November 5th, 2014

UNDER THE SKIN (2014) **

I freely admit that I rented Under the Skin just to see Scarlett Johansson naked. Director Jonathan Glazer probably knew that Scarlett’s assets were the main attraction, and he goes out of his way to make the experience about as uncomfortable as it possibly could’ve been. No matter how sexy the idea of Scarlett Johansson playing an alien who seduces and kills men is, Glazer and company takes all the fun out of it, and seemingly take perverse pleasure in doing so.

Scarlett plays an alien in Glasgow who drives around in a van picking up random dudes. Sometimes she takes them to her apartment where they are swallowed up into a black void. After seducing and destroying a couple of guys, she goes on a journey of self-discovery.

If Species and The Brown Bunny had an illegitimate kid, it would look something like Under the Skin. On the surface, it’s about a sexy alien seducing and killing men. However, it’s played out in a similar to The Brown Bunny as lots of time is spent with the main character driving in a van before making a queasy revelation about themselves involving sex.

Like The Brown Bunny, there are a lot of long takes where nothing much happens. The Brown Bunny tested the audience’s patience until the sudden ending explained and justified the deliberate manner of the film. With Under the Skin, the twist near the end is pretty cool, but it doesn’t do much to make up for the rest of the movie’s shortcomings.

Glazer seems to revel in fucking with his audience. There is a lot of deliberately off-putting stuff here that makes much of the film a chore to sit through. The long sequence of Scarlett seducing a (real) deformed man and the ensuing scene where he runs around naked (for what feels like forever) is difficult to watch.

This of course, was Glazer’s intention. He knows we only were here to see ScarJo’s goodies, so he just wants to rub our noses in it the whole time. As far as a movie living up to the filmmaker’s intentions go, Under the Skin hits bull’s-eye. As, you know, a “fun” movie-watching experience; it’s anything but.

L.A. BOUNTY (1989) ** ½

Wings Hauser is a drug dealer who spends his days painting nude portraits of hot women in his warehouse hideout. He kidnaps a mayoral candidate in another one of his get-rich-quick schemes. Sybil Danning is an ex-cop-turned-bounty-hunter who is on his trail. Since Wings was the guy who killed her partner, she’s looking for revenge.

If you’re a Wings Hauser fan, you have every right to check out L.A. Bounty. His sleazy performance doesn’t quite reach the insane heights of Vice Squad, but give the guy credit for trying. The scenes of him painting, threatening people on videotape, and doing little monologues for no one in particular are great. He completely steals the show and infuses the film with his own peculiar blend of psycho charisma.

If you’re a Sybil Danning fan, you might be in for a disappointment. She plays a character of few words (according to IMDB, 31) and often remains silent, brooding, and glowering in her scenes. Danning also got a story credit on this, but I think all that amounted to was her saying, “Hey, how about the hero is played by a woman this time instead of a man?” Seriously, Sybil plays the same kind of role Clint Eastwood or Charles Bronson would’ve felt at home playing. Does she pull it off? No, not quite, but it’s sort of interesting to watch her try.

A lot of L.A. Bounty is like that. It never quite works, but it’s watchable throughout. Because Sybil’s performance is so low key, she sometimes feels like a non-entity in the film (except for the scene where she blows a guy’s hand off with her trusty shotgun). It’s then up to Wings to carry the movie. He’s up for the challenge, although his final confrontation with Sybil is a letdown.

IT CAME FROM THE THRIFT STORE: 52 PICK-UP (1986) ** ½

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Roy Scheider is a rich businessman with a hot wife (Ann-Margret) who’s in politics. He has an affair with a young stripper (Kelly Preston) and is blackmailed by a psycho pornographer (John Glover). When Roy refuses to pay, the psycho steals his gun, kills the stripper, and blackmails him for even more dough. Roy then has to figure out a way to outwit his blackmailer while keeping his marriage from crumbling.

Directed by John Frankenheimer and based on a novel by Elmore Leonard (who also co-scripted), 52 Pick-Up takes its time getting going. Frankeheimer moves things along at a deliberate, but confident pace; allowing the story to play out unrushed. It’s at its best when Scheider is working his way through the sleazy world of porn and blackmail. The scenes of Scheider playing Glover and his goons against each other are pretty good too.

Roy Scheider and Ann-Margret are really good together. There’s a great moment where he confesses his infidelity to her that plays out in a genuine manner. Glover, speaking in a slimy Baltimore accent, is excellent as the creepy blackmailer and pretty much steals the show. Clarence Williams III and Vanity (appearing in her third It Came from the Thrift Store flick) have some nice moments as well.

Although the film’s pacing is efficient for about an hour or so, it really starts to meander during the second half. The ending is a bit unsatisfying too and feels out of step with the rest of the movie. If anything, the flick is worth watching just for Glover’s party scene where lots of porn stars (Ron Jeremy, Sharon Mitchell, Amber Lynn, Tom Bryon, and Jamie Gillis) turn up (presumably) playing themselves.

Our next It Came from the Thrift Store flick: Honor Among Thieves starring Charles Bronson!