Youth


Michael Caine conducts himself with dignity.

Michael Caine conducts himself with dignity.

(2015) Drama (Fox Searchlight) Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Alex Macqueen, Madalina Ghenea, Mark Kozelek, Nate Dern, Alex Beckett, Mark Gessner, Tom Lipinski, Chloe Pirrie, Luna Mijovic, Dorji Wangchuk, Ed Stoppard, Robert Seethaler, Paloma Faith, Emilia Jones, Beatrice Walker, Rebecca Calder, Veronika Dash. Directed by Paolo Sorrentino

We all age. From the moment we burst out of the womb our bodies are decaying on the way to decrepitude. And for the record, there’s no such thing as aging gracefully; there’s only the appearance of it. When we age, we do so with a distinct absence of grace. We go kicking and screaming, flailing away like an epileptic mule, into that good night.

In a remote spa resort in the Swiss Alps, retired composer/conductor Fred Ballinger is vacationing with his daughter Lena (Weisz) who is also his business assistant, and his best friend Mickey Boyle (Keitel) who is a respected Hollywood screenwriter putting the finishing touches with a team of writers on his latest script, which he considers his “moral testament,” a work that he sees as his enduring legacy.

A representative (Macqueen) of the Queen of England is there to convince Maestro Ballinger to conduct one of his most famous pieces, Simple Songs #3, for Prince Philip’s birthday at which time he would receive his knighthood, but Ballinger adamantly refuses for “personal reasons.” Try as he might to pry it out of him, the rep is stymied. However, the Queen can be mighty persistent.

Boyle is writing a hell of a part for an actress whose career he helped launch, Brenda Morel (Fonda) but her reaction to the role is startling and disappointing. Both men are realizing that their best days are behind them, and that they are slowly leaving the things of their youth behind, even as they see those who worship youth flutter around them like so many broken songbirds.

Sorrentino, who directed the Oscar-winning The Grand Beauty, is clearly influenced by the great Federico Fellini. Like Fellini, he has a fascination for women and like Fellini, he has an appreciation for the surreal dreams. As with most Fellini films, Sorrentino populates Youth with the jaded rich, those who have become so used to being able to afford anything they want that there’s nothing they want that they can afford. The shallow values of these people collide with the gorgeous Alpine scenery.

Ballinger and Boyle (which sounds like either a London barrister or a French champagne) are the exceptions. They are bemused by the couples who sit through dinner silently, the South American superstar so famous nobody need even say his name, the wealthy chasing after lost youth as if they could find it again and even if they could, that they can somehow bathe in it and become young again.

There is a great deal of depth to the movie, and it’s the kind that you have to work for. You have characters passing in and out like the actor (Dano) known for playing a robot studying for a new part – and it’s not one that you’d expect. Then there’s the lonely mountain climbing teacher (Seethaler) who approaches Lena, who herself has been cheated on and tossed aside by her husband – who happens to be Mick’s son – and is rebounding in the arms of a gentler, kinder man.

Still, it is Michael Caine who is magnificent here. An actor as versatile as there has been in the last 50 years, if anyone in Hollywood has aged gracefully, he has. He plays a man who has shut away his emotions to the point that when they do come out, it’s a shock. They are most certainly there, but deep below his calm, upper class demeanor. While he dismisses his work as simplistic, there’s no doubt that they mean something very personal to him and even his daughter, whom he has never been able to express his feelings for, knows it. Caine has some of the best moments in the film, particularly a balcony conversation with Mick near the end of the movie that takes a shocking turn. I will always remember his character conducting the cows in the Tyrolean meadows as well as the birds and the wind, making a beautiful symphony only he – and we – hear.

Fonda also has a bravura moment with Keitel, coming off as perhaps the most Fellini-esque of the characters here, with her shrill demeanor, her dangling cigarette and her laid-on-with-a-trowel makeup that make her look like a party guest in a Fellini film. That leads into another sequence reminiscent of the great Italian director in which Mick’s leading ladies all appear in a meadow, repeating robotically the lines from their films.

When Mick tells Fred in a breaking voice “You say that emotions are overrated, but…emotions are all we’ve got,” he’s speaking for Sorrentino. While there’s a lot here to occupy the mind, this is ultimately a movie of the heart and it speaks directly to that organ more so than the one above the neck.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the soundtrack, particularly the contributions of Mark Kozelek (vocalist of the Red House Painters and Sun Kil Moon). His voice is as calming and soothing as any you’ll ever here; he’s literally human lithium. His version of Yes’ ”Onward” (written by the late great Chris Squire and the best song he ever wrote) is used three times during the film. It’s a beautiful song about love and perfectly underscores the themes of the movie.

Fellini is very much an acquired taste and not everything here is going to appeal to everyone. Sorrentino often flashes images of people or things seemingly at random, or juxtaposes images with dialogue or songs in a way that very much recalls the late director. Not everyone is going to like it but if you like Italian cinema of the 60s, or simply very good movies that appeal to both head and heart, you’re going to find something here to love. Of course if you’re a Fellini fan, so much the better; but those who find his style too pretentious might want to give this one a miss.

REASONS TO GO: There is truly some magic here. Caine’s performance is wonderful.
REASONS TO STAY: Occasionally pretentious and confusing.
FAMILY VALUES: Graphic nudity, some sexuality and some profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Ghenea was 26 at the time of filming, which would have tied her for the honor of the oldest Miss Universe ever were she actually the part she plays.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/31/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 74% positive reviews. Metacritic: 65/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: La Dolce Vita
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT: The Hateful Eight

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The Overnight


Peep show.

Peep show.

(2015) Sex Comedy (The Orchard) Jason Schwartzman, Adam Scott, Taylor Schilling, Judith Godreche, Max Moritt, R.J. Hermes, Kyle Field, Sarah DeVincentis. Directed by Patrick Brice

Florida Film Festival 2015

Moving to a new city can be a daunting experience, particularly when you don’t know anyone there. We all need a social outlet and finding one in a new place can be something of a priority.

That’s the situation that Alex (Scott) and Emily (Schilling) find themselves in when they relocate from Seattle to the trendy Silver Lake section of L.A. She’s the breadwinner and he works from home and watches their young son R.J. (Hermes). He needs some adult conversation. While at a party for another kid, R.J. hits it off with Max (Moritt). Max’s dad, Kurt (Schwartzman) comes on a little strong at first but he seems to think that the two of them should be friends with he and his wife Charlotte (Godreche). He invites them over for a casual pizza dinner and some playtime for the kids. Alex and Emily readily agree.

It turns out that Kurt has quite the McMansion, more or less tastefully furnished. Everything starts out pretty mellow with plenty of pizza and wine, with Kurt turning out to have a pretty natural rapport with kids. It’s after the kids go to bed that things start to get weird. Turns out that Kurt, who fancies himself something of a renaissance man, has a talent for painting anuses. No, you read that right. He’s got dozens of paintings of bungholes (mostly Charlotte’s) in his studio.

And as Emily discovers, Charlotte is quite the free spirit. She dabbles in massage, but not the kind you find in your local spa – the kind with happy endings, as Emily is shocked to discover. While Emily and Alex aren’t necessarily prudes, they’re both a little bit on the uptight side. Alex is fairly sensitive about the size of his junk, and is especially intimidated when he discovers that in addition to everything else, Kurt is also hung like a horse.

Still with enough pot and champagne swimming in their bloodstreams, Emily and Alex are able to let loose a bit. Then a bit more. And then things get really strange.

Sex comedies have a tendency these days to be focused on horny teens trying to get laid (generally for the first time) so it’s kind of refreshing to have a sex comedy aimed for adults with adult sensibilities.  Writer/director Brice does get a bit into Apatow territory when he goes the penis size route but that’s really not the bulk of the material here. There’s a fish out of water element – the newcomers in hedonistic L.A. – but mainly this is a romp between the sheets.

What works here is the chemistry between the leads. In particular, Schwartzman does some of the best work of his career as the somewhat pompous and out there Kurt who is basically a decent guy who has kind of bought into the whole L.A. thing – it’s an easy temptation, I can tell you – and is kind of a douchebag because of it, but he’s not really a douchebag deep down. That’s fairly complex, but Schwartzman pulls it off.

Scott is becoming a very reliable comic actor with big things ahead of him. I liked him a lot in A.C.O.D. and I like him a lot here as well. He is pleasant enough even when the situation around him is crazy as can be but he seems nonplussed by the insanity. He also makes a very attractive couple with Schilling, who is a versatile actress who is mainly the straight woman here but she has her comedic moments as well.

This is definitely L.A.-centric and those who delight in dissing the City of Angels will have a field day here. Those who love the city as I do will be reminded of summer nights in the City, which can be among the nicest things you can experience in life. Still, the movie is anything but laid-back.

Much of the humor comes from awkward situations which can be…awkward. Still you have to admire a movie in which characters utter the lines “giant horse cock” and “I have an abnormally small cock” in the same scene. You just can’t get that anywhere else but here.

Like most movies, this one knows that the world’s most dangerous question is “Do you find me attractive” and that there’s no answer that doesn’t end badly once it is asked. Not all of the humor works here but when it does it is big laughs. On the balance, this is a rare breed of movie that walks the tightrope that is adult sex comedies. It occasionally falls off the wire but to its credit it gets back on and starts walking forward again, and that’s worthy of respect. This is solidly entertaining, rather funny and likely to be one of those movies that people will look at when Schwartzman, Scott and Schilling become A-list stars.

REASONS TO GO: Good chemistry among four leads. Very funny when it’s funny.
REASONS TO STAY: Not all of the humor works. Definitely awkward.
FAMILY VALUES: Graphic nudity, sexual situations and foul language..
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Filming took place over a mere 15 days, very quick for a feature film.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/29/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews. Metacritic: 73/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: Ex-Machina