[Screen It]


(2015) (Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel) (R)

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Drama: Various people contemplate their place in life while staying at a Swiss resort hotel and spa.
Fred Ballinger (MICHAEL CAINE) is a retired composer who's taking in a vacation at a Swiss resort hotel and spa he's frequented for years. He's there with his adult daughter, Lena (RACHEL WEISZ), who serves as his assistant but still has unresolved issues from him having been a workaholic father who put his music ahead of his family. Also there is Fred's longtime friend, Mick Boyle (HARVEY KEITEL), a filmmaker who's writing the script for his next film that's set to star his friend and veteran actress Brenda Morel (JANE FONDA).

Among the other guests there are Jimmy Tree (PAUL DANO), an actor who wishes that his most famous role -- in a robot movie -- wasn't his signature work, drawing the likes of fans such as Miss Universe (MADALINA GHENEA) who also wants to become an actress. As he prepares for his next role and Mick works on his script with his screenwriting team, Fred must contend not only with the Queen of England's emissary trying to convince him to come out of retirement and conduct for her Majesty, but also all sorts of things related to getting old.

OUR TAKE: 3 out of 10
Like most people, I have my share of pet peeves about how certain individuals in our world operate. Some are big and some are small, and some are too important to brush off, while others are easy to ignore. The following falls into the latter category, but since it involves my vocation as a movie reviewer, let's jump right in.

I can't stand pretentious critics who think they're the end-all, be-all of reviewing films. They're the kind who infuse their reviews with so many obscure and lofty-sounding words that you need an English professor to explain them and the latest spelling bee champion to figure out the order of their lettering.

They're also the kind who heap exhaustive praise and lather their reviews of equally pretentious movies with those aforementioned words, not only to make themselves seem smart, but also make those who don't agree or understand seem dumb.

Such is the case with a fair amount of critical reaction I've seen from such critics regarding writer/director Paolo Sorrentino's latest film "Youth." Reading their reviews is like watching insecure, wannabe elitists try to pump themselves up by making their words match the same degree of pretentious they've watched up on the screen.

But enough with them and on to my second related pet peeve. And that's pretentious films. I'm all for movies that make you think and ponder your place in the universe. And I enjoy ones that are constructed as puzzles you need to solve, as well as one laden with thematic elements, symbolism and such.

Those that pose as that but ultimately are empty but sometimes pretty vessels, however, draw my ire, and this is one of those flicks. On paper, Sorrentino's idea seems like a no-brainer and perhaps something akin to a quirky Wes Anderson film filled with a terrific cast.

At a hotel/spa in the mountains of Switzerland, a number of people are present for some R & R. There's a retired conductor (Michael Caine) who refuses to return to his music despite a plea from the Queen of England's emissary that she and her son would like a concert from him. His lifelong best friend (Harvey Keitel) is a filmmaker there working out a story for his latest pic -- about a person near the end of their life -- that will star a legendary actress (Jane Fonda).

Another actor (Paul Dano) is tired of being famous for having played a robot and longs for something more, and thus isn't happy that the current Miss Universe (Madalina Ghenea) is a big fan of his and wants to become an actress (when not parading around fully naked in front of men old enough to be her grandfather -- and certainly destined for a coronary if she continues).

There's also the composer's adult daughter (Rachel Weisz), who works as his assistant, and must not only contend with unresolved daddy issues surrounding her former workaholic father, but also the end of her marriage to the filmmaker's son. Throw in an obese man with a huge Karl Marx tattoo on his back, a young masseuse who spends her off time dancing to a video game, a Buddhist who's always meditating and ends up levitating, and an older couple who never speak during dinner but get randy in the woods, and the flick is obviously set up for something.

And you keep waiting for the grand reveal about what all of this means. By the time the end credits roll, however, you'll likely have long since lost interest. Sure, everything looks pretty thanks to the work of cinematographer Luca Bigazzi, and Caine and Keitel have some decent scenes together as two old codgers, with one who's given up and another who refuses to do so.

And there are all sorts of symbolic visuals, lines of dialogue and so on that sometimes prove interesting to some degree or another on their own. If you like to be pretentious about pretentious things, this might be your cup of tea. But for everyone else and looking at this as a collective whole, the pic is a pretentious misfire that made me feel as if I had aged years rather than the two hours or so that had passed by. "Youth" rates as a 3 out of 10.

Reviewed December 9, 2015 / Posted December 11, 2015

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