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At The Movies

Biutiful

Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu

One of the year’s strongest acting performances comes from Javier Bardem (an Oscar nominee for this performance and a prior winner for “No Country for Old Men”), a film that is Oscar-nominated in the best foreign language film category. In it he plays Uxbal, who lives in Barcelona, the same city Bardem occupied in Woody Allen’s “Vicky Christina Barcelona,” but so far removed from the Barcelona depicted in that film that the characters would likely never walk the same streets or enter the same establishments.

Uxball leads a morally dubious life, running teams of undocumented immigrants in various illegal business ventures, while also trying to be a conscientious single father to two young children. His family life is complicated and an even greater adversary is invading his existence.

It’s interesting to be reminded of illegal immigration as it occurs elsewhere. In much of Western Europe, there is significant immigration from the East and Middle East, in addition to an influx across the Mediterranean from various African countries, including Europe’s ex-colonies. In Uxbals case, he’s working most closely with street vendors from Senegal and de facto slavery (or at best indentured servitude) in the form of a Chinese sweat shop.

All of this gives Bardem a wealth of opportunity to demonstrate his range, and he does so excellently, as Uxbal rides a roller coaster of emotion and hardship. He’s already won at Cannes, and has been nominated for a Goya, the Spanish equivalent of an Oscar, and if it were not for Colin Firth’s performance in “The King’s Speech,” I’d probably be championing his performance here. Regardless of that outcome, it’s worth a trip to the side of Barcelona you’d probably never see as a tourist.

Oscar Shorts – Special Presentation

For several years, all of the Oscar-nominated, narrative short films have been compiled into feature-length programs, and these programs have been co-presented locally by the Crest Theatre and the Sacramento Film & Music Festival. They open again in this form on Friday (February 11).

Live Action Shorts:  “The Confession” (26m, UK) and “The Crush” (15m, Ireland) feature stories about children and the underlying concepts in both seem more appealing than some aspects of their execution, though both are well made. “Na Wewe” (19m, Belgium – in French) is an oddity in that it manages to mix comedy with the decidedly non-comedic subject of genocide, as it considers a single moment in the conflict between Hutus and Tutsis in Burundi. It does this well throughout its length, but the payoff comes in a wonderful commentary about global identities in the closing seconds of the film. “God of Love” (18m, USA) is a successfully amusing comedy about a modern day Cupid and showcases the triple-threat talent of actor/writer/director Luke Matheny. The ending is not its strongest moment, but this is common with high-concept feature films also, and it will most likely have already won you over by then. But the most fully-realized of the five seems to be “Wish 143” (24m, UK), about a terminally ill teenager who asks to be able to lose his virginity when asked by a representative of a “Make-a-Wish” type organization. Like “Na Wewe,” and to a lesser extent “The Crush” and “God of Love,” it mixes tragedy and comedy, but it seems more like a short feature film than a single act or an extended skit.

Animated Shorts:  The most familiar of the animated shorts, for American audiences, is almost certainly Pixar’s “Day & Night” (6m, USA), which supported “Toy Story 3” in theaters. It’s a typically slick production from that studio and would be a shoe-in to win if voters were left to discover the films on their own. “Let’s Pollute” (6m, USA) plays like a classroom history lesson on pollution, as if it had been the single goal of human civilization. This wonderful little satire plays like a “how to” on environmental devastation and waste: “Move further away from your job so you can drive more every day!” The overall program is neat, showcasing a variety of animation styles, with “Madagascar, a Journey Diary” (11m, France) even employing different drawing techniques to depict a journey and a sense of place within a single film. Where “Wish 143” had the most recognized cast in the live action program, “The Gruffalo” (27m, UK/Germany) employs A-list voice talent, including Helena Bonham Carter, John Hurt, and Tom Wilkinson. Adapted from the successful children’s book, it tells the story of a young mouse exploring the woods and seems positively long in this company. It’s also odd as an Oscar nominee, having begun as a TV film in the UK. “The Lost Thing” (15m, Australia/UK) is another adaptation from an award-winning book, about a boy who finds a weird, out-of-place creature and tries to find it a home, in a leisurely paced rumination on a child’s imagination. I laughed most at “Let’s Pollute” and the star power and international recognition probably lies with “The Gruffalo.” But it’s hard to bet against Pixar.

The theatrical animation bundle is reported to play with two bonus films, to round out its length, including Bill Plympton’s “The Cow Who Wanted to be a Hamburger” which played locally last summer as an official selection of the Sacramento Film and Music Festival. The live action and animated programs play separately and require separate tickets.


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