Name: mutuel

Most Recent Reviews by mutuel

Mystery surrounds a town in Germany in suspense thriller

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Reviewed by mutuel

At The Movies

The White Ribbon (PG) * * * * *

Danger Creep!

By ROBERT WALDMAN

Keep them guessing. That’s the hallmark of a good suspense tale or a beginning relationship. And those folks at Cannes sure know how to pick a winner. Fresh off a smashing send-off from the world’s most famous film festival (sorry, Toronto) The White Ribbon finally reaches our shores. And what a treat it is. Sony Pictures Classics and Mongrel Media have outdone themselves by releasing this soon to be foreign classic, fit for all to behold at Tinseltown (on Pender, free parking).

Back in time we go to the years immediately prior to World War I. Somewhere in a quaint German village ominous things begin to occur. To appreciate the gravity of the situation you have to analyze the inhabitants of this rather quaint enclave. Power in this farming community rests with a tough as nails Baron and his equally dragon-lady wife. Ulrich Tukur and Ursina Lardi personify control run amuck as the town folk are literally on pins and needles over their every gesture. Alas, peace and tranquility do not remain for long in this slow moving world.

Right at the start of the movie comes an accident. From that point onward a sinister force seems to be operating in this rather idyllic, picturesque community where cows roam free, fields grow in abundance, and bad things begin to multiply. Who, or what is responsible for the ever increasing disasters provide lots of gist for the rumour mill and gossip runs wild. Many locals, if not them all, are beholden to the generosity (?) of the Baron and Baronin and it’s somewhat of a mugs game to guess if any of the members of this community are in fact responsible for the wicked evil that descends upon them all.

Watch the hidden agendas unravel, like an ancient game of CLUE, as instances of trauma and suspicion plague the town. Apart from this paranoia there are a host of citizens coming to terms with their own personal problems, all somehow interconnected to the tragic events on this village’s doorstep.

No one is above suspicion here as old customs die hard. Candidates for possible repudiation for the crimes include stray women, misunderstood children and poor farmers with grudges against the moneyed elites. Director Michael Haneke further inflames the incendiary conditions by injecting elements of religion, love and lust into the fray as emotions reach the boiling point.

Shot in black and white gives The White Ribbon an eerie feeling that perfectly meshes with the story. Non use of colour stock here ratchets up the tension further and, though often used as a cost saving measure, this drab background just makes the menace at hand all the more haunting. Even at its 144 minute length, perhaps five or ten minutes too long, you can’t help but get caught up in all the characters and the evil deeds that no one seems capable of solving. At films end there seems to be as many questions as answers in this one of a kind suspense tale that takes a small town mentality and turns it on its head. Fear is paramount in this movie and the use of school children well represents fear, panic, innocence and tons of uncertainty.

Be taken on an unforgettable journey through the vibrant performances of Rainer Brock as the town doctor, Burghart Klaubner as a man of God and Christian Friedel in a sparkling debut as a caring teacher make The White Ribbon a well-thought out, excellently executed suspense thriller. Scores of unique characters and unbelievable emotional tension make The White Ribbon a likely Oscar candidate if not winner for storytelling par excellence.

Note: This film is in German, with English subtitles.

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Fraser and Ford Click as Men who battle Pompe Disease

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Reviewed by mutuel

At The Movies

Extraordinary Measures (PG) * * * *

Family Man!

By ROBERT WALDMAN

People with children will do anything and everything to protect them. One father goes that extra mile to make a difference in Extraordinary Measures, an eventful film from Alliance Films now springing to life at Tinseltown (on Pender, free parking), Empire Studio 12, Colossus and Famous Players Theatres around B.C.

Beware films that are based (or inspired) on real events. Liberties can be taken by filmmakers out to sensationalize serious subject matter. Director Tom Vaughan (What Happens In Vegas) leaves the comedy behind and hones in on the human side in this telling story of a man out to make a difference.

Pride and appearances can be deceiving. On the outside John Crowley seems to have all the trappings of success. Brendan Fraser (The Mummy) stands tall as this corporate executive married with three lovely children. Oh, but one “small” matter is gnawing away at John and his wife. Both have one healthy child but two are inflicted with a disease called Pompe. No known cure exists for the condition and with time running out John is at his wit’s end.

Not one to give up soon problems at work developfor this caring dad and even his stand by your man wife Aileen feels the pressure. Keri Russell (Mission Impossible III) embodies all the spirit of a mother and wife trying to remain calm as her husband decides to take the bull by the horns and help his kids stave off death.

Rumours abound on cures for all sorts of ailments. Being smart and studious John searches all the right leads and comes up with a scientist in Nebraska who offers some hope. Rough around the edges Robert Stonehill leads a rather cloistered life and is not too keen on helping the Crowleys. Aging superstar Harrison Ford (Raiders of the Last Ark) shows he’s still got what it takes and is delightfully charming as the stubborn, arrogant straight-talking Stonehill. Consider him to be the ultimate stonewalling agent as he reluctantly agrees to try to find a cure for this perilous disease.

Numerous films about sick people have been done over the years with a younger Denzel Washington coming to mind in the dramatic John Q. Both Fraser and Ford work well off one another. Even more stunning is the gritty atmosphere revealed of the pharmaceutical industry. Bad things can in fact go on behind closed doors out of public (and shareholder’s) view. How drugs are given the green light for research is well documented and all the players out to carve their own niche in this often closed, impenetrable world is truly eye-opening.

Tension develops early and the sense of urgency is always on your minds as you can’t help but get caught up in the plight of two parents and a renegade scientist who somehow lock horns against the establishment in a true David versus Goliath struggle.

Eyes may get wet when you see the doom and gloom presented to the parents at virtually every turn. Steps to eradicate a disease and save a family take great strength and perseverance. Brendan Fraser, in particular, does not overplay or underplay his hand showing just the right composure and compulsion to believe that this man would do whatever it takes to save a child.

Heartbreaking at times and heartwarming, Extraordinary Measures is a surprisingly good treatment of a real event that happened and a good tearjerker any time of year.

Read more reviews by Robert at www.moviereviewssite.com

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Strange Heaven- Transition takes away from crazed out killer

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Reviewed by mutuel

At The Movies

The Lovely Bones (PG) * * *

Cruel Intentions!

By ROBERT WALDMAN

Unearthly experiences compound the terror in The Lovely Bones, a pot-boiler of a movie from Paramount Pictures now freaking folks out at Tinseltown (on Pender, free parking), Colossus and Famous Players Silver City cites around B.C.

Cult followings don’t come easy and die hard. Able to carve out an impressive niche among cinephiles everywhere has been Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring). Our favourite New Zealand ex-patriot continues to impress with his classy version of the best-selling novel from Alice Sebold .

Time travel back and forth fleshes out the saga of one Susie Salmon. Cute as a button Saoirse Ronan (Atonement) oozes energy as this 14 year old who back in 1973 was just undergoing the rights of puberty. Tender moments showing Susie with friends and would-be friends help reveal her personality which is still changing day by day as she is at that experimental stage. Out of the blue one event would change Susie’s situation and open up all sorts of wounds with her family.

At home all seemed normal in the Salmon household. Led by numbers man Jack and loving wife Abigail these two cherished their children which included one baby brother and sister. Both Mark Wahlberg (Shooter) and Rachel Weisz (The Mummy) act out these parts well as caring parents who one day find themselves in a bit of a quandary. When Susie fails to come home from school the danger signals go up and The Lovely Bones takes a turn for the worse.

Jackson succeeds in setting up a very creepy atmosphere and fleshes it out with some sinister people who inhabit this small rather close-knit community. Any time a child goes missing it sends chills through entire communities and this one is no exception. Never give up is a theme we can all relate to as well as finding the truth. Mark Wahlberg delivers a stirring testament of the pain and anger a father goes through not knowing the fate of his daughter while the trauma revealed by Rachel Weisz as the horrified mother also speaks volumes. Add on the appearance of an eccentric grandmother played up to the hilt by Susan Sarandon (Thelma and Louise) in one of her most free-spirited portrayals in years and you do feel for this entire family.

Readers of the hit book may recall that there was a dream like quality too it and an imaginary world between heaven and heart, sort of a never land. Seeing images of a no longer living Susie stare down at her living family who try to unravel what went wrong is a novel approach to getting out a message only here that world is rather confusing. Sequences in this transitionary world though quite picturesque don’t really add too much to the tale and rather muddle up the goings-on down below. We care about what’s happening to solve this tragedu on earth in real time and get lost whenever these imaginary moments pop up.

Tension is well positioned here with one creepy neighbour, George Harvey, particulary unnerving. Stanley Tucci (The Devil Wears Prada) can do evil with the best of them and he’s right up there with Hannibal Lector as a bad guy. Forget about violence here, our Mr. Harvey has a rather cold, calculating mind and watching him ply his trade here is downright dastardly. Cold and chilling describe Tucci’s demeanour here.

Unfortunately a very weak ending with some way too altruistic dialogue at film’s closing take away from what would otherwise been a very good whodunit. Long at 135 minutes The Lovely Bones does involve some very good performance and a very chilling slow-building suspenseful atmosphere but loses much impact whenever that “other” world tries to draw you in. Instead it pulls you apart.

Read more reviews by Robert at www.moviereviewssite.com

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Jeff Bridges Note Perfect as a Country Singer on the Skids

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Reviewed by mutuel

At The Movies

Crazy Heart (PG) * * * *

Director: Scott Cooper

Lonely Boy!

By ROBERT WALDMAN

Mention country song and cheating hearts everywhere break out in cold sweats. Take time out to track the plight of a washed up has been guitar plucking fool(?) in Crazy Heart, a superior story of a troubled man at a crossroads in his life. Brought to us by Fox Searchlight Films this notable trip begins at the Fifth Avenue Cinemas in Vancouver. You won’t soon forget its impact or performances.

Down but not out describes the life of Bad Blake. Rough around the edges Jeff Bridges (Seabiscuit) proves he can sing with the best of them as this hick country strummer trying to survive in these heady days. Desperate for gigs our Mr. Blake finds more solace in the bottle than performing venues. Once somewhat famous Blake now has a hard time making ends meet. Unusual dives seem the only place he can derive a paycheck from. Reputations also die hard and some old time fans still cling to his lyrics like fleas to a dog. Big paychecks, however, are few and far between.

Performing on the road can be rough and director/writer Scott Cooper sure does create an effective road weary atmosphere that fits this man’s life to a tee. We all know that life can have surprises especially if you’re always travelling. Slow living seems synonymous with Blake and he likes it that way. Moments with the ladies are a whole different matter.

Through careful tender moments we learn about this man’s past and then an encounter with a new woman further hurls his life into more uncertainty. Woman of the hour Jean Craddock comes with her own baggage of sorts. Delightfully captured by Maggie Gyllenhaal (Secretary) these two seem a mismatch but through the course of a date or two they sort of come together. Oh, and the responsibility of children come into play as the astute writing and presentation carefully shows their meaning and effect on adults.

Strong supporting work from a casual Robert Duvall (The Godfather) as a friend to Blake and a hot up and comer represented by Colin Farrell (Miami Vice) bookend this impressive tale of a man on the road, tired and seemingly on his last legs. Second winds don’t come often and Cooper here concocts a very realistic statement on life, career and family all told through the eyes of some mixed up adults trying to do good and the demons we all face.

During Crazy Heart you really do get a textbook look into a man coping with the human condition. Here alcoholism is tackled head on and Bridges nails down the way this drug can take you over and never let go. Consider this performance to rank right up there with some classic renderings on this medical condition. Hurt here shows up everywhere and you see the pain and conflict Blake goes through as those around him suddenly grow apart. And the subject of caring and protecting is also broached with significant tact in a way we can all relate to. Fear on a number of levels is represented well in Crazy Heart. Difficulties in overcoming obstacles are all strongly explored.

For a movie like Crazy Heart to work so well it must feel genuine. Life on the road in whatever avenue you choose can be trying. Entertainers may well face more diverse conditions than others and the realism reflected in this movie, from the singing to the struggles to the fan reactions are all depicted honestly and in an accurate manner. Bridges himself sings his tunes and strums away having performed similar talents in earlier films like The Fabulous Baker Boys. Those that follow this actor may know he has his own band that plays the California circuit. Other musicians and singers will surely be able to comment on this man’s range and the film’s accuracy which local blues legend Jim Byrnes confided in me are all presented here honestly.

Nothing flashy leaps out at you in Crazy Heart. Just an older man trying to cope and the way he changes over time will leave you shaken and stirred and supportive of his conflicted journey. Look for Bridges likely to snag an Oscar nomination for his work here which is certainly one of the best performances of the year in a low key way. Even Colin Farrell makes quite an impact as a fellow musician on a quest for gold which Crazy Heart may repeat at when the Academy this March.

Read more reviews by Robert at www.moviereviewssite.com

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Jackie Chan Bumbles his way forward as nerdy neighbour secret agent

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Reviewed by mutuel

At The Movies

The Spy Next Door (G) * * * *

Secret Agent Man!

By ROBERT WALDMAN

Spies are in. Secret agent man Jackie Chan gets down to business in The Spy Next Door, a delightful lark fit for small fries from Alliance Films now holding court at Tinseltown, (on Pender, free parking), Empire Esplanade 6, Empire Studio 12, Colossus and Famous Players Silver City cites around B.C.

Anything is possible when it comes to intrigue and the mark of a good spy is being able to go unnoticed. Forget about that handsome dude known as James Bond with his license to kill. Real defenders of the realm blend in and go unnoticed. Such is the technique of Bob Ho. Jackie Chan (Rush Hour) is in his element as the on loan to the C.I.A. Chinese national. Being an ace operative has taken its toll on our hapless hero. Down time for Bo sees him carry on life as normal in the suburbs.

Cover is everything for a spy and Bo has managed to conceal his true identity from virtually everyone expect those at the Agency and the usual bad apples. Off hours sees Bo befriend Gillian, a neighbour. Down home gal Amber Valletta (Hitch) loses the glamour and turns up the motherhood as a parent to three tikes whose become rather smitten with her new beau, Bo. Unfortunately, the kids don’t exactly appreciate the budding romance.

Children mean everything for parents, especially those trying to raise little ones on their own. Even at the best of times kids can have their off days and the unhappiness they display to Bo is rather extreme. Being a good guy Bo just goes with the flow but things get a bit “testy” when the bad guys discover where Bo is living.

At the heart of The Spy Next Door is the family dynamic. Director Brian Levant (The Flintstones) has a proven track record directing hit family friendly flicks and spices it up here with some flambouyant heroics only a Jackie Chan can pull off. Chan is wonderful with the kids and you will get hooked on them, their antics and the lukewarm romance that hits a snag or two along the way.

Spy films need evil enemies and here it’s that good old Russian menace out to foil the American way. What stands in the way of these foolish thugs, all stereotyped in the extreme, is good old spy know how and a race against time to save the children – and the world.

Unexpected cameos in this spoofy story by the likes of BiIly Ray Cyrus (Hanna Montana: The Movie) and George Lopez (Balls of Fury) serve to heighten the zaniness during this comic frenzy. Here the pacing is frantic, the performances engaging and the slapstick somewhat restrained for a Jackie Chan effort. Still you can’t help but like Chan and with those adorable kids and crazy meanies the production works. And that’s not surprising since The Spy Next Door is produced by Bob Simonds, the king of comedy aided and abetted by his study as she goes producing cohort in crimes to the funny bone Ira Shuman. Laughs come often and there’s a degree of sweetness present that’s always characteristic whenever these two creative heavyweight talents attach their names to any project. Families everywhere with kids will be glad this spy is on your side. Sorry Mr. Connery.

Read more reviews by Robert at www.moviereviewssite.com

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