OPENING THIS WEEK
This bleak, existentially unfunny portrait of a sad-sack stand-up comic at the very bottom of the show-biz barrel is an exercise in suffering on both sides of the screen. Gregg Turkington (known as the Comedian) performs in cheap bars and prisons, where he seldom raises as much as a weary chuckle with his act of bad, offensive riddles launched with a wailing nasal “Why….?” He excoriates patrons with vicious, corrosive diatribes. By day, he wanders numbly on tours of California desert attractions. By night, after his show, he makes pathetic calls to the answering machine of his daughter Maria. A few recognizable actors appear, notably John C. Reilly as a successful rancher cousin. Tye Sheridan plays his opening act, a silent clown who jumps about clapping his hands. Why? This can’t have been any fun to make, and it surely isn’t to watch. Rated R. 103 minutes. Jean Cocteau Cinema. (Jonathan Richards)
HEART OF A DOG
Artist and performer Laurie Anderson’s experimental documentary uses the story of her dog Lolabelle to tie together several philosophical and autobiographical narratives. It’s a tender and impressionistic film, which was mostly shot using an iPhone. Anderson also uses home movies, animation, drawings, and photographs, describing moments in her own life as well as those of others: friends and family — as well as the nation itself. Throughout, she brings the narrative back to her dog who she treats with respect, dignity, and love. Anderson details the experiences of the dog’s life, death, and afterlife from the perspective of Tibetan Buddhist theology, musing on Lolabelle’s journey and the paths we take in our own lives. Screens Friday, Dec. 11, and Saturday, Dec. 12, only. Anderson appears at both screenings for a Q & A. Not rated. 75 minutes. Center for Contemporary Arts. (Michael Abatemarco) See story, Page 32.
IN THE HEART OF THE SEA
Rated PG-13. 121 minutes. Screens in 3-D and 2-D at Regal Stadium 14; Violet Crown. Screens in 2-D only at DreamCatcher. See review, Page 46.
THE IRON GIANT
Before director Brad Bird achieved glory at Pixar with The Incredibles and Ratatouille and filmed Tom Cruise and George Clooney in live-action films, he helmed this 1999 animated fable about a friendship between a lonely boy in 1957 Maine who befriends a giant robot from outer space and tries to keep the military from getting to him. The plot sounds very similar to E.T. but is based on a 1968 children’s novel by Ted Hughes, and Bird lovingly crafted it as an homage to 1950s science-fiction films. The animation (a combination of traditional and computer-generated) is beautiful, and the film overflows with heart. This remastered version contains two new scenes. Rated PG. 86 minutes. Jean Cocteau Cinema. (Robert Ker)
Not rated. 111 minutes. In French, Italian, English, Arabic, and Bissa, with subtitles. The Screen. See review, Page 44.
PERFORMANCE AT THE SCREEN
The series of high-definition screenings continues with a showing of the Three Tenors’ 1999 Christmas concert in Vienna. The tenors — Luciano Pavarotti, Plácido Domingo, José Carreras — sing a repertoire of sacred and popular Christmas songs. 11:15 a.m. Sunday, Dec. 13, only. Not rated. 81 minutes. The Screen. (Not reviewed)
STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS J.J. Abrams takes the helm for the highly anticipated seventh installment of George Lucas’ mythic space opera, which reunites familiar faces as well as introducing new characters. The plot picks up 30 years after the events of Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (1983). Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), and other characters from the original Star Wars join Finn (John Boyega), a Stormtrooper who changes his alliance, Rey (Daisy Ridley), a scavenger on the planet Jakku, and X-wing fighter pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) in a fight against the First Order — Empire loyalists who splintered off after the crushing defeat in Lucas’ original trilogy — for universal dominance. Opens Thursday, Dec. 17. Rated PG-13. 135 minutes. Screens in 3-D and glorious 2-D at Regal Stadium 14, Violet Crown, and DreamCatcher. (Not reviewed)
An Italian family moves to rural Tuscany to become beekeepers. Soon, their idyllic lives are disrupted by a reality TV contest and a troubled young boy. Sam Louwyck plays the father as both imposing and in over his head, but the heart of the story rests with his daughters and their strange coming of age. Writer and director Alice Rohrwacher filmed the movie in Super 16 and observes the family in long, patient shots. But her storytelling betrays her visual sense, as some scenes feel bloated while some subplots are given short shrift, imparting the narrative with an awkward, lopsided feel. Not rated. 110 minutes. In Italian with subtitles. Center for Contemporary Arts. (Robert Ker)
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away: Star Wars: The Force Awakens opens Thursday, Dec. 17, at Regal Stadium 14, Violet Crown, and DreamCatcher in Española