Foreign imports and American heroics: new movies!

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It's just a flesh wound: Saoirse Ronan in 'The Host'
PHOTO BY ALAN MARKFIELD

Hollywood unfurls the latest adaptation of Stephenie Meyer's ever-popular YA fiction (the mercifully vampire-less The Host), as well as Tyler Perry's Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor, the multi-hyphenate mogul's 5628th film. (One statement in the previous sentence is false.)

Plus: check out Dennis Harvey's dual review of a pair of refreshingly low-key foreign imports, The Silence (from Germany) and Starbuck (from Canada, set in Quebec). There's also an American-set movie from singular French director Quentin Dupieux, Wrong, opening at the Roxie; check out my review here.

More reviews, including a surprisingly positive take on toys-gone-wild sequel GI Joe: Retaliation, after the jump.

From Up on Poppy Hill Hayao (dad, who co-wrote) and Goro (son, who directed) Miyazaki collaborate on this tale of two high-school kids — Umi, who does all the cooking at her grandmother's boarding house, and Shun, a rabble-rouser who runs the school newspaper — in idyllic seaside Yokohama. Plans for the 1964 Olympics earmark a beloved historic clubhouse for demolition, and the budding couple unites behind the cause. The building offers a symbolic nod to Japanese history, while rehabbing it speaks to hopes for a brighter post-war future. But the past keeps interfering: conflict arises when Shun's memories are triggered by a photo of Umi's father, presumed lost at sea in the Korean War. There are no whimsical talking animals in this Studio Ghibli release, which investigates some darker-than-usual themes, though the animation is vivid and sparkling per usual. Hollywood types lending their voices to the English-language version include Jamie Lee Curtis, Christina Hendricks, Ron Howard, and Gilllian Anderson. (1:31) (Cheryl Eddy)

GI Joe: Retaliation The plot exists to justify the action, but any fan of badass-ness will forgive the skimpy storyline for the outlandish badassery in GI Joe: Retaliation. Inspired by action figures and tying loosely to the first flick, Retaliation starts with a game of “secure the defector,” followed by “raise the flag,” but as soon as the stakes aren’t real, the Joes outright suck. They don’t have “neutral,” which is maybe why a mission to rescue and revive the Joes as a force is the most ferocious fight that ever pit metal against plastic. The set pieces are stunning: a mostly silent sequence with Snake Eyes (Ray Park) and Jinx (Elodie Yung) on a mountainside will leave the audience gaping in its high speed wake, and a prison break featuring covert explosives is nonstop amazing. You’ll notice an emphasis on chain link fences and puddles (terra nostra for action figures) and set pieces conceived as if by kids who don’t have a concept of basic irrefutable truths like gravity. It’s just that kind of imagination and ardor and limitlessness that makes this Joe incredible, memorable, and a reason to crack out your toys again. (1:50) (Sara Maria Vizcarrondo)

Mental Toni Collette is a batshit Mary Poppins in this side-splitting comedy about one family and Australia’s identity as the world’s Island of Misfit Toys. According to Shaz (Collette), she and her pit bull Ripper (pronounced “Reippah”) came to the town of Dolphin Head to fulfill their destiny. It’s there philandering Mayor Moochmore (a brilliant Anthony LaPaglia) employs her informally as a “babysitter” (the film’s biggest plot hole). Moochmore’s a pathetic excuse for a dad but he needs someone to take care of his five daughters, since he’s finally pushed his wife into nervous-breakdown mode. Everything in Dolphin Head exists on a fulcrum: when Shaz takes the girls to climb a mountain one asks, “What’s the point of climbing to the top?”, and Shaz answers, “Not being at the bottom.” Mental is not a far cry from the director’s last big import, Muriel’s Wedding, the 1994 film that made Collette a star. Everyone’s nuts here, the message goes, but if we’re confident enough in ourselves, we can sway the rest into seeing how our insanity is better than theirs — or at least strong enough to withstand sharks, knife fights, and pit bulls. Good times, mate, good times. (1:56) (Sara Maria Vizcarrondo)

The Sapphires The civil rights injustices suffered by these dream girls may be unique to Aboriginal Australians, but they'll strike a chord with viewers throughout the world — at right about the same spot stoked by the sweet soul music of Motown. Co-written by Tony Briggs, the son of a singer in a real-life Aboriginal girl group, this unrepentant feel-gooder aims to make the lessons of history go down with the good humor and up-from-the-underdog triumph of films like The Full Monty (1997) — the crucial difference in this fun if flawed comedy-romance is that it tells the story of women of color, finding their voices and discovering, yes, their groove. It's all in the family for these would-be soul sisters, or rather country cousins, bred on Merle Haggard and folk tunes: there’s the charmless and tough Gail (Deborah Mailman), the soulful single mom Julie (Jessica Mauboy, an Australian Idol runner-up), the flirty Cynthia (Miranda Tapsell), and the pale-skinned Kay (Shari Sebbens), the latter passing as white after being forcibly "assimilated" by the government. Their dream is to get off the farm, even if that means entertaining the troops in Vietnam, and the person to help them realize that checkered goal is dissolute piano player Dave (Chris O'Dowd). And O'Dowd is the breakout star to watch here — he adds an loose, erratic energy to an otherwise heavily worked story arc. So when romance sparks for all Sapphires — and the racial tension simmering beneath the sequins rumbles to the surface — the easy pleasures generated by O’Dowd and the music (despite head-scratching inclusions like 1970’s “Run Through the Jungle” in this 1968-set yarn), along with the gently handled lessons in identity politics learned, obliterate any lingering questions left sucking Saigon dust as the narrative plunges forward. They keep you hanging on. (1:38) (Kimberly Chun)

The Spanish Mirth: The Comedic Films of Luis Garcia Berlanga Noted for his dexterity in outwitting the vigilant censors of Franco's regime while getting away with subversive themes, Berlanga's long career outlasted the despot's by several decades. His social satires are showcased in this Pacific Film Archive retrospective of seven features that run a gamut from parodies of Spanish cultural stereotypes (as when villagers hungry for postwar economic-incentive dough try to look like the essence of tourist-friendly quaintness in 1953's Bienvenido, Mr. Marshall!) to literal gallows humor (1964's The Executioner) and kinky black comedy (Michel Piccoli as a mild-mannered dentist carrying on an "affair" with a realistic sex doll in Tamano Natural, a.k.a. Life Size). Once Franco finally kicked the bucket, the frequently prize-winning filmmaker let loose with 1978's anarchic La Escopeta Nacional, a.k.a. The National Shotgun, leaving no formerly sacred cow unmilked. He remained active until a few years before his 2010 death at age 89. The PFA series (running March 29-April 17) offers archival 35mm prints of these movies that remain esteemed at home but are relatively little-known today abroad. Pacific Film Archive. (Dennis Harvey)