Posts Tagged Scarlett Johansson

Ghost in the Shell (2017)

Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of sci-fi violence, suggestive content and some disturbing images)
Directed By: Rupert Sanders
Written By: Jonathan Herman, Jamie Moss
Runtime: 106 minutes
Studio: Paramount Pictures

I decided I would review Ghost in the Shell starring Scarlett Johansson some months back but just didn’t know when I would do it. Please note this review will have some spoilers as it is also an analysis of the film. I was already familiar with it from the 1995 anime of the same name, which explores the same story. I vaguely recall it as I actually saw it around that time and haven’t yet re-watched it to refresh my memory.

Nonetheless, I am in touch with its themes not just from the films but from the subject of transhumanism which is ever more prominent as technology in real life progresses. Back in 1995 it didn’t seem absolutely certain the ambitions of the technologists, specifically artificial intelligence and robotics people, were going to come to fruition. This was because at the time, although they had achieved some impressive accomplishments in those fields, they had not yet done anything like what we see today.

Judging by what we see today, it looks strongly as though most if not all of the technology in Ghost in the Shell will become a reality. Only world war or catastrophe, natural or man made, would prevent these advanced technologies illustrated in the film from coming to be. They are mostly a combination of artificial intelligence, often referred to simply as AI, robotics, and transhumanism.

Allow me to give a brief description of each. Artificial intelligence is what is used in things like Chess programs. They enable you to play against a computer opponent if you don’t have a human opponent. An AI chess program can beat the best human Chess players in the world now. Another AI program can beat the best Jeopardy players. Jeopardy is a television game show. The name of the AI program that can play it better than a human is called Watson. He or it, scans Wikipedia pages as part of his program so he can, as I understand it, answer general knowledge questions. One could say he reads wikipedia, in a way, although very quickly.

Going even further, AI programs can produce music in the style of notable musicians as well as just produce general music. They are also used in stock trading done by major banks. In fact, the biggest banks use AI and according to my knowledge it is superior to traditional methods now. AI programs have not been able to produce works of fiction that can rival ones written by human authors, but it’s only a matter of time before they are able to.

In the future, it could be the case that an AI program could write endless novels in the style of your favorite author with great accuracy. In the more distant future, perhaps a book could be written just for you, exactly the way you are predicted to like it. On the one hand this sounds good but on the other it doesn’t sound so good. This raises the problem of what we will do when machines, robots, and computers can do everything better than we can.

The phenomenon of human labor being replaced by machines is called ‘technological unemployment.’ One proposed solution to this problem is to augment human beings with machine technology. This action is called ‘transhumanism,’ which I mentioned above. Ghost in the Shell 2017 is rife with transhumanism. Rife has a bit of a negative connotation because it’s usually used to describe something unpleasant. And some of what happens in Ghost in the Shell is unpleasant in my view. Take for example a young girl learning to speak fluent French in under 10 seconds.

Normally a person has to study a language for 4 years to reach fluency. This process takes tremendous effort, will power, concentration, time, dedication, intelligence, problem solving, practice, study, and patience. All of these things are beneficial to a human being. They strengthen character, provide something for one to do with one’s time, encourage discipline, and in the end reward all of the hard work with the acquisition of the language.

Without putting your sweat in, nothing is really worth anything, some people believe. And so if all you have to do is hook your brain up to a computer for 10 seconds to bypass all of the journey, isn’t it cheating? What’s the point of that? You’d be going straight to having the language at your disposal. The use of it would be you could speak to people in their own tongue when you couldn’t before. You could enjoy a holiday more freely, when it comes to the social aspect of it. But it’s in the process of learning a language the hard way that you figure out how you can express yourself the way you want to.

If you have a language downloaded into your head, you are not going to learn exactly the way you wish to express yourself in it, which is learnt during the normal slow process of acquisition. What is more, if everyone knows you downloaded it, no one will be impressed. One of the nice things about learning a language is when people compliment you on your hard work. So you can see much of what is good about doing it the hard way is destroyed by doing it the transhuman way.

So the idea with transhumanism is to make us as competent as machines so we can have jobs. But that makes no philosophical sense because in the eyes of many, the objective is to not have jobs, but to have only hobbies instead. Pleasurable activities, basically. And yet many hobbies become jobs for a lot of people. Take musicians for example. Many of them say they want to make music anyway. Elly Jackson of the band La Roux says she only did music commercially because she didn’t ‘want to be broke while doing it.’

I suspect if technology completely took over all tasks, people would want to experience things in simulated realities, much like they do now in video games. In video games people play the roles of soldiers, gangsters, skateboarders, race car drivers, fighters, etc. I think if people could not experience being these things in real life, they would opt to experience them virtually. This is where virtual worlds would flourish. People would not have to risk their lives doing these things for real but all of the blood sweat and tears element could be engineered into the worlds so the players could have the sense of accomplishment they seek.

Now I’ve addressed AI, and transhumanism, I’ll address robotics. We already have robots that can perform surgery and make cars, among other things. Much of the robotics in Ghost in the Shell is, I’ll be frank, sex robots. In the film they’re called ‘geisha bots.’ They’re for men obviously. It’s an embarrassing subject for most. But with the franchise being from Japan, it’s to be expected, and it’s relevant. We don’t yet have effective robot cleaners and that is because we have yet to create robots that can perform all human movements. Many of the first humanoid robots would walk a few steps and simply fall over. For some reason human movement is a difficult feat.

So let’s move on to the film in some detail. It has visually appealing cinematography. Many of the shots feature futuristic backdrops, costumes, cars, weaponry, and equipment. There are a few gratuitous shots of Scarlett Johansson, it should be said. The excuse given implicitly is her body suit is skin colored because this enables her to become invisible, for tactical purposes. Nonetheless, we get to see her as though she is naked. Howard Stern in his interview with her brings that issue up with her. He told her she is basically naked in it. She said yeah in the sense that it’s a rubber skin colored body suit. She sort of agreed with him but still pointed out she wasn’t actually naked. It was just a rubber skin colored body suit which made her appear naked.

But this is Hollywood. It’s to be expected. Gratuitous means lacking good reason. That the body suit allows her to become invisible is not good reason. We know the real reason. So anyway, her character is a human brain transplanted into a cyborg body. It is the first of its kind. The reason the film is called Ghost in the Shell is because it is said a human brain contains a ghost or a soul. All other cyborgs or robots, no matter how advanced, do not have a ghost or a soul.

It’s unclear whether society has established some sort of spiritual understanding of human beings. Sometimes it seems like they mean there is a ghost or a soul, but it is generated by the human brain, rather than separate from it in some way. Like they can’t generate one using machines but a human brain can generate one. It’s mentioned this ghost has capabilities machines do not have. The one that stands out the most is intuition. AI in the film does not have intuition. The idea is she can have all of the capabilities of her human soul meshed with the extreme capabilities of AI and robotics.

She is a transhuman supersoldier, and used for tactical military purposes. People get killed is what I’m saying. There is mention of terrorists. There is mention of people who disagree with technology, dislike it, perhaps hate it, and they go into what is described as a ‘lawless zone.’ Such things already exist but here in the UK they are very small. I’m told there is one housing estate where if you go into its parking area, it’s very dangerous, and if you call the police, they won’t come. Apparently if people see police from out their windows, they will drop televisions on them. I’m not joking. I saw a documentary about it. But that’s by-the-by.

I do wonder if there really could be a lawless zone in a world like the one presented in Ghost in the Shell. Perhaps there could be. It would allow for a demarcation between the technological world and the non-technological world. The people in the lawless zones could be subjects of study. They would no doubt be infiltrated by agent provocateurs as well.

As the story progresses, it turns out there is a conspiracy. Scarlett’s character, Mira Killian, is actually not the first of her kind. She’s in fact the first of her kind to actually be a medical success. By that I mean many were operated on before her, in failed attempts. One such failed attempt is the character Kuze played by Michael Pitt. He is claimed to be a terrorist by those above her but she finds out he was a prototype. He is much like she is only not as good. Flawed and in a great deal of pain. Full of hatred and seeks revenge. He managed to hack her system while she was doing something called a ‘deep dive.’

She has interactions with him and he enlightens her as to what has really gone on. She sympathises with him and wants to know her true origins. They have been hidden from her but stored on some sort of memory disk, while she has fake memories implanted by the robotics division of Hanka Corporation. I couldn’t help but think the film is a warning to us all. Almost pre-conditioning. It’s said in conspiracy circles that China does peculiar experiments to do with technology, ones often to do with stem stells and DNA editing. These are purely biological and do not involve robotics etc. But nonetheless, it’s disconcerting.

The film co-stars Pilau Asbaek who had a brief appearance in the first scene of Lucy, also starring Scarlett Johansson. He is so different in Ghost in the Shell, both in appearance and personality, I didn’t recognise him at all. Good actor, literally. Managed to trick me into not thinking I’d ever seen him before. Johansson sings his praises in one of her interviews. He plays Batou who is a key character in both the original anime film and in the anime television series, called Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex.

It would be a crime of me not to mention the film also co-stars Takeshi Kitano as Aramaki. This character is Mira Killian’s figurative angel, for without him, she’d have no back up in high places. Takeshi Kitano is a legend in Japan. He speaks Japanese in the film, with subtitles. As far as I know, his English is not that great. But even though he speaks in Japanese, you can hear how cool he must be if you understand Japanese. Juliette Binoche also has a pivotal role and she was once a very prominent actress. She does a superb job. She comes across as very manipulative when she is meant to but then has a change of heart when her conscience finally emerges as actually existent within her as a person, despite all she has done.

I certainly recommend Ghost in the Shell and multiple viewings are comfortable because it’s quite light dialogue wise with what is often visual artwork that can be seen again and again with much pleasure.

Reviewed by Alistair Martin


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Ghost in the Shell (2017)

ghostintheshellGhost in the Shell (2017)
12A | 1h 47min

This live-action take on the anime original is not as deep and philosophical as the original. It streamlines the themes of the cult original Manga created by Masamune Shirow in 1989 but does honor its spirit (quite literally) and the 1995 anime film. Although it does not capture the unsettling, melancholic feel of the original. Fans of the ’95 film should go in with an open mind. Yes, the plot has been streamlined and it doesn’t have nearly the same level of information or attention to detail but, let’s face it, if it was the same as the animation it would be attacked as an unnecessary remake!

The plot remains the same: the mind of a human is rehomed in a technologically advanced body.That body is provided by robotics corporation Hanka who want to create a squad commander for a government counter-terrorism force, Section 9. This human/robot hybrid becomes ‘Major'(Scarlett Johansson). Major and her team are hunting Kuze (Michael Pitt), who is assassinating Hanka scientists for motives which are, at the start, unclear.

The action is set in “New Port City” which some have compared to “Blade Runner’s” Los Angeles – although I agree with film critic Mark Kermode that it is more like the setting of The Fifth Element (1997). Visually, this film is a feast with great sets, costumes, and images that stick in your mind.

There is a very good cast with fine performances from Batou (Pilou Asbæk) and Takeshi Kitano as Section 9’s Chief, Daisuke Aramaki. The casting has caused some controversy. There were objections on the grounds that an Asian or Asian-American actress hadn’t been cast to play a character who was Japanese in the original (albeit of a cartoon of a brain implanted in a robot body!). Others took a different view. Sam Yoshiba, director of the international business division of Kodansha, the manga’s publisher, told The Hollywood Reporter, “Looking at her career so far, I think Scarlett Johansson is well cast. She has the cyberpunk feel. And we never imagined it would be a Japanese actress in the first place.” He added, “This is a chance for a Japanese property to be seen around the world.” Mamoru Oshii, director of the original 1995 Japanese animated film, also endorsed the choice of Scarlett Johansson as lead. The film’s original director has defended the casting too: “What issue could there possibly be with casting her?” Oshii told IGN last month. “The Major is a cyborg and her physical form is an entirely assumed one.” Paramount pictures have said that the publicity focus on casting has harmed the film at the box office. Kyle Davies, Paramount’s president of domestic distribution, has highlighted “the conversation regarding casting” which he believes “impacted the reviews.”

“You’ve got a movie that is very important to the fanboys since it’s based on a Japanese anime movie,” Davies told CBR. “So you’re always trying to thread that needle between honoring the source material and make a movie for a mass audience. That’s challenging, but clearly, the reviews didn’t help.”

It’s sadly ironic that debates about ethnic identity should have impacted a film which is very much concerned with individual identity.

Whilst Major is an efficient (spectacular!) killer she is troubled by memory flashes of a previous life. The film, like the original, raises the question of identity and how far it is linked to memory. The mantra repeated several times: “We cling to memories as if they define us, but they don’t. What we do is what defines us.” fails to convince me. Memory does define us. Anyone who has seen someone suffering from Alzheimer’s could tell you that it is witnessing the loss of identity that is one of the most painful things to come to terms with. The person you knew, quickly or slowly, disappears. Despite the fact that I don’t accept the assertion that actions alone, not memories define us as individuals this is a thought-provoking story. True some of the big questions of the original are missing. When does a mind become a computer, at what point does a program become a mind? Once something becomes aware of itself does that change things? Still, how many action high-adrenaline action movies come with philosophy attached at all? Ignore the carping critics and go see it! If you haven’t already, make time to see the ’95 anime original too.

action movies come with philosophy attached at all? Ignore the carping critics and go see it! If you haven’t already, make time to see the ’95 anime original too.

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Under the Skin (2013)


Click on image to buy DVD!

Certificate: 15 Runtime: 1h48m

I am a long time fan of Scarlet Johansson which is one reason I decided to watch Under The Skin. She plays the lead character in it and it’s not long into the film that you find out that she is an alien. There are hints of a spacecraft and alien technology but the film explains little. You just have to guess and use your imagination as to how it all works. Scarlett’s character, which as far as I know, has no name, is working as a sexual lure, presumably for a specific purpose. It was very interesting to try to figure it all out from what the film gives you (which is not enough in my opinion!). Some people think they understand it deeply and they speak of its ‘symbols’ and that’s great. I would have liked more insight into the alien technology among other things. There are scenes where Scarlett’s character talks to men through the window of a van and this is so realistic that I felt at times as if the men she was talking to were not acting and were genuine victims. It turns out that some of the men actually were being secretly filmed and were not actors. They were told after.

What I find most fantastic about that is one gets to see how Scarlett Johansson would talk to a man in an alluring way in real life. It was very subtle but I think she was a super lure. This didn’t make much sense because the alien she plays doesn’t have a back story that explains how she would have gained the social skills needed to talk to people in the warm, relaxed, and seductive way that she does. This is inconsistent as there are other scenes that clearly show that the alien doesn’t understand human life to much of a degree. The most impressive thing about the film is the atmosphere it created due to the truly alien technology you do get to see. There is a special floor that while Scarlett’s character walks on it, remains hard but as the men walk on it they slowly become submerged in it as it turns into a thick liquid. You get to see specifically what happens to them in the end as a result of that and it’s quite disturbing. It helped me to imagine why being abducted by aliens might be so terrible as something like what happens in Under The Skin could be what would come of that. Those who imagine being abducted by aliens talk about being put on an operating table under some bright lights and experimented on – a modified version of what it’s like to go to the dentist! Under The Skin provides your imagination with a much more alien vision of what could happen.

Reviewed by Alistair Martin

This is our second review of Under the Skin! You can find the first one by Pat Harrington here.

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  1. Initial release: July 25, 2014
    Director: Luc Besson
    Running time: 90 minutes
I read about a film starring Scarlett Johansson where her character seeks revenge after being wronged in some way and I decided I would see it when it came out but I wasn’t anticipating it strongly until I saw the trailer for it. The film is Lucy, a science fiction film directed by Luc Besson. When I found out it had a science fiction theme I became excited and I saw it the day it came out here in the UK. It is similar to Limitless, starring Bradley Cooper, which is a very popular film and one of my favourites and it also reminded me of Transcendence starring Johnny Depp which was not great but was interesting with a similar theme.
Scarlett Johansson stars as Lucy, a young woman living in Taiwan who right at the beginning of the film gets talked into doing something shady by her boyfriend and as a consequence she ends up being abducted by thugs working for Mr Jang who is played by Choi Min-sik, famous for starring in the Korean film, Oldboy.
While captive, Lucy gets surgically made into a drug mule, having a bag containing a drug called CPH4 placed into her abdomen and with it then sewn up so she can be used to smuggle a large quantity of the drug abroad. While kept in a type of holding cell and chained up, a thug kicks her repeatedly in the abdomen and this causes the bag containing the drug to split open – leaking out a large quantity of the drug into her blood stream.
As a result of the drug’s effect on her, she develops superhuman mental and physical abilities. It’s from this point that the film takes on an action mixed with philosophical musings style and we get to see Scarlett’s Lucy take on those responsible, and anyone else that gets in her way.
A lot of people complain about the film’s use of the 10% brain myth, which states that we only use 10% of our brains. It’s said in the film that CPH4 enables Lucy to use more than 10% of her brain and that accounts for her special abilities. Morgan Freeman plays a professor, Samuel Norman, who is shown early on in the film explaining the 10% of the brain theory and speculating on incredible abilities that may be possible if the brain were to be used more fully and this helps to steer viewers understanding of the unfolding developments with Lucy and her situation.
Overall I found the film a lot of fun as did a gentlemen sitting in front of me who cheered in parts and clapped at the end. There were a couple of things I didn’t like – the use of stock footage of animals in the wild, and a bit of an abrupt ending that left me wanting to know more but I’m glad I saw it and I would recommend it to people who like other films with a similar theme, like Limitless and Transcendence.
Reviewed by Alistair 

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Her (2014)

Her-with-Theodore-Twombly-on-red-movie-poster-wideI was recently talking to my father about how many films I’d seen lately that were lacking an interesting plot. I find it quite common in action films that the story is a bit weak but that the visuals usually make up for that, but I found myself craving a good story after seeing a string of action movies, which is when I read the synopsis for a film showing in the local cinema called ‘Her’ starring Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Rooney Mara, Olivia Wilde, and Scarlett Johansson.
After reading that the film was a sci fi about a man who falls in love with his computer operating system I decided to see the film straight away. It’s set in the year 2025 and follows the story of Theodore Twombly played by Joaquin Phoenix. Theodore is going through a painful divorce from his wife Catherine (played by Rooney Mara) when he decides to purchase a computer operating system with artificial intelligence. This is referred to as an ‘OS’ in the film.
Theodore chooses for his particular OS to be female. He communicates with her verbally and vice versa. She is played beautifully by Scarlett Johansson who’s character chooses in the film to be named Samantha.
There is room for a lot of comedy due to the nature of Theodore’s situation and I found myself laughing out loud multiple times throughout the first half of the film. I got used to the theme of the film by halfway but also it took on a more serious tone as higher drama ensues around that point. I would describe the film as an emotional roller-coaster in that regard.
Once I had gotten into the flow of it and was expecting more comedy I was shocked by quite tender moments of conflict between Theodore and his OS Samantha. Wanting to see a film with a good story I was not let down by ‘Her’. While it is not an action movie it does offer some good visuals in the form of ‘future fashion’ as I would call it. People are dressed in a memorable style of colourful attire.
One slight drawback I felt was that Olivia Wilde’s character is used only briefly in the film. I became aware of Olivia Wilde for the first time when I saw Tron Legacy and because I liked her in that I had hoped she would play a bigger part in ‘Her’ but sadly that was not the case. Another thing that bothered me a bit was that only Scarlet Johansson’s voice is used in the film but looking back I can see why that was better for the film overall. Her voice acting is incredibly precise emotionally and I wonder how many takes it took to get it all just right.
Overall, I think it’s a great film and that has been reflected in its reception as it has received critical acclaim and has done exceptionally well at the box office in contrast to its budget.
Reviewed by Alistair Martin

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Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

captainamericawintersoldierCaptain America: The Winter Soldier is the sequel to Captain America: The First Avenger. It stars Chris Evans as Steve Rogers (Captain America), Scarlet Johansson as Natasha Romanoff (Black Widow), Samuel L Jackson as Nick Fury, and Sebastian Stan as Bucky Barnes (The Winter Soldier). This sequel takes up from where the previous film left off. Steve Rogers, in the previous film, crashed into the Arctic and and he ends up being frozen and asleep for nearly 70 years before being found by SHIELD (an organisation). The character of Nick Fury has more screen time in this sequel, and I think rightly so, as he adds a lot to the film. For similar reasons, I believe Scarlet Johansson’s Black Widow was added to the mix to make the film more appealing, especially after the success of Avengers Assemble (also featuring Johansson as Black Widow).

Interestingly, the UFC’s George St Pierre appears early on in the film as Georges Batroc . He has an interesting fight with Captain America. I was a little confused by this as Captain America is actually superhuman and would normally dispatch any foe who isn’t also similarly enhanced in some way. Nonetheless, it was enjoyable to see one of the best martial artists in the world (St Pierre) in a well choreographed fight scene in a big Hollywood movie. This trend of seeing big name mixed martial artists in films, I think, is set to continue.

There’s great use of Captain America’s shield as a weapon. He hits people with it (of course), uses it to deflect a great many bullets, and most fun of all, for me, is when he throws it and it ricochets off of objects in amusing and helpful ways. One has to, of course, suspend disbelief during these kinds of fun scenes.

The film’s main antagonist is the Winter Soldier, who has a metal arm, and also seems to have super strength although it may just all be in down to his metal arm – it’s hard to tell. He too is from the same time period as Captain America, and similarly, he has been frozen in order to be preserved and then resurrected in the present to do various missions and defeat Captain America. There is a slight twist to it all and it involves mind control and advanced secret technology much like the first film but I won’t give it away.

Reviewed by Alistair Martin


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Under the Skin (2013)

Certificate: 15 Runtime: 1h48m

Click on image to buy the DVD!

Click on image to buy the DVD!

Under the Skin, Jonathan Glazer’s blend of sci-fi and horror, has been described as both ‘erotic’ and ‘disturbing’. It is an adaption of Michel Faber’s 2000 novel of the same name. undertheskinvan
Scarlett Jhohannson is an extraterrestrial cruising Glasgow in a white van to pick up men. She always asks questions like ‘are you alone?’ and ‘Do you live alone?’. Clue: the smart answer is ‘No’.
In between picking up men she ( credited as “Laura”, a name never mentioned in the film!) drives around Glasgow where the ordinary folk are observed and weighed up. These scenes of Glasgow have a fascination of their own as ordinary people going about their daily lives are closely observed.
Although there is flesh on show I didn’t find it erotic although I did find it disturbing. There is a beach drowning scene where her alien, disconnected and unsympathetic nature is underscored. It is harrowing.
Johansson’s alien is gradually drawn into the world of humanity and loses control. This is triggered by meeting a man with neurofibromatosis. She seems depressed and becomes withdrawn and vulnerable. In this state she sees both the best and worst of human nature.
Under the Skin is an unusual, visually beautiful film but expect to leave with more questions than answers.

Reviewed by Pat Harrington

There is a second Counter Culture review of Under the Skin by Alistair Martin here.

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