For years Coppola tried to get Megalopolis off the ground. When he failed to nail the sci-fi epic’s script he turned his attention to Romanian author Mircea Eliade’s novella Youth Without Youth. After years of doing Hollywood’s bidding to pay off the debts stemming from One From the Heart Coppola clearly felt an emotional connection to a story about a writer trying to complete his life’s work. When we first meet Dominic Matei (Tim Roth) in pre-World War Two Bucharest the 70-year-old professor has resigned himself to never finishing his book about the origin of language. He’s even contemplating suicide. Then he’s struck by lightning. Burned beyond recognition and initially unable to talk or move Matei stuns his doctor (Bruno Ganz) by making a full recovery. He’s also now looks and feels like a man 30 years his junior. But Matei is forced into hiding when the Nazis take an interest in his renewed youthfulness. He spends the war years in Switzerland where he works on his book with renewed vigor and uses his newfound powers to make money. But he’s not alone. Matei’s philosophical quandary--will he employs his powers for good or evil?--results in the manifestation of a double with whom he debates everything. He does find himself flesh-and-blood company when the war ends. Matei and Veronica (Alexandra Maria Lara) meet cute--he finds her in a cave hours after she too has been struck by lightning. Only his newfound soul mate now possesses the transmigrated soul of a 7th century Indian woman--and “Rupini” holds the key to Matei finishing his masterwork. Thank goodness Tim Roth dispenses with the aging makeup quickly. He wears it worse than Javier Bardem does in Love in the Time of Cholera. Once Roth’s out of his hospital bed he makes a masterful physical transformation from old man to young buck. Slowly but surely he loses his shuffle straightens his shoulders and begins to walk with all the energy and purpose of a man half his age. While finding much delight in Matei’s miraculous recovery Roth also delves into the frustrated writer’s subconscious to convey the fears suspicions and contradictions that come with being placed in such a unique situation. More important Roth never resorts to unnecessary theatrics to portray a “strange superman of the future” occasionally at odds with himself. There’s a playfulness and confidence to the double that’s missing from Matei but Roth communicates this in a subtle but powerful manner. Lara though is awfully blank as Veronica and Rupini. Yes Veronica and Rupini exist only to push Matei to his limits morally and professionally but Lara fails to at least make either woman vaguely interesting than their defined roles. As Matei’s doctor Ganz stumbles through Youth Without Youth with a look of astonishment plastered on his face. Andre Hennicke is all business as a Nazi scientist determined to get his hands on Matei. Alexandra Pirici is suitably seductive as a German spy who does get to put her hands on Matei—and inevitably pays the price for preventing Matei from becoming “a valuable human specimen.” Unlike Tucker: The Man and His Dream Youth Without Youth never draws you into its long-suffering protagonist’s plight or pursuit of excellence. It’s not because things get too outlandish. Francis Ford Coppola quickly establishes this is a Twilight Zone-ish portrait of how much a man is willing to sacrifice to complete his life’s work. Matei’s condition offers many avenues to explore. What would you do if you had 30 years shaved off your life? Unfortunately Matei is so wrapped up in his work that it’s impossible to concern yourself too much for him or his goals. Coppola never shows through Matei’s eyes how the world changes and fails to create a sense that his resurrection has any great meaning. Coppola doesn’t even examine the full extent of Matei’s powers. Matei’s initial transformation from suicidal failure to “living dead man” is compelling but that’s mostly because of the wartime intrigue to be found early in the film. Once hostilities end and Matei meets the verbose Veronica Youth Without Youth immediately becomes pretentious and protracted. And as it plods toward its inevitable conclusion you’ll not care what decision Matei will make when he must choose between Veronica and his book. And that’s the worst thing to say about a film that marks the emancipation of a true original. While this misspent Youth is not a disaster like One From the Heart Coppola needs to make better use of his newfound artistic and financial freedom. The last thing anyone wants is for him to have to whore himself out to Hollywood again.
Deep in the Carpathian mountains a team of scientists stumbles upon the entrance to a vast and intricate underground cave system--one that just screams "Explore me!" But this isn't your Aladdin Cave of Wonders garden variety filled with treasure and a genie in a lamp. Oh no. This Cave is deep treacherous and well possibly crawling with any number of things that could kill you. No matter. Biologist Kathryn (Lena Headey) believes there might be an entirely new ecosystem waiting to be discovered (what fun!) so she and her team hire experienced cave diver Jack (Cole Hauser) and his team to help them get in there. But what they all don't realize is that these ancient caves actually do contain brand new species of subterranean life both small and very very great. And could it be that some of the more deadly creatures have mutated from--gasp!--human life forms? Yeah they are about to get into some serious trouble.
How sad for Cole Hauser. He's a fairly serviceable actor with a penchant for solid action flicks (2 Fast 2 Furious) but he's picked bad scripts lately. Paparazzi? Please. Same goes for Morris Chestnut who plays Jack's right-hand man. He started out strong in Boyz N The Hood but had the unfortunate duty of being terrorized by giant snakes in last year's horrid Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid. Also braving the big bad Cave are Piper Perabo (Coyote Ugly) as a spitfire rock climber; Eddie Cibrian (TV's Third Watch) as Jack's hotshot brother; and Daniel Dae Kim (TV's Lost) as a photographer. Only Headey (who also co-stars in this week's The Brothers Grimm) seems to add a bit of credibility as the earnest biologist. But really that isn't saying much.
The one positive thing you can say about The Cave is that it looks pretty darn authentic. With the help of professional speleologists and cave divers director Bruce Hunt--known as Australia's premier commercial director--paints a realistic view of what these caves represent and what dangers cave divers go through to explore them. Shot entirely in Romania the cave system described in the movie apparently exists in the Carpathian mountains and some do indeed contain various new species of life. Of course none of these creatures are big enough to rip your head off and gnaw on your remains--at least none that they have found anyway--but you never know. Nice thought. But all the pretty pictures and why-would-you-want-to-go-in-there? moments don't make up for a lackluster scarefest. The twist at the end is mildly compelling but perhaps The Cave would have been better suited as a documentary on the exploration of these Romanian caves for the Discovery Channel. At least you could fall asleep on a comfortable couch watching it.
From the moment Lt. Tommy Hart (Colin Farrell) is captured by the Germans we are once again immersed in the horrors of war. Hart's journey to the POW camp is fraught with danger; the Allies who don't know POW's are onboard attack his transport train. Once at the camp he immediately finds himself at odds with Colonel William McNamara (Bruce Willis) the ranking POW. Believing the story will ultimately be about Hart's perseverance in the camp the plot suddenly twists into a courtroom drama. McNamara assigns Hart to defend the camp's lone black prisoner Lincoln Scott (Terrence Howard) a Tuskeegee airman who has been wrongly accused of murdering a white prisoner. Hart who had been a second-year law student before he joined the war struggles to prepare for his client's trial and even accepts help from the German commandant Werner Visser (Marcel Iures). Yet McNamara's real motive is to use the trial as a diversion for an elaborate escape attempt. It all comes to a head at the conclusion of the trial where duty honor and sacrifice become more than just words.
The acting is solid and incredibly believable. The performances are so spot-on that they blend seamlessly into the overall tapestry of the film and the story becomes the true star. Farrell last seen in the forgettable American Outlaws is given much more to work with in this movie and turns in a fine performance. Willis has finally found a rhythm in his career. He may wear the grimace that we've all seen before throughout the film but his Col. McNamara is a fairly complex individual. We aren't sure if his character is being honorable or not which is a real credit to Willis' acting ability. Howard does a nice job too as the hapless airman. The true standout however is Iures. He gives a multi-layered performance as the German commandant a lover of American music and culture who feels he must run the camp in accordance to the German Army's strictures because it's his job. Iures is Romania's answer to Laurence Olivier and his skills are quite evident: his scenes with either Farrell or Willis are the best in the movie.
Based on the John Katzenbach novel of the same name this isn't your standard World War II POW movie by any means. Katzenbach wrote the book about his own father's real-life experiences during WWII and makes the plot a combination of Stalag 17 and A Few Good Men. The courtroom drama holds prominence and is ultimately what makes this movie worth seeing. Director Gregory Hoblit cemented his reputation as a courtroom and thriller director by directing episodes of TV's Hill Street Blues and L.A. Law and then moving onto the big screen with Primal Fear. Here he expertly draws us into the drama contrasting the bleakness of war with the courage of the soldiers. The only problem with the film is the jarring contrast of the themes: for a while it's a war film then it's a courtroom drama before ultimately becoming an escape flick. For good measure the issue of racism is also explored. Somehow the story lines blend well. And though the film takes it time getting to the meat of the story once you are there it's completely riveting.