"Holy Rollers," "Living in Emergency"
★★ 1/2 out of four stars
Rated R for drug content and language throughout, and brief sexual material.
The ever-appealing Jesse Eisenberg ("Zombieland," "The Squid and the Whale") stars in this fact-based tale of Orthodox Jews recruited as smugglers on the Amsterdam-New York drug axis. A seriocomic tale of innocence corrupted, the story tweaks Eisenberg's puppy-dog naivete as he leaves the sheltered Eden of his religious neighborhood for the neon Sodom of decadent Europe.
His character, Sam Gold, evolves from a nerdy pawn who thinks he's transporting "medicine" into a nervy player, standing up to tough Ecstasy wholesalers and bluffing his way past eagle-eyed immigration agents. (The secret: "Relax, mind your business, and act Jewish.")
Through it all, Sam's loyalties are divided, and his upbringing in his upright father's fabric shop is never far from his mind. With the practiced eye of a garment-industry maven, he can always break the ice with a comment about the drape and weight of his adversaries' clothes. The film is slight, but Eisenberg is a deadpan delight.
★★★ 1/2 out of four stars
The dangerous, exhausting and frustrating work of Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders, or MSF) is compellingly documented in "Living in Emergency," which focuses on recent work by four volunteer doctors in Liberia and Congo.
The film is less an attempt to glorify these humanitarians -- though they are undoubtedly heroes -- but to immerse us in what they are up against.
The subjects are American Tom Krueger, Italian Chiara Lepora and Australians Chris Brasher and Davinder Gill. Krueger and Gill are on their first assignments; Lepora is a supervisor, required to make painful decisions, and Brasher, a veteran, seems close to burnout.
Supplies are short; electricity is iffy; there are hostile military forces nearby; the line of patients, with their dizzying array of horrific wounds and illnesses, is endless. MSF's efforts are largely a numbers game, and the odds are depressing.
This is a story with many sad moments, but perhaps the saddest is Lepora's anguish at having to end the mission. With limited resources, the MSF is compelled to fly from crisis to crisis, and there is never any real closure. The film shows us the anger and disbelief of those left behind.
SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE