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.

Labels: Ghost in the Shell, News, Projects

ABC NEWS – One day after President-Elect Donald Trump is sworn into office next Friday, Debra Messing, Cher, Scarlett Johansson and more will join the Women’s March on Washington, D.C.

The Women’s March on Washington will take place Jan. 21 and features partners including GLAAD, Planned Parenthood and Amnesty International.

Other notable celebrities joining the march are America Ferrera, Patricia Arquette, Danielle Brooks, Julianne Moore, Amy Schumer and Katy Perry, an official press release for the event reads. More than 100,000 are expected to attend.

“Since the election, so many fear that their voices will go unheard,” said Ferrera, who was announced today as the artist table chair for the march. “As artists, women, and most importantly dedicated Americans, it is critical that we stand together in solidarity for the protection, dignity and rights of our communities.”

The mission of the march is to shine a light on people of all faiths, races, colors and disabilities, in addition to the rights of women, the march’s website reads.

“This march is the first step towards unifying our communities, grounded in new relationships, to create change from the grassroots level up. We will not rest until women have parity and equity at all levels of leadership in society,” the website adds.

The marches won’t just be happening in the nation’s capital either. Chelsea Handler will be leading a “solidarity” march in Park City, Utah, at the Sundance Film Festival, which opens the same weekend. There will be more than 150 other “sister” marches nationwide — with at least one in each of the 50 states, according to the press release.

A request for comment from Trump’s spokeswoman was not immediately returned to ABC News.

Labels: News

Pretty awesome news, right? Here’s to hoping Scarlett continues to maintain the very fine balance between quality and quantity.

VOGUE – Leave it to ScarJo to break up the boy’s club: The Avengers actress is now the 10th highest grossing movie star of all time. The rest of the top 10 is—you guessed it!—made up of male actors, which means that Scarlett Johansson may be the first female to earn a spot on the coveted list.

While her films’ earnings ($3.3 billion) trail behind her male colleagues, the 31-year-old actress is significantly younger than the rest (the list is comprised of Hollywood’s elder statesmen, including Harrison Ford, Samuel L. Jackson, Morgan Freeman, and Tom Hanks). While Johansson’s newfound top-10 status is worth celebrating, the male-to-female breakdown is still terribly lopsided; Cameron Diaz, who came in at number 19, is Johansson’s closest competitor.

Last year, Jennifer Lawrence earned the top spot as Hollywood’s highest-paid actress, raking in $52 million pretax over 12 months. Johansson came in as the runner-up, earning $16 million less than Lawrence. Let’s hope the scales continue to tip in the coming year. Here’s to (relative) progress!

Labels: News

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY – A very different group of girls could’ve been the ones to play light as a feather, stiff as a board in The Craft.

To celebrate The Craft’s 20th anniversary, The Huffington Post assembled some of the film’s cast and crew for an oral history of the cult classic. One of those people was casting director Pam Dixon, who spoke about the many, many actresses she screen tested to fill out The Craft’s collection of weirdos — including a few famous faces.

“We did these tests, and we tested a lot of girls, some of whom have become really well-known,” Dixon told The Huffington Post. “We actually had a hold on somebody that we had to let go because she got offered another film, and we didn’t know if the movie was really happening. That girl was Angelina Jolie. She did Foxfire instead. Another person who came in was Scarlett Johansson, who was just 12 at the time. The other girl was Alicia Silverstone. This would have been ’95. She had just shot Clueless, but it had not come out. Alicia also got something between the time that we read them and the time we were really going to make the movie, so we couldn’t pick her up either and she went to do something else. They were all really for Sarah.”

Instead, the role of Sarah went to Robin Tunney, with Neve Campbell, Fairuza Balk, and Rachel True rounding out the coven.

Producer Doug Wick also gave an update on the upcoming sequel, which Sony Pictures first announced last year, with horror director Leigh Janiak set to direct.

“It’s not so much a remake — it’s sort of saying young women exploring their power, what would that be like right now?” Wick explained. “Obviously it’s an incredibly relevant, exciting subject, so we hired a really great female writer/director, Leigh Janiak, who also has a talented writing partner. We were only going to explore it if there was an exciting way to go, and they came in with [something] very fresh — a new group of girls, much more of this era, who begin some explorations with power that they don’t understand. They had just incredibly compelling ideas for a way to make a new, exciting, surprising movie for teenage girls.”

Labels: News

FORBES – Chris Evans is a superhero at the box office–and the bottom line. The 34-year-old Captain America star is this year’s best actor for the buck: For every $1 Evans was paid for his recent films, they returned an average $181.80.

Evans leads this year’s ranking of Hollywood’s best investments ahead of Mila Kunis ($87.30 return for every $1 paid) and the world’s second-highest-paid actress Scarlett Johansson ($84.90 return for every $1 paid). The expensive Jupiter Ascending did little to dent Kunis’ returns from Ted and Oz The Great and Powerful, making her the second-best actor for the money.

Four of the top five best actors for the buck are women, illustrating Tinseltown’s gender pay disparity. Female leads are often paid less than their male counterparts but can offer remarkable returns. Take Johansson, for example: Her last three major films grossed a combined $2.58 billion while her aggregate compensation probably hovered around 1% of that, FORBES estimates. These ticket booth triumphs ensure she ranks third on this year’s list, though her rising fees may make her ineligible in the future.

To compile our rundown of Hollywood’s Best Actors For The Buck, we used earnings estimates from our Celebrity 100 list. We looked at the last three films each actor starred in before June 2015 (the end of our Celebrity 100 scoring period). We did not include animated films, movies where the actor appeared in a very small role, or movies that were released on fewer than 2,000 screens.

We then deducted the estimated production budget from the global box office for each film (using numbers from Box Office Mojo and other sources) to come up with a limited definition of each movie’s operating income. We added together the estimated total compensation for each star on the three movies and the operating income from each movie and then divided to come up with the final return on investment number.

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Labels: News

VARIETY – Following the success of Lucy, Scarlett Johansson looks ready to take on another action pic, this one coming from the world of Japanese anime.

Johansson is set to star in DreamWorks’ adaptation of the popular anime pic Ghost in the Shell. Deadline Hollywood had reported that the actress had the offer to star but at the time she was still undecided about taking the role. Sources now say she has agreed to star in the pic.

The story follows the exploits of a member of a covert ops unit of the Japanese National Public Safety Commission that specializes in fighting technology-related crime.

Rupert Sanders is on board to direct. Avi Arad and Steven Paul are producing the film from a script by Bill Wheeler. Mark Sourian is exec producing.

Insiders also tell Variety that Paramount has the option to come on as co-producer and financier and that decision is expected in the coming weeks.

DreamWorks principal Steven Spielberg is a huge fan of the original and has long wanted to get this film off the ground. A commitment from a star like Johansson should help in getting the pic greenlit for production.

Besides Angelina Jolie and Jennifer Lawrence, Johansson is becoming one of the few actresses in town with the clout to get a project greenlit on her name alone.

Lucy made $394 million worldwide and Johansson can be seen next in Avengers: Age of Ultron, bowing in May. Johansson has also done a nice job of balancing action-heavy tentpoles with serious dramas and comedies.

She received rave reviews for Spike Jonze’s Her and is a part of the ensemble of the Coen brothers’ next pic Hail, Caesar! She is repped by CAA and LBI Entertainment.

Labels: Ghost in the Shell, News, Projects

THE WRAP – Uma Thurman will host the 24th annual Gotham Independent Film Awards in New York City, the Independent Filmmaker Project announced Tuesday.

The organization also announced that presenters at the event will include Meryl Streep, Scarlett Johansson, Hilary Swank, Marisa Tomei, Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette, Catherine Keener and Jake Gyllenhaal.

Other presenters will include Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Will Arnett, Heather Graham, Amy Schumer and Miles Teller.

The show will take place on Monday, Dec. 1 at Cipriani Wall Street, with seven competitive awards being presented to independent films and tributes taking place to actor Tilda Swinton, director Bennett Miller and Netfix’s Ted Sarandos.

Artists expected to attend include Julianne Moore, Steve Carell, J.C. Chandor, Jon Hamm and Oscar Isaac. Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood” led all films in nominations with four, followed by “Birdman,” “Dear White People,” “Nightcrawler” and “Under the Skin” with two.

The Gotham Awards are one of the two major honors given to independent film. The other, the Film Independent Spirit Awards, takes place late in the season, the day before the Oscars.

The Spirit Awards will announce nominations on Tuesday.

Labels: News