As a documentary-portraiture complement to this weekend's release of the end-times blockbuster "2012," there's Chris Smith's "Collapse," an alternately frightening and mournful talkathon starring the conspiracy theories of ex-LAPD cop-reporter-author Michael Ruppert. Filmed in a spare basement made to feel like an interrogation chamber, the cigarette-smoking, mustached Ruppert -- whose fringe notoriety can be traced to his 1970s claims that the CIA asked him to run drugs -- unloads a byzantine, impassioned case for society's full-speed-ahead doom. The two big reasons: waning oil supplies and a pyramid-scheme economy.
The unseen Smith, who occasionally tosses in a provoking question, is less interested in testing Ruppert's bona fides than in creating a zoo exhibit feeling that segues into a therapy session. The latter vibe emerges when Ruppert, perhaps exhausted from relentlessly harping about humankind's stupidity, venality and treacherous policies, gets emotional about his own relationship to bucking the system and even allows hopeful tips to color his apocalyptic monologue. (Save seeds, people.) With a formal elegance that often feels like a tribute to Errol Morris' character studies, "Collapse" is a grueling peek at a doomsday prophet's rigorous mind but in a sly way also a compassionate look at the strain Ruppert endures from knowing he has only ever been right.
Robert Abele --
"Collapse." MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 22 minutes. At Laemmle's Sunset 5, West Hollywood.
Coming of age, with a few twists
The typical high school comedy is revamped in "Dare," a coming-of-age romp that ups the explicitness of first-time sexual encounters and looks hard at teenage angst. The story follows three teens in their final semester of high school: overachieving aspiring actress Alexa (Emmy Rossum), who decides to sex up her drama geek image by sleeping with bad-boy jock Johnny (Zach Gilford), a romance that gets complicated when Alexa's best friend, Ben (Ashley Springer) -- a loner struggling with his sexuality -- seduces Johnny.
Director Adam Salky expanded the film from a short he developed with screenwriter David Brind at the Columbia University graduate film program, which focused on the two boys. The feature allows for the inclusion of Alexa, who serves mostly to fuel the flames of confusion for Johnny. As the teens struggle with their three-sided relationship, their choices for the future and, for Johnny, a troubled home life, their characters become surprisingly more complex, particularly as Gilford's Johnny tries to understand who he really is and who he will become.
Salky and Brind keep the film's humor campy, with help from supporting performances by Ana Gasteyer, Alan Cumming and Sandra Bernhard.
The film lacks the comedic charm of "American Pie," but with its dark, hyper-sexualization of teens, it offers an engrossing if not soap opera-esque tale of self-discovery.
Gerrick Kennedy --
"Dare." MPAA rating: Rated R for sexual content, language and alcohol use -- all involving teens. Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes. At Laemmle's Sunset 5, West Hollywood.
An unlikely union forms in 'London'
Two strongly divergent yet equally stirring performances anchor "London River," an intimate drama set against the 2005 London Underground and bus bombings that killed more than 50 people. Though slowly paced and sometimes overly coincidental, the film, directed by Rachid Bouchareb from a screenplay he wrote with Zoe Galeron and Olivier Lorelle, contains enough emotionally satisfying moments to keep us invested in its lead characters' heartfelt journey.
Brenda Blethyn plays Elisabeth, a Guernsey widow who travels to London to find her 20ish daughter, Jane, who has seemingly vanished since the terrorist attack took place. As the anxious Elisabeth uncovers a few surprises about Jane's life and her potential whereabouts, she crosses paths with Ousmane (Malian actor Sotigui Kouyate), a French-speaking African forester also in London looking for his estranged son, Ali.
Inhibited by the city's multiculturalism and, in particular, her knee-jerk suspicion of Muslims, Elisabeth takes a while to warm up to the soulful Ousmane. But when it turns out the two parents have more in common than it might initially seem, a deep, if careful bond forms between them.
Blethyn brings tremendous empathy to the introspective, determined Elisabeth, while the tall, gaunt and dreadlocked Ousmane fleshes out his less-dimensional role with a haunting sadness that speaks volumes.
Gary Goldstein --
"London River." MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 24 minutes. In English, French and Arabic with English subtitles. At Laemmle's Town Center 5, Encino.
A touching bond between dad, son