The Scarlett Johansson Project — #7

I could not wait to get to this one. This is actually the one performance that made me officially choose Scarlett Johansson this year over my other choice.

Casting my mind all the way back to 2014, I remember walking out of the theater a total wreck. For anyone who has ever had an ex, it should leave a significant impact. This in my opinion is the pinnacle of romantic drama. I’m not saying this particular film is the one to beat all-time (although one could probably make that argument), but as someone who prefers emotional realism to the rom-com formula, it doesn’t get much more real than this unique look at the state of modern relationships. Plus the score provided by Arcade Fire is something else, too.

And while this is a post dedicated to Scarlett Johansson, I am compelled to give a shout out to her actually-on-screen co-star. The notoriously strange Joaquin Phoenix is absolutely tremendous here, putting in a sensitive and melancholic performance that proves why he is among the more interesting actors working right now.

Scarlett Johansson as Samantha in Spike Jonze’s Her 

Role Type: Supporting*

Premise: In a near future, a lonely writer develops an unlikely relationship with an operating system designed to meet his every need. (IMDb)

Character Background: In a not-so-distant future humans are more socially distant than they are in a real-world global pandemic. There are no six-feet-apart policies at play but instead everyone is attached to their computers — quite literally — as they walk around in their own private one-person bubble. Everything is in reach and yet everyone is inaccessible. Spike Jonze’s smart directing and incredible — indeed, Oscar-winning — writing makes it feel entirely plausible this is the natural course the river of human interaction will take with the advent of hyper-intelligent A.I. In Her, it comes in the form of the OS1, a virtual companion tailored to our unique personalities and that has its own consciousness. (Yeah, in your non-face Siri!) This new tech is designed to keep us on schedule, keep us motivated and focused, and most significantly, keep us company.

An emotionally distraught writer named Theodore Twombly, played by Joaquin Phoenix, decides to invest in one. He prefers his OS to have a female voice. Upon boot-up, and after quickly thumbing through a book on baby names (some 180,000 options in a literal split-second), his new friend christens herself Samantha. As the ice is quickly broken, Theodore becomes fascinated by Samantha’s ability to grow and learn. Before long, he’s starting to feel something more than pure admiration for the tech. A friendship evolves into romance and soon Samantha finds her bodiless self experiencing things she never knew she could and as well developing into something far more than anyone could have expected.

What she brings to the movie: a disembodied voice. That is literally it, at least in terms of the tools she has at her disposal to create the character. What she brings to the movie emotionally is truly profound. Jodi Benson had the hovering Weebo. Rose Byrne had an eerie resemblance to HAL-9000 as ‘Mother.’ Now, “Sexiest Woman Alive” Scarlett Johansson has no body as Samantha, a stunningly complex realization of a Somebody who is seeking connection and purpose and wholeness of feeling. It is a deeply affecting performance that encompasses the full spectrum of emotions and that becomes all the more impressive considering it required Johansson to be isolated in a sound booth. She and Phoenix never crossed paths on set.

Johansson’s distinctively husky timbre here becomes an aloe for an aching, bruised soul. Yet it isn’t just the physical qualities of her iconic voice that makes this one of the all-time greatest disembodied performances. The chemistry she shares with her co-star is utterly beguiling and convincing; the ubiquitousness of her presence both strange and comforting. Though in reality she’s a device often tucked into his shirt pocket, she feels like a real person sitting right in the room with Theodore, arms around him, chin on his shoulder.

In her own words: “Samantha makes [Theodore] realize that he can love again. I can’t imagine that I’ve ever had that relationship with my Blackberry. I guess the only thing that has changed my life, or had a positive effect on my life, is Skype or Facetime. Any of those video chats that you can do with your family or your partner or your friend are so life-changing when you are away from home for months and months shooting. It makes all the difference in the world to be able to see somebody.”

Key Scene: From the moment Samantha greets Theodore, with the most bubbly of “Hello’s”, Johannson has us in the palm of her hands.

Rate the Performance (relative to her other work): 

* A fun bit of trivia that I did not know when I first saw the movie back in 2014: Johansson was not the original voice for the part of Samantha. She in fact joined the cast in post-production, replacing Samantha Morton after Jonze decided the part needed something more. With Morton’s blessing, Johansson stepped in and the rest was serious tear-jerking history.


All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: IMDb; interview excerpt courtesy of Julie Miller/Vanity Fair

 

The Wolf of Wall Street

The_Wolf_of_Wall_Street-poster-4

Release: Christmas Day 2013

[Theater]

Hand over the ‘ludes, dude, and no one gets hurt!

One of this generation’s most gifted actors teams up once again with the legendary Marty Scorsese with the hopes of stirring up yet another potent cocktail — this time, a film set in the 1980s in the immediate wake of the stock market crash, with Leo playing the part of the profusely wealthy and ambitious Jordan Belfort. With a collection of powerful films already fading in their rearview (The Departed, Shutter Island, The Aviator), this dynamic duo of actor-director is found in 2013 wanting to steer in a slightly different direction — into the neighborhood of genuine comedy and away from the effective but familiar drama.

Leo may be pushing forty but you’d never guess it based on this role. Scorsese’s latest sees him binging on cocaine, alcohol and pills in amounts and in situations that make National Lampoon’s Animal House look like study hall. If blowing coke off strippers and swallowing pills the size of walnuts were his job, he’d be the. . .oh, who am I kidding?! It WAS his job. The job description of a 1980s stock broker at Stratton-Oakmont might have read something like: “Drug addict, womanizer, thief/cheater/manipulator, with a burning desire to out-nasty and out-live the next greedy son-of-a-bitch in line.”

Indeed, Jordan’s first impressions of life on Wall Street fit that profile to a T. As he’s being brought in for his first day at his first brokerage firm, the notion that employees (like him) are “lower than pond scum” is flaunted by the higher-ups; the high-pressure intensity gets drilled into his head as a sergeant would intimidate a fresh set of boot camp trainees. As one might imagine, this particularly cut-throat industry doesn’t allow for a great amount of respect and decency amongst colleagues.

Scorsese and DiCaprio take that concept and run wild with it, conjuring up scene-after-scene of unbridled debauchery and mouth-watering imagery that will cause many viewers to question whether this is a mirror of reality or simply a visual predilection toward the young, rich and powerful.

While it may seem that Leo et al are getting high off of the fact that they are playing characters living in the fast lane, the real impact of this gargantuan (read: party) movie comes from the director’s ability to remain relatively neutral towards the subject. While DiCaprio pulls a Heath Ledger Joker as he dives headfirst into this substantially nasty role — one which audiences are likely to be at least temporarily enamored by — Scorsese is hard at work behind the camera, making sure that this elegant portrayal is captured in raw detail. Not only that, but, contrary to some of the events that go on here, he’s taking great pains to ensure that his characters are very much still grounded in the real world. This outing may not appear to be as dark and brooding as some of his other works, but then again, the misleadingly upbeat and comedic tone is rather intentional.

Also on board to help with Scorsese’s ambitious film is an ensemble cast threatening to erase the memory of what David O. Russell, Lee Daniels, Steve McQueen and heck, why not — even Ridley Scott — had going on for them in each of their respective 2013 efforts. For starters, Jonah Hill — who plays Jordan’s right-hand man, the greasy and hauntingly white-teeth-possessing Donnie Azoff — steps his game up notably in a supporting role that’s likely to garner him an Oscar nom. While he still holds onto many of the spasmodic breakdowns and childish rants that have characterized his on-screen persona over the last decade, the material this time around boosts him to another level entirely. Put up against a man of Leo’s stature, and Hill is not overshadowed like a great many are going to presume he will be.

Then start throwing in the likes of Rob Reiner, Matthew McConaughey, Kyle Chandler, Jon Favreau, Jean Dejurdin and Margot Robbie and the party seems to naturally take on the life Scorsese was probably seeking prior to principal photography. The best news of all is that not only does the cast look phenomenal, it turns in work that essentially gives birth to the hectic pace of this film. McConaughey’s Mark Hanna, one of the first Wall Street heavyweights that a young and then-naïve Jordan Belfort runs into at his first place of employment, is primarily responsible for awakening the beast that dwelled within this handsome, upstart stockbroker. He’s not quite as striking as he has been this year in things like Mud and the recent Dallas Buyers Club, but he suits the moment perfectly and in limited screen time winds up leaving one of the greater impressions upon Jordan’s future and thus the film.

The Wolf is a film where first impressions are pretty important, but what lurks underneath the surface is far more significant. It doesn’t appear to be a brutal film, as it quickly gathers a vibrant, giddy and at times hilarious energy from the very opening shot; yet, the sum totality of the experience is brutal. Brutality manifests itself in the physical as much as it does in the verbal. It would probably be the most accurate usage of the phrase “handsome devil” to describe Leo’s character in this film, because in many instances, that’s just what he is: the devil. What he says and does sometimes is simply unforgivable and at other times, even unthinkable. Ditto that for Donnie Azoff, though he’s not as likely to sucker-punch his own wife in the stomach.

To put it simply, The Wolf is going to go down as one of the most divergent undertakings Marty has ever been a part of — an avenue that is likely to pay off come the Oscars. At the very least, it’s one of (if not) the largest and most intelligently and fervently crafted pieces of the year. The fact that it passes by with the brevity of a 90-minute flick says something about the talent behind the camera as well as that of those who are put in front of it. Not to mention, the brilliant writing of one Terence Winter, who’s responsible for episodes of The Sopranos as well as Boardwalk Empire.

I’m already going through post-movie withdrawal. . .will someone pass the damn ‘ludes already?!

cheers-to-that-shit

4-5Recommendation: The Wolf of Wall Street offers up so many reasons for why we go to the movies. It’s not only an absurd amount of fun, there’s a fascinating yet troubling story to be told, as well as beautiful people, fantastic performances and a host of gorgeous locations to feast the eyes upon. Scorsese has been in the film business for awhile and yet, for whatever it’s worth, this is a sign that the man is not done yet. Not even close. Despite the lengthy run time, most audiences should find something they will love about this masterpiece.

Rated: R (for rude and risqué)

Running Time: 179 mins.

Quoted:  “I’ll tell you what, I’m never eating at Benihana again. I don’t care whose birthday it is.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.pinterest.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa

bad-grandpa-movie-poster

Release: Friday, October 25, 2013

[Theater]

In this episode, Johnny Knoxville is back as Irving Zisman, the vulgar old man with a big fake. . . well, you know where this is going.

Only this time around, instead of interacting with one of the worst-looking grannies ever (Spike Jonze never ceased to amaze me in those skits in the show) Zisman has been saddled up with his grandkid, whose mother just got sent to prison on drug charges. Now Irving finds himself with no other option but to drop young, impressionable Billy (a surprisingly entertaining Jackson Nicoll) off at his pop’s place, all the way across the country in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Along the way Irving will get his genitals caught in a vending machine, hit on black male strippers, kill a penguin and crash a funeral, a wedding and a beauty pageant. 90 percent of what I just listed can be seen in the trailers, but should you assume that there will be more, perhaps better skits throughout the movie, indeed you won’t be letdown. (Oh yes, and for those who are local, how’d you like that shot of the Henley Street underpass heading into downtown Knoxvegas??)

I got giddy over a two-second clip of my home town because it was far more than what was expected. And speaking of, this movie was actually quite good. Not only are the stunts suitably hilarious with this tandem of old-gramps with a cute, “innocent” little kid working together, but their hidden camera road trip is outfitted with a somewhat heartfelt story as well.

Where plot and prank combine in this outrageous film, this is where Bad Grandpa manages to rise above something more than the montages of ball-busting, stomach-wrenching skits that somehow called for three full-length motion pictures. (Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for what these guys are doing. . .sort of. I just have always been amazed they managed to put together three such films, on top of the show they had been doing for some time.) Really, it’s pretty impressive to see Knoxville’s 42-year-old body (in an 86-year-old man costume of course) jettisoning through a store window on a coin-operated kiddie ride.

At first Irving can’t stand the thought of having Billy clinging to his side now. After his wife has passed away, Irving’s finding himself a free man for the first time in over forty years. Not even the strongest of Viagra formula is going to be of assistance to him, now that he’s got a grandkid by his side. There’ll be no chatting up the honeys with Billy around. . . or will there be? As the story and journey unfold, Irving and the kid begin to bond over a series of ridiculous situations and you can’t help but find yourself enjoying their camaraderie. The fact that you’ll be feeling something else other than the pee in your pants might surprise you, too.

The other element that Bad Grandpa benefits generously from is the heavy usage of reaction shots. Unlike the other Jackass films, where all of the comedy was confined within the group, this expedition relies heavily on how innocent bystanders take to Zisman’s “parenting” skills. True, there’s always been a few skits here and there where Knoxville will harass some random people for a minute or two, but here’s a movie that completely runs away with that concept. And it works brilliantly. I’d even argue that this film is far funnier because of the way certain people respond to what goes on. Some are so good you want to believe they were directed to act a certain way. But the end credits sequence will reveal that in fact, no one is in on the joke other than Knoxville, Nicoll and the camera crew.

Taken altogether, with clever camera placements, a good performance from the very young Nicoll, and a premise written by fellow jackasses Preston Lacy and Jeff Tremaine that actually enhances the selected stunts, Bad Grandpa is one of the better conceits the crew has concocted. Consider it the ultimate “big” prank, similar to how their other films always concluded in some elaborate scheme — only this time with a lot more loose skin.

sorry-as-hell

3-5Recommendation: This section should be pretty self-explanatory this time! You’ll either be there laughing your fool head off or you’ll be at home, skipping over channels that are showing the previews for this thing. Very little I can say or do to convince the latter kind, which is completely understandable. I’m just relieved this movie actually worked.

Rated: R

Running Time: 92 mins.

Quoted: “You are sorry, you’re sorry as hell, Mister!”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com