ACTRESS SCARLETT JOHANSSON!
Seriously, is there a sexier person in pictures these days than Scarlett Johansson? I truly doubt it. Sultry, sensual, zaftig...whatever adjective you choose to describe this utter force of nature, it hardly does the woman justice. Personally speaking, I think Scarlett is currently the closest thing we have to a modern day Marilyn Monroe, though her persona seems far less ditzy and volatile as the ill-fated screen legend. But as far as raw sex appeal...Scarlett's second to none right now...and perhaps ever! That's too obvious though right, and the first thing people tend to want to talk about when discussing Ms. Johansson. Well, we're here to reiterate what skilled acting chops Scarlett has in addition to her physical assets. I've heard a lot of people over the years disparage her acting ability, but that's just silly. If she wasn't a highly skilled actor, would she have worked with the finest directorial likes of Redford, Nolan, De Palma, Crowe, Besson, the Coen Bros, Sofia Coppola, Spike Jonze, Woody Allen, etc.? Please!
That said, while she's employed her talent and enjoyed success in all kinds of mainstream films, let's not forget about Scarlett's steady genre involvement. Over the last two decades, Johansson has weaved in and out of such varied genre material as JUST CAUSE, EIGHT LEGGED FREAKS, MATCHPOINT, THE ISLAND, THE PRESTIGE, THE BLACK DAHLIA, THE SPIRIT, HITCHCOCK, and of course, has an additional pair of AITH-worthy joints out this year: UNDER THE SKIN (currently in theaters), and LUCY (due this August). And that, friends, is the primary cause for Dissection this week. As we open up and exam Scarlett's career, we do so with the celebratory gratitude that 2014 is the year of the Scarlett Fever!
Time will certainly support or refute this claim, but I'm putting it out there right now, Scarlett Johansson's finest genre turn is in Jonathan Glazer's searing new curio UNDER THE SKIN, which we implore you to go see in theaters ASAP. A surefire lock for Top 10 horror flicks of the year (and it's only April!), UNDER THE SKIN is unlike any movie you've seen before, and happens to feature Ms. Johansson in one of the most reserved, pensive, yet utterly believable and truly terrifying performances of her career. So quiet, so nuanced, yet so expressive in her eyes and body language that she doesn't even need a lot of dialogue to emote or get her inner-thoughts across. That's true acting distilled to its purest form right there, and given the predatory nature of the character, Scarlett gets to use her entire body and innate sex appeal as the primary instrument of expression. In short, it's the perfect part for Scarlett's natural talents!
If you've not been keeping up, UNDER THE SKIN finds Scarlett playing an enigmatic alien-seductress preying on strangers off the coast of Scotland. In particular, she lures unsuspecting male hitchhikers into her mysterious web of deadly deceit, and more or less his her way with them when they fall into her clutch. She skulks the fog-drenched cobbles in the night, like a vampire, picking off mere mortals who in no way shape or form can resist her lusty advances. Men melt like putty in her humanoid hands, and it's not just the intense ways she toys and tantalizes her prey to lethal ends, it's her sense of enjoyment and empowerment derived from such that really comes off disturbing. With each conquest, she becomes more confident, more capable. But it's all in the way she comports herself, her physical mannerisms, the way she observes human behavior, the voyeuristic attentions she pays in order to exact a seduction, a subtle look here and there, etc. It's a knockout performance of minimalism, one predicated on Scarlett's finest attribute: her appearance. Real shit, we cannot recommend this one enough!
With more than 40 credits tallied over a two decade span, a few black marks on the resume are inevitable. And no, NORTH, her first film, a bomb of infamous proportions, doesn't count (she actually ought to be commended for surviving that debacle). Instead, to my mind, the single biggest misfire that Scarlett partook in, has to be Frank Miller's sorely disappointing 2008 adaptation of his own THE SPIRIT. Ouch! Coming off the well-received, stylistic game-changer of SIN CITY, the anticipation and expectation of THE SPIRIT was through the roof. Too bad the result barely made it out of the goddamn basement. Yikes!
But let's be clear, Scarlett's involvement in THE SPIRIT is the last reason why the flick sucks. She plays Silken Floss in the film, a supporting character that acts as a licentious femme fatale, a mere foil for the reanimated main character. Like the other women in the flick, Scarlett's basically reduced to an objectified sex-doll, even if she's presented as holding the power of persuasion. For someone as talented as Scarlett, it's a fallow and feckless role that's beneath her ability, and likely only done as a favor to Miller and Rodriguez after seeing how ballsy SIN CITY was. Still, whatever the motivation, THE SPIRIT does no favors to any of its actors, and Scarlett is right there among them, desperately trying to breathe life into a stodgy, CG-heavy green-screen debacle. Not her fault, but THE SPIRIT has to be Scarlett's most forgettable onscreen genre moment to date.
I hate to be redundant, or even reductive, but come on, how can Scarlett's physical stature not be her most famous trademark? The woman is sex personified, not just in her uniquely buxom body, but through her gorgeous face and deep, smoky voice as well. What separates her then is her well-rounded acting chops. I know it isn't all that AITH appropriate, but if you've not heard the profoundly moving voice work Scarlett contributed to Spike Jonze's HER this past year, we urge you to do so the instant that shite hits DVD. It's that good, that convincing, and reminds us, despite the absence of her stunning appearance, of how talented she truly is as a performer. Additionally, Scarlett's parlayed her lethal combo of sight and sound not just for the big-screen, but also for endorsement ads for Calvin Klein, L'Oreal, Louis Vuitton, Dolce & Gabbana and many more. Not that that means much outside the fact the woman has world-class, one of a kind assets that have catapulted her into, if not an outright role model, a global fashion icon. Like it or not, her beauty has literally been trademarked!
Because Scarlett is often associated with such venerated romantic-dramas as GHOST WORLD, LOST IN TRANSLATION, VICKY CHRISTINA BARCELONA, HER, etc...there's actually a few unvarnished jewels to be found among her varied genre work. For instance, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention how good she is in Woody Allen's MATCH POINT, playing a fiery femme-fatale that oozes sex appeal amid a nefarious affair. It's a very good movie (Allen's admitted favorite of his own) and Scarlett is absolutely paramount to its quality, even if it isn't a full-on genre piece. It's a meta-movie-star role that self-reflexively plays on Scarlett's own natural sexuality. She's never been more magnetic!
We could also mention the tongue-in-cheek hilarity of EIGHT LEGGED FREAKS, in which Scarlett plays a teenaged daughter ensnared in a small town overrun by a humongous-spider infestation. Between her and David Arquette, the flick is a blast! Like SLITHER, EIGHT LEGGED FREAKS is a classic 50s style sci-fi monster movie that never takes itself too seriously. A fun time all around!
Not enough? How about citing Michael Bay's THE ISLAND, which, despite being an uneven composite of two seemingly different movies, Scarlett simply soars in. Thing is, there's nothing hidden or subtle about the bombast of Michael Bay, so THE ISLAND really is more of a black-sheep candidate than a hidden gem. Don't get me wrong, for a strong, physically demanding starring role, Johansson kills it...stealing scenes away from Ewan McGregor like he does everyone from else. But still, I nominate Chris Nolan's own hidden gem, THE PRESTIGE, as Scarlett's most impressive as well.
I honestly think THE PRESTIGE is my favorite Chris Nolan flick. It's certainly his most underrated, right there along with INSOMNIA (though undeniably better). Remember, in the flick Bale and Jackman play rivaling magicians around the turn of the century, outwitting each other and winning the crowds' affection with their mindboggling sleight of hand. It's a wonderful script. And just as the title itself remains low-key among Scarlett's oeuvre, so too is her character as equally and subtly integral to the overall story. In other words, she is the hidden gem inside this hidden gem of a film. She plays a key cog, a stage foil meant to sell an elaborate magic trick. A prop on stage, but a vital chess-piece off. Even more telling is how Scarlett more than holds her own opposite Bale and Jackman, two of the bset in the biz!
Beyond UNDER THE SKIN, and not counting her DC Comic work as Black Widow, Scarlett's poised to knock motherfuckers out in Luc Besson's new sci-fi-action-revenge tale LUCY, in theaters August 8th. We just saw the high-wattage trailer a couple of weeks ago, which featured Besson's trademark flare and penchant for strong female characters. In this one though, Scarlett plays a forced drug mule who, after a batch of drugs accidentally dissolves into her system, suddenly develops superhuman brain capacity. From there, Lucy uses her newfound powers to serve bloody revenge to the bastards that did her dirty. Sounds dope, right? Like TAKEN meets LIMITLESS!
Here's the official synopsis:
A woman, accidentally caught in a dark deal, turns the tables on her captors and transforms into a merciless warrior evolved beyond human logic."
Pretty badass, especially with Morgan Freeman heading a solid international supporting cast. I suppose it's also worth noting that Angelina Jolie was originally going to play the title role, but honestly, at a full decade younger, I wholeheartedly prefer Scarlett instead. I actually think she has become a better actor than Jolie at this stage of their respective careers. Don't you?!?
In sum, Scarlett Johansson is one bad motherfucker! As a child actor we've literally watched blossom onscreen over the years into a gorgeous, full grown flower...Scarlett has not only worked with some of the best contemporary film directors over a wide swath of different kinds of pictures (big, small, indie, mainstream)...she's always kept a soft spot for the dark, deep-seeded genre material. Flicks like JUST CAUSE, EIGHT LEGGED FREAKS, MATCHPOINT, THE ISLAND, THE PRESTIGE, THE BLACK DAHLIA, THE SPIRIT, HITCHCOCK - not to mention newbies UNDER THE SKIN and LUCY - all showcase Scarlett's ability to dredge the dark depths of humanity. We salute her for such a lifelong dedication to the complex and challenging characters, and for continuing to elevate each and every genre outing with her mere presence. Or should I say presents?!? And hey, speaking of gifts, isn't Scarlett expecting her first baby? Well then, from all of us here at AITH, congrats on the greatest gift of all Scarlett...you've earned your best role yet!