Scoop (2006; UK/USA; Technicolor; 96m) ∗∗∗ d. Woody Allen; w. Woody Allen; ph. Remi Adefarasin. Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Hugh Jackman, Ian McShane, Woody Allen, Romola Garai, Kevin McNally, Jim Dunk, Geoff Bell, Christopher Fulford, Nigel Lindsay, Fenella Woolgar, Matt Day, Rupert Frazer. An American journalism student in London scoops a big story, and begins an affair with an aristocrat as the incident unfurls. Lightweight comedy mystery is one of Allen’s lesser works. Allen and Johansson spark well with Allen relishing his role as a cheesy magician. The mystery elements are less satisfying and not all the one-liners hit home, but it has just enough to make it an entertaining diversion. 
Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008; Spain/USA; DeLuxe; 96m) ∗∗∗ d. Woody Allen; w. Woody Allen; ph. Javier Aguirresarobe; ed. Alisa Lepselter. Cast: Javier Bardem, Rebecca Hall, Scarlett Johansson, Penelope Cruz, Patricia Clarkson, Christopher Evan Welch, Chris Messina, Kevin Dunn, Julio Perillan, Zak Orth, Pablo Schreiber, Josep Maria Domenech, Abel Folk, Carrie Preston, Manel Barcelo. Two girlfriends on a summer holiday in Spain become enamored with the same painter, unaware that his ex-wife, with whom he has a tempestuous relationship, is about to re-enter the picture. Allen explores various themes around infidelity in this well-acted, but somehow unfulfilling story. Cruz is a knockout in an Oscar winning performance as Bardem’s temperamental ex-wife. 
Oblivion (2013; USA; Colour; 124m) ∗∗∗ d. Joseph Kosinski; w. Karl Gajdusek, Michael DeBruyn; ph. Claudio Miranda; m. Anthony Gonzalez, M.8.3, Joseph Trapanese; ed. Richard Francis-Bruce. Cast: Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Olga Kurylenko, Andrea Riseborough, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau Zoe Bell, Melissa Leo, Lindsay Clift, Jaylen Moore, Julie Hardin, Paul Gunawan, Jay Oliver, Jason Stanly. A veteran assigned to extract Earth’s remaining resources begins to question what he knows about his mission and himself. Engaging sci-fi which is visually impressive. Initially intriguing it settles into more traditional fare, but solid performances help to overcome some of the conventions in the script. Originated as an 8-page treatment written by Kosinski which was pitched as a graphic novel. 
Plunderers, The (1960; USA; B&W; 94m) ∗∗∗ d. Joseph Pevney; w. Bob Barbash; ph. Gene Polito; m. Leonard Rosenman; ed. Tom McAdoo. Cast: Jeff Chandler, John Saxon, Dolores Hart, Marsha Hunt, Jay C. Flippen, Ray Stricklyn, James Westerfield, Dee Pollock, Roger Torrey, Vaughn Taylor, Harvey Stephens. When four rowdy cowhands ride into a small town and make trouble, no one seems willing or able to take them on, not even the toughest man in town. But then there is a murder. Interesting psychological Western is well-directed and acted raising it above the routine. Chandler’s final Western. [PG]
UNDER THE SKIN (2013, Film 4 / British Film Institute, UK/USA/Switzerland, 108 mins, Colour, 1.85:1, Dolby Digital, Cert: 15, Sci-Fi Thriller) ∗∗∗∗∗
Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy McWilliams, Lynsey Taylor Mackay, Dougie McConnell, Kevin McAlinden, D. Meade, Andrew Gorman, Joe Szula, Krystof Hádek, Roy Armstrong.
Producer: Nick Wechsler, James Wilson; Director: Jonathan Glazer; Writer: Jonathan Glazer, Walter Campbell (Based on the novel by Michel Faber); Director of Photography: Daniel Landin; Music: Mica Levi; Film Editor: Paul Watts; Production Designer: Chris Oddy; Art Director: Martin McNee, Emer O’Sullivan; Costume Designer: Steven Noble.
An alien in the form of a voluptuous woman (Johansson) combs the highways of Scotland in search of isolated or forsaken men, luring a succession of lost souls into an otherworldly lair. There she seduces, strips and stores them in a dimensional trap. Then she takes pity on a deformed man, who she releases incurring the wrath of her male accomplice. She goes on the run and meets a drifter. Seemingly beginning to become aware of a soul within her human facade she becomes attracted to him. When she realises her alien biology precludes them from mating she escapes to a forest where further danger awaits.
To brand this film as unconventional would be an understatement. It is encouraging to see such challenging film-making in an era dominated by brainless blockbusters. The dense narrative, sparse dialogue and eerie soundtrack all serve to create an unsettling atmosphere. This is most notable in a scene on a beach where a toddler is left alone against the oncoming tide as his mother and father meet their fate whilst trying to rescue their dog, which has swum out to sea.
Johansson delivers an emotionally detached performance and yet still manages to create a seductive allure through her physicality. None of the human characters are given names but all the actors give credible and naturalistic performances. Watching the film makes the viewer feel voyeuristic rather than emotionally involved and as such its cold heart will alienate many. Despite the slow unfolding story I remained hooked until the rather disappointing conclusion, which left many of the interesting subtexts raised hanging in the air as if the filmmakers were merely asking the questions rather than sharing a viewpoint.
The end result, therefore, is an impressively technical film, but one without a soul.