THE GUARDIAN – Hollywood quickly made room on its red carpets for the young Scarlett Johansson in 2003, when she first created a stir in Sofia Coppola’s film, Lost in Translation. It seemed clear that this blonde bombshell from New York, who was so ably sharing the screen with a dyspeptic Bill Murray, would go on to deliver popcorn buckets-full of mainstream audience appeal. Beautiful, mysterious and charismatic: she was already an aspirational trophy for any traditional leading man.
Yet, 14 years on, Johansson is established instead as a rather different sort of screen idol. Following a succession of high-octane blockbusters and off-beat critical hits, the actress is now enshrined as perhaps the leading sci-fi action star of her generation. Where once her sardonic smirks and sultry looks spoke of old-school movie glamour, she is now more likely to grab the limelight by kickboxing than by smouldering.
From this Friday, Johansson, 32, will be seen fighting her way to further futuristic box office glory from the midst of a vast, glassy pool of water. Ghost in the Shell, her new cyborg film, is based on Japanese anime characters and features a key combat scene set in a dystopian urban lake. It is a watery sequence clearly designed to become a totemic bit of modern cinema, like that horizontal tussle in The Matrix or the folding streetscape in Inception.
Whether or not the British director Rupert Sanders’s new film achieves the status of a sci-fi classic, it is clear that Johansson, who earned a rumoured £12.4m, has increasingly steered her career towards unexpectedly violent and often unnerving roles. While it is true that she has tackled a few family-oriented outings over the years, such as Cameron Crowe’s We Bought a Zoo in 2011, it is her more aggressive work in zip-up Lycra that has earned her a place up among the Hollywood A-listers.
This adventurous side of Johansson was most apparent in 2013, when she took the part of the alien in Under the Skin. A horror film directed by Brit Jonathan Glazer, it was a big risk for the star, not just because she would be playing a carnivorous, marauding visitor from another planet, nor because the film had been notoriously hard to make, but because she had to work on location in Glasgow, driving around in a Transit van and interacting with real people, many of whom had no idea they were taking part in the film.
The risk paid off in style. Many critics agreed with the Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw in finding Under the Skin “visually stunning and deeply disturbing: very freaky, very scary and very erotic”.
At the same time as Glazer’s weird thriller came out, a voice-role that Johansson had recorded for director Spike Jonze was to underline the actress’s move towards sci-fi. She played Samantha, a captivating computer operating system in his film, Her.
By then, the star had also taken up the screen persona that was to project her right into the heart of a global superhero franchise. Since 2012, she has played Natasha Romanoff, the Black Widow of the Marvel Avengers series. First donning her black Neoprene jumpsuit for Avengers Assemble, the actress has already reprised the Black Widow role three times and is currently filming Avengers: Infinity War.Continue Reading
I’ve updated the gallery with some beautiful photos from last night’s Paris premiere of Ghost in the Shell held at Le Grand Rex. My sincere apologies for the delayed and lacking updates of late, I’m currently in the process of making some changes to the site which will come into effect very soon–thank you for your patience. Enjoy the photos!
Public Appearances > Appearances in 2017 > ‘Ghost in the Shell’ Paris Premiere
Scarlett hosted SNL last night for the 5th time, joining a list of names that includes Drew Barrymore, Bill Murray, John Goodman and Tom Hanks, who have all entered into the show’s prestigious “Five-Timer’s Club”. For those of you who missed it last night, clips from each of the skits have been uploaded to the show’s official Youtube channel. I’ll update the site with further coverage soon.
COLLIDER – The first twelve minutes of Ghost in the Shell expertly combines philosophical musings (the difference between (wo)man & machine, what it means to be human) with, well, copious shots ogling ScarJo’s butt. Which is to say, the film (or at least this preview) has its bases covered. It’s a pretty perfectly calibrated mix of the high and low brow, infusing each visceral gun battle with ponderous looks and thoughtful quotes.
For those unfamiliar with the namesake manga or anime, Ghost in the Shell – set in a futuristic Tokyo – focuses on a recently deceased woman (Scarlett Johansson) whose brain is put into a robot. After the operation, she/it struggles with her/its identity, becoming a violent tool for a shady intelligence department.
The twelve minutes screened in IMAX 3D Tuesday night basically consisted of two complete scenes from early in the picture: In the first scene, Major (Johansson) dies en route to surgery, only to be born again into a robotic body. The sequence almost plays like the big-budget, PG-13 version of Johansson’s transformation in Under the Skin, complete with a milky white backdrop and full frontal nudity. Except here the nude body has porcelain Barbie-doll like anatomy. The stark transformation of odd looking metal into the curves and features of ScarJo deliberately blurs the line between ‘it’ and ‘she’, sexualization used to highlight just how human machines may become (a la Blade Runner & Ex Machina).
The camera deliberately lingers (slow-mo) over each stage of the transformation, fetishizing not just the final product but also each bit of metal, the exposed brain matter, the flaking white skin… Objectification is the point, reflecting how each character views the re-born Major as a ‘thing’ first and foremost. To Juliette Binoche’s Dr. Ouelet, Major’s a ‘major technical achievement’ and ”a miracle”, but to Binoche’s shady male science partner, Major’s just “a weapon.” Neither, though, acknowledges their creation as anything more than a tool either for science or force. Later, even Major herself questions if she’s anything more than circuits and wires, staring at the remnants of a dead AI, comparing and contrasting it with herself.
Johansson’s played this part before, as an alien uncomfortable in human skin (the previously mentioned Under the Skin) and as a disembodied AI voice in Her. Ghost in the Shell seemingly completes Johansson’s triptych of people/things uncomfortable within their own flesh (or lack thereof). There’s a reason though why Johansson keeps returning to these existential heroines – she’s really really good at it, conveying vulnerabilities and depth sans any dialogue. There’s no other actress today that can reveal as much using so little. The thought of watching Johansson recreate the ‘other-ness’ of her Under the Skin performance in a film twenty times the budget is easily the most exciting prospect within this new footage.
In the second revealed scene, set one year later, Major tries to prevent the assassination (“hacking”) of a smarmy businessman (played by the always welcome Michael Wincott). It’s the scene you’ve more than likely seen glimpses of in various trailers: Major on the roof of a building, geisha AI attacking a group of businessmen sipping tea, Major slow-mo diving off the building and then breaking through glass, guns blazing… Yes, you’ve seen this type of slow-mo set-piece a hundred times before since The Matrix; but with today’s shaky cam, quick-cut action aesthetic, it almost feels revolutionary to linger for more than five seconds without a cut or to have, god-forbid, a wide establishing shot. Overall it’s a marked improvement for filmmaker Rupert Sanders, whose previous feature Snow White and the Huntsman suffered from the aforementioned shaky-cam aesthetic.
It’s hard to tell from these twelve minutes how faithful (or not) this new live-action Ghost in the Shell will be to the manga, anime or animated feature(s). But it does appear to be exploring the same themes of individuality, consciousness, and the intersection between the two. If the rest of the movie is anything like these twelve minutes, Ghost in the Shell may well be the deepest and strangest big budget film of its ilk in quite some time. I, for one, can’t wait.
Ghost in the Shell opens wide March 31st.