Oscar contender 'Zero Dark Thirty' opens today! Plus (a few) more new movies

Jessica Chastain in 'Zero Dark Thirty'
Photo by Jonathan Olley

At last, the movie most likely to challenge Lincoln for Best Picture opens in San Francisco, with an even wider release coming next week. Check out my review of Zero Dark Thirty here. Highly recommended, and even if it doesn't snag the top trophy, look for Jessica Chastain to win Best Actress. (More Oscar predictions here, in case you're getting your pool in order extra-early.)

Also this week: Texas Chainsaw 3D (the first two films in this series, I'll defend to the death ... no interest in seeing this one, frankly), a re-release of Luis Buñuel's 1970 drama Tristana, and freewheeling New Orleans doc Tchoupitoulas (reviews of the latter two after the jump).

Tristana The morality tale rarely gets as twisted as it does in Luis Buñuel’s 1970 late-in-the-day beauty Tristana. Working with Benito Perez Galdos’s novel, the filmmaker gleefully picked up a thread entwining erotic politics and S&M — explored to exquisite effect in 1967’s Belle de Jour and again offset by the immaculate bone structure of anti-heroine Catherine Deneuve — while bringing a corrosive intimacy to his black-humored disembowelment of a self-serving aristocracy, hypocritical church, and Franco-era fascism. Today it feels like one of Buñuel’s most personal and Spanish films, with the director-cowriter basing the impressionable Tristana on his sister Conchita. The starting point is an archetypal innocent “strange flower” clad in black, Tristana (Deneuve). She has been placed in the care of the aristocratic Don Lope (Buñuel regular Fernando Rey), a dissolute “senorito” (akin to Buñuel’s own father) who lives off his inheritance and espouses a kind of anti-clerical, antiauthoritarian, albeit elitist, libertine lifestyle. The patriarch can hardly deny himself anything, let alone his gorgeous ward, who is confined to the house like a prisoner and learns at Don Lope’s feet to despise the man who admits he’s her father or her husband, depending on when it suits him. Enter a dashing young artist Horacio (Franco Nero, the original Django) to spirit the increasingly embittered Tristana away from the battered, mazelike streets of Toledo, Spain. But that feat is far from easy when the “fallen” woman’s daydreams of teaching piano pale in comparison to a recurring nightmare of Don Lope’s head at the end of a rather phallic church bell clapper. What follows — photographed with disciplined, earthy beauty by cinematographer Jose Aguayo and now restored to its dusky, lustrous good looks—is a de-evolution of sorts, as both an innocent and corruptor are defiled, though Tristana’s psychosexual reverberations, which would have given both Freud and the Marquis de Sade palpitations, echo out beyond the closing montage, its tolling bell, and the repeated heavy thud of a prosthetic slamming into the floor. (1:38) (Kimberly Chun)

Tchopitoulas Three adolescent brothers enjoy a dusk-to-dawn night in the Big Easy — New Orleans, baby — in this impressionistic documentary that blurs the line between staged and sampled lyricism. Bill and Turner Ross' film sets the trio loose in the French Quarter and beyond, where they sample the company of various drunks, buskers, oyster shuckers, painted ladies, and so forth. No laws are conspicuously broken, though a few get bent — it's safe to say these kids probably won't be visiting several environs again until they're of legal drinking age. The long night is an inebriate dream of color and sound, strange but seldom menacing. Like the "city symphony" movies of the 1920s and 30s, this is less nonfiction cinema in a strict vérité vein than a poetically contrived ode to life — a life that's sturdier than it looks, since Tchoupitoulas finds NO back to the business of partying like Katrina never happened. If you're looking for a harder-edged portrait of the burg's status quo, there are plenty of other documentaries to choose from; the Ross' provide a woozy mash note rather than a sober pulse-taking. You'll definitely want to go bar-hopping afterward. (1:20) (Dennis Harvey)