ANOTHER YEAR: The Film Babble Blog Review

ANOTHER YEAR (Dir. Mike Leigh, 2010)

As a comfortable married couple living in London, Mike Leigh veterans Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen are happily growing old together. Their jobs – he’s a geologist; she’s a therapist at a local clinic – seem as agreeable as they are to each other, and in their free time they enjoy tending to their large garden.

One of Sheen’s co-workers and friends (Lesley Manville) isn’t so happy however. She’s a frazzled mess barely holding it together, drinking too many glasses of wine and pining for a new man to come into her life.

Manville ends up embarrassingly flirting with Broadbent and Sheen’s 30 year old son (Oliver Maltman) at a backyard barbeque for an old college chum (Peter Wight) who’s also drinking away his sorrows in a miserable existence.

Over the course of the 4 seasons of a year, we follow these folks through their motions and get to know them in a engagingly emotional way.

When Maltman brings a spirited new girlfriend (Karina Fernandez) home to meet his parents, Manville, who happens to be visiting again, can’t hide her shaken feelings. It’s as naturalistic as a scene in a movie can be which must the result of Leigh’s patented improvisational methods.

Whatever the case, Leigh definitely deserves the Oscar nomination he just got for Best Screenplay for this fine film.

A film in which happily there’s no contrivances present – nobody has affairs, there’s no shouted speeches, and there’s no life changing revelations – there’s only pointed reflections on aging and painful neediness.

The entire cast is excellent, but Manville should’ve gotten a nomination herself for her work here. She embodies all of the flaws of this troubled woman flawlessly. The Academy may not have recognized this, but she was named best actress of the year by the National Board of Review and a best actress runner-up by the National Society of Film Critics so there’s that.

“Life’s not always kind, is it?” Sheen remarks at one point and it’s a apt statement which could act as the tagline for ANOTHER YEAR.

It’s a very sad film, but it’s not a depressing one. Roger Ebert once said that “all bad movies are depressing, no good movies are.”

Well, this quietly profound movie is very good and it sure didn’t get me down.

More later…

The Terry Gilliam Repertory Role Call 1977-2009

In anticipation of the new Terry Gilliam film THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS opening wide this Friday here’s a listing of Gilliam’s stupendous stock company. This is excluding the Monty Python films, because Gilliam only co-directed one of them (MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL). So let’s get right to it:

Jeff Bridges (THE FISHER KING, TIDELAND) 7 years before “The Dude”, Bridges abided as pony-tailed radio shock jock Jack Lucas who finds redemption by way of a crazy homeless Robin Williams (see end of list). Bridges’ fate was less rosy in TIDELAND (2005) – he plays a crusty old rocker reminiscent of Kris Kristopherson (a foreshadowing of CRAZY HEART?) who dies of a heroin overdose and spends most of the film as a rotting corpse sitting upright in a chair in a rustic farmhouse. Also notable: Bridges narrated the excellent heartbreaking documentary LOST IN LA MANCHA that focused on Gilliam’s aborted 2000 production of THE MAN WHO KILLED DON QUIXOTE.

Jim Broadbent (TIME BANDITS [1981], BRAZIL [1985]) The small but juicy role of a sleazy Compere of the game show “Your Money Or Your Life” was one of Broadbent’s first film roles. He appeared again in Gilliam’s next film, the bizarre but brilliant BRAZIL, as Dr. Jaffe – a plastic surgeon for one of the other notable cast members on this list (Hint: skip ahead 2).

Winston Dennis (TIME BANDITS, BRAZIL, THE ADVENTURES OF BARON MUNCHAUSEN 1988) A couple of bit parts as “Bull-headed Warrior” who battled King Agamemnon (Sean Connery) in TIME BANDITS and “Samurai Warrior” in BRAZIL led to an actual character name for Dennis, actually 2, Bill/Albrecht, an intertwined duo in Gilliam’s overblown but still incredibly charming epic comedy: THE ADVENTURES OF BARON MUNCHAUSEN (1988).

Johnny Depp (FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS, THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS, ) A Hunter S. Thompson adaptation is not a characteristic project for the dogged director, but with the demented Depp as the Gonzo journalist, Gilliam found his fantasist footing in the trippy terrain. Depp lent a hand famously filling in for Heath Ledger as “Imaginarium Tony #1” in the upcoming IMAGINARIUM… and is slated to be Sancho Panza (a role he was unable to complete in 2000) in THE MAN WHO KILLED DON QUIXOTE (2011). Barring any unforeseen incident, mind you.


While she’s best known for her US television sitcom work on Soap, Who’s The Boss, and Everybody Loves Raymond, Helmond has an almost alternate reality film career in the alternate realities of Gilliam. In TIME BANDITS she’s fittingly named Mrs. Ogre as she’s the wife of “Winston the Ogre” (Peter Vaughan), in BRAZIL she’s Ida Lowry – the mother of protagonist Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce), and in FEAR AND LOATHING… she’s “Desk Clerk at Mint Hotel” – a study in uncomfortable disapproving scowling. You’d think she’d be used to Gilliam’s grotesqueries by that point.

Ian Holm (TIME BANDITS, BRAZIL) To go from the legendary Napoleon to the lowly office boss Mr. M. Kurtzman in just a few years is quite a demotion. And perhaps it’s adding insult to injury that neither role has any positive light shed on them but Holm puts in perfect performances that actually provoke sympathy. Incidentally Holm would go on to portray Napoleon again in THE EMPEROR’S NEW CLOTHES (2001).


Jeter died in 2003 leaving behind an eclectic career that stretched from musical theater to television comedy to the silver screen and back again. His parts in 2 of Gilliam’s finest films as “Homeless cabaret singer” and “L. Ron Bumquist” are as memorable as character acting can be – especially when he belts out a medley of show tunes in drag to Amanda Plummer in THE FISHER KING.

Simon Jones (BRAZIL, TWELVE MONKEYS) These are pretty blink and miss them cameos (as an “Arrest Official” and “Zoologist” respectively) from Python pal Jones best known as Arthur Dent on the BBC TV version of The Hitch Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy (1981).

Heath Ledger (THE BROTHERS GRIMM, THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS) Of course, the tragic death of Heath Ledger in 2008 deprived the world of an amazing young talent, but a blossoming Gilliam leading man is how he’ll remain frozen in time as “Tony” in his last film: THE IMAGINARIUM… Ledger was reported as being close to Gilliam beginning with their work on BROTHERS GRIMM, so it’s not so far-fetched to imagine them collaborating often had he lived.


McKeown has been on hand to fill in random bit player parts in these 4 films simply because he co-wrote them with Gilliam. His work as “Theater manager”, Harvey Lime, Rupert/Adolphus, and “Fairground Inspector” may go majorly un-noticed but such a solid player should at least get a shout out from this blogger.

Christopher Meloni (TWELVE MONKEYS, FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS) Before he was Detective Elliot Stabler on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, or criminal Chris Keller on Oz for that matter, Meloni played Lt. Halperin in TWELVE MONKEYS then “Sven, Clerk at Flamingo Hotel” in FEAR AND LOATHING…

Derrick O’Connor (JABBERWOCKY, TIME BANDITS, BRAZIL) According to Wikipedia: “Terry Gilliam, who has directed O’Connor on three films, has noted in his audio commentaries that Derrick seems to have a habit of taking away most of his dialogue in favor of physical character humor. Notable examples include TIME BANDITS, in which his characters’ dialogue was resorted to simple grunts while the Maid Marian character ‘translated’ for him and in BRAZIL , in which Derrick scrapped all of his character’s dialogue and simply repeated the dialogue of Bob Hoskins‘ character.”


Gilliam’s former Python mate Palin was his first leading man as Dennis Cooper – dragon slayer in JABBERWOCKY (1977). Palin went on to co-write TIME BANDITS and appear in it as Vincent, who shows up in as Shelly Duvall’s lover in 2 different time periods. His last role for Gilliam was as the devious but dapper Jack Lint in BRAZIL.


In TWELVE MONKEYS, the venerable Plummer played Dr. Goines, a world-renowned virologist and father to a crazy radical Brad Pitt. He has a larger role, the title role, in Gilliam’s latest offering. In an interview on Gilliam spoke of the collaboration: “It’s wonderful trying to create a little family group. At one stage I’m taking Christopher Plummer, one of the greatest actors of a few generations, and having him do these different double acts; one with a model with little acting experience, one with a two-foot-eight man and one with Tom Waits, America’s greatest musical poet. And it all worked out!”

Jonathan Pryce (BRAZIL, THE ADVENTURES OF BARON MUNCHAUSEN, THE BROTHERS GRIMM) As protagonist Sam Lowry in BRAZIL, Pryce provided an ingratiating everyman. He had smaller but still memorable parts in MUNCHAUSEN as “The Right Ordinary Horatio Jackson”, and BROTHERS GRIMM as “Delatombe” – a conniving French General.

Jack Purvis (TIME BANDITS, BRAZIL) A dwarf who appeared in all 3 of the original STAR WARS trilogy, Purvis was Time Bandit Wally, Dr. Chapman in BRAZIL, and Jeremy /Gustavus in MUNCHAUSEN. Unlike his roles as Jawas and Ewoks for Lucas, in Gilliam’s films he at least got to show his face and have a few lines. Purvis died in 1997, leaving behind a brief but fascinating filmography.

Peter Stormare (THE BROTHERS GRIMM, THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS) The only actor to appear on both Gilliam’s and the Coen Brothers’ repertory role calls, Stormare is a towering intimidating stonewalling actor who seems to fit into whatever skewed scenario visionary film makers come up with. His roles in these 2 films couldn’t be more different: he’s the thug “Calvadi” and in BROTHERS GRIMM he’s credited as “The President”. Well, maybe I have to wait to see if they’re really so different.

Verne Troyer (FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS, THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS) Troyer, best known as Mini-Me from the AUSTIN POWERS films, seems to be the go-to little person since the original Time Bandits are too old or deceased now. Maybe Gilliam should give Peter Dinklage a call next time out.

Peter Vaughn (TIME BANDITS, BRAZIL) As a medieval creature who complains of a bad back, the Pythonesque “Winston the Ogre” was wonderfully played by Vaughan: “You try being beastly and terrifying… you can only get one hour sleep a night because your back hurts, and you daren’t cough unless you want to pull a muscle.” In BRAZIL he had a crucial bit part as the ironically named Mr. Helpmann.

Tom Waits (THE FISHER KING, THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSAS) Waits steals the show in THE FISHER KING as “Disabled Veteran” with a monologue in which he declares: “I’m what you call kind of a “moral traffic light”, really. I’m like sayin’, “Red! Go no further!” Looks like he may be set to steal the show again in IMAGINARIUM… in what may be the meatiest role on this list: Mr. Nick/The Devil. Also between these 2 roles his song “The Earth Died Screaming” appeared in TWELVE MONKEYS.

The wild wacky fast talking Williams looked at the time like he might become a Gilliam mainstay but alas that so far was not to be. In MUNCHAUSEN his manic “King Of The Moon” (“I think therefore you is”), whose head detaches from his body, hurriedly floats off with the movie for a few priceless moments, but it’s his touching role as Perry in THE FISHER KING that stacks up there with Williams’ best work.

Okay! Is there anyone I missed?

More later…

THE DAMNED UNITED: The Film Babble Blog Review

THE DAMNED UNITED (Dir. Tom Hooper, 2009)

Playing Prime Minister Tony Blair in full on damage control mode in THE QUEEN, taking on television journalist David Frost’s striving for a career making spotlight on an impeached President in FROST/NIXON, and now here as the infamous arrogant football manager Brian Clough, Michael Sheen appears to be on a mission to redefine the role of refined British masculinity movie-wise for the new millennium.

It’s not a one man mission as Sheen is the front man for screen writer Peter Morgan’s retellings of pivotal points in UK public relations. Sheen has the fierce focus necessary for these pointed recreations, while the sense that deep down he’s a decent bloke helps their cinematic cause along nicely. So the suave but spineless English archetypes (think Hugh Grant’s inept Prime Minister in LOVE ACTUALLY) now fade into anachronism as history sorts the winners from the losers, with the brashly flawed figures Sheen embodies definitively deemed as winners.

There are many times, however, in THE DAMNED UNITED that Sheen’s Brian Clough doesn’t resemble a winner at all. After taking over Leeds United in 1974, Clough doesn’t quite endear himself to his players when announcing: “the first thing you can do for me is to chuck all your medals and all your caps and all your pots and all your pans into the biggest fucking dustbin you can find, because you’ve never won any of them fairly. You’ve done it all by bloody cheating!”

The film skips back to 1967 to acquaint us with the long brimming but basically one-sided rivalry between Clough and the previous Leeds manager Don Revie (Colm Meaney) who had driven the team to win all those medals over the years. Clough’s then team Derby County rose from underdog status to win the Second Division, but still lost the First Division title to the brutal tactics of the Leeds players.

Assistant manager Peter Taylor (Timothy Spall as one of the most likable and grounded of the films characters) and Derby chairman Sam Longson (Jim Broadbent) shake their heads at Clough’s over confidence and unrestrained bravado, which threatens his friendship with Taylor (“That’s the trouble with you Brian, too much ambition!”) and the financial stability of the team. There’s nothing that can put out the fire burning in Clough – not harsh complaining heard through closed doors, not the icy glares from elder superiors, and most of all, not the 0 scoring loses that Leeds racks up after he assumes their management.

While there is action on the field, sometimes depicted by way of archival footage, this film is primarily concerned with Clough’s back room verbosity. In every acidic line reading and exasperated expression, Sheen captures the intensity of a man who doesn’t have it in his nature to back down even as he’s so plainly pissing in the wind. It’s a tour de force performance that drives the film and is invigorating to behold even if you have no interest in soccer strategies or sports at all. I say this because I sure as Hell don’t.

Though it’s largely Sheen’s show he’s joined by a highly capable and credible cast. Standing out with the previous mentioned Spall, Broadbent, and Meany is the grimacing Stephen Graham as team Captain Billy Bremner, providing a needed dividing edge to Sheen’s abrasive stubbornness.

Marred only by one too many sad fades to black, and some fake looking hair (blame it on period style wigs), this poignantly plotted drama scores another winning shot for Sheen and writer Morgan, whether it indulges in revisionism or not. In the concluding moments there are glimpses of the real Clough surrounded by a crowd of supporters years after the events in the movie – a typical biodoc manuever – and while it’s impossible to see if he was as obnoxiously determined as Sheen’s portrayal made him out to be, the vigorous spirit that this sturdy movie tenaciously touches on is without a doubt on display.

More later…


Until a little over a week ago I had never seen any of the Harry Potter movies. I decided that I would give them a try just in time to see the 6th one on opening weekend. I went through the stack of DVDs, in order of course, absorbing the world of academic wizardry and CGI spectacle film by film. After the Spielbergian sunniness of the first couple Chris Columbus helmed Potters, the films got darker and better crafted. The 3rd: Alfonso Cuaron’s HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN may be my favorite of the lot. I watched the 4th on Friday night, then woke up early Saturday morning and watched the 5th so I was up to date and ready to go to the 6th one – that is if I wasn’t getting Harry Pottered out. Was I? Let’s see:


A major issue with hardcore Harry Potter fans is the differences between the books and the movies. Now, I haven’t read the books so I obviously can’t comment there, but I can say that this is the first time that I felt like there was something vital missing. I mean, all the basic beloved elements were present – the great ensemble cast, the flawless effects, the affable spirit, etc. – yet it felt strained and it dragged whereas the others were tightly plotted and breezed along. Was it insights from the book that I was missing? That’s what I’m getting from fans who despite the large grosses and overall positive reviews, are crying that this Potter isn’t up to par.

In the trailer for the new Adam Sandler flick FUNNY PEOPLE Jonah Hill jokes about Harry Potter: “He’s getting pretty old, is he getting a PHD in wizardry?” Yeah, I’m wondering how many years the guy has to go to Hogwarts myself. After seeing all the films in quick succession, the formula is well embedded – we catch up with Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) in the world of the Muggles (non-magic folk) as some ginormous supernatural occurrence shakes the earth. A new character is introduced (this time the lively yet underwritten for Jim Broadbent as Professor Horace Slughorn – gotta love those names) and Harry is once again transported with his close friends (Rupert Grimm and Emma Watson) to Hogwarts where things are in turmoil as always – i.e. involving conflict with the battling surrounding Dumbledore’s (Michael Gambon) army against long time evil entity Voldermort and the Death Eaters.

That’s as purposely vague as I’ll get here. In the subplot dept. there are the blooming romances among the kids which unfortunately don’t add up to much drama. It may have been a bad idea for me to watch 5 lengthy films in a layered series in which there’s a lot more than, at first, meets the eye. “Oh, but you need to read the books” is something I’ve heard so often and I fully plan to (I have a stack of them next to my desk) but I can only judge them as movies separate from their literary counterparts for now. As such, #6, HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF BLOOD PRINCE is a competent entry in the series but an underwhelming movie all the same.

More later...