Quick reviews for Jodorowsky’s Dune, Brick Mansions, The Face of Love, Last Passenger, and Under the Skin.
Jodorowsky’s Dune is the best thing I watched all week. It’s an entertaining documentary that tells the captivating story behind the greatest movie never made. Alejandro Jodorowsky is an interesting fella and a visionary filmmaker (El Topo, The Holy Mountain). It’s a joy to watch the octogenarian enthusiastically discuss his passion project; a movie that he said he was willing to die for. He says that he wanted the movie to “give LSD hallucinations- without taking LSD” and “change the young minds of the world.” This is a man that is very in tune with consciousness and the metaphysical. He eschews traditional filmmaking, always looking for a deeper, richer experience.
Jodorowsky wanted every person that worked on his adaptation of Frank Herbert’s epic science fiction novel to be a “spiritual warrior”. He refused to settle, and always pursued the best people possible for the job. Jodo and his contemporaries share entertaining stories about his pursuit to work with Salvador Dalí, Orson Welles, Pink Floyd, Jean “Moebius” Giraud, H.R. Giger, and Mick Jagger, among others. You’re really going to wish his vision was brought to life after watching Jodorowsky’s Dune. It’s an insightful documentary with an endearing subject and there’s never a dull moment. It boasts terrific interviews, dozens of sketches of sets/costumes and it even has an animated sequence put together with some of his storyboards that’s really cool. It’s a must-see for science fiction fans. I give it 4.5 out of 5 Nerdskulls.
One of the films that I saw this week was a letdown. Brick Mansions is a remake of the exciting 2004 French action movie District B13, the film that introduced a lot of people to parkour. Two years later, the opening scene in Casino Royale would further popularize the training method that includes running, jumping, climbing, swinging, and rolling; basically whatever it takes to get from A to B as efficiently as possible- obstacles be damned. District B13 is a jolt of kinetic energy and the impressive, seemingly impossible stunts performed by traceurs (practitioners of parkour, in this case David Belle and Cyril Raffaelli) are on display front and center, surrounded by a silly but suitable story.
Brick Mansions pales in comparison. The setting is moved to Detroit in 2018, and parkour shares the spotlight with a bunch of crappy car chases (aka commercials). With a much bigger budget, the new version boasts sloppy camerawork, choppy editing, poor acting, and less engaging music. It also introduces a gentrification angle that doesn’t really work.
David Belle is back and his ridiculous stunts are the best thing about the movie. They’re tough to see though because the camera moves too fast at too close of a proximity to properly film them. There are also too many cuts to see his fascinatingly fluid moves as clearly as you can in DB13. Unfortunately, Cyril Raffaelli’s role was given to somebody that does not practice parkour; the recently deceased Paul Walker (R.I.P.). Walker was not a traceur and the movie suffers because of it. Raffaelli’s exhilarating action scenes are replaced with traditional fist fights and subpar Chrysler/GMC commercials. Skip Brick Mansions and watch the original instead (it’s on Netflix). I would only recommend the remake to parkour/action junkies that have already seen District B13 and want to check out David Belle’s new moves. Brick Mansions gets 2 out of 5 Nerdskulls.
The Face of Love was better than I expected after the tepid buzz from early reviews. Annette Bening plays a widow that loses her husband and then falls for his doppelgänger (both played by Ed Harris). They have decent chemistry and Bening turns in another strong performance. The movie has an identity crisis though, and struggles to find the right tone. It is listed as a romantic comedy, but plays more like a dramedy, and has a premise that feels better suited for a psychological thriller. It has a theme of obsession similar to Vertigo- Alfred Hitchcock’s most personal film- and has a few references to the 1958 classic (we even catch a glimpse of Saul Bass’ iconic poster). Unfortunately, The Face of Love lacks The Master of Suspense’s steady direction and doesn’t quite come together. Still, it’s nice to see a “romantic comedy” that takes on adult subject matter and doesn’t resort to vulgar jokes or gross-out humor. It will probably resonate most with folks of an older demographic. I give it 3 out of 5 Nerdskulls.
Another movie that I enjoyed is the British suspense thriller Last Passenger. It has a decidedly old-school feel and is also influenced by Hitchcock movies. If I had to pitch this film to a studio, I’d say that it’s a cross between Hitch’s classic The Lady Vanishes, and the 2010 Denzel Washington flick, Unstoppable. It makes the most of it’s $2.5 million budget and gets by on solid performances (Dougray Scott, Kara Tointon) and good old-fashioned mystery instead of stunts and spectacle. It is the directorial debut of Omid Nooshin, but it doesn’t feel like his first time. He makes the most of his confined setting, shooting on an actual train instead of a moveable set due to budgetary constraints. The camera smoothly moves throughout the train corridors without getting too fancy. Last Passenger doesn’t end as strongly as I’d hoped, and the characters seem way too cool under pressure, but it’s worth the ticket to ride and comes recommended from the Salty one. 3.5 out of 5 Nerdskulls.
The last film that I was going to review got pushed back, so I’ll replace it with the best thing I saw last week, Under the Skin. If you like challenging films like Holy Motors, Enter the Void, and Upstream Color you can’t miss this one. Director Jonathan Glazer (Sexy Beast, Birth) offers up a film that raises questions instead of providing gift-wrapped answers. You may be left scratching your head, but it’s the journey, not the destination that matters and this one is a trip. (I’m sure Glazer is a big fan of Jodorowsky.) I’m still thinking about it and I saw it 10 days/20 movies ago.
Scarlett Johansson bares all, but it’s her stellar performance that deserves the attention. She’s icily haunting in the starring role and several of her scenes are shot with hidden cameras and unsuspecting non-actors. The film is visually striking and I’m sure the color red has some significance, but I haven’t figured it out yet. The music is surreal and adds to the mood. I love movies like this and they don’t come along very often. Out of the films reviewed in this article, Under the Skin is the most polarizing and the one that I can’t wait to see again. It demands repeat viewings and I’m sure there’s symbolism and other things that I didn’t catch the first time. Props to everyone involved for making something so unique. 4.5 out of 5 Nerdskulls.
All 5 of these movies are currently playing in Houston:
Jodorowsky’s Dune- Sundance Cinemas
Brick Mansions– Wide release
The Face of Love- Sundance Cinemas
Last Passenger– Edwards Greenway Grand Palace Stadium 24
Under the Skin– Alamo Drafthouse Vintage Park and Sundance Cinemas
Have a great weekend! If you see any of these movies, please share your opinions in the comments.
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