Spotlights on three new movies this week.
★★★ OUT OF FOUR STARS • Rated: R for some language. In subtitled Hebrew and Romanian, and English • Where: Lagoon
When a Romanian worker at a huge Jerusalem bakery dies in a terrorist attack, the firm's personnel supervisor is assigned to accompany the woman's body to her former Iron Curtain hometown for burial. Suicide bombings are such a routine occurrence in this tragicomedy that the morgue attendant identifies victims by location. "Pizzeria?" he asks. "No, market," the HR man replies. As diplomats, bureaucrats, hangers-on and relatives step in, the company man's journey becomes a cross-cultural shaggy-dog story along the lines of Bill Forsyth's "Local Hero." Mark Ivanir delivers a perceptive performance as the office worker whose mission of mourning wakes him up to the futility of his living-dead desk-bound life. COLIN COVERT
★★★ out of four stars • Rated: R for violent and disturbing content, some involving preteens, and for language. In subtitled Danish and Swedish, and English. • Where: Uptown
Anton (Mikael Persbrandt) is a doctor working off a burden of bad-marriage guilt as a volunteer in an African refugee camp. Back in Denmark, wife Marianne (Trine Dyrholm) and preteen son Elias (Markus Rygaard) suffer in his absence. Elias, bullied at school, falls into the orbit of sullen newcomer Christian (William Johnk Nielsen), a rich kid with a short fuse and daddy issues of his own. Anton returns from his save-the-world vision quest hoping to pass on his pacifist convictions to Elias, but his principled retreat from a belligerent auto mechanic makes him appear weak and unmanly. Christian plans a violent retaliation against the repairman, drawing Elias into his dangerous game. Director Susanne Bier's perceptive, handsomely shot Oscar-winner respects our intelligence, patiently ratcheting up the tension while drawing didactic parallels between Third World ethnic reprisals and the escalating feud in Denmark. The film shows that adult restraint is in short supply, both in the African bush and "civilized" Scandinavia.
★★ OUT OF FOUR STARS • Rated: PG-13, sex but no nudity
The year is 2016. The Middle East has imploded. Gas is $37 a gallon. The U.S. government has only made things worse, controlling the economy with an iron first. Yes, it's a bad time to be a great businessman or a person of genius.
Adapted from the novel by Ayn Rand, "Atlas Shrugged Part I" is a low-budget film. The plot is almost impossible to follow. Yet the dystopian tale with heroes and villains and lots of triumphs and reversals, is so busy and so inherently interesting that the movie is entertaining until the finish -- or the sort of finish. As only the first part of the story, "Atlas Shrugged" doesn't end, it stops.
Yes, it's a right-wing diatribe. What is a selling point are the boldly drawn characters, played by a cast of unknowns, some of whom deserve to be known. I'm thinking of Taylor Schilling as Dagny Taggart, a railway heiress, and Grant Bowler as Hank Rearden, a manufacturing magnate. Schilling and Bowler are forceful and attractive.
MICK LASALLE, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE