Monday, June 24, 2013

Barney's Lebanese Invention

     The third set of 2010 Rewind Series reviews presents us with a mystery/drama in which everyone's favorite lovable schlub gets a little less lovable, a drama about the struggles of immigrants with adorable kids & the best movie ever set almost entirely in the interior of a tank.  That said...

  Lebanon - When I first heard about this film I had my reservations despite the near universal critical acclaim that it was receiving.  I just didn't see how one could place an entire movie in such a limited setting and not end up stifling the storytelling process.  Boy, was I wrong!  I never imagined so much drama and character development could occur in such a confined space.  Many critics have likened the film to the classic German movie Das Boot (The Boat) but to my shame I have not seen it.  It reminded me a bit of The Hurt Locker, only with claustrophobia.
     Israel has really been establishing itself as an important new voice on the international cinematic scene in the last decade. Among other accolades, the nation has earned Oscar nods for Best Foreign Language film four out of the last six years. The introduction of writer/director Samuel Maoz is certainly another notch in their belt.  Lebanon is the film maker's first narrative feature, having previously made the 2000 documentary Total Eclipse.  You would never know it, as his sense of pacing is impeccable and his ability to overcome the limitations of the situation seems evident of a much more experienced hand.
     The picture also boasts a very strong ensemble cast of mostly untried young actors.  The sound work is fantastic.  Credit for the overall quality of production must also be given to cinematographer Giora Bejach, who used both lensing and composition to impressive and creative effect.  Easily the sweetest fruit that the Rewind Series has yielded thus far...5 out of 5 stars.

  Children of Invention - This little indie drama about the challenges that face Asian-American immigrants won a slew of accolades at small film festivals for its director Tze Chun.  It has three competent lead performances.  It sheds light on issues that are important to many people who often lack a voice in the popular media.  It is a well constructed story filled with believably motivated characters.  It features antics from some REALLY cute and talented child actors.  Despite all these facts, it just fell a little flat for me.
     There are a few main factors that resulted in my feeling this way.  First, the supporting cast is a little weak, particularly the cops, who need mustachios to twirl in the interrogation scenes.  Second, actress Cindy Cheung does a great job in the lead role of Elaine, but the character is almost too much of an innocent yet capable super mom to be credible.  Third (and this is really the big one) the film just never took off tonally. Small family dramas of this nature need a slow but deliberate build to a palpable emotional climax that this movie never achieved.  Still, entertaining enough...3 1/2 of 5 stars.

  Barney's Version - This Oscar nominee for Best Make-Up was not the first film from director Richard J. Lewis, although he is certainly better known for his extensive work in the television medium.  The film did not QUITE work, but I would not lay the blame on Mr. Lewis.  He actually appears to be quite talented as an actor's director pulling some great turns out of his cast, notably Minnie Driver, Dustin Hoffman, Rachelle Lefevre, Scott Speedman & Saul Rubinek.  The criminally under-appreciated, but immensely talented young actress Rosamund Pike threatens to steal the film from its formidable star. If her character were not just a tad too unbelievably perfect she might have.  Of course, maybe the point is that she was perfect for Barney, and this story IS Barney's version.
     Many, I fear, will fail to connect with this film in much the same way that many failed to connect with Jason Reitman's 2011 film Young Adult.  Like Charlize Theron's character in that film, Barney is not terribly likable.  I would imagine that many would find this especially disconcerting when such a role is filled by an actor who is normally cast in lovable Everyman parts like Paul Giamatti.  This wasn't my problem with the film, however, the Everyman should not be perfect.  Good people have irritating quirks and aspects to them, and the most charismatic of figures can be rotten at the core.  I personally found Giamatti's work in this film to be marvelously layered and Barney to be a refreshingly believable movie character in many ways.
     Where the film failed for me was in basic plot and narrative structure. Michael Koyves script functions very well as a dramedy, and seems to be one throughout most of the film.  However, he fails to ever really give resolution to this narrative arc, instead letting it trail off into nothingness ten minutes before the picture ends.  Instead, Barney's Version resolves as if it had been a mystery all along.  Thinking back, the first five minutes set it up that way, but the body of the film had an entirely different tone.  As such, the mystery aspect never really built up enough suspense to make that narrative climax satisfying or exciting.  I REALLY wanted to like this film more, but it REALLY ended weakly...3 1/2 of 5 stars.
  Related articles: Another Young Project (Young Adult review)

No comments:

Post a Comment