Most of you probably aren’t even aware that the renowned Francis Ford Coppola is still making new films, and I couldn’t really blame you. After helming 1997’s “The Rainmaker”(based on the John Grisham novel of the same name), FFC vanished for a decade. He finally returned in 2007 with the dense, meditative puzzle “Youth Without Youth”(starring Tim Roth), and I’ll be damned if I was able to decipher half of it. It did receive some praise, however, and I keep promising myself to revisit it soon. In 2009, he released “Tetro”(starring Vincent Gallo and Maribel Verdu)—and I was quite fond of that low-budget venture. His latest film, “Twixt”, hit the festival circuit in 2011 starting in Toronto, then eventually saw an official U.S. opening in San Francisco during the summer of 2012. It finally landed on VOD this past spring before arriving on Region 1 DVD over the summer. In other words: checkered history, meager box office, and barely anyone has heard of it. And that’s too bad. Now, don’t get me wrong—any resemblance to the work of the creator of “The Godfather” trilogy, “Apocalypse Now”, “The Outsiders”, or even “The Rainmaker“, is entirely coincidental. And that goes for all three of his “comeback” movies. These have been highly personal, anti-Hollywood “experiments”. And the latest is probably the craziest and least commercial of the trio. But I’d be lying if I said that “Twixt” wasn’t fascinating, despite all of its over-baked ambition and kooky peccadilloes. There is some absolutely can’t-miss stuff here—even when it appears this beast is going to go completely off-the-rails. That’s the fun of it, though. “Twixt” is absolutely bat-shit crazy.
Barely read fiction author Hall Baltimore(a bloated Val Kilmer, barreling fearlessly into Nick Cage territory)arrives for a small town book signing–nestled in the back of a hardware store. Soon he’s approached by the town sheriff Bobby LaGrange(a welcome and manic Bruce Dern)about the possibility of collaborating on a local story about a serial killing. Then, before you can say “gee your teeth are pointy”, Hall meets a pre-teen oddity called “V”(effective Elle Fanning, made-up like some sort of vampire/clown/marionette concoction)in a dream. Hall, now inspired, decides to join forces with the sheriff on the murder story. Destitute, and needing to fork over cash for his wife Denise(actual Kilmer ex-wife Joanne Whalley, in a super-cool bit of stunt-casting)to pay the bills, Hall pitches the tale to his publisher to try to obtain an advance. He gets part of the money, and begins researching the local legends and folklore. But it soon becomes apparent that the best results are located while Hall sleeps—he even begins receiving dream-state visitations from a ghoulish-looking Edgar Allan Poe(a ghostly Ben Chaplin)! And the mystical happenings also prod Mr. Baltimore into reluctantly visiting a devastatingly painful chapter from his own past.
Listen, I don’t know how August became “vampire” month on the blog(“Byzantium”, “Rabid”, “Twixt”)—it just did. It was certainly not by design. And if you are of the opinion that the bloodsucker genre has been completely overtaken by the tweens, you must take a peek at this eclectic trio. Some of “Twixt” does smell of ripe cheese, and it’s easy to pinpoint why some of its notices were awful. But the in-jokes and riffs on past work of the stars and creators is priceless. It even continues if you choose to watch the 38-minute “making of” documentary included on the DVD(lensed by Gia Coppola, FFC’s granddaughter). I mean, who realized Val Kilmer was such an excellent mimic? Val does Brando from “Apocalypse Now”(of course, he also impersonated Brando in 1996’s “The Island of Dr. Moreau”, which starred Brando)! Val does James Mason! Behold as Mr. Kilmer treads racial waters by doing an impression of an African-American basketball player—then morphs into a homosexual, African-American basketball player! This is some wild and crazy stuff, and Kilmer is impressive(also, you’re always aware of his infamous reputation as a, shall we say, live wire). But there’s poignancy in “Twixt” too. Listen, Francis Ford Coppola lost a 22-year old son in a boating accident in 1986, and it’s glaring how much this tortures his soul when a boating accident becomes a heart-rending subplot in the film. And the tone, the palette, the screenplay of “Twixt” is just so wacky and off-center that it bears comparison to some nifty offbeat vampire films of the 1990’s like 1994’s “Nadja” and 1995’s “The Addiction”—that unfortunately have been largely forgotten. Add to that, some welcome contributions from FFC regulars like Don Novello(“Tucker: The Man and his Dream”, “New York Stories”, “The Godfather, Part III”)and Tom Waits(“One from the Heart”, “Rumble Fish”, “Bram Stoker’s Dracula”)work to make “Twixt” play like a late career reunion project. Francis Ford Coppola is 74 years old and a GIANT of the industry, so I guess he’s earned the right to do just about anything he desires in this autumnal phase of his career. Is “Twixt” a complete success? Not by a long shot. But there’s enough going on, that you may find yourself completely enraptured, occasionally confused, and perpetually laughing out loud. It’s one for the fans—and it somehow works against the odds. Grade: B-