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We've all seen it before: the 'horror' movie where someone's lost a loved
one, suddenly their ghost starts popping up, and the desperate search to
to the bottom of it ensues. Director Nicholas Roeg took a story somewhat
like that, based on a short story by Rebecca author Daphne DuMaurier, and
successfully proved that it doesn't always have to be like that. Don't
Now is a nearly-forgotten film from the 70's by a nearly-forgotten
(I believe this is the only one of his handful of great films that's on
DVD), and after watching the film, I realize it's a damn shame.
As Don't Look Now opens, we see a placid little pond, and disjointed, dreamy editing and cinematography that combine to form an unsettling scene of two kids playing. A young boy is riding around on his bike, and a little girl in a red mackintosh is frolicking around. We then see the parents of the children, John and Laura Baxter (Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie), sitting comfortably inside by the fire. Something is wrong, though. The film's editing style eerily merges the slowly mouting events outside with the warmth of the interior. The boy's bike hits some glass and John's drink crashes on the table. Before we know it, the Baxter's daughter has plunged into the pond and the Baxters are left with a dead daughter.
Fast-forward to some unknown time in the near future, and the Baxters are in Venice, where John is restoring a church that he quite quickly discovers is an architectural fraud. One day in a restaurant, Laura is encounted by a mysterious, psychic, blind woman who assures her that her daughter is 'happy.' Laura tells her husband this, but John is a staunch non-believer in things of the sort, and in a tender, wonderfully-edited scene, the Baxters make love.
The love scene in Don't Look Now is notorious for those familiar with it. Being quite graphic, it was trimmed a bit for an R rating in the US, but even by today's standards, it's quite surprising. There's a catch, though - Roeg's film intercuts their frenzied sex with a scene of them dressing afterwards and leaving for dinner (most notably paid tribute to in Steven Soderbergh's Out of Sight, much tamer, but edited in a similar fashion). Why? It is at once the most frustrating, and greatest, thing about Don't Look Now.
The film contains a numerous amount of plot strands: a mysterious figure in a red coat (who may or may not be the ghost of the Baxter's daughter) begins to appear around Venice, dead bodies are being found in the canals, the killer's on the loose, and the blind prophet continually warns of John's pending danger. What connects them all? Well, one can't really be sure until the end of the film, and that's where Don't Look Now nearly stumbles.
In Roger Ebert's review of the film, he comments on how successfully the movie builds up tension and how disappointing the film's
climax is, but I felt the opposite. Not that much happens in the movie until its final, bloody, climax. What is important, though, is that every little thing that happens in the film has something to do, in some creepy, abstract way with the film's finale. I found myself immensely frustrated by the middle stretch of the movie, because not much makes sense for a while. Don't worry, though, because director Roeg doesn't offer some neat tie-up of all the loose ends of the film; he simply offers a suggestion to the viewer. The question is: is the suggestion he offers good enough to redeem the complete puzzle that the movie is before it? I'm going to go with 'yes,' for the film doesn't ground itself firmly in reality, thereby allowing some slack in how lucid the ending must be. In fact, it seems somewhat like a dream the whole way through (don't worry, I don't think it is).
What is the point of Don't Look Now, and why should you watch it? Well, Don't Look Now proves that there may be more 'future' in our present than we think... All of the plot strands seem to occur at odd, disjointed times in the film, and it's up to us to decide what's important. Yes, we do find out who the killer is, but don't expect some easy resolution in the perplexing amalgam that the film is. In fact, Roeg lets two plot strands of the movie converge in its conclusion. I was immensely impressed by Don't Look Now, for the device of 'who's the killer' is actually put to some interesting use. I think I know what the movie suggests, but there's so much there that it requires a second viewing. If not a second, you should at least give it one, but be prepared to be confused .
There are a handful of movies out there that have become so ingrained in our collective dialogue as an American society, it's practically a crime to have not seen them. If you haven't experienced the joy of Casablanca, you probably haven't seen from where "Here's looking at you, kid" originally came. Ever heard someone make jokes about quarter pounders with cheese in France? That's Pulp Fiction, ladies and gentlemen. Ever have anyone make you an "offer you can't refure?" Well, that person's seen The Godfather. Ever had a former one-night stand try to inflict long-running physical and psychological pain on you and your family? Err...probably not, but if you haven't seen 1987's Fatal Attraction, you're missing out on one of the biggest pop-culture phenomenons of recent decades.
Because of Swimfan and other subpar (but, in Swimfan's case, guiltily entertaining) efforts of tribute and homage, the plot of Fatal Attraction (and maybe even its ending) is obvious before the movie even starts. Adrian Lyne's (last year's magnificent Unfaithful) film is about Dan Gallagher (Michael Douglas), a New York lawyer with an attractive wife (Anne Archer) and little girl who takes a walk on the wild side one weekend and has a passionate liason with an originally casual acquaintance, Alex Forrest (Glenn Close). Dan wants it all to be over right afterwards, but Alex doesn't let him cut it off that quickly. Dan begins being harrassed by Alex in mounting forms of revenge that eventually reach his family - and become deadly (cheesy writing, huh?). Alex's continual acts of vengeance aren't easy to fight back against, though, for Dan must try to keep his secret from his wife and deal with the moral and legal implications that become increasingly complicated.
If it sounds like a 'typical' movie of that sort, it is. Why? Because it was the prototype for all the rest of them to come. One can't really dock the movie for being the typical "affair goes dead wrong" movie, because it was the first one of its kind that truly perfected the formula. It'd be like saying Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew is WAAAAY too much like 10 Things I Hate About You. The thing is, Fatal Attraction really defied the expectations that I had set for it. The movie starts out kind of like Lyne began last year's Unfaithful - happy family together, and the parents getting ready to go out to a soiree. At that evening's party, Dan, while away from his wife, runs into Alex for the first time, and the sparks begin to fly. Now, the movie's title kind of gives away the fact that the woman is going to go completely nuts on him later, but James Dearden's screenplay, and Glenn Close's careful rendering of her character makes Alex a decent person to begin with. I was immediately impressed that Alex isn't some creepy, eccentric vixen that looks like bad news to begin with.
The inevitable begins, and Dan's wife and child must go away for the weekend. Alex turns up at a meeting at Dan's law firm, and shortly thereafter the affair begins. Right before they engage in some of the most protracted and unintentionally funny sex in film history, Lyne gives us an exquisite little scene in a restaurant between Dan and Alex. This is one of the crucial scenes in the film, for it sets the tone for the rest of the movie. Unlike Unfaithful, the two don't spend an increasingly longer amount of time with each other and then hastily have sex. Their dialogue right before their first tryst is direct. Like consenting adults, they simply agree that they're going to do it. No dancing around his apartment to sexy jazz music, no braille cookbook seduction. They simply sign a verbal agreement and then go at it on the kitchen sink, complete with running water and Douglas's odd obsession with having Close's breast in his mouth. The rest of their weekend consists of sex, more sex, and even more sex, with the obligatory 'funny scene where they almost get caught doing it in public.' The movie really takes off on it's nail-biting, visceral course when Dan decides he must leave.
The woman goes nuts, and that's an understatement. Calls and unexpected visits occur. Alex calls the house, but just stays silent when Dan's wife answers. Family pets are murdered. The tension mounts unbearably. The whole section of the film leading up to its exciting conclusion really makes an amazing impact. I had a huge list of expectations for what certain things would happen, but most of them didn't. This may be the prototypical erotic revenge thriller, but it certainly jumps over some of its own limitations. Anne Archer, Dan's wife, is an interestingly written character, for she is unsuspecting of it all until, well, until Dan must break down and confess. There is no bra discovered that isn't hers, no story that doesn't check out with someone else, no 'why have you been so distant since that one weekend when I left you completely alone?' All of the tension in the movie lies with what Alex will do next to remind Dan that he can't just let her go. The movie throws out another convention by actually letting Alex meet Dan and his wife in an incredibly uncomfortable scene where Alex slyly obtains their phone number after it has been changed. Fatal Attraction, along with its incredible building suspense, becomes less and less of the cookie-cutter genre film that it's been categorized as. This is in part thanks to amazing work by Close. As the movie's 'villain,' she radiates a dangerous sexuality and inital vulnerability that makes a great combination. Once she goes apes**t on Dan, she's simply a blast to watch. In that 'please let me never cross paths with a woman like her' sense, of course.
I love Fatal Attraction for much of the same reason that I loved Unfaithful. Hidden carefully beneath the movie's "thriller" facade is actually an excellent morality fable. This is hinted at when Alex is introduced as a likeable, sympathetic character, but fully fleshed-out once Dan must go back to his family. Sure, the woman's a freak, but Dan was the one that had the affair with her, so he's somewhat responsible. He told her that things would have to end, but no affair can just be extinguished like that. When he nicely tells her that it can't continue, I actually kind of felt bad for Alex. Sex has an emotional attachment to it that Dan tried to put behind him, but Alex couldn't. There is a crucial plot twist introduced into the film nearly halfway through that I won't reveal here, but it adds most importantly to the whole idea of Dan's moral quandry. At times, I was torn. For a while, Alex is simply a fling that's hanging on and one actually feels sympathy for her somewhat. Sure, it's all dispelled by the end of the film, but for a while the movie really turns the preconceived notions of its characters upside-down. Dan is trying to get back to his family, but isn't he somewhat of a creep for screwing around in the first place? That's the rocky terrain of infidelity, and Lyne's film explores it with an underlying expertise that can be seen through all the knife-weilding and bunny-boiling.
The movie has a handful of truly exciting, somewhat violent scenes that add an extra punch to its escalating progress. At one point, Dan breaks into Alex's apartment and has a violent encounter with her as he tells her to quit messing with his family. Alex enacts schemes of such raw cruelty, it's easy to understand why Dan is scared to death of her. Nothing compares to the movie's violent, bloody finale that has become a movie thriller landmark (one word, guys: catfight). It's truly one of the most well-done and exciting action scenes in film, and it's a bravura closer to a movie that deserves nothing less. Sure, it may not do anything creative to tie up the ends of the movie, but I'm glad Lyne used such an explosive scene. On the Special Edition DVD, an alternate ending can be viewed, and I was disappointed - it may be more creative and mean more in the context of the film (and may be technically better), but I'll stick with punches, guns, and knives for my revenge flick finales any day. Fatal Attraction is and always will be one of the most exciting, nail-bitingly intense, and entertaining movies of all time. It got six Academy Award nominations in 1987, including nods to Glenn Close and Anne Archer AND Best Picture. That's a testament to how much of a phenomenon it was then, but the fact that it stands up so well even today says so much more. GRADE: A-
There is something great in that intense, rugged gaze of Sir Anthony
Hopkins. Whether it's the deviously psychotic Hannibal Lecter, or the
angrily conflicted Richard Nixon, he assimilates that curvaceous,
face into whatever character he inhabits. Sure, Hannibal Lecter could use
retirement (who wouldn't forget 2000's dreadful Hannibal), but you gotta
give credit where credit is due: Hopkins is an astounding, first-rate
He can either scare the hell out of you or move you to tears, and though
does neither in director Robert Benton's adaptation of Philip Roth's The
Human Stain, it is still a good movie.
The film begins in the late '90's, right in the heat of the Clinton-Lewinsky debacle. Characters in the film talk about it, but it only serves as the springboard for the scandal that occurs in the film. One day in class, professor Coleman Silk (Hopkins) inquires into the habitual absence of two students. "Do they exist, or are they spooks?" he asks. Anyone with knowledge of racial slurs knows that that 'spook' is not only a synonym of 'ghost' but a pejorative term for african-americans. Well, guess what race the students happened to be? Accused of racism, Silk resigns from the college in a violent fury while clinging even deeper to a secret he's hidden for decades (which won't be revealed in this review, even if evey other critic on earth has done so).
We find Silk several month later as he begins a lasting friendship with writer Nathan Zuckerman (Sinise). As the two learn more and more about each other, Silk tells that he's begun an affair witha woman half his age - the rugged, chain-smoking Faunia Farely (Kidman). The movie dives deeper into the secret of Silk's past while his relationship with Faunia deepens past their initial sexual attraction, and Faunia's psychotic, shell-shocked ex-husband, Lester (Harris), eventually enters the picture. Soon, Silk's past, Faunia's tumultuous back story, and Lester's anger head on a dangerous collision course.
There is a huge amount of plot to tackle in Roth's novel and, to a lesser extent, in the film. Screenwriter Nicolas Meyer (Fatal Attraction) has bravely attempted to cram as much of the book into just under two hours of movie while also steadily developing the two prescient themes: race and class. The scandal at the college and the film's numerous flashbacks into Silk's past provide a fine exploration of the race issue, while Coleman and Faunia are obviously a metaphor for the clash of two very different tiers on the socio-economic ladder. Silk is polished, refined, and with expensive tastes. Faunia works part-time jobs as a janitor, a postal employee, and a farmhand. When Silk takes her to a posh restaurant to meet Zuckerman, she storms out in a jealous rage saying, "You can't f**k me without taking me to expensive restaurants." These broad themes, though, aren't even the whole of the film. Faunia's past is tragic, so much that she feels Silk's resignation pales in comparison to her past, and not until Silk's secret is revealed and it all comes together do their own personal tragedies learn to co-exist. To present past and present on top of all of the other plot strands that make their way into the film and have them make sense is quite a task, but The Human Stain seems to pull it off.
It makes sense of its dense plot, but the film as a whole is not without its flaws. A complete adaptation of Roth's novel would yield a 5-hour long movie, or simply be impossible. The movie clocks in at under two hours, and at times, it handles so much that it becomes somewhat vague (especially with the debacle at Silk's college - it is crucial to the film but it fast-tracks through in under ten minutes). There is a ton of plot to swallow in this movie, and at times it seems that it's watered down a bit too much. I would have liked to have seen more on Faunia's ex-husband, Lester, or writer Nathan Zuckerman, who narrates the film but is only used to his potential in the fim's final stretch. Yes, the movie adequately presents scenes from Silk's past to expose his secret, but some of the supporting characters are left dangling in the present. When the movie attempts to elaborate on Faunia's past, it also unfortunately comes across as borderline silly. This could be due to bad direction or shaky writing, but one of Kidman's scenes that finds her weeping about her dead children comes off as awkward, cold, and overdone. Aside from a few shaky scenes, the vagueness of the film's narrative is really saved by fantastic acting all-around.
Which brings me to my next point. Much has been made about the casting in the film, particularly because of how Silk's secret relates to how his 'younger me' should look. Yes, the actor that plays a 20something Silk really does look nothing like Hopkins, but great acting is often the savior of shaky casting, and it does the job here. The real gamble, though, is Kidman. 'Nicole Kidman' and 'dime-store trash' have never really been synonymous, and she must take on a facet of that term in this film. The fact that she's one of the three or four finest actresses of her generation allows her to pull it off surprisingly well. Faunia's ebullient sexuality does take Kidman into Eyes Wide Shut territory for a few moments, but that frank sexuality that Kidman can alternately harness and let loose manages to stay 'Faunia' and not 'Trashy Nicole Kidman doing Alice Harford.' The chemistry between Hopkins and Sinise is one of the pleasures of the film, so much that seeing them giddily dance around to "Cheek to Cheek" seems 'right' in its own way. Ed Harris is only on-screen for a few minutes, but he manages to shine, especially in a key scene with Sinise at the end. Kidman and Hopkins own a great deal of the film, but in a crucial turn of events, Sinise shows what a fine on-screen presence he's become and he brings the movie to a close that becomes surprisingly tender for a film with such heavy thematic material.
I really admired the fact that the movie did try to present so many parts of Roth's novel, and even though it tripped a few times, the overall effect is more than satisfying. There is a lot to get in, and the movie wastes no time. It doesn't ever really feel like it's rushing though, and that's what makes The Human Stain a true pleasure to watch. It deals with issues in society that carry a huge amount of weight with them but manages to stay 'normal' throughout. Now, this may be a flaw in its presentation, but the fact that the movie is simply a movie adds to its watchability. It doesn't strive for head-scratching artfulness or take bizarre leaps into the subconscious. The Human Stain simply presents a good yarn about what a deep secret from the past can do to the present. The movie isn't great by any means, but it's certainly quite good, and definitely worth the time and the money. It may not transfer Roth's novel with 100% perfection, but it certainly succeeds in the sense of almost never losing its momentum and also carrying dramatic importance. The Human Stain is no Mystic River, and it probably won't be remembered in the future, but by God, it's still a pretty good movie. GRADE: B+
As someone who spends a great deal of their life thinking about movies, I
find myself in a quandry every once in a while, and right now I'm having
one. I just saw Shattered Glass tonight, a new founded-in-fact film about
prominent young journalist who fabricated a great deal of the stories that
he wrote for The New Republic and was eventually busted for it. I'll spare
the flowery film review words right now and cut to the chase - Shattered
Glass is freaking awesome. Now, on the other hand, I saw Runaway Jury a
weeks ago, you know, the John Cusack 'courtroom thriller' that's made a
whole bundle of millions of dollars? Well, Runaway Jury is certainly a
decent movie, but I'm not sure if I'm going to be able to sleep tonight.
Why? Well, knowing that most American moviegoers will go on loving Runaway
Jury and never even know Shattered Glass existed. There are things in life
that kind of make me angry, but this, this, pisses me off. There you go,
I've ranted, I've raved, and now I'd just like to tell you why Shattered
Glass is one of the most essential movies you'll see this year, and one of
the best movies made about journalism. Ever.
When Billy Ray's new film, Shattered Glass, begins we hear the enthusiastic narration of the film's quasi-title character, Stephen Glass (Hayden Christensen), who is happily relaying his feelings about journalism and how an article with substance may not necessarily be as great as an article with character. This sounds quaint and noble coming from the lanky Glass, who enters the film doing one of the things that he seems to do best - observing things around him. He enters his alma mater to speak to a journalism class about the subject, and we also learn that he is a contributing writer to George, Rolling Stone, and the associate editor of The New Republic. The students look at him in awe - one girl writes down the title of a piece he wrote just from a brief description Glass gave. He is a celebrity of the first order in the world of budding journalists - he may be the fresh fish of The New Republic, but he can own an audience. This rapt audience of students becomes the frame that flashes back to the chronological beginning of Shattered Glass, and the movie begins its steady course on the emotional and ethical rollercoaster that it becomes.
As of early 1998, Glass is an esteemed writer on the staff of The New Republic. Sure, the staff's median age is 26, but he's the youngest and also a favorite of editor Michael Kelly (Hank Azaria). There is something more to Glass, though, and that is seen in the way that the other people on the staff look at him. His co-workers view him as a superior even with their age or seniority above him, and in fact: he is. Glass can weave a story like no one else on the staff, and it shows in the meetings where he tantalizes his coworkers with details of his next article. (That action shows what a dynamic person Glass really is, but his flamboyant 'storytelling' is also a key to the film.) Things take a turn, though, and Kelly is fired with Glass's rival, Chuck Lane (Sarsgaard) stepping in. Director Ray's script shows its first signs of greatness as Lane's character becomes a central part of the film. When Lane hears of the Republic's boss's intent of firing Kelly, he immediately steps back and doesn't want to be a part of it for he considers Kelly a friend. When Kelly is fired, though, Glass and his co-workers see Lane as a villain while the audience has seen what an upstanding character he really is.
Things go downhill with Lane as editor, and not with the magazine. Glass publishes an article called "Hack Heaven" that gets much attention from an online magazine, but not exactly the kind of attention the Republic would want. Company names don't check out, sources are unreachable, and the seeds of doubt about Glass' integrity are sewn. The movie takes an amazing turn here when the tables get turned on Christensen's wonderfully calibrated Glass. We don't see things from Glass's point of view, but rather from the perspective of the online mag trying to expose him and Lane, who wants to believe Glass but is beginning to lose faith. Christensen becomes truly amazing here. He's pushed into a corner with the investigation of his article's integrity, but he maintains that it all checks out. He never gives anything away (as I won't either - the movie is too balanced to give away plot points that would ruin things down the road for you) in his slow unraveling. Sarsgaard really stands out, though, and an Oscar nom for Supporting Actor had better come his way. The emotional spiral of the movie is really seen through him, and he alternates between doubt, despair, and anger with such nuance that he practically owns the movie.
Sarsgaard would own the movie if Christensen didn't make Glass such a likeable character, even as he is eventually revealed for what he truly is. This makes it incredibly difficult to figure out which character one should empathize with, and it becomes a test of morals for the viewer. Glass is the kind of movie that puts your mind and your stomach in a pretzel, but not in a Usual Suspects or Vanilla Sky way. All of the facts of the movie are presented as is, and except for a twist at the end, the movie exists mostly from an objective standpoint. This lets the drama and mind-bending of the film exist on a purely emotional and ethical level, and it's refreshing, considering the manipulative junk that is out most of the time (*cough* Runaway Jury *cough*). Movies like Jury present its narrative with little motivation or reason behind its characters, but Glass lets it all fly with such supported precision, it's quite a feat. We never learn much about Stephen Glass's history, but there's a ponit behind it - the movie isn't about why he did it, but what he did and how. From trailers and even my review, it may become obvious exactly what Glass did, but the depth and the impact of his actions aren't really revealed until the end of the film.
The perfomances that Christensen and Sarsgaard are the kind of things that the Academy should recognize more often - not with just nominations, but with wins. The facts in the movie certainly take twists and turns that make it seem more typical, but the 'facts' don't really drive the narrative - the characters do. Sarsgaard makes a speech to another character toward the end of the film all about journalistic integrity and ethical duty, and in any other movie it would come off as silly and pretentious. In Glass, it gets to the heart of it all. Even though Stephen Glass knew what words could do and used it to his advantage in the film, director Billy Ray's script wastes not one word. Movies like this are a gift to its actors, and hopefully in February it will pay off. Whatever the results, though, Christensen has topped himself as Kevin Kline's son in Life as a House and given a (so-far) career-defining performance that shows great promise. Sarsgaard has had a few bit parts in the past, but he blasts onto the screen here with an incredibly intense role. A few months from now, I'll be either rooting for these guys or whining if they didn't make it to the Oscars.
Shattered Glass dissects issues of morality and ethics in the field of journalism in a way that some movies could never even begin to touch. It's not about actions or plot twists or MacGuffins, but it's about changes in the movie's characters that can never really be predicted. Glass is a thriller in the best sense of the word, because it gets its thrills from things that should be tapped into more often. The end of the film is what makes it jump from 'great' to 'mind-blowingly great.' Loose ends are tied up, and we even learn a little about Glass's motivation. Not much, though, because a lesser movie would have relied on daddy-agression or childhood failure to explain why he did what he did. Shattered Glass takes a chance by letting what actually happened in real life (remember, this is a true story) speak for itself, and considering what you'll see, it's quite chilling. Yes, titles flash across the screen giving the 'where are they now' answer, but it functions as the final action of the film and not additional information for the viewer. Shattered Glass is a step above the rest of the 'thrillers' with which it will be unfortunately placed. It's a step above just about anything you'll see all year, too, and despite all the lies you'll hear in the course of the movie, that's not one. GRADE: A
I was just like every other curious American filmgoer a few months ago
I went and saw Lost in Translation for the first time. That's right, I
wanted to know what in the hell was so great about the movie that critics
were calling possibly the best of the year and a modern masterpiece. I saw
Translation for the first time and liked it, but didn't really know what
they saw in the movie that was so beyond-belief spectacular. But alas, I
believe that every movie deserves a second chance (i.e. - the miracle of
hating Moulin Rouge on round one and having it shoot near the top of my
favorites of all time a year later), so just recently I sat down and
experienced director Sophia Coppola's Lost In Translation
Lost in Translation tells the story of Bob Harris (Bill Murray in a role tailor-made, if not even Heaven-sent for him), an American movie star that comes to Tokyo to film a whiskey commerical for which he will be paid 2 million bucks. Staying in the same Tokyo hotel is Charlotte (Scarlett Johanssen, radiant and mature at only 18), a newlywed tagging along with her rock photographer husband, John (a typically awkward Giovanni Ribisi). Along the way, Charlotte and Bob run into each other and begin a 'brief encounter' that profoundly affects them both.
When the movie hits you right, it's a pure pleasure from its unassuming start (a beautifully lit shot up Johanssen's underwear-clothed behind) to its ambiguous but meaningful ending. It begins as a comedy of culture clash, Harris sarcastic and confused at the Japanese when entering his hotel, and even more befuddled in a hilarious scene where he shoots the whiskey commerical (and one later during a photo shoot). Coppola delivers Bob into her movie with the impression that it'll be all about him (he has plenty of great scenes, even at just the beginning), but Charlotte enters the story, and we're never quite the same. Scarlett Johanssen plays Charlotte with just the right amount of emotion that her initially morose and soul-searching character doesn't seem silly. At one point, she tearfully admits over the phone, "I don't know who I married." This may come off as silly, but consider her position: far away from home, newly married, in a big intimidating city, and her husband is away on a photo shoot. Bob, on the other hand, seems to have it made, but Murray lets a current of loneliness run across that memorable face that seems to hint at something more. He gets comical faxes from his wife about bookshelves and carpet samples, but he gives off the impression that he's come to the point where he doesn't even care anymore. Bob is certainly alone for a time in Tokyo, but Murray gives off the impression that things at home aren't too hot either.
For the first third of the movie, director Coppola displays her first brave choice in filmmaking by keeping Bob and Charlotte apart. During this time, the smooth, languid pace of the film falls into place, and by languid I don't mean 'boring.' Upon my first viewing of Translation, I wasn't convinced of Coppola's choice to keep the movie so predominantly low-key, but I've realized that there's a reason for it. The movie sustains this amazing vibe that doesn't stunt its progress, but propels it with a driving fluidity. A few times, though, Bob and Charlotte do see each other without officially meeting. One time in particular occurs in a crowded elevator - the two glance at each other, faintly smile, and possibility is born. The first section of the film doesn't just serve to show its two characters completely apart - it makes you think of how many life-changing connections you've missed in the past by just being passive and solitary.
Coppola successfully juggles Bob and Charlotte apart, but when they do meet, it's pure magic. They begin voyages out into the hustle and bustle of Tokyo, and the film almost takes on a perspective that differs from its earlier view. Before, we saw Bob Harris and Charlotte, respectively, at their most private and vulnerable. While out on the town, the film seems to sit back and just let them have fun. Thank God, for Bill Murray's rousing rendition of Elvis Costello's "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding" is a blast. During this time, it seems that Bob and Charlotte have forgotten their insomnia and loneliness, but it's not gone forever. Even during their night on the town, we see moments where they sit silently, pensive and confused. The movie is a comedy in some sense, but it escalates into a pervading tragic feel. At one point, Charlotte says to Bob: "Let's never come back here again, because it will never be as much fun." I was struck deeply by this because, well, they had fun, but only in the sense of putting off more loneliness and desperation.
The movie takes a while to truly glean out the deep-seated motivations of both of its characters, but they become fully-realized in a marvelous scene where Bob and Charlottelay fully-clothed in bed together. Here, they handle the 'big' questions in life, and not "Where did you go to college?" or "What did you want to be when you were little?" but "What is my purpose?" and "Does marraige get easier?" I was amazed at the honesty of the character's responses. Bob relates to Charlotte the experience of having children and the ongoing struggles of marraige, but a tinge of fear and apprehension runs through his speech. Charlotte hasn't really figured things out for herslef yet - she says she's tried just about everything but hasn't found that niche. Coppola's screenplay takes these two separate beings, far apart in age and experiences, and makes a profound statement - both are in the same exact emotional limbo. Charlotte is confused and worried, but Bob is regretful and washed-up. In a way, these two are some form of deeply odd soul-mates. That is the heart and soul of Coppola's amazing work.
I couldn't end this review without mentioning another star behind the scenes of the movie that is nearly as effective to the film as Director/Screenwriter Sophia Coppola. That is cinematographer Lance Acord, who should just start writing his Oscar acceptance speech now. He has worked on Coppola's husband's (Adaptation, Being John Malkovich director Spike Jonze) films before, but this is his finest, most beautiful work yet. He captures Japan, and the film's characters, with such a soft-but-colorfully-abstract flare that it's nearly inexplicable. I often wondered why, beyond the fact that they have so much to think about, Bob and Charlotte (especially her) are seen staring out windows so much. If they see Tokyo with the same awe-inspiring glow that the film does, they have no better reason.
Perhaps the movie didn't sit as well with me the first time because I kept attempting to figure out what the movie was. It has great comedic flair with Murray's wonderful work, but it's also perhaps one of the saddest and most moving films I've seen in a long time. It's some form of a romance, too, but it's not about when they'll kiss or when they'll hit the sheets (one kiss on the cheek becomes unbearably awkward). It also has that Affair to Remember vibe too, where the journey of two souls that find comfort will eventually have to come to an end. Its end, though, defies classification, as does the rest of the film. Many times during the film's quaint, quietly moving finale, I expected lush music to start playing to underscore the escalating sadness of the film. It doesn't. Coppola simply lets her two amazing leads do the work. When the film does arrive at its final, ambiguous moment, it all just seems perfect. The catchy Japan-pop soundtrack that runs brilliantly throughout the film begins to play, and I find myself with a huge regret: that I won't be able to savor the subtle chemistry of Bob and Charlotte, and that a flat-out masterpiece in American film is at its end.
Much like some of the other comments about "Nashville" that are circulating around IMDB, the reviews I've seen of Robert Altman's 1975 Oscar contender have been completely adulatory or completely dismissive. Contrary to some comments I've read, "Nashville" looks as prescient and magnificent now as it appeared to some critics nearly thirty years ago. Dated? Absolutely not. "Nashville" is a movie about people more than anything else, but a political campaign van that appears throughout the movie shows the unavoidable nature of politics in people's lives in the 70's. Has that changed since then? It's even more true now, with our war in Iraq and all of the conflicting viewpoints that exist. Annoying overlapping dialogue? To dismiss this unique trait of "Nashville" is to hate the trademark of director Robert Altman. Do people wait their turn as if reading from a screenplay in real life? Muddy cinematography? Certainly not - to show a Nashville vibrant with colors that don't really fit (a crime that most visually overachieving movies commit) would distract from Altman's amazing focus on the relationships of the characters that he builds so well. And the characters....the dozens of cast members lend terrific support to a film that moves forward constantly while never seeming to move too fast, leaving time for moments of poignancy and heartbreak, as well as unintentionally hilarious moments (as every good pseudo-documentary film has). Who can forget Lily Tomlin gazing at her deaf children tenderly as their father completely ignores them as they speak? Or the moment Keith Carradine performs his Oscar-winning "I'm Easy" in front of a night club crowd? Really, "Nashville" is filled with great moments ALL the time that make the nearly three-hour film unmissable, but nothing in the world can prepare the patient viewer for the film's breathtaking finale which seems even more moving today in the midst of everything. Forget the "National Anthem" or "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." The gospel-esque strains of "It Don't Worry Me" make it the American song for the ages, in an American film that ranks among the best of its kind.