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 Magazinevirtually 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 Hopkinsplays 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.

The bare news from Venice is that Samantha Morton said Tim Robbins is a little too Hollywood, Emma Thompson had to be told by the press how her vehicle Imagining Argentina had been booed by a censorious and coercive community of screening attendees, and the gay hustler version of Oliver Twist didn't put enough dick back into Dickens. (Still, I want a free pass.)

I got one in Gotham for Veronica Guerin—about the murdered Irish journalist—which is basically Erin-Go-Bra-ckovich. A Plaza Athenée dinner for the movie was full of troubleshooting journos who've all been under fire, so I decided to do some very quick interviews and run home to the safety of The Golden Girls. Before I fled, Ashleigh Banfield told me she's noticed my glasses—now that's a switch—and said she could certainly relate to the movie, having been stationed in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Gaza. "A target can be anything," she said. "People find themselves threatened when it comes to their money, politics, or lifestyle. We interrupt that." So will Banfield be metaphorically sainted à la Guerin? "Hell, no," she said. "No chance of that, dear!"

Continuing with the non-saints, a lot's been made in the last month about how Arnold Schwarzenegger bragged in a '70s interview that he participated in an orgy. But was it the only such sexapalooza? Golly gosh, I don't think so, because I just recently quoted someone who remembered seeing Arnold half-dressed in a hotel hallway around the same time, only to have the iron pumper explain, "My buddy and I picked up a girl, and I'm waiting for my turn again." Talk about collateral damage!

Getting his turn at kinking up the airwaves, Queer as Folk's Peter Paige was a gay riot on Pyramid last week. In the course of the normally innocuous game-playing, he made a masturbation joke, did Cher impressions, and when he had to make his partner say "Birkenstocks," he clued him with, "These are the ugly sandals lesbians wear." The guy got it. (Take note, Ellen.)

Perhaps not getting it, Jason Patric's publicist was just hit up for an interview with Patric for the gay mag Genre. Writer Drew Limsky says the flack responded, "It's unlikely, given the nature of the publication." That's dumb, especially since Patric plays the repressed gay in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, which was written by the late, flaming Tennessee Williams.

But now it's time to walk, with unattractive footwear, into my political nook for this heady thought of the week: So Dubya's administration feels Iraq's getting back on track and they've got hospitals now? Yeah, but they mainly need them because we bombed the place!


musto@villagevoice.com

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