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Movies: 'Amour,' 'Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters' & 'Broken City'

Published 5:25 pm, Friday, February 1, 2013
  • The Oscar-nominated movie, "Amour," is playing in area theaters. Photo: Contributed Photo / Westport News contributed
    The Oscar-nominated movie, "Amour," is playing in area theaters. Photo: Contributed Photo

 

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Following are Susan Granger's reviews of the latest movies in area theaters:

"AMOUR"

Demanding, deliberate and depressing, Michael Haneke's "Amour" compassionately examines love and marriage, while confronting illness, aging and dying.

As the story begins, the French police and fire departments force their way into the spacious Parisian apartment of retired music teachers and discover the emaciated body of an elderly woman, surrounded by white flowers. Then there's the title card, translated as "Love." A flashback reveals that over the past few years, genteel Anne Laurent (Emmanuelle Riva) has suffered a series of debilitating strokes. Her devoted husband Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) tenderly cares for her, even when she's confined to a wheelchair and eventually lying immobile in bed. Early in the onset of her fatal illness, Anne asks Georges to promise not to send her back to the hospital and to allow her to die with self-respect and dignity. He agrees and his commitment is steadfast, even when she becomes totally dependent on him.

Isolated from the outside world, they have only few visitors with the exception of a kindly neighbor. When a former pupil (pianist Alexandre Tharaud) of Anne's arrives to pay tribute to her tutelage, he only serves as a grim reminder of her inability to ever again play the music she loves. When their daughter Eva (Isabelle Huppert), who lives with her husband in London, tries to reason with her father about how to deal with her mother's suffering and obvious decline, conflict about her terminal care arises.

Austrian writer/director Michael Haneke ("The White Ribbon," "Cache"), who turned 70 in 2012, faultlessly deals with thorny issues like institutionalization and euthanasia while examining the physical, mental and emotional intricacy of marital responsibilities. Both Emmanuelle Riva ("Hiroshima, Mon Amour") and Jean-Louis Trintignant ("A Man and A Woman") deliver subtly poignant, expressively wrenching performances -- as it becomes apparent why "Amour" won the coveted Palme d'Or in Cannes.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Amour," in French with English subtitles, is an intimate, admirable, elegant 8. Geared to mature audiences, it's about facing our own mortality.

"HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS"

The title's terrific and I'm sure this campy Grimm horror/action/comedy concept sounded better on paper, particularly with funnyman Will Ferrell and his collaborator Adam McKay as producers.

As the twisted fairy tale unfolds, Hansel and Gretel are captured by a hideous witch after they've nibbled on her candy cottage. That's just the prologue, as now-adult Hansel (Jeremy Renner) explains. Fifteen years later, he and Gretel (Gemma Arterton) roam the Bavarian woods as wisecracking, revenge-seeking vigilantes, saving medieval towns from the wrath of prowling witches with their automatic cross-bows.

But now there's a Blood Moon, a kind of eclipse that makes witches impervious to fire. Led by the evil Sorceress Muriel (Famke Janssen), frenzied and ferociously empowered witches are snatching and imprisoning children from Augsburg for a black Sabbath sacrificial feast. The villagers are frantic, and bottles of milk have woodcut pictures of these missing kids on the labels. Just as Sheriff Berringer (Peter Stormare) organizes a witch hunt, Hansel and Gretel arrive on the scene, saving Mina (Pihla Vitala), who develops a yen for Hansel, while Gretel's stalked by Ben (Thomas Mann), who's read about her in newspapers. When she's unexpectedly saved by Edward (Derek Mears), a giant troll, Gretel learns long-kept secrets about her heritage.

Written and directed by Norwegian-born Tommy Wirkola, best known for his comic horror "Dead Snow" (2009) about Nazi zombies, it's filled with ghouls, goblins and gutter-mouthed dialogue. In a perceptive moment, Wirkola makes Hansel diabetic, injecting himself with insulin to prevent "the sugar sickness" but that's never explored.

It's appalling to realize that Oscar-nominated Jeremy Renner went from "The Hurt Locker" to this leather-clad, bottom-of-the barrel drivel. Filmed in spring 2011, before Renner did "Marvel's The Avengers" or "The Bourne Legacy," it's sat on the shelf long enough to get stale.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters" is a preposterous, blood-splattering 3, not even worth the price of admission, let alone the added 3-D surcharge.

"BROKEN CITY"

This wannabe political thriller falls far short of its mark as it unravels the dense web of criminal conspiracies enveloping longtime incumbent New York City Mayor Nicholas Hosteler (Russell Crowe), who is vying for re-election with a younger, richer city councilman, Jack Valliant (Barry Pepper).

After he was forced to take a fall seven years ago for gunning down an exonerated rapist/gang member, allegedly in self-defense, former NYPD detective Billy Taggert (Mark Wahlberg) opened his own private investigation agency in Brooklyn. Working with an office assistant, Katy Bradshaw (Alona Tal), he's often strapped for money. That's why he accepts with alacrity a $50,000 cash offer from Hosteler to spy on the his classy wife, Cathleen (Catherine Zeta-Jones), whom the blustering mayor suspects of adultery.

The plot thickens when Billy concludes that Cathleen is involved with Paul Andrews (Kyle Chandler), campaign manager for Hosteler's opponent Jack Valliant. But this case turns out to be far more convoluted since there's a clandestine subplot revolving around a multibillion-dollar deal to level Bolton Village, a public housing project -- and Billy is being used as a pawn. Adding to the complications are Police Commissioner Carl Fairbanks (Jeffrey Wright) and Taggert's aspiring-actress girlfriend, Natalie Barrow (Natalie Martinez), who just happens to be the older sister of the rape victim whom Billy bumped off and her family, conveniently, lives in the Bolton Village project.

Problem is: instead of characters, these are caricatures. With his wobbly accent, Crowe's municipal corruption is evident immediately and Wahlberg's earnestly blue-collar performance never rises above stereotype -- nor does Zeta-Jones' elegance.

Written by first-time screenwriter Brian Tucker, this is the first feature film that Allen Hughes has directed without his twin brother Albert. Sons of an African-American father and Armenian-American mother, the Hughes Brothers collaborated on "Menace II Society," "Dead Presidents," "From Hell," "American Pimp" and "The Book of Eli." But Albert has been living in the Czech Republic since 2004.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Broken City" is a feeble 5, a mundane melodrama.