Seen at the Movies:

Japanese Story

gives Toni Collette the opportunity to give a big, full-throttle performance, using her un-Americanized Australian-bred voice for a change. Otherwise, it’s not much of a movie. Collette plays a geologist assigned to baby-sit and make a business deal with a visiting Japanese businessman (Gotaro Tsunashima), who may or may not understand English and who treats her like a servant. At his insistence, they drive into the Australian outback, become stranded, and fall in love. It’s the last eventuality that doesn’t convince (she’s so prickly and he’s so surly that it’s like the mating of a scorpion and a snake), but while one is still trying to adjust to the romance, the movie takes another turn that seems even less persuasive. Director Sue Brooks, working with the great Australian DP Ian Baker, makes the most of the unforgiving landscape, and Japanese Story does use its setting effectively to convey a sense of spiritual desolation. But despite Collette’s exertions, the personal journey it portrays is ineffective.

Along Came Polly will do nothing for the future movie career of Jennifer Aniston as her role on TV’s Friends winds down; her triumph in the 2002 indie film The Good Girl is a healthier model for the actress to follow than this sub-Farrelly Brothers gross-out studio drivel. The movie is supposed to be a romantic comedy pairing Aniston with Ben Stiller, but it gets so sidetracked by riffs on diarrhea and other gastrointestinal complications that the love story seems beside the point. So does a strong supporting cast including Philip Seymour Hoffman, Alec Baldwin, Hank Azaria, Debra Messing, and Michele Lee. Seamus McGarvey does a glossy enough job with the cinematography, and production designer Andrew Laws does good character delineation in the contrast between fussy Stiller and chaotic Aniston’s New York apartments. But Along Came Polly is typical January cinematic filler.

Along Came Polly. Photo: Universal Pictures

Heard on the Awards Front: The American Society of Cinematographers (ASC) and Art Directors Guild (ADG) both announced their 2003 awards nominees this week. Cinematographers vying for the ASC’s top honors are John Seale, ACS, ASC, Cold Mountain; John Toll, ASC, The Last Samurai; Andrew Lesnie, ACS, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King; Russell Boyd, ACS, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World; and John Schwartzman, ASC, Seabiscuit. Winners will be announced Feb. 7.

Like the Costume Designers Guild, the Art Directors Guild divides its awards into two categories. For excellence in period or fantasy design, the nominees are Ben Van Os, Girl With a Pearl Earring; Lilly Kilvert, The Last Samurai; Grant Major, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King; Brian Morris, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl; and Jeannine Oppewall, Seabiscuit. For excellence in contemporary design, the contenders are David Wasco and Yohei Taneda, Kill Bill—Vol. 1; K.K. Barrett and Anne Ross, Lost in Translation; Henry Bumstead, Mystic River; Jon Hutman, Something’s Gotta Give; and Stephen McCabe, Under the Tuscan Sun. Winners will be announced Feb. 14.--John Calhoun