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movies: All in the Family

Another Coppola makes his way onto the big screen with the show-biz satire "CQ."

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But what makes this generational approach to moviemaking more than a mere oddity is the fact that they are all talented. We've seen and been touched by Daddy Coppola's impressive talents starting with co-penning the screenplay for "Patton" on through "The Godfather Trilogy," "Apocalypse Now" and past Bram Stoker's "Dracula" and John Grisham's "Rainmaker." We were touched by Coppola's wife's documentary on the filming of "Apocalypse Now," "Heart of Darkness." Daughter Sofia's directing debut, "The Virgin Suicides," remains one of my all-time favorite films. And now, here's "CQ."

While not on a par with "The Virgin Suicides," Roman Coppola's freshman feature-film effort is still impressive. A wry musing on life, love and the movies, "CQ" takes place in 1969. The setting is Paris, where a young American filmmaker struggles with that timeless creative conundrum: how to balance the art of film he so reveres with the daily necessity of earning a living. It's the year of Woodstock, as well as the heyday of French New Wave cinema where the likes of Truffaut and Godard are making daring, astounding movies that will change the face of cinema for the better.

The movie opens on single images as we hear Paul (Jeremy Davies) in voiceover, explaining and examining his life, his talent, his current relationship and his artistic desires. Although pretentious from our contemporary perspective, in context, these are the artistic equivalent of baby steps. As the movie progresses, so does Paul's craft, moving from those film-student kind of beauty shots to real snippets of conversations and confrontations caught on tape.

By day, Paul is the second-unit director on the cheesy sci-fi flick "Dragonfly," that looks like a second-string rip-off of "Barbarella." The production, however, is in turmoil. The original director (Gerard Depardieu) has been canned by the producer (Giancarlo Gianni, looking like a cross between Aristotle Onasis and Dino de Laurentiis) because he's made an action movie with no action — and even more egregious — no ending.

Enter Jason Schwartzman (Rushmore) as directing wunderkind Felix DeMarco. Brash, oversexed and overimpressed with himself, Schwartzman's DeMarco is a brilliant sprite. Spoofing both Roman Polanski and William Friedkin, Schwartzman makes DeMarco the centerpiece of the movie, when no doubt the role was intended as only a supporting character.

When DeMarco breaks a leg — literally — Paul is tapped to take over. Not only must he shoot new scenes and make the plot somewhat presentable, he's got to come up with an ending to suit his manic Italian producer. As with all who delve in the creative world as a career, there's this quasi- alternate universe thing happening. Consequently, Paul's real world and fantasy world start to mingle and merge, as Paul deals with his lessening feelings for his girlfriend (Elodie Bouchez) and his growing attraction for sexy "Dragonfly" star, Valentine (supermodel Angela Lindvall).

Roman Coppola says he intended "CQ" as an homage to the kitschy B-movie junk of the '60s, including not only "Barbarella," but "Danger: Diabolik" and "Modesty Blaise." Intriguingly, the true landmark films of that decade are not his inspiration, not the focus of his reverence. Instead, he's fixated on the dregs of the decade, and as we see in "CQ," he doesn't care who knows it.

Truthfully, Tim Burton exorcised his similar obsession with the much better, much cleverer "Ed Wood," and Oliver Assayas made terrific fun of the bizarro world of B-movie production with "Irma Vep." While both of those directors turned drek into cinematic gold, Coppola only enjoys limited success. When Coppola's emphasis is on Paul, his mundane fantasies and offstage girlfriend, "CQ" seems boring at best. But when he keeps his camera focused on the the on-set shenanigans of the moviemakers and and actors, "CQ" sparkles with an engaging vibrancy that makes you yearn to be a part of the business. S

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