Sofia’s Lost in Translation
Sofia Coppola‘s choice of indie-trance music on Lost in Translation‘s soundtrack probably blinds me but she lyrically captures a modern, non-European city that might never be topped by a future film (correct me if I’m wrong, obviously). When slightly washed up action star Bob Harris (Bill Murray) or her heroine Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) look out of the window, there’s a reason. The fluorescent-lit signs and flashing posters depicting a calligraphic language that the don’t understand. Charlotte leisurely walks the scramble crossings in Shibuya, Tokyo and travel the city’s subway system, Sofia making both modes of transportation look less like its notoriously hectic reputation. She also visits Buddhist temples and enjoys a nightlife that somehow involves a fake shootout, in both times having fun without having to fully drain her energy.
I’ve forgiven Johansson in misjudged performances she will have after this but hers here is probably the best she’ll ever give. Charlotte uglies herself up, agonizing in moments when she feels alone, abandoned by her husband or when around B-list movie star Kelly (Anna Faris). And her rapport with Bob, her being childlike and girly, captures the spontaneous air that Sofia tries to capture. It’s easier to watch her boredom and frustration and her spark that help cure those things. Bob is the only person to make her smile, pulling out her effortless glow.
This is probably the second most beautiful movie Woody Allen never made as both writer-directors have, in their movies, bourgeois pseudo-intellectual misanthropic characters. Charlotte has a disdain for Hollywood – embodied by characters like Kelly or her husband John (Giovanni Ribisi). She, when the occasion arises, prefers to sing classic 80’s tunes as opposed to the usual Queen-Journey-top 40 often playing in karaoke bars. (Interestingly enough for Sofia to create a character who is also a Yale graduate majoring in Philosophy but is barely, if ever, seen with a book. On vacation.). Although this quiet snobbery doesn’t stop her from befriending Bob, both of them are in Tokyo for showbiz related reasons, both of them bored and wanting to get out although they’re free to do so anytime.
Most Allen films have characters or devices holding up a mirror against their protagonist’s insanity or at least find someone to cure them. But Sofia, in making these two characters meet, encourage each other’s misanthropy even to a racist level (I’m not the first one to say this) specifically on Bob’s character. It’s understandable to feel anomic in the Japanese urban landscape that equally and inadvertently exclude them as ‘foreigners’ but it shouldn’t excuse their language and attitude. “Why do they switch the ls and the rs here?” I don’t trust my interpreter. I refuse to learn the language. These people like eating body parts of white girls like Charlotte. Murray pulls these lines off with his wit and comic timing but I still feel uncomfortable with his and the movie’s xenophobia.
- Sika’s 100 Greatest Movies of All Time! 51. Lost in Translation (2003) (lunkiandsika.wordpress.com)
Somewhere is an interesting look at movie star Johnny’s Marco’s (Stephen Dorff) busy schedule. He’s promoting his latest movie while being the target of snide remarks from his costar (Michelle Monaghan), getting a make and make-up for his next role as an older man, going to Milan where he’s revered and where we learn that his CV includes Pacino and Streep films. With the good comes the bad, breaking his arm at the Cheateau Marmont while wasting his money renting a hotel room there, his many exploits, looking like crap – impractical yet fabulous taste in footwear aside – and not even dressing properly at press conferences and photo shoots. In other words, looking at an actor’s precarious career and lifestyle.
It’s interesting to see Cleo (Elle Fanning) behave towards his Johnny. She gets visitation rights with him during weekends, he doesn’t know that she has been ice skating for three years (although that could be mom’s fault), she has to tell him what “Twilight” is, he sneaks girls into his hotel suite in Milan even if she’s sleeping in the suite’s bedroom. Later on, in a teary scene, we discover that Cleo’s mom is going away and the latter hasn’t revealed when she’s coming back. Her parental situation and upbringing is just as precarious as Johnny’s career, thus the film’s title, Somewhere.
Let’s go back to Milan scene, shall we, as it develops to the morning after Johnny’s tryst with the Italian woman. The woman tries to open up to Cleo, asking her questions about boyfriends and telling Cleo stories about her young love with a scooter. Johnny finally joins the two on a breakfast table, Cleo darting looks of anger towards her father. That one moment is the angriest she gets because she doesn’t seem to harbour ill will against him for the rest of the movie. Well, he does hang out with her a lot. The film also makes it seem that despite the lack of time normally spent between the two, they don’t seem the need to reacquaint each other of their new activities. They communicate instead through playing Guitar Hero or playing tea-time at the bottom of the Marmont swimming pool, the two then having an esoteric language to themselves. Her treatment of him is a mature decision for an 11-year-old to make.
The film brags cameos from actors like Louis Garrel and Benicio del Toro, but I’m more interested in the models. Erin Wasson, Angela Lindvall, Maryna Linchuk, Meghan Collison, Jessica Miller (who?) Nicole Trunfio (the brunette woman with the red biniki staying below his Marmont suite). I couldn’t recognize them until looking at iMDb, and it’s sad that I haven’t been connected to the fashion model world.
This is getting…somewhere. The first half of the film especially shows writer/director Sofia Coppola channel the male gaze through Johnny in his (spatial) relationship with these women. There are exceptions to the gaze and gender divide, when Johnny watches a documentary about Gandhi without feeling a slight tinge of empathy towards the great man. Nonetheless, he lights up like a little boy when he watches the twin strippers’ second number (I didn’t know the Foo Fighters and Amerie were stripping music. I also didn’t know that Coppola’s taste in music got more populist/terrible and I do like Amerie). He ignores the three models with black couture gowns, the models then like ghosts in the Marmont hallway. Someone ‘sexy’ pops by now and then while Cleo’s around and we as an audience is anxious that he’ll be seduced away from his daughter’s attention. He watches Cleo’s ice skate routine as an obligation, but marvels at her classic, fragile beauty when she comes out in the gown for the Italian awards event.
Watching him enact the male gaze is interesting since he is an actor, and his job description means people looking at him. He worries when the gaze is shifted back towards him, asking his daughter to watch out for black SUV’s – she tells him that there are lots of those cars in LA, which is weird because as an actor, he’s supposed to know those things. At a party, a younger actor asks him for advice while only half of the girls there give him any attention. He goes on stage in Milan for the awards event but is quickly pushed out to make way for a dance number led by the Italian girlfriend.
Somewhere is like watching someone who doesn’t feel comfortable with the spotlight, which come to think of it, is a recurring theme in Sofia Coppola’s films. Bill Murray’s character in Lost in Translation, Kirsten Dunst’s titular Marie Antoinette and Johnny are similar in this respect, where the gaze goes both ways between protagonist in a distinct civilization and said civilization’s distant and hostile habitants.
Hostile, however, seems to strong of a word to associate with Sofia Coppola’s slow pace and minimalist narration. The characters, even with Cleo’s warm influence, still feel cold and distant. It also feels laughable, because of the film’s content, that Somewhere‘s getting comparisons to other auteurs. The themes aren’t deep enough or are engendered too literally in the film, but I’ll feel obtuse if I ignored these themes since they take a bit to ferment and talk about. 3/5.
I saw this film at the Varsity, where two of the films are sold out for the later screening times and for the 7 PM screening times, all the movies were sold out with the exception of The King’s Speech. And shut up, I liked The King’s Speech.
In between watching movies from the Wright Stuff series and watching Scott Pilgrim, I watched another hipster romance movie – Marie Antoinette. Before I get to the meat of this post, I just wanna say that I have to discuss the traces of what I have read or heard about the woman whose life this movie is depicting, and how true this movie is to the life of said murdered queen – if I used the word executed it means she deserved it, which she partly didn’t. Some people believe that the dead are fair game, but then we’re talking about one of the most slandered women in history, so every time Coppola or the film trips, we deduct a point.
I remember the pre-blogging glory days of trying to defend this movie while calling out the royalists who trolled the Marie Antoinette forum on iMDb. That was where I read someone who compared the movie to a series of paintings. And probably where I read someone mistake Marie Antoinette’s (Kirsten Dunst) alleged Swedish boy toy Count Axel von Fersen (Jamie Dornan) as Napoleon. And/or make a comparison between Madame du Barry (Asia Argento) as a Disney evil queen – she did NOT look like that nor act like she was depicted in the film, by the way. There are other directors who make a collage of pop culture references in their work. Those anonymous readings, however, show that Coppola isn’t able to mold those separate images and/or incorporate them into what should be a believable and seamless biopic. I don’t fully believe that it would have been a better decision to invent her own images of these people instead recycling old/different/inaccurate ones, but I’d imagine there’s some who watched this movie who would choose the former over the latter.The movie has always felt like ‘This is what I imagine her life to be,’ which has driven a lot of history nuts crazy.
Need to remind you guys that Coppola’s direction of the character Marie Antoinette evoked Paris Hilton. And being inundated by that comparison by the media, oh my God. Which leads us to Coppola’s apparent aim of turning Marie Antoinette’s story as a satire of the nepotism – biting the hand – and decadence of the government and celebrity culture of Bush-era US. Which is great, but why can’t Marie Antoinette simply be Marie Antoinette?
What is different between 18th century Versailles and 21st century America is the treatment of children’s sexuality. Adults both blue and red-blooded obsessed over Marie Antoinette as a sexual being. It’s tragic how her mother, Maria Theresa (Marianne Faithful) has fought for and keep the crown of the Holy Roman Empire as a woman and became the most powerful woman in Europe after Catherine the Great, only for her daughter to be trampled so easily. Coppola gets it right in this movie by actually showing the ‘people of France’s’ real problem with Marie Antoinette – that it dragged on before she was able to produce an heir. And how full the operating room was when Marie gave birth to, unfortunately, Therese. Also consider the hypocrisy of spying on adolescents’ bedroom action and the Christian notion of not talking about sex and not teaching the poor couple how to have sex.
Marie eventually becomes corrupted by this oversexualized society, having knowledge of her grandfather-in-law King Louis XIV’s (Rip Torn) affair with Du Barry. Marie then derides this fake aristocrat. In Coppola’s film, she unknowingly she becomes just like Du Barry, carrying out her own affair with the Swede.
Today, a 14 year old’s responsibility is his or her homework and some household chore. Marie, turning 14 when she did, has had a quick transition between childhood and adulthood, just like that insufficient carriage ride to the French border. At least two years into adulthood in that day’s standards, she has a responsibility that reminds her that she is still a second class citizen under Salic law. No wonder, as Coppola shows in the film, Marie regresses.
Flaw – The scene when Marie walks with Austrian Ambassador Mercy (Steve Coogan) and Therese in the gardens. The Princess du Lamballe (Mary Nighy) runs to the three and informs them of the Austrian Empress’s death. How did the Austrian ambassador not know that first?
In Roger Ebert‘s review of this film, his second point called Kirsten Dunst as Marie Antoinette as ‘pitch-perfect casting.’ It’s not Interview with a Vampire, or to compare it to the other performances that year, she’s no Penelope Cruz. It’s wonderful watching Dunst’s face react to her husband King Louis XVI (Jason Schwartzman) wolf down his food, or how her face reaches us through that infamous zoom out, saying a lot while standing still. Having to go across the palace to a private room where she could cry or fawn – a measured release of emotion from one place to another. Worn down after the deaths in her family. Her poised diplomatic voice as she talks to her husband’s cabinet and even to her own brother, the Holy Roman Emperor (Danny Huston). As some blog I used to read has said in defense of her performance, Dunst was obedient to Coppola’s vision.
Where the principal players of The Godfather have been better
This is what was distracting me while watching “The Godfather.” This is also probably a proof that the epic ‘lit a fire under everyone’s careers,’ but it didn’t let most of the people involved feel like this is their magnum opus. The same, however, could be said about “Gone With the Wind or “The Dark Knight.”
Marlon Brando – “A Streetcar Named Desire.” Although I haven’t seen “Last Tango in Paris,” and I hope I will in two months.
Al Pacino – “Serpico,” more of an Al Pacino vehicle than “Dog Day Afternoon.” Him in “DDA” is hailed as his best, and it’s surprising how his best role is his gay one, but it also owes a lot to Lumet’s stage-like directing.
James Caan – “Dogville,” where he plays a cameo that’s a polar opposite of his character in “The Godfather.”
Robert Duvall – “Apocalypse Now.” It could have been “Network” if there was more for him to do.
Sterling Hayden – “Asphalt Jungle,” just because of that last scene.
Diane Keaton – “Reds,” where she’s acidic. And in this movie directed by Alan Parker which I have yet to see.
John Cazale – “Dog Day Afternoon.” Cool, calm, sadistic.
Sofia Coppola – Not as an actress, but “Lost in Translation.”
Cast in Sequel:
Robert de Niro – “Taxi Driver,” obviously.
Gastone Moschin – “The Conformist.” The girl who plays Anna Quadri (centre) in “Conformist” also plays a small role as a doctor’s assistant/interpreter in “The Godfather II.”
Francis Ford Coppola – “The Conversation.” I love this movie so much I wanna marry it.
Nino Rota – See (or hear) Fellini’s crazy, psychedelic, surrealist, fun yet moody films.
- The Conversation (notreallyworking.wordpress.com)
Finally! And just to let TV folks know that no one can sit through four hours of this with commercials. Luckily, I caught this on the Bloor on Thursday. I was still slightly distracted, partly because I’ve seen most of this movie until the baptism massacre. I’ve read some of the criticism of this movie listed here, so seriously, what else is there to say?
That I’m flip flopping as to whether or not this is nature or nurture – either his safe distance from the family business made him learn enough and to stay temperamental or that Michael (Al Pacino) was ordained to be Don, despite everyone else’s plans. That this is “greatest movie ever” despite that all the principle players with the exception of Abe Vigoda have been better somewhere else.
That Michael, brandishing an Anglo name, had the swagger of Jimmy Cagney once he turned into the hat-wearing gangster.
That this movie’s pretty meditative until the murder scenes, all having the punch of William Wellman gangster movies.
That I couldn’t remember Sterling Hayden’s name and that bugged me for the whole movie, so I just kept calling him Robert Ryan instead.
That Italians really like Italian stage blood.
That where are the women?
That one reviewer actually pointed out Sonny’s (James Caan) shoulder and back hair and yes, I would still hit it.
And lastly, that there’s a place in my heart for Godfather III because Michael and Kay (Diane Keaton) make the cutest old divorced couple ever and that I can turn that into a drinking game, unlike this one.
p.s. CHCH is gonna be airing on pan-and-scan and HD versions of “The Godfather” on June 13th at 7, and the respective sequels will be aired at Sunday June 20th and 27th at the same time slot.