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Joe Wright’s
Atonement
Opens Friday, December 7, 2007

Starring: Keira Knightley (Cecilia Turner) ; James McAvoy (Robbie Turner); Saoirse Ronan (young Briony Tallis); Romola Garai (Briony Tallis at 18); Harriet Walter (Emily Tallis); Brenda Blethlyn (Grace Turner); and Vanessa Redgrave (present day Briony). Based on the novel by Ian McEwen

Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams

British director Joe Wright has fulfilled the promise he exhibited with 2005’s Pride and Prejudice with his helming of the lushly gorgeous Atonement. Set in 1935 during the start of World War II, the story is awash in class struggle, jealousy, repression and sexuality.

Thirteen year old Briony (Saoirse Ronan) is an aspiring writer and a child of privilege. Born into the upper class of England, Briony lives with her parents and older sister Cecilia (Keira Knightley) in a story book country house. And in what should have been one glorious day spent in the beautiful English countryside, Briony misinterprets a series of events and ruins the lives of her sister and her sister’s secret lover, the house keeper’s son Robbie (James McAvoy).

The English class caste system was in a state of flux in 1935 and Robbie’s aspiring to romance Cecilia was emblematic of the coming changes in class structure. Robbie had been sent to Cambridge as a scholarship student at the same time that Cecelia had been away at Cambridge.

On that fateful day, the hottest day of the year, Robbie accidentally breaks a vase, a piece of which falls into a fountain. Cecelia is furious about the loss of the vase and strips to her underwear and dives into the fountain to retrieve the missing piece and emerges sopping wet and for all purposes naked. The stripping, diving and emerging are observed by the jealous and naive Briony who misinterprets both this and a series of other overheated events that occur that same day.

The next part of the film is set during World War II. Robbie, whose prospects for professional success and love have been ruined by Briony’s lies, is in France fighting the Germans. The English have been routed and are waiting at Dunkirk to be rescued in a scene that echoes Dante’s Inferno. Both Cecelia and Briony are working as nurses in London. Briony has come to her senses and realized what a horrible sin she committed when she was a naïve, class-conscious, thirteen-year-old, know-it-all. Briony desperately wants her sister and Robbie to forgive her, but the lives she ruined have become Humpty Dumpties and nothing she can do can put them back together again.

In the last segment we see the now dying Briony (Vanessa Redgrave), a successful novelist at the end of her life, being interviewed for a television show. And we learn that Briony’s entire life has been spent wishing for a forgiveness/atonement that has never come.

And as for the cast:The multi-talented Keira Knightly (the Pirate movies and Wright's Pride and Predjudice) is stunningly beautiful as Cecelia. Her scenes with James McAvoy explode with eroticism. McAvoy (The Last King of Scotland) has definitely proven to be one of the (if not the) most talented young English actor of his generation. And young Saoirse Ronan does a brilliant job of portraying the multi-faceted young Briony as a basically good young woman who is so confused by her emerging sexuality that she commits a monstrous act of evil. And Romola Garai as the eighteen year old Briony is heart breaking as she strives for forgiveness by submerging her soul in the quest to help wounded British soldiers. And what can I say about the incomparable Vanessa Redgrave that has not already been said except to say “Ditto.”

Joe Wright did a beautiful job putting together this multi-layered story of love, war, jealousy and grief. Atonement is destined to be a classic; it is definitely a movie I will not soon forget.

12/13/2007: According to this article on MSNBC.com, Atonement received seven nominations for the Golden Globes, the largest number of nominations for any film.


 



Ethan Hawke and Philip Seymour Hoffman in
Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead

Sidney Lumet's
Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead
Opens Friday, October 26, 2007

Reviewed by Alejandra Serret

Sidney Lumet is a little guy. He’s short, slight in frame, has fury eyebrows, and small hands. A quick comparison to Scorsese seems too easy and yet, like the better-known, younger director, Lumet is a genius behind the camera. At eighty-four years old his career has burgeoned with films like Dog Day Afternoon, The Wiz and Serpico, working with greats at their peak—Pacino, Brando, Hoffman, as in Philip Seymour (although this one is up for discussion). Lumet is as they say, a legend.

At it again, decades after his most noted work, Lumet brings us Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead: a film best described as a Greek tragedy of a dysfunctional family unable to pull themselves from their destructive path. The tragic characters in turmoil: the father who is too hard on his eldest son, the younger brother who strives for his elder brother’s attention, the much loved mother/martyr, jealousy, adultery, and betrayal. Lumet tells their story in a non-linear way exposing the family’s unraveling in the opening scene—a robbery gone horribly wrong. (Actually, the film begins with a provocative sex scene between Andy (Hoffman) and his wife Gina, played by Marisa Tomei.)

Philip Seymour Hoffman plays Andy, a character that is manipulative and scheming. Ethan Hawke plays the younger, less intelligent brother. Both Hawke and Lumet argue that the more obvious casting choice would have been the reversal—Hawke as the calculating older brother and Hoffman as the self-loathing, self-deprecating Hank. This option, however, allowed them both to play with more challenging, less-expectant character traits. Hawke found it hardest to play such a moral-lacking, weak character, but took the role for its attachment to Lumet—an opportunity he thanks Hoffman’s success for.

The tangled plot unwinds in a non-linear way divulging portions of itself at a time. From the beginning, viewers know that partners-in-crime Andy and Hank plan the nearly perfect crime: the robbery of a local mom and pop jewelry store. The catch is that it is their mother and father’s store, one they are intimate with. Their seemingly flawless plan goes haywire, resulting in their mother’s death. Without the matriarch at their center, the family crumbles. The males are unable to lay their expectations to rest—Charles, the patriarch of the family, played by Albert Finney is hardest on Andy. Andy vies for his father’s affection and Hank fights for Andy’s. It’s the never-ending cycle that stays unresolved.

The caliber of acting speaks volumes of this film, which is at once surprising and expected. Lumet stays true to his nature and does not disappoint. His experience has kept him sharp, allowing for precise and beautiful story telling in Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead.



Mike Nichols'
Charlie Wilson’s War
Opens Friday, December 21, 2007

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Charlie Wilson’s War is yet another hotly anticipated holiday release that was immediately pummeled by a gaggle of quasi-critics (those self-appointed Oscar “experts” you’ve heard so much bashing about this season) as not worthy of all the expectation hyped upon it. Well, firstly, the expectation was hyped by these gurus of nada themselves, proving once again that ‘those who can’t’ love to build up and then immediately tear down.

The good news, my film friends, is that the “chosen” few were fucking wrong (not the first time) and full of shit (not surprising) for Charlie Wilson’s War is not only one of the most sharply written, deftly directed and masterfully acted films of the year, it’s a fan-frikkin’-tastically funny comedy as well, something the season is sorely lacking.

Aaron Sorkin, who began his career as a playwright (A Few Good Men) and then moved very quickly to episodic TV (The West Wing) and has recently moved back to Broadway (The Farnsworth Invention) has penned a smart, savvy, satiric look at one man’s ablilty to manage the impossible...with a little help from his friends.

The film follows the womanizing, boozing liberal Congressman from Texas known as “Goodtime Charlie” along an unexpected journey to free the Afghans from the Soviet stronghold, after the invasion of 1979. Wilson is the perfect Washington operator. He knows the right people and knows how to get things done. When he asks for five million dollars for something the CIA is planning, he gets it--no questions asked.

Charlie is, initially, hoodwinked into this challenge by the wealthy and powerful Houston socialite Joanne Herring, played with delight and relish by a stunning Julia Roberts. This may not be the pretty woman we’re used to (especially in that fright wig) but she sinks her teeth in solidly here and delivers.

It’s Joanne who arranges a key meeting between Charlie and the Pakistani president. Toss in a sardonic and bitter CIA op (played perfectly by Philip Seymour Hoffman) as well as Israelis and Arabs (who were brought together for the first and ONLY time) and Charlie has the ammunition he needs (figuratively and literally) to aide the Afghans in their plight against the, then, Soviets. Of course, helping with the defeat must never reflect back to the U.S.

Much information is tossed at the audience in the movie. Some of it will not brain-stick during the first viewing, but it doesn’t have to. It’s fine to simply grasp the crux of what is going on and the unbelievable achievement one man and a few enemy countries were able to accomplish. The results proved terrific (the end of the cold war with the fall of the Soviet wall) and terrible (much of the training of the Muslims created a breeding ground for the Islamic fundamentalists that would go on to hate America and seek revenge...)

There’s been some controversy about the original ending being forced-cut by Universal because Wilson and Herring did not appreciate being connected, even peripherally,to what would eventually be the 9/11 attacks--so they allegedly sought legal counsel and twisted a few studio arms. Regardless, the point is felt, even though the current ending feels too abrupt. Otherwise the film moves fluidly and is finely edited (by Oscar winner John Bloom).

Tom Hanks is doing some of his best work now. Along with Road to Perdition, this is one of his sharpest performances. He’s unafraid to give Charlie the faults and freckles that make him who he is. This is not a Jimmy Stewart turn (and it easily could have been). Hanks humanizes Charlie for us so we can understand and appreciate the folly of politics and of personal judgments. Hanks does what the Harrison Fords of the industry are afraid to do, he takes chances with his film selections and with his craft. The results are an ever expanding repertoire of fascinating characters as well as choices..

A special mention to the wonderful Amy Adams (Enchanted), who is one of the few girls in the film Charlie does not sleep with as well as the perennially political Ned Beatty, always on his game.

Director Mike Nichols is a craftsman who has made some truly great films (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, The Graduate, Silkwood and the made for TV masterwork, Angels in America). Charlie may not make that list but it stands proud with his most stellar work.




Julian Schnabel's
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
French with English Subtitles
Opens November 30, 2007

Starring: Mathieu Amalric (Jean-Dominique Bauby); Emmanuelle Seigner (Céline Desmoulins); Marie-Josée Croze (Henriette Durand); Anne Consigny (Claude); and Olatz Lopez Garmendia (Marie Lopez).

Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams

Julian Schnabel (Basquait, Before Night Falls) has made a gorgeous, sensual feast of a film about the sad story of Jean Dominique Bauby, the editor of Elle France, who at the young age of forty-three suffered a stroke that left him in "locked-in" condition. Unable to move any part of his body except his left eye, Bauby (played by Mathieu Amalric), wrote a book (also titled The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) about his experience.

Working from a script by Ronald Harwood (The Pianist, Love in the Time of Cholera, Oliver Twist) the first half of the film is told through the camera-eye of Bauby's left eye. As the story opens, we as Bauby's eye, awake to see kindly worried people hovering over our bed telling us that we have had a stroke and now that we are awake we should be just fine. Then one of the doctors asks Bauby to say his name, he does and no one hears him except us, the film audience.

Bauby then narrates his own movie, telling us the story of his old and new life. Bauby's affliction has not made him into a saint. He is instead the same sardonic hedonist that he was before the accident.

The story follows Bauby's work with his gorgeous therapists, Henriette (played by Marie-Josée Croze) and Marie (Schnabel's wife Olatz Lopez Garmendia). Henriette devises a method by which Bauby can communicate with the world - a chart with the letters of the French alphabet arranged in most-used order. She painstakingly goes through the alphabet and Bauby blinks when she reaches a letter that he wishes to use. Bauby signals that he would like to write the book that he had contracted to write before the accident and the therapist make arrangements with his publisher to have yet another beautiful woman take dictation, Claude (played by Marie Anne Consigny).

This film is never maudlin; it is beautifully shot by Janusz Kaminski, also Steven Spielberg's cinematographer. We leave the viewpoint of Bauby's eye and see the world around him. The hospital room is a green marvel and the hospital itself is located by the sea; the entire setting is lovely. And to paraphrase Dr. Seuss, oh the things Bauby saw. Bauby receives visitors, the gorgeous mother of his three children, Celine (played by Emmanuelle Seigner). We see them on the beach with Celine's skirt being lifted by the wind. His equally gorgeous children visit and play in the sand. And Bauby's beautiful view of the world is not restricted to his present "diving bell." We follow the butterfly of his imagination as he remembers his past and takes flights of fancy into the future. And we follow him as he drives former girlfriend to Lourdes, her hair beautifully blowing in the wind. Bauby was a lustful man and the film is permeated with Bauby's (and Schnabel's) lust for life.

Bell is one of the best films I have seen this year and that is quite a complement with films like Gone Baby Gone and Before the Devil Knows You're Dead for competition. Schnabel won the prize for Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival for Bell and this film will surely be an Oscar contender for Schnabel, Harwood, Kiminski and the talented (and gorgeous) cast.


 



Abby Cornish, Cate Blanchett and Clive Owen

Shekhar Kapur’s
Elizabeth: The Golden Age
Opens Friday, October 12, 2007

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

All the majesty, the pomp, the grandeur, the visual splendor and the tour de force acting that made 1998’s Elizabeth so incredibly riveting can once again be enjoyed in Elizabeth: The Golden Age. And while it is not the gem the original was; it is not the disappointment many assumed it would be.

This sequel (in a planned trilogy) is an intense thrill ride that plays a bit too fast and loose with history but presents a few intriguing notions that go against the grain of conventional portrayals of the Virgin Queen.

One is her alleged love of Sir Walter Raleigh (a roughish and charming Clive Owen). Not to give too much away, but this love story takes a bit of a different turn than most others in its portrayal of the Queen Bee and her seafaring suitor.

A second (and wonderfully surprising) twist is how the film views Mary, Queen of Scots (Samantha Morton). Almost always seen as a victim, a martyr, here she is actually depicted as a conniving and ambitious woman who craves the throne more than she cares about her Catholicism.

At the heart of this film is an attempt to truly explore the woman and her fears, not just the Queen and her triumphs.

It’s 1585 and all is not well in Britain. Having ruled for over three decades, the Queen must now deal with the threat of the Inquisition via Catholic Spain as well as the threat to her throne, by way of Mary Stuart. In addition, she is manipulated into searching for a husband that can provide her with a proper heir. Dealing with her own aging and the ominous threat against her country, Elizabeth preps for the greatest battles of her life.

The visual and aural bombast in Elizabeth: The Golden Age is more than a tad overdone, and the script (by William Nicholson and Michael Hirst, who wrote the first one) isn’t as crisp and fine-tuned as the original but Cate Blanchett’s towering performance more than makes up for these missteps.

In a role played by Glenda Jackson, Helen Mirren and Bette Davis, just to name a few of the diva-licious dames who have taken Elizabeth I on, Cate Blanchett manages to reach deep within and expose her demons. Don’t get me wrong, when she needs to she chews the scenery like she is expected to, but in the quieter moments lie the key to her exploration--specifically early on in scenes with her pet lady-in-waiting, Bess (a delightful Abbie Cornish). There are glimmers of a sexual attraction, jealousy, adoration and genuine love that seep through her tough exterior. Bravo Blanchett for her amazing gifts. Another nomination deservedly beckons.

The score by Craig Armstrong and AR Rahman is a force unto itself. The costumes are grand. The art direction is sumptuous. The editing is dazzlingly frenetic. And the camera-work is dizzyingly mesmerizing. It’s all over-the-top, but completely right for this film and the recreation of the famous defeat of the Spanish Armada is a triumph of cinema-wizardry.

Prior to this battle, Elizabeth is told that she must flee her home since the Spanish threat is imminent. Instead, she dawns her body armor, saddles her stallion and rides out to meet her soldiers. There she delivers a rousing speech that gives the film its heart and soul. It’s a glorious moment. A glorious performance. A fine film.



Kevin Lima’s
Enchanted
Opens November 21, 2007


Starring: Amy Adams; Patrick Dempsey; James Marsden; and Timothy Spall.

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

To say Amy Adams is enchanting in Enchanted is redundant--to the third power actually. Anyone who saw her hilarious and heartbreaking turn in Junebug, two years ago, knows just how extraordinary this actress is. This is a star-making performance, no question. One that will rightly garner Adams an Academy Award nomination. What is so remarkable about Kevin Lima’s new film is just how much it lives up to Adams’ talents!

Enchanted is the first live action/animation blend that I have ever seen that actually investigates what it is like for a cartoon to become human…for a drawn fairy princess (to be) to become a flesh and blood woman bursting with confusion, lust and her own newfound idiosyncrasies. (It’s not rated R so it doesn’t go THAT far—this is still Disney!) And thanks to Adams we are privy to her inner world and we watch her move from her one-dimensional demeanor, excitedly and with trepidation, to exploring full three-dimensionality!

I do not feel the need to give away any of the plot. Suffice to say; you’ve seen it all before…until you haven’t!

Disney gets lots of props for not just allowing the creative forces at work to skew and satire their precious film characters, heritage, image, etc…but to do it in such a clever and deliciously whacky way. This never feels like a paint-by-numbers Hollywood film.

The movie has the chutzpah to poke fun at many animated (and musical) conventions such as: having characters burst into song for no real reason and the delightful staple of summoning nearby creatures to help out our heroine. The latter is brilliantly turned upside down in the number: “Happy Working Song” when Adams asks the help of a slew of nearby pigeons, rats and cockroaches to help clean Patrick Dempsey’s (yes, McDreamy!) apartment. It is an instant classic clip as we watch with joy and horror as these vermin infest the screen, all led with happy glee by Adams! Even the character’s name, Giselle, is a fun riff on past Disney heroines.

The three new songs by Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz are wonderful, with “That’s How You Know” having a particularly Oscary ring to it.

Besides the sensational Adams, James Marsden should be singled out for a stellar Prince of a performance. Marsden, once an Ally McBealer, currently seen in Hairspray, is one of the most underrated actors working today. And there seems to be no limits to his talents.

Finally, the film is a Valentine to the greatest city in the world: New York—and specifically, Manhattan. Central Park, Lincoln Center and, in particular, Times Square, are photographed with such love that we understand why Giselle is so taken with our fair city, that she would want to permanently stay and not return to the magical kingdom she came from.



Chris Weitz's
The Golden Compass
Opens December 7, 2007


Reviewed by Corey Shtasel-Gottlieb


It doesn’t take a wizard—or a little girl’s magical truth-telling device—to discover that The Golden Compass is the latest addition to 2007’s growing list of blockbuster letdowns. Dredged in special effects that even the purest of movie purists will enjoy, Compass appears to have all the makings of a sure thing. Really, it should work. Rarely do pre-teen heroism, dark world villainy and a beastly budget fail to produce vast success, and the cultish popularity of Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials lends to the film a Harry Potteresque fan-base (read: children and nerdy adult Trekkies). So what happened, then? Why did I spend the better part of two hours wishing I’d stayed home and ordered A League of Their Own on Netflix?

I hesitate to plunge feet-first into an outright bashing of this movie, as it did have its redeeming features. There is a story here, a story that maintains flecks of Pullman’s creative genius despite Hollywood’s greatest efforts at blockbusterization. We join in the valiant journey of Lyra Belacqua, a spirited heroine who travels to the arctic North in hopes of saving her kidnapped friends. Lyra ventures alongside her beloved “daemon”, an animal spirit that hops around on screen like a Pixar Jiminy Cricket (the daemons quietly became my favorite part of the movie, mostly because they allowed me to ask myself what my own daemon would be—I’ve since decided that a St. Bernard might be the closest match to a hairy, docile Jewish man). Visually, her journey falls somewhere in between a ride on The Polar Express and a game of Mortal Kombat, a beautiful but graphic spin through the depths of childhood imagination. There is something undeniably compelling about this cinematography, especially when we’re granted courtside seats at a polar bear deathmatch (no doubt the one scene that twenty-something men will rely upon when justifying having seen this movie).

Ultimately, though, the movie lacks what I like to call ‘give a shittability.’
Too much of the storyline is mired in the film’s over-dependence on animation which, while impressive, quickly begins to feel like watching a friend play video games. It was difficult to follow exactly what was going on—I found myself waiting and waiting for a finally-this-makes-sense moment that never came. Sometimes, such confusion isn’t a bad thing; in Lord of the Rings, for example, we care enough about Frodo and Samwise and Gandolf to overlook the fact that half the time we don’t know what the hell’s going on with that ring.

Here, though, the appeal isn’t strong enough. Nicole Kidman, the film’s supposed big draw, plays the same weird good witch-bad witch that she seems to become every time out. Give her Cruella Deville or Princess Di or the freakin’ Unibomber, it won’t make a difference: she’ll still insist on using that eerie, toneless voice and smiling that Tom-Cruise-just-injected-me-with-his-scientology-tranquilizer smile. Call me biased, but I don’t think she’s any better here. Daniel Craig doesn’t offer much in addition, either, simply because we don’t see enough of him. In fact, I only even mention him here because my man crush on him as Bond refuses to fade. Actually, little Dakota Blue Richards might be the movie’s saving grace, as she makes her big-screen debut as an endearing and believable Lyra. Richards is more than just cute, she’s sincere, and she manages to avoid the too-old-for-her-body affect that makes the other Dakota (Fanning) creepy to watch. She’ll blow up, I think, assuming she stays away from too-cutesy roles…and Lindsay Lohan.

In the end, though, Richards isn’t enough to save The Golden Compass. There’s just not enough to care about, not enough to really invest in. Director Chris Weitz seems to have spent too much time with the green screen and not enough on plot development (really makes you thankful that this kind of technology wasn’t available when he was shooting Jim’s masturbation scene in American Pie, no?). I find it hard to imagine an audience that wouldn’t be left wanting by this film—the effects alone may make it worth seeing, but beyond that, it’s an expensive disappointment.


 



Casey Affleck, Morgan Freeman and Michelle Monaghan

Ben Affleck's
Gone Baby Gone
Opens everywhere Friday, October 19, 2007

Reviewed by Alejandra Serret

When I hear Ben Affleck’s name associated with a project I can't help but wonder if the moment has arrived in which he can assert himself as a Hollywood powerhouse and detach himself from career blunders like Gigli, Jersey Girl and Paycheck. His recent work as George Reeves in Hollywoodland (while it bombed at the box office) brought him close, not only displaying true talent but a desire to challenge himself artistically. After spending the majority of his career in front of the camera, he is most impressive behind, with his directorial debut, Gone Baby Gone. It’s been 10 years since Ben Affleck wowed audiences with Good Will Hunting, which he co-wrote and acted in, winning an Oscar. He has again proved his worthiness with his adaptation of Dennis Lehane’s novel Gone Baby Gone, like his other work (i.e. Mystic River), it explores Boston’s grimmer side.

South Boston natives/private investigators/lovers Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck) and Angie Genarro (Michelle Monaghan) work to uncover the mystery surrounding the disappearance of four-year-old Amanda McCready. Familiar with the streets and people of Dorchester, the partners dive head first, investing themselves in finding her. While the Boston Police Department may have experience on their side, Kenzie and Genarro have connections and understand the street mentality. The chilling truth they unearth tells the story of a neglected child and the community she lives in—at once coming together and coming apart.

Ben Affleck is able to execute a genuine tone and cadence in Gone Baby Gone through his dedication to authenticity—from the actors to the setting and technique. The film begins with deliberate, almost poetic shots of Dorchester. Affleck captured the beauty of the ordinary, which became heightened through a traumatic event. His younger brother Casey Affleck, who has recently garnered positive buzz with his portrayal of Robert Ford in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, delivered perfectly, owning his role as Patrick Kenzie.

Casey Affleck’s subtlety exposes a genuine talent allowing viewers to become invested in Amanda’s plight and the desire to see her home safely. While his performance raises the film’s potential, it’s the cast chemistry that makes it a true success. Michelle Monaghan is believable and not overshadowed by Morgan Freeman (police chief Jack Doyle) or Ed Harris (police detective Remy Bressant). While both veterans deliver as expected, it’s in the more unexpected roles that the film shines. Amy Ryan, who plays Helene McCready, and Jill Quigg, as her best friend Dottie, capture the jargon, accent, and attitude. Ben Affleck showcases his attention to detail and his dedication to accurately portraying a city in the ways that it is both bad and good. He does Lehane justice through his adaptation and vision of Gone Baby Gone.



Francis Lawrence’s
I Am Legend
Opens Friday, December 14, 2007

Starring: Will Smith; Emma Thompson

Reviewed by Marguerite Daniels

Vampire-Zombies may be scary, but they aren’t always the most convincing of film conventions and neither is the disease that cripples the most current installment of Richard Matheson's sci-fi classic I Am Legend. This blockbuster and eagerly-anticipated Will Smith vehicle is penned and produced by Akiva Goldsman and directed by the famed music video director Francis Lawrence. The disease in question is caused by a much-lauded cancer cure created by the smug Dr. Alice Krippin, played by Emma Thompson. The virus mutates which leads to a few slight and unfortunate side effects: it kills people or turns them into flesh-eating zombies. (How could that little tidbit been missed during the clinical trials?)

Fortunately both the infected zombies and the disease that causes the afore mentioned beasties are battled by the ever-photogenic Will Smith who plays Lt. Col. Robert Neville, an intrepid military medical researcher, former Time Magazine “Man of the Year,” and perhaps the last man on earth. Will Smith’s Lt. Col. Neville is lonely save his loyal companion, the patient and fortuitously-adopted German Sheppard, Sam, and as the last healthy man in Manhattan he spends his days frolicking in a video store since Netflix is obviously no longer an option, looking for a “cure” for the disease that has decimated the human race, and fighting off the occasional CGI lion pride for gazelle that roam the island freely. At night, he barricades himself against the flesh-eaters in his extremely posh Washington Square home. He also searches in vain for other survivors, never losing hope that he isn’t the only human left alive.

In their new state, little has changed for the infected, who are former well-healed Manhattanites, living en masse in dark, shabby dwellings not so dissimilar to the cramped apartments they once shared with several other roommates. The zombies are creatures of the night and flee from bright lights the same way make-up laden women do after a long night of binge-drinking and dancing. The cannibals are also nattily attired, wearing the quintessential white wife-beater tank top, and the always chic micro-short. But as is the way with zombies, they don’t play well with others, and they tend to hunt and kill all living creatures be them man, dog or beast. Perhaps that is the greatest change in the New Yorkers, as zombies they aren’t terribly discerning about their food.

Will Smith, himself, is very good in this film despite the muddled screenplay he works with. He convincingly plays both endearing and batty, and we are treated to a host of Will Smith zombie-slayings, as well as an extended view of his taut and glistening pectorals and abs during a gratuitous work-out scene. Manhattan looks great, too, considering that an apocalypse has occurred. The eerily-empty city is no-worse-for-wear save a few weeds and is lovely in its somewhat wild state. Sadly the fault of I am Legend lies in its gapping-hole filed plot. The film opens well enough, but as it creeps on the audience must suspend belief because very few things are explained: Just how does the electricity still work in Manhattan if there is no one to monitor the power stations? How does a re-engineered measles virus/cure for cancer morph into a rabies-like virus? If the zombies are inhuman, why are they still wearing clothes and where do they shop? And just how does a military virologist and his family afford a brownstone in Washington Square Park?

With so many questions left unanswered the film loses focus, shying away from its darker elements and ending with a pat, pseudo-religious message regarding God’s will. Which is disappointing. Though the film is beautifully shot by cinematographer Andrew Lesnie, perhaps it would have benefited from a director a bit more experienced than Lawrence, whose first film was 2005’s critically panned Constantine. After all, a film cannot stand alone on Will Smith’s broad and strapping shoulders.


 


Cate Blanchett in
Todd Haynes’ I’m Not There
Opens November 21, 2007


Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

In a season of ambitious filmic endeavors, Todd Haynes’ I’m Not There, which is “inspired by the life and work of Bob Dylan” stands as one of the most ambitious, and as such, divisive pics of 2007.

The one and seemingly ONLY thing most folks agree on is Cate Blanchett’s performance. Her Dylan is simply astonishing. But more on her later.

I’m Not There is mock-docu-pastiche of sorts, a cinema mosaic of various incarnations that embody the essence of the many different Dylans, through the years, as the man reinvented himself—funneled through the brilliant and inventive mind of Mr. Haynes. The notion is that one can never truly capture a person onscreen--their essence. You can read all the books, articles, listen to all the music--interview all the loved (and not so loved) ones and even talk to the subject himself, and still not really get a good idea who that person is. And Dylan, the icon, is even more mysterious than most.

In I’m Not There, Haynes has impressively created a host of persons who, together, may give some representation of the enigmatic artist. It’s a fascinating premise and he has, single-handedly, reinvented the (oh, so stale) biopic. Does it work? Well, now that depends. The film is not a failure, nor is it a resounding success (to this critic, anyway). Yet it’s very much like my perception of Dylan, flawed but extraordinary (at times).

The six Dylans include: an 11-year old African-American folk singer who calls himself Woody Guthrie (the appealing Marcus Carl Franklin); the progressive singer on-the-verge known as Jack Rollins (the always interesting Christian Bale); a difficult Hollywood actor named Robbie (Heath Ledger); a reclusive Billy the Kid (Richard Gere); an-Arthur Rimbaudish poet (an effective Ben Whishaw) and, the Dylan centerpiece (de resistance!) Jude (wholly embodied by Blanchett), the curly-mopped superstar, leading the sweet life (yes, La Dolce Vita)! All these Dylans are presented in a maddening, yet poetic, mosaic-like structure.

I greatly admire the film, but that isn’t the same as loving it. Actually, I haven’t felt so perplexed about my own reaction to a film in a very long time.

The Blanchett sequence borrows generously from Fellini, specifically Otto e’ Mezza (8 1/2), and in there might lay my chief problem with I’m Not There. I adore Fellini. He’s one of my favorite auteurs. Fellini (along with Bergman) was able to concoct his own personal vision hatched from his lunatic/genius head, put it onscreen and, somehow, it was miraculously accessible--most of the time. Haynes’ film is most definitely personal, almost too personal—somewhat impossible to penetrate. He has distilled his own Dylan from all his research and all his love. So it feels like it’s exclusively Haynes’ Dylan—and not one we can embrace or even understand. Yet, perhaps that is the point. Perhaps it’s okay for this film to be a trip into the mind of Haynes via Dylan (instead of vice versa). I’m truly not certain. Perhaps after repeated viewings I will come to totally embrace the pic…or loathe it.

What does work, works supremely well. Heath Ledger is quite powerful and his scenes with Charlotte Gainsbourg are wonderful to watch. And there are many sequences that astound (specifically one that involves Allen Ginsberg and Jesus Christ—I will say no more). The Gere scenes are less enthralling and that has less to do with the actor than with the fact that those moments never meld with the rest of the film.

But as soon as Cate Blanchett blasts onto the screen as the freaky, androgynous Dylan the movie takes off to tremendously joyous heights. Blanchett has proven that there isn’t much she can’t do. From Elizabeth onward, she has shown her versatility and her bravery in making choices. No one else in her peer group (with the possible exception of Kate Winslet) can come close to her remarkable body of work these last ten years.

Her Jude isn’t so much an impersonation—although she is the closest to a real Dylan that we get (whatever that means), it’s an exhilarating immersion into Haynes’ most richly written ‘subject.’ Blanchett’s scenes are what one remembers most after the credits roll and the lights come up.

I love the film’s theme of identity, certainly something that all artists (all people probably) struggle with. Haynes puts forth the notion that ultimate freedom is escaping the pigeonholing and being able to reinvent yourself as you go through different life cycles. (Jane Fonda is a great example of an artist who has metamorphosed more than most and has always fascinated with her next incarnation.) And why not? Isn’t that what a realized life should be? Constantly searching for answers to that eternal ‘why am I here’ question?

I came to this film as someone who appreciates Dylan--the power of his music. I wouldn’t call myself a fan. The film made me crave more. So I went right out and picked up the four-hour Scorsese documentary and I bought a few Dylan CDs. I am very happy I did. If the film does the same for others, then maybe we’ll all develop our own visions/notions of Bob Dylan and who he is…who he needs to be…to us--individually.



Robert Redford's
Lions for Lambs
Opens Friday, November 9, 2007

Reviewed by Allison Ford

In the war against terror, the biggest threat to our nation is neither the enemy, nor our government leaders. The biggest threat is our own complacency. Robert Redford’s brilliant and electrifying new film, Lions for Lambs, fairly explores themes such as personal responsibility, the duties of a free press, and idealism in education. It is not an indictment of obstinate Republicans, and it is not a sentimental plea for troop withdrawal. It is a fair and ruthless debate of our position in the war and how we got there, and a call to arms for the millions of Americans who are outraged, yet apathetic.

The parallel action of Lions for Lambs takes place over the course of one hour, as events unfold in Washington DC, California, and Afghanistan. Tom Cruise plays an ambitious Republican senator, dangling the exclusive scoop on his new military strategy in front of a TV journalist, played by Meryl Streep. Redford plays a college professor, charged with reigniting the idealism and passion of his most promising student. Michael Pena and Derek Luke play courageous young soldiers in Afghanistan, embodying the human face of these two debates.

The film’s central theme is the decision to do what is right, rather than what is easy. Political ideologies and motivations for the war are discussed and debated brilliantly between Cruise and Streep. She listens to the buzzwords and evasive platitudes offered by Cruise, a hawkish Presidential hopeful staking his political career on a suspicious new military tactic. Cruise is as slick and slippery as any DC spin doctor, rationalizing the human cost of military action, and wearing blinders to the possibility of error. He embodies all those who choose righteousness over peace. They debate not only the government’s missteps in miring the country in war, but also the complicity of the media, which has wholeheartedly perpetuated the government’s idea of the facts, and forced this distorted version of truth upon the American people. At the end of the day, who is truly responsible - the government for creating the story, the media for selling it, or Americans for buying?

Robert Redford, as a political science professor at an unnamed California university, debates human potential, passion, and idealism with his disillusioned student, played by Andrew Garfield. Redford bemoans the indifference in the youth of today, who have become jaded and disappointed with the politics of hypocrisy, and Redford seeks to inspire Garfield to have the courage to try to make a difference. As they say, if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.

Two-thirds of the film’s action takes place in offices – despite the impassioned performances, they are merely debating; having conversations. The film’s interesting juxtaposition is the inaction of conversations versus the immediacy of the story of the soldiers fighting to survive. They play out a poorly-devised military tactic, which was dreamed up by a politician who has never seen combat. The American soldiers featured are also former promising students of Redford’s. They are the heroes of the movie; two gifted inner-city kids who lay their lives on the line for a nation full of citizens who feel that “supporting the troops” means a yellow ribbon sticker on their SUVs. The film bluntly reminds us that even as the politicians and pundits bicker and argue, there is a real human cost to our inaction and poor decisions.

The characters in the film are challenged to have courage – to take a stand, to say No, to fight for what it is that they believe. Meryl Streep finds the courage to doubt and to question, and to reject what the policymakers in DC want her to believe and report. In his office, Tom Cruise asks, “How many times are you people going to ask the same questions?” Streep replies, “Until we get the answers.” She represents a lone voice of conscience in the news media; one dissenter, unwilling to continue propagating the lies and half-truths. The soldiers volunteer for battle, to not sit and wait for others to solve the problems. At the end of the film, Redford’s student faces a choice, and stands on the precipice of deciding between continuing in his blasé, peaceful existence, and taking action to be a force of change.

Redford’s character laments at no other time in our history “have such lions been led by such lambs.” This film portrays the lack of real, courageous leadership from those in power. It implies that servicemen and idealists are the lions, courageous and righteous, while the insulated, protected government leaders are the lambs. However, the deeper symbolism of the lamb is even more powerful. The real metaphorical lambs of the story are the common soldiers. They are led into battle by those who should be protecting and shepherding them, and the result is the slaughter and sacrifice of our best and brightest. The soldiers in this film are promising students, called into action by their patriotism and then pushed into danger by the smug self-righteousness of politicians like Cruise, who are safely shielded from the consequences of error.

Lions for Lambs is a smart, stylish, and fearless film, highlighted by superb performances and Redford’s razor-sharp direction. His maverick take on American politics is not an indictment of any one viewpoint. The only condemnation is of cowardice. Most of the scenes in the film are debates, and they are ruthlessly engaging, because we have the opportunity to watch our most masterful screen actors at work. Cruise and Streep engage in a high-stakes game of evasion that leaves the audience breathless, even as the characters themselves barely raise an eyebrow. Lions for Lambs is not merely a war drama – the engagement of the audience doesn’t happen through action and gunfire.

Ultimately, our country’s fate depends on the actions of all of us. We will not succeed or fail based on a handful of lawmakers or journalists, and it is impossible to lay all the blame for past mistakes at the feet of one man or political party. The film portrays the human element of conflict, and reminds us of the tragic consequences of inaction and hubris. Lions for Lambs is a stark reminder that changing the course of history is the right and responsibility of every single American, and it challenges us to have the courage to do so.




Robert Redford's
Lions for Lambs
Opens Friday, November 9, 2007

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Robert Redford’s Lions for Lambs may be earnest and idealistic and slightly simplistic in it’s presentation, but it’s actually a film about ideas made by a skilled filmmaker who appears to be very concerned about the state of our country. The lambasting the film is getting from the very media outlets it calls to task is not surprising, but it is disheartening.

Don’t be fooled by the misguided critiques of oh-so-evolved journalists who feel superior to the dialogue Redford is trying to encourage. The reason the film works so well, and it does, is that it refuses to speak from a position of superiority. It will not condescend. Redford asks some terribly important questions. The pic also boasts a smart script, deft direction and impressive performances.

The docu-drama plot involves three interwoven sequences. On a west coast university campus, Dr. Malley (Redford) debates a promising but apathetic student (an excellent Andrew Garfield) about his potential as a citizen of the world and why he should apply himself. In Washington, D.C., an ambitious Senator (Tom Cruise) is about to reveal a major war story to a seasoned and savvy TV journalist (Meryl Streep). The third segment involves two of Malley’s former students (Derek Luke & Michael Pena), now on the battlefield in Afghanistan.

The film is filled with talk, much talk. And how refreshing is that! Yet the film-speak is never dull…and when Streep and Cruise spar the results are riveting. Streep delivers yet another perfect performance and Cruise has his best role since Magnolia, eight years ago.

Much of the power of Lions for Lambs comes from the films condemnation of the media’s handling of the Iraq War at its outset. From the get go, most outlets just bought what was being fed to them from the White House hook, line and stinker (spelling error intended). They rarely questioned why. They simply reported the news according to the (then very popular) Bush Administration, worrying more about ratings and circulation than about doing their jobs as journalists. So many of these print and tele-media reps are now bashing the film…and the critics are doing their best to kill it.

Don’t let them.

Lions for Lambs is an important film that deserves to find an audience. For those of you who are tired of the cold, strictly-cerebral techno-dazzle of certain films that are being ridiculously lauded by the majority of critics, Lions is the perfect antidote. The film is a plea for action and if it galvanizes a handful of audience members into doing something as simple as actually voting in the next election, well, then, it served a greater purpose than most movies ever do.




Bill Guttentag and Dan Sturman's
Nanking
Opens Friday, December 14, 2007

Reviewed by Alejandra Serret

Nanking, a thoughtful documentary directed by Bill Guttentag and Dan Sturman and produced by Ted Leonsis examines the violent six week period in 1937 when Japanese troops invaded Shanghai and then capital Nanking, killing an estimated 200,000 and raping a reported 20,000. Seventy years later, archival footage, chilling interviews and first-hand, written accounts revive the horror of that time. While foreigners evacuated the country, twenty-two European and American Expatriates remained, creating the Safety Zone. Guttentag and Sturman focus the film here—on the two square mile area that helped protect some 200,000 Chinese refugees.

Nanking tells the horrifying and all too common story of the atrocities inflicted in times of war. Like other documentaries some of the hardest moments come with the testimonials—85 and 90 year old men and women reliving brutal rapes and beatings and the vivid murders of their parents, siblings and friends. Their palpable anguish that is still so visibly intact, courses through each story. While the survivors’ accounts give the documentary substance, interviews with several Japanese soldiers give it shape. How does someone justify unnecessary cruelty and violence? A baby stabbed through by a bayonet and his mother’s attempt to breast feed as she bleeds to death. Apparently one doesn’t have to justify brutality in times of war.

Guttentag and Sturman attempt to sear these glimpses and fragments of a life into the viewer’s memory. A very unique tool they use in order to achieve this is to cast actors to play the roles of the Safety Zone Committee Members: Bob Wilson a doctor (played by Woody Harrelson), Minnie Vaughn a professor (played by Mariel Hemingway), John Rabe a German Businessman and member of the Nazi Party (played by Jurgen Prochnow), George Fitch a priest (played by John Getz), and Lewis Smythe a Christian missionary (played by Stephen Dorff). By using actors to read the Committee Members’ first hand accounts, which they acquired through letters written to family and friends, Guttentag and Sturman were able to give words, a face and personality. They gave the letters texture. The archival footage spread throughout, works as the glue that holds all the varying parts together. Hard evidence of the carnage is impossible to forget and harder yet to argue against or deny (although many have tried).

Nanking succeeds in giving a poignant view of a period of time seventy years ago when average people banded together to save thousands. Without the help of weapons these professors, missionaries, priests and businessmen protected the innocent and made it possible for the truth to be heard. Guttentag and Sturman are thorough, allowing “The Rape of Nanking” to unfold within the details. It is often hard to watch and harder still to forget, yet Nanking is a must see.



Juan Antonio Bayona's
The Orphanage
Opens in select theaters: December 28, 2007

 

Reviewed by: Alejandra Serret

Juan Antonio Bayona, a young and talented Spanish director has received much critical acclaim for his latest work, The Orphanage. A film, so creepy and well told, that genius film maker Guillermo del Toro, most noted for last year’s Pan’s Labyrinth, believed in the script, signing on as Producer. The incredible merit this film has received speaks to each aspect of the film: the acting, directing, pace, and tasteful elements of gore.

While I would agree that The Orphanage aims high and attempts to deviate from the same tired-over the top thriller, it falls short. This film’s praise is more a sign of the lack of top notch films made in this genre, than its actual excellence. Yes it’s a good film. Yes it’s entertaining. But no, it is not one that left me speechless or stunned or in tears, as some of the other reviews have stated. It is a thoughtful film and for this reason alone it is already set apart and on a different level than most scary films made today.

The Orphanage begins at a sprawling, country-side estate. Orphans, dressed in uniform, play tag. Fast forward thirty years and the main character, Laura, played by Belen Rueda, returns to the orphanage of her childhood with her husband Carlos (Fernando Cayo) and son Simon (Roger Princep). Laura hopes to renovate the old house and turn it into a home for disabled children. Yet from the beginning, strange things happen: the house groans and creaks in the night, her son makes imaginary friends to plays with, and a late-night visit from a so-called social worker. All, come to a head on the day of her school’s opening. Simon’s anger at his mother’s diverted attention culminates in a fight—and later, his disappearance. The next several months Laura and Carlos remain in the large house, awaiting their son’s return. Before Laura can learn the truth of her son’s whereabouts she must first confront her tragic past.

The ending comes together flawlessly, if a bit quickly. It does so in a way that shows the love between a parent and child. The film takes its time with Simon’s disappearance and his parent’s anguish yet the conclusion, while wonderful, is wrapped up too fast. The Orphanage is definitely worth watching as it attempts to do what so many other thrillers have forgotten.


 

 



Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi's
Persepolis
Opens Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Reviewed by Julia Sirmons

A film about angst and rebellion under the thumb of an oppressive Islamist regime may, at first glance, seem like unlikely holiday movie-going fare. Nevertheless, tales of the resiliency of the human spirit and the triumph of rebellion and dignity in the most of trying of political circumstances are very much in keeping with the greatest story every told. With that in mind, there's no better way to keep the seasonal joie de vivre going than by checking out Persepolis, the visually arresting, earthy and affecting animated film adapted form Iranian author Marjane Satrapi's intensely personal graphic novels.

The film's narrative spans the course of both books; beginning with the young Marjane witnessing the fall of the Shah and the rise of the Islamist revolution, following her to school in Vienna then back home to Tehran and finally off to Paris to begin a new life as an artist.

As graphically striking as Satrapi's print illustrations are, the live animation gives the story a new vitality and depth. Shaded entirely in blacks, whites, and greys, the illustrations and images manage to convey a wide variety of emotions: the warm and homey feel of Marjane's close-knit family, the eerie and magical depictions of young Marjane's fantasy world, the traditional Persian aesthetic of the segments that explain Iranian history, the neo-noir punk feel of Marjane's sojourn in Vienna, and the bleak, ominous look of the scenes of political protest and rebellion. The visual complexity of Persepolis is truly dazzling; it looks unlike any film you've ever seen.

As much as the narrative of Persepolis is inexorably entwined with the history of modern Iran, it really is a much more universal story – that of a smart, tough, rebellious girl struggling to come into her own when all the weight of circumstance and society are fighting against her. One of the great delights of seeing the story on celluloid is that the character of Marjane (voiced by Gabrielle Lopes Benites as a girl and by Chiara Mastroianni as a teenager and adult) really comes to life. To see the character develop from a fearless kung-fu-loving young badass to a moody and an outraged teen and finally a defiant, self-confident woman is heartrendingly real. The superb cast of powerful, memorable characters is rounded off by Marjane's formidable and supportive parents (voiced Simon Akbarian and Mastroianni's real-life mother, Catherine Deneuve), and her doting but gutsy grandma (the incomparable Danielle Darrieux).

In this day and age, when oppressive regimes stamp out personal freedoms across the globe, Persepolis is an empowering call to arms; a strong reminder that the human desire for liberty can thrive under the most difficult circumstances. A more inspiring Christmas message would be difficult to find.


 


Brian De Palma’s
Redacted
Opens November 16, 2007

Reviewed by Alejandra Serret

With movies like Carrie, Scarface, The Untouchables, Carlito’s Way, and Mission Impossible on his resume, Brian De Palma has successfully explored varying film genres. In 1989, he directed the controversial film Casualties of War, starring Michael J. Fox and Sean Penn, based on the Vietnam War and how it affected both civilians and soldiers.

Decades later he’s at it again with his most recent work Redacted: same argument, different war. With other politically charged films currently circulating the cinemas (i.e. Lions for Lambs and Rendition) Redacted is most electrifying and twice as effective, not only in message, but in delivery and vision. While De Palma explores the devastating consequences of the Iraq War, he does so through the examination of news coverage. How is the news filtered? How does it affect our perception of issues and events? How is it shaped in order to create a desired reaction?

To redact footage, is to edit it for publishing. “Redacted is often used to describe documents or images from which sensitive information has been expunged,” says De Palma. “The true story of our Iraq War has been redacted from the Main Stream Corporate Media. If we are going to cause such disorder then we must face the horrendous images that are the consequences of these actions.” In order to convey redaction, De Palma centers the film on a 14-year-old Iraqi girl’s brutal rape and death and of her family’s slaughter at the hands of US soldiers. He tells the same incident through three different lenses: a US soldier who videotapes everything in hopes of going to film school, and the American and Iraqi media.

The same event, once redacted, becomes three different incidents, seemingly unrelated. He jumps from one point of view to another with a mastered fluidity that avoids interruption. Instead, the constant movement depicts deep contrasts, adding to the central theme. De Palma allows the riveting documentary style footage to speak for itself, holding back when necessary. He shows the ripple effect this incident has on so many people—the victim and her family, the soldiers and their families.

De Palma closes the film with photographs of the Iraq War: images of wounded children being held by crying parents, dead civilians lying in the streets amongst rubble. He ends with silence and a montage of horrifying shots. His redaction is a point of view not yet given by the American mainstream media and is one that is impossible to expel.



Alexandra Maria Lara in Francis Ford Coppola's Youth Without Youth

Francis Ford Coppola's
Youth Without Youth
Opens Friday, December 14, 2007

Starring: Tim Roth; Alexandra Maria Lara; and Bruno Ganz.

Reviewed by Julia Sirmons

Filmgoers who feared that Francis Ford Coppola had, like Kurtz in Copolla’s Apocalypse Now, gotten forever lost in the jungle (or, that matter, in a vat of Merlot), will have much to rejoice about in Youth Without Youth, his first feature in ten years. Best summarized as a freewheeling metaphysical examination of love, mortality and linguistics (yes, linguistics), Youth is an ambitious, baffling and ultimately exhilarating, provocative film.

Adapted from the novel by Romanian intellectual and mind-bender Mircea Eliade, Youth tells the story of washed-up and embittered linguist Dominic Matei (Tim Roth). Depressed at the imminent threat of Nazi occupation – the film begins in Bucharest in 1938 – as well as his lack of progress on his history of language, Matei is on the verge of suicide when an errant lighting bolt causes a bizarre transformation that leaves him thirty years younger.

Matei is energized by the possibility of a new lease on life (not to mention an amped-up sex life), but many others are also interested in his miraculous transformation, including his doctor (the reliably superb Bruno Ganz), a sexy and deliciously loony young Nazi (Alexandra Pirici), and an American agent played by a smooth-faced young chippy most recently seen as a man with an Identity crisis (Matt Damon).

Eager to escape all this heat, Matei makes for the Swiss alps, where he encounters Veronica (the lovely and dynamic Alexandra Maria Lara) who may be the reincarnation of our hero's long-lost love and who, thanks to her own encounter with lightning, has a funny habit of speaking in ancient languages while serving as a conduit for spirits from ages past. The rest of the film follows Matei on a journey through Malta and India and, ultimately through time.

The climax is a bit far-fetched, and it's possible that Coppola bit off a bit more than the film could chew. Nevertheless, as my mind was completely blown by the conclusion, I couldn't help but be grateful that Coppola threw restraint to the wind and didn't end up making a more modest – but ultimately more boring – movie.

The metaphysical plot twists are certainly difficult to decipher, but there's something incredibly liberating about Coppola's decision to let the viewer revel in her own confusion, letting her mind wander over the various philosophical implications of Matei's strange voyage of the soul. Seductive photography by Romanian cinematographer Mihai Malaimare Jr. and precise work by Coppola's long-time collaborator and editor Walter Murch emphasize the audience's dizzying disorientation.

In the end, Youth Without Youth is a passionate and deeply personal exploration of human anxiety, one that made me hope that the director, like his protagonist, has gotten a second chance.

 


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