Sacred Cows: Hating “Lost in Translation”

Sacred Cows is a companion series to “Poor Taste”.  In these columns I will take a big, steaming dump on movies which are either critically or commercially considered successful.

Movie Review: Lost in Translation (2003) starring Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson.  Directed by Sofia Coppola.

Plot Shot: A “past his prime” actor and the young wife of a celebrity photographer meet in Tokyo and strike up a friendship out of sheer boredom and loneliness.  What is widely called “One of the best movies of 2003” ensues…  Coincidentally wonderment (on my part) of how this movie is called “One of the best movies of 2003” also ensues…


Overview: 2003 was a boom year for movies according to the critics,  Smaller budgeted movies such as “City of God”, “21 Grams”, “Master and Commander” and “Mystic River” were very well received.  One of the biggest Oscar-buzz worthy “smaller films” was “Lost in Translation”.  The film was critically fellated, commercially successful and director Sofia Coppola was anointed as the proverbial Belle of the Hollywood Ball.

At the 2003 Golden Globes the movie was a big winner garnering the Best Comedy/Musical (which it is neither), Best Screenplay and Best Actor (Bill Murray) in a Comedy/Musical awards.  It was also nominated for 4 Academy Awards and won for Best Original Screenplay.  As a result I went into the movie with a clear understanding that I was going to see a movie that would change my world.  Honestly, if you want to find a negative review for this movie you might have an easier time looking for a penny in Bill Gates’ house (or you could just read on).

Bill Murray stars as Bob Harris, a former big-time actor, who is in Tokyo to shoot a whiskey commercial for $2 mill.   Let’s all feel bad for him since he and his wife are having marital problems.  Scarlett Johansson is Charlotte, a young woman who feels very alone in a strange place.  Her photographer husband is off taking snaps of celebs leaving her alone is a beautiful hotel in Tokyo.  We should feel bad for her since she just graduated from Yale and has no direction in her life.  The two meet, share some simple conversation and for some reason unbeknownst (loneliness, exile, boredom…oh sorry that is what I was feeling) to us, decide to hang out.  An aging actor and a beautiful young woman talk and share their angst and this is supposed to be entertaining.

The pairing of the usually engaging Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson is odd to begin with, especially as the pair grow closer.  The entire movie I was dreading seeing these two hook up, it would have repulsed me in a way I can’t describe.  At least that doesn’t happen.  Don’t get me wrong there are some nice moments in the film.  When the movie actually decides to stop being up it’s own ass and move along with the “plot”. However, most times the flick just stands still giving us lingering shots of the characters and scenery.  Beyond that when the characters do get up the energy to stop brooding and start speaking the dialogue is trite and boring.  The characters are unlikable assholes who have unrelatable problems.  It’s akin to just snooping on the dullards who populate coffee shops.

Before everyone stones me and calls me an moron for not understanding subtle film-making, that not every movie has to have explosions and car chases, let me first say that my tastes are very broad.  I don’t need blood and guts, bombs and guns or boobs and bangs. I am quite content to sit down and watch a movie that takes it’s time to make it’s point.  However what the fuck is the point of this movie?  Americans in foreign locales can’t have a good time?  One of my favorite movies is called “The Straight Story” in which Richard Farnsworth (R.I.P.) spends 75% of the film just riding a goddamn lawnmower across a couple states.  Seriously, he plays an elderly gentleman who is poor but needs to travel across several states to see his estranged brother.  He meets some kind folks along the way but the movie has a lot of slow spots. There are not very many movies that are more deliberately paced than that movie but it’s eloquence, beauty and its dialogue (when there is dialogue) makes it far superior to “Lost in Translation”.

Everyone seemed to fall in love with this movie for some unknown reason.  I am not sure who would connect to these characters or if people just said they loved it because the critics did.  I for one didn’t connect with anyone in this movie or even feel like I wanted to at all.  I guess I have REAL problems in my life that dwarf those of the characters so I can’t feel too bad for them.  I can understand some of their motivations or feelings but they are too alien to me.   Half the movie I spent scoffing at how insulting sulking about making $2 million dollars and spending a week in Japan is.  I don’t have to go to Japan to feel exiled, I can do that in my own house.  I guess I don’t want to watch other people who have more money and more opportunity than me bitch and moan.  If wanted to watch that I’d be a fan of the Kardashians.

I am 100% serious in my assertion that there is absolutely nothing of interest in this movie.  Nothing happens.  Two people meet, talk, walk around Japan and then part ways.  There is very little in the way of actual plot.  Even when there is a small conflict it is just lazily brushed aside so we can see more brooding and nothingness.  That’s it.  If that’s your idea of a good movie, I feel sorry for you.  But hey, you’ve got this movie to talk about over your nonfat vanilla lattes.

In addition to the lack of a plot, the ending is something I had a major problem with.  SPOILER ALERT!!!  Isolation, insomnia and boredom drive these two together for what seems like no reason at all.  In the end what little happens during the course of the movie doesn’t even matter.  Or maybe it does, unfortunately in the end Coppola decides to let the viewer make up their own minds.  This is a movie, that after 100 minutes of BLAH, you want to know what happens or why or more likely why you should care.

Did they really fell in love, will they ever see each other again or is his aftershave too strong.? There is no resolution, it is left completely unanswered.  The much ballyhooed ending is just two characters whispering inaudible dialogue and not reacting to either’s words.  There is no catharsis at all.  Yes, a movie can end vaguely and still work but with a movie where nothing really happens throughout it doesn’t lend itself to ambiguity.  If anything the ending should give the dull proceedings some meaning.  The movie is uneventful from start to finish.

Characters: For garnering such buzz for its great acting I was ultimately let down.  Both Johansson and Murray play it very straight, shallow and boring.  Neither adds very much color to a blank, drab and bland canvas.  For an actor’s performance to be great he/she has to elevate the source material.  Denzel Washington took what by all rights is a shitty movie in “Training Day” at elevated it to an Oscar winner.  Johnny Depp took what could have become a punchline in (the first) “Pirates of the Caribbean” and made it interesting and entertaining. Unfortunately with “Lost in Translation” I could not see this movie being any worse with any other two actors plugged into the main roles.  Well maybe Ashton Kutcher and Lindsay Lohan could have made this movie a bit worse.

Direction: The cinematography is excellent and the look of the film is beautiful, there are moments in the movie that make great snapshots.  You could almost freeze frame the DVD and print out the picture and it would serve as a nice landscape.  The look of the film is gorgeous and that is due to cinematographer Lance Acord. Sofia Coppola, the spoiled offspring of Francis Ford Coppola wrote and directed this flick.  After the film released she was been anointed as the new darling of cinema.  Sadly this movie is a disappointment as was her directorial debut “The Virgin Suicides”.  Her follow-up projects (“Marie Antoinette”, “Somewhere” and “The Bling Ring”) have been mediocre and Coppola has not regained the prestige or profit she garnered with this piece of trite shit.

Genre Exclusive: This movie is considered a Drama / Comedy / Romance movie by and I don’t really see how it is classified as any of those genres.  I honestly don’t know what to classify it as.  It is more about how aloof and detached people can be.  It has very little romance, zero chemistry between actors and is about as funny as an abortion.  This movie is so dank and drab that immediately after I wanted to wash myself in some blood and guts.  Maybe I’ll watch a Uwe Boll flick, at least that way I’ll know from the start that I am going to see a complete and utter disaster.

What’s My Problem?: As I previously stated open-endings can be useful and even good at times, you know those endings which leave the answers up to you.  My problem is that it seems that most artsy-type writers and directors use these interpretive endings constantly and they become more a sign of pretentious hack bullshit than competent storytelling.  When I see these types of endings all I can think is that the writer penned themselves into a corner and didn’t have the balls or creativity to finish their own work so left the onus on the viewer to fill in the blanks.  In this case the blame is on Sofia Coppola.

Another problem I have is that far too much of the movie is spent with Murray and Johansson turning their noses up at the Japanese.  Some parts of the movie have been called racist, I wouldn’t go that far but I think that it is just a great example of why a good portion of the world considers Americans to be egocentric pricks.  How fucking ignorant is it to go to Japan and basically look at the Japanese like little mongoloid children for not understanding what you are saying in fucking English?  I would like to see “Lost in Translation” from the P.O.V. of the Japanese.  That would be funny to hear them mocking the ignorant Americans.  I’d much rather watch that movie.  I’d rather watch a “Godzilla” movie.  Yes, even the 2000 American piece of shit.

The movie is slow paced and completely dull.  Nothing of importance happens.  The characters meet, converse, are whiny pricks and then go their separate ways.  They don’t grow, change or have life-altering epiphanies.  The characters end as they begin, no better or worse.  Everything is completely status quo.   In place of emotion, the performances are done with an economy of effort.  It seems like both leads were sleep-walking through their performance.  Say what you will for Katherine Heigl movies, but at least it seems like she is trying.  It seems like Scarlett took a handful of downers before every take.  Don’t get me started on Bill Murray’s “Dial it down to 1” performance.

Sequel Worthy: Hell no, fuck no, no fucking way!  I would gut myself with a spoon if I there were a sequel.  Or I just wouldn’t go see it.  It’s been 10 years,  there is no chance in hell that there will be a sequel.  Also  I am sure that Coppola hates the idea of sequels as do most “look at how smart and sophisticated I am” type of people.  The movie did make an astounding (ridiculous) $120 million on a scant $4 million budget.

DVDetails: A conversation with director Sofia Coppola and actor Bill Murray • “Lost on Location” – Behind-the-scenes featurette including exclusive footage shot by the filmmakers • Deleted scenes • “Matthew’s Best Hit TV” – An extended version of the Japanese TV show • Music video • Trailers

To DVD or not to DVD: Umm, FUCK NO!!!  I wouldn’t even want to own this movie if I was given it for free, just the space it would take up would be more valuable to me.  The only way this movie would make it to my shelves is if it had to pay me rent to stay there, and buddy would I charge a premium.

Final Thoughts: I’ll group this flick in with other movies that I consider to be well over-hyped but have been critically praised for being revolutionary and genius  such as “Being John Malkovich” and “Shakespeare in Love”.

Final Grade: 0 out of 10

Afterglow: Sofia Coppola has talked ad nauseum about how personal this movie is and it has been inferred that Giovani Ribisi (Charlotte’s hubby) was playing Spike Jonze (Coppola’s ex-husband and “Being John Malcovich” director) and Anna Farris was doing a Cameron Diaz impression.  Choosing a movie to air your dirty laundry may not be the most classy thing to do but hell it is working out for her fairly well as she has taken the indie crown from Jonze.

Sofia Coppola has stated that she wrote the character of Charlotte as a reflection of herself but this just kicks me in the balls.  Her father is the director of “The Godfather” and she grew up in the lap of luxury, being part of film royalty.  I find it so hard to feel sorry for spoiled kids who feel disconnected from society because they have money and an instant shot at stardom due to nepotism.  People shit on Nic Cage but at least he had the balls to distance himself from being Nicholas Coppola before trying to make it on his own.

Francis Ford Coppola gave Sofia a starring role in “Godfather 3”, she replaced Winona Ryder as Michael Corleone’s daughter “Mary”.  In such a terrible movie she somehow found a way to be the worst thing in it, next to Al Pacino’s terrible wig of course.  She won the Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Supporting Actress.

Sofia Coppola has “acted” in 14 films.  Of those, 8 were directed by her father.  1 by brother, Roman.  Another was “Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace”.  So yeah, she is just an awful actress.

Back when my wife and I were doing the long-distance thing I warned her not to watch this movie.  Of course she did and she hated it as well.


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