‘Elegy’ delves into ravages of seduction, age

Posted March 19, 2009, at 6:50 p.m.

On DVD

ELEGY, directed by Isabel Coixet, written by Nicholas Meyer, 108 minutes, rated R.

Isabel Coixet’s “Elegy,” based on Philip Roth’s novella “The Dying Animal,” is about a May-December romance between two intellectuals, one of whom is 30 years older than the other.

If that doesn’t exactly sound like steamy fare to you, fair enough. But should you rent the film or add it to your Netflix queue — which you should because the movie is that good — be forewarned. This is one liberated movie, with the cast obviously having studied at least a few pages of the “Kama Sutra” before taking to the screen.

From Nicholas Meyers’ script, “Elegy” is far more than just a sex show, though, which will surprise nobody who knows Roth. In this case, it’s really about how the effects of age belie that we’re still much like that person we were in our youth.

Nobody knows this better than David Kepesh (Ben Kingsley, excellent), a literary lion on the book scene and an esteemed college literature professor at Columbia who once was married, but soon realized after having a son that marriage wasn’t for him.

David isn’t made for intimacy — he doesn’t want to take the risk, he doesn’t want the complications. He just wants to … well, you know. He’s a man made for the pleasures of the flesh, and with a steady supply of that offered to him over the years through his classes, he has taken his share of it, seducing women along the way, and having quite a time of it.

One of his former students has been with him 20 years. Her name is Carolyn (Patricia Clarkson), she’s a successful businesswoman, and she is David’s moral equal. She just wants sex. Nothing more, though she does demand that she has it exclusively with David. That’s their arrangement, so each time she’s in town, they fall into bed with each other and have a grand romp.

But when into David’s class comes Consuela Castillo (Penelope Cruz, offering her second great performance of 2008), David is struck by her beauty as well as her sophistication. She’s a mystery, this one, and on the spot, he decides that he will have her. The trouble is that now, in spite of possessing such an attractive mind and being in excellent shape, he worries whether she will have him given how age has allowed a feast of wrinkles to consume much of his face?

The answer is that she will have him, and so begins their affair, which is charged with meaning, fraught with sex and for each — and, really, most startlingly to David — the underpinnings of love. With the help of his poet friend, George (Dennis Hopper, finally back in a film that plays to his cynical strengths), David tries to ra-tionalize what can’t be rationalized.

His pull toward Consuela is so strong, it leaves him weakened while her seductive powers grow. Who is she to him? Who is he to her? Consuela isn’t afraid to ask, but damned if David can find an answer that doesn’t go against everything he has come to believe in himself. And so a bridge of silence is allowed to form between them in a movie whose characters, all beautifully played by a superb cast, struggle to keep that crumbling bridge aloft.

Grade: A-

On DVD and Blu-ray disc

TWILIGHT, directed by Catherine Hardwicke, written by Melissa Rosenberg, 122 minutes, rated PG-13.

The slight Catherine Hardwicke movie “Twilight” is about the heated and potentially undeadly physical attraction that ignites between two hot-and-bothered teens.

One is a vampire who has been 17 since the turn of the last century. The other is a young woman who apparently is so hot for this guy, she’s willing to offer up her throat to him regardless of the repercussions that will follow.

Her name is Bella Swan and she’s played by Kristen Stewart in a performance that best can be described as slack-jawed. I’m not suggesting that Bella is stupid — her inward turmoil is meant to reflect depth — but given the way Stewart keeps her lips parted throughout the movie, Bella seems forever dumbstruck, as if she’s caught in a state of eternal awe.

It’s tough to blame her. When she moves to Forks, Wash., to live with her single father, Charlie (Billy Burke), who is the town’s police chief, the poor girl’s hormones are in full boil. This proves problematic when she shows up for biology class (naturally) and meets the mysterious Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), whose dark eyes, enormous hair and bleached face apparently are so dreamy, Bella is drawn to him by urges previously unknown to her.

At first, Edward is having none of her. And then he’s kind of into her, literally saving her life when a van nearly smashes into her. What’s Bella to make of this? Since her lips are parted, it’s clear that she doesn’t know, though soon she’s fantasizing about Edward as much as she’s questioning him. After all, when Edward saved her life, he literally stopped that van with an outstretched hand.

The film, which Melissa Rosenberg based on the Stephenie Meyer best-selling novel, is so purple, you’d swear it was a bruise.

This is especially true when Bella and Edward give in to their hormonal rampages, throw garlic cloves to the wind and fall deeply in love with each other. At that point, Bella knows that Edward is a vampire who has killed people, but since he’s a reformed vampire (he and his family suck only the blood of animals), that’s enough for her — she’s into him. She wants him. She’s ready to go for it. But as for Edward, who lusts for her blood but who can’t bring himself to kill her for it, their relationship must remain chaste … which causes Bella to pause and her lips to part.

While a subplot involving a band of evil vampires does give the movie its welcomed moments of action and Edward’s family does come through with a few necessary laughs, “Twilight” really is a glum film about the perils of teen intimacy. Here, life literally hinges on abstinence and morality. While those are fine qualities for any movie aimed at tweens to promote, “Twilight” is unfortunately so sloppy and shallow, you watch the movie in disbelief … and your own lips part.

Grade: C-

WeekinRewind.com is the site for Bangor Daily News film critic Christopher Smith’s blog, DVD giveaways and archive of movie reviews. Smith’s reviews appear Mondays, Fridays and weekends in Lifestyle, as well as on bangordailynews.com. He may be reached at Christopher@weekinrewind.com.

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