As a documentary-portraiture complement to this weekend's release of the end-times blockbuster "2012," there's Chris Smith's "Collapse," an alternately frightening and mournful talkathon starring the conspiracy theories of ex-LAPD cop-reporter-author Michael Ruppert. Filmed in a spare basement made to feel like an interrogation chamber, the cigarette-smoking, mustached Ruppert -- whose fringe notoriety can be traced to his 1970s claims that the CIA asked him to run drugs -- unloads a byzantine, impassioned case for society's full-speed-ahead doom. The two big reasons: waning oil supplies and a pyramid-scheme economy.
The unseen Smith, who occasionally tosses in a provoking question, is less interested in testing Ruppert's bona fides than in creating a zoo exhibit feeling that segues into a therapy session. The latter vibe emerges when Ruppert, perhaps exhausted from relentlessly harping about humankind's stupidity, venality and treacherous policies, gets emotional about his own relationship to bucking the system and even allows hopeful tips to color his apocalyptic monologue. (Save seeds, people.) With a formal elegance that often feels like a tribute to Errol Morris' character studies, "Collapse" is a grueling peek at a doomsday prophet's rigorous mind but in a sly way also a compassionate look at the strain Ruppert endures from knowing he has only ever been right.
Robert Abele --
"Collapse." MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 22 minutes. At Laemmle's Sunset 5, West Hollywood.
Coming of age, with a few twists
The typical high school comedy is revamped in "Dare," a coming-of-age romp that ups the explicitness of first-time sexual encounters and looks hard at teenage angst. The story follows three teens in their final semester of high school: overachieving aspiring actress Alexa (Emmy Rossum), who decides to sex up her drama geek image by sleeping with bad-boy jock Johnny (Zach Gilford), a romance that gets complicated when Alexa's best friend, Ben (Ashley Springer) -- a loner struggling with his sexuality -- seduces Johnny.
Director Adam Salky expanded the film from a short he developed with screenwriter David Brind at the Columbia University graduate film program, which focused on the two boys. The feature allows for the inclusion of Alexa, who serves mostly to fuel the flames of confusion for Johnny. As the teens struggle with their three-sided relationship, their choices for the future and, for Johnny, a troubled home life, their characters become surprisingly more complex, particularly as Gilford's Johnny tries to understand who he really is and who he will become.
Salky and Brind keep the film's humor campy, with help from supporting performances by Ana Gasteyer, Alan Cumming and Sandra Bernhard.
The film lacks the comedic charm of "American Pie," but with its dark, hyper-sexualization of teens, it offers an engrossing if not soap opera-esque tale of self-discovery.
Gerrick Kennedy --
"Dare." MPAA rating: Rated R for sexual content, language and alcohol use -- all involving teens. Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes. At Laemmle's Sunset 5, West Hollywood.
An unlikely union forms in 'London'
Two strongly divergent yet equally stirring performances anchor "London River," an intimate drama set against the 2005 London Underground and bus bombings that killed more than 50 people. Though slowly paced and sometimes overly coincidental, the film, directed by Rachid Bouchareb from a screenplay he wrote with Zoe Galeron and Olivier Lorelle, contains enough emotionally satisfying moments to keep us invested in its lead characters' heartfelt journey.
Brenda Blethyn plays Elisabeth, a Guernsey widow who travels to London to find her 20ish daughter, Jane, who has seemingly vanished since the terrorist attack took place. As the anxious Elisabeth uncovers a few surprises about Jane's life and her potential whereabouts, she crosses paths with Ousmane (Malian actor Sotigui Kouyate), a French-speaking African forester also in London looking for his estranged son, Ali.
Inhibited by the city's multiculturalism and, in particular, her knee-jerk suspicion of Muslims, Elisabeth takes a while to warm up to the soulful Ousmane. But when it turns out the two parents have more in common than it might initially seem, a deep, if careful bond forms between them.
Blethyn brings tremendous empathy to the introspective, determined Elisabeth, while the tall, gaunt and dreadlocked Ousmane fleshes out his less-dimensional role with a haunting sadness that speaks volumes.
Gary Goldstein --
"London River." MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 24 minutes. In English, French and Arabic with English subtitles. At Laemmle's Town Center 5, Encino.
A touching bond between dad, son
If you can get past its broad, unconvincing beginning, writer-director Barra Grant's romantic comedy "Love Hurts" proves a pleasant enough diversion. This Long Island-set story of Ben (Richard E. Grant), a self-absorbed, middle-aged doctor who's suddenly single after his lovely wife, Amanda (Carrie-Anne Moss), leaves him to "find herself," is predictable but also oddly comforting in an unapologetically retro way.
The film is mostly Richard E. Grant's show, and, whether playing stoned or drunk, singing karaoke or power-dating a quartet of aggressive women, the British veteran ("Withnail & I," "Gosford Park") is unafraid to embarrass himself at every turn. To his credit, he becomes surprisingly sympathetic in the process.
As Ben and Amanda's loyal son, Justin, a pre-college chick magnet who helps his clueless dad reenter the social scene, Johnny Pacar is extremely winning. He and Grant create a believably affectionate father-son relationship, the kind too rarely seen on screen. However, when Ben helps Justin navigate his own romantic crisis, it's sweet but feels overly symmetrical.
Moss brings warmth and dignity to a part that could've easily slid into stereotype, while Camryn Manheim owns her few scenes as Amanda's best friend. Janeane Garofalo, Jenna Elfman and Jeffrey Nordling also pop up in supporting turns.
Gary Goldstein --
"Love Hurts." MPAA rating: PG-13 for some drug content and language including sexual references. Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes. At Laemmle's Monica 4-Plex, Santa Monica; Laemmle's Town Center 5, Encino.
Trying to answer 'What is God?'
In "Oh My God," in which the screen is flooded with lush, flowing National Geographic-like images, filmmaker Peter Rodger does a fairly comprehensive job of traversing the globe in 98 minutes, posing the age-old question, "What is God?" Rodger, who occasionally addresses his own camera, may well feel that Ringo Starr perhaps came up with the best, if familiar, answer: "God is love." Starr is one of a number of reflective celebrities who appear in the film amid a wide variety of clerics and ordinary folks.
To his credit, while Rodger chronicles religious ceremonies the world over that express the universal yearning for meaning beyond one's self, he does not stint on the exploitation of religion to divide, conquer, oppress and justify warfare throughout history. The religions that seem to derive the most strength and meaning from a mystical bond with nature are Buddhism and the ceremonies and beliefs of Australian aboriginal people and Native Americans. However, there's not much time spent on religion in America; the most notable representative is a Texas gun shop owner, a born-again Christian who predictably insists that accepting Jesus Christ as one's lord and savior is the only path to salvation.
She's not so different from the Muslim fundamentalist who insists the Koran teaches that non-Muslims are condemned to hell for all eternity. (Earlier, this bearded man declares that "to kill homosexuals is a good thing in the sight of God.") A Southern California imam, in turn, decries the distortions of Muslim extremists who lack the knowledge and education to comprehend truly the meaning of the Koran; the same could be said of some Christians in regard to the Bible.
In Jerusalem, Rodger finds numerous Arabs and Jews who see their conflict as being over land rather than religion. An elderly rabbi makes one of the film's most memorable observations: that people have just enough religion to hate but not enough to love.
Along the way, Rodger discovers survivors of Hurricane Katrina who have lost everything but their faith, and near the Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe he comes across a young man wondering whether God gives meaning to life or if he's just a "business" -- and breaking into English to declare, "God is money." The most succinct of the film's nonbelievers is musician-activist Bob Geldof, who sees a belief in God as "an impediment to living this life."
Kevin Thomas --
"Oh My God." MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes. At the Nuart through Thursday; Westpark 8, Irvine.
The travails of pursuing justice
Hans-Christian Schmid's tense, complex political thriller "Storm" could scarcely be more timely, for it centers on the prosecution for war crimes of a onetime Bosnian Serb army general, held at the Hague, where former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic is accused of genocide, numerous war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Its central figures are played by two powerful actresses, Kerry Fox, who launched an international career playing writer Janet Frame in Jane Campion's prize-winning "An Angel at My Table"; and Anamaria Marinca, star of the landmark Romanian film "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days."
Schmid and his co-writer Bernd Lange's brisk, incident-filled and suspenseful plot reveals the terrible pain of the survivors of ethnic cleansing and also the international political and economic pressures to move on and disregard the claims of justice.
For three years, prosecutor Hannah Maynard (Fox) and her colleagues have been building a case against Goran Duric (Drazen Kuhn), a former Yugoslavian National Army commander accused of the deportation and subsequent slaughter of dozens of Bosnian-Muslim civilians.
Maynard's key witness (Kresimir Mikic), so intent on nailing Duric, resorts to a lie that threatens to unravel the case. Maynard then tracks down his sister Mira (Marinca), who, unlike her brother, seemingly has moved on, marrying a German and living in Berlin with her husband and their small son. The question becomes not only whether Maynard will be able to persuade Mira to testify but also whether Mira will even be allowed to testify, given the tricky courtroom intricacies and pressures in the pursuit of international justice.
"Storm" is harrowing, provocative and deeply probing yet quite involving. It has a large, largely unfamiliar cast and unfolds in far-flung locales. Ultimately, not being able to identify the many characters and places that seem to whisk by isn't that important, for what counts is how Hannah and Mira affect each other -- and therefore the course of their lives.
Kevin Thomas --
"Storm." MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes. In English, German, Bosnian and Serbian, with English subtitles. At the Sunset 5, West Hollywood; the Playhouse 7, Pasadena; Westpark 8, Irvine.
Teens have business dreams
Mary Mazzio's documentary "Ten9Eight: Shoot for the Moon" isn't so much a film as a tireless cheering section for its bright-eyed subjects: inner-city kids from around the country competing in an annual business competition in New York held by the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship.
After introducing disturbing statistics about dropout rates among disenfranchised youth, we meet a dozen teens aiming to turn their business plans -- for such things as vegetarian dog treats, protective football eye-shields and a dance academy -- into $10,000 in start-up funds. (Mazzio shrewdly makes her narrator one of the movie's heartwarming subjects: charming 18-year-old Rodney Walker.)
Mazzio, who has chronicled entrepreneurs in previous films, argues that teaching business skills early is the surest way to tie staying in school with offering economic hope to troubled kids.
Too often, though, her movie feels like a commercial for the entrepreneurship organization or, in its overuse of still photography, a public service ad. Spending more observational time with her smart, resilient and stirringly positive subjects -- even seeing less-edited footage of their business plan speeches -- might have helped sell her inspirational story.
Robert Abele --
"Ten9Eight: Shoot for the Moon." MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes. At AMC Loews Broadway 4, Santa Monica; AMC Magic Johnson Crenshaw 15.