September 12, 2011

THE BIJOU @ TIFF: Francis Ford Coppola’s “Twixt”

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Written by: Mitch Salem
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It’s anyone’s guess why Francis Ford Coppola, at the age of 72, with some enduring cinema classics to his name, would decide to make a movie that’s a cross between a David Lynch retread, an old horror cheapie, and a hallucination.  What matters is that the resulting TWIXT is utterly dreadful, the worst film this great director has ever created.

Before the Toronto screening, Coppola said that Twixt is based on a dream he’d had–always a danger sign in itself–from which he’d been woken before reaching the ending.  He’s duplicated this all too literally in the film:  hero Hall Baltimore (Val Kilmer) is a third-rate horror novelist determined to dream his next book, but he keeps waking up before reaching the ending.  Baltimore is in the small, menacing town of Swan Valley, flogging his latest novel, when he runs into any number of idiotic and senseless incidents.  A teenager has been killed with a stake in her heart; another (ghost? vampire?) young girl (Elle Fanning) wants to chat; there’s a (witch? vampire?) motorcycle gang on the other side of the lake; the crazy sheriff (Bruce Dern) wants to collaborate on a book; and the very talkative ghost of Edgar Allen Poe (Ben Chaplin) is hanging around.  Don’t expect any of it to make sense.
Coppola is all over the place here.  He’s using music video gimmicks from the 1990s (oooh, black and white with just a chosen few colors in the image!), revisiting Rumble Fish, doing goofs on Apocalypse Now (Kilmer, himself approaching Brando-esque proportions, does a Colonel Kurtz bit when he has writer’s block), throwing 3D into a couple of sequences.  The picture seems like a joke, but then Kilmer delivers a highly emotional speech about the death of his child in a boating accident, and one remembers that Coppola’s own son died in just such an accident in 1986.  The whole movie makes you wince.
It’s impossible to evaluate the acting, because since it’s never clear just what Coppola has in mind, one can’t tell whether the rampant over-emoting is justified or not.  (The one exception is Fanning, who remains an arresting screen presence even in this farrago.)  Mihai Malaimare Jr, who’s been shooting all Coppola’s recent films, keeps everything looking low-budget and cruddy–but maybe that was the intention.  Ditto the disjointed editing by Robert Schafer.
Coppola’s sort-of comeback, after 10 years of inactivity, is a mystifying one.  Youth Without Youth was a mess, but at least it was a beautiful one; Tetro seemed to be finding its way to something more dramatically compelling.  Twixt, though, would be laughed off a Midnight Madness screen, much less serving as a festival Special Presentation.  Some master filmmakers–Bunuel, Bergman, Kurosawa, recently Woody Allen and Clint Eastwood–retain and even enhance their skills late in their careers. Others, like Billy Wilder, are sad remnants of their old selves.  It’s beginning to look, tragically, as though Francis Coppola may be one of the latter.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."