If this week's openings seem a little thin, it's because all of the studios are hoping to cash in on the holiday moviegoing spirit, releasing their films next week (The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey) or, more likely, the week after (Django Unchained, Les Misérables, This is 40, The Impossible, Jack Reacher, etc.) 'Tis the season, and all that.
But that doesn't mean you should ignore Friday's releases (check out my feature on custody drama In the Family), or miss out on two rep programs Dennis Harvey covers in this week's issue: retro porn-musical showcase "Honk If You're Horny"  at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, and a tribute to French comedian Pierre Étaix  at the Smith Rafael Film Center.
Plus, more short takes below, including Harvey's preview of on the Vortex Room 's weekly (and timely!) apocalypse series. Because if the world ends December 21, you won't get to see any of those Christmas releases anyway. Tres désolé, Hugh !
Generation P  When Babylen Tatarsky (Vladimir Epifantsev) meets an old friend by chance, he's plucked from penny-ante street level entrepeneurship into the much higher stakes of advertising in early 1990s Russia — a brave new world of post-Communist consumerist capitalism bent on outperforming the West's, in which new corrupt orders replace the old ones with dizzying speed. His rise from humble copy writer to a "living god" controlling mass reality one commercial at a time is accompanied by a whole lot of recreational drug use, mafia-style violence, and references to Mesopotamian mythology. Adapted from Victor Pelevin's 1999 novel (published in the US as Homo Zapiens), Victor Ginzburg's film preserves its heady, gonzo mix of Pynchon, cyberpunk, and Putney Swope (1969) as a satirical conspiracy fantasia in which excess is both the style and the subject. No doubt at least half the in-jokes are lost on non-Russian audiences, but Generation P is so dense and hyperactive you'll be entertained by its fabulist sociopolitical onslaught regardless. (1:52) (Dennis Harvey)
North Sea Texas  Growing up is never easy — especially when you know who you are and who you love from a tender young age, and live in a sleepy Belgian coastal hamlet in the early '70s. Sexual freedom begins at home, as filmmaker Bavo Defurne’s debut feature opens on our beautiful little protagonist, Pim — a melancholy, shy, diligent soul who has a talent for drawing, a responsible nature, and a yen for ritual dress-up in lipstick and lace. He has an over-the-top role model: an accordion-playing, zaftig mother who has a rep as the village floozy. Left alone far too often as his mom parties at a bar named Texas, Pim takes refuge with kindly single-mom neighbor Marcella, her earnest daughter, and her sexy, motorcycle-loving son, Gino, who turns out to be just Pim’s speed. But this childhood idyll is under threat: Gino’s new girlfriend and a handsome new boarder at Pim’s house promise to change everything. Displaying a gentle, empathetic touch for his cast of mildly quirky characters and a genuine knack for conjuring those long, sensual days of youth, Defurne manages to shine a fresh, romantic light on a somewhat familiar bildungsroman, leaving a lingering taste of sea salt and sweat along with the feeling of walking in one young boy’s very specific shoes. (1:36) (Kimberly Chun)
"The Vortex Apocalypse, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Thursday Film Cult" With a respectful nod to the Mayans, the Vortex sees off 2012 with four weeks of movies depicting end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it scenarios. First up is an interesting duo from 1974. In Chosen Survivors, 11 strangers selected for their particular knowledge and skills are taken to an elaborate government bunker deep beneath the desert. They're told they're among several such groups in different secret locations chosen to preserve the human race in the immediate aftermath of total thermonuclear war. This is pretty hard to take, along with the notion that they'll be spending at least the next five years in this very 1970s silver discotheque-spaceship environ. But soon the chosen few have an even more jarring crisis to deal with: the scientists who devised this sunken fortress neglected to note it is surrounded by caves filled with hungry vampire bats. There's a very big twist at the one-hour point, but just when this rare theatrical feature by TV director Sutton Roley (The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Airwolf, etc.) should kick into high gear, it actually seems to slow down. Still, there are a couple very tense sequences, and some interesting character fillips. The co-feature is The Last Days of Planet Earth a.k.a. Prophecies of Nostradamus, a Japanese superproduction that aimed to top both the then-prominent disaster movie genre and the strain of eco-horror dominating much of 1970s fantasy cinema. In addition to the expected earthquakes, tsunamis, and such, Earth's meltdown triggers such phenomena as pterodactyl-sized vampire bats (again!) and bird-eating flowers. Toshio Masuda's special effects spectacular also features a really weird modern dance performance, and — in the editorially butchered, atrociously dubbed US release version — dialogue like "But by not allowing them to live, you're ... killing them!" Vortex Room . (Dennis Harvey)
Waiting for Lightning  The first voice you hear in Waiting for Lightning is pro skateboarder Danny Way's mother: "I said, 'Are you crazy? What do you think you're doing?'" Can't really blame her for worrying: Waiting for Lightning is a bio-doc following the fearless Way's rise from littlest squirt at the Del Mar skate park to his determined quest to jump over the Great Wall of China in 2005. Growing up, he faced problems (his dad was killed in jail; his mom partied ... a lot; his mentor died in a car crash; he suffered a broken neck after a surfing accident), but persevered to find his calling, pursuing what a peer calls "life-and-death stuntman shit." Like all docs about skateboarding — a sport that depends so much on cameras standing by — there's no shortage of action footage, and big names like Tony Hawk and Christian Hosoi drop by to heap praise on Way's talents and work ethic. Lightning is aimed mostly at an audience already fond of watching skate footage; it lacks the artistic heft of 2001's Dogtown and Z-Boys, or the unusually compelling narrative of 2003's Stoked: The Rise and Fall of Gator, and the whole "Way is a golden god" theme gets a little tiresome. But it must be said: the Great Wall jump — a self-mythologizing publicity stunt that would do Evel Knievel proud — is rather spectacular. (1:32) (Cheryl Eddy)