“Lost in Translation”
This is one of the best, most captivating movies that has come out in recent memory. And who would think it would be about a 50-something washed-up actor and a fresh, young Yale graduate?
The story goes something like this: Two Americans, Bob (Bill Murray) and Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson), meet in a hotel bar in Tokyo during difficult times in their lives. Both are in unfulfilling marriages, and both need a little fun. As they explore the surreal metropolitan landscape together, they begin to feel what it’s like to live again.
I know, I know. This makes the film sound cheesy, like any other stupid love story. But it’s not, because the love that develops between them isn’t romantic. It’s something deeper. Like a father-daughter relationship gone slightly awry.
But beyond all of this, and more importantly, the movie is funny. Murray is a comedic god – anyone who’s a fan of “Caddyshack” or “Scrooged” knows this. But he has mellowed with age in “Lost.” His delivery is less spastic, subtler, yet it still produces laugh-out-loud, blow-Sprite-out-your-nose responses.
And though Johansson glows – literally – and has an amazing rapport with Murray, in the end, the city of Tokyo is the true star. Director Sophia Coppola shows its many moods, from the somber temples to the suffocating urban sprawl to the spastic, neon-lit nightlife. It mesmerizes you with its alien beauty, and you leave the theater wanting to take the next flight out.
“School of Rock”
First things first: If you are not a Jack Black fan, you will probably not like this movie. It has Black’s own special brand of humor smeared all over it. That said, “School of Rock” is surprisingly good. It combines Black’s fortes – spazzing out and rocking out – with a classroom full of super-brainy kids.
Black plays Dewey Finn, an out-of-work rock-n-roller who dreams of nothing more than winning the Battle of the Bands. But when his band dumps him and his roommate needs rent money, Finn bluffs his way into a substitute-teaching position at a prestigious prep school. After seeing the musical talents of his newfound fifth-graders, he devotes all class time to the formation of his new band. This is where the hilarity ensues. There’s nothing funnier than seeing 10-year-olds posture like rock stars.
Sure, this movie is unrealistic. And sure, it drags on a little in the middle. But Black keeps it moving. You can’t help but love this crazy, schlumpy loser. You want him to corrupt small children with rock music, and you want him to win the Battle of the Bands. Then you want to go home and listen to some Led Zeppelin.
There have been a lot of movies based on comic books coming out lately – “Daredevil,” “The Hulk” and “Spiderman,” just to name a few. “American Splendor” is also based on a comic. Its creator, Harvey Pekar, details the mundane events of his life on its pages. He’s no superhero, but his life is more interesting than those three movies combined.
The movie follows Harvey (played by the amazing Paul Giamatti) through his humdrum existence – from his dead-end file-clerk job to his unconventional marriage to his bout with cancer. Through it all, he is a depressed, crusty loser that’s hard not to love.
Hope Davis is amazing as Pekar’s hypochondriacal, socially inept wife Joyce. You come to both hate her for her nitpicky ways and love her for her strength. Also great is Judah Friedlander, who plays Pekar’s uber-nerdy co-worker Toby. He captures the real-life Toby’s cadence and body language perfectly.
What’s most interesting about this film is that it’s a creative mix of theatrics, real life and animation. It’s like a movie collage. The real-life Pekar narrates, and here and there, vignettes with him, his wife and his oddball friends pop up. One of the funniest parts of the movie is when Giamatti and Friedlander observe their real-life counterparts on a sound stage. The actors’ reactions to the eavesdropped conversation are priceless.
“American Splendor,” in a nutshell, is a movie for fans of real life. And who isn’t? It makes you realize that everyone has a funny, touching story to tell – even a crusty file clerk.