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By Michael Calleri

Sofia Coppola makes movies that have sensibilities we associate with the best foreign films. Her uncluttered movies are quiet, exude simplicity, and are more about ideas and relationships than capers and cars. Her screenwriting Academy Award for the excellent "Lost In Translation," which she also directed, was well deserved.

Coppola has written and directed four features, all of them about people who are the subject of varying forms of attention.

"The Virgin Suicides" is about an unusual family affected by a suicide, who find themselves the focus of intense interest. "Marie Antoinette" is all about celebrity, old French-style. "Lost In Translation" features Bill Murray as a popular actor shying away from the limelight, trying to find a way out of his personal emptiness.

In her new picture, "Somewhere," Coppola again explores the mood of an actor trying to hide from his fame. And once again, the actor, wonderfully played by Stephen Dorff, is not quite a contented person.

There's something missing for him, but it's possible that some kind of fulfillment will arrive in the person of his 11-year-old daughter, sweetly acted by Elle Fanning, sister of Dakota.

Dorff's character, Johnny Marco, is a successful action movie star. He's holed up in West Hollywood's fabled Chateau Marmont hotel on Sunset Boulevard, where the rich and famous go to hide from the pressures of fame and from what the world thinks they are.

The expressionless Johnny spends most of his time playing video games and drinking. If he does leave the premises, it's to talk to the press or get fitted for a mask by makeup people for a new role.

He's not bored, or shallow, or even depressed, although he seems to be all of these things. What he seems to think he is, essentially, is a nothing. You sense he believes that to his very core.

Johnny does perk up a bit when he has to take care of his daughter, Cleo. His ex-wife needs to find herself, as they say in the jargon of psychobabble, and Cleo needs to get to ice-skating practice. Yes, they ice skate in Los Angeles.

It seems that the child is smarter than the man. She is the child of a star, after all, and in Hollywood these kids are like alien beings. They are pampered. They see and hear everything. They know every answer to their parent's problems. Johnny and Cleo will bond in their own way.

Do I have to write that Coppola is the daughter of the legendary director Francis Ford Coppola? As in "The Godfather."

Anyway, Sofia certainly may have felt a kind of alienation from having a world-renowned figure as a father, and having lived this unusual childhood comes across in her beautifully realized screenplay.

Growing up, did she hate her father's fame? Did she regret it? You may draw your own conclusions, but I didn't sense that. I do think that Sofia was bemused by Francis' celebrity. Perhaps it was a little disorienting, but it was certainly fun. She learned a lot about filmmaking.

As a director, Sofia Coppola is a keen observer of people. It takes genuine talent to know how to edit and pace a picture in which the characters sometimes sit and do nothing. It also takes talent not to make too much of abrupt changes in the characters' moods or even changes in scenery.

"Somewhere" is well-acted and directed with assurance. This is another one of those 2010 films that has been given a slow national release pattern. Had I seen it in 2010, it would have been on my list of best movies of the year.

You go to "Barney's Version" to watch a sterling comic performance by Paul Giamatti as a bombastic, balding goofball, a hockey-loving, cigar-smoking boozer with a heart that goes out to everyone.

He lives in Montreal, isn't particularly good-looking, and is lewd and crude. Surprisingly, or perhaps not, women find him irresistible.

The movie, loosely based on a popular 1997 novel by Canada's Mordecai Richler, focuses on Barney Panovsky's way with the ladies. Barney's a bit of a pig, having chased after his third wife at the reception for his second marriage.

There are moments when the picture is raucously funny, thanks to Giamatti's acting genius. Richard J. Lewis ably directs from a good screenplay by Michael Konyves, but their simple and honest work is mightily enhanced by Giamatti.

The movie also stars Dustin Hoffman as Barney's dad, a retired cop. Truth be told, Hoffman is starting to phone in the old-coot-with-a-twinkle-in-his-eye character.

Scott Speedman is fun as Barney's drug-addled best friend. Rosamund Pike and Minnie Driver are good as two of the women who give the lie to the adage that only sexy studs score often.

In 1988, there was Roman Polanski's "Frantic," a very good thriller about a man (Harrison Ford) whose wife disappears while they're attending a conference in Paris.

This year we have Jaume Collet-Serra's "Unknown," a hopelessly dumb thriller about a man (Liam Neeson) whose identity disappears while attending a conference in Berlin.

The new movie is a bad joke, a confusing mess that confounds for no reason other than to have spy thug Frank Langella come in near the end and explain what's been boring you.

January Jones is Neeson's wife and Aidan Quinn is his mysterious replacement. Diane Kruger is a Bosnian immigrant, a waitress/cab driver who helps Neeson. Bruno Ganz is an ex-secret agent.

The acting by all is unbelievable, perhaps because the cast, too, didn't know what was going on.

Oliver Butcher and Stephen Cornwall wrote this must-to-avoid.

E-mail Michael Calleri at michaelcallerimoviesnfr@yahoo.com.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com Feb. 22, 2011