Dave and Rachel's movie reviews.


Sunday, May 25, 2014

Lost in Translation

Year: 2003
Running time: 101 minutes
Certificate: 15
Language: English
Screenplay: Sofia Coppola
Director: Sofia Coppola
Starring: Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson, Giovanni Ribisi

Directionless lives, an incomprehensible city; Bob and Charlotte
take solace in each other's company.
Sofia Coppola's second movie as director turned out to be pretty divisive, and it seems to me that a person's reaction to it depended largely on whether they are able to relate to the characters and the feeling of disconnect that Coppola expertly evokes in practically every frame. Bob Harris (Bill Murray) is an American movie star that has spent the last few decades of his career doing mindless movies for the cheque. He is in Tokyo to make easy money doing commercials for whiskey. Trapped in a luxurious hotel in a place where he has nothing in common with anyone; not culture, not height, not even language, he is adrift and lonely and you get the feeling he isn't quite sure how he ended up like this.

Staying in the same hotel is another American Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson), a recent Philosophy graduate here with her new husband John (Giovanni Ribisi). John is in Japan to photograph rock stars and spends practically no time with Charlotte, leaving her to spend her time observing both the traditional Japan and the neon-flooded modern Tokyo. Snatches of conversation with a friend reveals that she feels nothing during these observances and she feels like she doesn't know who she married. Bob also evidently has marital problems, evidenced by telephone conversations with his wife that revolve almost entirely around unimportant home-improvement questions.

There’s a strange and frightening feeling of detachment when you’re alone in a place where nobody has anything in common with you. Murray (probably the best he's ever been) and Johansson (also excellent, signalling the start of a long lasting love affair - I'd even watch The Island again because she's in it) portray the feeling of drifting alone, both bored and anxious in an unfamiliar place in a convincing manner and Coppola’s slow, meandering direction and endless shots out of hotel windows and taxis bring home the feeling of not belonging brilliantly. Rarely is boredom portrayed in a manner so watchable.

Bob and Charlotte share a final tearful, private moment.
When the two of them find each other in the hotel bar, they are able to ground themselves and cling to each other like lifelines in the middle of an ocean. While there is an age difference, there is the feeling that romance is not entirely off the cards, but the film avoids such clichés and instead Bob and Charlotte indulge in a genuine friendship, heart-breaking in its inevitable brevity. Chemistry, these two have it. After the two meet and start killing time together, the lack of any real plot and the directionless direction remain, but the feeling of despair in disconnection is gradually replaced by a comfort and happiness that the two characters are finding in each other. It’s not the traditional kind of love, it’s something different, and Coppola nails the feel of it perfectly, and as the viewer, like Bob and Charlotte, you come to savour every single moment because, like them, you know it will end all too soon.

When the ending does come it’s bittersweet – they don’t want it to end, but they both understand that they can't continue to live in the little bubble they've created for themselves. It really doesn’t matter what he says to her at the end, and actually I love that we never know - Coppola respects their privacy enough not to intrude on this most personal of moments. What matters is that their relationship is not soured by the need to give them a Hollywood ‘together happily ever after with your soul mate’ ending, but instead lets each of them go their separate ways with the memory of their experience in their hearts forever.

Brilliantly acted, beautifully crafted and delivered with realism and honesty.

Score: 9/10

Peter at Rolling Stone and Roger Ebert appear to be on the same page.

Thursday, May 8, 2014


Year: 2006
Running time: 85 minutes
Certificate: 15
Language: English
Screenplay: John Carney
Director: John Carney
Starring: Glen Hansard, Markéta Irglová, Hugh Walsh, Gerard Hendrick, Alaistair Foley, Geoff Minogue, Bill Hodnet, Danuse Ktrestova

A chance meeting on the streets of Dublin leads to a
strong new friendship.
Once is the little Irish film that took the world by storm, and it’s really not hard to see why. It's a simple story about two strangers becoming friends via a mutual love of music and developing an achingly romantic relationship that never quite blooms as it might have had this been a more traditional romance. Guy (Glen Hansard) works in his dad's (Bill Hodnet) vacuum repair shop and busks on the Dublin streets in his spare time. Guy meets Girl (Markéta Irglová), a Czech immigrant who convinces him to fix her vacuum cleaner.

Guy is struggling to put together a demo tape to take to London, and it turns out that Girl is an accomplished musician in her own right, so she helps him put together his demo over the course of a few days. Girl is married with a young child, her husband still in her native country, so Guy's romantic advances are soon shut down with a heavily-accented "no hanky-panky". The bond that develops in place of the usual is arguably deeper and more meaningful, and gives the film a lovely heartfelt bittersweet feel that very few Hollywood efforts are able to manage.

Guy and Girl struggle to define their feelings for each other.
Casting musicians instead of actors in the lead roles (Hansard fronts Irish guitar band The Frames and Irglová is a singer songwriter first and foremost) was a very clever move indeed, because it makes all of the songs throb with a passionate vitality that actors who happen to be able to sing could never hope to match. It turns out that Oscar agreed, awarding Best Original Song to Hansard and Irglová for Falling Slowly. There is such a genuinely lovely chemistry between the leads that the developing platonic relationship that simmers with unreleased longing is entirely believable.

The ending strains the limits of realism just a tad - I’m not quite sure about the fact that although they are both very poor, they can somehow afford to buy expensive instruments like pianos on a whim. That said, the surprise present at the end just when the relationship appears to have come to crushingly disappointing nothingness, is simply wonderful, and, although completely different subject matter recalls the emotional sucker-punch ending of About Schmidt.

A lovely musical romance that does the heart good.

Score: 7/10

Although I think rather highly of Once, it seems others rate it even higher than I do; see this review from A. O. Scott at the New York Times and this 9.5 out of 10 review from Edward.