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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

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Movies: 'Gloria,' 'The Past' & 'Vampire Academy'

Published 4:05 pm, Friday, February 21, 2014

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  • Actress Paulina Garcia won the best actress award at the Berlin International Film Festival for her performance in the movie "Gloria." Photo: Contributed Photo / Westport News contributed
    Actress Paulina Garcia won the best actress award at the Berlin International Film Festival for her performance in the movie "Gloria." Photo: Contributed Photo

 

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

"GLORIA"

Set in Santiago, Chile, this is a saga about the romantic travails of attractive, flirtatious, 58-year-old Gloria (Paulina Garcia), who becomes involved with 60-ish Rodolfo (Sergio Hernandez), the very recently divorced owner of an arcade amusement park.

But torn between family obligations and personal fulfillment, he is obviously conflicted and clearly not ready for the kind of mature bond for which she so passionately yearns.

Opening in a crowded "singles" nightclub, bespectacled Gloria confidently is sitting at the bar, happily sipping champagne, puffing on a cigarette and surveying the scene unfolding around her until she catches the eye of a man she used to know and moves onto the dance floor. But the next morning and the morning after, she awakens alone. So it's back to the nightclub, where Gloria meets Rodolfo Fernandez, who is immediately attracted to her.

"It's so physical, so concrete -- what happens to me with you," he says.

Explaining that "men love to play war games," Rodolfo happily introduces Gloria to Vertigo Park, yet alludes to the neediness of his ex-wife and two grown daughters who call him incessantly and with whom he obviously has a co-dependent relationship.

In turn, Gloria invites Rodolfo to a family birthday party, where she thoughtlessly ignores him, preferring to engage in nostalgia with her ex-husband and his new wife. When Rodolfo plans a romantic getaway to the resort of Vina del Mar, the excursion turns out to be equally disastrous.

Written by Gonzlo Maza and director Sebastian Lelio, it's dominated by the sensual complexity of the indomitable titular character, magnificently played by Garcia, who won the coveted Silver Bear Actress Award at the Berlin International Film Festival.

Music is a pivotal element throughout the film. As she drives to her office job, Gloria sings along with ballads on the radio -- and the concluding image of her trilling along with Umberto Tozzi's original version of "Gloria" is emotionally uplifting.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Gloria" is an intriguing 8, particularly appealing to a middle-aged female audience.

"THE PAST"

Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi, who won a 2011 Foreign Language Academy Award for "A Separation," is back with a powerful psychological drama that begins with the dissolution of a marriage.

As soon as Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) arrives in Paris from Tehran to finalize his divorce from Marie (Berenice Bejo), he becomes embroiled in a sticky situation. After he left four years ago, Marie began an illicit affair with Samir (Tahar Rahim), a married man whose wife is now hospitalized in a coma after an attempted suicide.

Morose, Samir has since moved in, bringing along his young son Fouad (Elyes Aguis) to join Marie's two daughters from a previous marriage -- young Lea (Jeanne Jestin) and 16-year-old Lucie (Pauline Burlet). Instead of booking Ahmad into a hotel, as he requested, Marie insists he stay at their dilapidated suburban house, ostensibly to try to find out what's bothering sullen, rebellious Lucie.

And the plot thickens when Marie reveals she's pregnant with Samir's child.

Writer/director Farhadi cleverly delineates his complex, multi-layered melodrama bit-by-bit, slowly revealing one pivotal twist after another, as Ahmad, the detached outsider, gradually learns more and more about the mysterious turmoil and shameful secrets that the rest of these characters are keeping from one another. Despite its title, the story eschews flashbacks, unfolding entirely in the present. What has occurred previously turns out to be the emotional baggage that they will always carry with them.

Most memorably, Farhadi sensitively exposes the tremendous price that vulnerable, insecure children pay when they're inexorably caught up in their parents' self-centered entanglements.

Best known as Peppy, the silent movie flapper in "The Artist," Bejo exudes hot-tempered, Gallic sexuality, heedless of the repercussions of her romantic predicaments, an authentic portrayal for which she won the Cannes Film Festival's Best Actress Award, while Mosaffa embodies insightful stability and Rahim stoically endures guilt and misery.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "The Past," in French/Persian with English subtitles, is an intense, engrossing 8, compassionately unraveling the tapestry of contemporary family life.

"VAMPIRE ACADEMY"

Think of it as "Twilight" hybrid, set in a "Harry Potter" Hogwarts-like boarding school for bloodsuckers, as teenage girls cope with dating dilemmas while they battle evil supernatural forces.

Insofar as exposition goes, there are three tribes of vampires: the full-blooded, mortal Moroi, peaceful folk who don't kill people when they drink their blood; the half-human, half-vampire Dhampirs, who guard the Moroi; and the evil, undead Strigoi, who are ruthless, vicious marauders, killing and drinking their victims' blood. Conflict inevitably occurs when the demand for hemoglobin exceeds the supply.

Returned to St. Vladimir's (a.k.a. Vampire Academy), somewhere in Montana, after running away, 17-year-old Rose Hathaway (Zoey Deutch) is a loyal Dhampir whose mission is to protect her best friend, Vasilisa "Lissa" Dragomir (Lucy Fry), a Moroi princess and the last in her lineage. As Lissa learns how to manipulate the elements (fire, water, air and earth), she and Rose can communicate telepathically. Complicating matters are the inevitable gossip, clique bullying, preparations for the Equinox dance and forbidden romance.

Plus there's Lissa's older mentor Dimitri Belikov (Danila Kozlovsky), Lissy's love interest Christian Ozera (former model Dominic Sherwood), Queen Tatiana (Joely Richardson), Headmistress Kirova (Olga Kurylenko) and the elderly, terminally ill Moroi leader, Victor Dashkov (Gabriel Byrne), with his ditsy daughter Natalie (Sarah Hyland), who becomes Rose's partner-in-crime.

Based on the bestselling tween book series by Richelle Mead, it's incoherently condensed for the screen by Daniel Waters ("Heathers") and directed by his brother, Mark Waters ("Mean Girls," "Freaky Friday"). They shamelessly combine cliched pop culture references and clunky vampire puns ("The stakes are high ...") with familiar themes, highlighted by Rolfe Kent's score, featuring Katy Perry, Sky Ferreira, Natalia Kills and Au Revoir Simone.

By far the most engaging actress is Deutch, daughter of Lea Thompson and her "Some Kind of Wonderful" director Howard Deutch, and "Modern Family" fans will recognize Hyland.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Vampire Academy" is a fast-paced yet flaccid 2, a foolishly fanged fable. As the tagline suggests, "They suck at school."