JUST LIKE HEAVEN C’mon, Ruffalo! Punch her already!

Jericho's Echo: Punk Rock in the Holy Land
dir. Nord
Mon Sept 19
Liberty Hall

For a nation in which military service is mandatory beginning at the age of 18, it's difficult to imagine that Israel could support much of a secular youth culture—much less a counterculture. Which is, of course, what makes Jericho's Echo—San Francisco filmmaker Liz Nord's exploration of Israel's unrest through the unlikely perspective of the nation's burgeoning punk rock community—so utterly fascinating. Between suicide bombings, religious pressures, and army stints, a handful of tight-knit Israeli kids somehow find the energy to maintain a small punk scene in one of the most politically volatile nations in the world.

Though surprisingly disparate in their likenesses to America's West Coast punk (ska bands, pop punk bands, hardcore, gutter punk, riot grrrl, etc.), the exceedingly positive Israeli punk community of Jericho's Echo seem similarly conflicted about the perpetual unrest in their homeland. (While the vast majority of the film's participants have markedly liberal political leanings, one of the most compelling perspectives comes from the militantly pro-Israel hardcore band Retribution). Through all of its contradictions, Jericho's Echo is a remarkably watchable documentary—a powerfully humanizing perspective of Middle Eastern conflict. ZAC PENNINGTON

Kings and Queen
dir. Desplechin
Now Playing
Cinema 21

Director Arnaud Desplechin has accomplished something remarkable with Kings and Queen: A character-driven film that's actually driven by characters an audience can care about.

At the film's emotional epicenter is Nora (Emmanuelle Devos) a French woman around whom several men form a loose orbit. Among them are her father, who is dying of cancer, and her former lover, Ismaël (Mathieu Amalric), a violinist who's been committed to a mental institution. The film is loosely partitioned into two parallel storylines: Nora stays with her father through his rapid decline and death, while Ismaël convalesces in the mental hospital, where he alternately schemes to get out, steals medication, and seduces every woman in sight. Initially Nora seems normal, even boring, while Ismaël seems completely unhinged—yet as the two storylines converge, both characters reveal surprising depths. The result is an elegant and moving exploration of the factors that shape individual decisions, and the decisions that can shape people's lives. ALISON HALLETT

Just Like Heaven
dir. Waters
Opens Fri Sept 16
Various Theaters

Most of the movies I've seen lately capitalize on the idea of half-life—look no further than the recent glut of zombie films. In other words, Hollywood is milking Americans' moral guilt—instead of fighting off moustache-twirling villains, lead characters now battle with thinly veiled representations of socially unacceptable states of being.

Just Like Heaven—a moralizing fable that's sneakily disguised as a vapid romantic comedy—works this way. Reese Witherspoon, on her way to meet a blind date, gets into a car accident. Mark Ruffalo moves into her now-vacated apartment, which, natch, is promptly haunted by the unresolved specter of Witherspoon. Slapstick trials and flirting ensue, after which—and I'm not spoiling this for you, really, because it's just ridiculous—Ruffalo finds Witherspoon's comatose body in the hospital and revives her with a kiss.

It's striking how Just Like Heaven preaches about how abnormal it is to live a life without a romantic relationship. (I mean, it's as if the filmmakers are telling you it's more natural to fall in love with a ghost than be single.) I assume you've already heard that sermon enough to feel sufficiently self-conscious and inadequate. EVAN JAMES