Tag Archives: Paul Giamatti

Love and Mercy

It’s the warm, Californian summer of 1963 … beaches, happy times and surfing … the sweet melodies and effortless harmonies of the Beach Boys fill the air waves. These are wonderful, carefree, hopeful teenage times. The Beach Boys are riding high on their own wave of popularity and their music is gold. Each song is the creation of Brian Wilson (played by Paul Dano), the most talented of the musical Wilson brothers – they are Dennis (by Kenny Wormald) and Carl (by Brett Davern) with their good friend Al Jardine (by Graham Rogers) and their cousin, Mike Love (by Jake Abel) – these are The Beach Boys. Happy, summer songs pour out of Brian in a rich creative stream – each one received with adoration by their global audience. They are successful and want it to last forever.

Creativity for Brian is an instinct – he can’t make it happen, he doesn’t have to – it happens to him. He’s young and happily married to Marilyn (by Erin Darke). But he’s not the type to soak up audience adoration, so endless touring and live performances are no drawcard  for him – in fact the bright spotlight of fame and the pressure to “keep making hit records, son …” from his bully father cause him major anxiety. As months pass, the Beach Boys keep making music – but Brian spends more and more time in the studio. The band reluctantly departs for their tour of Japan without him – but he promises them a whole suite of new music when they return. Brian’s focus turns inwards, his creativity changes direction – he no longer produces happy, poppy, surfing tunes – they are now innovative and moody pieces. He starts to rely on medication to keep the voices at bay and help him distinguish reality from hallucinations. When the band returns, they eagerly listen to his new offerings – but their shock at the state of him and his latest music is clear – this isPet Sounds” … complete with his dogs Banana and Louie, singing backing vocals. When the boys’ father dies, Brian gets worse and becomes a patient of therapist Dr Eugene Landy (by Paul Giamatti), who takes a controlling hold over his life – his activities, his friends and … his medication. By the 1980’s, Brian (now by John Cusack) lives in a stupor – barely able to function, totally dominated by Dr Landy and his methods. But he somehow manages to maintain a relationship with Melinda Ledbetter (by Elizabeth Banks). But as their connection grows and they marry, she is alarmed to discover the way Dr Landy manages to control Brian and in an act of pure love, she bravely stands up to his domination.

It is great to revisit the fabulous, happy music of the Beach Boys throughout this movie. The story of Brian Wilson‘s life, though, is not so happy.  The mental illness and drug-induced haze is depicted very well by both Paul Dano in the 1960’s and John Cusack in the 1980’s. They are both great here.  To me, there’s something very “Bill Murray” about John Cusack’s performance.  Paul Giamatti’s performance as Dr Landy is seedy, creepy and just right for this dreadful character and Elizabeth Banks’ sassy and tough Melinda Ledbetter is great.  It’s a good movie.   



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Posted by on December 9, 2015 in Movies


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Saving Mr Banks

Ginty Goff (played by Annie Rose Buckley) is a happy little girl with golden curls and an infectious giggle. She lives a carefree life in Australia with her banker father Travers Goff (by Colin Farrell) and her mother Margaret (by Ruth Wilson). Hers is an idyllic childhood, full of stories, fantasy, games and love. She idolises her father and he, in turn, thinks the world of his daughter. As years pass, Travers’ working life becomes more difficult and he turns to alcohol for comfort. Ginty watches as her father’s world slowly turns in on itself and he first loses his job then his health. When her father is too ill to work, her mother arranges for a Nurse/Governess (by Rachel Griffiths) – she arrives, surrounded by an aura of mystery and magic. Ginty is enchanted by her and as she grows, her childhood memories crystallise into a story which gets published and becomes one of the most loved children’s tales of all time … “Mary Poppins” – under Ginty’s pen name, P. L. Travers. Over several years, “Mrs Travers” (by Emma Thompson) is sought out by Walt Disney. He wants to keep to a promise he made to his own daughters – to have their cherished book created into a movie. But Mrs Travers is reluctant to release her much loved childhood memories into the hands of the Hollywood Movie-makers … to do “heaven knows what …” with her dear Mary Poppins. Try as she might, she puts every barrier she can think of in the way of the movie … but by 1961, her books aren’t quite as popular any more and she is starting to reconsider …. will the real joy in the telling of the story win out after all?

When I watched this movie, I saw something totally different to what I was expecting. I thought I’d see a jolly, happy, colourful, family romp through the songs of “Mary Poppins” set against the backdrop of a lovely family and a “happy ever after” …. but no, I had to look again. This is a drama – Mrs Travers harbours some very deep memories that haunt her, but she doesn’t want to let go of them either – her only connection with her dear father is in the pages of the book she has written.  As Mrs Travers, Emma Thompson is impeccable – that wonderful “British-ness” she brings to the performance is great.  As Walt Disney, Tom Hanks is believable – he usually is authentic in his roles though. Here, his Disney is a positive, family oriented man, but he brings his own life experiences to the story.  It’s great to hear the classic music from the movie once again and the work by the “Sherman Brothers” as they play through some of the memorable songs is really enjoyable. The performance of Paul Giamatti as Ralph, Mrs Travers’ driver in Hollywood, is equally good and I enjoyed Bradley Whitford as Don DaGradi also. The long suffering assistant of Walt Disney, Dolly, played by Melanie Paxson is a delight. Overall, it’s a surprisingly good movie – perhaps a little too long, but I can live with that.

Made in 2013. Directed by John Lee Hancock

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Posted by on December 4, 2015 in Movies


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Twelve Years a Slave

In 1841, Solomon Northup (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor) has a very happy life in Saratoga, New York. He loves music and playing his violin. But more than this he adores his beautiful wife Anne (by Kelsey Scott) and his children Michelle (by Quvenzhané Wallis) and Alonzo (by Cameron Zeigler). They live a very comfortable and successful life, with well-balanced settled children and a blissful marriage. One day, Solomon is befriended by two tricksters and ends up being transported into slavery in the American south. He endures the humiliation of being sold by a heartless and greedy Slaver, Mr Freeman (by Paul Giamatti), then relentless horror as the “purchased property” of several brutal landowners and their staff, including Ford (by Benedict Cummerbatch), Tibeat (by Paul Danos) and Epps (by Michael Fassbender). For twelve years he and his fellow slaves suffer at the utterly cruel and hateful hands of their “masters”, which bears heavily on them all, until a Canadian abolitionist, Bass (by Brad Pitt) provides Solomon with a chance of freedom.

This jaw-dropping movie is based on the biography “Twelve Years a Slave” by Solomon Northrup. The unwavering hateful attitudes of the “owners” towards their “property” is eye boggling, as is the total brutality meted out to them daily as a result of their he’s my property, I can do what I like to him” point of view. As Solomon Northup, Chiwetel Ejiofor puts in a remarkable performance and his worldwide nominations as Best Actor are totally deserved. Another stunning performance is from Michael Fassbender, as Landowner Epps. He must have been totally exhausted throughout the making of the movie as every one of his scenes is aggressive, physical, emotionally fraught and must have been utterly draining. As Freeman, Paul Giamatti’s role is small but very important and he is marvellous. Same goes for Paul Danos and Brad Pitt – very good. Another wonderful performance is by Lupita Nyong’o as slave Patsey. She is strong, fearless and incredible – she well deserves her Screen Actors Guild Award and her nomination for an Academy Award (Oscar). The movie has already been recognised with 2014 Best Movie Golden Globe, BAFTA and AFI Awards and it has been nominated for several Academy Awards (Oscars) for Best Picture, Actor in Leading Role (Ejiofor), Actor in Supporting Role (Fassbender), Actress in Supporting Role (Nyong’o), Costumes, Directing, Film Editing, Production Design and Writing (Adapted Screenplay). It’s probably a little too drawn-out in the telling so it seems long, but its honesty is to be seen to be believed. Well done.

Made in 2013. Directed by Steve McQueen

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Posted by on February 22, 2014 in Movies


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The Illusionist

In Vienna in the late 1800’s, teenagers Eduard Abramovich (played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson, then Edward Norton) and Sophie von Teschenare (by Eleanor Tomlinson, then Jessica Biel) are close friends who spend all their time together – until they are suddenly and cruelly separated without warning.  Eduard and Sophie go their separate ways and several years go by. As an adult, Eduard has become Eisenheim, a skilled illusionist, who travels his entertaining show to incredulous audiences throughout Austria and Europe. During a show in Vienna, a volunteer from the audience joins him on stage to take part in an illusion – he immediately recognises her as his teenage love, Sophie. She is now betrothed to Crown Prince Leopold (by Rufus Sewell) in a marriage of convenience, designed to consolidate the Austrian/Hungarian Empire. The jealous and violent Crown Prince becomes suspicious of Sophie’s activities and assigns his personal Police Inspector Uhl (by Paul Giamatti) to investigate and ruin Eisenheim.  Although Eisenheim enjoys public adoration, Uhl is skeptical of his illusions and is happy to find and expose the hidden tricks in the act to maintain his loyalty to the Crown Prince, But the mysterious and charismatic Eisenheim eludes the traps and accusations at every turn which infuriates the Crown Prince further. Little does Eisenheim realise, he is not only gambling with his own life, but that of his one true love …..

I enjoyed this movie. As the highly intelligent Eisenheim, Edward Norton is marvellously charming, suave and stylish – he plays this role very well indeed. The sepia tones of the production enhance the mood of the period piece (with the work receiving a nomination for Best Achievement in Cinematography at the 2007 Academy Awards) and the costume styling is marvellous. Jessica Biel is so beautiful as Duchess von Teschenare, but it is difficult to decide who is the better male, between Norton and Paul Giamatti.  As is often the case, Giamatti is marvellous – his portrayal of the ambitious Inspector Uhl is impeccable – and he brings us along through his character’s frustration, curiosity, incredulity and ultimate respect for Eisenheim very realistically. Rufus Sewell is cast very well as the cruel and jealous Crown Prince – he too is impeccably styled, handsome and very authentic in this role.  There are mysteries to solve here, a murder, the tricks (or not?) of the illusions … and there is a little romance.  Something for everyone here – a very nice movie.

Made in 2006. Directed by Neil Burger

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Posted by on March 1, 2013 in Movies


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Cinderella Man

James J. Braddock (played by Russell Crowe) is a hard-working man, struggling to eke out a living in New York City during the Great Depression of the 1920’s/30’s. He’s also a prize-fighter who has publicly and spectacularly fallen from grace. He’s hit rock bottom and is now battling injury and controversy, trying to support his wife Mae (by Renee Zellwegger) and their three children, but he’s finding it tough to get a bout. He’s unable to pay the bills so with his family in danger, to his utter repugnance he is forced to go on public welfare. But his determination to fight again, along with the strong love and honour he feels, drives him to keep trying to help his family. He summons the will to return to the ring. Nobody rates his chances, but driven by sheer grit Braddock fights on and starts to win, then keeps winning. Suddenly, this working man-in-the-street becomes an athlete, much adored, nicknamed the “Cinderella Man” and bearing the hopes and dreams of the depressed community. Until the day Braddock and his spirited manager Joe Gould (by Paul Giamatti) come up with a scheme that pits James against the reigning world heavyweight champ Max Baer (by Craig Bierko), who’s known as a killer in the ring …..

This is a great movie. Russell Crowe is marvellous and unapologetically brutal as James J. Braddock. But I didn’t find this offensive or overdone – it’s appropriate for this gritty role. Renee Zellwegger is great as the long-suffering Mae, I liked her performance a lot. As is quite often the case too, Paul Giamatti’s scenes are terrific – in fact, I’d say he and Russell Crowe are the stand-outs. The period environment and the ‘science’ of boxing gets a good airing. I did enjoy the toughness of the story and Russell Crowe’s outstanding athleticism and efforts as Braddock. This is a compelling real-life story of this family and Ron Howard does give it a “feel good” twist, which you may or may not appreciate. In 2006, Paul Giamatti was nominated as best supporting actor in the Academy Awards (Oscars) for this performance.  There are several books and documentaries about James J. Braddock and in general, I think this is a good movie.

Made in 2005.  Directed by Ron Howard.

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Posted by on July 30, 2012 in Movies


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Barney’s Version

Barney Panofsky (played by Paul Giamatti) is reflecting on his life and we view this from his perspective. He has always been a selfish, chain-smoking, hard-drinking hockey fan – and he looks it – but he’s had some great relationships too. He reflects on his successes and failures through a sequence of memories … from his youth spent in Rome in the 1970’s with his best friend Boogie (by Scott Speedman) where he meets and marries his first wife. He returns to Montreal and finds success in television, where he also meets his second wife (by Minnie Driver). He then becomes utterly infatuated with the love of his life Miriam (by Rosamund Pike) with whom he has a family and finds the most happiness.. Barney’s life is punctuated by failures and terrible down times. His father, Izzy Panofsky (by Dustin Hoffman) is a retired detective who has been around through it all. He has a different personality type to Barney and he provides a breath of fresh air in Barney’s frustrating life. Although he has had some wonderful relationships with women (I’m not sure what they see in him really …), Barney is not really a very nice man and in the later years of his life he comes to realise this through the eyes of his children and Miriam.

Paul Giamatti is great in this role – Barney is so desperately lonely and disappointed in how his life has gone.  Rosamund Pike is beautifully serene and a wonderful balance to him, whereas Dustin Hoffman’s Izzy is truly special – he is marvellous. His is the most entertaining character and in my view the best performance. Overall, I’m not quite sure what to make of it – but it is a well made and interesting movie.

The movie is an adaptation of Mordecai Richler’s 1997 novel “Barney’s Version” and the director is Richard J. Lewis.

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Posted by on February 18, 2012 in Movies


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Cold Souls

Paul Giamatti (played by Paul Giamatti!) is an actor in rehearsals of a Broadway play by Chekov. He is getting anxious because he can’t “get into” his character of Uncle Vanya. He feels he would be better off if he could somehow detach himself from “himself” so he can adopt the deep emotions of the role. He reads that he can have his soul extracted and put in short term storage, so he decides that this is a good idea – he would then be able to focus more fully on the role, He meets Dr Flintstein (by David Strathairn) and goes through the checks, procedure and storage then returns to rehearsals. At first, he feels “light” and “free”, but after a while he doesn’t enjoy being “soul-less” and his wife Claire (by Emily Watson) has noticed some changes in him. Also, he is still not quite into the role, so he tries to retrieve his soul – but the storage company have misplaced it. They offer him another soul as short term alternative until they find his. He accepts the soul of a female Russian poet, at first it’s good but it doesn’t work out for him either. As it turns out, the storage company is running an underground international soul exchange business and Paul’s soul has been stolen for use by someone overseas – transported there inside soul “mule”, Nina (by Dina Korzun). If that’s not bizarre enough, Nina’s boss in Russia has his own ideas about how to use Paul’s soul, and a drama ensues in the attempts to return Paul’s soul to its rightful human.

This movie is weirdly brilliant. The entire story is played out deadpan. Paul Giamatti is excellent as the tortured and traumatised “soul-less” Paul, as well as the host of the other distinct temporary souls. Once you give yourself over to the concept, the movie plays out in an entertaining way, particularly as it offers a range of pointers in the story to the quirkiness of the commercial, consumer-driven world we live in.

As I said – it’s weird, but pretty good.

(Made: 2009)

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Posted by on February 1, 2012 in Movies


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