NY Mirror

Last year, the big indie movie trend, for whatever reason, was Douglas Sirk homages, and a couple of seconds ago, it was kids mutilating themselves and/or each other (Thirteen, Zero Day, Home Room, Party Monster, and soon Elephant). Well, drop your rifles and pick up your sake glasses because now it's quirky romances with a rarefied Japanese twist. The upcoming Japanese Story has Aussie Toni Collette melting for a married Asian man, who's bad at karaoke but good at genital ping-pong. And Sofia Coppola's Lost in Translation has Bill Murray visiting Japan and platonically falling for fellow alienated foreigner Scarlett Johansson, even though they're both married and aren't both old. Some of the latter's humorous observations about Japanese people—they're shortish and switch their l's and r's—may grate, but Coppola has a lovely, bittersweet sense of mood and Murray soars in his best performance since his New York Film Critics Circle speech five years ago.

At a party for the film at the Japanese restaurant in the snazzy new Maritime Hotel (where Father Ritter once plied his trade, as it were), Johansson wouldn't talk to me, maybe because last time I brought up her oral sex scene in The Man Who Wasn't There. (But I didn't make her do it, I just asked her about it! Actually, I think her flack is just saving her for the imminent Girl With a Pearl Earring.) Fortunately, Coppola was willing, especially when I reminded her I'm the one who defended her performance in The Godfather, Part III. "I laugh every time you say that," she said, not laughing all that hard. Moving on, was she worried about a sophomore jinx? (Her debut feature was the also praised Virgin Suicides.) No, Coppola said; the jinx means "you can do whatever you want because it's supposed to be bad. It's like a free pass." (On the words "free pass," I started panting, looking around for comp things.)

Well, the result's been so well received, The New York Times Magazine virtually named Coppola the wunderkind queen of all things creative. "It was nice that Lynn Hirschberg saw the movie so many times!" the golden scion enthused. Yeah, but are any of the characters based on Coppola herself? I asked hintily, having read the columns. (The lead female has some marital issues.) "There are parts of my character in all my characters," she replied, as I decided I leally, leally rike her. (And by the way, she swears the marriage is fine, domo arigato.)

It's like a free pass: Sofia Coppola at the Lost in Translation premiere.
photo: Cary Conover
It's like a free pass: Sofia Coppola at the Lost in Translation premiere.

Well, pick up your guns again because Once Upon a Time in Mexico—which features the immortal line "Are you a Mexican or a Mexi-can't?"—is a nonstop smorgasbord of cartoony violence, which should please anyone who feels Johnny Depp's recent remarks were anti-American; he gets his eyes drilled out. But it turns out writer-director Robert Rodriguez is a peacemaker. At the premiere, he thanked joint producers Miramax and Columbia and sagely admitted, "The only reason they joined forces is because I asked them to—they probably wouldn't have on their own!" I Mexi-can't argue with that.

Back to mutilating youth, one of Barbara Walters's first questions to Macaulay Culkin was, "Michael Alig is gay, with very effeminate mannerisms. You play him as gay with very effeminate mannerisms. Are you concerned that people may think you're gay?" Oy! I guess the fact that Culkin's also playing a guy who pees into punch bowls, rats on his mentor, and kills people and hacks up their corpses is fine . . . but gay? Yuck! Anyway, Barbara, it's called acting—though when Macaulay responded that he doesn't care either way, "but I'm not, for the record," some felt it seemed not only insulting, but more than a little gayish. Barbara should know about acting, though—she bearded for the late Roy Cohn.

Out lesbian Ellen DeGeneres is having fun on her new talk show, but she's coming off completely sexless (unless you count her saying Brad Pitt is perfect and acting a bit smitten with Justin Timberlake). It's like the early days of Rosie all over again! I totally understand that Ellen was the world's first pet lesbo—a same-sex guinea pig, in a way—and as such, she suffered all kinds of disdain, but I'd hoped that by now, she'd be able to sapphically rise above all that and not do an Anne Heche. This time for me! (Update: Ellen did throw Betty White a look of sorts.)

Meanwhile—spoiler coming—out Caucasian Anthony Hopkins plays a light-skinned black in The Human Stain and the official reasoning was, "If we'd cast a black actor, there'd have been no surprise that the character's black." But not if they had cast a light-skinned black actor like the character is! Anyway, Hopkins is OK (though they never explain how the character became British), the movie studiously exploring "the moral stupidity of a censorious and coercive community," tra la. At the party, Radha Mitchell, who looks like a young Mia Farrow and has just been cast in a Woody Allen movie, told me she loved Stain's performances and adored Jacinda Barrett's breasts.

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