Just in time for that royal wedding I actively avoid any news on, we’re getting the latest film to take home top honors at the Oscars, The King’s Speech. While it wasn’t my personal pick to win Best Picture, The King’s Speech is a very good movie, and when Colin “Mr. Darcy” Firth took the Oscar for Best Actor, I could hear the sound of ladies all over America squeal with delight. In an interview with the BBC’s Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo, Firth called The King’s Speech a bromance, which is a rather apt assessment of the film. On the surface, it appears to be a film about a monarch having to overcome something most people take for granted, the very act of speaking, in order to rally his nation. Talking into a microphone isn’t easy, especially when you’re doing it by yourself. I have no idea how guys like Rush Limbaugh and Michael Medved do it almost every day, it’s hard enough doing it with my co-host on my podcast. To me though, the releationship between Colin Firth’s verbally challenged Bertie and Geoffrey Rush’s Australian actor/speech therapist, Lionel Logue, is the film’s center. We root for Bertie because we want to see him overcome his stammer, but we also root for Logue, because we want him to win the respect he deserves, as his Australian nationality elicits bigotry among his British peers. While I wouldn’t have tossed him the Oscar for Best Director, Tom Hooper is still a fine filmmaker who has made a film the United Kingdom can be proud of, the same way he made something Americans can be proud of with his magnificent John Adams HBO mini-series. The King’s Speech isn’t a film that pushes the medium, or brings anything terribly interesting to the table, but it is an entertaining and enjoyable piece of cinema that is well worth your time if you’re one of the few that has yet to enjoy what it has to offer.
Call me Captain Obvious, but I think I’m starting to notice a consistent theme in Sofia Coppola’s films, the latest of which, Somewhere, comes out this week. Coppola seems positively obsessed with the alienation and boredom that comes with the lifestyle of the rich and famous. On the one hand, Lost in Translation is about a famous actor who, when faced with the otherworldly neon landscape of Tokyo, is forced into an existential crisis. On the other hand, it was also about how boring it must’ve been for Coppola to be married to Spike Jonze at the time. Marie Antoinette viewed the Queen’s tragically decadent lifestyle through a hipster filter, much to the chagrin of the French, who just wanted to see Kirsten Dunst get her head cut off, and were ready to take Coppola’s when she didn’t bring the goods. Somewhere has more in common with Lost in Translation, in fact, the two movies are annoyingly similar in places. It’s about a vapid A-list actor named Johnny Marco (played with detached ennui by Stephen Dorff), who is recovering from a hand injury at the Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles, a hotel haven for celebrities. To call Marco’s lifestyle extravagant would be an understatement, the man goes through women like Kleenex, yet the act of having sex with a stranger is so pedestrian it actually puts him to sleep. He experiences pleasure so often that he has lost the ability to actually enjoy anything. After his ex-wife goes through a breakdown we’re never privy to, he unexpectedly has to spend an extended period of time with his young daughter, Cleo (Elle Fanning). His daughter both babies her father and looks up to him, and seeing this for an extended period spurs on a bout of existential angst not unlike what Bill Murray’s character experiences in Lost in Translation, minus the semi-platonic love story.
The problem with Somewhere is Coppola’s tone, she often approaches her characters and stories with the detached hipster sensibility that has taken over so-called “indie” cinema in America. This often makes her movies seem as vapid as the film’s protagonist. Lost in Translation has interesting themes and characters at its core, but they ultimately drown in Coppola’s hipster tone, as the movie grinds to a halt over and over again to show us how weird Japanese pop-culture is to westerners. This is actually why a lot of people liked Lost in Translation, mainly because it gave Bill Murray an opportunity to be funny in that dry manner that has come to define the late period in his career. But Somewhere is surrounded by the shallow celebrity circus that is Los Angeles, so it doesn’t get lost in the culture shock, it strips the ideas in Lost in Translation to their essence. Unfortunately Coppola’s hipster detachment keeps her from probing her disdain for celebrity culture in a more thoughtful and engaging manner.
Coppola said that she wanted to counter the constant glitzy, superficial image the media presents us with when it comes to celebrity culture, yet the audience for this movie isn’t the next crop of teens looking for a fast ticket to fame on the latest reality TV show. Besides, given Hollywood’s abysmal approval rating, the majority of Americans are well aware of the sick culture that infects Los Angeles. Coppola gets across her themes in Somewhere with more success than in the past, but her hipster detachment prevents it from being anything special, though I would call it a step in the right direction.
Other Noteworthy Releases
Gulliver’s Travels 3D: You know, the new one starring Jack Black. I’m sure Jonathan Swift would approve.
Rabbit Hole: A personal grief-fest with Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart. Check out Kyle Smith’s entertaining review.
The Way Back: Peter Weir’s latest, a tale of men escaping from a Soviet Siberian gulag, and their subsequent trek to India. Weir, whose films include The Truman Show and Witness, has always been a solid journeyman director, so I look forward to checking this one out.
Kes: Criterion brings us British director Ken Loach’s most famous film, a coming-of-age story about a working-class boy and his friendship with a wild kestrel. Loach and his generation of U.K. filmmakers are completely alien to me, perhaps this film is a good place to start.
Sweetie: Another Criterion release, this one being Jane Campion’s debut feature. The only Jane Campion movie I’ve seen is The Piano, and it wasn’t really my cup of tea.
Bambi: For some reason, in the wake of the DVD/Blu-ray combo that was recently released, Disney is releasing the goods in a DVD-only release this week. Check out Stephen Schochet’s fantastic article on Bambi here at Big Hollywood if you haven’t already.
Available on DVD
A version of this article first appeared over at Parcbench.com