The Scarlett Johansson Project — #2

Being quarantined at home may be the perfect time to look back on a movie that explores loneliness and connection. This was obviously not something I planned, but social distancing has a way of making us look at things differently and that includes the way we experience certain movies. That’s what’s happening with me and the classic romantic comedy Lost in Translation (2003) anyway.

I have a lot of love for this movie and I do think the feelings it evokes are intensified by this interruption in normal social life we are going through. Lost in Translation is a bittersweet story focused on two kindred spirits floating through weird periods of their lives. Neither know what they want, and both happen to meet in a foreign city and find something in each other that bonds them in a profound way. Lost in Translation featured a 17-year-old Scarlett Johansson alongside comedic great Bill Murray, who was stepping into a dramatic role for the first time in nearly 20 years. Director Sofia Coppola was completely blown away by the reception her movie received, feeling certain it would be viewed as pretentious and self-serving. It ended up netting her an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay that year.

In rewatching it in preparation for my monthly feature, I had forgotten how fleeting Lost in Translation really is — it’s all wrapped up in about 96 minutes. What happens within that time, however, what is said (and almost as often, what is not said), makes it so hard for me to leave the movie behind. I simply love these characters, especially when they’re together.

Scarlett Johansson as Charlotte in Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation

Role Type: Co-lead

Premise: A faded movie star and a neglected young woman form an unlikely bond after crossing paths in Tokyo. (IMDb)

Character Background: Charlotte is a native New Yorker and recent college grad who is feeling unsatisfied and disillusioned with her marriage to John (Giovanni Ribisi), a celebrity photographer. On assignment in Tokyo, he’s kept busy and away from the hotel room leaving Charlotte alone and with plenty of time to wonder why she ever married this guy. She’s empty inside and her wandering eyes say as much. So she gets out into the city and does some exploring, soon turning acquaintances into friends, such as Charlie Brown (Fumihiro Hayashi). Over the course of about a week she also forms a deep connection with an older man named Bob Harris (Murray), a fading actor who’s staying at the same hotel while he endures a dreadful commercial shoot promoting whiskey. It is through their meaningful conversations and one really fun night soaking up the nightlife that we learn more about her and see her personality open up a bit more.

What she brings to the movie: very little experience for a role that aged her up 4 years from what she actually was. When Lost in Translation started shooting Scarlett Johansson was only 17 and had but a handful of acting credits total. Her claims to fame at the time were a starring role in Terry Zwigoff’s Ghost World (2001) and a supporting role in the Robert Redford drama The Horse Whisperer (1999). Charlotte is her first adult role as far as the emotional complexities involved and the thematic content. Yes, it is true that Sofia Coppola would not have made this movie had she not been able to get Bill Murray, but Coppola also enjoyed Johansson’s performance in the 1996 comedy Manny & Lo so much she had to land her as a lead in one of her movies (Johansson would pass on Coppola’s début effort The Virgin Suicides, feeling it wasn’t right for her at the time).

In her own words: [on the age difference between her and Bill Murray, who is more than 30 years her senior] “It was hard to relate to one another, but I think what worked is that when the cameras were rolling and [it] actually came time to do the work, we worked really well together.”

Key Scene: I mean . . . there are other choices. There’s a really nice moment when Bob and Charlotte are talking while laying on a bed, having a deep conversation about whether life or marriage get any easier as time goes by. It’s a quiet but important moment that further solidifies their bond. But the key scene is in the way Sofia Coppola brings this wonderful week to a close. The kiss that almost never was, the mystery of whatever it is that Bob whispers into Charlotte’s ear. The sounds of the streets teeming with passing strangers. By the time The Jesus and Mary Chain come in with “Just Like Honey,” it’s very close to a perfect ending. Well, it’s one of the most bittersweet endings I’ve ever seen anyway. I never wanted this story to end, and yet Coppola does it about as gracefully as she possibly could have. According to her, “I just wanted to show a whole relationship just in a few days.”

Rate the Performance (relative to her other work): 

****/*****

 


All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: IMDb

Your Name.

Release: Friday, April 7, 2017

[Theater]

Written by: Makoto Shinkai

Directed by: Makoto Shinkai

To say Makoto Shinkai’s massively acclaimed anime is ambitious would be an understatement. Your Name. seems to be an opus on everything from teen awkwardness to the relationship between time and memory to astrology. At its core it’s a grand romantic tale but fastened to that are numerous other bells and whistles that make the prospect of caring more of an ordeal than it ought to be.

Your Name. tells of a country girl named Mitsuha (Mone Kamishiraishi) who’s grown tired of her adolescent life in the hills and yearns to live the life of a handsome city boy, perhaps someone like Taki (Ryûnosuke Kamiki) who lives in Tokyo. One morning Mitsuha awakens to find she has body-swapped with this boy and he with her. Dismissing the phenomenon initially as a dream, both are soon corrected with reminders from their own friends of how strange they have been acting recently.

That they seemingly can’t control when this happens, or even explain why it’s happening, is disconcerting to say the least. But as they experience the switches over and again the pair learn to establish “ground rules” so as to not leave too much of a footprint in one another’s daily lives. The opening third of the film is spent playing in this esoteric sandbox, approaching concepts like astral projection (or something like) pragmatically so that all of this, merely the set-up for the film proper, can feel both whimsical and “believable.”

Indeed, Your Name. doesn’t really get going until the body swapping stops and the perspective switches to that of Taki, who has once more become fidgety in his mundane existence. Determined to find a way to actually, finally meet this mystery girl, Taki begins exploring all his options. Understandably, his friends become concerned over his obsession. Armed with only a drawing and his rapidly fading memories, Taki makes the trek out to the fictional town of Itomori, only to find it destroyed in the aftermath of a comet that fragmented and collided with earth three years ago. For Taki, distance seems to be no object to finding true happiness. But traveling through time, well that’s another prospect entirely. Will they ever find a way to reunite?

More importantly, will anyone care by the time they do? I still haven’t really addressed the proper, metaphysical significance of that cosmic event, but at this point I’m starting to mimic Shinkai’s worst habits, I’d be stuffing more …. stuff into an already exposition-heavy review. Not that a more complete examination of the plot would rob potential viewers of the surprises in store, because quite frankly there are too many twists and turns to remember, much less ruin. Perhaps this is me not doing my due diligence here, but there’s so much about the film that I just don’t understand and have come to accept as that which I never will. Like how we make the leap from Mitsuha wanting to BE Taki to her actually falling in love with him. Or how each can forget the other’s name seconds after learning what it is.

The mental gymnastics that are required to keep up with everything ultimately make this romantic epic a chore to sit through. And it’s not enough to have a labyrinthian plot to sort through; we have to try to make sense of it alongside two prototypically “annoying” and angsty characters. It is all a little too precious and pretentious. But, to damn with faint praise here, at least the photorealistic animation makes all that mental taxation somewhat worthwhile.

Recommendation: I’ve often described my reactions to anime as something like binary code: there are ones and zeroes. I either love these films — like, really, really love them — or feel totally turned off by them. Alienated. If you are anything like me in that regard, you might do some research on the film before you buy a ticket. Shop around for similar films, maybe things you’ve seen before and make an informed decision. There’s a ton of stuff to absorb here. I can’t even say Your Name. is a “bad movie;” it’s just a little overwhelming, especially for those of us who aren’t devotees. 

Rated: PG

Running Time: 106 mins.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.goldposter.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Godzilla

Godzilla-2014-Movie-Poster2

Release: Friday, May 16, 2014

[RPX Theater]

I AM GARETH EDWARDS, HEAR ME ROAR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Who?

Oh, a nobody, other than the guy who’s responsible for retrofitting the world’s most famous monster for a 21st Century outing.

The British director has been in charge of at least one more monster-related movie. It was actually ingeniously titled Monsters. Now, he’s been tapped to awaken a beast living deep within our oceans — an effort, it’s hoped, that should eradicate any last vestiges of the memory of what Roland Emmerich did to the legend back in 1998. The last man to touch Godzilla controversially recast the giant lizard as some unexplained and malevolent force of nature bent on destroying the world uptown Manhattan. He has posed on occasion throughout his lengthy film career as the villainous type, but never did he feel as disconnected from lore or irrelevant as a threat to mankind as he did then.

Now Edwards has arrived on the scene and there’s a detectable escalating tension in the room. With a restless fan base growing ever desperate to see Godzilla as it truly wants to see him, the time is now to deliver on promises. No more messing around. No more straying from the truth. Just deliver the goods, and no one else gets upset. Or hurt.

Godzilla, the creature, receives a quality facelift in 2014. (I emphasize quality just to ensure no one here’s under the impression of an un-sexy beast; that this is the Joan Rivers of monster lizards.)

He’s so massive the cameras have to take their time in a particularly memorable, vertical panning shot, the moment his true size is revealed. He possesses a thunderous roar that will give the most hardened of ex-cons no choice but to go running for their favorite blankey; and the combination of sheer size and the way he moves in an epic, lumbering gait makes the big guy, for all intents and purposes, the standard against which any forthcoming CGI-fests are to be measured. Behold, the Godzilla we’ve been awaiting, expecting, maybe even demanding — a behemoth so positively ridiculous it couldn’t do anything but sit and wait for technology (namely, visual effects) to catch up and be able to support its very scary ambitions.

In 1999 scientists working in the Janjira Nuclear Plant in Tokyo experience a catastrophic disaster in the form of a series of earthquakes that threatens to expose the entire city to toxic levels of radiation. Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) and his wife Sandra (Juliette Binoche) are dedicated researchers/engineers on the hunt for something enormous. As fate would have it, their dedication, a stubbornness woven into the fabric of human nature, would become a means to a very certain end.

A collaborative effort among Edwards’ three screenwriters, a trio which includes the one and only Frank Darabont, produces a screenplay that paints the human race as a mostly likable yet largely incapable species. Our sense of self-importance is quickly curtailed by the arrival of two massive insect-looking monsters the government is quick to label MUTOs (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms). Mankind’s inability to stop experimenting has ironically produced its inability to continue living in its current state, apparently. Hence, Edwards’ decision to root the Brody’s at physical, emotional and psychological Ground Zero — they are a decent, hardworking family who clearly represents the best of humanity.

While not everyone’s performance strikes the same note — the movie’s biggest crime is that Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s Lieutenant Ford Brody is on occasion a bit too dry — the cast do what they need to in order to elevate the non-fantasy component to a suitably dramatic level, while still stepping back enough to allow our own fears and concerns to boil over quietly. We have time to ponder what we would do in these people’s shoes. And while characters fail to break the mould of archetypes — Ken Watanabe’s Dr. Ishiro Serizawa might be the most irritating of the bunch, and Sally Hawkins needn’t even have bothered showing up on set her role is so limited — such is really all we need if we’re talking about retelling a classic and not reinventing it.

Godzilla is one of only a few films that succeeds in producing that gut-feeling, a fear so palpable we wish we don’t keep digging into the unknown. There’s a visceral reason to fear what we don’t understand or have never experienced. In the horror genre of today it seems copious amounts of blood and cruel, unusual ways of suffering and dying translate to “stuff that should scare people.” I mean, that works too. But it’s time the trend is bucked. Here’s a completely new taste for the palate. Packed with scintillating imagery, a generation of suspense that’s comparatively lacking in even recent superhero films, and crafted out of love and passion, the Alpha Predator is back and bigger than ever in an old-school film experience that recalls a bygone era in moviegoing.

fucking-smilin-ass-prehistoric-assholes

Godzilla is smiling. How can anyone be terrified of a smiling Godzilla?

4-0Recommendation: Quite possibly the biggest film of the summer, Gareth Edwards’ hotly debated second film understands how important it is as it handles the challenge of redesigning the beast on his 60th birthday with aplomb, with room to give plenty of attention to its A-list cast. While some characters are definitely better than others, there’s enough here to keep even the most casual attendee engaged in this global crisis. A movie that would never escape criticism, but considering the alternative (let’s never mention Dr. Nico Tattoo-lotsa-lips. . .or whatever his name was from the Emmerich version. . .) it has done alright for itself.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 123 mins.

Quoted: “The arrogance of men is thinking that nature is in their control, and not the other way around. Let them fight.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

TBT: Lost in Translation (2003)

new-tbt-logo

There are some titles out there you know you have no good excuse for avoiding for so long. It’s not even like you were accidentally putting them after others in a queue because you wanted to see those others first. You just, forgot about them. I’m not just referring to small, independent movies that have a tendency of slipping between the cracks. Those movies almost go out of their way to be avoided, either because they’re trendy arthouse pictures with highly niched audiences, or are movies whose presences just weren’t advertised well. No, I’m talking about a major motion picture event that you’re pretty certain everyone has seen but you. You pretty much believe that’s the case because when you’re done watching the movie that was gathering dust (thanks, Netflix!), the first thing out of your mouth is ‘Wow, how have I not seen this before?’ It’s a reaction you just can’t help having, a guiltiness that makes you feel as though you are re-joining society. Such an experience happened to me this week when I finally got to this entry.

Today’s food for thought: Lost in Translation

Lost_In_Translation_poster

Release: September 26, 2003

[Netflix]

Sofia Coppola and my relationship is apparently a bipolar one. I’ve loathed her and now I love her! And I have no idea what to expect next. The first, and only other film of hers that I’ve seen — The Bling Ring — I regarded as one of the most tedious film experiences I had had throughout all of 2013. It failed on all levels to connect, and I walked out not feeling like a baller at all.

Interestingly enough, ten years ago almost to the day of that release she had created something stylistically similar that would hit virtually all of the right notes with me, to the point of it looking for a place to stay on my list of all-time favorites.

If The Bling Ring could be described as a story progressed by action rather than explication and a whole lot of dialogue, the same could be said of her early 2000s romantic comedy Lost in Translation, with the most notable difference being a cast of characters that are actually likable, even if they are still imperfect. With a camera following characters that seem to be wandering, both films share a relative lack of dialogue and explanation so as to put emphasis on visual clues and context in order for the story to have weight. Whereas her 2013 effort focused on rather dislikable, superficial fame-obsessed youths (I’m sure this is somebody’s crowd — not mine, though) her prior work found two lost souls traveling abroad in the rather hectic tech hub that is Tokyo.

Not much else is shared in common between the two films, but the directorial style is identifiable already. In Tokyo an aging actor, Bob Harris (Bill Murray) whose career had experienced a big slide recently, came across a recent college graduate named Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) who’s traveling with her husband John (Giovanni Ribisi), an apparently busy and successful photographer. Bob was finding it difficult adapting to the new culture, even if it was only to be for a brief period of time while he shot a commercial for a Japanese whiskey; and his marriage back home was going through a difficult spell. On the other side of the room, Charlotte was constantly being left alone to fend for herself in the big city because John was always working. She was growing more and more distant and depressed at the same time Bob was becoming more tired of his life.

And cue the eventual first meeting in their hotel’s bar and dining area.

Lost in Translation was a thoroughly enjoyable and breezy film that sailed on its charming central characters. Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray proved to be an excellent pairing, with a young Johansson giving wonderful life to a character that perpetually suffered. It was the kind of performance that would indicate a promising talent, as she was wise beyond her years as a philosophical young woman trying to understand her position in life. As a jaded older man who was trying to understand the very same thing, Murray’s reserved poise never felt better suited. He didn’t come up with any goofy, memorable one-liners but his simple presence was strong enough to affect a constant smirk. Even though both characters hurt, they were never unlikable and allowed the film to pass by with the quickness.

Though this was truly Murray and Johansson’s show, the side characters had a moderate impact in that they were so peripheral they bothered us. They were those loose eyelashes poking us in the eye and irritating it for days. Ribisi with very limited screen time convinced us he doesn’t really want much to do with his wife and would prefer to be snapping photos all the time. . . especially some requested by an old college friend (Anna Faris). Faris’ Kelly was a silly and self-serving diversion and not much more, but she was memorable for that reason.

There is a sense of exoticism because of where the film’s set, there is no doubt about that. The experience often seemed more surreal than it actually was. When it comes to analyzing the characters’ morality and their motivations, the film truly opens up. In terms of justifying this clandestine relationship in Tokyo, how does one do that, exactly? Though the people involved were truly likable, both were in committed relationships. But did anything ever reach a point where their faithfulness might be questioned? The moral lines blur with the physical ones in this emotionally resonant and surprisingly enlightening romantic comedy.

trost-in-lanslation

4-5Recommendation: Lost in Translation is a quality picture both in terms of its lead performances and in its design. It impresses like a delicate piece of art yet it maintains the feel of a mainstream production. Often lighthearted and quickly paced, it also bears heavy emotion and speaks to heavy hearts, and is one that likely won’t leave either the heart or memory very quickly. For the small percentage of you who has not seen this yet, let me be another person to tell you it is highly recommended viewing.

Rated: R

Running Time: 101 mins.

Quoted: “The more you know who you are, and what you want, the less you let things upset you.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.youtube.com; http://www.imdb.com