THERE is much to recommend in Barney’s Version (Cert 15), a jaunty comedy based on Canadian novelist Mordecai Richler’s picaresque tale of the eventful life and loves of one Barney Panofsky.
Paul Giamatti is the hard-drinking irrascible TV producer looking back on his adventures which include three failed relationships, one true love, a love-hate male relationship and coming under suspicion of murder.
For all Giamatti’s dishevelled charm and knowing chutzpah, you wonder how Barney gets away with his lack of tact and consideration for others.
We are meant to see him as a loveable old rogue but it’s the story of a man who seems fatally drawn to screwing up whatever happiness he has and by the end you may have run out of patience with him, even if his family haven’t.
While Minnie Driver is handed a thankless task as Barney’s rich bitch second wife, Rosamund Pike is serene as true love Miriam while Dustin Hoffman contributes a rumbustuous cameo as Barney’s unruly ex-cop dad.
The great Clint Eastwood directing a script by Peter Morgan, writer of The Queen, Frost/Nixon, etc, and starring Matt Damon, Hereafter (Cert 12A) ought to have it made.
But this contemplation of life and death and what comes after is a strangely ponderous affair. It starts dramatically enough with the recreation of a tsunami in a Mexican resort which engulfs holidaying French TV journalist Cecile de France. She comes to believe her brush with death gave her a glimpse of the other side.
Meanwhile in San Francisco Matt Damon is a tortured medium who has decided his ability to communicate with the dead is a curse rather than a gift.
The third strand is set in London where the 12-year-old son of a junkie mother is unable to get over the death of his twin brother and desperately tries to find a way to reach him.
Eventually all three narratives converge in a far too neat finale which makes you wonder if it is appropriate to exploit a tsunami and bombings in the cause of what proves to be little more than a romance with a supernatural element.
From Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu, the oddly titled Biutiful (Cert 15) turns out to have a skewed beauty despite the squalour of its setting.
It features a towering performance by Javier Bardem as Uxbal, a fixer in Barcelona’s underbelly of illegal immigrant Chinese sweatshop workers and African street vendors and devoted carer of his two children, having separated from his bipolar addict wife (Maricel Álvarez).
Uxbal also has a sideline in being able to communicate with the dead, or at least the recently deceased, who whisper confessions from their coffin which he passes on to the bereaved families for cash.
But then Uxbal discovers he is soon to join them after being diagnosed with cancer which he treats with stoical dignity as he does the very many other disasters that beset the community living on the edge.
Biutiful threatens to be one long trawl through misery and human desperation – actually, it is – but Bardem’s shining integrity draws you into its story that has as much to say about life and love, exile and exploitation, human bonds and ultimately death. Although Iñárritu piles on the agony, he allows a glimmer of hope and humanity to shine through in the end.
Tangled (Cert PG) is a retelling of the Rapunzel fairytale in Disney 3D animation which manages to be a simple fairytale adventure for young kids and a cute romance for pre-teens with enough wry humour to appeal to grown-ups.
Princess Rapunzel (voiced by Mandy Moore), a teenager with 70 feet of luscious blonde hair, has been imprisoned for years in a tower by the evil witch Gothel (Donna Murphy). She yearns for the world outside and when charming thief Flynn (Zachary Levi) takes refuge in the tower, she sees her chance to discover her true identity.
The pair plus her pet chameleon set off on an action-packed adventure which also involves a crotchety police horse that thinks it’s a bloodhound. With superior animation and songs by Alan Menken, Tangled is breezy and entertaining even if it’s not classic Disney.