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.

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Labels: Articles and Interviews, Ghost in the Shell, Projects

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

W MAGAZINE – To soundtrack his holiday ad for H&M, Wes Anderson chose John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s classic “Happy Xmas (War Is Over),” and apparently that wasn’t the only collaboration between Anderson and Ono on tap.

The director formally announced his next project today. It’s an animated film called Isle of Dogs, and true to Anderson’s style, the voice cast is made up of a roster of A-list talent from all over the arts and entertainment spectrum. Most notably is the edition of Ono, her first voice acting role in a major film. It’s also her first acting gig since appearing as herself in a 1995 episode of Mad About You. She might have got a kick out of her appearance on The Simpsons, but she didn’t even voice herself that time.

The rest of the cast is made up of Anderson regulars including Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand, F. Murray Abraham, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Bob Balaban, Edward Norton, and, of course, Bill Murray, who has appeared in every single one of the director’s films since 1998’s Rushmore.

In addition to Ono, newcomers to the Anderson-verse include Scarlett Johansson, Bryan Cranston, Courtney B. Vance, Liev Schreiber and Greta Gerwig. The cast also includes Akira Ito, Akira Takayama and Koyu Rankin.

Anderson made the official announcement today in a vlog-style video that includes a cameo from Norton. The actor plays “Rex,” who he clarifies is “one of the lead dogs.” There’s about a second-long preview of what “Rex” looks like in the preview as well.

The world isn’t exactly hurting for more animated movies with celebrities voicing talking dogs. We already have All Dogs Go To Heaven, Cats & Dogs, Oliver and Company, The Secret Lives of Pets, Beverly Hills Chihuahua…well, let’s just say, it’s not exactly and undermined genre. (Although Pets was one of the year’s top-grossing movies.) What exactly is Wes Anderson going to bring new to the format aside from Yoko Ono?

Well, it takes place in England, and that’s about all Anderson had to say about the actual plot.

Anderson is also raffling off the chance for a fan to voice one of the dogs in the film. The $10 raffle tickets will benefit Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation so there’s that.

This will be Anderson’s first film since 2014’s Grand Budapest Hotel and his first animated feature since 2009’s Fantastic Mr. Fox. No word on when the film will be released, but production is already underway.

Labels: Isle of Dogs, Projects

DEADLINE – Sony’s raunchy comedy Rock That Body is going earlier and now will debut on June 16 instead of June 23. Whenever pics move up, it shows the distributor is confident about the product, and in this case Sony moves the all-star Scarlett Johansson-Kate McKinnon-Zoe Kravitz comedy in a corridor where it’s the adult choice for the weekend against Disney/Pixar’s Cars 3. Had Rock That Body stayed on June 23, it would have been fighting five-quad sequel Transformers: The Last Knight.

Labels: Projects, Rough Night

After weeks of teasers and new details emerging, we finally have the first official trailer for Ghost in the Shell–and for all the controversy and criticism surrounding the film’s casting, there’s no denying that it looks incredible (visually), and hopefully other aspects of the project will hold up also. I’ve added screen captures from the trailer to the gallery, be sure to take a look.

Labels: Gallery Updates, Ghost in the Shell, Projects

DEADLINE – Imperative Entertainment just won an auction for the novel Tangerine with George Clooney and Grant Heslov’s Smokehouse on board to produce and Scarlett Johansson attached to star. The story is about two women whose lives intersect more than once and both times leads to the death or disappearance of one woman’s significant other. The deal was said to have gone down for mid-six figures against $1M+.

This is the second big literary purchase Imperative has made in only a few months, following its $5M deal in March to acquire David Grann’s Killers of the Flower Moon: An American Crime and the Birth of the FBI. Eric Roth was brought in recently to adapt that book, which was in a bidding war at the time also with Clooney (and others).

Tangerine is the debut novel of Christine Mangan and comes after its publisher is Ecco/HarperCollins bought the publishing rights for $1.1M earlier this week before turning it out to set up as a feature film.

The mystery/thriller set in 1950s Morocco is about a woman named Alice Shipley who tries to leave both her past and her college roommate behind after the man she intends to marry suddenly dies. Years later, she reconnects with that same roommate, Lucy, and then Alice’s husband disappears. The mystery leaves Alice to wonder if Lucy is as dangerous as she thinks or whether she is imaging things.

The project will also be produced by Imperative partner’s Bradley Thomas and Dan Friedkin with Smokehouse’s Clooney and Heslov.

“Christine has created an evocative and electrifying novel,” said Friedkin. “We’re thrilled to not only be working with George, Grant and the talented team at Smokehouse Pictures but also one of the most skilled actors on the planet in Scarlett. This is an all-star team, and we can’t wait to bring this stunning tale to life.”

Jillian Apfelbaum, Imperative’s VP Content, will oversee development and also co-produce. The book joins a number of other recently acquired novels by Imperative, including the New York Times best seller We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, Sand by Hugh Howey and Circling the Sun by Paula McLain.

Clooney and Heslov are repped by CAA along with Johansson, who also is repped by manager Rick Yorn of LBI Entertainment and attorney Kevin Yorn. CAA brokered the deal, and John Atwood negotiated on behalf of Imperative. The book deal for Tangerine was negotiated by CAA and the Book Group.

Labels: Projects, Tangerine

I’m so glad this project is still going ahead, it has been a while since we last heard about it so I assumed it was going to stay “in development” for some time. Should be a great role for Scarlett!

THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER – It has been nearly 70 years since Zelda Fitzgerald died in a fire at a hospital in North Carolina. But the Jazz Age icon and wife of author F. Scott Fitzgerald is suddenly all the rage in Hollywood.

Competing films fronted by Jennifer Lawrence and Scarlett Johansson, respectively, are on the fast track to being first at the same time that Amazon has its own series, Z: The Beginning of Everything, with Christina Ricci playing the socialite who was once dubbed by her husband as “the first American Flapper.”

But Zelda Fitzgerald was far more than just a pearl-twirling literary muse, as she previously has been depicted, which might explain why two A-list movie stars are jockeying to tackle the oft-marginalized figure. She was an accomplished author in her own right who competed with her domineering husband before her life descended into madness (she was eventually diagnosed with schizophrenia and institutionalized).

The Lawrence project, titled Zelda, boasts some impressive names including Ron Howard, who is developing it with an eye to direct. Howard won best picture and director Oscars for A Beautiful Mind, which also centered on a historical figure (John Nash) with schizophrenia. Allison Shearmur, the former Lionsgate executive behind Lawrence’s The Hunger Games, is producing, while Cross Creek Pictures (Hacksaw Ridge) is in negotiations to finance. Emma Frost (The White Queen) wrote the screenplay, which is loosely based on Nancy Milford’s best-selling biography of the same name.

The Johansson project is titled The Beautiful and the Damned, a play on the F. Scott Fitzgerald classic The Beautiful and Damned, which was a thinly veiled chronicle of his own marriage.

Millennium Films, which is financing, has an ace up its own sleeve given that it has secured the cooperation of the Fitzgerald estate and will incorporate newly unearthed transcripts from a sanatorium in which Zelda Fitzgerald was confined that indicate her husband misappropriated his wife’s ideas as his own. Hanna Weg (Septembers of Shiraz) wrote the screenplay, and Millennium is currently circling a handful of directors for the gig.

Millennium president Mark Gill said Zelda Fitzgerald remains an enduring and compelling figure because she represents so many different personas.

“It was the height of the Jazz Age, so you have all of that glamor and sophistication and living large. But you also have the massive drama of fly high, crash hard,” he said. “She was massively ahead of her time, and she took a beating for it. He stole her ideas and put them in his books. The marriage was a co-dependency from hell with a Jazz Age soundtrack.”

Whether its Johansson or Lawrence who makes it into production first, neither would be the first to portray Zelda Fitzgerald on the big screen.

Most recently, Vanessa Kirby played her in a small role in the Colin Firth starrer Genius, as did Alison Pill in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris. On the small screen, everyone from Blythe Danner to Natasha Richardson has tackled the literary heroine. But given the level of talent attached to the two latest films, the new Zelda Fitzgerald incarnation will likely offer a far more multilayered portrayal than ever before.

Labels: Projects, The Beautiful and Damned

The first official teasers for Ghost in the Shell have been released, and if you haven’t seen them yet, they have been combined into a one minute video which can be viewed below. I love the visuals–hopefully we’ll be seeing more from the film very soon.

Labels: Ghost in the Shell, Projects
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