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New movie reviews: The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, The Call, Stoker, Barbara, Cloudburst, Bestiaire and No.

Steve Carell  vs Jim Carrey:  a comedy of dueling Las Vegas magicians in The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

 Nice to see that the local film Hit ‘N Strum drew a full house to its first show at the 5th Avenue last Friday, and then crammed Ceili's pub up the street for an after party. Everybody remarked on how good the film looks and praised the acting, writing and directing. And best of all? Hit ‘N Strum is staying at the 5th for another week.  You should catch it.

The new arrivals this week include:

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone: 2 ½ stars

No:  4 stars

Barbara:  4

Cloudburst:  3 ½

Stoker:  3

The Call: 3

Bestiaire (by Denis Côté’):  2 ½

 

THE INCREDIBLE BURT WONDERSTONE: This is a good example of mainstream Hollywood movie making. You’ll laugh quite often and come out happy. And you won’t have been grossed out or offended like so many comedies do these days. It’s only show biz egos that get a beating.

Unfortunately there’s not much substance behind the glitter here. Steve Carell plays Burt, half of a Las Vegas magic act with Anton (Steve Buscemi ) his friend ever since highschool. Their long-running show has grown stale and Burt has turned into, according to their assistant (Olivia Wilde) a “pompous ass.” Out on the street and on a cable show, a savage competitor is drawing bigger crowds with a cringe-inducing act that includes cutting, hot coals and other assaults on his body. 

Jim Carrey, with his crazed, in-your-face smirk, fits that role as if it was written for him. Our boys lose their gig, split up in acrimony and Burt is reduced to performing his magic to entertain in an old age home.  However, one of the seniors there is the magician who first inspired him. He’s now retired and crusty and played wonderfully by Alan Arkin. Burt senses he’s found a way back. The movie is bright, glossy, moves fast and, with David Copperfield as a consultant and appearing in a brief cameo, is embellished with many real magic tricks.  (Scotiabank and many suburban theatres) 2 ½ out of 5

NO: This is real history told as comedy-drama, deficient in some ways, sure, but entertaining. That’s the bottom line for this tale of the referendum that brought down Chile’s Pinochet regime in 1988. We watch it through opposing advertising campaigns waged by the Yes and the No side.  Each had 15 minutes of TV time every day for a month to make its case. Pro-Pinochet segments talked of economic progress and “a system where anyone can be rich. Careful. Not everyone. Anyone.”  The No message, which  was to be about the coup in which the general seized power 17 years earlier, the human rights violations, the executions and the “disappeared,”  was slammed as too negative and boring by a young adman,  played by Gael Garcia Bernal. He argued they should sell “happiness.”

 

The story is fiction, based on a stage play, but the campaign and the advertising duel that broke out were real and the film represents them authentically by sprinkling in many excerpts from the actual broadcasts. It also hints at the wider questions we all live with now about the downside of mixing politics and advertising.  Both the adman’s wife and people at planning meetings object to selling freedom like soda pop.  It’s a smart film, the third on Chile’s coup and aftermath by director Pablo Larraín. His mother and father are both politicians there, but unlike them, he’s not on the conservative side. (International Village) 4 out of 5

BARBARA: Germany must have dozens of stories it can tell from the years it was divided and the East was watched over closely by the Stasi secret police. The Lives of Others won an academy award. This one applied unsuccessfully but don’t let that dissuade you. It’s smaller, less intense but with just as compelling a story and a great performance in the lead by Nina Hoss.

 

She plays a doctor who’s been exiled to a small northern town after she was identified as an escape risk. All she did was apply for a visa to travel to the west. Now as she actively plots a real escape to join her boyfriend in the west, a Stasi officer has her under surveillance and orders full-body searches and other humiliations. At work, she deflects the attentions of another doctor (Ronald Zehrfeld) even though she grows to like him. He could be an informant. The film under the precise direction of Christian Petzold, one of Europe’s best filmmakers these days, bristles with suspicion and doubt, and low-key suspense thanks to a lean script and that superb acting by Hoss. (VanCity Theatre) 4 out of 5

Playing in tandem with …

CLOUDBURST:  Here’s a crowd-pleaser not like the usual. It’s a romantic comedy and a road movie with two old lesbians taking back their rights by coming to Canada to get married. Olympia Dukakis as Stella  and Brenda Fricker as Dot have lived together in Maine for 31 years. Stella is tough and foul-mouthed. Dot is blind and showing signs of dementia. Her niece puts her into a home. Stella busts her out and the two hit the road in a pickup truck. Along the way they pick up a hitchhiker (Ryan Doucette) who’s trying to get home to Nova Scotia.

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