Somewhere

tn_somewhereSOMEWHERE is a quiet, simple little thing, like a haiku or a bowl of strawberries. In a movie I usually like to see things like plot, momentum, music, etc., but this isn’t that kind of party. It’s Sofia Copolla trying out a new minimalistic style kind of like what seems to be her own personality: soft spoken and shy, but showing a subtle wit. Some of you would fucking hate it. I liked it though.
mp_somewhere
Stephen Deacon Frost Dorff plays Johnny Marco, famous actor and failed male-female relationship participant. He’s between movies, staying at the Chateau Marmont, which I’m guessing is expensive. His time off seems to be mostly a series of encounters with beautiful women. Alot of times they want to fuck him, but he can’t always judge correctly. He’s feelin pretty cool at an outdoor cafe with his shades on, getting eyed by two young women, then he gets a private text that asks “Why are you such a fucking asshole?” He gets that alot.

He’s paranoid about paparazzi. Sometimes he seems annoyed about being recognized, and you think “Well, maybe you shouldn’t be driving around in a Ferrari then, asshole.” His life is best summed up by my favorite scene where he watches two buxom twins do a pole dance in his room. They bring their own portable poles and the music comes from their little radio. It’s not shot to look glamourous or sexy at all, just straight on and awkward and you can hear all the squeaks of their hands and legs sliding across the poles. By the time they’re upside down he’s dozed off.

So that’s how the other half lives? I don’t even spring for the pay-per-view porn.

Into this light breeze of mundane sin comes his innocent 11 year old daughter Cleo (Elle Fanning), dropped off by an unseen ex. Coppola does a great job of conveying the meaning this relationship brings to Johnny’s life without once making it feel like a Hollywood high concept “unlikely guy takes care of an adorable kid” movie. They’d have a hard time doing a “guy pissing” poster for this one.

DIAGRAM A: The "Guy Pissing" poster for movies about unlikely parental figures

DIAGRAM A: The “Guy Pissing” poster for movies about unlikely parental figures

There’s emotional shit going on between the characters but it goes mercifully unstated. You see it in their expressions and actions and don’t get a big monologue or a dramatic argument about it. There’s no scene where he fucks up and she’s mad at him and he has to make it up to her. Those possibilities are there but it’s subtle, like life. When he goes to her ice skating practice he does keep looking at his phone, but also he watches most of it. He’s not always doing the best he could, but sometimes he is. When he tries to be open with her he does a laughably inept job, but he seems sincere. It doesn’t make up for everything, but it helps.

There’s also something going on here with the innocence of this skinny little girl, sitting out in the hallway waiting for her dad, not clear if she understands what’s going on with his multiple sex partners. She seems to hate having breakfast with this one lady, but she doesn’t say anything. Coppola draws a visual parallel between watching the pole dancers and watching his own daughter ice skate. Their outfits are similarly skimpy, but obviously with different meanings in these contexts. I like to think it makes him conscious of the way he looks at women, but that’s up to interpretation. It’s all done very lightly.

The whole movie has a naturalistic feel. It’s obvious that alot of it was just filming the actors hanging out together playing video games, swimming and shit like that. Chris Pontius, “Party Boy” from Jackass, has a small role as Johnny’s friend (brother?) and also hangs out joking around and drawing with the little girl.

Those Fanning kids are ridiculous, they’re too talented. Elle, at least in this movie, doesn’t seem as creepily adult-like as her sister Dakota. But I have a feeling that the scene where she prepares eggs benedict for everybody was real. And the ice skating. Although it’s possible that some little girl ice skating double is gonna come out and call her a fraud like Natalie Portman’s ballet double.

Maybe the most impressive achievement of the movie is how likable it makes Stephen Dorff. I’m used to him playing these brash hotshots like he did in BLADE, CECIL B. DEMENTED and CITY OF INDUSTRY. Here he gets to play that but you see how it’s a front. He has this vulnerable doofus underneath. He struts around squinting behind rock star sunglasses but he can’t help but look at his daughter with gentle Matt Damon eyes.

The visuals are really raw and drab compared to Coppola’s previous movies. Lots of static shots and very little scoring, so you can hear airplanes flying overhead and stuff like that. And a BROWN BUNNY type opening where a camera on a tripod just films him driving his car back and forth for a couple minutes. It’s a great choice for this movie because even while they’re going to these extravagantly expensive hotels and stuff there’s no glamour, they’re just regular people trying to enjoy a lazy day and hopefully overcome the mistakes they’ve made in life.

Any time there’s a story like this I get a little twinge of jealousy. I wish I had the luxury of worrying about my relationship problems while taking long vacations from work and being able to travel anywhere in the world without worrying about how much it costs. His biggest responsibility is getting back from staying in a palace in Italy in time for his daughter to go to camp on the 10th. The point of the story is that money and fame don’t make up for his human flaws, and in fact probly make them way more of a problem. And yet I’m sitting here thinking “That’s the life right there! That’s what I want!”

But Sofia Coppola obviously grew up in this world. I’m not sure if you know this, but she’s the daughter of the guy who directed THE GODFATHER and CAPTAIN EO. Her cousin is an actor we love whose version of disastrous financial problems is that Leonardo Dicaprio outbid him for a dinosaur skull and he has to sell some of his mansions. That’s where she’s coming from, so I’m glad she’s telling these stories she knows instead of, like, CRY OF THE LONELY DITCH-DIGGER. And it never seems like she’s saying “Oh, woe is me, what a difficult life I live!” She’s just giving us a peak into the lives of people we might not have seen portrayed as humans on screen before.

Coppola will probly make a bunch more movies, and this won’t be the one you’ll dig out to watch every couple of years, but it’s pretty much perfect for the modest little thing it is.

This entry was posted on Friday, April 22nd, 2011 at 5:00 pm and is filed under Drama, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

120 Responses to “Somewhere”

  1. This was my favorite movie last year! Glad you reviewed it, Vern. That opening shot is a killer, the way that car engine starts to sound sad somehow after you listen to it for awhile. I love that (SPOILER) you never know whether the texts are coming from one person or many people, too. I hope Coppola’s got a few more like this in her. I would definitely call it her best yet.

  2. If this is a tenth as good as “Lost in Translation” (Paul’s favorite movie ever, for those taking notes) then I will see and love this.

  3. No FAST FIVE review? You disappoint me, Vern.

  4. People also shat on MARIE ANTOINETTE, which I also liked.

    I’ll get around to SOMEWHERE eventually.

    Stu – Pumped for saturday?

  5. Stu – I already addressed in this review that I can’t afford to fly around the world on a whim, so I’ll have to wait until it’s released in the U.S. So you have a whole week to continue being disappointed in me.

  6. It puzzled me that this movie got such a lukewarm reaction compared to LOST IN TRANSLATION when they are both so similar. It seems like certain filmmakers, like Coppola or Wes Anderson, get punished for having a recognizable style or favorite subject matter. Even among critics who are presumably aware of the auteur theory. I don’t get it.

  7. Jake- Coppola and Anderson are quirk flavors. They are unique voices that you hear once, are amazed and impressed at… and then you just don’t care anymore. They are like the guy or gal you meet at a party who really impresses you with this strange character shtick. But then you see him or her again at another party, and you just couldn’t give a damn. That’s the value of quirk.

    Anderson and Coppola became huge hits on the strength of their quirky voices, and now they are just going to coast the rest of their careers churning out the same quirkiness to continual middling to mediocre attention and/ or success, because we’re used to it, we’re not impressed anymore.

    How do they break out of their rut? They need to change their voices, they need to impress us again. They need to pull an Ang Lee.

    He does gay humorous romance, “The Wedding Banquet,” then Victorian period piece “Sense and Sensibility,” then a wuxia flick “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon,” which you naturally follow up with a gay cowboy flick “Brokeback Mountain.” And I’m leaving out even more all-over-the-map flicks on that timeline, like “The Ice Storm,” “Hulk,” “Eat Drink Man Woman,” “Taking Woodstock,” etc.

    All I’m saying is, if the guy just stuck with gay humorous romances, or just wuxia, Ang Lee wouldn’t be Ang Lee. You need to mix things up. How many “Lost in Translation” type movies of disaffected rich/ famous people bumming around do we need to see really? How many “The Royal Tenenbaums” type movies of oddball families do we need to see really?

    So Coppola should do “Transformers 4″ and Anderson should remake “High Plains Drifter.”

    (snicker)

  8. BR – are you suggesting then that they try to be like Danny Boyle?

    ~How many Oscar winning directors make a werewolf street gang movie?

  9. RRA: I didn’t know what you were talking about until I googled “werewolf danny boyle.”

    LOL

    But yeah, exactly. You have get out of your comfort zone. If I were Coppola or Anderson, I’d rather face plant full of fail in a new genre, than do the same-old to ho-hum response.

  10. Some inside joke is going on with Vincent Gallo and the Coppolas. There’s this old interview that popped up from many years ago floating around on youtube. Gallo shares harsh opinions on Francis and Sophia in a rant about the Hollywood elite. Then all of a sudden he’s the lead in Tetro and she’s doing an obvious homage to the opening of the Brown Bunny in this. Weird.

  11. BR – I can totally understand that.

    I’ll give you an another example, an excellent one I suppose of what you mean: Martin Scorsese.

    Dude is mostly known for his street movies where guys get shot in the face, but he’s dabbled rather good in other shit* whether it be a comedy (AFTER HOURS), a period costume drama (AGE OF INNOCENCE), a religious picture (LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST), popcorn thrillers (CAPE FEAR, SHUTTER ISLAND), documentaries (NO DIRECTION HOME), concert films (THE LAST WALTZ), pool hall melodrama (COLOR OF MONEY), etc. And now he’s making a family fantasy project. In 3-D!!!

    Shit even when he sorta fails, like his epic musical NEW YORK NEW YORK, its fascinating and different, you know where he was coming from, especially if you’ve seen alot of the same movies he was trying to emulate. Not really an empty expensive circle jerk fest like say SUCKER PUNCH….ok actually it kinda was like PUNCH, but Scorsese at the least doesn’t have a tinear like Mr. Snyder.* There’s that.

    (I was going to use Peter Hyams originally, then I realized he’s done some good, some bad, and some…that I keep forgetting he made. Funny how a guy who could do a decent monster movie like THE RELIC also made a solid buddy picture like RUNNING SCARED. Or making a fucking stupid waste of time like A SOUND OF THUNDER after shooting long ago the most fun sequel anyone has made to a Kubrick movie.)

    *=KING OF COMEDY was awesome too, but how would you classify that? Satire? Drama?

  12. Maxo – Chalk that up to Gallo trying his darn best to be the Klaus Kinski of our time.

    ~Imagine if Gallo was born a generation earlier and was in APOCALYPSE NOW. He would have pushed Coppola firmly off the edge and into the loony bin.

  13. RRA – Okay I found it. This is an interview from 2004. At 16:00 he transitions from shit talking Spike Jonze to Sofia Coppola. Listen to this and wonder how he was ever cast in Tetro or paid homage to by Sofia. I’m not sure if he goes back to the subject later but I’m sure I heard him ranting further about Francis Ford Coppola. I almost feel like Gallo trash talks people to get on their radar. Maybe start a dialog with a director and quickly change his demeanor. I think Gallo’s public persona is a career long stunt similar to what Joaquin Phoenix did in I’m still here. I’ve thought that for a while but this excerpt is pretty vicious.
    http://hikaritakano.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=232&Itemid=129

  14. Maxo – or he’s just a fucking dick. Maybe FFC sincerely casted Gallo for the right artistic reasons in spite of his assholeness?

    Whatever, I don’t care. I liked TETRO, a good independent* picture by a master who’s off doing his own thing, not giving two dicks of people care about them or not. Which you can do when your wine pays the bills. He’s off now doing a ghost movie with Val Kilmer.

    *=Not “Independent,” as defined by the idiots who hijacked that term and labeled it a genre or dull formulaic dramedies with all the same goddamn advertizing campaigns as funded by big studio subsidiaries. Which maybe is one of the reasons why I also liked YOUTH WITHOUT YOUTH, a movie that does no favors to explain itself.

  15. RRA- Maybe you’re right. I’m probably looking too far into it. I agree about Tetro. I liked Youth Without Youth too but I can understand why it wasn’t widely received. I don’t understand why Tetro didn’t do better. I hope FFC keeps doing what he’s doing and is able to crank out a couple more.

    The other thing is that I’ve read enough about Coppola and watched enough of his BTS to know that he likes it to be a family atmosphere. Even more so now that his crew is very small. I wonder if you’re right that he is such an artist that he can overlook a guy ranting on his daughter being a whore. Then to go on and welcome him into his family purely for artistic merit. Well, that just makes me respect Coppola and his artistic approach even more.

  16. BR – I don’t buy that theory. Partly because Ang Lee is unique. Very few directors jump around as much or as successfully as he does and yet they are still acclaimed. I just don’t see why someone like Wong Kar-Wai can make the same movie over and over again and be praised and others can’t. Apichatpong Weerasethakul won the Palme d’Or for making the fourth version of his same movie. And you never hear people complain about Leone or Ozu repeating themselves. Because these directors all make good movies. Just like Coppola and Anderson.

    I would pay top dollar to see Coppola’s TRANSFORMERS and Anderson’s HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER though.

  17. caruso_stalker217

    April 23rd, 2011 at 12:17 am

    “Matt Damon’s gentle eyes” could be an AICN screen name.

  18. Yeah, good work on the “gentle Matt Damon eyes.” That’s some quality word arrangement.

  19. Maxo – We don’t know the inside story. Maybe Gallo ate his hat and apologized to FFC privately? Who knows. It’s easy to talk shit about someone until you face them. And Gallo isn’t the sort of guy that can afford to do be a dick publicly.

    I’m reminded of that story about M*A*S*H when that production was in the shits and Elliot Gould/Donald Sutherland both went behind Robert Altman’s back and tried to get Fox to fire him. When the movie became a hit, Gould’s bruised ego fessed up to Altman. Donald didn’t. Altman never worked with Donald again, but he did w/ Gould.

    (Or better yet, read Keith Richards’ recommendable recent memoirs and his account of Mick Jagger basically stabbing the rest of the Rolling Stones in the back in regards to the suits. And then having to eat crow afterwards.)

    Anyway back to FFC, I’ll bring another one of his love-it-or-hate-it movies that I must admit I admire/respect the idea of it even if I didn’t like it: ONE FROM THE HEART. Good supporting cast, loved the (ridiculous and perhaps pointless) visual aesthetics experimentation, and I sorta digged FFC (like Scorsese on NY NY) trying to recreate the Hollywood technicolor musical. Also we got a kickass Tom Waits soundtrack.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iaUl8M5GZHE

    But jesus christ the leads sucked or they had zero chemistry or their material sucked or something because they just kill the movie. The rotten core of an apple.

    Anyway in retrospect, its funny but Coppola got lumped in with the 70s stereotype of the madman director blowing up the studio’s budgets over self-indulgent nonsense, but really the only mountain of money he set fire to was his own.

    Well except COTTON CLUB, but that’s another story another time.

    ~Plus he did CAPTAIN EO.

  20. RRA – You know ONE FROM THE HEART was interesting. Kind of taking the CITIZEN KANE approach of theatre technique applied to Film. Just wasn’t the sort of thing people were going to line up to see. The story behind it is so sad. I don’t think Coppola deserves to be lumped in with Cimino who was literally giving the studios the finger. Coppola was blowing his own money on Apocalypse Now and his own money on OFTH. He had all these projects planned when he started Zoetrope with this noble dream of an artist run Hollywood. Then he put all his eggs in one basket on OFTH and it flops. So now after all those years of clawing back up the studio system he finally has his wine money and he’s kind of getting to actually do what he wants. One can only wonder how different movies would be today if he had made George Lucas money (or if Lucas had stuck with Zoetrope and kept his heart in the right place). I think it is all a little naive and artists generally do need some help on the business end. But I also think we can all agree the executives are fucking up the game these days. Copolla kind of had the right idea if he could have limited the scale and cost of his vision.

  21. Yeah, I don’t buy the Ang Lee theory either. That’s why Ang Lee is awesome – because very few directors can mix it up as much as he can. Danny Boyle is one of the few that can, and movie buffs tend to consider him a hack for doing it.

    But I also don’t agree with the premise that Sofia Coppola’s movies are all exactly the same. I should’ve mentioned that it’s interesting that LOST IN TRANSLATION and SOMEWHERE can both about a lonely actor staying in a hotel and having his life improved by spending time with a young girl and yet be so different in style and tone.

    Plus she’s got a period piece in there, fer chrissakes. Her movies so far are more varied than Jim Jarmusch’s first four.

  22. SOMEWHERE is a beautiful gem. I never cared for Francis films but Sofia rocks the conventions of American cinema, and where THE BROWN BUNNY was unbearable, Coppola makes it fascinating.

  23. “Stu – I already addressed in this review that I can’t afford to fly around the world on a whim, so I’ll have to wait until it’s released in the U.S. So you have a whole week to continue being disappointed in me.”
    Ah, my bad. I assumed it was already out over there. Don’t know why the UK would get it first, unless…do you think Prince William and Kate Middleton are Vin Diesel fans?

  24. There were some really funny parts to this film. I creased with laughter when he goes down on the woman and stays there. My favourite shot was Dorff waiting for the head cast to dry. It summed up his isolation completely.

  25. Wait…who the fuck considers Danny Boyle to be a hack? Here I was thinking he was one of the most original and invigorating filmmakers of the last several generations. Why didn’t I get the memo?

  26. Yeah. I just googled “Danny Boyle+hack” “Danny Boyle+Overrated” and a few variants of those combos and came up with zero articles from reputable sources dissing Boyle.

    People get down on Coppola for having a limited emotional palette to her films, and I think that’s a valid point. She does one thing and she does it very well. If she weren’t the daughter of Francis Ford she would likely be given more leeway with this, but because the specter of nepotism will forever hang heavy over her, she is more harshly judged. Also, she has a vagina. This counts against her.

    As for Anderson, I think the criticism is more founded in his case. While Rushmore is superb and Royal Tenenbaums is a splendid remake of The Hotel New Hampshire, his films have mostly been diminished returns. He plays on the same character beats and the same themes over and over again, all in the same very specific tone and visual style. He is very repetitive. Moreover, I find a certain whiff of ethnocentrism if not benign racism in a great many of his films. Many of his films feature a Caucasian character who, when scorned by another member of the upper class, finds physical solace in the arms of a minority character whose primary character attributes are being foreign and sexually available. Furthermore, he has a tendency to write secondary characters as wackily ethnic: the pirates in Life Aquatic, the manservant in Tenenbaums, almost every character in Darjeeling Limited, ect. Also, wasn’t it nice how the little Indian children got to die so that the rich, depressed white people could learn an important life lesson in Darjeeling?

    That said, Fantastic Mr. Fox was certainly a step in the right direction and I hope that it reinvigorates him creatively.

  27. I can imagine that if a group of people thinks that Boyle is a hack, it might have started after SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE. Because, y’know, suddenly the guy who made TRAINSPOTTING and 28 DAYS LATER was winning Oscars and we all know that only hacks and their movies win Oscars. Always have, always will. :P

  28. I think there’s a difference between having a style and a voice that is distinctive, and being locked in on one because that’s all you can do. Like Tarantino, you know within two seconds that you’re seeing one of his movies and he has many recurring themes and motifs, but each one of his movies is its own thing. Anderson, as much as I love the dude and his movies, has really been suffering from the law of diminishing returns, and it makes me wonder if its even possible for the dude to make a movie that isn’t about sadsack genius/mad people on the out’s with their family. Part of that is just a matter of Anderson not writing them as strong as he has in the past (they throw away all their Dad’s luggage! It’s a metaphor! Get it? Get it?) but I do find myself wondering what else this guy is capable of.

    He’s totally allowed to do whatever he wants, but I’m allowed to scratch my head at some of it.

  29. Here’s a question for art people: What is the difference between, say, Georgia O’Keefe painting a door hundreds of times, playing with different versions, and a filmmaker like Wes Anderson circling the idea of family a bunch of times? Why is one acceptable and the other cause for criticism from asshole talkbackers and mainstream critics alike?

  30. If we’re gonna hang Anderson, lets dig up Hitchcock and hang that fat fuck too.

    Because aside from VERTIGO and PSYCHO (debatable), in what way did he really break out of his usual paranoia and stock characters?

  31. Jake, RRA, Brendan, Vern, etc.:

    Let’s put it this way: would you rather see another Coppola film about a rich/ famous person moping around (and “Marie Antoinette” is definitely in that mold)? Or would you like to see Coppola direct “Transformers 4″ (or any other wildly inappropriate mainstream fare completely outside her purview)?

    It’s just a plea for her to branch out, see her flair at work in a new genre. To save the world, or whatever.

    Doesn’t have to happen, but you know it would be interesting. Believe me, I’m in no position to give career advice to Anderson or Coppola, I’m not trying to be the typical mindlessly negative wildly judgmental Internet voice (who the hell am I to judge?). But I think its fair to say that lending their voice to a new genre might be good for them, and good for us. That’s all. No?

  32. BR – I would be intrigued by whatever she would do next. The good directors always intrigue you, and sometimes there has to be some sort of trust I suppose. I had an argument with somebody over when David Cronenberg was going to do that spy thriller w/ Denzel and Cruise based off some Ludlum book. Sure I would have probably wanted something less popcorny in origin, but look at his most “mainstream” pictures like THE DEAD ZONE and THE FLY. They’re still pretty good, still slick filmmaking and intelligent. Plus they’re better (and more unique) than the usual such big studio thrillers.

    I would have been intrigued by his take on the spy thriller. I don’t necessarily just want another VIDEODROME, though I wouldn’t mind it if thats what we got.

    I think I’m saying is I like the filmmakers, not just the movies they made.

  33. and for the record, I like Wes Anderson. Maybe I don’t have a boner for him like I do Fincher or Scorsese or Nolan or whoever, but I believe Wes offers a unique and personal auteurship. Even as hacks have tried, to make their own RUSHMORE or BOTTLE ROCKET or whatever, nobody can balance a good cast with that offbeat (I refuse to say “quirky”) sense of humor and heart. And not in that goddamn Indie Dramedy shit which unfortunately Wes may have inadvertedly heped mold. Not his fault.

    Yes you may hate the “Wes movie,” but his beer is something quite decent I can’t get anywhere else except the local package store.

    Or put it another way in another RRA metaphor (I like to talk about myself), look at my Rock music collection. I “like” Led Zeppelin or Pearl Jam or The Jams or Ramones or The Who or Franz Ferdinand or Dylan or whatever randomness. But I “love” The Clash, Pink Floyd, Queen, Beatles, and the Rolling Stones. I enjoy that first batch, I’m fan of the second grouping.

    Wes is a director I “like,” not “love.”

  34. I for one hope she makes a movie about rich people moping around in their Transformers.

    Actually I tend agree with RRA on this. I’m just a fan of Coppola. I can’t say I would prefer her make one movie over the other since I know I would see both of them opening weekend. Because for me what a film is about is largely unimportant. I just care about the quality of execution.

  35. Don’t get me wrong, I love Wes Anderson and have enjoyed every single one of his movies, but I think its undeniable that Life Aquatic and Darjeeling aren’t on the same level as his first three. Is that a general lack of quality in those movies, or is it jus that his style is becoming overly familiar? I don’t know.

  36. I was on the fence about this film. I loved Lost in Translation but absolutely hated Marie Antoinette. This review has convinced me to give the movie a shot.

    I have to disagree with the idea that just because a director has a certain style and a certain set of interests, then he or she isn’t branching out. In the case of Wes Anderson, he did some interesting things with special effects in Steve Zissou and then he made an animated film, fer chrissakes! Sure, both films are unmistakeably movies by Wes Anderson, but they also challenge the filmmaker in different ways.

  37. Brendan – No they aren’t. Then again, CASINO isn’t as good as GOODFELLAS or MEAN STREETS. What does that mean?

  38. RRA, will you stop yanking on Snyder’s pigtails and just ask him out, for Christ’s sake? It’s getting embarrassing.

  39. Majestyk – I will when we stop yanking on Wes, and we might as well while we’re off-topic.

    Also, I think FANTASTIC MR. FOX might be Wes’ most enjoyable movie. Maybe not best, but that was such a pleasant experience in theatres.

  40. Just wanna throw in my 2 cents here, because there’s another element to this “Ang Lee theory” that nobody else has touched on.

    In the age of movies we’re living in, it’s getting harder and harder for those that are theatrically released (be it on the scale of SOMEWHERE or that of TRANSFORMERS) to have all, or any, of the hallmarks of the “auteur” style. I’m not a moviemaker, but I’m guessing having absolute control over how a movie looks, sounds, how and where and when it is shot, who’s in it, etc, is both a giant pain in the ass and, more importantly to the studios, expensive. Gone is the day that a studio will cough up the endless stream of money needed for a 2001– hell, even an EYES WIDE SHUT– simply because the person asking for it has a proven track record. Tarantino seems to be the only guy left who can even come close to doing that, and even he didn’t get to make KILL BILL end the way he’d originally had in mind.

    No news flash, I know, but what this winds up meaning is that the only people who are able to get away with having total creative control are those who can afford to only make the movies they want to make, when they want to make them. IE, filmmakers who are already coming from a background of privilege, and while I’m positive that Anderson and Coppola aren’t the only working directors who fit that description, they’re the only ones who aren’t treating their profession like that of someone whose job is to ensure that their bosses’ financial investment will yield a profitable return.

    While there are many things that suck about that, the one I’m getting at here is that when only two people are making movies with an “auteur” aesthetic, even if that aesthetic wasn’t about rich people and their family problems it would get old very past. Coppola and Anderson are cursed by the lack of company they don’t have around to not keep, if you will. Look at it this way: if your world is a giant puddle of shit, the first huge diamond you stumble across is gonna be pretty god damn exciting– here you were not even knowing it was possible to wade around in something besides shit! And if you find a second diamond, it’s even more exciting– holy shit, there’s more of these things! But by the time you get used to finding a diamond every couple of years, you’ve both started expecting to find one, wondering how soon it’ll be before you find another, and comparing them to the ones you’ve already found.

    If, on the other hand, every working director had the ability to infuse every frame of every film they make with as much style as do Coppola and Anderson, I guarantee you every time either of them made a movie the public would treat its release like a well-traveled uncle or aunt’s most recent return home, and let that pretty much be the end of it. When your world is a pool of diamonds, after all, it’s easier to just let them be fuckin’ diamonds.

    Ya know?

  41. RRA-Except that those movies all have different looks, different subject matters and different feelings (well, maybe not CASINO, but you understand what I’m saying) whereas Wes Anderson makes quirky comedies about disaffected men, usually wealthy, in love with someone they can’t have and with one or two parent figures who are emotionally different and everyone…talks…like…this.

    And I love it.

    I love Wes Anderson and love his movies, so I’m really and truly not trying to rag on him. But there is a samey-ness that creeps in and it starts to get worrying, especially when the newer ones aren’t all that up to snuff.

    Of course, then he makes Mr. Fox, which might be his best movie yet, so what the fuck do I know?

    My point is simply this: Directors, especially ones with very unique styles and outlooks, need to be careful. There needs to be variants in the work, because otherwise, a filmmaker who started out fresh and new can become ossified in technique with no meaning behind it, just empty visuals to stoke the audience. Look at Tim Burton, Shaymalan (I spelled that wrong) and David Lynch when he’s on an off day. So far, Wes Anderson’s movies have managed to always have stories that fit his visuals to a T, but its been over ten years since Rushmore, and I think it’s fair to ask “OK, what else you got?”

    The fact that he’s moving into adaptations and stepping outside of his own brain can only be a good friend and I can’t wait to see what he does next.

  42. Yeah, but ALICE IN WONDERLAND and THE LAST AIRBENDER weren’t so good because of the screenplays. Not because the directors were sticking to their particular style. In fact, I would argue that the best part of both films was their visual aesthetic. And I personally think that SWEENEY TODD is one of Burton’s best because it is an excellent screenplay that perfectly matches the “Tim Burton style.”

  43. Can’t believe nobody’s mentioned Woody Allen or Kevin Smith yet.

    Woody can keep doing what he does best. I love his movies and will be very sad when the day comes that I can’t get my annual Woody Allen fix anymore.

    Smith needs to either move the fuck on or retire. Oh wait, I think he’s doing both.

  44. Jake- But every single movie of theirs fits into that same style. The design of Sweeny Todd is just like the design of Alice, with no rhyme or reason. It just so happened to fit well for one movie and be utterly meaningless for another.

  45. Sometimes I feel like these directors are being hurt for making their style visible. With the exception of the Danny Boyles and Martin Scorseses of the world, most directors have an identifiable style, but it may not be as obvious as Wes Anderson or Tim Burton. Let’s take the late, great Sidney Lumet, for example. Throughout his career he maintained a similar visual aesthetic, but it was one that attempted to obscure the presence of a camera and to provide a clear, documentary style (but without the overuse of the shaky cam). In a lot of ways, Lumet is no different than Tim Burton. Both have worked in multiple genres, and both take their own personal, unyielding vision into those genres. The difference between these two directors is that Burton’s style is immediately recognizable while you have to be looking for Lumet’s style. I’m not sure we would necessarily be having this conversation if it wasn’t for the fact that Anderson, Burton, and Sofia Coppola have visual aesthetics that are so readily identifiable.

  46. Hey, thanks, Vern. This a lovely review, that makes the case for artists like Sofia Coppola in today’s corporate cinema world as eloquently and intelligently as anything I’ve ever read. Great work.

  47. Okay, the auterist debate:

    Scorsese’s Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, Boxcar Bertha, and The Aviator. Three films that were purely directorial assignments, that were other’s pet projects (Ellen Burstyn, Roger Corman, and Leonardo DiCaprio and Micheal Mann); that Scorsese came to when they were fully written and that seem to be a million miles from his personal life experience: he was never a California housewife, or a Depression-era outlaw, and hates flying. (He is a filmmaker though, so there’s that.) Is Scorsese’s unique voice present in all of them? Does it take over and make them Scorsese films?

    2nd question: What if Scorsese had directed Witness, Beverly Hills Cop, Flashdance, and / or Schindler’s List (okay, a bit different from those first three, I’ll admit), all of which he was connected too at various times?

  48. Hunter – I guess I just got a unique brand of movie nerd snobs around here. I don’t think I know anybody that hates Danny Boyle’s movies, but since he’s hard to peg down for a specific style or type of movie I think they take him less seriously as an auteur type filmatist. So I meant “hack” in the old sense of “director for hire without an identifiable voice” and not the new version of the word kids use that means “I don’t like his movies.”

    Not that I agree with that. Personally he’s low on my list of directors I get excited about, but he’s done a bunch of good ones and I think he deserves respect for continuing to make relevant (and widely varied) movies over a long period. I mean, SHALLOW GRAVE and TRAINSPOTTING in the ’90s, 28 DAYS LATER accidentally helping to ruin movies in the early 2000s, SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE and 127 HOURS more recently. And I really like SUNSHINE and I know people that like some of the others ones. So that’s a good track record.

    Also he was really good as Herbert West in the RE-ANIMATOR movies.

    But my point was there aren’t too many directors who make movies as varied as Ang Lee and Danny Boyle do, and I don’t see anything wrong with that. It’s possible to get too repetitive, but it’s also possible to make really interesting variations on similar themes and styles, like many of the directors discussed here (and I would throw in Spike Lee and John Carpenter. And Steven Seagal.)

    Good discussion fellas. I thought this thread was dead but now I come back and I like where it’s going.

  49. If you ask me, Boyle looks more like Jonathan Pryce than Jeffrey Combs.

  50. Knox Harrington

    April 23rd, 2011 at 1:58 pm

    I think it’s not so much the repetition of theme and style that bothers a lot of people about Wes Anderson. It’s more likely the fact that he seems to be stuck on the same subject matter and character traits.

    Anyway, it hasn’t become something that bothers me at all yet. There’s still a shitload of creativity in every single film of his (as Mr. Fox has clearly proven). Nah, I think ol’ Wes will be just fine.

    Would love to see him take on more adaptations, though. Or go extremely minimalist, like Takeshi Kitano or Gus van Sant.

  51. Brendan:

    Glad you asked, time for me to prove I have a degree in film theory (Graduated with honors and distinction a year early, muthafuka!)

    That’s a false correlation because, as Marshall McLuhan said, “The medium is the message”. O’Keef can paint hundreds of doors and it won’t matter because the form and function of a painting is different from the form and function of a film. In the case of a painting you have an original with a aura of individuality to it. The work of art is art specifically because of its exclusivity. It is designed to have either a single owner, or be displayed in a gallery where one would have limited access to it. Even if there are hundreds of doors, they are still very exclusive and so the differences between each door is magnified by its potent aura.

    However, in a film, there is no “original” print. You exist wholly in the world of, what Walter Benjamin referred to as, “mechanical reproduction.” This is art that is made for the masses, consequently there is no aura to the piece and the differences between the films are minimized because you have easy access to them and they can be reproduced ad infinitum without damaging “original” in way.

    As a result of this, the aura of the art form is transferred from the art to the actors portraying the roles. But that’s another story for another day.

    Look at it this way, if you have one construction company that builds 10 identical mansions all across the world and you have another construction company that builds 5 of the same house, all on the same plot of land, which one is going to catch your eye? There are twice as many mansions as there are of the smaller house, but because you can see the smaller houses together, you note their similarities more.

    So, that’s a small part of it.

  52. *damaging the “original” in anyway.

  53. Knox Harrington

    April 23rd, 2011 at 2:12 pm

    Geez, you know, the more I visit this site, the more I appreciate it.

    I watched Sucker Punch yesterday, and ended up really enjoying the hell out of it. So I went on to Aint It Cool, looking for their reviewers’ take on the film, and all I could find was nothing but either hyperbole or bile spat at this silly, guilty pleasure of a movie (the talkbacks were even worse). It was only once I found Vern’s review that I could read a reasonable and balanced criticism (and a smart and serious discussion in the talkbacks).

    Also, so far no one on here has called me a cocksucker or a damn, dirty “apologist”.

    I can feel a group hug coming…

  54. Brendan – I actually think Burton’s style fits very well with both films. In fact it’s hard for me to think of too many better directors for an ALICE IN WONDERLAND movie. I just wish the writer had matched up as well.

    RBatty024 – I’m not sure I agree with Lumet having a documentary style. Mainly because I just read David Bordwell’s excellent retrospective of his style through the years.
    http://www.davidbordwell.net/blog/2011/04/21/endurance-survival-lessons-from-lumet/

    CC – I’d say THE AVIATOR definitely feels like a Scorsese film to me. The changing film stocks to match the eras and just the love of movies on display feels like him to me. (Though I could see someone like Tarantino doing the same thing) Plus the liberal application of DiCaprio is one of his tells. It’s been too long since I saw the other two to remember how Scorsesish they were.

    The “spot the auteur” game is one of the reasons I like anthology films like PARIS, JE T’AIME and TO EACH HIS OWN CINEMA. It’s fun to try and guess who did each segment. “Who did this five minute long steadicam shot? Alfonso Cuarón? Or was it Gurinder Chadha? Difficult to say. Could be either really.”

    I do wish a couple good directors would try taking the same script and actors and each making their own movie. I’d be interested in seeing the results of that experiment.

  55. Knox:

    This site is so good I won’t even tell most of my friends about it. They’d ruin it. Honestly, reading this site was an important supplement to my actual film “education.” Outlawvern is certainly the best film community on the web. It’s almost Utopian.

  56. If Utopia had spam bots.

  57. And angry subversives like Paul.

  58. Hey, I’m a subversive, asshole! Cogito Ergo Suck my dick!

  59. I think maybe you have an extra comma in there.

  60. Well played, sir. Well played.

  61. My punctuation fu is nearly unbeatable.

  62. I liked “Lost in Translation” and actually loved “Marie Antoinette,” but I felt “Somewhere” was an instantely forgettable bore for a simple reason: Johnny Marco just wasn’t interesting, and Coppola’s depiction of the emptiness in his life wasn’t particularly illuminating.

    (Spoilers, I guess?)

    The self-realization and change that we see as the film moves towards its end is also botched. I thought the final scene between Marco and Cleo was nicely handled, but what happens after that was wholly unconvincing.

    (End spoilers)

    As for directors who are criticized for making the same movie over and over and over again, Hong Sang-soo should also be added to the list. Every time I see a review for one of his films, it’s pretty much a guarantee that the repeated elements of his work will be heavily discussed.

  63. Speaking of Burton & directors deviating from their trademark styles the movie BIG FISH was my favorite of his since the killer one two punch of BATMAN RETURNS & ED WOOD specifically because it allowed him to move away from his comfort zone a bit. It was his most sincere film in ages and because of that the perfect antidote for those who always claim he is style over substance. I haven’t seen anything by him since so I skipped his Wonka and SWEENEY TODD as well as his Alice but man BIG FISH is the shit for real. That movie just tugs at the heart and doesn’t let up. Everytime I present it to people they still bug out at the fact that he was the director of it and it’s not full of grays or blacks and whites or tributes to film noir and expressionistic cinema.

  64. “Angry subversive”? Majestyk, this bored office worker thanks you.

    But I gotta take issue with one comment in the “auteur” discussion who said that Hitchcock mostly used characters from the same stock pool. Going with the “angry subversive” theme, I gotta say: ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING?! Just how often do you find characters like Anthony Perkins or Janet Leigh in “Psycho”? Where is the equivalent of Tippi Hendren, or the love interest, or his mother, or his ex the schoolteacher, in “The Birds”? And how can you possibly compare that to the main characters in the much lighter-toned “The Lady Vanishes”? Hell, even in a film like “North by Northwest”, which plays the hero and heroine reasonable “straight” for the times, you got the relationship between James Mason and Martin Landau on the villains’ side. How often do you see THAT in a Hitchcock film?

    Dude, if you think Hitchcock only used stock characters, you need to watch more Hitchcock.

    Plus, are there really people who “hate on” Danny Boyle? I thought “Sunshine” was ok until it made a left turn into “jumping the shark” territory towards the end; but looking at his other work, people seriously think the director of “Trainspotting”, as well as several other excellent, if not quite as genre-defining, films, is worthless? What the FUCK?

    On auteurs – I have very little to contribute to this discussion other than to say that as long as a film-maker isn’t making the same film over and over again, I don’t particularly care if they have an individual “style”. What matters to me is the results. “Lost in Translation” is my favorite film ever, and I have a hard time imagining that that’s going to change because Sofia Coppola brings out some other similar films made in the same “style” that aren’t as good.

  65. Hunter D, I have browsed many movie websites over the years (including AICN) and Outlaw Vern is definitely a Utopia, here’s hoping we never wind up like Rapture in Bioshock though

    anyway I have to agree with BR Baraka, my favorite types of directors are ones who have strong styles, but are not afraid to attempt many different types of movies, I think when a director just tries to repeat the same routine over and over it gets boring (Tim Burton is probably the best example of this)

    what I find cool is when a director’s work has a certain “collectability” to it if you know what I mean, like every movie is it’s own thing, but still identifiable by the director’s style

    three directors who I think fit this criteria perfectly are Steven Spielberg, Quentin Tarantino and Stanley Kubrick (who not coincidentally are two of my favorite directors)

    anyway on a related note, I, like pretty much everyone, loved Lost In Translation, I loved Bill Murry and the Japan setting, but most of all I loved Scarlett Johansson’s butt in see through pink panties (what?), as a matter of fact I believe I actually own the dvd somewhere in my closet, a fact that I have forgotten about until now

  66. could Paul be our own Frank Fontaine? let’s hope not

  67. Griff – don’t even compare me to that idiot. Why the heck they took the brilliant creation that was Andrew Ryan and, two thirds of the way through, replaced him with a pontificating bombastic moron with about as much personality as a dishrag, I will never know. I mean, “Bioshock” is by design practically a modern-day remake of “System Shock 2″. Is this guy REALLY supposed to replace SHODAN? Really?

  68. I mentioned it before, but I think these days Tim Burton gets an unfair reputation as director, who always does the same. But come on, in the last decade he did two kids movies (one of them a bizarre tale about candy, the other one a classic fantasy quest), a fucking gory musical, a heartbreaking family drama/hommage to story telling, a supposed blockbuster remake of a classic SciFi movie and an animated fairy tale about a murder victim! Before that his last three movies were a gothic horror movie, an absurd, cartoon violence filled SciFi movie and a biopic about a director, whose movies aren’t really worth it.
    He has some visual trademarks and also likes his characters to be some kind of misfits, but I can’t imagine how anybody could watch ALICE IN WONDERLAND, SWEENEY TODD and BIG FISH and think: “Oh well, he’s a one trick pony who never tries something different.”

  69. Jake – Thanks for the article. I think my larger point stands, though. Even the article points our that there are several elements of Lumet’s work that stay consistent throughout his career, such as his love for dialogue. My point is, even though Lumet has many stylistic ticks that have remained over the years, people don’t get on his back about it, mostly because they’re not as obvious as Burton or Anderson.

  70. RBatty024 – Yeah, I tend agree with your main point. People can watch hundreds of movies with the same Hollywood style lighting, editing, shot composition, etc. without complaint, but Anderson does his signature stuff four or five times and that’s boring. “Enough already, Anderson. Six out of the tens of thousands of movies released in the last two decades contain your visual aesthetic. Don’t you think it’s time to reign it in?”

  71. Knox Harrington

    April 24th, 2011 at 9:13 am

    I think stating that Burton has “some visual trademarks” is a bit of a euphemism. He is, to me, the number one example of a Hollywood director with an obvious visual trademark (which is probably why if you asked a teenage girl to name one director, they would name him).

    To me he’s become the Jamie Cullum of filmmakers, i.e. a bad cover artist. He’s become a franchise more than a guy who makes movies, much like George Lucas, and I guess I’m just a little tired of it all.

    Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes
    Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
    Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd
    Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland
    Tim Burton’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame?
    Tim Burton’s The Wizard of Oz?
    Tim Burton’s Twilight?

    Doesn’t feel like he has anything to contribute anymore. I really liked Sweeney Todd, though.

  72. And then there is still the question WHAT is “the” Tim Burton visual trademark. You might say “Oh, he’s dark”, but MARS ATTACKS, BEETLEJUICE, ALICE or CHARLIE are some of the most colourful movies I know. “Yeah, he’s gothy and stuff”, but he only goes full goth every few movies. Between BATMAN RETURNS and SLEEPY HOLLOW are 7 years and two films, that are ED WOOD and MARS ATTACKS, which I wouldn’t really put into the goth corner at all. And after SLEEPY HOLLOW it took him another 7 years to make one (SWEENEY TODD).
    Sorry, but putting him in the “always the same” corner is seriously wrong. Even IF his movies would LOOK the same, they are all pretty different from each other. Not Danny Boyle or Ang Lee different, but even his two BATMAN movies don’t have that much in common.

  73. You’re right, his movies aren’t always the same. There is more than enough variety in his films, but the stuff that does stay the same is wearing me down these days. Like I said, he doesn’t seem to have anything left to contribute. Alice in Wonderland felt so lifeless to me.

    Wouldn’t it be cool if he’d go into making indie movies? I’d love that. Not gonna happen, though.

    As for the “What is the visual trademark?” question. Spirals, man! Spirals in every fucking movie. It’s like his Hitchcock cameo.

  74. After Alice in Wonderland I think it’s fair to question where Tim Burton’s career is going. However, I will say that Sweeny Todd is one of my favorite films of his, and it was made only a few years ago. So I think it’s a little early to start writing obituaries for Burton’s creativity. Sweeny Todd was unmistakeably a Burton film, but it was also a genre he had never worked in before, and, for my money, he did a much better job of creating a compelling musical than more recent directors who have worked in the genre.

    Perhaps what’s most worrying about Alice in Wonderland is that, shockingly, it is both his most successful film financially and least successful film creatively. It’s strange what sort of message the market gives certain directors. I would love Burton to go back and make a film like Ed Wood or Big Fish. He now has the clout to do smaller, more personal projects but with a decent budget for special effects.

    And I know I will probably be castigated for this, but I always thought Alice in Wonderland and Inglorious Basterds shared some similarities regarding each film’s respective director. For me, both films are the nadir of each director’s creativity but somehow managed to be their most successful film financially. In both instances, familiar tricks from each director seemed somewhat tired (whether that’s Burton’s visuals which weren’t as gripping as in previous films or Tarantino’s reliance on episodic structure). Granted, I enjoyed parts of Basterds much more than I enjoyed Alice in Wonderland, but in both instances these films made me slightly weary about what these directors will do next (of course, I’ll probably still be in line for the next Burton or Tarantino film, so I guess I’m not that worried).

  75. Guys, did you hear about how Vincent Gallo ebayed his services as a personal escort, and for $3k any woman could spend an evening with him and fuck him even if she was fat, black, or a redhead??

    Definitely a carefully manipulated public persona, I would say.

  76. I could never write off Burton. I’ve been actively watching movies since 1988 and besides 48 HOURS, COMMANDO and ROBOCOP the only other movies I watched on a daily basis were BEETLEJUICE and PEE-WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE.

    True BIG FISH as I stated earlier was the last time I checked one of his projects but I could never say I won’t ever watch anything new by the man either. His filmatism is responsible for making me the movie geek I am today I could never ever betray that.

    I’m actually looking forward to DARK SHADOWS a lot. It seems like something he’s actually passionate about and not just doing for the fuck of it. He’s been trying to get that off the ground for years along with Depp and it’s finally gonna happen. When those 2 are really into their collaborations you honestly can’t tell me they’re not things of wonder. I mean both ED movies are a testament to that. Didn’t see SWEENEY but this material definitely seems right up his alley like something he was just born to direct.

  77. renfield: jesus that man is quite inspired, and to this day I thought THE BROWN BUNNY was as far as he could push the envelope. I suppose the lesson here is never underestimate the shock tactics of Mr. Vincent Gallo.

  78. Is that Jason Lee from Mallrats?

  79. Also, how about Gallo vs. Ebert on Brown Bunny?

    Ebert: Brown Bunny sucks
    Gallo: Ebert is a fat pig with the physique of a slave trader. I put a hex on him, wishing him to get colon cancer.
    Ebert: One day I might be thin, but you will always be the director of The Brown Bunny. The video of my colonoscopy is more entertaining than your film.

    (all paraphrased…even Gallo had to give Ebert that one though, and to Ebe’s credit he found the later cut of Brown Bunny to be much better)

  80. I think the problem with Burton is the repetition of theme without an evolution to it. Personally, I don’t think he’s made a good movie since Mars Attacks! and even that film only counts as an interesting failure.

    Also, there is a weird subtext to his films. They are all about individualist artists and misfits and weirdos, but they are never a celebration of these groups. Instead, they seem to repeatedly say that, if you want to be different no one will ever understand or accept you, so you’re better off giving up and giving in.

    Think about it: Pee-Wee goes in his great adventure, then retreats back to his own home. Edward Scissorhands tries to find love, then fails, so he goes back to the mansion and never tries to interact with the real world again. Jack Skellington gives up on his dream of trying to experience Christmas joy and settles for the familiarity and comfort of Halloween. Ed Wood is never understood or celebrated as an artist. The dude from the corpse bride see the vivacious and intense world of the afterlife, where everyone seems so much happier, and then gives it up to conform to the drab, black and white of Victorian England (come on, clearly the Corpse Bride is the preferable choice there!)

    What’s up with that?

  81. Hey Vern, I’m glad you liked the touch where the little girl is really good at cooking, that was my favorite part. Some of this movie was a little self-consciously oddball (the scene where the dude tries on the monster makeup) in a way I both liked and disliked. Still a pretty good one, I remember you being the only dude besides me who was kind of into Marie Antoinette.

    I would also like to nominate “mumblecore” effort “Daddy Longlegs” for the ““unlikely guy takes care of an adorable kid” pissing poster.

  82. isn’t Vincent Gallo like the only mainstream actor brave enough to show his erect member? I guess that’s worthy of…….respect

    anyway maybe I’ll give modern Burton a second chance, I think the newest movie of his that I’ve seen was Big Fish (which I liked)

    I do know that I’m a big fan of old Burton though, Pee Wee’s Big Adventure is pure, concentrated awesome

  83. I’m not a mainstream actor, but I love getting naked, as we’ve already discussed.

  84. I think I missed that discussion….

  85. LMAO renfield I’ve been using this handle on the net since the late 90′s and you’re the first to get that it was inspired by that character. A “no prize” awaits you for that one my friend.

    Hunter the point of Burton’s BIG FISH pretty much is that it celebrates the fact that it’s main character’s imagination and individuality is something that’s inspiring and could make us better people. Something that every other character he encounters including his grumpy son ends up embracing, so I wouldn’t be too sure about that.

  86. Really, Griff? Because I’m pretty sure it was a discussion I had with you.

  87. shoot, refresh my memory

  88. I also agree that there are other great filmmakers that have strong recurring patterns and themes in their work (and really, for as different as Ang Lee’s movies are in setting, my brother pointed out to me that the theme of repression is common to them all), so I think part of what we are talking about here is not the extent of Coppola’s repetitiveness, but how we value what she is repeating. Is it worthwhile to make a bunch of movies about rich movie people and their human problems? My blue collar mindset says “Fuck no, what’s compelling about realizing that the upper class is no more content than I am?” It might make one decent movie if you had Kevin Shields do the music and it happens in Tokyo and you play The Jesus and Mary Chain in the soundtrack, but after that, who gives a shit? Sure, it may be “writing what you know” if you’re from that kind of background, but maybe you ought to start learning about some other stuff. Ang Lee didn’t stay in Taiwan his whole life (although I’m sure I’d still like his movies if he had), and neither should you, Sofia. Except by “Taiwan” I mean “Hollywood”/”The Shadow of Francis Ford’s Taut Abdominal Cavity”. One way you could do this is by not having your genius director dad sit in the background in a sweaty Hawaiian shirt in the background of your dvd extras. This would be a step in the right direction.
    On the other hand, if Tarantino wants to make a bunch of movies where people talk a lot and then get violent, or Hitch wants to make a bunch where an everyman character gets thrust into a perilous situation, or Scorsese wants to make a bunch of movies where gangsters rise and fall, I want to watch those because I think they are durable, resilient structures which both play to the filmmakers’ strengths and make for compelling cinema. For me, Sofia Coppola plays to her strengths, but they aren’t strengths that I give a damn about so I’m not a fan. And I think somebody who’s got her stylistic chops should be able to switch to better subject matter.

  89. Well, she only has 4 movies, two so far about that topic, and really different from each other. And neither seem like they’re asking us to feel sorry for rich people. But she can tell a lonely actor’s story better than a lonely cop, lawyer or hitman.

  90. 3 movies on that topic, by my count. MARIE ANTOINETTE was basically just LOST IN TRANSLATION transplanted to 18th century France.

  91. You’re right Vern, I guess it just seems like a long time ago to me to think back before LOST IN TRANSLATION. I’m also glad that she doesn’t seem to make us feel sorry for rich people in their richness. But her characters seem to me to come to their moments of self-realization or transformation or what have you because of the necessary condition that they are bored. I think her priviledged background comes through in this way, and I don’t like it. Like you said in the review, Dorff has to worry about his relationship problems while on vacation. Bill Murray has his crisis while doing commercial work in Tokyo. Kirsten Dunst is literally royalty. To me this presentation communicates that in her films it’s a necessary condition for people to be indolent and priviledged in order to reach sincere changes in their outlook or character. And that to me is a weakness of character. Movies where people can face nature or war or boogeymen or even just do hard work for a living and through those things are altered in an interesting way to me makes for more humanizing cinema. I agree that Sofia can tell the story of a lonely actor better than a lonely cop etc., but I consider that to be evidence of a narrow filmatism that should and can be wider and better, as some of the previously mentioned moviemakers have shown us.
    I don’t know, like I said I know I’m partly being a dick about this because I feel like most anybody of average intelligence could come up with a decent movie if their dad was Francis Ford Coppola and they married Spike Jonze. And I do think it’s possible to make a good movie no matter what the subject matter. But it’s like rich people trying to deal with human stuff seems like such a shallow pool to me beside many deep wells to draw from.

  92. Ok this is getting bizarre.

    Do I want to see a sad but ultimately uplifting story of two lonely people stuck in Tokyo, as told by John Hyams? Nope.

    Do I want to see an action-packed morality tale about control and humanity, making liberal use of PTSD and set in the ruins of Chernobyl, as directed by Sofia Coppola? Hell no.

    In other words… there’s such a thing as development, but there’s also sticking to what you’re good at!

  93. Jek – my world is currently divided into two sorts of people, those who “get” Lost in Translation, and those who don’t. With the sentence “Rich people trying to deal with human stuff” you have just firmly placed yourself in the second camp.

    Hey, have you ever seen “Bad Boys 2″? I think you’d like it a lot…

  94. Maria Antoinette is basically Lost in Translation in France? I haven`t seen Lost in Translation for a couple of years, but I really can`t remember the part with Scarlett Johansen becoming famous as a teen, trying to deal with being the most (in)famous celebrety in Japan and finally getting killed by gossip and bad press…

    I don`t get the theory about Sofia Coppala repeating herself. She uses her own experiences when telling her stories, but who doesn`t? So far she has made stories about becoming an adult, being lonely, being famous and neglecting your child, things she has all experienced, and why shouldn`t she use her experiences in her art? She might be obsessed with fashion, music and rich people, but how is that different from being obsessed with mexican stand-offs, doves, friendship and honor? Most of my favorite directors keep repeating themself, but that`s not being a one-trick pony in my dojo, that`s being true to your interests, your way of viewing the world and what made you an storyteller in the first place. You can`t find a “great” artist who doesn`t have a style or a theme they pusue during most of their career, even if it`s difficult to pin down from time to time. Even the Coen bros, despite having made everything from romantic comedy to gangstermovies to westerns, keep telling the same story (or subtext). So did John Woo before he lost his integrety. Or John Ford, Alfred Hitchcock, Sam Peckinpah, Ingmar Bergman, Tarkovsky, David Lynch, Lars Von Trier, Jane Campion, Kurosawa, Miike etc.

    Yesyes, I`m excaggerating to make a point, but it puzzles me that a lot of people are turned off by the fact that Sofia Coppolas mainprotagonists usually are rich and lonely. Most cinemagoers can easily identify with samurais, astronouts, talking animals and superheroes, so why is a rich and lonely character such a turn-off? Does a rich and lonely character really have to dress like a bat and fight crime before they become relatable?

    I would like to point out that the incredible hotness of Sofia Coppola has almost nothing to do with my love for her movies; she´s just one of the very few intesting directors of our time who makes movies who doesn`t rely on stars, cgi, violence or spectacle to entertain the audience, but instead real people with real problems.

    I`m aware that the last paragraph might say more about my cinemagoing-habits that the actual state of cinema, but it doesn`t change the fact that Sofia is incredible hot.

  95. I think Copolla’s work trades heavily on Maslow’s “Hierarchy of human needs” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow%27s_hierarchy_of_needs) something I was able to learn about and concern myself with because I am a member of the bourgeois class and thus was permitted and encouraged to get a liberal arts education.

    In fact, I grew up in a home where, if I had wanted to get a job instead of going to a university (4 year, none of that Jr. College bullshit) my parents would have all but disowned me. Were I gay, it would have been easier to come out of the closet than it would have been for me to say, “I think I wanna get a day job instead…” But such is Jewish family life.

  96. DNA – THANK YOU. I agree with YOU, sir.

    There’s one person on this forum at least who won’t find himself waking up, the smell of chloroform fresh in his nostrils, taped to a chair, his head in a vice, his eyes stapled open, facing a giant screen with “Bratz: The Movie” continually running at full volume.

  97. I don’t really care if Coppola is repeating herself; plenty of great filmmakers have returned to the same ideas over and over again. So I’m not attaching any negative criticism when I make an (admittedly broad) statement that LOST IN TRANSLATION and MARIE ANTOINETTE are very similar in my eyes. Both are films ask us to sympathize with bored young rich women in unhappy marriages, both are about fame, both are about wealth-induced loneliness, I seem to recall both having a bunch of New Wave-y music on the soundtrack. That’s not a bad thing, per se, just a recognition of similarity.

  98. Yeah, it seems to me Coppola talks about some pretty universal things despite her characters’ wealth. Unless people who do honest work for a living don’t get bored or lonely and look for human companionship and something more fulfilling in their lives. I don’t know. I’m a white collar worker and I try my best to never do any honest work so maybe I shouldn’t go around making these assumptions.

  99. Of Sofia Coppola’s work, I’ve only seen LOST IN TRANSLATION, but I liked it a lot. It was clear that she was a filmmaker with a point of view and some chops. But what got me to see that movie (in the theater, no less) was not her filmmaking prowess or the original subject matter or even Scarlett Johanssen’s ass, which I had never even heard of at the time. I saw it for one reason only: Bill Murray. If anybody else had been in that movie, with the possible exception of Mssrs. Rourke, Willis, or Eastwood, I would not have seen it. So while I have no problem in theory with Coppola or any filmmaker returning to their own private well for inspiration again and again, I am under no obligation to follow them. I have no inherent interest in the adventures of the lonely and rich, but throw Bill Murray into the mix and it sounds delightful. The adventures of lonely and rich Stephen Dorf/Kirsten Dunst sounds significantly less delightful, so I’m leaving it up to fate on those two movies. If they accidentally fall in front of my eyeballs, they’ll get watched without complaint.

  100. I think you’re right, Jake, that there are universals in Coppola’s movies. So maybe I just resent the poshness because I wouldn’t write a movie that way, which isn’t really fair. But also, I feel like people generally apologize for this quality in her movies and I think there ought to be a method that we have for evaluating not just whether an artist sticks to a vision, but also to what extent that vision is worthwhile. And I don’t think I have very developed one, but right now I just sense that Coppola’s is not for me, and I’m trying to articulate why.
    I appreciate a lot of what you said, dna, I think for me the lonely rich person is less interesting to me than say, a lonely gunman because the lonely rich person realizes they’re lonely and deals with it as a consequence of being rich and having enough idle time on their hands to come to terms with it; a lonely gunman deals with it because of the necessary circumstances of carrying out his job. And I guess I identify with that more, because even though I’m rich enough to go see movies and not worry if I’m going to get my next meal, it seems a lot more like the shape of life to me than the other. But I still think it goes beyond personal empathy, I think that it also rings false to me when people have crises in movies that are presented as being so central and profound to their being, but play out only because they don’t have to worry about paying bills. And part of that’s the fun of movies, right, we don’t want to see all the same mundane things that we have to do in real life to the same extent on the screen. But sometimes I think that artificiality can become so divorced from what being fully human ought to be like, and the characters become so wrapped up in it that it really is less identifiable for me than talking animals or spacemen.
    I think I do get LOST IN TRANSLATION, Paul, and I still like it somewhat.

  101. Good review, Vern. And good discussion all around.

    But man, how about a VIRGIN SUICIDES review? I just watched that a few months ago, round the same time I watched this, and I liked em both, but Suicides totally knocked me on my ass. I’ve never seen a movie that better captured how teenage boys feel about teenage girls.

  102. I saw Virgin Suicides right around the tme that women started paying attention to me. It was a great primer. One of the few truly honest films ever made about adolescent sexuality.

  103. Yeah, I should go watch that one again since I’m complaining about the other ones.

  104. Jek – I personally think that any film that presents believable characters that feel as real as Coppola’s is worthwhile. Especially if it also includes excellent music, beautiful cinematography and editing that isn’t afraid to take some time to enjoy a car circling a track or a pole dance.

    Did you mean people apologize for the poshness of her characters? ‘Cause I should probably make clear that I am not trying to apologize for that fact. I actually applaud it. I like a movie that gives me a realistic portrait of any culture or lifestyle that is different from my own. Be it a rich Hollywood star or some poor Iranian in a Kiarostami film or whatever.

    Also, in addition to the characters, I think Coppola should get respect for her ability to capture the feel of a place. I saw some interview where she said that she liked how a lot of seventies movies really captured what L.A. was like at that time and she wanted to do the same for modern L.A. I think she succeeded. Same with Tokyo and Versailles.

  105. Paul, at the risk of you calling me a cretinous part of the unwashed masses, what exactly do you love so much about Lost in Translation? And is it possible that I “got” it, but didn’t like it?

  106. Somewhere was really slow. I like my movies about lonely rich people to have more going on, like in Citzen Kane.

  107. neal2zod, did you try liking it instead? It’s a lot more enjoyable that way.

  108. - Jek

    I get what you`re saying and agree mostly, but I do like to see the mundane things that bothers me in my own life on the big screen. I usually prefer explosions, but once in a while it`s nice to realize that other human beings, no matter how rich or poor they are, deals with the same stupid shit that I do. When I feel the need to defend the way I live, as a struggling writer with his head up his ass, I usually theorize about art and stories as the only way of actually connecting with other people, as in one of the very few ways we humans have a chance of getting inside somebody elses head and see their world through their eyes. An old theory about cinema claims that there is 2 sort of movies; movies that portrays real life and movies that shows us dreams. Movies, that deals with our dreams, is usually about bigger things than life, with bigger characters than life and resolutions we would prefer over real life. Most of us have never shot somebody, found true love despite overwhelming obstacles, escaped a knife-yelding maniac or blown up a deathstar (not counting mouth, off course), but we wish we would have done it if push came to shove. Movies, dealing with banality of life, shows us all the small stupid problems we usually try to hide from others, and make you realize that almost everybody has to deal with the same shit as everybody else. And thus makes us feel less lonely.

    I`m not saying that one sort of movies are better than others, but I have the feeling that movies dealing with real life is a dying breed. Dreams sell, and artists dealing with real life can hardly get their movies financed anymore.

    Now, I sometimes have to force myself to go and watch a slice of life like “Somewhere”, but if it`s a good movie, it can make me feel alive in a way that no spectacle can; the daughter dancing with her mother in FISH TANK, Marie Antoinette watching the sunset while drinking champange in MARIA ANTOINETTE or Max having a fit and trashing his sisters present in WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE are more potent moments of cinema for me than any wishfullfillment or spectacle the dreamfactory throws my way.

    I know I`m simplifying with all these real life/dream nonsense, but I feel that modern cinema suffers greatly from the fact that most people prefers to watch their fantasies instead of examining real life.

  109. Jake – heh.

    Neal – Ok I’ll bite.

    First of all, ignore what I said about cinematography being fairly low-down on my list of priorities of “things that have to be good about films for me to enjoy them” because I saw this on the big screen and it’s simply the most beautiful film I’ve ever seen, bar none. I can’t imagine there’d ever be a more breathtaking depiction of Tokyo on film than this one. Having said that, the sound design and score are also perfect (and when I’m the one saying that, you know it means something. You guys know how nitpicky I can get over scoring.)

    Secondly, the characters – hence my objection to Jek’s “lonely rich people” description. I could pick and choose dozens of examples of why they work, but the two that spring to mind are Bob Harris’ fear of hookers / strippers (the scene of him sitting in a strip bar wondering where the heck he’s supposed to look is one I could, unfortunately, instantly relate to), and the phone call with his wife. In that fifty seconds or so of phone call we learn more about the two characters involved than you would about most main characters in entire movies. The story works because it’s utterly character-driven, and the characters just work perfectly for me. This is totally subjective of course, and if you couldn’t “relate” to the characters then you probably wouldn’t like the movie, no matter how good the cinematography and scoring are. All I can say is that I could.

    Then there’s mood and atmosphere. I don’t think, again, I’ve ever seen a movie that pulls off the trick of having the tone of the movie reflect the main characters’ mood as perfectly as “Lost in Translation” does. The city of Tokyo is almost a character in and of itself, with its own moods and subtleties. It works perfectly as a mirror to the mood of Bill Murray’s and Scarlett Johansson’s characters.

    There are a lot of tonal shifts – it frequently switches between funny, reflective and kinetic – but none of them feel forced or disrupt the flow of the movie. Pretty much every character in the movie works within the movie, even the “comedy” ones, because all of the humour is character-based.

    To me this is pretty much the perfect movie. I love the characters, the ending is perfect, the scoring is perfect, the portrayal of Tokyo is masterful. Add to that the fact that it’s the most awe-inspiringly beautiful film I’ve ever seen, and you’ve got a rare film. I’ve watched it a total of three times now. And here’s the thing – I love this film so much, I almost don’t WANT to watch it again, in case I find myself nit-picking or spotting little flaws in it. (I haven’t found any yet.) I can’t say that about any other film.

  110. Knox Harrington

    April 26th, 2011 at 5:46 am

    I guess now is the perfect time to make you a little jealous, Paul. I worked with Lance Acord for six days on an ESPN commercial he shot and directed. The guy is, quite simply, brilliant. He shoots on mostly natural light and everything just ends up looking brilliant. Very talented guy. I wanted to ask him about the creature design in Where The Wild Things Are, but work got in the way and I never really got the chance.

    Speaking of great cinematographers, some friends of mine worked wit Emmanuel Lubezki on Ali years ago. One of my favourite DoP’s on one of my favourite films. I’m get very envious whenever they share their anecdotes.

  111. Damnit Paul, I never thought I’d be saying this, but what you just wrote makes me actually want to see the movie again. (I actually found more passion in your write-up of the film than the actual film, and that’s why I love this site.)

    Disclaimer#1 – I do like plenty of slow(ish) movies full of moody atmosphere (Elephant, Bubble, etc…), but I just never clicked with LIT. Maybe you’re right in that this is a movie that heavily relies on your connection to the characters, and I just didn’t connect to the them, on either an emotional or superficial level. (and for me it wasn’t a class issue, I don’t really remember Johannson’s character as being rich). Maybe it’s kinda like how people of a certain demographic seemed to LOVE Sideways but most people I know thought “yeah, that was pretty good I guess”. Personal baggage does bring a lot/takes away from a movie. Speaking of which….

    Disclaimer #2 – I’m Asian and I’ll just be up front and say that’s probably 80% of the reason I didn’t like Lost in Translation. Race talk on the internet can get touchy so I’ll just leave it at that. But I may have to check it out again now, damn you.

  112. I really enjoyed Somewhere. I heard about it on NPR and thought it sounded like a good flick so I saw it at the theater. Good movie with a message. I could nitpick it some, a lot of the guy’s actions and processes that signified him as broken or lonely really didn’t work for me, but on the whole it is a good movie.

    I also liked Marie Antoinette. Lost in Translation is one of those films that other people ruined for me by talking about how amazing it was. I just did not care about the problems these bourgeois white people had. It was really well shot and executed, though, but with the spark of class consciousness comes the inability to have much sympathy for the wealthy.

    I’m surprised there’s a lot of talk of Wes Anderson without any mention of Harold and Maude. I remember growing up in Puerto Rico and the local rental shop having it on VHS and I watched it a ton in highschool. Getting back to the states I had a few friends go on about Wes Anderson and after seeing a few of his movies I mostly just became angry that he managed to become rich and famous by stealing the style of Harold and Maude. It wasn’t even like he made one movie as an homage to it but he instead based his entire career aping its style.

    Tim Burton bores me. I guess I dated too many goth girls in college to like Tim Burton. Still, he made Ed Wood and that is just a classic. Easily one of my favorite movies of the last twenty years, though, so I can forgive him for his unbearable spooky doo style.

    But, yeah, Somewhere is worth seeing. I hope the director branches out a bit because I think she could do some really interesting things if she does so. Not everyone can be Danny Boyle but at the same time the entire reason I want to see Thor is because it is a comic book movie done by Kenneth Branagh and I think there’s value to be had there.

  113. I have seen her first three films and am eager to see Somewhere, but honestly I couldn’t believe that somebody who made as cosmically shattering a film as Virgin Suicides went on to make two movies as forgettable as LIT and Marie Antoinette. I *like* Lost in Translation, but not as much as various studies in awkwardness and ennui by the likes of Alexander Payne, Jarmusch, Solondz…and I mean, Suicides is a movie in which literally EVERY moment fills me with awe, makes me see the world through tunnel-vision, induces vertigo, etc. It is without a doubt one of my very favorite films, and the next two seem SO flat by comparison to me! Actually Marie Antoinette had a degree of the vivaciousness that characterized Suicides, but it totally screwed the pooch for me in the last half or third or whatever when it stopped being a Sofia Coppola film and started being a costume drama. What’s up with the two back to back scenes where she says “My places is here, with my husband!” Weak, Sofia, weak!

    There’s nothing really BAD about Lost in Translation, but I just didn’t catch a whiff of that certain sublime thing she has. Paul’s use of superlatives does make me want to check it out again. Righteous.

  114. Renfield and Neal – seriously guys, you probably don’t want me to convince you of anything. I’m only the guy who doesn’t like Oldman, after all.

    The thing about LiT is that it’s so character-based, your whole enjoyment (or otherwise) of it will pretty much depend on whether or not you like the characters. There’s zero question that it’s a masterpiece of film-making; that’s evident from the first shot to the last. Doesn’t mean everyone will like it though. But then that’s cinema – it’s subjective.

  115. I go away for barely 2 weeks, and you guys let Paul just run amok here.

    C’mon outlawverners.

  116. Mouth – without you to restrain me, my stripper-phobia becomes public property. I need help. :(

  117. I’m not a Ayn Rand follower, but does anyone else think it’s a little mean that so many of you guys can’t sympathize with a character is they’re supposed to be rich? I mean rich people are people too and I think you’ll find that they tend to be a lot friendlier than poor people (contrary to stereotypes), plus every successful actor ever is super rich, I mean you guys like Clint Eastwood as a person right? well he’s rich

    on one hand I can understand it though, for example the main reason I didn’t like Funny People was because Adam Sandler’s character (who was essentially supposed to be himself) was so filthy rich that it was hard to like him, I think in that case though that was just an overall not very good movie that seemed to rub his wealth in your face while not making his character sympathetic in anyway expect the plot device of him getting some sort of disease

  118. I have no problem with rich people. Rich people have been really, really helpful with getting my foot in the door and getting me meetings with other rich people whom I want to like because they can make ME a rich person if they like the silly little stories I come up with.

    What I DON’T like is being told to sympathize with a character who’s like, “woe is me, it’s so hard to be incredibly wealthy!” when I have to borrow money for the bus to get to said meetings. There’s a big difference. I don’t think Clint has ever made a movie about the pitfalls of being fabulously well to do.

  119. I’m awfully late to the party, but I just wanted to add another critisism to the movie (apart from wanting us regular guys feeling sorry for a rich a**hole. I mean, the only thing that’s keeping him from being happy is HIMSELF. How many people can say that about their life?!?!): The beginning and end are awfully unsubtle and obvious. In the beginning, he’s driving his car around in circles, being stuck and going nowhere. In the end, he’s driving in a straight line, finally going SOMEWHERE (dingdingding), and as soon as the car runs out of gas, he steps out and walks along, leaving it (and assumingly his pitiful life) behind. That’s what finally ruined the movie for me (apart from it being incredibly boring; but one could argue that was exactly the point Coppola wanted to make). The only good thing about it is Elle Fanning – especially the breakfast scene. Her disapproving look… just great. Other than that, a vast disappointment, at least for me.

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