Time of the Comet and The Revenant: Bonus MSPIFF reviews

Time of the Comet

Saturday, April 17, at 4:15 p.m.; Monday, April 19, at 4:15 p.m.

"We have been looking for the war but haven't been able to find it." That line from midway through Time of the Comet perfectly describes the absurdist tone of this Fatmir Koci film. Throughout, our heroes find plenty of signs of the conflict but only get brief, frightening flashes of it. Based on Nobel Prize-winner Ismail Kadare's novel, Time of the Comet takes the viewer to Albania in the days leading up to World War I. The story follows Shestan, a young Muslim who—along with four friends from his village—sets off to fight for his country after a German is installed as the ruler of the country. Along the way, the group encounters Agnes, who is being taken to a convent by her father, who is worried about the coming battles. Director Koci juggles several tones at once: absurdist comedy (World War I is good for that), a cross-cultural romance, and the tragedy of men fighting for reasons that always seem to be shifting. Blerim Bestani smolders as Shestan, whose desire to do right is stopped or misdirected at every turn. As Agnes, Masiela Lusha (probably best known for playing Carmen on George Lopez's long-running show) plays it close and tight, except for the moments when she is able to shake off the expectations of culture or religion and just be a young woman. —Ed Huyck

The Revenant

Saturday, April 24, at 11:15 p.m.; Monday, April 26, at 9:45 p.m.

In case you don't know, a revenant is a walking corpse, not of the brain-eating zombie variety but one who comes to back to haunt the living or finish work that's undone. Or hang out with his friends, taking out gangbangers and drinking their blood. It's all in a night's work in Kerry Prior's gruesome comedy, in which a recently deceased army officer, Bart (Dave Anders), finds himself back among the living, even though he's been embalmed and buried six feet under. Once above, Bart enlists best friend Joey (Chris Wylde) to try to work out the rules for his new existence. Sadly, there isn't a book for this, just the internet and a lot of guess work. It comes down to this—Bart needs to drink blood to survive, and since no one answers Joey's Craigslist ad, they cruise the streets of L.A. looking for "dregs" to use as food. Funny horror is nothing new—years of Buffy and its kin explored lots of this before—but Prior (also the writer) takes it all into some pretty extreme territory. Sometimes the film falls flat, especially when centered on Bart's relationship with his girlfriend. The Revenant is at its best while pushing those boundaries, be it when Joey and Bart become vigilantes drinking the blood of the guilty or a bit of revenge involving a chainsaw. —Ed Huyck

Child of the Dead End

Sunday, April 18, at 7:15 p.m.; Tuesday, April 20, at 3 p.m.

Patrick MacGill is considered one of Ireland's most famous writers, but his career was cut short by poor health. In this 2009 film, director Desmond Bell delves into MacGill's history using actors Stephen Rea and Cian Bell as vehicles for the author's perspective. Born into extreme poverty in Donegal in the late 19th century, at a young age MacGill was sent to work the fields; he eventually made his way to Scotland, where his years of hard labor inspired him to write about poverty. The London newspapers eagerly published his stories and eventually, despite his embrace of socialism, MacGill wound up in Windsor Court providing research to the king. He then shipped off to the horrific trenches of World War I, and his life was forever broken. Bell depicts MacGill's unusual journey by intertwining facts with the lives of the writer's fictional characters—and then adds historical footage (plus the occasional clip from a Charlie Chaplin film) to inject both gravitas and humor into the extremes of MacGill's experience. This is a disconcerting approach initially, but it soon makes perfect sense—the life of a writer is as varied as the people and situations he encounters (or makes-believe he encounters). That only lends to the poignancy of the poetic tragedy that defines MacGill in his later years. —Caroline Palmer

Saint Louis Blues (Un Transport en Commun)

Tuesday, April 27, at 3:15 p.m.; Wednesday, April 28, at 6:55 p.m.

This 2009 film from Dyana Gaye draws on the French cinematic musicals of the mid-20th century (à la Jacques Demy) to inspire this lively short film about a taxi ride from Dakar to Saint Louis in Senegal. No experience is too pedestrian for a song-and-dance scene: waiting for a seventh passenger to arrive so the trip can commence, a traffic jam, the daily grind of working in a hair salon, the spark of romance between a French tourist and a young woman, the pit stop after an accident with a watermelon truck, and the joyful anticipation of arrival at journey's end. There's nothing particularly big-budget or glamorous about the production—in fact it seems deliberately homespun. The performers are not standout singers, and the lyrics seem downright corny at times, but there's still a certain "let's-put-on-a-show" wholesome energy to the entire endeavor that renders this road film altogether endearing. —Caroline Palmer

The Good Heart


Thursday, April 22, at 9:25 p.m.; Saturday, April 24, at 2:15 p.m.

Writer-director Dagur Kári's 2009 film brings together a misanthropic bar owner, Jacques (Brian Cox), and Lucas (Paul Dano), a gentle loner, for a bittersweet tale about redemption. The two meet up in the hospital—Jacques has had multiple heart attacks and Lucas has attempted suicide—and they strike up an uneasy friendship that mostly amounts to the old man bossing around the younger. In an odd twist on the Pygmalion storyline, Jacques decides to take on Lucas as a human project, with the goal of rendering him fit to take over the bar, a neighborhood dive filled with eccentric regulars. Jacques ultimately wants Lucas to be more like him—a cold-hearted and obsessive bastard who lashes out at whatever kindness is sent his way. Jacques even sabotages Lucas's chance at love to ensure his protégé leads as miserable and lonely a life as his own. Inevitably the unlikely pair learn something important and life-changing from each other, although the transformation Lucas undergoes seems less believable than the one experienced by Jacques. The ending—while not surprising from a dramatic perspective—still manages a stirring message about the rare possibility for second chances and the importance of making the most out of them. —Caroline Palmer

The Taqwacores

Wednesday, April 21, at 9:45 p.m.; Sunday, April 25, at 8:45 p.m.

The phenomenon of Islamic punk rock in America has recently inspired a number of bemused news articles and at least one documentary, so it's only natural that a feature film would follow close behind. Eyad Zahra's debut tracks the goings-on in a Buffalo rental house populated by young Muslims/punk archetypes, each of whom has a different recipe for reconciling faith and lifestyle. That religious wrinkle colors every action and adds tension to familiar punk clashes like drunks vs. straight-edgers and activists vs. anarchists. The Taqwacores is at its best when it hews closest to a documentary style, capturing the squalor of flophouse parties and the stupid thrill of shocking the squares. In true punk fashion, the film largely eschews metaphor in favor of bold, noisy statements, leading to too many awkwardly on-the-nose observations reminiscent of early Spike Lee joints. (One character actually utters the sentence, "I'm too wrapped up in my mix-matching of disenfranchised subcultures, man.") Fortunately, Zahra also shares Lee's gift for cinematic catharsis, especially in an indelible late-film concert scene that encapsulates a world in which one man's easy hook-up is another man's unforgivable sin. —Ira Brooker

Cooking History

Sunday, April 18, at 7:30 p.m.; Wednesday, April 21, at 4 p.m.

Just when you thought you'd heard everything about the ghastliness of military chow, along comes Péter Kerekes's documentary on European cooks who worked for Nazi, Soviet, and other occupying armies of the past 60 years. Interviews with veterans and survivors are sprinkled among documentary footage and fleeting historical reenactments. This is a slow, sometimes quite grim slog that's not always easy to watch. For our edification, a cow, a pig, and a chicken are killed, and their respective entrails processed. But many of the anecdotes are compelling and even darkly humorous. That particularly applies to the official "taster" for Yugoslavia's Marshal Tito, who describes the elaborate process he went through to test the dictator's bountiful daily banquets for poison, and a Jewish baker who, in fact, did poison 300 SS officers with loaves of bread filled with arsenic, and somehow got away with it. The film features recipes for meals at the hearts of the recollections (including that fatal supply of bread) and, for reasons unexplained, the air-lifting of a jeep trailer over all the locations filmed. This film is not for the squeamish, or those planning to dine right after watching. —John Ervin

Today's Special

Friday, April 23, at 7 p.m.; Saturday, April 24, at 5 p.m.

A movie about food and restaurants should, at the very least, make you hungry. David Kaplan's Today's Special, while largely a by-the-books family comedy, certainly whets the appetite for traditional Indian cooking. Samir (Aasif Mandvi, whom you may recognize from The Daily Show), a rising Manhattan chef, finds himself in charge of his family's failing Indian restaurant. At first Samir has no real interest in his country's traditional food, but after enlisting a cab driver/genius chef/possible magic man (Naseeruddin Shah), he slowly begins to see the value of the traditions—and of letting go. When the film focuses on food, it's an entertaining ride. It's the rest of the movie (scripted by Mandvi and Jonathan Bines) that gets in the way, including a pair of parents straight from central casting (No. 4 on the list—overbearing but full of love) and a by-their-bootstraps subplot, with a touch of "Shallow son gets in touch with roots" mixed in. Still, the finale brings it all home, with plate after plate of tasty-looking treats passing on the screen. Either eat before Today's Special or plan to head out after. —Ed Huyck

Eyes Wide Open


Saturday, April 17, at 8:45 p.m.; Wednesday, April 21, at 8:45 p.m.

The subject of gay Orthodox Jews isn't new to film, but it's typically the stuff of documentaries (2001's Trembling Before G-d, among others). So Haim Tabakman's feature directorial debut, Eyes Wide Open, deserves not just political points but artistic ones as well: overused adjectives like "patient" and "understated" are perfectly justified here. The simple story of devout family man and Jerusalem butcher Aaron (Zohar Shtrauss), who falls from grace via a love affair with hired hand Ezri (Ran Danker), Eyes abstains from all forms of shouting, dramatic excess, and third-act eruptions of tragic violence. There are a few missteps: Aaron's profession means a few too many symbolic shots of meat being cut, and Aaron and Ezri's exile from the community is too neatly paralleled by a parent-unapproved straight couple's similar shunning. Mostly, though, it wins with excellent performances: Strauss never overplays his character's internal tension, nor does Danker camp up his youthful virility. Cinematographer Alex Schneppat frames the film gorgeously, and Tabakman knows where the occasional showy effect can be inserted for emphasis. Not groundbreaking, but definitely a cut above. —Vadim Rizov

Garbage Dreams

Wednesday, April 21, at 5:30 p.m.; Saturday, April 24, at 9:15 p.m.

There are probably any number of communities throughout the world, hidden to the Western eye, where traditional ways of life are threatened by government- and/or corporate-sponsored modernization. While filmmakers like Jia Zhangke and Olivier Assayas take as their subjects the far more visible consequences of a transforming China and Europe, it's left to the smaller documentarian to highlight uncovered and at-risk pockets of humanity in less developed parts of the world. In Garbage Dreams, Mai Iskander's handsomely shot and intermittently fascinating look at Cairo's Zaballeen community of trash collectors, the filmmaker documents an entire population faced with extinction. While the Zaballeen have long made their living scouring the streets for garbage and recycling their findings into raw materials, the government's desire for modernization has led them to institute the city's first concerted garbage-removal system, outsourcing the work to foreign companies and leaving an impoverished community further impoverished. But with new problems come new opportunities, and Garbage Dreams smartly focuses on a younger generation of teenage workers who stand to benefit from the Zaballeen's new focus on education and updated techniques. But since even these kids lack the training for anything but garbage work, Iskander's film registers most powerfully as a lament for a community left behind. —Andrew Schenker


Saturday, April 24, at 9:30 p.m.; Wednesday, April 28, at 5 p.m.

The opening scenes of Home—a nighttime game of street hockey, a bathing session that turns into a five-way splash fight—establish the anarchic sense of play that defines the interactions of the film's central family, while the casual nudity on display hints at the vaguely incestuous tensions in this uniquely insular clan. The rest of Ursula Meier's confident, appealingly bizarre theatrical debut subjects these tensions to the hothouse environment of a self-willed isolation. When the five members of the central family find their remote domestic paradise invaded by the reopening of the abandoned highway adjacent to their house, they resort to increasingly lunatic measures to block out the noise—it's but a small step from earplugs to bricking up their house entirely. Eventually, paranoia and open hostility set in as a family defined from the start by too great a sense of closeness is forced into even closer proximity. Working with all-star cinematographer Agnès Godard, Meier effectively communicates the sense of upended privacy, moving easily from the nighttime intrusion of brightly clad construction workers (the eye-straining oranges and yellows of their uniforms registering as a truly alien presence) to the incongruous sight of Isabelle Huppert tending her garden as blurry streaks of traffic zip by. —Andrew Schenker

Mid-August Lunch

Tuesday, April 20, at 7:45 p.m.; Saturday, April 17, at 5:15 p.m.

Watching this lauded but fatally slight comedy of manners about a middle-aged Italian who finds himself caring for four spunky old dames, it's hard to believe writer, director, and star Gianni Di Gregorio also co-wrote the bloody mafia hit Gomorrah. Amiably self-deprecating to a fault, the semi-autobiographical Mid-August Lunch features Di Gregorio as Gianni, an aging slacker who cares for his demanding mother (Valeria de Franciscis) in their decrepit Rome apartment. Forced to take in several other matriarchs to win a reprieve on his overdue rent, Gianni wakes up to a functioning community of vibrant broads (all gallantly played by non-pros) whose preference for fun over balanced cholesterol levels provides whatever charm can be wrung from this desultory slice of life. By contrast—and if that's the point, it remains unexplored—Gianni is a pale ghost of a man who desires nothing and does little more than rustle up dainty dishes, knock back white wine by the liter, and, in a coda you can see coming from scene one, whirl the randy old girls around in a valedictory living-room dance. Indeed, the only whiff of passion comes from the sadistic care that has gone into putting garish clothes and makeup on the mother, which give her the ghoulish air of Jeanne Moreau in a fun-house mirror. Of all the ritzy festival awards Mid-August Lunch has won (including Best First Film at Venice), it rates at least Bologna's Golden Snail Award for Best Food Feature. —Ella Taylor

The Misfortunates


Friday, April 23, at 5 p.m.; Tuesday, April 27, at 9:50 p.m.

Beer and sausage and mullets and mayhem are the stuff of a young Belgian teen's upbringing in Felix Van Groeningen's earthy adaptation of Dimitri Verhulst's popular novel. Thirteen-year-old Gunther Stobbe (Kenneth Vanbaeden) plays little brother to four rowdy strapping Stobbes—his hooting dad (Koen de Graeve) and three overgrown uncles—all living under sharp-eyed grandma's small-town roof in a state of arrested (or perfected) boozing-louthood. Through the eyes of Gunther—in the '80s, and in flash-forwards, grown, an author, and annoyed about his moon-faced pregnant girlfriend—we chortle at their chest-beating, step aside to make room for their righteous brawls, and listen to them sing drinking songs about pussy. Acerbic and hatchet-faced as an adult (played by Valentijn Dhaenens), Gunther joins the grand tradition of writers recalling a house-bursting-with-knockabout-family. His, and Van Groeningen's, bear hug of these men is ostentatiously unembarrassed. Though Van Groeningen knows where to stick the camera in a belchy testosterone-filled room, the back and forth between prideful independence and oblivion can get a little practiced, and is not helped by a final lugubrious turn, a strange daintiness at key points, and blasts of repurposed mood music. But The Misfortunates is often very funny, and the rolling remember-when vignettes trump the typical low-country wild-hairy-man sideshows. —Nicolas Rapold

The Over the Hill Band

Saturday, April 17, at 1:15 p.m.; Sunday, April 25, at 3:15 p.m.

Not many would have predicted back in '98 that an affable trifle like The Full Monty would prove to be one of the most influential European films of its era, but movies about groups of misfits tackling unlikely artistic ventures have since become almost a genre unto themselves. This time around, our protagonist is a newly widowed Belgian septuagenarian (Merilou Mermans) who reunites her 1950s pop trio to collaborate with her estranged son (Jan Van Looveren) on a raunchy R&B album. The Over the Hill Band never strays too far from the expected template, with a host of stock characters (the lusty old dame, the prude who finds her freewheeling side, etc.) overplaying a series of predictable culture clashes before learning to work together. The film is at its best when it veers away from broad comedy and focuses on the relationship between Mermans and Van Looveren. Their respective portrayals of cautious adventure and good-natured vulgarity are much more involving than the jokey fluff surrounding them. Those two performances elevate the proceedings a notch above your standard Monty knock-off, moving the film into deeper territory than it sometimes seems comfortable with. —Ira Brooker


Thursday, April 22, at 5:15 p.m.; Saturday, April 24, at 7:10 p.m.

Reality TV—Italian style! Erik Gandini's documentary examines the media and political empire of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, as seen through the eyes of three of his countrymen: Rick Canelli, a singer and martial artist who has spent years preparing to be a contestant on an American Idol-type show; Lele Mora, Italy's most powerful super-agent and a fan of Mussolini who proudly plays Fascist hymns on his cell phone; and Fabrizio Corona, a slimy, pony-tailed celebrity tracker who takes embarrassing photos of the famous and sells them to either gossip rags or the celebrities themselves. The film is chock full of footage of tanned, sweaty stars attending galas; public appearances by Berlusconi himself (who has a specially built remote-controlled volcano on one of his many estates, and on another, a maze in which guests are expected to get lost so he can rescue them); and the beautiful, half-naked Veline girls, who shake their moneymakers for the shows that made his fortune. But you'll find out more from Wikipedia about the face-lifted prime minister's cult of personality and control of the country's media than you would from this glossy, empty, often vague movie. Even the three main figures—only one of whom (Corona, who spent several months in stir for extortion) has anything remotely interesting happen to him—get no more than a superficial going-over. However, the 10-minute montage that opens the film is a definite "Wow!" —John Ervin

Air Doll


Sunday, April 18, at 9:35 p.m.; Wednesday, April 21, at 9:15 p.m.

Lars might have had his "real girl" in the form of a life-sized rubber blowup doll, but in the case of Hideo, a waiter in Tokyo, the inflatable woman he lives with—and makes love to in a couple of sickening scenes—actually is real, thanks to the heart her maker implanted in her. Unbeknown to Hideo, whenever he is not at home, Nozomi, his air-pumped companion, comes to life in the form of actress Bae Doona. Wandering the streets near his apartment, Nozomi befriends a handful of lonely people who confess to being as empty as she repeatedly insists she is. She even gets a job at a video store, where she learns enough about movies to assist customers (though without ever having seen a movie). Director Hirokazu Koreeda's feature is commendable as a commentary on how women in Japan, even with the advent of equal rights in most areas of society, continue to be treated by many men as toys, appreciated only for their sexual and housekeeping skills. But the thin story, glacial pace, and sparse, proverb-laden script make it a long, ponderous, watch-checking experience. One item that does hold interest is figuring out the video store's inexplicable promotion of the 1965 beach flick How to Stuff a Wild Bikini. —John Ervin


Saturday, April 24, at 7 p.m.; Thursday, April 29, at 9 p.m.

Northless, Rigoberto Perezcano's suffocatingly mute and dour tragedy about a Mexican man attempting the perilous border crossing from Tijuana into the United States, is a feast of hopelessness, a forced but aimless march in which the concept of hope is a laughably weak cinder by which the principal characters are just barely able to navigate their lives and catch a bit of spiritual warmth. The film is a visual smash, borrowing much from the Mexican scenes of Soderbergh's drug opus Traffic. Perezcano's handheld cameras match his all-but-nameless protagonist, Andres, step by plodding step, washing the Mexican desert, the backwater suburbs of Tijuana, and his characters' pitted, sorrowful faces in a nearly sadistically unforgiving light. Perezcano isn't making gruesome sport of his characters, but as Andres launches a handful of dispassionate, abortive crossings, or finds precious few handfuls of manna in day work at a Tijuana bodega, the film approaches distaste and runs the risk of wallowing in endless anguish. Were it not for expertly timed passages of romance, camaraderie, and a last-reel prospect of actual escape (each made all the more affecting by their brevity), the film would topple into an oubliette of despair from which there is no chance of liberation. Perezcano deserves credit for courageously acknowledging the long odds his characters, and the millions of real-life counterparts they represent, face. But too often he seems preoccupied with stamping out the cinders his characters manage to create, cruelly retarding our ability to sympathize with their do-or-die plight and turning the most complex border conflict in the Western Hemisphere into endless emotional stalemate. —David Hansen

The Miscreants of Taliwood

Friday, April 23, at 9:30 p.m.; Sunday, April 25, at 7:15 p.m.

Few things are more tragic and sympathetic than an artist getting thematically lost in his own subject matter, and in this bewildering, sometimes astonishing, and all too frequently bungled documentary about the suicidally courageous filmmakers in Taliban-ruled Pakistan, director George Gittoes undergoes just such dramatic folly. A seasoned Australian "war artist," Gittoes embarks on a stark look at Pakistan's film industry, which churns out shoestring melodramas and action flicks under the murderous snouts of the Taliban. Gittoes can't resist flaunting his own bravery as a stranger in a strange land, but the images of bombed video shops, bonfires of CD cases, and Kalashnikov-toting extremists provide plenty of ballast for Gittoes's sky-bound sense of himself. But as the film progresses, even the intractable Gittoes realizes he's bitten off more than he can chew. As he meanders through the fire and smoke of a nation at war with itself, he stuffs political intricacies, staggering abuses by the Taliban, and brushes with death into a film already crowded by his own ego. By the time he fronts his pocket money to finance two action films, his bravery (which is by no means counterfeit) becomes grandstanding—what is to his cast and crew a vocation becomes to Gittoes a dangerous whim. The film ends with a sucker punch—Gittoes finds himself at ground zero of a teenage suicide bombing and is stripped of all his pomp in a gruesome confrontation with reality. But the preceding film sadly underperforms on a breathtaking concept. There's plenty of historical and spiritual grit in Gittoes's film—you just have to blot him out with your thumb from time to time to get at it. —David Hansen

Harlan: In the Shadow of Jew Suss


Tuesday, April 20, at 5:30 p.m.; Wednesday, April 28, at 4:15 p.m.

To call a feature-length documentary "informative" is the height of faint praise, but it's the most that can be said of Felix Moeller's limpid, less-than-exhaustive examination of the historical and personal repercussions of Veit Harlan's cinematic career. The Third Reich's Spielbergian master of melodrama and propaganda has been largely whitewashed from the annals of modern filmography, mainly due to his intensely anti-Semitic film

Jew Suss, a work commissioned by Goebbels and executed by Harlan with damning zeal, for which he was twice tried and acquitted for crimes against humanity. Harlan uses two generations of the filmmaker's extended family as its only mouthpiece in its attempt at a nuanced, personal portrait of Harlan and the repercussions of his career, a decision that poses a fatal logistic and thematic pitfall for the doc. Despite what the title suggests, the Harlan clan is a well-adjusted unit, only distantly troubled by the work of the long-dead filmmaker, and their testimonies smack of apologism, dispassion, and, all too infrequently, bald analysis. Jew Suss is a film on which the blood of six million-plus people has partially spilled, and using the admittedly dark inheritance of Harlan's descendants is a historical misfire. The sumptuous details of Harlan's trials are omitted in favor of ho-hum anecdotes about his character. By tilling such an arid acre, Moeller ends up with a film in which nothing, not even a monumental work of hate cinema, casts much of a shadow. —David Hansen

La Mission

Sunday, April 25, at 9:15 p.m.

Watered-down Jungian analysis meets a GLAAD-approved weepie in Peter Bratt's second feature, starring brother Benjamin (who also produces) as a neck-tattooed macho man who will finally realize the damage his rock-hard masculinity has caused during a funeral for a teenage gangbanger, his tears mixing with the rain. As subtle as a punch in the face, La Mission nobly continues a necessary conversation about homophobia, but paves the way to hell with its own good intentions. Che Rivera (Bratt), a 46-year-old widowed MUNI bus driver, spends his off hours boxing, cruising in his lowrider, raging against the gentrification of his San Francisco neighborhood of the title, and inviting his UCLA-bound son, Jesse (Jeremy Ray Valdez), to pickup basketball games. Jesse, however, prefers male bonding of a different sort, like Castro boy-bar fun. When Che discovers evidence of Jesse's night out, it's gay panic at the Frisco: He pummels and disowns his son. As the Bratts tick off the usual coming-out-narrative plot points, La Mission strains to be both a thoughtful tale of one man's emotional rehabilitation and a critique of outmoded, sclerotic patriarchal customs in Latino culture. It's a laudable goal, but one that too often becomes nothing more than a series of teachable moments—suitable for awareness training at a PFLAG meeting but too earnestly didactic to have much lasting effect. —Melissa Anderson

The Square

Saturday, April 17, at 7:15 p.m.

The Square—indebted to The Postman Always Rings Twice—fails to raise (James M.) Cain. The feature-helming debut of stuntman Nash Edgerton, co-written by brother Joel, this Down Under noir confuses incoherent body pile-ups with "twists." Cheating construction-site manager Ray (David Roberts) and beautician Carla (Claire van der Boom) want to ditch their Sydney spouses and start anew, with the help of a duffel bag full of cash stashed in the attic by Carla's mulleted husband. An arson plot goes wrong, a halfwit is impaled, a baby is imperiled, a blackmailer is chained to a motel sink—all convoluted plot developments (with multiple holes and inconsistencies) that add zero suspense but increase your suspicion that the Edgerton boys simply thought more was better (as opposed to 2008's excellent pared-down Postman rethink, Jerichow). Or maybe they were hoping to distract viewers from their film's most lethal flaw: two adulterous leads as sexless as Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman in Australia. —Melissa Anderson

The Sun Behind the Clouds

Tuesday, April 20, at 7:15 p.m.; Sunday, April 25, at 12:30 p.m.

Documenting both the largest Tibetan uprising since the 1959 Chinese takeover and the Dalai Lama's pre–Beijing Olympics diplomatic tour, The Sun Behind the Clouds offers a succinct and sober look at the philosophical impasse at the heart of the Tibetan cause. In early 2008, co-directors Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam (a married couple and frequent collaborators on Asia-themed documentaries) hit the road with a group of fed-up Buddhist monks on a march from India into Tibet and followed the Dalai Lama as he continued to plead his case for a "middle way" between independence from China and a "meaningful autonomy" that protects Tibetan language and culture. The pitched battle between the Lama and the Chinese evinces politics at its worst, and many Tibetans have had enough. Clouds teases out the contradiction between the Lama's power as a symbol to the fiercely loyal Tibetan people and that of his diplomatic voice, which he is using to push what they see as an impotent agenda. The most heated confrontation here finds Tibet's famously serene monks reduced to a finger-pointing screaming match. It's a scene that suggests both the fondest wish of the Chinese—to divide the enemy against itself—and the increasing desperation for justice within the Lama's lifetime. —Michelle Orange

Ward No. 6


Sunday, April 18, at 7:45 p.m.; Friday, April 23, at 10 p.m.

Based on Chekhov's 1892 story of a provincial doctor who winds up in his own asylum, scourged out of professional complacency by dialogues with a philosophical inmate, Aleksander Gornovsky and Karen Shakhnazarov's film begins on a dust-blowing conceit, interviewing actual wards of state in a contemporary Russian institution. Whereas Andrei Konchalovsky's 1970 Uncle Vanya assured its Soviet audience that they were looking back on prehistory from the better world, in Ward No. 6, Aleksei Vertkov's prophet-madman is still awaiting "the beautiful life there will be on earth in time," here, today, on the far side of Russian Utopianism. Investigating the breakdown of Vladmir Ilyin's Dr. Ragin, Ward No. 6 divides Chekhov's dialogue between mock-documentary inquest, home video, and straight psychodrama. Like the best adaptations, even its inventions are good: a vision of the 17th-century foundation of the monastery-turned-hospital, which draws the sense of the story's continuity into the past, and the inmate who believes Soviet pol Yuri Andropov commanded him to kill John Lennon. —Nick Pinkerton

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