MOVIE LISTS: SCARLETT JOHANSSON – 2019

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black-widow-avengers endgame

MOVIE LISTS:  Scarlett Johansson

One of my favorite parts of AVENGERS: ENDGAME (2019) was Scarlett Johansson’s performance as Black Widow and the character’s story arc. So, with that in mind, I thought I would bring this column (originally from 2014) up to date.

Here’s the updated partial list of Johansson’s movie credits through April 2019:

 

EIGHT LEGGED FREAKS (2002) – frightened by giant spiders in this horror movie starring David Arquette.

LOST IN TRANSLATION (2003) – hanging out with Bill Murray in Japan in this quirky film by writer/director Sofia Coppola.

THE SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS MOVIE (2004) – lends her voice to this big screen adventure featuring SpongeBob, Patrick, and their undersea buddies.

MATCH POINT (2005) – really shines in this Woody Allen drama starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers.

THE PRESTIGE (2006) – Part of the rivalry between magicians Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman in this Christopher Nolan thriller.

VICKY CHRISTINA BARCELONA (2008) – Another Woody Allen drama, this time with Javier Bardem.

IRON MAN 2 (2010) – Hello Black Widow!  Johansson is the best part of this underwhelming IRON MAN sequel.

THE AVENGERS (2012) – Johansson’s Black Widow is the sexiest crime fighting heroine since Diana Rigg in the other THE AVENGERS, the 1960s TV show with Patrick MacNee.

HITCHCOCK (2012) – Playing Janet Leigh to Anthony Hopkins’ Hitch.

DON JON (2013) – Loses her boyfriend first to porn and then to older woman Julianne Moore in this quirky innovative movie by Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

UNDER THE SKIN (2013) – sexy alien who has the bad habit of killing those she seduces. Offbeat and weird, definitely worth a look.

HER (2013) – seduces Joaquin Phoenix with only her voice in this Oscar-nominated movie.

CHEF (2014) – has too small a role in this comedy drama by actor/director Jon Favreau.

CAPTAIN AMERICA:  THE WINTER SOLDIER (2014) – Black Widow is back and she’s still kicking butt and looking incredibly sexy doing it in this superior CAPTAIN AMERICA sequel.

LUCY (2014) – She’s the best part of this science fiction thriller about a woman who suddenly finds herself able to access her full brain capacity.

AVENGERS:  AGE OF ULTRON (2015) – fourth appearance as Black Widow in this AVENGERS sequel, which is not as good as the first.

HAIL, CAESAR! (2016) – has one of the best scenes in the movie, a hilariously sexy sequence with Jonah Hill, in this otherwise underwhelming misfire by the Coen Brothers.

THE JUNGLE BOOK (2016) – provides the voice for the snake Kaa in this impressive Disney remake of the Rudyard Kipling tale, well-directed by Jon Favreau.

CAPTAIN AMERICA:  CIVIL WAR (2016):  fifth turn as the sexy Black Widow in the third CAPTAIN AMERICA movie and one of Marvel’s all time best.  This rousing superhero film plays like THE AVENGERS 2.5 and contains some of the most entertaining sequences in the Marvel movie universe thus far.

GHOST IN THE SHELL (2017) – plays the lead role of the Major, a cyborg crime fighter, in this disappointing remake of the classic Japanese animated film.

ROUGH NIGHT (2017) –  it’s a girl’s night out gone wrong as Johansson plays a woman enjoying a reunion with her college friends when they accidentally kill a male stripper.

ISLE OF THE DOGS (2018) – lends her voice to this Oscar-nominated animated film which also features voice work from Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, and Jeff Goldblum.

AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (2018) – back as Black Widow again in what for my money is the best AVENGERS film yet. Nonstop entertaining, and a gut-wrenching emotional finale, thanks to the unstoppable cosmic villain Thanos who will not be denied.

AVENGERS: ENDGAME (2019) – while I liked INFINITY WAR better than ENDGAME, Johansson enjoys some of her finest moments in the entire series as Black Widow right here in this movie. Indeed, Black Widow’s story and Johansson’s performance are some of the best parts of this film, which wraps up the AVENGERS saga as the Avengers go after Thanos and attempt to undo what he did in the previous film.

There you have it, a partial list of some notable Scarlett Johansson movies, updated for 2019.  Previously, I had written about looking forward to the rumored standalone movie for Black Widow, and supposedly, that film even though it’s been rumored for years, is in pre-production, which is interesting, considering what ultimately happened to Black Widow in AVENGERS: ENDGAME. Anyway, I would still be incredibly excited to see that standalone movie for Black Widow, and I do hope it still happens.

Okay, that’s it for now.

As always, thanks for reading!

—Michael

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Quirky MAGGIE’S PLAN (2016) Has A lot to Say About Relationships

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MAGGIE’S PLAN (2016), a new comedy drama by writer/director Rebecca Miller, has a lot to say about relationships, so much so that its story is richer in its poignacy than in its comedy.

Maggie (Greta Gerwig) is a young a career advisor for art and design students, and when the movie opens, she laments that she can never seem to remain in a relationship for more than six months.  She tells her friend Tony (Bill Hader) of her plan to have a baby and raise it on her own without the help of a father.  She has a plan because that’s what Maggie does- plan for everything. She’s arranged for one of their college friends, Guy (Travis Fimmel) to provide his sperm so she can artificially inseminate herself.  Tony is none too happy about this because he remembers Guy as a weird math major in college, but Maggie assures him that Guy is fine, as he is now a successful pickle entrepeneur.

Maggie’s plan gets derailed when she meets John Harding (Ethan Hawke) an adjunct professor at the college, and the two hit it off immediately, especially since John is having a difficult time with his marriage, having to deal with his domineering wife Georgette (Julianne Moore) who’s a professor at Columbia University.  John feels trapped in the marriage, as Georgette is so focused on her career, he has to take a back seat with his, plus raise their two children pretty much on his own, and as such he cannot write the novel he’s always wanted to write.

Besides falling in love with John, Maggie also sees herself as being able to rescue him from his manipulating wife.  Since John has fallen in love with Maggie as well, he divorces Georgette and marries Maggie.  They have a daughter, John can now work on his novel, and they can enjoy their perfect life together, except that things are not perfect.

John soon finds himself focusing only on his novel, pretty much ignoring Maggie and their family, and before you can say “Jack Torrance,” Maggie finds herself wondering if perhaps her marriage to John has been a mistake.

If this plot sounds rather serious and sad, that’s because it is.  However, that’s not to say the film isn’t funny.  It has its moments.  There’s a light tone throughout, and the characters are quirky enough to keep things lively.  Just don’t expect to be laughing out loud.

The best part of MAGGIE’S PLAN are the characters and what their story has to say about relationships.  The acting’s not so bad, either!

I thoroughly enjoyed Greta Gerwig as Maggie.She makes Maggie such a sincere and well meaning character, you can’t help but like her.  She also possesses an adorable innocence about her.  At one point, Georgette questions Maggie’s personality and wonders if there isn’t something just plain stupid about her, but Maggie isn’t stupid.  She just wants to do right by people.  The trouble is, the more she tries, the worst things get.

Take her first plan, for instance, where her geeky math friend Guy agrees to provide her with his sperm.  The two characters are each so quirky you can’t help but chuckle when they’re on screen together, but the story keeps you from laughing out loud because it’s obvious that Guy likes Maggie a lot and wants to be more involved with her, yet he’s too awkward to do anything about it.  When he asks Maggie how much involvement she expects from him, she answers, “I was going to say none.”  She then offers to change her mind if he feels otherwise about it, but all Guy can muster is “None.  Yeah.  That’s great.”

Within seconds of seeing Maggie and John married on screen, it’s clear that there is trouble in paradise.  Gerwig does a terrific job showing us Maggie’s internalizations, and when she realizes that their marriage is doomed, that perhaps John really does belong back with Georgette, and she approaches the icy Georgette with a proposition, it doesn’t come off as manipulative or calculating, but completely sincere. Of course, Georgette doesn’t agree.

Yet, later, when the two characters find themselves liking each other, it plays out in a perfectly natural fashion.

Julianne Moore has an absolute field day as Georgette.  She’s never been icier.  As you would expect, Moore lifts the role above the cliche as she makes this seemingly cold-hearted character someone you actually like.

Only Ethan Hawke struggles to connect as professor-wannabe-author John, and he stands out because nearly every other character in the film does connect.  Part of it is John is something of a self-absorbed cold fish.  I understand why both Georgette and Maggie want to be with him.  For Maggie, she’s initially enthralled by his intellect and she feels she can save him from his wife and empower him in his life.  Georgette loves him because he defers to her dominance and supports her every move.  Yet, she’s smart enough to realize later in the movie that she was too selfish with him and should have been thinking about his needs.

But as a character, John is wishy-washy and noncommital, seemingly changing his mind every time the wind blows.   He’s a difficult character to like.  Yet Hawke does make him sympathetic-finally near the end- when he correctly realizes he’s being manipulated and doesn’t like it all that much.

The supporting cast is a good one and provides the film with its quirkiest characters and moments. Bill Hader and Maya Rudolph as Maggie’s husband and wife friends Tony and Felicia come closest to being straight out funny.  Tony is brutally blunt, and generally has Maggie’s best interests in mind, even though she doesn’t always want to hear it.  Maya Rudolph’s Felicia calmly and  drolly puts up with her husband’s outspoken antics, and she’s more than capable and comfortable putting him in his place.Both Hader and Rudolph are alumns of SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE.

Travis Fimmel is charming in an oddball geeky sort of way as Guy, Maggie’s math genius turned pickle entrepeneur who’s ready to donate his sperm to her, and like Maggie, his character exudes raw honesty to the point where he seems a bit dumb, although like Maggie, he’s anything but.

The screenplay by director Rebecca Miller, based on a story by Karen Rinaldi, works more as a quirky drama than a comedy because the story is seeped with honesty and pain.  The characters in this movie are not calculating and cold-hearted, although Maggie likes to plan and Georgette has ice in her veins, but both characters come off as three dimensional and genuine.

Even when some scenes enter into comedy, laughter is difficult to come by because of the sincere tones of sadness underneath.

That’s not to say there aren’t funny moments in the movie.  The sequence where Maggie tries to inseminate herself is nicely paced as it goes from slightly awkward to full blown embarrassing.

And in a near perfect moment, it’s both ironic and telling that the liveliest and perhaps only laugh-out-loud moment in the movie comes when John and Georgette find themselves stranded together in a lodge in snowy Canada.  It’s ironic because Maggie is the liveliest character in the film, yet for the movie’s liveliest moment, she’s absent, and it’s telling because it’s what’s true about Maggie’s life:  she’s always trying to help, but things tend to work best when she’s simply out of the way.

Subtlety reigns throughout MAGGIE’S PLAN, and as such, you won’t find yourself laughing too much.  But that won’t stop you from enjoying this low-key tale of a love triangle that never seems to go as planned.

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Julianne Moore’s Oscar-Winning Performance Leads STILL ALICE (2014) to Poignant Places

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Blu-Ray Review:  STILL ALICE (2014)still alice poster

by

Michael Arruda

When Julianne Moore, one of my favorite actresses, won the Oscar earlier this year for Best Actress for her performance as a woman suffering from early-onset Alzheimer’s disease in STILL ALICE (2014), I made sure I added this movie to my Netflix queue.

In STILL ALICE, Julianne Moore plays Alice Howland, a 50 year-old linguistics professor who at this stage of her life has everything going for her.  She enjoys a successful career.  She’s happily married to a great husband, John (Alec Baldwin) and she has three wonderful adult children.  She has little more to worry about other than trying to convince her youngest daughter Lydia (Kristen Stewart) to put off her stage acting career just long enough to go to college so she’ll have a fall back plan if acting doesn’t work out, an argument that never gets her anywhere since Lydia is adamant about her love of acting and resents her mom’s meddling.

But when Alice struggles to remember some of the words to her linguistics lecture, and later when she actually gets lost while jogging, she realizes something is wrong and she seeks medical help.  To her astonishment, she learns that she suffers from early-onset Alzheimer’s, a disease for which there is no cure.  Worse, she is informed that her disease is genetic, which means she has likely passed on the gene to her children.

When she breaks the news to her husband John, he reacts first with denial before finally coming to terms with her diagnosis.  Their children are devastated but supportive.  Her oldest daughter Anna (Kate Bosworth) is tested and learns she too has the disease, while her son Tom (Hunter Parrish) learns that he does not have the disease.  Lydia, ever the rebel, refuses to be tested, as she doesn’t want to know.

As the movie goes on, Alice’s condition deteriorates dramatically, and as she fights the losing battle to keep her memories and more importantly her dignity, and as her family struggles with watching her turn into someone they do not know, everyone strains to remember that through it all, she is still Alice, the wife and mom they all love.

STILL ALICE is not a happy movie.  But it is a rewarding one, even if the plight of Alice Howland, like real-life Alzheimer’s sufferers around the world, is one without a happy ending, as there remains no cure for Alzheimer’s.

As expected, Julianne Moore is excellent as Alice.  To watch her, a smart, albeit brilliant linguistic professor wrestle with her mental faculties is horribly depressing.  At one point in the movie, Alice makes a point of saying that being smart was her identity; it was how she saw herself.  For her, language, words, and linguistics were as much a part of her being as the way she looked, and now she was fighting to remember them.  It was, she said, as if the disease was ripping away her identity.

Moore captures completely the feeling of struggling with memory.  A distant lost look comes over her face, and suddenly her memory fails her.  It’s painful to watch.  Unable to put up much of a fight, Alice deteriorates into an entirely different person.  Once this disease takes hold of her, there’s nothing she can do to stop it.

Her best moment, and one of the best moments in the entire film, is when she speaks at an Alzheimer’s conference.  As she reads her speech, she highlights each written line in yellow to prevent her from reading it again because she can’t remember what she just read.  She makes many wonderful points in this speech.  One of them is how difficult it is for Alzheimer sufferers to be taken seriously when they seem so incapable and even ridiculous, but she reminds her audience that this is not who they are.  It’s the most poignant moment in the movie.

Alec Baldwin is effective as Alice’s husband John.  He doesn’t come across as the clichéd loving husband.  He is supportive, yes, and when Alice can’t take care of herself, he’s there to care for her, at first, but he doesn’t like it, and he struggles with having to watch his wife become a helpless person.  Later, he is offered a new position at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, far away from their New York home, and Alice asks him to delay the move, but he doesn’t want to.  It’s clear that he can’t handle taking care of his wife, even though he wants to.

He also talks down to Alice at times, as if she’s a child, telling her to go to bed when she was panicking about losing her phone, for example.  These scenes are frustrating, but they also come off as real.  John seems to love his wife very much.  He’s just not very good at dealing with her illness.

Baldwin and Moore work well together, as they did on TV’s 30 ROCK, where Julianne Moore guest-starred for a time as Baldwin’s love interest.

It was so good to see Kristen Stewart not in a TWILIGHT movie.  She’s really good here as Moore’s youngest and most rebellious daughter Lydia.  Other than Moore and Baldwin, she gives the best performance in the movie.  I don’t think I’ve ever said that about Stewart before.  Not that I’ve ever thought she was a poor actress, but that the films she was in rarely gave her the opportunity to do much more than brood.  This is probably the best role I’ve seen Stewart play.

It’s also a rewarding role.  Lydia butts heads with mom constantly, and yet, later when John is not there to care for his wife, it’s Lydia who moves in to take care of her mom.  In spite of their rocky relationship, Lydia and Alice share a special bond.

The rest of the cast is decent.  Kate Bosworth is fine as Alice’s oldest daughter, as is Hunter Parrish as their son Tom.  Parris must like playing Baldwin’s son, as this is the second time he’s played Baldwin’s son in a movie, having done so in the comedy IT’S COMPLICATED (2009), which also starred Meryl Streep and Steve Martin.

STILL ALICE was written and directed by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland.  Their screenplay was based on the novel by Lisa Genova.  These guys did a terrific job behind the camera.  They captured three fabulous acting performances by Moore, Baldwin, and Stewart, with Moore winning an Academy Award.  Sadly, Glatzer passed away earlier this year from complications from ALS.

STILL ALICE is a well-written, directed, and acted movie that reminds us of the finality of Alzheimer’s disease.  It follows one woman’s struggle to keep her dignity and remain relevant, even as her mind deteriorates to the point where she can’t even recognize her own children.  It’s also a showcase for Julianne Moore’s considerable acting talents.

Perhaps most importantly the film asks us to remember that people with Alzheimer’s aren’t simple-minded forgetful folks but individuals suffering from a disease without a cure, and as such, they deserve dignity and respect.

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IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: CARRIE (2013)

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Carrie poster 2013Here’s my latest IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column on the recent remake of CARRIE (2013) starring Chloe Grace Moretz and Julianne Moore.  It’s up now in the February 2015 Edition of THE HORROR WRITERS ASSOCIATION NEWSLETTER.

—Michael

 

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT

BY

MICHAEL ARRUDA

Today IN THE SPOOKLIGHT it’s the 2013 remake of CARRIE starring Chloe Grace Moretz and Julianne Moore.

CARRIE, based on Stephen King’s first novel and first filmed in 1976 by Brian De Palma with Sissy Spacek in the lead role, tells the story of awkward teenager Carrie White (Chloe Grace Moretz) who’s constantly picked on at school because she is awkward and shy.  Carrie acts this way because she has been brought up— and until recently, home-schooled— by her religious fanatic mother Margaret (Julianne Moore).  Fanatic might be too lenient a term.  In short, Margaret is a lunatic!  For example, Margaret’s idea of effective parenting includes locking Carrie in a closet so she can pray for forgiveness.  We’re never told why Margaret acts the way she does, but we can assume she experienced one or more traumatic events earlier in her life.

After Carrie’s classmates make a vicious video of her in the girl’s locker room shower, gym teacher Ms. Desjardin (Judy Greer) punishes the girls responsible by restricting their prom privileges unless they do extra drills during gym class.  Sue Snell (Gabriella Wilde) sees the error of her ways and in good faith asks her boyfriend Tommy (Ansel Elgort) to take Carrie to the prom instead.  Carrie is wary of the invitation, but eventually is convinced that Tommy is not trying to trick her, and so she says yes.

While Sue and Tommy have the best intentions, the wild and rebellious Chris (Portia Doubleday) does not, and she and her boyfriend plan an elaborate scheme of revenge to get back at Carrie at the prom.

The other thing about Carrie is that she has telekinetic powers, which come in handy for dealing with the likes of her mother, and in the film’s bloody finale, Sue and the others who try to humiliate her.

The original CARRIE was directed by Brian De Palma, and starred Sissy Spacek as Carrie and Piper Laurie as her mother Margaret, both of whom were nominated for Academy Awards, so as good as this sequel is, and as good as both Chloe Grace Moretz and Julianne Moore are, they would be hard-pressed to match the efforts of the original.  Sissy Spacek, for example, remains the definitive Carrie.

However, there’s a lot to like about the 2013 version.

I enjoyed how director Kimberly Peirce and screenwriters Lawrence D. Cohen and Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa updated the story.  For example, in this version, the girls take the video of Carrie on a cell phone which they then upload to the internet.  This version also does a better job than the original of showing Sue’s motives as to why she wants to help Carrie.

Chloe Grace Moretz does a nice job as Carrie.  Before seeing the movie, I was concerned that Moretz would have been too normal and good looking for the part, but she does a good job making Carrie awkward and uncomfortable.

Like Piper Laurie in the original, the scariest part of this movie is Julianne Moore as Carrie’s mother Margaret.  Is Moore as good as Laurie?  Probably not, but she’s still damn scary, which is a good thing, because there’s not much else that’s frightening about CARRIE.  It’s disturbing, to be sure, as Carrie’s life is a tough one, as she’s bullied at school, and at home she’s dominated by her insane mother.  And it’s exceedingly sad to see Carrie humiliated at the prom, and even her revenge doesn’t feel rewarding.  You just want to see her be happy, not single-handedly wiping out half her high school class!

The acting here is above average.  In addition to Moretz and Moore, Gabrielle Wilde is very good as sympathetic Sue Snell, as is Judy Greer as Ms. Desjardin.  Portia Doubleday does a nice job making Chris a spoiled bratty nemesis for Carrie, and while I liked Ansel Elgort as wholesome boyfriend Tommy the first time I saw this one at the movies, the second time I watched this on Netflix I found him rather syrupy sweet, and I had a hard time taking him seriously.

The best part of CARRIE is it tells a genuine tale of the effects of bullying, something that too many high school students have to deal with, and the sad part is they’ve been dealing with it for years—long before King wrote the novel in the early 70s— and they continue to deal with it today.  This combined with the other part of the story, Carrie’s relationship with her abusive mother, make this one sadder than most horror tales.

I liked this version of CARRIE well enough, and by far my favorite part of this movie was the performances by Chloe Grace Moretz as Carrie and Julianne Moore as her demented mother Margaret.

CARRIE is a gloomy drama about a young girl who is eventually pushed to the edge of her sanity, to the point where she can’t take it any longer and strikes back with the full force of her deadly telekinetic abilities.  Yet, this action does little to lift Carrie out of her predicament.  In fact, it doesn’t rescue her from her plight at all.  It simply ends it.

In CARRIE, the only release from pain is death.

For those who like dark stories, you can’t get much darker than that.

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