THE DEBT. The Debt, a remake of a 2007 Israeli film that I am not familiar with, is a tautly directed, effective spy thriller. As with the best spy stories, John Le Carré comes to mind, but this film is much more than gripping cloak-and-dagger. Its core narrative concerns the nature of truth and how people make decisions based on what they perceive is truth and what survival requires when faced with evil.
The story focuses on three Israeli agents who secretly enter Soviet-occupied East Berlin in 1965 to capture a famous Nazi doctor known for butchering Jews (played with calm intensity by Danish actor Jesper Christensen). The object is to return the doctor to Israel for trial and thus to expose his crimes.
The film begins, though, in 1997 with the launch party for the publication of a book by the daughter of one of the agents. Her mother, Rachel Singer (Helen Mirren), is considered a hero for her part in bringing down "The Surgeon." But brief images of the younger Rachel (Jessica Chastain) and a shocking bit of news complicate the situation.
The story shifts to East Berlin in 1965 where Rachel, David (Sam Worthington) and Stephan (Marton Csokas) plan and carry out the kidnapping of the Nazi doctor. Rachel is the moral center of the group, and it is her struggles and doubts that the story revolves around. What makes this part of the story so interesting is that these agents are not super spies. They make mistakes and they let their emotions, and in the case of Stephan, ambitions, influence their decisions as agents.
While this part of the story appears to have a conclusion, the real resolution of the story occurs in the final part of the film set in 1997 when Rachel finally faces the consequences of her earlier actions. The cast is uniformly excellent, with Tom Wilkinson as the older Stephan and Ciarán Hinds as the older David.
But it is Jessica Chastain, who was so riveting in The Tree of Life, who is truly a revelation. She handles the complicated job of showing us how Rachel became her later self with perfection, often capturing Mirren's gestures and facial reactions. The Debt may be the best commercial film so far this year. Rated R. 113m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.
-- Charlie Myers
SHARK NIGHT 3D. Here's the thing about guilty pleasures: They're supposed to be pleasurable. And it helps if there's something to feel guilty about. PG-13 exploitation, with Shark Night 3D as a perfect, pointless example, offends by being insufficiently offensive.
At a scant 91 minutes, Shark Night is still about 50 percent filler. Here's the upshot: An unlikely group of college kids head to a Louisiana lake for a weekend of wakeboarding and beer pong and tame sexual references. Much to their dismay, some backwater sociopaths have stocked the lake with dozens of species of sharks as part of a ridiculously elaborate revenge/get-rich-quick scheme. There's enough room in this premise for a deliciously over the top, winking-over-the-shoulder spring-break bikini bloodbath. Oh wait, that was Piranha 3D, and it was pretty cool because it was so much too much. And the cast was top-loaded with great talent, and the script was funny and topical; Piranha this isn't.
Toward the end of Shark Night, there's some clunky commentary about contemporary media culture and the desensitization to violence shoehorned in. I think the writers intended this to be clever and self-referential, and maybe some sort of justification for making such a tame horror movie. But you know what they say about best intentions.
Luckily for me, this was offered in conventional 2D. To paraphrase a friend of mine: The only thing worse than this movie is this movie in 3D. To its credit, it seems like the cast had a lot of fun making it. Or at least the rap video they produced (which runs after the credits) would make it seem that way. Rated PG-13. 91m. At the Broadway and Fortuna in 3D and Mill Creek in 2D.
APOLLO 18. It starts from a tidy little scenario: In 1973, after ostensibly shutting down the Apollo program, NASA and the Department of Defense send three astronauts to the moon on a secret mission, the purpose of which is intentionally vague. When our brave spacemen get there and start conducting their moon-business, it gradually becomes clear that something is amiss.
Apollo 18 is cleverly constructed and competently assembled, but to me it suffers from two fundamental flaws. First, there isn't quite enough story in play. This feels like a very effective short film unnecessarily stretched to feature length. Second, and perhaps more problematic, the filmmakers cling tenaciously to a found-footage model, insisting that the movie we're watching has been cut together from secret NASA footage. Clever enough, but nobody's buying it, right? We all got burned in the Blair Witch fiasco and everybody's so hyper-aware of media anymore that this can't possibly work. Rated PG-13. 90m. At the Broadway, Fortuna, the Minor and Mill Creek.
-- John J. Bennett
CONTAGION. Make sure to get your vaccines! This Steven Soderbergh directed film follows the scary progress of a lethal airbourne virus while the meical community races to find a cure. An all-star cast includes Marion Cotillard, Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow and Kate Winslet. Rated PG-13 for scary sci-fi stuff. 105m. At the Broadway, Fortuna, the Minor and Mill Creek.
CREATURE. Blood. Sex. Monsters. An ex-Navy Seal, his girlfriend and their friends take a trip down to New Orleans. While traveling through the backwoods -- d'oh -- they hear the tale of half-man, half-alligator Lockjaw. Guess what? Then they set up camp for the night. Kids these days! Rated R for yuck. 93m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.
WARRIOR. There needed to be an MMA movie, right? Haunted by his past, an ex-Marine returns home to ask his father to help him train for a massive mixed martial arts tournament that could save the family from financial ruin. While that synopsis might not instantly grab you, the reviews trickling in thus far have been pretty positive. Go fig. Rated PG-13 for male aggression. 139m. At the Broadway.
BUCKY LARSON: BORN TO BE A STAR. Oh, man. Fratboy comic hero Nick Swardson stars in the latest Happy Madison, uh, film alongside Christina Ricci and Don Johnson. It's the story of a small town grocery bagger whose life is going nowhere until he discovers that his conservative parents used to be porn stars. He decides to follow in their footsteps. Oh, man. Rated R for porn humor. 102m. At the Broadway.
This next Wednesday's Sci-Fi Pint and Pizza Night at the Arcata Theater Lounge features Creature Features, namely Roger Corman's Night of the Blood Beast (1958) and television B-movie Creature of Destruction (1967). The rest of the week is filled out by influential anime masterpiece Akira on Friday, Patrick Swayze's brightest moment Dirty Dancing on Saturday, and the favorite film of "Jeh-nays" everywhere Forrest Gump on Sunday.
COLUMBIANA. A girl witnesses her parents' murder and, naturally, become an assassin. Wouldn't you? Rated PG-13. 107m. At the Broadway.
DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK. No, actually you probably should be. Creepy things live in old mansions. Rated R. 100m. At the Broadway.
FRIGHT NIGHT. Colin Farrell jumps on the sexy vampire train. Rated R. 106m. At the Broadway and Fortuna (in 3D) and Mill Creek in 2D.
HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS: PART 2. The boy-wizard becomes a man-wizard in the final installment. PG-13. At the Broadway.
THE HELP. A racially diverse group of women form an unlikely friendship around a secret writing project in segregated 1960s Mississippi. Rated PG-13. 146m. At the Braodway and Mill Creek.
MIDNIGHT IN PARIS. Film directed by Woody Allen sees Owen Wilson fall in love with two eras of the City of Lights. Rated PG-13 94m. At the Minor.
OUR IDIOT BROTHER. Everybody's got that one family member who will allow you to empathize with this movie. Rated R. 95m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.
RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. This is when it all went bad for us humans. Thanks a lot, James Franco. Rated PG-13. 110m. At the Broadway, Fortuna and Mill Creek.