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Notes from the Back Row

Bored by Barney's Version

I really dislike actor Paul Giamatti. I've never met him and I did enjoy American Splendor, but for some reason if I see Giamatti is in a film I get the urge to spit on the ground. I can't explain - the guy just has a smarty-pants vibe that bothers the piss out of me. He sucked as the bad guy in Shoot 'Em Up, don't even get me started on Lady in the Water (although that useless sad-sack M. Night Shyamalaan can share the blame for that one). I bought Giamatti as a divorced, loser English teacher in Sideways, but I didn't like it - a movie about wine is way too adult for me.

And so is Barney's Version, a Canadian flick screening this week at the Village 8 that's based on the Mordecai Richler novel. Giamatti plays Barney Panofsky, a hard-drinking rascal/unreliable narrator who takes a look back at his life and his three failed marriages, and serves up sorrows and triumphs but never really delivers the insight to elevate the flick into anything more than a too-long, too-literary, literary adaptation. I think some of my friend's parents will eat this up but the idea of two hours and 12 minutes of Giamatti sounds about as much fun to me as eating an open-faced turkey melt I dropped on the floor in the Garfinkel's bathroom. (Interestingly, the three-second rule for dropped food was proven to be a sham on TV's Mythbusters, but did you ever notice the one Mythbuster, Adam Savage, kind of looks like Paul Giamatti? Yikes.)

Also opening this week is Unknown , a rehash of the Cold War espionage genre but without the Cold War. Liam Neeson stars as a doctor who goes to Germany, gets in a car accident and wakes up four days later to discover that he no longer exists, his wife doesn't recognize him and, worse, she's screwing some other dude who is using Liam's identity. Is he crazy, or is it a crazy conspiracy? Diane Kruger ( Inglorious Bastards) plays an illegal cab driver and the only person who can help.

Liam Neeson, at age 58, still makes for a decent action star but Unknown is a far cry from the ass-kicking awesomeness of Taken. Instead it's more like Salt but without Angelina. Unknown is PG-13, and not terrible, but it certainly won't change your life.

The last new flick opening is D.J. Caruso's I am Number 4 about a superhero/alien type kid who gets sent to earth with eight others - but they are all separated and don't really even know they have powers until someone starts killing them off sequentially. And now it's Number 4's turn. Except he just met a nice girl he really likes and, shucks, can't he just be a normal kid for once?

There's a lot of hype around this one and new actor Alex Pettyfer, but there were no pre-screenings (bad sign) and while DJ Caruso usually delivers ( Salton Sea, Taking Lives, Disturbia, Eagle Eye) judging from the teaser I am Number 4 looks way too Twilight-y and sappy for my liking. It also wins for shittiest title of 2011 thus far.

The download of the week (because let's face it, the DVD rental is dying) is Unstoppable . Denzel Washington and Chris Pine have to stop a runaway train before it kills a bunch of school kids. It sounds stupid (and it is kind of stupid) but in an entertaining, tense kind of way, with solid acting on all sides.

My half-informed Oscar predictions will be back next week, just in time for the big show, and it's safe to say I don't foresee any wins for Paul Giamatti.