Archive for Scarlett Johansson

Tower of Terror

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on February 15, 2020 by dcairns

Three recent things we saw — JOJO RABBIT, PARASITE, THE LIGHTHOUSE.

The first two are about people hiding in your house. The third isn’t. Unless they were very well hidden.

JOJO is very well done — on its own terms, close to perfect. I’m not sure if I accept those terms or not, though. But the kids are really good, aren’t they? The round kind who can’t do a German accent, he’s FANTASTIC. And Johanssen is great.

The most noticeable weak point storywise is Jojo suddenly turning detective and locating a secret panel just because he heard a noise. It’s weird they couldn’t devote more attention to that nailing the logic of that key moment.

It’s not a film that worries about setting things up in advance — apart from the shoes and shoelaces business which they make sure to hit hard and often, and then they certainly reap the dramatic rewards. It’s surprising that they wouldn’t plant a single clue before the big reveal of the hider in the house.

I can’t quite decide if the film is a problematically inadequate response to its subject, the way that most of us seem to feel LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL was. I haven’t put my finger on the one thing that would clinch that. In the Benigni film, it’s the idea of a father being able to pretend to his son that a concentration camp is a holiday camp. To suggest that’s possible requires us to adopt the view that life in Belsen wasn’t that bad, that the awfulness was deniable. I can’t get on with the idea of THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PAJAMAS either. Any child is going to know when something that terrible is facing them.

But, as I say, I don’t have a clear sense of where Waititi’s film may have put a foot wrong. Although I wasn’t as moved as I expected or as amused as I expected, and I did feel a tension that the film at any moment might do something unforgivable. But, for me, it just made it to the far end of its tightrope.

PARASITE really is close to perfect, and took almost equal risks, and seemed to me to achieve more. It was genuinely thought-provoking. It was beautifully worked out — the end of the first movement of the story, as the family of impostors infiltrates the house, was a crux, because Bong needed to do something new, unsurprising, and equally brilliant, to carry the film into its second act, and it really looked as if he hadn’t prepared anything.

He had, though.

THE LIGHTHOUSE is just extraordinary. Not a lot going on with the story, perhaps, though it makes ambiguity interesting again. There is gaslighting, which makes it somewhat topical.

Mainly, though, it’s the way each shot, undergirded by the sound design, is not only staggeringly beautiful but POWERFUL in a way that always seems exactly right. We were impressed by THE WITCH, though I’d resisted seeing it for a while because I’m broadly pro-witch and I didn’t like the idea of the film taking a witchfinder’s attitude. It doesn’t exactly do that, though — again, ambiguity is everywhere.

Eggers is a major talent. Can’t wait to see what he does next.

Dog Scoop

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 24, 2020 by dcairns

I have this heap of unwatched Woody Allen films dating back decades — I’ve only seen two films he’s made after DECONSTRUCTING HARRY. Which makes it seem like at some level I believe the accusations against him and lost my desire to look at his work around that time. Which isn’t CONSCIOUSLY true. I don’t believe or disbelieve. What went on in that attic is like the inside of Schroedinger’s maybe-lethal cat-box to me. I can’t know.

But DECONSTRUCTING HARRY, which is quite a strong film, almost feels like a confession, Allen plays such a loathsome character. Around that time, he said that he could play two characters and be accepted by the public, an intellectual (“even though I’m not one”) and a low-life. Harry is both. And the low-life thing really emerges in the wake of the divorce acrimony, as if Allen intuited that a new characterisation had been fortuitously opened up for him.

So I have this suspicion that subconsciously I’ve been put off Allen even without accepting his guilt as fact. I’m not interested in relitigating it. I can’t CHOOSE to believe one thing or the other. But for some reason, I stopped watching his films. I had become a bit erratic at the time of BROADWAY DANNY ROSE, but looking back at it, that’s a good one too. Mysterious.

Anyhow, I pulled SCOOP off the shelf in a fit of perversity, having heard nothing but bad things about it. Boyoboy were those bad things on the money. But not very specific.

Overall, the typical “this is a dire comedy” type reviews are basically correct. But dire how? Well, it’s sloppy at nearly every level. Scarlett Johansson is introduced as an over-her-shoulder on some other guy and then we cut to a clean single of her ~

I guess it ought to work as his POV, but it’s impossible to express how wrong it feels in motion — you are completely convinced that the two characters are not in the same time, space or movie.

They must have been, though, because a couple of scenes later, they’ve slept together. In a clueless bit of writing, she’s talking quite lightheartedly about having been plied with drink and being unable to remember anything, the kind of development that wouldn’t have seemed worrisome maybe, oh, fifty years ago? Hard to imagine any modern woman NOT being seriously concerned at such an outcome.

But then, little seems to bother Johansson’s character — at the end of the film, the man she loves has turned out to be, not Hugh Jackman with a Brit accent, but Jeff Bridges in JAGGED EDGE, merely played by Hugh Jackman with a Brit accent. But she’s not downhearted. If Woody Allen were her neighbour in MANHATTAN MURDER MYSTERY, her lack of emotional response would spark his suspicions.

But instead, Woody Allen is the Great Splendini, a stage magician. OK, the name made me laugh, and some of his crummy gags cracked me up through sheer exertion, though his timing seems a bit off. He used to have this strange gift for delivering jokes in a halting, stumbling way, while still nailing every moment that needed to be nailed to make the joke land. Here, his ums and ahs sometimes take the joke off at the knees.

Worse, his character is given no reason to tag along with Johansson, another instance of simply lazy writing. He’s against the whole thing. But he’s there. Participating. The thing is crazy. Hugh Jackman cannot possibly be Jeff Bridges in JAGGED EDGE. A scene later, when the evidence looks shakier, he’s certain that Hugh Jackman must be Jeff Bridges in JAGGED EDGE.

Running through the story is the on-paper amusing plot conceit of Ian McShane as a deceased reporter stumbling across a scoop while on the ferryboat to the afterlife, and apporting into Johansson’s presence to pass on the story. It’s the kind of charming fantasy Allen has succeeded with in THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO and some of his short fiction. But the relationship goes nowhere, maybe because Allen has shoehorned himself into the story and is using all the oxygen.

Everybody seems under-rehearsed, most of all McShane. ScarJo is fairly adorable and has learned her lines well enough to say them fast, which wins her major points in this creaky affair.

A shaggy dog with alopecia.

SCOOP stars Black Widow; Fielding Mellish; Wolverine; Lovejoy; Cassandra Mortmain; Grand Maester Pycelle; Rupert Giles; and Truman Capote.

Science Fiction Double Feature

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , on September 1, 2013 by dcairns


Jonathan Glazer’s UNDER THE SKIN, somewhat loosely adapted from the Michel Faber novel, screened at the New Sheridan Opera House in Telluride today — an amazing building which immediately makes one feel like Lily Langtry upon entering.

I found the film quite impressive, but baffling, which I think is intentional. Stripping away all the explanatory content of the novel and representing some key action in a rather abstract way, the movie depends more on imagery and eerie music and sound design than on narrative, character development or dialogue. It was particularly nice to see it in the US where 90% of the dialogue, delivered in strong Glasgow patois, must have been entirely incomprehensible. The gloomy Glasgow street scenes did not make me feel homesick (West George Street, earlier seen in CLOUD ATLAS doubling for San Francisco, and in Bertrand Tavernier’s DEATHWATCH, must be Glasgow’s most science-fictional location now).

Scarlett Johansson plays an alien, sent to Earth to seduce men, who are then abducted and — what, exactly? Fans of the book will probably be dismayed that the clear, procedural horror of the story concept is rendered vague and abstract here — still very disturbing at times, but much harder to assign meaning to. Fans of S.J. may to busy ogling her exposed skin to notice — the movie is, in a sense, structured as a strip-tease, with an unpleasant final ta-daa that takes the movie’s title rather literally…

Johanssen is good — very intriguing — but the film doesn’t allow us to understand her motivations. Glazer talked about wanting to show the world through alien eyes, but because the plot is so obscure, it’s perhaps more a case of watching an alien through human eyes.


Alfonso Cuaron’s GRAVITY is likely to be less divisive — a sweaty-palm suspense movie which is also a spiritual odyssey and an audio-visual-tactile exploration of space travel, it delivers a conventional three-act structure and character arc with such conviction and panache as to make old-fashioned storytelling seem more daring than Glazer’s obfuscation. Screened at the new Werner Herzog Theater, it benefited from astonishing sound and picture quality which enhanced Cuaron’s long-take aesthetic — the movie produces constant gasps via pure film technique and artful deployment of bleeding edge FX technology, but uses this in support of the human element — starry yet convincing performances from Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. It’s particularly a relief to see Bullock in something that isn’t embarrassing, at last. I’d almost forgotten what a strong and engaging performer she is — she works wonders here, and though Clooney fans will surely love what he does, it’s her film.

The 3D is utilized with grace and audacity, in this film in which every single shot — and there are apparently only 37 — is a special effect. A sequence of space debris flashing into the camera had me repeatedly flinching — not jumping in COMIN’ AT YA! shock, but compulsively blinking as if to avoid space dust getting in my eyes. The rest of the time the 3D is mainly used to enhance the illusion of floating in zero G — we get teardrops and a Marvin the Martian doll and numerous other bits of detritus drifting between us and the cast. It’s beautiful, but also incredibly exciting — a series of terrifying suspense scenarios that escalate as the film goes on. Quite the most remarkable major studio release I’ve seen in a long time.