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Tag: anthony lane

Million Dollar Movie

 lost-in-translation-scarlett-johansson

Anthony Lane profiles Scarlett Johansson in the New Yorker:

Why should we watch Johansson with any more attention than we pay to other actors? When did moviegoers come to realize that she was worth the wait, in gold? Well, there was Woody Allen’s “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” (2008), which was loaded with physical gorgeousness, and lit with suitable fervor. There was one scene, at a champagne reception in a Spanish art gallery, where Johansson was, indeed, gilded to behold. She seemed to be made from champagne. But you need to wind back five more years, and to the colder skies of Japan, to find her moment—the exact point at which the public looked at her and discovered, to its consternation, that it could not look away. She may not have found fame with “Lost in Translation” alone, but it was certainly the time at which fame found her; the same year, she played Vermeer’s model, in “Girl with a Pearl Earring,” and was transfigured, by the movie’s final shot, into a work of art.

In “Lost in Translation,” directed by Sofia Coppola, Johansson was an unappreciated young wife who moseyed around Tokyo, surveying the unfamiliar with aplomb. Her deadpan demeanor, here as elsewhere, suggested that we should be summoned, not repelled, by things that we do not understand. If the opening shot was a sly joke, presenting us directly with Johansson’s backside, barely veiled in peach-colored underwear, the rest of the movie was dedicated to the principle that she would no longer be treated as a nice piece of ass. Fifteen minutes in, there was a breathtaking closeup of her face, as she applied lipstick; then, halfway through, came the karaoke scene. Johansson, on yet another sleepless night, wore a pink wig and sang along to “Brass in Pocket,” by the Pretenders. Having assured us—and Bill Murray, laid-back and gazing on—that she would use her arms, legs, style, sidestep, and so forth, she came to the crunch:

’Cause I
Gonna make you see
Nobody else here
No one like me.

Murray shook his head, smiling, in dopey wonderment, as if to say, “You’re not wrong, girl.” He, the lord and master of underreaction, had finally met his match. The fact that he was more than twice her age didn’t feel creepy at all, first because he barely laid a hand on her, and second because she seemed older and calmer, if not wiser, than her years. “You’re the boss,” he said. (Imagine if his role had gone to a young gun—to Josh Hartnett, say, who was her boyfriend at the time. Without Murray and Johansson, the odd couple par excellence, would we still be talking about the film today?) Until “Lost in Translation,” she had been a promising young actress, graduating smoothly from an unknown to a half-known; now she would keep the promise. Stardom would come upon her, and with it the unknowability that both tempts and eludes the public’s craving to know more.

scarlett

Talkin’ the Talk

Elmore Leonard

Over at the New Yorker, Anthony Lane delivers the finest tribute to Dutch Leonard that I’ve come across so far:

Once you hear the Dutch accent you can’t get it out of your head, and for innumerable readers it became a siren song. I fell prey to it in the mid-eighties. Leonard had a breakout, with “Glitz” (1985), and it led many of us to raid the back catalogue with glee. Some of the books weren’t easy to get hold of, and the hunt only sharpened our zeal. A friend and I ravened through whatever we could lay hands on; there is a strange, barely sane satisfaction in happening upon an author—or a painter or a band—and making it your mission to consume everything that he, she, or they ever produced. You rarely succeed, yet the urge for completeness is a kind of love, doomed to be outgrown but not forgotten. I have often pursued the dead in that fashion, but Leonard may be the only living writer who spurred me to such a cause.

…One proof of literary genius, we might say, is a democratic generosity toward your mother tongue—the conviction that every part or particle of speech, be it e’er so humble, can be put to fruitful use. If that means trimming the indefinite article, leaving us with a Albanian and a oyster, so be it. Nothing need go to waste. Richard again, aiming at the formal locutions of a police report, and missing by yards: “I cruised the street and the street back of the residence, the residence being dark, not any light on, but which didn’t mean anything.” So much dumb-ass delusion in so little space, and the linguistic shortfall squares with an overriding sense, throughout the novels, that our grip on the world—and this goes for all of us, not just the chancers and the thugs—is never as secure or as enduring as we would like. Marriages crack like plates; one side of the tracks has no concept of life on the other side, though it may harbor a risky desire to find out; and words will not stay still. That is why the movies inspired by Leonard’s fiction (a slew of disasters plus the odd success, like “Get Shorty,” “Out of Sight,” and “Jackie Brown,” which was based on “Rum Punch”) struggle to match his equilibrium. The souls that he surveyed, even when they were played by George Clooney and John Travolta, were unquiet and fairly uncool. Leonard’s gaze was cool, but, in all honesty, it belonged in a book.

I’m curious what Leonard’s reputation will be in 40-50 years. He sold a lot of books in his time but was also a critical darling. Not many writers enjoy both kinds of success but he sure did.

[Photo Credit: AP]

Million Dollar Movie

 

“The Avengers” had the biggest box-office opening in movie history. Here’s Anthony Lane’s review in the New Yorker:

One of the failings of Marvel—as of other franchises, like the “Superman” series—is the vulgarity that comes of thinking big. As a rule, be wary of any guy who dwells upon the fate of mankind, unless he can prove that he was born in Bethlehem. Superheroes who claim to be on the side of the entire planet are no more to be trusted than the baddies who seek to trash it, nor is the aesthetic timbre of the movies in which they both appear. I remember the joy of reading David Thomson’s entry on Howard Hawks, in “A Biographical Dictionary of Film”; the principle underlying Hawks’s work, Thomson argued, was that “Men are more expressive rolling a cigarette than saving the world,” and his adage rings true far beyond “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” or “The Big Sleep.” All movies thrive on the rustle of private detail—on pleasures and pains that last as long as a smoke—and there has been nothing more peculiar, in recent years, than watching one Marvel epic after the next, then sifting through the rubble of gigantism in search of dramatic life.

If it smolders in “The Avengers,” that is owing to Downey and Ruffalo, two A-grade actors who are damned if they are going to be smothered by a two-hundred-million-dollar B movie. Downey realized, in “Iron Man,” that spectacular pap could be made piquant only if the central icon was a jerk—a narcissist with a roaring cash flow, rescuing not Earth from destruction but, way more important, his own soul from fidgety ennui. Ruffalo, at the other extreme, is all diffidence and glancing timidity; as Banner, he seems embarrassed by the prospect of his own wrath, and there is a wonderful closeup of the sad, apologetic glow in his eyes as he turns green. Banner begins the film as a practicing doctor (not just any doctor but, in line with Marvel’s overreach, a doctor in an Indian slum), and ends as we might have guessed, slinging humongous metal lizards around the canyons of Manhattan.

Nice quote from Thomson. I never read “The Avengers” as a kid and have no interest in seeing the movie. Did anyone go last weekend? Any good?

[Featured Image by Daniel Acuna]

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--Earl Weaver