New Reviews

If Napoleon Dynamite were a little older, had a libido and lived in New Zealand, he'd be Jarrod (Jermaine Clement), a mouth-breathing, extremely passive-aggressive video-game-store clerk who has somehow convinced himself that he has sufficient (self-taught) nunchaku skills to beat a former childhood bully into submission. ("He's gonna reap what he's sown, and it sure ain't corn . . . or wheat.") But as he waits for his foe to return to their childhood hometown, an odd romance begins to blossom when a mousy fast-food employee named Lily (Loren Horsley) shows up to a party and proves to be almost Jarrod's equal at a hilariously cheesy fighting game that might best be described as a Dogme 95 version of Mortal Kombat. Since Jarrod doesn't have a car, Lily persuades her brother to drive them both to Jarrod's hometown to stay with his bizarrely dysfunctional family as Jarrod prepares for what he imagines will be an epic battle of revenge. It's pretty flippin' clear where writer/director Taika Waititi got his inspiration—I mean gosh!, the main character's even kinda-sorta named after Napoleon director Jared Hess—but the key addition to the formula is to paint a picture of underlying tragedy and miscommunication that has caused these characters to be as weird as they are, retreating into strange worlds of their own making. That said, it's hardly maudlin, and the climax is likely to catch a lot of viewers pleasantly off-guard. (Luke Y. Thompson) (Edwards University, Irvine; UA Marketplace, Long Beach)

In the new animated feature by The Incredibles director Brad Bird, a rat of rarefied palate (and exceptional olfactory ability) dreams of becoming a fine French chef, then gets his chance when he teams up with a garbage boy to restore a once-legendary Paris eatery to its former glory. While the tall, gangly Linguini appears to cook, it's the squat, four-legged Remy (well-voiced by comedian Patton Oswalt) who's pulling the strings—literally, in the form of the curls atop Linguini's head—much to the consternation of the kitchen staff's resident dictator Skinner, who wants to use the restaurant as a springboard for a line of frozen dinners. That farcical premise, however, is merely the appetizer before Bird's main course—a consideration of the principles of artistic creation, and of greatness at odds with mediocrity, that will come as little surprise to those familiar with either The Incredibles or Bird's debut feature, The Iron Giant. If that sounds like heady stuff for a kids movie, it is, but Ratatouille is as much a feast for the senses as it is food for thought, from the dazzling photorealism of the animation to the delectable plates of soup and sweetbreads and, of course, the titular Provencal stew. "Anyone can cook," goes a refrain heard often throughout the film. But only Brad Bird could have made Ratatouille. (Scott Foundas) (Countywide)

See "Dr. Feelgood." (Countywide)

I'm sort of in love with Agnieszka, the heroine of Strike. As conceived by director Volker Schlöndorff (The Tin Drum) and played by the superb German actress Katharina Thalbach, she's a tiny, bug-eyed bundle of energy who single-handedly brings down the Polish government, armed with nothing but humble proletarian determination. The character is based on Anna Walentynowicz, an illiterate shipyard welder who worked with Lech Walesa to form Solidarity, the first independent trade union in Poland. History has given most of the credit for the movement to Walesa, who went on to become the nation's first democratically elected president, but Strike neatly turns the tables by making him into a sort of glorified game-show host, with a droopy mustache, weak smile and knack for demagoguery, sometimes at the expense of his principles. This is Iron Curtain porn at its most shameless—a rousing industrial rock song plays in the background every time Schlöndorff wants to invoke the Spirit of Labor—but Thalbach's Agnieszka is irresistible: She works so hard that she leads the shipyard in production 10 years in a row, and she still finds time to sing, dance, raise a son, take a lover, and foment a revolution. (Julia Wallace) (Edwards Westpark, Irvine)


Parked uneasily between sensitive indie and studio chick-flick, Lajos Koltai's Evening makes star-studded hash of Susan Minot's beautifully written, if emotionally constricted novel about a terminally ill New England woman trying to wrestle meaning out of the shards of her memories. Floating in and out of delirium and cared for by two troubled daughters played by unlikely siblings Natasha Richardson and Toni Collette, Ann Lord (Vanessa Redgrave, prone and wheezy) recalls an affair with Harris, a man she loved and lost long ago at the New England wedding of her best friend Lila (Mamie Gummer). In the novel, the unspoken ghost in the room is Proust, with a dab of Virginia Woolf. Lost in translation aside from a few allusions to the condensing power of the mind, Evening boils down to a lot of flat back-and-forth between old Ann and young Ann (a frighteningly thin Claire Danes) screwing up her life in scenic Rhode Island. However ably played by the equally scenic Patrick Wilson, Harris is more studmuffin than madeleine, and screwy liberties taken by screenwriters Minot and Michael Cunningham tip the movie into farce, leaving us unsure whether Harris is Ann's great love, or a complete waste of her time, and ours. (Ella Taylor) (Countywide)

See "Past Action Hero." (Countywide)

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