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Christmas movies: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Sherlock Holmes 2, Mission Impossible 4 and Young Adult

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Tom Cruise made this movie here in Vancouver, with side trips to Dubai, Prague and Mumbai. In the story, his Ethan Hunt character is busted out of a Hungarian prison, infiltrates the Kremlin and inadvertently results in blowing much of it up. It can happen. His IMF unit gets disavowed (that’s the ghost protocol) by the U.S. government and pretty well just carries on with Simon Pegg, Paula Patton and Jeremy Renner as the latest members. They figure a Swedish “nuclear extremist,”  played by Michael Nyqvist (of the original The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) caused the explosion to trigger a nuclear war. So, there’s much to do about missile launch codes that some want to buy, a woman has to sell and the IMF tries to get by substituting a fake version. That story gets in the way of the real business afoot here: a series of spectacular set pieces including a car/truck chase in a sandstorm, a car plunge in an automated garage and most strikingly Cruise climbing, kicking into and sliding off the tallest building on earth. These scenes are gripping. Director Brad Bird brought considerable flair with him from the animated films he’s famous for. What’s missing is a credible villain. We just don’t get enough time with the “extremist” to feel much of a sense of menace. His plot is wild but, as he reveals in an address to a conference, his thinking is calm. We only see a video. (Playing now in premium theatres—IMAX and UltraAVX—and opening Wednesday everywhere)  3 out of 5 

YOUNG ADULT: The Juno team (writer Diablo Cody and director Jason Reitman) are together again with this entertaining but rather slight tale of a woman trapped in the past. Charlize Theron plays a 37-year-old writer (ghost writer actually, of young adult novels that used to sell and now can be found in the clearance bins). She has one more to write, has no good ideas for it and is diverted by an invitation from a former boyfriend to his new baby’s christening. Recently divorced and convinced that he is “trapped” with his wife, baby and “a crappy job,” she returns to their small Minnesota town intent on winning him back.

Theron is convincing and almost endearing as the driven but deluded force who is no longer small town and now definitely big city, which is more pretense than reality. Patrick Wilson plays his usual decent but bland character as her target married man. The revelation here, and a major reason to see the film, is Patton Oswalt as a guy she ignored in high school, who now becomes her sounding board and occasional critic. Oswalt, often seen in coarse comedies (he’s the pot-smoking Santa in the latest Harold and Kumar movie), turns in a subtle and affecting performance as a man who was beaten by bullies, is still damaged but has managed to grow up. I wish the script, pleasingly cynical as it is, delved into her character as well. It raises more issues than it explores and goes quite lightly over some. The jump from “I don’t feel fulfilled”  to “Life here I come”  is a little too quick. (International Village and four suburban theatres)  3 out of 5

FLAMENCO, FLAMENCO: Carlos Saura, the Spanish director who has filmed tangos and most recently fados, returns to his favorite musical genre, flamenco, and manages to open our eyes and ears a little wider on the subject. It’s more than a dance, as Jose Greco used to perform on the Ed Sullivan show. It’s dance and song, everpresent guitars and handclapping rhythm,  flamboyant emotions and lots and lots of color. This beautiful-looking film, shot by the great cinematographer, Vittorio Storaro, brings all that vividly alive.

There are 21 separate performances. Some are by big-name veterans (Manolo Sanlúcar, Paco de Lucia, José Mercé) and most by exciting newcomers (Israel Galván, Sara Baras, Estrella Morenta, and many others). Farruquito, who does a wild, strutting dance, appeared as a child in Saura’s previous Flamenco, 16 years ago. This new film is meant as an update to show the new stars and trends. My biggest impression is the wide range in the art. Sometimes it looks like tap dancing. Some of the songs sound like fados. There’s a piano duet that’s just like light jazz. One singer’s tempo is set by a hammer hitting an anvil. Most others are what you’d expect: one or two performers dancing and singing amid musicians and handclappers, all with that infectious rhythm.

As beautiful as it is, the film is also a bit cold and mechanical as one act follows another. Also, I wish there was a little more information offered. We only get title and performer(s) for each act.   (VanCity Theatre)  3 ½ out of 5

Also now playing … 

ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS 3: I didn’t see the first two either, but I understand #2 was somewhat better than #1 and they both made big money. This time the squeaky rodents are Chip-Wrecked on a tropical island because of something Alvin, the mischievous one, does on the cruise ship they’re on. The Chipettes are marooned too, but then how else could you plausibly include a Lady Gaga song (Bad Romance)? The grade four kids this movie is aimed at also get to hear Whip My Hair, Survivor and Kumbaya. (Oakridge, International Village, The Dolphin and many suburban theatres) 

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