Banderas Tests Fake Skin on Human Guinea Pig; Birders: Movies

Antonio Banderas and Elena Anaya in "The Skin I Live In," directed by Pedro Almodovar. Photographer: Jose Haro/Sony Pictures Classics via Bloomberg

Pedro Almodovar takes outrageousness to a new level with “The Skin I Live In,” his genre mishmash about a plastic surgeon who uses a kidnap victim as a guinea pig for his artificial-skin experiments.

Dr. Robert Ledgard, played by a poker-faced Antonio Banderas, locks Vera (Elena Anaya) in a room where she’s constantly monitored by security cameras. She exercises and watches TV while wearing a flesh-colored body suit that shows off her fine form.

It’s not even the most outlandish outfit in Almodovar’s film: There’s a robber dressed as a tiger and a clothing-store clerk shackled by chains and stripped to his underwear.

The story is so off-the-wall that you may find yourself creeped out one minute and laughing the next.

Ledgard vows to develop a burn-proof skin after his wife is charred in a car crash and commits suicide upon seeing her disfigured face. He’s also intent on avenging a sexual assault on his daughter (Blanca Suarez) by a young man she met at a party.

The doctor somehow merges those goals into a warped fantasy that he turns into reality.

The director never quite gets a handle on the material, adapted from Thierry Jonquet’s novel “Tarantula.” As strange as his movies are, Almodovar usually infuses them with a strong dose of humanity. In “The Skin I Live In,” however, the main characters are as cold as a corpse.

“The Skin I Live In,” from Sony Pictures Classics, is playing in New York and Los Angeles. Rating: **

‘The Big Year’

Does watching a snowy owl increase your pulse rate? Would you rather photograph a sandhill crane than Angelina Jolie?

If so, you’ll probably love “The Big Year,” a comedy about three obsessive men competing for the title of world’s greatest bird-watcher. If not, you’ll likely be bored by this featherweight story.

Corporate tycoon Stu (Steve Martin), computer geek Brad (Jack Black) and building contractor Kenny (Owen Wilson) are all dissatisfied with their lives and looking for a challenge. They find it through birding, specifically a yearlong contest to see who can spot the most species in North America.

Stu and Brad want to dethrone defending champion Kenny, a cocky competitor who holds the world record. Touring the U.S. and Canada, including a trip to the Aleutian Islands, they keep crossing paths in their bid for birding immortality.

To satisfy viewers who may not be enthralled by ornithology, director David Frankel (“The Devil Wears Prada,” “Marley & Me”) and screenwriter Howard Franklin throw in trite subplots about the trio’s families.

The soundtrack includes “Surfin’ Bird,” “Blackbird,” “Come Fly Away” and “I Like Birds.” So much for subtlety.

“The Big Year,” from 20th Century Fox, is playing across the U.S. Rating: *1/2

What the Stars Mean:

****          Excellent
***           Good
**            Average
*             Poor
(No stars)    Worthless

(Rick Warner is the movie critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)

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