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Double Feature: April 2014

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Watching the right pair of movies back-to-back can illuminate wildly different details, create a whole new viewing experience and, just maybe, BLOW your MIND. Plus, it’s fun! Here’s your monthly guide:

On April 4, Captain America: The Winter Soldier will snare delighted young men in almost 4,000 theaters, no small thanks to the scissor kicks and dark-and-curvy costumes of Scarlett Johansson, reprising her superhuman anti-hero, Black Widow.

That same weekend, however, on a fraction of screens, way back at the lonely end of the multiplex hallway, Johansson will also play a dangerous extra-terrestrial visitor using a costume of human flesh to snare delighted young men in Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin, a sci-fi thriller that attempts to view our world entirely through the eyes of an alien. The word from the Toronto Film Festival last fall is that this enigmatic chiller divided audiences with love and/or hate.

Director Glazer’s 2000 debut, Sexy Beast, a blistering and wily gangster flick became an instant cult classic, while his 2004 follow-up, Birth, was a quiet, somewhat uncomfortable feeling misfit that was instantly dismissed by audiences and critics alike. Now, he returns a decade later – with a film notable both for being even more experimental than his previous efforts, and for the bold, naked trust he earned from his lead actress, Johansson – to find himself being compared to the legendary director Stanley Kubrick, with whom he shares a heavy use of steady-cam, haunting atmosphere and a fascination with watching humans behaving in not so human ways.

First up:
2001: A Space Odyssey (160 min)
Dir. Stanley Kubrick, 1968
Availability: Blu-ray/DVD, Amazon Instant

Just about everyone who is somewhat immersed in the world of pop culture can recognize the red eye of HAL 9000 and his infamous voice singing “Daisy” with a disturbing melancholy; or mimic his line, “Just what do you think you’re doing, Dave?” with an insidious humanity. HAL didn’t try to become human; it was an accident of survivalism and curiosity – mirroring the evolutionary discovery of blunt weapons in the film’s prologue about The Dawn of Man.

HAL is the fun part. Everything else seems incomprehensible to anyone but film buffs and stoners. I think what really makes the accessibility of this journey so difficult are the personality-drained, almost mannequin-like, protagonists. We seem to be expected to sympathize with the bland good looks of these astronauts as they approach an ominous signal coming from Jupiter. But instead, we are puzzled by the disconcertingly detached conversations they have with each other and their families back on Earth; we are driven mad in our helpless seats as we watch them drowsily fend for their lives.

It’s easy to dismiss these wooden performances by Gary Lockwood and Keir Dullea (a pair of actors who were never destined to rise from obscurity) as the flawed products of a director more interested in technical aspects than human ones. But let’s just say, in the context of this Double Feature, that these two icily calm know-it-alls are projecting their own civilization’s ideal of the Advanced Human. When HAL challenges them, look closely and you begin to see cracks in their plastic demeanor, the panic and determination they try to conceal, the sheer awe and terror exhibited when blasted into an epileptic light show of the unknown.

Next:
Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call
New Orleans (122 min)
Dir. Werner Herzog, 2009
Availability: Blu-ray/DVD, Amazon Instant

The tropes of an alien/robot/toy/monster/appliance taking on human traits, or a human taking on animalistic/demonic/bionic/god-like traits, are exhausted every year. Jeff Bridges fearlessly gave a convincingly bizarre impression of a peregrine entity barely comfortable with its homo sapien vessel in John Carpenter‘s sadly mundane and un-recommendable – Starman (1984).
Nicolas Cage balloons the idea of fearless acting to Looney Tunes proportions far too often, but sometimes his particular brand of crazy can be wildly enjoyable, even compelling, as in Werner Herzog‘s nut-job detective yarn with the suitably ridiculous title, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call – New Orleans. Cage’s character spends the movie desperately covering up his own bad deeds with even worse deeds, all while drinking, snorting, and sucking anything he can grab. There’s an incredible moment where he has a hallucinatory staring-match with an iguana that seems to beg the question: should he have ever been molded into a human at all?
In related news, Cage has a new movie, Joe, coming out April 11, in which (according to word from a couple recent movie festivals) he reportedly succeeds in simulating the behavior of an actual human being!

-Rob Fagin

Filed Under: ColumnsDouble FeatureMonthly

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