Showing posts with label Scarlett Johansson. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Scarlett Johansson. Show all posts

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Captain America (Chris Evans) returns in his second solo outing to sniff out the rotten core at the heart of S.H.I.E.L.D. When an attempt is made on the life of a senior S.H.I.E.L.D executive, Captain Steve Rodgers finds himself on the outside of a conspiracy and on the run. With the help of Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and newcomer to the series, Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Cap’ must hunt down those who have sworn to protect and comes across a figure from his past in the process.

When the first Captain America movie came out in 2011, I expected it to be the Marvel film that I’d enjoy most. I’m a lover of history and am fascinated by the 1940s, especially the Second World War. It was surprising then that I enjoyed it far less than any other of the Marvel films to that date. I’m glad to say that Winter Soldier is an improvement on the original but still lags some way behind the likes of Thor and Iron Man for me.

I’ll start with what I enjoyed about the movie as that will take less time. I think that the themes are strong and well realised. By turning S.H.I.E.L.D, or at least elements of it, into the bad guys, the film holds a mirror up to the intelligence community. After years of reports about NSA bugs, CIA phone tapping and MI5 interference, the writers pick up a strong idea and run with it. By putting those who are meant to protect us under the spotlight, we get a glimpse into a shady and easily corruptible world. The positioning of S.H.I.E.L.D’s headquarters, high above the Washington skyline, is also a strong visual metaphor. The movie asks us, who is really in charge? What are their powers and if they’re watching us, who’s watching them?

Thursday, 20 February 2014


Spike Jonze’s Her is a sweet, poignant and yet gently chilling romantic comedy about a man who falls in love with his computer’s operating system. Nominated for five Oscars, including Best Picture, it’s been met with critical acclaim. It features a fascinating conceit which is deeply explored and contains some beautiful set and costume design as well as some exceptional performances. Why is it then that I found it as cold as a hibernating laptop?

It’s 2025 and Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) is a letter writer in Los Angeles. His marriage has failed and he’s delaying the signing of his divorce papers, holding out for a second chance which he knows is never going to come. Desperately lonely, he’s become a slight recluse, distancing himself from friends while maintaining a false sunny disposition in their company. One day Theodore sports a newly released operating system (OS) in a mall, one which promises to learn and adapt, whose artificial intelligence is designed to be more than a computer but to be a friend. Samantha (Scarlett Johansson) as the OS calls herself, becomes Theodore’ friend and soon, his lover. 

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Six of the Best... Most Beautiful Actresses

Seven weeks. That's all it took for this feature to get onto the topic of sexy ladies. If I'm honest, I'm surprised that I managed to hold out for as long as I did. This week's topic has been the most fun to research but the most difficult to decide on so far. Even up to a couple of minutes before I started writing there was a last minute change (sorry Oona) and I've decided to break the rules slightly because of my indecisiveness/perviness. Instead of the usual six I've chosen twelve and in a vain attempt to quantify the decision besides greediness, I've decided to feature six current and six former actresses. I brand myself on reviewing one hundred years of film so it would only be right. That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it. For fear of losing my female readers who may think (rightly) that I'm just using this feature as an excuse to look at pretty ladies, next week's list will redress the balance and feature Six of the Best... Actors my Girlfriend Wishes I Was. Her six currently also stands at twelve and there are lots of 'ooh' 'ahh' and 'yummy' noises coming from her direction whenever I bring up the topic. So make sure you come back next week for the actors but now, here are Six (Twelve) of the Best... Most Beautiful Actresses, beginning with those still working.

Saturday, 9 February 2013


Hitchcock is a behind the scenes telling of the making of Psycho (1960) and the relationship between its Director Alfred Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins) and his wife and long time collaborator Alma Reville (Helen Mirren). The plot encompasses Hitchcock’s search for a follow up to the hugely successful North by Northwest and then the difficult production of Psycho, ending at its Premier. Although Psycho and its production provide the backdrop, the plot is really about love, jealousy and aging. Hitch and Alma had been married for almost thirty-five years by 1960 and one of the avenues the film explores is the fractious relationship which they share. Hitch’s obsessions with his leading ladies, here Janet Leigh (Scarlett Johansson) is something which Alma has put up with for decades but when the writer Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston) takes an interest in Alma, Hitch’s jealousy effects their relationship and his work.

Hitchcock isn’t a bad film and it’s always nice to see behind the scenes of a Hollywood production but even if it had been great there would still be one problem and that is that it isn’t Psycho. All the way through I thought to myself that I wish I was watching Psycho and the underwhelming central performance and flabby plot just made me think back to what is in my opinion one of the greatest films in history.

The Black Dahlia

The Black Dahlia is a neo-Noir film Directed by Brian De Palma and based on the book of the same name by James Ellroy (L.A. Confidential). The film was a critical and commercial failure on its release in 2005 and I first saw it on DVD in about 2007 but on a really small TV in my girlfriend’s university flat. We both fell asleep so didn’t remember much about it. There were two reasons why I wanted to see the movie again. The first was that it was featured in a fantastic Sight & Sound article about post 2000 Noir and the second was Scarlett Johansson. Any excuse to watch one of her films. Having seen it properly now I’ve come to the conclusion that I probably didn’t need to see it again and there’s a reason I didn’t remember much of it. The Black Dahlia is overly confusing and the time I spent trying to piece things together took me away from the plot and the excellent period world that the film created.

Placed shortly after the Second World War in Los Angeles the movie is set around a real life murder case but everything else is fictional. Former boxers turned cops Dwight 'Bucky' Bleichert (Josh Hartnett) and Lee Blanchard (Aaron Eckhart) take part in a fixed fight which earns everyone in the Department an 8% pay rise. They soon end up as partners and following the grizzly murder of a young wannabe starlet (Mia Kershner) Blanchard begins to obsess about catching the killer, leaving the rest of their work and his girl (Scarlett Johansson) on the outside looking in.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

The Island

I saw The Island a few years ago and noticed that it was on TV again so decided to give it a second watch. It didn’t make a huge impression on me the first time around but I remembered being interested by the opening act and Scarlett Johansson is in it so… I had a vague recollection of her in a tight, white jump suit so had to watch it again. As it transpired I was correct about the costume and Johansson looks incredible. I also correctly remembered the opening half an hour and it was still an interesting concept even though it was slightly diminished due to knowledge of any potential twists. What I’d forgotten though were the seemingly endless car chases and explosions which accompany the second hour of the movie. These were almost unwatchable due to the quick cutting and despite everything going on, felt really boring.

In the years following an untold natural disaster the world has become too contaminated for humans to live outside. The few survivors live in a deeply regulated and controlled facility in which every aspect of their life is measured and organized by those in charge. One of the few survivors is Lincoln Six Echo (Ewan McGregor) who begins asking questions about his surroundings and the rules he is forced to follow. He becomes friendly with Jordan Two Delta (Johansson) who is the winner of a lottery to live out the rest of her life on ‘The Island’ the last uncontaminated place on Earth. Lincoln is worried though that not everything is as it seems and tries looking for answers.

Monday, 22 October 2012

The Prestige

Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige is a story of obsession and sacrifice and stars Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale as two up and coming magicians whose lives are transformed into an increasingly disastrous struggle of one-upmanship following a tragedy on stage. Each tries to out wit and out trick the other by disrupting each others acts, leading the other down blind alleyways and twisting reality through illusion and showmanship.

Mirroring the rest of Nolan’s filmography, The Prestige is a smart and beautiful film that is full of big ideas, well explored themes and unexpected twists and reveals. Nolan appears to take great delight in playing with his audience and treating them as intelligent equals, almost leading them along with him, through his twisted and mystifying subjects, knowing that by the time they reach the other side they will thank him for it. Nolan’s films are about ideas and he doesn’t shy away from presenting them to the audience without subtlety. Where he is perhaps more subtle is in his delivery which as usual is pitch perfect here.

Friday, 27 April 2012

The Avengers

"I have an army..."
"We have a Hulk."

The Avengers or Marvel’s Avengers Assemble here in the UK for ridiculous reasons is the long awaited teaming up of the characters from Marvel’s recent and successful movies. Loki (Tom Hiddleston) returns to Earth and steals The Tesseract, an energy source being worked on by scientists at S.H.I.E.L.D. In response, S.H.I.E.L.D Director Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) activates the Avengers Initiative and assembles a team of superhuman men and women that comprises of Captain America (Chris Evans), Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr), The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and Loki’s brother Thor (Chris Hemsworth) who join S.H.I.E.L.D Agents Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) in attempting to stop Loki from subjugating the world’s population.

There was always the danger that things could go ‘tits up’ for Marvel when producing a film on this scale and with so many well known characters and actors/personalities involved. I’m delighted to say that they have pulled it off and that The Avengers is a terrific film. The plot itself plays second fiddle to the assembling of the team and I don’t think this was a bad thing. Obviously Marvel will be hoping for a sequel or five to come after the film so it was essential that the characters interactions and developments with each other were given high priority. The sharp dialogue is thrown between the characters with more force and precision than a throw of Thor’s hammer.  In the end the story is similar to every other superhero movie; bad guy brings destructive forces to Earth in an attempt to rule and/or destroy humanity while superhero(s) attempt to stop them. In Loki and Tom Hiddleston though, there is a bad guy who carries great menace and feels more dangerous when he is doing nothing than when he is thrashing his weapon around. I think that Hiddleston gives the best performance of the piece.

Monday, 19 March 2012

We Bought a Zoo

I walked seven miles, there and back to watch this film on a quiet Monday afternoon. This should tell you three things; One) I have too much time on my hands, two) I really like Scarlett Johansson and three) I’ve hit rock bottom. I sat in an empty cinema auditorium in the hope that the seven miles would have been worth it. I sat through the Orange advert and the painfully annoying M&Ms/FTRC advert, wishing the film to be worth the trip. Well it wasn’t.

The plot, based on a true story which I was familiar with goes as thus. Recently widowed writer, Benjamin (Matt Damon) is struggling to keep his family on the straight and narrow. He is close to losing his job and has a fourteen year old son who keeps getting into trouble at school. After his son is expelled, Benjamin decides to up sticks and finds a lovely house in the country. The house has one drawback though, it’s a zoo. With the help of a dedicated team which includes Head Zookeeper Kelly (Scarlett Johansson), Benjamin tries to bring the ailing zoo up to standard before a grand opening in the summer.

I think from the trailer and even my paragraph above, 95% of people could guess how this is going to turn out. There are no shocks or surprises and you can see all the jokes from a mile off. The film over uses the families loss to try to inject heart into the film and I think this is a mistake. It constantly pulls on the heart strings by showing Damon looking at picture after picture of his wife while terrible music plays underneath. We know how hard it must be but the film keeps pulling the audience back to it. The family also only appear to miss the mother at convenient moments which doesn’t feel very realistic. The whole film is also miss-sold by its trailer as a comedy. Pretty much all of the comedic moments are in the trailer and it is much more of a drama.

There are plenty of plot holes here too. Damon’s son Dylan (Colin Ford) is expelled for drawing an inappropriate mural in class which is put up in a corridor anyway along with murals depicting love and recycling etc. Also, Scarlett Johansson’s character complains that she doesn’t have time to see her friends or find a man but spends all of her free time in a small bar at the zoo with the three or four people she works with. The whole story is oversimplified which makes it feel unreal, even though it is based on actual events. Both Benjamin and his son spend half the film oblivious that they both have attractive women after them. I know they’ve just had a loss but come on!

It wasn't all bad...
Neither Matt Damon nor Scarlett Johansson are stretched by these roles and you have to feel that it was just a paycheque for them. Johansson is wasted and Damon’s only good moment comes when he is yelling at his son. He plays the likeable everyman well though. The supporting cast are mixed. Colin Ford is fine as a mopey teenager and Maggie Elizabeth Jones is cute but annoying as Damon’s young daughter. If I was annoyed by the first time she shouted “We bought a zoo”, by the third time I was ready to leave. Elle Fanning who was wonderful in Super 8 was ok but like the stars, not stretched. Her whole character was a bit odd. She plays a thirteen year old who doesn’t go to school but works at the zoo and everyone seems fine with this. Curb Your Enthusiasm’s J.B. Smoove plays an Estate Agent but I wish his part had been bigger so he could have injected some humour.

The film does pick up in the final few minutes for the sweet ending that we all expected. I’d expected more from an interesting true story and great actors but it is nothing more than mediocre.