Show Dogs

⋆⋆½ out of four stars

Rated: PG for suggestive and rude humor, strong language and some action, including animals in peril.

 

Grown-ups might not roll over for the talking-animal comedy “Show Dogs,” but children almost surely will enjoy it. The plot is based on the mismatched, reluctant-partner cops premise, except in this case it’s a man, Frank (Will Arnett), and a dog, Max (voiced by rapper Chris “Ludacris” Bridges). At first they hate each other, but — true to the formula — they grudgingly agree to get along as they are sent undercover at a prestigious dog show that serves as a front for an exotic-animal trade.

Frank enlists the aid of a seasoned dog handler (Natasha Lyonne), while Max is befriended by a former star show dog (voiced by Stanley Tucci) who went mad and was sent to the pound. The angry, adorable furball provides the movie’s most vivid characterization, his eyes widening as Tucci gleefully rants about slights from the purebred elite.

As such things go, you can do much, much worse. “Show Dogs” is somewhere in the middle of a spectrum that runs from “An Easter Bunny Puppy” to “Nine Lives.”

Pat Padua, Washington Post

 

Let the Sunshine In

⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars

Unrated but includes nudity, obscenities and sexuality; in subtitled French.

Theater: Uptown.

 

This story of a middle-aged woman looking for love and sexual fulfillment was overlooked when it debuted at Cannes, but that says more about the festival, which favors male auteurs and angsty naturalism, than it does about this wistful, grown-up romantic comedy by filmmaker Claire Denis.

Juliette Binoche plays Isabelle, a divorced painter living in Paris. Meeting a series of men, Isabelle emerges as a fascinating bundle of contradictions: fiercely independent, but painfully susceptible to male approval.

Binoche, delivering one of her finest and most subtly calibrated performances, imbues Isabelle with the heart and earthy eroticism that make her more appealing, even heroic, than the pathetic figure she might have been. This is a funny, candid, sexy and kind of sad chronicle of a woman who dares to demand the kind of companionship and spark-fueled physical intimacy that, by too many lights, is reserved only for far younger women.

Ann Hornaday, Washington Post

Bye Bye Germany

⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars

Unrated; in subtitled German.

Theater: Lagoon.

 

This is a refreshingly original, unpredictable tale about Jews trying to trick their way out of postwar Europe. It is part caper, part Holocaust drama, part buddy movie, part romance and part melancholic comedy. For the most part, it juggles these elements admirably, unweaving a tale that’s droll, dark, sad and, ultimately, affecting.

The story begins shortly after the fall of Hitler, when Jewish residents are fantasizing about the American dream while stuck at their displaced persons camp in Frankfurt. Former linen salesman and concentration camp survivor David Bermann (Moritz Bleibtreu) wants to go to the U.S. in style, so he recruits a merry band of peddlers to hawk linens — and separate unwitting Germans from their money.

But there is much more here than just a con game. A crucial part of the satisfyingly complex narrative involves David’s problems with the postwar authorities, who suspect him of having collaborated with the Nazis because of his actions in the concentration camp. In haunting flashbacks, we see how David’s penchant for telling jokes to guards leads to some very unfunny repercussions — and perhaps costs him his soul.

The strongest thing about director Sam Garbarski’s film, beyond its impressive production design, is the performance of Bleibtreu, who convincingly plays Bermann as a joker, con man, closet romantic and deeply scarred court jester. Embellishing the truth is his only way to escape the horrors of the past, although deep down, he knows he can’t escape anything.

David Lewis, San Francisco Chronicle