Saturday, January 29, 2011

A movie review: Barney's Version (2010)

Barney's Version (2010)
Director - Richard J. Lewis
132 min; R
Barney Panofsky - Paul Giammati
Miriam - Rosamund Pike
Izzy Panofsky - Dustin Hoffman
The 2nd Mrs. Panofsky - Minnie Driver
Boogie - Scott Speedman

Barney Panofsky's entire life is a mess, from his youthful days in Rome spent abusing alcohol, tobacco, drugs and sex to his final years as an ailing man who can barely recall the most important and tragic moments of his existence. The constants that represent this man are booze, cigars and his love of hockey, a sport which he is seemingly much more concerned with than even his own wedding, his 2nd, at which he also pursues his future 3rd. His job as a successful television producer for his company Totally Unnecessary Productions (they produce terrible soap operas) gives him little joy. In fact, it is difficult to comprehend what a life like Barney Panofsky's is really worth, or to understand what makes him get out of bed in the morning.

Based on the 1997 novel by Mordecai Richter (which I have not read) the film is told to us mainly as a chronological story of Barney's life, though we find out very early that an elder Barney is haunted by the accusations of a police detective many years ago that he murdered his best friend Boogie (Scott Speedman) and the policeman is releasing a book about it. Over the course of the film we watch as Paul Giamatti becomes this man Barney in full personality and physical changes over the course of a lifetime. He is and always seems to be a person with likable characteristics but no avenue to possibly like him.

After a failed marriage in his youth Barney has a second go at it with a wealthy Jewish woman (Minnie Driver) who for reasons unknown does seem genuinely interested in this man, however it is soon clear that Barney has no interest in her. While drunk at his wedding Barney notices a beautiful young guest, Miriam (Rosamund Pike) and he falls instantly in love. The rest of the movie spends much time on their subsequent relationship.

Throughout all of these follies there is a cast of characters close by yet always in the background who help bring this film together. The most noticeable two that bind this film are Boogie, Barney's only real version of a friend in the world and the man who one day vanishes under mysterious circumstances, and Barney's father, Izzy, played wonderfully by Dustin Hoffman in a role that just screams perfection. Looking over the Oscar nominations for Supporting Actor it is only too clear to me that a Hoffman selection would have made much more sense than The Town's Jeremy Renner. Hoffman is authentic as a loving father and the two mesh beautifully throughout this film as they bond over drinks and cigars and their love of women. Life is complicated for Barney, though, and the death of his beloved father leaves a major void.

The film feels a little long but not because it tries to do too much, simply because it packs in SOOO many layers, each tier dealing with a heavier and heavier emotional output. By the end of this film you may not actually be crying but you will probably feel like you are sore from laughing, cringing, and at time feeling like you were punched in the gut. It is to the credit of Oscar nominated actor Giamatti that we feel these real emotions as his performance is nothing short of incredible. I am reminded very much of a small film I enjoyed called Cold Souls, in which Giamatti is able to really take us through an emotional piece of work in a sly way. This movie never quite catches up to his wonderful performance, but everything does work well and when it is over you won't feel cheated. Barney's version is explained in the end.

**** and 1/2 out of 5

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A brief movie review: Blue Valentine (2010)

Blue Valentine (2010)
Director - Derek Cianfrance
112 Min; R
Dean - Ryan Gosling
Cindy - Michelle Williams

Oscar nominations were announced today and making the list of nominees is Michelle Williams for her work as Cindy in the film Blue Valentine, in which she plays a woman as seen through different periods in her life, but absent from the list is a nomination for Ryan Gosling, who plays her partner through the years in this film centered around a relationship from concept to completion. Let me state simply that I agree 100% with the Williams nod and the Gosling omission, if only because Michelle Williams always feels so authentic to me in everything she does (See Wendy and Lucy if you have not already done so) whereas Gosling just has the feel of an actor (a good actor) doing his job. The difference is subtle, but substantial, and I find Williams in well on her way as the defining actress of our generation.

The film itself does not require much from me for you to understand the premise - think about a couple, any couple, who falls in love and then has ups and downs in the relationship and you can pretty much apply that to this film. What makes this better than a story you've heard before is the performance by Williams, someone who genuinely portrays such emotional highs and lows that we never for one second remember she is not just a normal girl.

The film does not cross any incredible barriers for me in terms of content, but I liked the grainy style and shaky camera movements when used with purpose. The third act suffers a bit from not knowing exactly what message it wants to leave the viewer with, and I will say the ending did not leave me satisfied, though I also sort of knew that I would not be satisfied by any ending.

This is a solid film with very good performances, but it does no transcend.

**** out of 5