Archive for February, 2011

Biutiful: Tragic on so many levels—Movie

February 12, 2011

Biutiful, written by Alejandro González Iñárritu, Armando Bo and Nicolás Giacobone and directed by Iñárritu is relentlessly depressing and long, but does feature some wonderful acting courtesy of Javier Bardem.

Bardem stars as Uxbal, a man living on the edge of Barcelona society.  Devoted father of two, separated from his mentally unstable wife, he makes ends meet by engaging in all kinds of low-level illegal activities. In the beginning of the film, Uxbal learns he has cancer and his shady busy dealings take on more urgency as he struggles to accumulate enough money to take care of his children and some of the other less fortunate in his life.

Biutiful, ironically titled, contains so many tragedies, it becomes hard to keep track and ultimately care. Parental separation, illegal labor practices, mental illness, immigration issues and death…each topic could be a movie unto itself.  That one can even sit through more than two hours of one depressing topic after another is a tribute to every actor. The international cast is wonderful.

Told in a circular narrative, we really learn no more at the end than we did in the beginning of the film. Perhaps that is Biutiful’s ultimate tragedy.

2 nuggets out of 4

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Another Year: Another Terrific Leigh Film—Movie

February 6, 2011

Single middle-age women beware! Do not see Another Year alone.  Unless you are at the top of your game, by movie’s end you’ll want to throw yourself off a building. Another Year is that realistic.

Written and directed by Mike Leigh, Another Year is the story of a happily married older middle-aged couple, Gerri and Tom, and their very unhappy friends and relations, told through the changing of the seasons during the course of a year.

In winter we meet Gerri (Ruth Sheen), a psychotherapist, treating the most in-need- of-treatment for depression woman ever portrayed on the screen, Jane (Imelda Staunton).  Staunton’s role is brief, but memorable and shows us how kind and patient Gerri is. In winter we’re also introduced to Gerri’s secretary, Mary (Leslie Manville) and Gerry’s husband, Tom (Jim Broadbent). Spring is Mary’s story and Mary is a mess. Cute, stylish, desperately perky and very unhappily single, Mary is painful to watch.  Summer is the story of Ken (Peter Wight) and continued decline of Mary. Obese, drunk and clueless, Ken is a long-time friend of Tom and is a fatter version of Mary. Autumn introduces us to Ronnie (David Bradley), Tom’s recently widowed brother. Tom seems to keep all of his emotions buried inside and barely says a word. 

As with all Mike Leigh films, Another Year’s actors are called upon to do a lot of improvisation and boy, are they fantastic. However, this movie clearly belongs to Leslie Manville’s Mary. When Manville is on-screen, you can’t take your eyes off her, and even if you want to, Leigh won’t let you. His close-ups on Mary are relentless and force you to witness her pain, shame and heartbreak. Manville can do more with the movement of her mouth or the crinkle of her nose than most actors can do with pages of dialogue. She’s simply amazing and so believable. How she wasn’t nominated for an Academy Award is beyond comprehension. Every single woman over 45 will identify with her. It’s inconceivable to me that Another Year is written by a male. Mike Leigh really gets us women.

Depressing as Another Year is, it’s also full of wit and witty dialogue. And yes, even a sliver of hope.

4 nuggets out of 4

The Company Men: Compellingly Told—Movie

February 5, 2011

The Company Men, written and directed by John Wells, gives a very realistic portrayal of what it’s like to be laid off, how people react differently to being down-sized and the impact those circumstances have on one’s family. That such a depressing subject can hold your interest from beginning to end is a testament to good writing, directing and a terrific ensemble cast.

Set in New England during the financial havoc of 2008, The Company Men revolves primarily around three men of varying ages. Ben Affleck tops the bill as Bobby Walker, a high-flying sales executive for GTX, a company with roots in shipping, now a conglomerate of some sort. He becomes part of a large group of  GTX employees recently down-sized. For Bobby the news comes as a complete shock and he doesn’t take the news well. Affleck does a fantastic job of portraying Bobby’s anger and his long bout of denial. His character just assumes that his unemployment will come to an early end. That his way of life has changed for the forseeable future finally sinks in when Bobby’s down-to-earth wife, Maggie (Rosemarie DeWitt), cancels his country club membership, forcing him to face the reality of his situation.  Running out of severance, Bobby reluctantly accepts the construction job offer from his blue-collar brother-in-law, Jack Dolan, played terrifically by a completely unglamorized Kevin Costner. 

Down-sized right after Walker is middle-aged co-worker Phil Woodard, acted to melancholy perfection by Chris Cooper. Tommy Lee Jones rounds out the GTX threesome as Gene McClary, long-time friend of GTX founder, James Salinger (Craig T. Nelson), as well as a long-time company employee.

The Company Men is the flip side of 2009’s Up in the Air. At first you might wonder how the layoff of highly paid white men can resonate with the average person, but then you realize that a layoff is a layoff and it’s all relative. Company Men shows perfectly the angst of unreturned phone calls, the frustration of being one of hundreds turning out for a single job and the humiliation of not being able to provide for one’s family in the style to which everyone has become accustomed. Is the movie without flaws? No. Accents come and go; the ending might be a tad too pat; and I don’t know anyone, myself included, who leaves a job after a long tenure with just one box. But The Company Men is a story compellingly told, fabulously acted and well worth your time.

3 nuggets out of 4


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