click to enlarge Jesse Eisenberg and Alessandro Nivola in The Art of Self-Defense

Photo courtesy of Bleecker Street Media

Jesse Eisenberg and Alessandro Nivola in The Art of Self-Defense

On Screens This Week: The Art of Self-Defense and more 

Opening this week:
The Art of Self-Defense Let's face it, one of the reasons people still go to the movies is the prospect of seeing Jesse Eisenberg get punched in the face. The yearning started, somewhat guiltily, with The Squid and the Whale, as Eisenberg's Walt yammered foolishly about a Kafka text being "Kafkaesque"; "just adolescent pretension," we the audience chuckled, rationalizing away our bloodlust. "Plus, his dad's an ass." Then came The Social Network. "If you guys were the inventors of Facebook, you would have invented Facebook," Eisenberg's Zuckerberg smarmed, inspiring reactions in us that were schizoid and simultaneous: A) point taken; and B) somebody send a big old fist flying this kid's way, stat. Then of course there was Batman v. Superman, in which Eisenberg's character cried out for a belt in the mush not because he was Lex Luthor but because he so clearly was not. Now we have The Art of Self Defense, the inciting event of which is Eisenberg's meek accountant getting the ever-loving crap knocked out of him by a group of toughs. It's the springboard to a story of emotional overcompensation in which our hero recovers from his trauma by joining a shady karate dojo that preaches absurd hypermasculinity. Comparisons are of course being made to Fight Club and The Karate Kid, although I'd also perceive a spiritual forebear in Death Wish. But honestly, whatever. You and I know the hook here is to see Eisenberg finally get the beatdown we've always craved, and that whatever happens in the movie beyond that point is going to have to work hard to rival the spectacle of that beatdown as it replays over and over in our mind's eye. Lex Luthor, my ass. (R; Movie Times)

Also playing: Bethany Hamilton: Unstoppable Look, I feel bad making jokes about Bethany Hamilton. The woman had her arm bitten off by a shark, for God's sake. And she's gone on to enjoy not only a fruitful career as a surfer but a rewarding personal life as a wife and mother – twin tracks of this new documentary by filmmaker Aaron Lieber. But when Hamilton tells an outlet like The Christian Post that her multimedia empire "is all aimed at equipping and giving people tools to learn to be unstoppable too. And we know that is ultimately through Christ" – well, I'm tempted to remark how faith can really help monetize a brand. Then again, I'll hopefully never be able to fully relate to the struggle of someone who lost a limb at an early age, so who am I to judge? Especially since God has already been so good to my own career by giving me Def Leppard. (PG; Movie Times)

Super 30 A docudrama about math whiz Anand Kumar and his efforts to help underprivileged students ace the entrance exam for the Indian Institute of Technology. First question on the practice test: "Might you have an Aunt Becky?" (NR; Movie Times)

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