It's been a decade since Francis Ford Coppola made a feature film, but the man behind The Godfather trilogy and Apocalypse Now is finally back with Youth Without Youth, a movie—about an aging intellectual given a second chance at life—that more than one person has said is a metaphor for Coppola's own post-midlife musings.
“I think it's an interesting conversation Francis is having with the audience and himself,” said actor Tim Roth in an interview with CityBeat. Roth plays Dominic, a septuagenarian Romanian professor who, on the eve of World War II, is struck by lightning and emerges with the body of a middle-aged man and the knowledge of his entire life. “Basically, he filmed the conversation, or he filmed something that is concerning him.”
Whether Youth is truly about Coppola or not, the movie is surreal and messy, visually lovely though emotionally overwrought. But Roth is terrific as the academic given a second chance to choose between work and life, something Roth, the father of three boys, can relate to. “We all have that conflict,” he said. “I relate to it very strongly. And it pisses me off to no end, but it's a fact of my life. This film was seven months in the making. My part of that, mine is absence. When I go home, my kids have grown. I have a very random amount of time with my boys.”
Youth Without Youth is an esoteric film that might leave audiences wondering if Dominic's entire second life has actually happened. And that's sort of the idea, because even the film's star isn't sure about the ending. “The big question is, does any of this actually happen?” Roth said. “I used to think it was all real, but now I tend towards [thinking] it's not.”
Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem: The first Aliens vs. Predator movie was the suckiest suck that ever sucked. But the sequel, which brings the intergalactic battle to determine the deadliest species to a small town in Colorado, ups the violence all the way to 11. Which is exactly what you're hoping for, if you're the sort to go see the sequel to Aliens vs. Predator. Opens Dec. 25.
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly: So, acclaimed American painter Julian Schnabel makes a movie in French about Jean-Dominique Bauby, the editor of the French edition of Elle who, following a stroke, can only communicate by blinking his left eyelid. And it's really, really good. Gorgeous to look at and heartbreaking to experience, The Diving Bell gets deep into the psyche of Bauby, who ended up writing his memoirs one letter at a time. The film features an extraordinary performance from Mathieu Amalric as Bauby and earned Schnabel Best Director honors at Cannes. Opens Dec. 25.
The Great Debaters: Denzel Washington sits back in the director's chair for a movie that looks like an Oprah episode—and for good reason: the Queen of All Media is on board as a producer. Loosely based on true events, Washington also stars in the picture, playing Melvin Tolson, a Depression-era professor at Texas' black Wiley College who created a debate team that challenged the country's reigning champions. Also starring Forrest Whitaker, The Great Debaters is formulaic and predictable, sure, but also more inspiring than you might expect. Opens Dec. 25.
The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep: Young Angus (Alex Etel) finds a mysterious egg that hatches into a mysterious creature he names Crusoe. Unable to care for the growing reptile, Angus deposits him in the nearest body of water—Loch Ness. You get the rest. Opens Dec. 25.
Charlie Wilson's War: What lazy filmmaking. There's no sign of the Mike Nichols we know and love, Aaron Sorkin's usually crisp dialogue is inane, Julia Roberts sucks and everyone's trying to skate on Tom Hanks' trademark charm. Sure, he's fun as the party-go-lucky congressman who spearheaded funding the Afghani resistance back in the '80s, but Charlie's only saving grace is Phillip Seymour Hoffman, who runs the entire picture from behind the scenes as a veteran covert operator. Opens Dec. 21.
The Kite Runner: This is the picture that forced the studio to relocate its two child stars and their families. It's a terrific story, dealing with the childhood friendship of two Afghani boys, Amir and Hassan, and the terrible traumas that tear them apart. Based on the best-selling novel by UCSD grad Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner follows Amir's return to his homeland after the Russians have left and the Taliban have taken over. Serious weeper, sure, but director Marc Forster makes it far more sentimental than it needs to be. Opens Dec. 21.
National Treasure: Book of Secrets: Nicolas Cage and his band of merry men and hot chicks sort out who's buried in Grant's tomb. Opens Dec. 21.
P.S. I Love You: Gerard “This is Sparta!” Butler sheds his abs to leave his widow, Holly (Hillary Swank), a series of posthumous messages that just might help her get on with her life. With Kathy Bates and Lisa Kudrow. Bring a hankie. Opens Dec. 21.
The Savages: A terrific movie about being forced to finally grow up. Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney are Jon and Wendy Savage, siblings forced to put their nasty, aging father (Phillip Bosco) in a nursing home and come to terms with each other. Superb acting, a fine script and direction from Tamara Jenkins, and an ending that will leave some cool and others inspired. Opens Dec. 21.
Sweeney Todd: Tim Burton, Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham-Carter bring Sondheim's bloody musical to the big screen. Opens Dec. 21. Please see our review on Page 26.
Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story: John C. Reilly is dumb-ass country musician Dewey Cox in this parody of music biopics that hits nearly all the right notes. Kristen Wiig and Jenna Fischer are solid choices for his love interests, and the rest of the cast provides decent laughs throughout. From comedy king Judd Apatow and director Jake Kasdan, Dewey Cox contains inspired writing, more than a dozen memorable cameos and, best of all, seriously good music.
Youth Without Youth: Francis Ford Coppola's first film in a decade stars Tim Roth as an aging intellectual given a second shot at youth. Opens Dec. 21. Please see our short interview with Roth on Page 26.One time only
Citizen Video's Short Films Collection: In addition to screening selections from 2006's Hi-Lo Festival, the rare-film purveyors at Citizen Video will show the shorts Extended Stay by director Pamela Littky, Two Cars, One Night by Taika Waititi and Rabbit by Run Wrake. It's almost a guarantee you won't be able to see these anywhere else in town. Dec. 20, 9 p.m. at Whistle Stop Bar in South Park.
A Christmas Carol: The 1951 version of the popular holiday classic stars Alastair Sim as Ebenezer Scrooge, taken on a tour of his life by the Ghosts of Christmas' Past, Present and Future. Sure, you know the drill, but watching it once a year can't hurt. To be screened in conjunction with Charles Fleischer's 1944 animated version of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Dec. 23, 3 p.m. at Whistle Stop Bar in South Park.
Interview: Steve Buscemi directs and stars in this remake of Dutch director Theo Van Gogh's 2003 film of the same name. Buscemi is political journalist Pierre Peders, forced to interview vapid tabloid celebrity Katya (Sienna Miller) on the eve of a breaking White House scandal. The tension between Pierre and Katya is palpable as they become engaged in a game of psychological warfare, induced by plenty of booze and coke. Dec. 26, 2 p.m. at the Central Library, Downtown.
The Italian Job: Here's the original 1969 version of the heist film, with Michael Caine as Charlie Croker, the British playboy who gets involved in a plan to steal a buttload of gold bullion. When things get too expensive for his means, he turns to Mr. Bridger (Noel Coward) for support, and Bridger puts together a team of the U.K.'s finest criminal minds to seal the deal. The one and only Benny Hill co-stars. Dec. 26, 8 p.m. at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma.
Alvin and the Chipmunks: Jason Lee is Dave Seville, the man attempting to keep computer-animated Alvin, Simon and Theodore from engaging in their typical wacky chipmunk antics. The bad news: If you have kids, chances are they'll whine until you take 'em to see it. The good news: It's only 90 minutes long.
I Am Legend: The latest take on Richard Matheson's novel turns Will Smith into Robert Neville, a brilliant military scientist who is also the last man in New York City, not counting the untold hordes of vampire-like people who were infected by an errant cure for cancer. Some of the scenes of an empty Big Apple are amazing, but the movie chops out Matheson's dark, nihilistic vision and turns Neville, always an Everyman dealing with extraordinary circumstances, into a superdude with serious pecs. Still, if you've got to spend an hour watching one guy on screen, it might as well be Smith, who's terrific until he finally has company.
Juno: Fizzy and enjoyable, the year's best feel-good film centers, surprisingly, on an unwed pregnant teen. That'd be Juno (Ellen Page), who decides to give her baby to a yuppie couple (Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman) and toy with her good friend and the father of her child, Paulie Bleeker (an excellent Michael Cera). With sharp dialogue from stripper-turned-screenwriter Diablo Cody and solid direction from Jason Reitman, Juno is a solid, if inoffensive, triumph.
The Perfect Holiday: A romantic comedy with Gabrielle Union, Queen Latifah and Terrence Howard centered on a divorced mom (Union) and her kids' Christmas hopes that she will find a man to make her happy. Former hip-hop video director Lance Rivera takes the reins, but there's no ass-shaking or Cristal-drinking in this one.
Starting Out in the Evening: Frank Langella gets the role of his career as Leonard Schiller, an obsolete writer who has toiled on his latest book for a decade. Lauren Ambrose is the grad student determined to reintroduce him to the public, and Lili Taylor is his daughter confronting her own midlife crisis. But the movie is all about Langella and his subtle, heartbreaking performance.
Atonement: Though they've gone out of their way to make Atonement look like a generic period romance, Joe Wright's adaptation of Ian McEwan's shatteringly good novel is crisply directed, gorgeous to look at and terribly well-acted by James McAvoy and Keira Knightley as a star-crossed couple whose future is taken from them when Knightley's younger sister misinterprets something she sees and later turns McAvoy's Robbie in for a crime he did not commit. The buzz has been about the six-minute tracking shot on the war-strewn beaches of Dunkirk, but the real heat is between the two leads.
The Golden Compass: Chris Weitz, one of the dudes behind the American Pie franchise, takes on the first installment of Phillip Pullman's celebrated His Dark Materials trilogy, which has bible-thumpers the world over thumping madly and hoping to prevent Pullman's anti-church leanings from getting out to the public. The source material is terrific, but Weitz's take on this alt.world, in which everyone has their own personal daemon animal, is fairly tepid, even with Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig as the adult leads. The movie looks gorgeous, but it's poorly structured and will seem awkward to those unfamiliar with the complex storyline. Still, those armored polar bears are awesome.
Margot at the Wedding: The tenderness found in Noah Baumbach's last film, The Squid and the Whale, just isn't present in Margot. Here, Margot (Nicole Kidman) is attending her sister's (Jennifer Jason Leigh) wedding. Kidman and Jason Leigh are top-notch, but there's so much acid in this family that it's hard to like any of them, even Margot's future bro-in-law, slacker rock dude Malcolm (Jack Black).
Awake: The force must still be strong in Hayden Christensen, because he regains consciousness during brain surgery and overhears his doctors plotting to kill him. Jessica Alba plays Padme in this one—insert your own Darth Vader joke here.
August Rush: Irish guitarist Louis Connelly (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) and American cellist Lyla Novacek (Keri Russell) share an intimate night in New York, spawning a lovechild (Freddy Highmore) who grows up sans parents, becoming a musical prodigy under the tutelage of Max “Wizard” Wallace (soul-patch wearing Robin Williams). He hopes that his songs will reconnect him with his mom and dad, and we hope that Robin Williams is funny this time around.
Enchanted: A deconstructed Disney cartoon, Enchanted, which stars Amy Adams as an animated princess turned to real life on the streets of New York, is far more enchanting than its premise. Grey's Anatomy's McDreamy co-stars, along with Prince Charming James Marsden of X-Men fame.
Hitman: Taken from the successful video game franchise, Hitman manages to be a slow-moving, ponderous film about an genetically modified assassin. It should probably just be rubbed out.
I'm Not There: This strange look at the life and times of Bob Dylan might strike you as insane, a masterpiece or both. Todd Haynes directs six different actors, including Cate Blanchett, Richard Gere and Heath Ledger, who all play different sides of The Artist Formerly Known as Robert Zimmerman. Fascinating and non-linear, this is the sort of picture that puts the “art” in art-house. But is it any good? The answer is blowin' in the wind.
This Christmas: Delroy Lindo, Mekhi Phifer, Idris Elba and Regina King star in this romantic comedy about a successful family that gathers to celebrate the holidays only to discover all sorts of dysfunction and tension bubbling beneath the surface. Lovable and light-hearted, or clichéd and corny? You make the call.
Beowulf: Here you go—this is what will keep movie theaters going in the future. Not Beowulf, but high-end 3-D affairs that are so visually spectacular that you might be willing to overlook a thin story. In five years, Beowulf won't impress. Right now, in 3-D, it's bleeding-edge cool.
No Country for Old Men: Their first decent film since Fargo, No Country is a Coen Brothers masterpiece and perhaps the best picture of '07. Based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy, the story centers on a good ol' boy (Josh Brolin), an aging county sheriff (Tommy Lee Jones), a unstoppable psychopathic killer (Javier Bardem) and a valise thick with drug money. Tight, taut, challenging and brutal, it just gets better with repeated viewings.
Fred Claus: Paul Giamatti is the fat man in the red suit, and Vince Vaughn is Fred, his misfit older brother whose exploits land him behind bars. St. Nick bails out his bro on the condition that Fred helps out during the Christmas rush. Annoying hilarity, complete with elves, ensues.
Before the Devil Knows You're Dead: The latest crime film from octogenarian Sidney Lumet stars Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke as brothers trying to pull an ill-advised small-time score. Intricately plotted and full of secrets and unlikable characters, Devil also stars Marisa Tomei as Hoffman's unhappy wife who gets naked all over the place and Albert Finney and Rosemary Harris as the boys' parents.
American Gangster: Denzel Washington is Frank Lucas, the real-life drug kingpin who beat the mafia at its own game, running the New York drug trade back in the 1970s. Russell Crowe is the cop trying to take him down, and Ridley Scott directs them both. The movie looks terrific, but even with all that talent on display, it's hard not to feel like we haven't seen this before.
Bee Movie: Jerry Seinfeld gets back in the game as the voice of the bee, Barry B. Benson, in this animated flick. Barry fiends friendship in New York florist Vanessa (Renee Zellweger) and discovers that people really dig that stuff bees churn out. Better than it sounds, Bee Movie is ultimately as sweet as, well, honey.
Into the Wild: Sean Penn takes on John Krakauer's book with Emile Hirsch as Alexander Supertramp, the young man formerly known as Chris McCandless, who left his suburban family behind in the early '90s and took to the road, eventually making his way to an abandoned bus in the Alaskan wilderness. Penn makes Hirsch a little too much of a Christ figure, but the supporting cast is great, especially Hal Holbrook in the best part of his career.