Screen Reviews

Lost in Translation


Emperor Norton

The film Lost in Translation was full of small, seemingly insignificant moments, random meetings and subtle resonance. A tiny two-person world was created in the midst of millions of unconnected people. Thank the soundtrack to this film for going some distance in making this possible. Droning, sleepy notes stretch out on album producers Brian Reitzell and Roger J. Manning Jr.’s tracks like perpetual jetlag behind the staticky, muffled snippets of Japanese dialogue that slowly succumb to the music. Electronic artists Squarepusher and Death in Vegas contribute subdued soundscapes that capture the futuristic/exotic feeling of Japan while still retaining the same tone as the disc’s opening tracks. Only Phoenix’s “Too Young”, Happy End’s “Kaze Wo Atsumete” and The Jesus and Mary Chain’s “Just Like Honey” break the instrumental melancholy and furtively embrace fleeting happy moments.

My Bloody Valentine leader and semi-hermit Kevin Shields provides four tracks: the fuzzed out, woozy pop of “City Girl,” the teary-eyed daybreak-beat of “Goodbye” and “Ikebana,” and “Are You Awake?,” with its clubland aroma of inhaled backwards guitar riffs. Air contributes “Alone in Kyoto” which features a nice combination of organic sounds (acoustic guitar, piano, wordless vocals) alongside the electronic Asian melodies.

As a general rule, soundtracks rarely hold together, especially when a number of different artists are used. But Lost in Translation is extremely cohesive. It is able to maintain an overall tone throughout while still allowing the personality of each contributor to show through enough to move things forward. It’s an album every bit as good as the film it comes from, and, just like the film, gets even better with reflection.

Emperor Norton:

Lost In Translation

Starring Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson

Directed by Sofia Coppola

Focus Features

Bill Murray’s hit-and-miss portfolio features some unforgettable early films – Stripes, Caddyshack and Ghostbusters come to mind – but with Lost In Translation, the actor has proven once again that his talent-peak lies somewhere in his fifties, not his twenties. In this unusual, captivating film, Murray once again plays himself (technically, “Bob Harris”) a past-his-prime American actor/whiskey spokesperson lured by big money to Japan to film a TV commercial. He immediately dislikes everything about Tokyo, as well as his omnipresent, adoring Japanese fans. It soon becomes apparent that Bob, in somewhat of a midlife crisis, has a less-than-fulfilling marriage; that vague unpleasantness, combined with a yearning for a good film role, has made him a very disgruntled man.

While Bob goes through the torturous (and hilarious) motions of acting in the ad, young Charlotte (19-year-old Scarlett Johansson) – who is staying at the same hotel – is left to her own devices while her celebrity photographer husband (Giovanni Ribisi) is at work. The problem is, Charlotte doesn’t have any devices. A recent college grad, she has found herself lost in limbo, without aspirations; isn’t even sure that her husband – who’s immersed in a world that she cannot relate to – is her soul-mate, after all.

Bob and Charlotte, both sleepless, meet late at night in the hotel bar, and it’s soon evident that there’s a strange chemistry between the two. When Charlotte’s husband leaves for a weekend assignment, the mismatched pair explore Tokyo together, forging a platonic friendship that deepens by the hour. At first, one suspects that they are drawn towards one another as a form of escape, but, by Sunday night, Bob and Charlotte have realized that they have met their true soul-mates…leaving them to face difficult decisions Monday morning.

Lost In Translation has a minimalist, “foreign film” feel to it; the dialogue is sparse, yet compelling. Scarlett Johansson possesses the sort of beauty that isn’t the first to be noticed in a crowd, but upon which the eye lingers the longest. This fact wasn’t lost on writer/director Sofia Coppola, who focuses on Charlotte’s mannerisms and facial expressions in long, silent, revealing scenes. Likewise, Murray (toning down his understated “Rushmore” role a shade further) provokes more thought and generates more laughs with a single grimace or smile than with the cleverest of lines. With Lost In Translation, Coppola has atoned for any previous cinematic transgressions, presenting a not-so-simple story of two lonely people lost in an alien world with great skill and style. This is a funny, sad, gorgeous film that requires a certain level of intelligence and depth-of-heart to fully appreciate; nonetheless, it should garner Oscar nominations for Murray and Coppola.

Lost In Translation:


Starring Kate Beckinsale, Scott Speedman

Directed by Len Wiseman

Screen Gems/Sony Pictures

In its attempt to update the previously-unknown vampire-werewolf rivalry, Underworld fails miserably…and laughably. Set amidst an unspecified modern metropolis, Underworld features latex-and-leather-clad Kate Beckinsale (Pearl Harbor) as Selene, a blood-sucker specially trained to track and assassinate lycans (werewolves). It seems that the two monster clans have been at odds for centuries, with a league of junior vampires – led by a series of genuine bad-ass leaders – gaining the upper hand. The film’s gimmick? The combatants duke it out with automatic pistols and machine guns (dispensing silver bullets and ultraviolet-light plasma rounds) instead of fangs and claws. In a series of blatant, slo-mo Matrix ripoffs, the two groups quickly prove that keen eyesight is no longer one of their attributes – none of them can hit the broad side of a barn.

Underworld’s goofy, paper-thin plot – with a cast of unrecognizables giving some truly atrocious performances – thickens when Selene rescues a young doctor (Scott Speedman, Felicity) from a pack of lycans, and subsequently uncovers an under-the table alliance between the two factions. Of course, she immediately falls in love with the mysterious human, and the pair are soon hunted by both parties.

At a Seattle screening earlier this week, the Goth-peppered audience laughed at Underworld’s frequent moments of unintentional humor, and grimaced at the film’s heretical premises. Judging by that reaction alone, this film will be on rental shelves –where it should have been placed to begin with – before the next full moon.



Starring Ed Burns, Donal Logue, Luiz Guzman, Dustin Hoffman, Rachel Weisz, Andy Garcia

Directed by James Foley

Lion’s Gate

Hoop Dreams

Starring Stevie Fielding, Steve James

Directed by Steve James

Lion’s Gate

Two DVDs from Lion’s Gate hit the shelves this week – one features a star-studded cast and a shallow-as-a-birdbath script, the other contains no acting, but reveals a story that will haunt the viewer for days.

In Confidence, Ed Burns stars as Jake Vig, a brilliantly slick leader of a quartet of grifters who have a pair of L.A. cops (Donal Logue and Luiz Guzman) in their pocket. When the team inadvertently cons a local porn king/crime mogul’s accountant out of $150,000, a vicious circle of double-crosses is set in motion. “The King” (Dustin Hoffman) whacks one of the group, but that isn’t retribution enough. In order to clean the slate, Vig and co. must flim-flim an old adversary of the King’s – billionaire Morgan Pryce, played by Robert Forster. In order to complete the scam, Vig recruits pickpocket Lily (Rachel Weisz) to provide a necessary feminine touch; meanwhile, a Federal agent (Andy Garcia), who has an unknown score to settle with Vig, has picked up the grifters’ scent and is hot on the trail.

Told in flashbacks, a la The Usual Suspects (which it clearly attempts to emulate), the story, on the surface, seems to have it all – a great cast and a gifted director (James Foley, Glengarry Glenn Ross). However, while the film lays out the elaborate, boring and completely predictable con-plot, it forgets to develop any of its characters. Burns and Hoffman have the bulk of the screen time, but that’s not saying much. Andy Garcia and Robert Forster are basically relegated to a few cameos. The stars would have been better off if they were allowed to ad-lib their lines; it’s as if they were recruited for a few days of filming between their other projects. Indeed, Confidence plays like your below-average made-for-basic cable flick. If there was such a thing as a criminal waste of talent, it’s makers would be wearing pinstripes by now.

Hoop Dreams director Steve James got much more than he bargained for when he shot a brief reunion with a troubled young man, Stevie Fielding, in 1995. Some dozen years previously, James had mentored genetically-damaged, abused, yet likeable Stevie – “a train wreck waiting to happen” – as a Big Brother. The train wreck was well in progress when the filmmaker rekindled his friendship with Stevie. Born to white trash in Southern Illinois, Stevie was allegedly beaten senseless as a very young child by his mother, then abandoned. Raised in numerous foster homes – where he was raped at least once – and a veteran of every special-ed program the State had to offer, Stevie – more emotionally stunted than mentally challenged – had a lengthy rap sheet by his early twenties.

Two years pass before James contacts Stevie again, and the documentary, Stevie, begins in earnest. The dust has finally settled on Stevie’s train wreck – he’s been charged with child molestation. In an earnest, agenda-free series of interviews, James – who feels a sense of guilt over not keeping in touch with Stevie during his teenage struggle – chronicles the next few years of the violence-prone man’s life while he’s out on bail. As the criminal-justice machine grinds its gears, James talks at length with Stevie’s completely dysfuntional family: a protective step-grandmother (who has taken him in), a forgiving sister, a surprisingly intelligent aunt, his developmentally-disabled girlfriend and, eventually, his cycle-of-abuse mother (who has lived 50 yards down the road all of this time, and whose on-and-off again presence in the young man’s life has tormented him). It soon becomes apparent that, even if the boy had had a perfect set of chromosomes, he would have been nonetheless doomed by his wretched environment.

But James does not offer any excuses for his friend’s heinous actions; instead, the director’s camera captures every element of Stevie’s squalid existence as he tries – much too late, he comes to realize – to steer his his one-time “little brother” towards much-needed psychiatric treatment.

As it explores the depths of depravity, Stevie is sometimes difficult to watch; ultimately, this engrossing tragedy will leave viewers wondering just how many young “train wrecks” – at best, committed to a miserable existence; at worst, destined for a life of crime – are being ignored in their own communities.

Lion’s Gate Films:

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