A Fine Romance
Lost in Translation, Sofia Coppola’s melancholy love story, is the season’s sweetest film. (And Bill Murray is buff!)
Bill Murray, a fading movie star, meets Scarlett Johansson, an unemployed 22-year-old, on an ad shoot in Tokyo. Why set this film in Tokyo?
I like the idea of this guy having this midlife crisis in such a weird and beautiful place—Bill Murray in his kimono in this hotel, depressed. I thought there was camaraderie between the midlife-crisis thing and someone in their early twenties not knowing what they wanted to do.
The word is, Bill and Scarlett both give amazing performances. How did you pick them?
I wrote it with Bill in mind. I approached him with a treatment early on and kept sending him stuff. Finally he agreed to do it, but I didn’t really know he would do it until he got to Tokyo. We didn’t have a contract—Bill’s elusive. I met with Scarlett after Ghost World. She was a fan of Bill’s, and I figured they would get along. When I introduced them, I felt like a matchmaker.
Even though Bob and Charlotte don’t have a typical affair, would you call this movie a May-December romance?
I don’t think of it like that. I wanted it to be that pure moment of having a crush and that kind of melancholy when it’s not going to become something else. I think it’s romantic when there’s something keeping people star-crossed. Usually in a movie, it’s a war keeping them apart, but in this case it’s just life.
Bill looked pretty great for a 52-year-old. Did you tell him to hit the gym?
No, but he told me he was getting in shape since he had to be a movie star. I was glad when he showed up all buff and tan.
And the part when he’s swimming in the hotel pool . . .
I know! We lingered on that shot a little longer so you could see his back muscles. He was so proud. Sarah Bernard
Details: Lost In Translation, September 12 (Focus Features).
Film Forum’s John (Manchurian Candidate) Frankenheimer retrospective showcases the director’s most controversial works.
The late John Frankenheimer had a special knack for making politically prescient thrillers that gave audiences the cold creeps. Sounds like just the sort of thing we need right now. From September 19 to October 9, Film Forum will be showing fourteen of the best Frankenheimer movies, all in 35-mm. prints, some brand-new.
His 1962 masterpiece, The Manchurian Candidate, which stars Frank Sinatra in his best performance, is so blackly satirical that it took almost a decade to find its audience. The Cold War drama Seven Days in May, made two years after Manchurian Candidate, offers up a straight-faced version of that earlier classic’s rampant paranoia. Frankenheimer started out in live television and brought to his best movies the vividness of those early free-form years. The Iceman Cometh, for example, features perhaps the greatest theatrical ensemble acting in American film. Along with Robert Ryan, there is the very young Jeff Bridges, Moses Gunn, Bradford Dillman, and, in his last role, Frederic March. Seconds, in which Rock Hudson plays an older man who undergoes plastic surgery to create a completely new life for himself, is a grotesque and unsettling parable of loss and identity.
Frankenheimer’s most frankly commercial ventures could be spectacular in their own way. The Train, for example, is a galvanizing World War II melodrama that features some of the greatest train wrecks of all time. Grand Prix has some of the whooshiest auto races ever filmed. Bring your crash helmet. Peter Rainer
Details: John Frankenheimer Film Forum, September 19 to October 9.
It’s a daunting task, adapting a Phillip Roth novel. In The Human Stain, Robert Benton may have nailed it.
‘I’m dyslexic, I can’t spell. Truly I am the least likely person to be a writer,” says three-time Oscar-winning screenwriter and director Robert Benton. This isn’t false modesty but a personal acknowledgment that the movies are a medium of adaptation and reinvention. Benton was the art director of Esquire magazine when he and a colleague, David Newman, tried their hand at a screenplay called Bonnie and Clyde (1967). Benton went on to write and direct Kramer vs. Kramer, Places in the Heart, and Nobody’s Fool.
The theme of self-reinvention lies at the heart of his new project, an adaptation of Philip Roth’s The Human Stain. Anthony Hopkins plays Coleman Silk, an aging pugilist turned university dean who gets caught up in some p.c. campus madness, is banished from academia, and falls for a hard-bitten charwoman played by Nicole Kidman. Hard to say which is the greater imaginative leap—Kidman as a janitor or Hopkins as a light-skinned black man passing as a Jew.
Benton knows from passing. “When I moved from Waxahachie, Texas, to New York, the first thing I did was lose my accent and do my best to make people believe that I had come from somewhere in the East.” Roth’s point, he says, is that we live in a culture that reinvents itself and turns its back on its own traditions. “This is essential to the American character. What you get from that is a kind of freedom. What you lose is a history that goes beyond yourself.”
The buzz on Stain is that Benton masterfully captures Roth’s searing novel and its Clinton-impeachment-era backdrop (the film is on many an early Oscar shortlist). Of those nostalgic days of our reinventing president and his human stains, Benton says: “Philip Roth promised to send me a bumper sticker that he had Milton Glaser make up: BRING BACK MONICA LEWINSKY. I would be very happy to have that on my car.” Adam Sachs
Details: The Human Stain , September 26 (Miramax).
In Under the Tuscan Sun, Raoul Bova is Diane Lane’s latest young European conquest. Say buon giorno to Hollywood’s sexiest newcomer.
People who have seen the movie say you’re every American woman’s fantasy—the young Italian stud.
Thank you! It’s something I don’t think about. There are a lot of guys in the world more beautiful than me. Personally, I like charming people. I like the character—the seduction, the intelligence.
You and Diane Lane’s character fall in love in one day!
She has a problem with her husband, so she leaves him and goes to Tuscany. She falls in love with the people, the food, the culture—then me. It was a beautiful day. It was like destiny.
Are the sex scenes hot?
Hot, but not very hot. This movie is from Disney! The relationship between my character, Marcello, and Francesca is very pure, but very intense at times.
How did you get the part?
Audrey Wells, the director, and I had lunch and we liked each other. I got the part also because I can make limoncello. I told Audrey, and she said, “Can you tell me how to make it? I want this scene in the movie.” On the set, Diane was looking at me with her beautiful eyes, and I said, “Okay, you put the skin of the lemon inside the bottle with three quarters of pure alcohol,” and then I forgot a part and I said, “I forgot the rest!” My mistake is in the movie.
You cook. How does American cuisine compare to Italian?
The best thing to cook in America is Italian food.
Who do you think is the sexiest American actor?
Brad Pitt, of course. L.D.
Details: Under the Tuscan Sun, September 26 (Touchstone).
Once Upon a Time in Mexico is Robert Rodriguez’s final El Mariachi flick. It may also be the best.
‘Quentin Tarantino calls this my Dollars trilogy,” says Robert Rodriguez. “El Mariachi was A Fistful of Dollars, Desperado was For a Few Dollars More, so Once Upon a Time in Mexico had to be epic and iconic. This is my Once Upon a Time in America—in Mexico, of course.”
Rodriguez, you’ll recall, became a cult sensation with El Mariachi—the $7,000 indie film he wrote, directed, edited, and wrote the music for, about a guitarist (Carlos Gallardo) lost in backwater Mexico who is mistaken for an escaped con and winds up warring with local drug dealers (the 1992 film, released the same year as Reservoir Dogs, helped usher in the Miramax era of independent film). Desperado, Rodriguez’s $7 million 1995 sequel starring Antonio Banderas as the mariachi (still suffering from mistaken identity, still shooting every narcotraficante in sight—and bedding Salma Hayek), was another cult hit.
Now comes Once Upon a Time in Mexico. Banderas returns as the music man lured into crime fighting, but this time the focus widens, with Johnny Depp playing a CIA agent who learns of a drug lord (Willem Dafoe) intending to assassinate the Mexican president (Hayek also returns for the ride).
The movie isn’t just bigger; it’s also said to be better. Depp, who Rodriguez says took Pirates of the Caribbean because he fell in love with action filmmaking in Once Upon a Time, apparently steals the show. In fact, he may want a trilogy of his own. “His is the best-written character,” Rodriguez says. “I showed Johnny this shot of him walking through an alley, the theme music he wrote is playing, and this voice-over begins . . . ‘The man with no eyes is back—Once Upon a Time in Mexico, Part II . . . ’ Johnny said, ‘Anytime, anywhere.’ ” B.K.
Details: Once Upon a Time in Mexico, September 12 (Columbia).
Best of The Rest
Party Monster Club kid James St. James (Seth Green) narrates the true story of his best friend and rival Michael Alig (Macaulay Culkin), a misfit from Indiana who rose in the early nineties to become the shockingly costumed (think diapers and bloody wedding gowns) king of the Limelight and the downtown club scene, then spiraled out of control and murdered his drug-dealing roommate, Angel Melendez (Wilson Cruz). Also starring—who else?—Marilyn Manson and Chloë Sevigny. (September 5; Killer Films)
Matchstick Men Ridley Scott’s lighthearted crime comedy stars Nicolas Cage as a thief with issues and Sam (Confessions of a Dangerous Mind) Rockwell as his young, trigger-happy protégé. (September 12; Warner Bros.)
Cold Creek Manor Director Mike Figgis brings back the semi-retired Sharon Stone for this sexy thriller about an urban couple who discover that bad things happen when you leave the city. With Dennis Quaid. (September 12; Touchstone.)
In This World Shot on location with a local cast, Michael (24 Hour Party People) Winterbottom’s tale of two teenage Afghan refugees escaping from Pakistan to London beat Spike Jonze’s Adaptation for the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival. (September 19; Sundance Film Series.)
To Be and To Have Following thirteen students in a one-room elementary schoolhouse in the rural French province of Auvergne, Nicholas (In the Land of the Deaf) Philibert’s character-driven film was the highest-grossing documentary in French history. (September 19; New Yorker Films.)
Anything Else Woody Allen’s latest look at New Yorkers and their neuroses casts him as a mentor to Jason Biggs, a young joke writer who can’t let go of the destructive people in his life, including an agent who keeps upping his commission (Danny DeVito), a girlfriend who can have sex with everyone but him (Christina Ricci), and his girlfriend’s midlife-crisis mother (Stockard Channing), who’s decided to become a lounge singer and move in with him. This time (happily), Woody doesn’t play the love interest. (September 19; Dreamworks)
Duplex In Danny DeVito’s follow-up to Death to Smoochy, a manipulative real-estate broker (Harvey Fierstein) sets up a young couple (Drew Barrymore and Ben Stiller) in their dream house, a gorgeous Brooklyn brownstone. But the pair develop homicidal tendencies when they discover that the old lady who lives in the rent-controlled apartment upstairs—who blasts Hawaii Five-O all night, accuses Stiller of being a pervert, and sics the cops on him—isn’t dying soon of natural causes. (September 26; Miramax)