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Eugene Weekly : Movies : 03.10.05



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A Lesson in Living

And dying

BY LOIS WADSWORTH

THE SEA INSIDE (Spain, 2004): Directed, written and produced by Alejandro Amenábar. Produced by Fernando Bovaira. Written by Mateo Gil. Cinematography, Javier Aguirresarobe. Production design, Benjamin Fernández. Music, Alejandro Amenábar, with the special participation of Calos Núñez. Wardrobe, Sonia Grande. Starring Javier Bardem. With Belén Rueda, Lola Dueñas. Also Mabel Rivera, Tamar Novas, Celso Bugallo, Joan Dalmau, Clara Segura, Alberto Giménez José Maria Rou. Fine Line Features, 2004. PG-13. 125 minutes. 2004 Academy Award nomination for Foreign Language Film.

Javier Bardem as "Ramon Sampedro" with Belén Rueda as "Julia"

I'm sorry The Sea Inside was not available to be included in the most original films of 2004 (EW 3/24), because it deserves to be seen widely. Alejandro Amenábar's biography of real-life Ramón Sampedro at 55, beautifully played by Javier Barden, celebrates the life of an ordinary man who sued the government of Spain over his right to die. The case played out in the 1990s and elevated Sampedro to national celebrity. But more importantly, Ramón's efforts resulted in self-awareness rare in contemporary life. (Sampedro wrote a memoir, Letters from Hell.)

In the 30 years following Ramón's diving accident, he influenced many individuals as well as the Spanish court itself. Amenábar's film shows us the man himself, his intellect unimpaired and his observational powers honed to a fine edge. We meet his caregivers and butt up against his unwavering desire to die.

Let's begin with the basics: Since his accident, Ramón can move his head, but not his limbs. He breathes on his own but cannot move a finger. He chooses not use a wheelchair, so he spends his life in bed. A poet earlier in his life, he taps into his imagination and fantasizes flying across Galicia's wooded mountains, twisted ravines and streams to the Atlantic Ocean he longs to see again. As time passes, Ramón shares other fantasy experiences, and we marvel at how real they seem.

Ramón lives in an upstairs bedroom at his brother José's (Celso Bugallo) farmhouse, with his sister-in-law Manuela (Mabel Rivera), their quite old father Joaquin (Joan Dalmau), and his high-school aged nephew Javi (Tamar Novas). José is adamant and Joaquin determined to disallow Ramón the death he wants. Ravi has a complicated relationship with his uncle, but he loves him and has warm, forgiving encounters with him daily.

Only devoted Manuela says dying is what Ramón wants. Taking care of him tenderly and unsentimentally, Manuela says she loves him like a son. But the way she fumbles with the words suggests her love is less maternal than she needs to believe. Rivera's performance is emotionally flawless.

Other people come into Ramón's life. Julia (Belén Rueda)is an attorney who helps with his court case, along with death with dignity advocates Gené (Clara Segura) and Marc (Francesc Garrido). Rosa (Lola Dueñas) lives nearby. An impoverished single mother of two boys, Rosa recognizes Ramón as an attractive older man who tells her the truth. A Catholic bishop with multiple disabilities, played by José Maria Rou, comes to argue with Ramón. Their lively interaction is watched in wonder by the priest's attendants in a scene that borders on cliché.

But who among these people will help Ramón to die? That's the question driving the narrative forward, as Amenábar sensitively shows us many faces of love. Ramón attracts women to him for a variety of reasons, and the intimacies he shares with Julia, Rosa and Manuela are as substantive as those of love stories involving temporarily able-bodied persons, as we should rightly think of ourselves.

Don't get the wrong message here. This is not a "message" film. It's a film about a former ship mechanic whose love of life sustains him but frustrates the stronger desire for death he harbors. If Ramón alone could end his life, there would be no story. But his dependence on helpers to die runs against the laws of Spain. His patient attempts to win over others to his side are moving. But by the end of the film, we understand their point of view as well, because we, too, want this quietly powerful individual to stay onscreen for even a few minutes longer.    

 

 

 

Helping Out

Compassion as an outdated emotion.

BY LOIS WADSWORTH

VERA DRAKE: Written and directed by Mike Leigh. Produced by Simon Channing Williams, Alain Sarde. Executive producers Gail Egan, Robert Jones, Duncan Reid. Cinematography, Dick Pope. Editor, Jim Clark. Production design, Eve Stewart. Music, Andrew Dickson. Costumes, Jacqueline Durran. Starring Imelda Staunton, with Phil Davis, Alex Kelly and Daniel Mays. Also with Adrian Scarborough, Heather Craney, Eddie Marsan, Lesley Manville, Sally Troughton, Ruth Sheen, Peter Wight and Helen Coker. Fine Line Features, 2004. R. 125 minutes.

Imelda Staunton and Phil Davis.

Writer, director Mike Leigh is best known in this country for what some critics call "kitchen sink" melodramas, which I prefer to think of as character-driven domestic dramas. Leigh showed us the lives and travails of working class Brits in High Hopes (1988), Life is Sweet (1991) and Secrets and Lies (1996).

In that vein, Vera Drake explores the lives of a hard-working family during the shortages of Britain's post-WWII era. As Londoners made do during nightly bombing raids by Hitler's air force, so plucky individuals plugged away to make ends meet during the economic hard times that followed. Younger Americans may not have learned about efforts to help rebuild Britain and shore up its faltering economy at the end of that long, arduous war, but American schoolchildren donated food boxes, and charities delivered medicines. It was a time when families pulled together, and people helped each other.

I mention this because Mike Leigh doesn't, and everything in Vera Drake follows from this understanding. For most families, living was hard, and people worked where and how they could to survive. Vera cleans houses. She also provides a lot of services for free: making a cup of tea for to someone who can't get out, dropping by her mum's to cook dinner, helping out girls who get in trouble. That last, unpaid service is what gets Vera in trouble with the law.

Vera's husband Stan (Phil Davis) works in his brother Frank's (Adrian Scarborough) garage. Vera and Stan's son Sid (Daniel Mays) has a job but is always looking for a better (and easier) thing. Shy daughter Ethel (Alex Kelly) also brings in a bit of money from her job. Vera invites their bachelor neighbor, Reg (Eddie Marsan), for supper. Reg shows some interest in Ethel, and Vera and Stan seem genuinely happy together.

I think American movie audiences accept the notion that times were hard in some historical periods, such as during the Civil War or the settling of the Old West or the market failure that led to the Great Depression. But we have become a deeply materialistic society. No wars have been fought here since the 1860s. The last half of the 20th century saw long periods of affluence and abundance cut by shorter times of localized, economic slowdown. Oregonians know a lot about boom-and-bust cycles.

Mike Leigh's movies are always about class and economics, and in this film, he brings in gender politics. When Vera helps out a rich girl, Susan (Sally Hawkins), who was date-raped, things go wrong. The girl's parents despise Vera for class-related reasons, and the old friend and broker, Lily (Ruth Sheen), who sent Vera to the girl exploits her and collects money from the girls on the side. The authorities after Vera are overwhelmingly patriarchal figures, with the exception of WPC Best (Helen Coker), who is gentle and respectful with her.

But from Detective Inspector Webster (Peter Wight) to the police constable, the station sergeant, the station constable, the gaoler (jailer), the prosecution barrister and the magistrate, Vera faces a long sequence of men in positions of power. Her solemn demeanor and short stature lend themselves to the illusion that Vera actually tries to shrivel up and die rather than face their cold faces, troubling words and obvious distaste.

The film brings up strong, polarizing emotions about issues that resist easy resolution. Great performances, excellent direction, cinematography and editing make Vera Drake a must-see film. Don't wait. This may be its last hurrah. Highest recommendations for a disturbing and controversial film.

 



OPENING OR RETURNING:

Films open the Friday following date of EW publication unless otherwise noted. See archived movie reviews.

An Act of Conscience: Q & A follows film with members of Taxes for Peace Not War. At 7 pm on 3/14 in Cozmic Pizza. Free.

Behind the Labels: Documentary expose of the garment industry in Saipan, a US territory in the Mariana Islands. Federal minimum wages do not apply to these exploited workers. Plays at 3 pm on 3/13 at the Eugene Public Library. Free.

Dark Crystal, The (1982): Sci-fi animated fantasy set on another planet at another time was created and directed by the late Jim Henson, creator of the Muppets; co-director, Frank Oz. PG. LateNite Bijou.

Hostage: Former LAPD hostage-negotiator Bruce Willis moves his family to a low-crime town in Ventura County where criminal teenagers hold them hostage, and he must take over the crime scene investigation. A film by Florent Siri. R. Cinema World. Cinemark.

House of Flying Daggers, The: Zhang Yimou's martial arts film about a secret society that destroys an evil Tang Dynasty regional government. Stars Zhang Ziyi, Andy Lau and Takeshi Kaneshiro. Exciting, beautiful. Highest recommendations. Academy Award nomination to Zhao Xiaoding for cinematography. PG-13. Movies 12. Online archives.

Ikuru (1952): Highly acclaimed film directed and written by Akira Kurosawa is described by Videohound as a "heartbreaking drama from the usually restrained Kurosawa; possibly his most 'eastern' film." It's the story of a petty bureaucrat near the end of his life, played by Takashi Simura, who decides to give something meaningful back to society. At 7pm on 3/16 180 PLC. Free.

National Treasure: Directed by Jon Turteltub and producer Jerry Bruckheimer, adventure stars Nicolas Cage searching for treasure George Washington hid during the Revolutionary War. Sean Bean plays his British rival who's anxious to score the treasure first. PG. Movies 12.

Paper Moon (1973): Bogus Bible salesman (Ryan O'Neal) in Depression era Kansas takes on a 9-year old orphan (Tatum O'Neal) who plays the con game better than he. Directed by Peter Bogdanovich. PG. The Chase in the Evolution of the Movies precedes the feature. Festivities start at 6 pm on 3/12 at the Lorane Grange #54 Hall, Lorane OR. $7/$5 donation.

Robots: Animator Chris Wedge (Ice Age) brings his talents to this tale of what the filmmakers call "a wondrously clanky universe populated solely by mechanical beings." Voices by Ewan McGregor, Halle Berry, robin Williams, Mel Brooks, Amanday Bynes, Stanley Tucci, Greg Kinnear. PG. Cinema World. Cinemark.

Sea Inside, The (Spain, 2004): Alejandro Amenábar's acclaimed film about the life of Ramón Sampedro (Javier Bardem) is one of 2004's best films. We meet the man himself, his intellect unimpaired and his observational powers honed to a fine edge despite the disability of being unable to move his limbs. We meet the women who love him, and we butt up against Ramón's unwavering desire to die with dignity. Lovely, elegaic film. Very highest recommendations. R. Bijou. See review this issue.

Story Pouch: Screen an animation fantasy in progress and meet Corvallis computer animation artist Todd Kesterson and his corps of volunteers. At 8 pm on 3/11 at DIVA. $2-$5.

Stroll, The (Russia, 2003): Aleksei Uchitel's film tracks three exuberant young people looking for St. Petersburg's youth-friendly edge. At 7 pm on 3/15 in 115 Pacific. Free.

Films open the Friday following EW publication date unless otherwise noted. See archived reviews at www.eugeneweekly.com

 

CONTINUING:

Aviator, The: Martin Scorsese's 169-minute film about lover, aviation pioneer and eccentric billionaire industrialist Howard Hughes stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Hughes, with Cate Blanchett, Kate Beckinsale, John C. Reilly, Alec Baldwin, Jude Law, Alan Alda, Frances Conroy and Ian Holm. DiCaprio is brilliant in the role, and Scorsese makes the film his own. One of the best films of the year. Very highest recommendations. PG-13. Cinemark. Cinema World. Online archives.

Bad Education: Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar (Talk to Her) consistently makes some of the most interesting films in world cinema. This film travels from 1980 back to 1964, with stops between, and the characters' identities meld and twist Child molestation in a Catholic boy's school is the original situation, but the stories we tell ourselves and others is at the heart of the film. Very highest recommendations. NR. Bijou. Online archives.

Be Cool: Picks up where Get Shorty leaves off. Chili Palmer (John Travolta) quits the movie industry to try the music industry and woos a music exec's widow (Uma Thurman) on the way. PG13. Cinemark. Cinema World.

Because of Winn-Dixie: A lonely child adopts an orphaned dog she names Winn-Dixie, who helps her make friends in a small town in Florida. Directed by Wayne Wang, film stars Jeff Daniels, Dave Matthews, Cicely Tyson, Eva Marie Saint and AnnaSophia Robb. PG. Cinemark.

Constantine: Stars Keanu Reeves, Rachel Weisz, Shia LeBeouf, Tilda Swinton, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Djimon Hounsou and Peter Stormare. An epic set in a world of demons and angels. Hmmm. Based on comic, Hellblazer. R. Cinemark.

Cursed: Wes Craven's twist on classic monster fables stars Christina Ricci, Joshua Jackson, Judy Greer, Portia de Ross. Gaining supernatural powers after a near-accident, a brother and sister face a heavy price and ancient omens make their way into the modern world. R. Cinemark.

Finding Neverland: Directed by Marc Foster, film stars Johnny Depp, with Kate Winslet, Julie Christie, Radha Mitchell, Dustin Hoffman. Winslet and Depp's performances are radiant, but 12 year-old Freddie Highmore is fabulous. Heartbreaking, gorgeous, but too complicated for young children. PG. Cinema World. Online archives.

Hide and Seek: Robert DeNiro plays a recently widowed father desperate to break through to his daughter (Dakota Fanning), who has an imaginary friend with a terrifying agenda. Directed by John Polson, it also stars Famke Janssen, Elisabeth Shue, Amy Irving and Dylan Baker. R. Movies 12.

Hitch: Will Smith stars in this romantic comedy as a New York "date doctor" who helps hapless men woo the women of the their dreams. Costars Kevin James, Amber Valletta, Eva Mendes, Michael Rappaport and Adam Arkin. Directed by Andy Tennant. PG-13. Cinema World. Cinemark.

In Good Company: Written and directed by Paul Weitz (About a Boy), this comedy is about the relationship between an older man (Dennis Quaid) and his much younger boss (Topher Grace). Scarlett Johansson co-stars. Sweet comedy about workplace changes and what really matters: career or home? PG-13. Movies 12.

Incredibles, The: Writer, director Brad Bird and Pixar Animation Studios create an action-adventure story set in suburbia where a former top crime fighter, Mr. Incredible, gets the call to jump back into actions. PG. Movies 12.

Jacket, The: A John Maybury twisted thriller starring Adrian Brody as a military veteran who, with the help of a sensory deprivation jacket, foresees his own death. R. Cinemark.

Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events: The misadventures of three orphans who fall into the hands of an evil count are popular with children and adults. Jim Carrey stars, with many co-stars. Directed by Brad Silberling. PG. Movies 12.

Man of the House: Tommy Lee Jones stars as a Texas Ranger whose job is to protect cheerleaders who witnessed a murder. Action comedy directed by Stephen Herek. PG-13. Cinemark.

Meet the Fockers: Jay Roach follows Meet the Parents (2000) with Ben Stiller's bride and in-laws to-be Teri Polo, Robert De Niro and Blythe Danner meeting his rather eccentric parents, Dustin Hoffman and Barbara Streisand. Culture clash writ small. PG-13. Movies 12.

Merchant of Venice, The: Michael Radford brings this complex Shakespeare play to film, starring Al Pacino, Jeremy Irons and Joseph Fiennes. R. Bijou.

Million Dollar Baby: Clint Eastwood, who directed, produced and composed the music for this film, co-stars with Hilary Swank and Morgan Freeman in this story of a spunky fighter, a reluctant trainer and an ex-boxer who looks after the gym. One of 2004's best films. Very highest recommendations. 7 Academy Award nominations for best picture, Eastwood director, Eastwood actor, Hilary Swank actress, Morgan Freeman supporting actor, Paul Haggis adapted screenplay and Joel Cox film editing. PG-13. Cinemark. Cinema World. Online archives.

Ocean's Twelve: Director Steven Soderbergh returns with the gang: George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Don Cheadle, Bernie Mac, Andy Garcia, Julia Roberts and newby Catherine Zeta-Jones. Highly recommended for its unabashedly confident entertainment value. PG-13. Movies 12. Online archives.

Pacifier, The: Disgraced Navy SEAL Shane Wolf (Vin Diesel) is given a new assignment to protect 5 kids from enemies of their recently deceased father – a government scientist whose top secret experiment is still in the house. Thriller? Drama? Tear-jerker? Nope, it's a comedy. PG. Cinemark.

Sideways: Alexander Payne's social comedy follows two guys on a bachelor week in California wine country. Great performances by Paul Giamatti (American Splendor) and Thomas Haden Church ("Wings") sweetens the tale, as do Virginia Madsen and Sandra Oh. One of the best films of the year. Don't miss. R. Cinemark. Online archives.

Son of Mask: Family comedy stars Jamie Kennedy as father of a new son, Lavey, who is born with the supernatural powers of The Mask. Throw in a jealous family dog, and the mischievous Nrose god Loki, and you've got trouble. Crude and suggestive humor and language. PG. Movies 12.

Spanglish: James L. Brooks's comedy/drama stars Adam Sandler, Tea Leoni, Anne Bancroft and Paz Vega. A non-English speaking woman goes to work for an upscale LA family. PG-13. Movies 12.

SpongeBob SquarePants: Animated feature starring one of Nickelodeon's most absorbing characters. Voices: Alec Baldwin, Scarlett Johansson. PG. Movies 12.

Vera Drake: Mike Leigh's gritty portrait of a good neighbor who helps girls in trouble in mid-1950s England. Staunton gives an understated dignity to her role, which infuses the film with warmth and humanity. 2004 Academy Award nominations for director Mike Leigh, also nominated for original screenplay; actress Imelda Staunton. Highest recommendations. R. Bijou. See review this issue.

Wedding Date: Debra Messing, Dermot Mulroney and Jeremy Sheffield star in a romantic comedy directed by Clare Kilner. PG-13. Cinemark. Online archives.

 

MOVIE THEATERS

Use the links provided below for specific show times.

Bijou Art Cinemas

Bijou Theater 686-2458 | 492 E. 13th

Regal Cinemas

Cinema World 342-6536 | Valley River Center

Springfield Quad 726-9073 |

Cinemark Theaters

Movies 12 741-1231 | Gateway Mall

Cinemark 17 741-1231 | Gateway Mall