⋆⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars
Unrated: Disturbing content. In subtitled Korean and Japanese.
Theater: St. Anthony Main.
Brace yourself for mythic weirdness. Korean director Na Hong-jin's supernatural thriller will throw you for a loop. It begins as a sort of quirky Asian "Fargo," about a low-ranking policeman, Jong-gu (Kwak Do-won, a comedic common man with solid screen presence). He's ineptly investigating a series of mysterious fatalities in his rural village. Are they due to hallucinations caused by wild mushrooms, or connected to an eerie Japanese stranger living in the woods? Paranoid accusations finger everyone. When Jong-gu's daughter is seized by the victims' venomous signs of possession, he seeks help from a shaman of rock star charisma (Hwang Jung-min, combining the magnetism of James Franco with stronger acting chops). And then, literally, all hell breaks loose. The film operates on an amazing sensory level, with each shot brilliantly composed to trigger your emotional synapses. As the film moves from whodunit to what's-happening, its points of view fluctuate, gags shift to electrifying guts and gore, and visual clues are revealed as red herrings. It's deliberately designed as a baffling film, and still never loses its dramatic balance. Kim Hwan-hee's performance as the cop's stricken daughter makes Linda Blair in "The Exorcist" look like a Disney princess.
⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars
Rated: R for language and some disturbing content.
A four-part sick joke from cinema's dean of depressive, coldhearted humor, Todd Solondz. The flawless cast includes Danny DeVito, Julie Delpy, Greta Gerwig and Ellen Burstyn playing people who adopt and abandon a lovable sausage-shaped dachshund. Revolving across a quartet of America's classes and regions, the pooch observes, suffers and helps comfort human shortcomings. The characters are quickly introduced wild cards that keep the audience guessing, and the dog is extra-cute — sure to elicit endless awwwwws. There's even an animated intermission where we hear "The Ballad of the Wiener-Dog," an original ditty by Tony winner Marc Shaiman, complete with YouTube-worthy shots of the titular pup waddling here and there. He is far more adorable than the human characters, presented here with Solondz's trademark cynicism. But while he triggers viewers' Pavlovian impulse toward interspecies affection (a theme the lightweight trailers present as the focus of the whole film), the dark subtext is how we all face the challenges of life and death. While it would be spoileriffic to reveal the conclusion, be warned: "Benji" it ain't.
Our Kind of Traitor
⋆⋆ out of four stars
Rated: R for violence, language, nudity and drug use.
More character drama than heavyweight spy suspense film, this adaptation of John le Carré's old fashioned British espionage story feels like a middle-range TV miniseries. It's slickly made, generic, forgettable ho-hum. On a romantic getaway in Marrakech, Ewan McGregor and his lawyer wife Naomie Harris cross paths with Stellan Skarsgård, a Russian tycoon who invites them to share a few days of his decadent high life. All he asks in return is for McGregor to carry a USB drive back home to MI6. That, he says, will expose corrupt officials in London, earning him asylum in the capital city and protection from the Russian Mafia. Despite detours to Paris and the Swiss Alps, not much in the way of thrills arrive. In the past I've respected but not enjoyed Le Carré films, which are overly abstract; this one I enjoyed scarcely at all. Credit where it's due, however. Director Susanna White delivers fine cinematography throughout, and may soon be doing second unit work on the next James Bond film.
Therapy for a Vampire
⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars
Count Geza von Kozsnom (Tobias Moretti) is a vampire bored with his life and wife (a terrifically icy Jeanette Hain) in 1930s Austria, where he seeks help from Sigmund Freud. Another of Freud's patients, a young artist named Viktor, is having issues with his girlfriend, Lucy. When the two cross paths, the Count finds that Viktor's lover is a spitting image of his former true love, Nadila — and he begins to pursue Lucy. Writer/director David Ruhm incorporates classic Hammer Films and "Love at First Bite" in this entertaining vampire spoof by keeping the pacing brisk, the jokes quick and the blood gushing.
JIM BRUNZELL III
⋆⋆⋆½ out of four stars
When reporter David Farrier stumbled across a "competitive endurance tickling" video, he decided to investigate further into the "sport." Traveling around the world to find answers, he found few people willing to speak out on what the videos meant and who was behind them. Farrier and co-director Dylan Reeve's hallucinatory saga begins as an amusing caper, eventually unfolding into the discovery of severe cases of blackmail, corruption and the underbelly of a darker internet terror. Not quite answering every question it asks, "Tickled" still opens a dangerous "can of worms" of stranger-than-fiction journalism.
⋆⋆⋆½ out of four stars
Rated: R for violence, drug use.
What triggers someone to abandon her family and root out all traces of her culture and society? That question pulses through Thomas Bidegain's slow-burning homage to "The Searchers." As in John Ford's classic western, the need of this film's protagonist to rescue is all-consuming. Frenchman Alain's daughter has vanished, having eloped with her Muslim boyfriend and decided to live under Islamic law. His search morphs into a seemingly endless quest that's ultimately passed down to his son. What does it mean to search for someone who doesn't want to be found? Bidegain keeps the answer poignantly elusive while shining an unforgiving light on the weight that bears down on a soul in perpetual journey.
Christopher Kompanek, Washington Post