doris and Dave’s affair, Doris is arrested for Dave’s murder. [Read more...]

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THR on red-carpet beauty, what Head said, Zoe’s dough

The Hollywood Reporter’s recent style issue was packed with great stories. For instance, Meg Hemphill spotted four awards beauty trends that she predicts we’ll be seeing for months to come. They are:

Think bright pink for spring.

1. Bright pink lips: Who doesn’t love a flirty pink pout? Not Scarlett Johansson, who wore MAC’s Sheen Supreme in Behave Yourself, $14.50, on Oscar night, or Claire Danes, who dazzled at the SAGs with Joli Rouge in 709 Parisian Pink, $24, by Clarins. Shown here is MAC’s Full Fuchsia.

2. Messy side-dos: Let loose with a softly asymmetrical look. Hairstylist Laini Reeves, creator of Amy Adams’ up-do for the Globes, called the effect “1920s with a twist.”

3. Soft makeup: Nars Illuminating Cream, $29, was key to Olivia Wilde’s sheer glow at the Golden Globes. Makeup artist Spencer Barnes was going for “a soft, timeless look that wasn’t focused on trendy color schemes or any one bold application.”

4. Retro waves: Frederic Fekkai hairstylist Adir Abergel took a cue from old Hollywood and Rita Hayworth, then updated the look for Anne Hathaway on Globes night.

Edith Head

A must-read: Sam Wasson on the legacy of A-list costume designer Edith Head. The story is pegged to the release of two new books: “Edith Head: The Fifty-Year Career of Hollywood’s Greatest Costume Designer” and “The Dress Doctor: Prescriptions for Style from A to Z,” an adaptation of Head’s best-selling tome from 1959.

The spread features pictures from “Vertigo,” “Rear Window,” “The Birds” and other movies. Love this quotation from Head: “Clothes not only can make the woman – they can make her several different women. There’s no one style; there’s a style for a mood.”

THR’s cover story by Shirley Halperin details the empire of Rachel Zoe Inc., “a multiplatform brand powerhouse.” A companion piece names Hollywood ’s 25 most powerful stylists. The top four, after Zoe, are: Kate Young, Petra Flannery, Jen Rade and Anna Bingemann.

Other exiting news: Zoe and husband Rodger Berman are parents to a baby boy. Their first child, Skyler Morrison Berman, was born March 24 in Los Angeles.

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