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In a perfect world, Francis Ford Coppola would have made his films more or less in reverse order. The insubstantial films he’s making now should be the tentative films of a student struggling to find his voice and vision while The Conversation, One From the Heart, Apocalypse Now and the two Godfather movies would be the culmination of his mastery of cinema. Sadly, this is not the case. While his previous film, Tetro, showed signs of recovery from his slump of many years, he now unveils at this very public film festival, Twixt, easily his silliest work.
As a film self-financed and possibly self-distributed with the director accompanying the film on its theatrical journey, there may be elements here to provoke thought or discussions with curious audiences. But as a bona-fide theatrical release, even with Val Kilmer, Elle Fanning and Bruce Dern in the cast, the movie doesn’t stand a ghost of a chance.
Ghosts do play a major role in this film, the idea of which, the writer-director said in a public conversation before its first showing in Toronto, came to him partially in a dream. In its dream sequences, the film is decked out in Gothic imagery with flashes of color within otherwise monochromatic palette and spectral figures drifting in and out of the mind of its protagonist.
This would be Kilmer’s Hall Baltimore, introduced in a gravelly narration by Tom Waits as a third-rate author of witchcraft fiction on a cheapo book tour. He comes to the isolated town of Swan Valley, the kind of town Rod Serling once specialized in, where the many clocks in its clock tower all give different times and a curse hangs over everyone.
It seems a mass killing many years back — an old newspaper clipping is dated 1955 — provoked the curse. Meanwhile, if the town’s batty sheriff (Dern) is to be believed, a serial killer is still at work and he has a body in the morgue to prove it.
As Hall falls asleep at night, he is visited by the ghost of a murdered girl (Fanning), who obliquely describes what transpired in an old, burnt hotel. Then Hall runs into the ghost of Edgar Allan Poe (Ben Chaplin), who adds more details although they seem like details from Poe’s poems and stories rather the town’s curious history. Oh yes, and there’s talk of vampires too, but the movie never seems to make up its mind of these are vampires or ghosts. In any event, Hall stays in the town as he sees this story, or perhaps it’s his dreams, as fodder for his next novel.
The dream sequences give the director and cinematographer Mihai Malaimare Jr. free reign to throw just about any Gothic imagery on the screen. One can reflect on what the young Coppola, with his masterful camera work and vivid imagination, might have done with such an opportunity. Unfortunately, the present-day one produces only tepid and tired imagery that would not earn high marks in any film school.
Raising gimmickry to a new (lower?) level, two sequences in the movie demand that the audience don 3D glasses. You know when to do so because a pair of glasses suddenly looms on the screen and the movie turns into 3D.
One truly strange element here comes from Hall’s past: A boating accident killed his young daughter, a tragedy for which the writer blames himself. What makes this strange is that Coppola himself lost a son in a boating accident in 1986. So you don’t know what this autobiographical element is doing in the movie and how to react to it. It is meant to bestow a note of seriousness on an otherwise frivolous movie? It doesn’t because this element is used as a cheap plot gimmick, as a means for the novelist to find a satisfactory ending to his new book, an ending his publisher (David Paymer) demands be “bulletproof.”
Of course, the ending isn’t. It’s just a mishmash of absurd horror tropes with a gush of blood and a vampire that may, as another autobiographical element, harken back to Coppola’s days making movies for Roger Corman.
The pity is that the narration has got it all too right: His writer’s story is indeed third-rate.
production companies: American Zoetrope
Cast: Val Kilmer, Bruce Dern, Elle Fanning, Ben Chaplin, Joanne Whalley, David Paymer.
Director/screenwriter/producer: Francis Ford Coppola.
Executive producer: Anahid Nazarian, Fred Roos.
Director of photography: Mihal Malalmare. Jr.
Production designer: Jimmy DiMarcellis.
Music: Osvaldo Golijov, Dan Deacon.
Costume designer: Marjorie Bowers.
Editor: Robert Schafer.
Sales: Hirch Wallerstein.
No rating, 90 minutes.
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