⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars
Unrated: Adult themes.
Theater: Mall of America.
Following his hypnotic documentary "Room 237," which demonstrated how Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining" drove some viewers into nutzoid conspiracy theories, nonfiction filmmaker Rodney Ascher digs into the horrors of sleep paralysis. This eerie thriller weaves together interviews with victims of nighttime terrors, illustrating their recollections through dramatic re-enactments rather than medical research. While it may not be the final word on why some people have creepy midnight visions of alien creatures, demons or tarantulas, it will probably never be surpassed as a shock-doc. Ascher's is the only reality film that has ever made me jump and howl in freaked-out horror — twice!
FLIGHT OF THE BUTTERFLIES
⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars
Unrated: Suitable for all audiences.
Theater: Great Clips Imax, Minnesota Zoo.
Is there a common insect prettier than the monarch butterfly with its large, wide orange wings, black veins and white spots? Summerlong they visit us by the millions, moving south to winter in Mexico. This stylish documentary dramatizes their journey, and the scientific detective work that solved the age-old puzzle about where and how they travel annually. Returning from a long run last year at the Omnitheater, it shows the life cycle as a tiny egg planted on a milkwood leaf munches the toxic plant to become a caterpillar 2,000 times bigger in mass. It also showcases zoologist Fred Urquhart, whose wing tagging research into their migrant paths began in the 1940s. The breakthrough moment came three decades later when Urquhart, studying a monarch colony in Mexico, finds one tagged PS 397 by James Street, a junior high school volunteer from Hopkins. Impressive to view in Imax 3-D, it's a true story that will inspire viewers to plant a milkweed garden.
⋆⋆⋆½ out of four stars
Rating: R for strong violence, drug content and language. In subtitled French, Italian and English.
This testosterone-fueled crime thriller, set in drug-riddled Marseilles at the height of the 1970s heroin epidemic, plays like a gritty sidebar to "The French Connection." From the first scene of a motorcycle zipping through traffic toward unidentified trouble, you feel you're watching a fast-burning fuse headed for a mountain of dynamite. Jean Dujardin plays the new sheriff in town, determined to bring down the Corsicans, Neapolitan Italians and thugs cooking huge boatloads of opium for huge numbers of American addicts. He's almost the physical twin of his arch enemy, the syndicate boss played with swagger by Gilles Lellouche. Their battle unfolds over a crackling 135 minutes. The middle-class lawman and ultrawealthy pusher are so focused on bringing down the opposition that each pushes his own marriage to the point of collapse. Cédric Jimenez directs with electric energy. While the story lacks focus here and there, the film never feels overplayed. It's a work of bloody style and solid substance.
⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars
Rating: R for language, some sexual content and drug use.
Andrew Bujalski invented the mumblecore approach to indie filmmaking a decade ago, combining observational character studies, gritty 16mm camerawork and occasional flourishes of hypnotic storytelling. "Results" is his first film containing recognizable cast members and a polished approach to video cinematography. The scenario pulls together a trio of characters who don't understand themselves deeply. Guy Pearce and Cobie Smulders play personal trainers, whose present business partnership and earlier bedroom fling neither have delivered the rewards they expected. Their wobbly wheelbarrow receives a monkey wrench with the arrival of an overweight loner, played with complete lard-based credibility by Kevin Corrigan. He is living in a near-empty megamansion, having unexpectedly become a multimillionaire while remaining a sad sack. Pearce thinks he'd be a good investor. Smulders, ticked at Pearce, would like to use Corrigan in a revenge relationship. Each shifts gears consistently, creating characters that seem impressionistically lifelike but hardly fascinating enough to follow with interest.
⋆⋆ out of four stars
Rating: PG-13 on appeal for sexual material, teen drinking, language, drug references and action violence.
Theater: Inver Grove 16.
"Barely Lethal" is an amusing rough draft for a high-concept high school comedy. It's "Agent Cody Banks" meets "Sixteen Candles" — with quotably snarky one-liners and a socially inept teen the mean girls don't want to cross. Hailee Steinfeld is #83, who has been trained as an assassin since birth. But she longs to go to high school. Or at least the version she's seen on "90210" and "Mean Girls." That's why she fakes her death so her boss (Samuel L. Jackson) won't come looking for her. That's why she passes herself off as an exchange student "from … Canada." While she may have studied up via movies, that doesn't keep her from falling for the pretty and shallow boy with a band. Jackson has fun taunting the little orphan girl trainees as he teaches them martial arts and bomb defusing. And Jessica Alba, as a "rogue agent," gets a nice fight scene. Steinfeld is more at home here than among the Bellas of "Pitch Perfect." But the film feels like a series of pulled punches, slow-footed and sluggish.