9 To 5: Days in Porn: Expectedly skeevy, documentarian Jens Hoffmann's adult-film exposé follows a week or so in the lives of porn stars in the Valley as they deal with mundane activities like scheduling and lighting issues, and not-so-mundane problems, from lube-drip to on-the-side prostitution. Hoffmann's subjects cover the taste spectrum, from the predictably trashy and pervy distributors, managers and agents to stately veteran Belladonna, who balances her career with a family, to buzz-heavy upstart Sasha Grey seen in her pre-stardom days.
The Girl on the Train: Unmotivated and seemingly devoid of self-knowledge, 20-year-old Parisian Jeanne (excellent newcomer Émilie Dequenne) dates a bad boy, casually looks for a job and rebels against her mother for no obvious reason. She's a typical teenager, except one day when she mysteriously beats herself up, inks a swastika onto her body and tells police she was the victim of an anti-Semitic attack, an outright lie. It's a true story that calls to mind Ashley Todd, the girl who carved the letter "B" on her face and claimed to be attacked by an Obama supporter back in 2008, only this one brings up a myriad of social dilemmas facing Europe today. Director André Téchiné, however, barely scratches the surface of those issues, instead focusing on the enigmatic girl and hinting at who she might be. He never finds an answer and neither do we.
The Last Madness: Laughably pretentious, this 2007 Brazilian film focuses on a self-obsessed stage director driven mad by the failure of his play. When the director is admitted to a retreat for the mentally unstable, he attempts the production again, using his fellow patients as actors. What could go wrong? Actually, everything goes wrong for the director, and when he sleeps with one of the asylum inmates (beautiful Brazilian model Milena Toscano), his play and his sanity are compromised. It's like Synecdoche, New York with sex.
The Messenger: A look at the lives of Casualty Notification Officers, a position exactly as depressing as it sounds, The Messenger grabs hold of our emotions and never lets go. Director Oren Moverman recruits the intense Ben Foster as an injured war vet relegated to this spiritual death sentence and a stone-faced Woody Harrelson as the kid's ferryman across the river of grief. As the "Angels of Death," the two face mighty distractions, but Moverman bravely keeps his characters within the narrative.
North Face: The harrowing tale of four climbers attempting to scale the north side of the Eiger mountain, this mind-blowing and terrifying adventure from former music-video director Philipp Stölzl takes us to the side of that mountain and hangs us by a thread for two nail-biting hours. Although overstuffed with an extraneous love story, Stölzl keeps the majority of the focus on the climbers and their impossible task through ultra-realistic settings and a wringing look at their moment-to-moment life-and-death decisions. It's far from a happy story, but it's one that satisfies to the bitter firstname.lastname@example.org