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Posted on Thu, Mar 14, 2013 : 5:50 a.m.

'Happy People,' Ann Arbor Film Festival, Steve Carell comedy, and more

By Russ Collins

Opening downtown

With “Happy People: A Year in the Taiga,” Werner Herzog and Russian co-director Dmitry Vasyukov take viewers on yet another unforgettable journey into remote and extreme natural landscapes. The acclaimed filmmaker presents this visually stunning documentary about the life of indigenous people living in the heart of the Siberian Taiga.

With insightful commentary written and narrated by Herzog, the film follows one of the Siberian trappers through all four seasons of the year to tell the story of a culture virtually untouched by modernity. Alan Schersthul of the Village Voice says, “It's fitting that this film of people making do with what they have should itself look somewhat humble, without lyricism, a work not of beauty but of work-which is the thing that makes it beautiful, no matter who directed it.” “Happy People: A Year in the Taiga” opens Friday at the Michigan Theater for a short run.

The 51st Ann Arbor Film Festival

The 51st Ann Arbor Film Festival is the longest-running independent and experimental film festival in North America. Internationally recognized as a premier forum for independent filmmakers and artists, each year’s festival engages audiences with remarkable cinematic experiences. This year’s opening night features short films in competition, featuring animation, documentary, narrative and experimental new works, including films by Mark Toscano, Jodie Mack, Kyle Armstrong, John Smith and the North American premiere of Da Vinci by Yuri Ancarani. The 51st Ann Arbor Film Festival runs from March 19- March 24.

Opening at the multiplex

In “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone,” superstar magicians Burt Wonderstone (Steve Carell) and Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi) have ruled the Las Vegas strip for years, raking in millions with illusions as big as Burt's growing ego. But lately the duo's greatest deception is their public friendship, while secretly they've grown to loathe each other. Facing cutthroat competition from guerilla street magician Steve Gray (Jim Carrey), Burt and Anton work to save the act—both onstage and off—by getting back in touch with what made them love magic in the first place. Critics are divided, but Joe Leydon of Variety praises Carell and the rest of the cast, saying “Carell is at the top of his form as the self-absorbed Burt struggles to maintain his haughty sangfroid while trying to convince himself, and everyone else, that's he's still a superstar.” “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone” opens Friday.

In “The Call,” when veteran 911 operator Jordan Turner (Halle Berry) receives a call from a girl who has just been abducted, she soon realizes that she must confront a killer from her past in order to save the girl's life. With not much early critical coverage (which is always a bit worrying), “The Call” opens Friday.

Surprisingly, critics are not all savaging “Spring Breakers.” Friends since grade school, Brit (Ashley Benson), Candy (Vanessa Hudgens), Cotty (Rachel Korine) and Faith (Selena Gomez) live together in a boring college dorm and are hungry for adventure and fun, so they set about saving enough money for spring break. A serendipitous encounter with rapper "Alien" (James Franco) promises to provide the girls with all the thrill and excitement they could hope for. With the encouragement of their new friend, it soon becomes unclear how far the girls are willing to go to experience a spring break they will never forget. Xan Brooks of the UK’s Guardian newspaper says, “(Director Harmony Korine is) rekitted as some 21st-century Russ Meyer, playing disreputable paterfamilias to a fresh breed of supervixens.” “Spring Breakers” opens Friday.

Special screenings downtown

In “Dumb and Dumber,” Harry and Lloyd are two brainless losers who try to return a suitcase full of money to its pretty owner. After a journey full of accidents they arrive in snowy Aspen, Colorado and try to find her. But will they succeed? “Dumb and Dumber” stars Jeff Daniels and Jim Carrey and continues the New Line and New Hollywood series, which occurs each Monday at 7 p.m.

“In Another Country” plays Saturday at 2 p.m. at the Michigan Theater as part of the NAM Center for Korean Studies Korean Cinema Now series. Dan Fainaru of Screen Daily says “echoes of the French New Wave resound all through this cute, light-hearted three-part romantic romp, which reads like a series of vignettes inspired by the encounter of Isabelle Huppert and the people and landscapes of South Korea.” Admission is free!

You also only have a few days to catch screenings of the documentary film “A Place At The Table,” Academy Award winner “Amour,” and the continuation of the famed Up series “56 Up” before they leave downtown to make way for the Ann Arbor Film Festival.

Russ Collins is executive director of the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor. Tune in to the audio version of “Cinema Chat” on WEMU radio (89.1-FM) each Thursday at 7:40 a.m. and 5:40 p.m., or listen to it online at WEMU's web site.