Screening Room: ‘Ghost in the Shell’

The Scarlett Johansson live-action remake of the classic 1995 anime Ghost in the Shell hit DVD and Blu-ray this week. My review is at PopMatters:

For a movie ostensibly about uniqueness and what makes us human, Ghost in the Shell doesn’t make a strong argument for either. This is a story in which the technology fascinates and the people bore. Sense memories of other movies proliferate until you forget quite what it was you were watching in the first place. That’s the sort of thing bound to happen when the star (Scarlett Johansson) is playing a role she can sleepwalk through and the story was only groundbreaking when first filmed over 20 years ago…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Hail, Caesar!’

Channing Tatum in 'Hail, Caesar!' (Universal Pictures)
Channing Tatum in ‘Hail, Caesar!’ (Universal Pictures)

For their latest fullbore farce, the Coens return to the Los Angeles of yesteryear, only it’s a brighter concoction than the murderous landscape of Barton Fink, and stares a veritable Woody Allen posse of stars goofing around like stars of old.

Hail, Caesar! opens today. My review is at PopMatters:

[The] livelier moments include Tilda Swinton’s quivery and predatory presence as twin sisters who are also rival gossip columnists, Channing Tatum deftly cutting a rug during a big On the Town-like dance number with a not-so-subtle gay subtext, and Ralph Fiennes, as a sleek European exile director trying to coax a taciturn and nearly pre-verbal cowboy star through a scene of Lubitschian complexity. But as each one of these scenes nears a crescendo, the Coens either cut away or otherwise leave it stranded in a film that seems as lost as its protagonist…

Here’s the trailer:

New in Theaters: ‘Lucy’ Will Require Only About One Percent of Your Brain

Scarlett Johansson achieves hyper-intelligence in the not-so-smart 'Lucy' (Universal Pictures)
Scarlett Johansson achieves hyper-intelligence in the not-so-smart ‘Lucy’ (Universal Pictures)

Lucy-posterLuc Besson hasn’t written and directed a major action film since 1997’s gonzo sci-fi flick The Fifth Element. His newest, Lucy, is a curious amalgam of The MatrixFlowers for Algernon, and a whole bag full of bunk about humans only using 10 percent of their brains that shows Besson may have been away from the game for too long.

Lucy opens everywhere on Friday. My review is at Short Ends & Leader:

Lucy [shows Besson] having apparently grown impatient with nearly every convention of storytelling. We have barely met his Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) before she’s thrown into a bloody meat-grinder of a crime syndicate plot that results in her becoming a superhuman, god-like creature. All we know about Lucy is that she’s an American student in Taipei who likes to go clubbing. This lack of background drains the drama out of her transformation into near-omnipotence, no matter how nifty it is to watch her drop a roomful of gunmen to the ground with a flick of her finger (more on than in a bit)….

The trailer is fun at least:

Now Playing: ‘Chef’

Jon Favreau and John Leguizamo in 'Chef' (Open Road Media)
Jon Favreau and John Leguizamo in ‘Chef’ (Open Road Media)

Chef-posterAfter making a mint with the first two Iron Man movies, Jon Favreau went smaller. In Chef, he plays a chef who loses his job and redeems himself by driving around with his son and best buddy serving up cubanos and beignets. Not a bad life.

Chef is playing around the country now and should be hanging around for a few more weeks before the summer season really gets started. My review is at Film Racket:

Chef is one of those jobs that many people dream of but not that many would actually want to do. A few hours on the prep line in August would burn away most foodie fantasies quite nicely. Carl Casper, the chef played by Jon Favreau in his post-Iron Man palate cleanser, however, doesn’t have many of those grotty concerns mucking up his pretty perfect life. Surrounded by gorgeous women, delectable food, rowdy friends, and a keen-eyed little moppet of a son just dying for his attention, his only real problems are those notes of discontent twanging in his head….

You can see the trailer here:

New in Theaters: ‘Under the Skin’

For his last two films, Sexy Beast and Birth, Jonathan Glazer dealt with the aliens that walk amongst us, whether it was divorced-from-reality gangsters or creepy children. In Under the Skin, though, he finally gets around to telling a story about an honest-to-God alien—in the form of Scarlett Johansson.

undertheskin-posterUnder the Skin opens in limited release on Friday. My review is at Film Journal International:

There is a searching, watching passivity in Scarlett Johansson’s work that’s enlivened her greatest roles, particularly Lost in Translation. That quality isn’t just an added benefit of Jonathan Glazer’s newest and certainly oddest film, it’s the very sinew that strains (not always successfully) to hold this spacious, spiky concoction together. As the nameless alien who spends the film roaming the streets of Glasgow in a white van looking for men to take home, Johansson is a thing apart. She drives with a floating precision, as though somebody else were actually handling the car. Her conversations might trail off in a cloud of nebulousness, but her eyes remain pinned on the man right in front of her. She is a hunter, after all…

You can see the trailer here:

New in Theaters: ‘Her’

'Her': Loving what's not there
Joaquin Phoenix in ‘Her’: Loving what’s not there

her-posterEveryone always says that they just love this phone or that gadget. So it makes sense that Spike Jonze’s visionary but powerfully naive new sci-fi rom-com Her would take that romantic displacement to its ultimate conclusion by having a guy (Joaquin Phoenix) fall in love with his new operating  system (voiced by Scarlett Johansson).

Her opens this week. My review is at Film Racket:

In the future, computers will be not only our friends and lovers, they’ll also help us discover our better selves. That seems to be the message of Spike Jonze’s partially genius, often infuriating yuppie sci-fi fantasy about love and meaning in the post-smartphone era. It’s a film that spends so much effort perfecting the sun-dappled look seen in digital-tech commercials, and squinting to see how technology will operate a few years hence, that it doesn’t have much energy left over for its humans. Jonze seems more truly engaged by Samantha, who is the most well-rounded character in the film. Notably, she’s not human…

'Her': Happiness is an advanced operating system
‘Her’: Happiness is an advanced operating system

Here’s the trailer, soundtrack by Arcade Fire: