LIFE rarely turns out like the movies. Barney's Version, an adaptation of Mordecai Richler's cult 1997 novel, is therefore interesting in that its hero Barney Panofski (Paul Giamatti) is as flawed and unreasonable as the rest of us.
A TV studio executive in the autumn of his life, we meet him as he looks back over 30 years with regret and acceptance. Predominantly, this revolves around the women of his life. First up, there's nightmarish Courtney Love-alike Clara (Rachelle Lefevre) whom he unwisely weds in Rome. That ends in tears before he sleepwalks up the aisle with Minnie Driver's high-maintenance Jewish princess.
After a few Scotches with potty-mouthed dad Dustin Hoffman on the wedding day, Barney spies the unearthly charms of Rosamund Pike's Miriam, and that's that. The two wed, have kids and look set to live happily ever after until Barney messes things up once again. A murder-mystery story plays second fiddle to the romance, while nothing is said of Barney's diet of Cuban cigars and single malts.
Not one poor performance mars the event. Giamatti, already a fine character actor, was born for the role. Pike is a credible soulmate and object of obsession, neither a flawless super-babe nor an accessory. Driver approaches her best form once again, while Hoffman's vulgarian dad is one of a whole cast having fun but ensuring the job is done well.
A saga of a man bungling his way through three marriages may not sound like an everyman tale but Barney's calamities are very human, stepping over the rom-com swamp into more resonant and poignant pastures.
IN Biutiful, directed by Babel mainman Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, the hunky Javier Bardem plays a character who is a dead man walking as a result of issues to do with his own mortality. In fact, it's true to say that this Barcelona-based drama is a much more gritty affair than his previous outing with Julia Roberts in Eat Pray Love. Eat Pray Love Die, if you will.
Bardem plays Uxbal, a well-intentioned street hustler on a collision course with the karmic consequences thrown up by a dubious lifestyle. Home is where the heartbreak is for Uxbal, as separation from his bipolar wife has resulted in him assuming the role of stressed-out single parent to their adorable kids. And as if that weren't enough, a neglected medical condition has led to Uxbal getting a terminal prognosis. Throw in some misfiring magic realism, courtesy of Uxbal's capacity for communing with the departed, and you've put yourself in the picture.
The intention is obviously to derive a sophisticated symphony from all this human squalor, but the director's handling hits a dull and repetitive note and all we're left with by the time the credits roll is a bad case of futility fatigue.
Oscar-nominated for best foreign language film, Biutiful has been hailed as a masterpiece by many, but while Bardem does brings his customary charisma to proceedings, I was unconvinced.
AN occupational hazard of any in-depth analysis of life's big questions is that there aren't any answers. Clint Eastwood's latest offering, Hereafter, concerns itself with characters impelled to confront the implications of that existential paradox. It's understating the situation to suggest they have their reasons.
Starring Matt Damon and comprised of distinct storylines, this engaging meditation on matters metaphysical focuses on three lives and their flirtations with the other side. A near-death experience, courtesy of a spectacularly realised tsunami, is the catalyst that has left successful Paris-based broadcaster Marie (Cecile de France) convinced she's had an audience with the afterlife.
Meanwhile, in San Francisco, factory-worker and retired psychic George Lonegan (Damon) is struggling to adhere to the decision that saw him reject his "gift" for contacting the departed. Burnt-out, alone and disillusioned -- but under pressure from his brother to return to the psychic stage, George is a monument to procrastination.
At the same time in London, the life of young boy, Marcus (played alternately by Frankie and George McLaren) takes a turn for the heartbreaking as a result of the sudden death of his twin. Destiny has its day and the paths of these three characters cross.
It would be easy to dismiss this affair as another inconsequential addition to the I-see-dead-people genre, but to do so would be unfair. Enjoyment levels are predicated on how open one is to the esoteric nature of the subject matter but it's undeniable that Eastwood has delivered a compelling, unpatronising piece. Kierkegaard it ain't, but those in the mood for thought-provoking movie-making are unlikely to be disappointed.
BECCA (Nicole Kidman ) and Howie (Aaron Eckhart) seem to live a lovely life in a lovely home, but they are coping with the death of their four-year-old son very differently.
Howie seeks comfort; Becca rejects it. He needs warmth; she milks the fact that she can get away with anything as a grieving mother. Grief has made her mean.
A chance encounter with the boy who accidentally killed their son opens a door. Howie tries group therapy. They move further apart -- but love, romantic, maternal, filial, is a powerful beast.
The performances are very good in a story that revolves around the dynamics of Kidman's character's relationships in a claustrophobic study of grief and guilt vs love.
Rabbit Hole, apapted from the Pulitzer-winning play, is one for fans of emotional studies and narrative technique and although ultimately uplifting, it is still essentially a sad film, so bring tissues.
Opens on Friday
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