'coherence'

* * *

Emily Baldoni, Maury Sterling, Elizabeth Gracen, 1 hour, 27 minutes, NR

In San Jose: Cast and director will attend the 7:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. screenings June 27.

As the small-scale puzzler "Coherence" brings four well-appointed couples together for a dinner party on the night of a rare astronomical event, the prevailing expectation of writer-director James Ward Byrkit's film is that something disruptive will happen beyond the usual relationship tensions: exes in the same room, professional jealousy, snarky comments.

Then the lights go out, cellphone screens crack, neighborhood explorations are made and the chitchat turns tensely philosophical when evidence suggests an unimaginable possibility: a coexistent reality -- same dinner party, same partygoers, different timeline -- just down the street.

Byrkit's parlor game of a movie is in certain ways a tart sci-fi satire of bourgeois hang-ups like identity neurosis and regret. There's some "Memento"-ish fun in navigating the characters' tricky plans to keep their timeline safe from now-feared doppelgangers.

But the real test of a gimmicky movie like "Coherence" is whether the players' emotional lives can stand on their own without simply being fodder for a fun-house experiment, and it's here where the movie falls short. But only slightly.


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The performances -- notably from Emily Foxler, the closest thing to a protagonist, and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" alumnus Nicholas Brendon -- are solid, and the conceit is alluringly mind-bending without ever seeming off-puttingly brainy.

'korengal'

H * *

Directed by Sebastian Junger, 1 hour, 24 minutes, R

With the 2010 film "Restrepo," war documentarians Sebastian Junger and the late Tim Hetherington brought a searing immediacy to the Afghanistan conflict, relaying the day-to-day of soldiers deployed on a brutal, exposed, rocky outpost known for incessant firefighting with the Taliban.

Now comes "Korengal," a new assemblage from Junger of the material he and Hetherington gathered from their time with the men of Battle Company. (The title refers to the 6-mile-long "valley of death" where the soldiers were posted.)

Although "Korengal" may not seem terribly different, in structure and tone, it is. Where "Restrepo" fed off the deliberately haphazard, you-are-there swings of waiting and fighting thrillingly captured by Junger and Hetherington, "Korengal" adopts a thematic skeleton led by the reflective interviews conducted with the soldiers after their deployment. The focus is on the psychology of wartime existence, descriptions of sights, sounds and feelings, girded by the vérité footage rather than driven by it.

The cumulative effect is an insight similar to that after viewing "Restrepo," that fighting a war is a moment-to-moment reckoning of mental and physical discipline. Courage, loss, brotherhood, boredom, craving excitement yet dreading the situation that fosters it, then leaving it behind -- "Korengal" is a bracing reminder of the inexplicable will to endure hell and come out the other side alive.

-- Robert Abele, Los Angeles Times

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"Under the Electric Sky" (PG-13): This 3-D documentary reveals what festivalgoers enjoy so much about the uninhibited Electric Daisy Carnival in Las Vegas. (In Santa Clara and San Francisco)
Expanding
"Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon" (NR): Mike Myers directs this documentary about music manager and Hollywood insider Shep Gordon. (Opening in San Jose)