Capsule reviews of first-run films now showing at Calgary theatres
127 Hours ½ Truly one of the best movies of the year, with an Oscar-worthy performance from James Franco sitting at its soft and gooey centre, 127 Hours is a heart-stopping action movie that doesn’t move and a compelling piece of social drama. Director Danny Boyle promises to make you cry, and feel queasy, in one breathtaking act of cinema.
Barney’s Version The spirit(s) of Mordecai Richler’s antic novel have been captured in this freewheeling adaptation. Paul Giamatti channels both Richler and Barney, the thrice-married anti-hero who goes from wife to wife — the candidates include Minnie Driver and Rosamund Pike — on a sea of grumpiness, impatience, intelligence and scotch. Dustin Hoffman enriches the brew as his politically incorrect father.
Black Swan ½ Natalie Portman dances her way to one of the best performances of the year in Darren Aronofsky’s followup to The Wrestler. A razorsharp study of artistic fragmentation as experienced by a ballerina on the verge of her big break, Black Swan isn’t just a fun, thrilling and altogether suspense-filled ride to the dark side — it’s brimming with brilliant performances and eyepopping special effects.
Blue Valentine Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams turn in two of the most potent performances of the year in this Derek Cianfrance movie that takes us from the first day to the last moment of a single relationship. Cianfrance shows us the flip side of romantic expectation and makes us complicit in the voyage by forcing us to investigate our own romantic ideals.
Carlos Olivier Assayas’s Carlos is no standard-issue biopic. The French filmmaker’s ambitious portrait of Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, a.k.a. Carlos, one of the world’s most notorious terrorists, is a breathtaking piece of work, a ferociously intense, in-your-face chronicle of a couple of decades in the life of the poster boy for revolutionary-chic terrorism back in the ’70s and ’80s.
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
½ Michael Apted directs returnees Ben Barnes, Georgie Henley and Skandar Keynes in this third instalment in the franchise that bids adieu to the last of the Pevensie children. A visual spectacle featuring magical creatures, Dawn Treader lives up to the brand. It also finds a palpable strand of melancholy, as it makes growing up feel like a tremendous loss. The Company Men ½ Ben Affleck, Chris Cooper and Tommy Lee Jones star in this drama of economic distress among the rich. Affleck plays an executive who is laid off and faces the harsh realities of life with no job, a modern tragedy that’s well-acted and smartly told, at least until it’s undercut by a false ending.
Country Strong An intriguing, engrossing portrayal of several entertainers (played by Gwyneth Paltrow, Leighton Meester and Garrett Hedlund) and the business that rules them. And yet, amid its toe-tapping tunes there lurk some discordant notes.
The Dilemma ½ In Ron Howard’s comedy, Vince Vaughn and Kevin James star as best buddies whose friendship is tested when Vaughn sees James’ wife (Winona Ryder) kissing another man. The slapstick and sports metaphors of male bonding give way to a darker, almost adult examination of fidelity, but we’re soon back to the old kick in the crotch to settle matters.
Dhobi Ghat Kiran Rao, India World Premiere. In the teeming metropolis of Mumbai, four people separated by class and language are drawn together in compelling relationships. Shai, an affluent investment banker on a sabbatical, strikes up an unusual friendship with Munna, a young and beautiful laundry boy with ambitions of being a Bollywood actor, and has a brief dalliance with Arun, a gifted painter. As they slip away from familiar moorings and drift closer together, the city finds its way into the crevices of their inner worlds.
The Fighter Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale star in this drama as Micky Ward and Dicky Eklund, real-life half-brothers and welterweight boxers. It’s a boxing movie, but it’s mostly the textured and sometimes frightening story of how Micky escapes from the deadly embrace of his brother and mother.
The Green Hornet Seth Rogen stars as a frat boy superhero in this action comedy. The hero’s self-delusion combines with director Michel Gondry’s surreal visuals to create a comic action film that’s both self-aware and unhinged. The plot falters in the third act, however, and Christoph Waltz’s villain doesn’t make an impression. Harry Potter and the Deathly
Hallows: Part 1 ½ What should have been the breathless first half of the Harry Potter finale wraps with the promise of a stirring exit, but David Yates’ initial navigation of the Deathly Hallows odyssey runs into a few structural squalls. Yates does a pretty good job with the heavy lifting, but there’s not much poetry to this clean-and-jerk exercise that brings the story of the boy wizard one step closer to its ultimate conclusion.
Inside Job Charles Ferguson (No End in Sight) takes on the story of the 2008 stock market crash and turns it into a murder mystery with a Columbo-like mood as it elicits confessions from key players and reminds the drawing room full of guests to remain vigilant — as there’s a criminal in their midst. Dramatic, emotional and morally outrageous, Inside Job is already a front-runner in this year’s Oscar race.
The King’s Speech A deeply entertaining, deeply middlebrow drama about a speech impediment. Colin Firth is wonderful as King George VI, thrust onto the English throne and paralyzed by a hopeless stammer; Geoffrey Rush is amusingly eccentric as the Australian speech therapist who helps him. It’s a showcase of wonderful acting, despite the suspicion that it’s Oscar bait.
Little Fockers In this third in the series of films about an interfering father-in-law, Jack Byrnes (Robert De Niro) seeks to appoint a successor as paterfamilias and worries that his son-in-law Greg Focker (Ben Stiller) isn’t up to it. It’s a juvenile film with two gags: the humour of irritation, and the built-in hilarity of the name Focker.
Lovers in a Dangerous Time
Co-directors and writers Mark Hug and May Charters have made a beautifully subtle love story soaked in Canadiana. Hug plays a young man grappling with his lost potential as a hockey star whose dull routine is interrupted by the return of his childhood friend (played by real-life girlfriend May Charters). Both come to terms with failure, regret and the hard path to adulthood in this gorgeously shot indie film. Check it out while you can.