Youth

Fox Searchlight Pictures

Rated R for profanity, sexuality and graphic nudity

Caine And Keitel Co-Star As Aging BFFs In Surreal Meditation On Mortality

Fred Ballinger (Michael Caine) has chosen to withdraw from the limelight after a storybook career as a celebrated composer and conductor. He’s presently being pampered with mud baths and massages at a scenic spa nestled in the Swiss Alps where he’s vacationing with his daughter Lena (Rachel Weisz) and his best friend, filmmaker Mick Boyle (Harvey Keitel).

Despite being well into their 70s, Mick is working on the script for his next movie with the help of a quintet of young collaborators. For these purposes, it is good to know that Mick’s son Julian (Ed Stoppard) is married to Lena, who has just been dumped for a British pop singer (Paloma Faith herself).

While in the midst of dividing his days between reminiscing with his BFF and soothing his emotionally-distant daughter’s fragile psyche, Fred gets a surprising request to come out of retirement by an emissary (Alex Macqueen) of the Royal Family. Queen Elizabeth II is offering knighthood in exchange for playing his most popular piece, “Simple Songs,” at Prince Philip’s impending birthday concert.

However, Fred summons up the strength to decline the command performance coming with an honorary title attached. For, he has already shed any attachment to his public persona in favor of meditating on his mortality and giving Lena the quality time she was denied as a child. After all, she still hasn’t forgiven him for focusing so selfishly on classical music during her formative years.

Thus unfolds Youth, a surreal mix of heartfelt introspection and escapist fantasy reminiscent of Federico Fellini. The movie was written and directed by Fellini’s fellow paisan, Paolo Sorrentino (The Great Beauty) who is not shy about juxtaposing a variety of jarring images certain to leave a lasting impression, even if you’re not quite sure what to make of the visually captivating menagerie.

Caine and Keitel enjoy their best outings in ages, albeit in service of an inscrutable adventure that deliberately does it darndest to defy definition.

 

Very Good (3 stars)

Running time: 118 minutes

 

 

Chi-Raq

Lionsgate / Roadside Attractions

Rated R for nudity, profanity, sexuality, violence and drug use

Spike Lee Offers Solution For Chicago Gang Violence In Timely Morality Play

Just when we were ready to give up on Spike Lee, wouldn’t you know he’d reassert his relevance with a decent inner-city drama decrying the gang violence in Chicago? Ironically, this timely tale is based on Lysistrata, an ancient play staged by Aristophanes way back in 411 BC. Set in Athens during the Peloponnesian War, that farcical adventure revolved around a headstrong female who brought an end to the hostilities by persuading the women of Greece to withhold sexual favors from their mates until peace was declared.

Spike’s version unfolds in present-day Chicago where we find a gun moll named Lysistrata (Teyonah Parris) growing frustrated by the escalating body count in the Windy City war between a couple of rival street gangs. Her boyfriend, Chi-Raq (Nick Cannon), is the leader of the purple-sporting Spartans, the sworn adversaries of the orange-clad Trojans.

She gets fed up when a neighbor’s (Jennifer Hudson) young daughter is caught in the crossfire during a drive-by shooting and none of the gangbangers is willing to finger the culprit for the cops. After the funeral, she enlists the assistance of sisters all over the hood in implementing a “No peace, no p*ssy,” policy.

Besides borrowing Aristophanes‘ basic plotline, I must point out that Chi-Raq‘s dialogue is almost entirely in verse. When was the last time you saw a movie that rhymed? The novel screenplay was co-authored by Spike with film professor Kevin Willmott, the brains behind Confederate States Of America, a brilliant social satire speculating about what the U.S. would be like today, if the South had prevailed in the Civil War.

Watching Chi-Raq, the pair’s experiment in iambic pentameter gets tiring after about 15 minutes or so. You feel like yelling, “Okay, you made your point. Now just let the thespians act without the burden of having to sound poetic, too.

Credit Spike for assembling an A-list cast featuring Teyonah Parris as Lysistrata and Nick Cannon in the title role. The dramatis personae also includes Academy Award winner Jennifer Hudson (for Dreamgirls), Oscar nominees Angela Bassett (for What’s Love Got To Do With It?) and Samuel L. Jackson (for Pulp Fiction), as well as Dave Chappelle, John Cusack, Felicia “Snoop” Pearson and real-life, grassroots activist Father Michael Pfleger.

Chi-Raq may never be confused with She’s Gotta Have It (1986) or Do The Right Thing (1989), but it nevertheless represents the best adaptation of a classic into ghetto fabulous fare since the inspired reinterpretation of Romeo And Juliet as Romeo Must Die (2000).

 

Very Good (2.5 stars)

Running time: 127 minutes

 

 

OPENING THIS WEEK

Kam’s Kapsules:

For movies opening December 4, 2015

 

Krampus (PG-13 for violence, terror, profanity and drug use) Holiday comedy about a frustrated kid (Emjay Anthony) with no Christmas spirit who unwittingly unleashes a demonic, Scrooge-like force (Luke Hawker). Cast includes Toni Collette, David Koechner, Allison Tolman and Adam Scott.

 

The Letters (PG for mature themes) Reverential retrospective dramatizing the life and times of Mother Teresa (Juliet Stevenson) as reflected by correspondence she exchanged over a half-century with her BFF/spiritual advisor, Father Celeste van Exem (Max von Sydow). With Rutger Hauer, Priya Darshini and Kranti Redkar.

 

Life (R for profanity, nudity and sexuality) Brush with greatness biopic recounting journalist Dennis Stock’s (Robert Pattinson) photo shoot of rising star James Dean (Dane deHaan) for a 1955 issue of Life magazine. Featuring Lauren Gallagher as Natalie Wood, John Blackwood as Raymond Massey and Kelly McCreary as Eartha Kitt.

 

Macbeth (Unrated) Michael Fassbender assumes the title role in the latest adaptation of the Shakespeare tragedy about an ambitious general with designs on the throne of the King of Scotland (David Thewlis). Support cast includes Elizabeth Debicki, Marion Cotillard, Sean Harris and Paddy Considine.

 

Amour Fou (Unrated) Costume drama, set in Berlin in the Romantic Era, about a young poet (Christian Friedel) who enters a suicide pact with a terminally-ill socialite (Schnoeink) after failing to convince his kissing cousin (Sandra Hueller) to do so. Supporting cast includes Stephan Crossmann, Barbara Schnitzler and Marc Bischoff. (In German with subtitles)

 

Bikes Vs. Cars (Unrated) Eco-documentary advocating the adoption of bicycles over autos as the primary form of urban transportation in order to reverse the global warming trend. (In English, Spanish and Portuguese with subtitles)

 

Christmas Eve (PG for peril, mature themes and mild epithets) Holiday comedy revolving around the plight of New Yorkers simultaneously stuck in a half-dozen elevators in the wake of a car accident. Ensemble cast includes Patrick Stewart, Jon Heder, James Roday, Gary Cole and Max Casella.

 

Hitchcock/Truffaut (PG-13 for suggestive material and violent images) Reverential documentary deconstructing the genius of legendary director Alfred Hitchcock through the eyes of protege Francois Truffaut and a number of other admiring colleagues. Featuring commentary by Peter Bogdanovich, David Fincher, Martin Scorcese, Wes Anderson, Richard Linklater and Paul Schrader.

 

The Lady In The Van (PG-13 for a disturbing image) Fact-based docudrama recounting the unlikely friendship forged between a celebrated playwright (Alex Jennings) and a homeless woman (Maggie Smith) living in a car parked in his driveway. With Dominic Cooper, Jim Broadbent and James Corden.

 

MI-5 (R for profanity and violence) Espionage thriller about a spy (Kit Harrington) who comes out of retirement to track down an escaped terrorist (Elyes Gabel) on the CIA’s Most Wanted list as well as the British secret agent (Peter Firth) who’d been escorting him to prison. Support cast includes Tuppence Middleton, Lara Pulver and Jennifer Ehle.

 

My Friend Victoria (Unrated) Baby-daddy drama, set in Paris, about a poor, black single mom (Guslagie Malanga) who waits seven years before finally introducing her daughter (Maylina Diagne) to the middle-class white guy (Pierre Andrau) she shared a summer romance back in high school. (In French with subtitles)

 

A Royal Night Out (PG-13 for sexuality and brief drug use) Post World War II dramedy, set in England in 1945, finds Princess Margaret (Bel Powley) and Princess Elizabeth (Sarah Gadon) slipping out of Buckingham Palace, over the objections of the Queen (Emily Watson), to join the street celebrations on V.E. Day. With Rupert Everett, Mark Hadfield and Jack Laskey.

 

Uncle Nick (Unrated) Brian Posehn plays the titular character in this holiday comedy as the rude relative from hell who ruins the family’s Christmas gathering. Cast includes Scott Adsit, Missi Pyle, Paget Brewster and Beau Ballinger.

 

The World Of Kanako (Unrated) Crime thriller, based on the best-seller Hateshinaki Kawaki by Akio Fukamachi, about a retired detective (Koji Yakusho) who only learns about his daughter’s (Nana Komatsu) secret life during the search conducted after she goes missing. Narrated by Hiroya Shimizu and featuring Satoshi Tsumabuki, Fumi Nikaido and Ai Hashimoto. (In Japanese with subtitles)

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