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A new Jennifer Lawrence, a new Madame Bovery and a scary chiller from Australia

Also: three movies with strong B.C. connections

 

The most compelling drama this week isn’t on a movie screen. It’s on the internet. Somebody hacked into the computers at Sony Pictures and pirated some of the company’s big films, including the upcoming Annie. North Korea was immediately suspected and yesterday issued a statement that it had nothing to do with it. The link is Seth Rogen’s new film The Interview, about a plan to kill North Korea’s glorious leader. Not surprisingly, they’re upset about it over there.

And these are the new arrivals this week:

Serena:  2

Gemma Bovery:  3

The Babadook:   4

Antarctica: A Year On Ice: 3 ½

In The Land of the Headhunters:  3 ½

The Bitter Ash: 2 ½

Corner Gas:  2 ½

 

SERENA:  Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper together again (after American Hustle and Silver Linings Playbook ).  Directed by Susanne Bier. Three films ago, her In a Better World won an Academy Award. She’s known for showing subtle changes in human relationships. And for us in BC, there’s an added interest: a sub-plot about saving old growth trees. So, what can go wrong? A whole lot it turns out, starting with too much plot.

 

Bradley plays a minor lumber baron in North Carolina back in the 1930s. When he spots Serena riding by on a horse, he knows he must have her, follows her, proposes marriage and weds her just like that. She turns out to be a tough one who knows her way around a lumber camp and that stirs up jealousy from the company accountant, who  knows about discrepancies in the books, and some hot eye contact with a logging foreman (Rhys Ifans) although he accidentally cuts off his hand with his own axe during one of those. Meanwhile, an anti-logging group is pushing for a national park which leads to a debate about trees versus jobs.  And there’s more. A woman in the camp is pregnant, by who, we wonder, and when Serena loses her own baby her marriage turns toxic. Philomena might like the story but not much of it feels authentic and neither Lawrence nor Cooper make us believe their characters. Filmed in the Czech Republic which looks good but also adds something synthetic. (International Village and a few suburban theatres) 2 out of 5

GEMMA BOVERY: This one’s a trifle but such an enjoyable one and featuring two special acting performances. It’s well worth your time. Gemma Arterton is sexy and ingenuous as a young English wife who has moved with her husband to Normandy where they can live quietly. The local baker (Fabrice Luchini), a former academic and publisher, sees in her an almost exact parallel to his favorite literary character, Madame Emma Bovery.  And right here, he gushes, where Flaubert wrote his masterpiece.

 

This is more than imagining life imitating art, though. He’s turned on by her and feels “10 years of sexual tranquility” has ended. Then he starts to interfere because he sees her acting much like her fictional counterpart.  She’s also “a bored woman disappointed by life” and starts an affair with a rich young man  just like the country squire in the novel. “This will end in death,” the baker warns but she asserts “I am not Madame Bovery. I am free. I am capable of being happy.” Part of the fun is watching how this story parallels the original (a bit too much I think) and then whether Gemma’s fate will differ from Emma’s. There’s sparkling dialogue that switches easily between English and French and a subtle feminism from the graphic novel the film is based on. Directed by Anne Fontaine who specializes in mixing light into the dark. (International Village) 3 out of 5 

THE BABADOOK:  We all like a good scary story but classics like Rosemary’s Baby or Repulsion aren’t being made these days. Shock and gore is often the norm. Good news: this one with the silly-sounding name is as chilling as the best of the fright films. It gets under your skin with a creepiness that you’ll recognize from real life, maybe from your own experiences, cowering in a dark room as noises sound out there in the shadows.  That’s just one aspect of this debut film from Jennifer Kent in Australia. Sometimes it’s a child-in-danger plot and at other times it’s the evil-child idea we used to see a lot in the movies and the anguish the mother feels as he reveals his other self.

 

Or maybe it’s all just in the frazzled mind of a widowed mother who can’t cope with a son and his overactive imagination. The film forces you to think through all these possibilities, as a feeling of dread builds up inexorably.  Essie Davies, as the mother, and Noah Wiseman, as her six-year-old boy, both give very strong performances as they’re terrorized by a spectre from a children’s book. The lights flicker. Groans and clunks sound. A dark figure flits through the hall or shows up in whatever is on TV. Deny I exist, he has scrawled in the book, “the stronger I get.” Clever story turns and visual images and a deep atmosphere of anxiety drive this unusually smart horror film. (VanCity Theatre) 4 out of 5  

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