This weekend, catch sexy Scarlett Johansson in not one, but two films, and in two wildly different roles. While reviews are golden for the well-acted Marvel sequel "Captain America: The Winter Soldier," in which she kicks ass opposite reassuringly bland superhero Chris Evans, wily politician Robert Redford and indestructible SHIELD boss Samuel L. Jackson, you're unlikely to see a weirder, or better, movie than Jonathan Glazer's freaky-good succubus-from-space odyssey "Under the Skin." (Trailers below.)
Music video auteur Glazer's first film in ten years (since "Birth," a great film if you haven't seen it), "Under the Skin" is the sort of far-out, nebulous and visually mesmeric art film you rarely see these days -- and with an A-list star, Johansson, to boot. In this film loosely culled from a novel by Michel Faber, she plays an alien-in-human-form dropped from the skies and into Scotland -- here a marshy, anemic, pictorial hellscape -- to harvest the bodies (and, perhaps, the souls) of unwitting and horny men using her feminine wiles and zaftig silhouette. From the alien lair, an inky pool of darkness that drags male victims down to unspecified doom, to a memory-scarring beach sequence, these set pieces must be seen to be believed. "Under the Skin" is pure cinema of the highest order, and Scarlett Johansson could make it an arthouse hit.
If you haven't caught Lars von Trier's second and final helping of "Nymphomaniac" on VOD, the perverse yet truly unsexy "Volume II" from Denmark's beloved harbinger of cinematic doom-and-gloom hits select cities. Charlotte Gainsbourg returns as the titular sex fiend with no moral compass who continues to recount her fleshly transgressions to an easily excitable nerd (Stellan Skarsgard). But this time around, Joe's (Gainsbourg) kinky proclivities plunge her into desire's deepest, darkest corners -- including an unexpectedly moving series of encounters with an implacable S&M master played by Jamie Bell. Critics aren't as hot on "II" as they were on "Volume I" and, in all fairness, the second film falls short of expectations -- though von Trier fans will have no qualms getting their hands dirty.
Also hitting indie theaters is fest circuit hit "The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden," a fascinating documentary that interweaves stories of Galapagos Island pioneers with a disturbing 1930s cold case of murder and Darwinian intrigue. Critics aren't too favorable, but we enjoyed this parable of paradise gone horribly, horribly awry (see review below).
Unless you have a patience for a sneering, moral-less playboy whose life is dictated by his pelvis, do avoid the latest Jude Law starrer "Dom Hemingway." (That said, if morally monstrous anti-heroines is your bag, seek out "Nymphomaniac.") Stripped of all charm and sex appeal, Law plays a past-his-prime safecracker fresh out of jail to right his wrongs -- but nothing, not even a wild cocaine sequence featuring Demian Bichir, can save this sordid, dumb-male-oriented mess from capsizing.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier Dirs. Anthony Russo & Joe Russo, USA | Disney | Cast: Chris Evans, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Anthony Mackie, Robert Redford, Sebastian Stan | 89% Fresh | Slate: "'The Winter Soldier' cheerfully and efficiently does its job doing whatever Marvel movies are meant to do -- make you look forward to the next one, I guess."
Under the Skin Dir. Jonathan Glazer, UK | A24 | Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Paul Brannigan | 84% Fresh | Rolling Stone: "Johansson is phenomenal in every sense of the word. She joins Glazer in creating a brave experiment in cinema that richly rewards the demands it makes. The result is an amazement, a film of beauty and shocking gravity." | Our review and interview with director Glazer.
Nymphomaniac: Volume II Dir. Lars von Trier, Denmark | Magnolia Pictures | Cast: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Shia LaBeouf, Jamie Bell, Stacy Martin, Stellan Skarsgard, Willem Dafoe | 67% Fresh | The Dissolve: "With thoughtfulness and passion, von Trier strives to give his audience a high, accompanied by the meaning of the high." | Our review
Dom Hemingway Dir. Richard Shepard, UK | Fox Searchlight | Cast: Jude Law, Richard E. Grant, Demian Bichir, Emilia Clarke | 56% Fresh | Indiewire: "For all its vibrant, flamboyant aspects, 'Dom Hemingway' is a resoundingly empty star vehicle. It gives Law a character too thinly crafted to justify his eccentricities. He acts his heart out for a role that has no heart."
The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden Dirs. Daniel Gller & Dayna Goldfine, USA | Zeitgeist Films | 40% Fresh | The Hollywood Reporter: "A bizarre real-life drama of the 1930s is well told in this resourceful documentary." | Our review