Film listings are edited by Cheryl Eddy. Reviewers are Kimberly Chun, Michelle Devereaux, Max Goldberg, Dennis Harvey, Johnny Ray Huston, Louis Peitzman, Lynn Rapoport, Ben Richardson, Matt Sussman, and Laura Swanbeck. The film intern is Fernando F. Croce. For rep house showtimes, see Rep Clock. For first-run showtimes, see Movie Guide.
MILL VALLEY FILM FESTIVAL
The 32nd Mill Valley Film Festival runs October 8-18 at the Century Cinema, 41 Tamal Vista, Corte Madera; CinéArts@Sequoia, 25 Throckmorton, Mill Valley; 142 Throckmorton Theatre, 142 Throckmorton, Mill Valley; and Smith Rafael Film Center, 1118 Fourth St, San Rafael. Tickets (most shows $12.50) available by calling 1-877-874-MVFF or visiting www.mvff.org. For commentary, see article at www.sfbg.com. All times p.m. unless otherwise noted.
Sequoia The Boys Are Back 7 and 7:15. The Road 9:40.
Smith Rafael Precious: Based on the Novel Push By Sapphire 7.
Sequoia An Education 6:30. Saint Misbehavin’: The Wavy Gravy Movie 6:45. The Bass Player: A Song for Dad 9. Ricky 9:15.
Smith Rafael Aching Hearts 6. Bomber 6:30. "Spotlight on Clive Owen: Croupier" 7. Eat the Sun 8:30. Original 8:45.
Sequoia Ricky Rapper 1:30. Breath Made Visible 2. Race to Nowhere 3:30. Awakening from Sorrow 4:30. Here and There 6. Soundtrack for a Revolution 7. Fish Tank 8:30. Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench 9:30.
Smith Rafael The Ten Lives of Titanic the Cat 1. Stalin Thought of You 1:15. Miracle in a Box: A Piano Reborn 3. Four of a Kind 3:30. Aching Hearts 3:45. "Tribute to Uma Thurman: Motherhood" 6. Original 6:15. Passengers 6:30. Superstar 8:30. Imbued 9. Dark and Stormy Night 9:15.
Throck Zombie Girl: The Movie 1. Concert for a Revolution 9:30.
Sequoia Stella and the Star of the Orient 10:30am. Homegrown 1. Jim Thorpe, the World’s Greatest Athlete 1:15. Ricky 3:30. Icons Among Us: jazz in the present tense 4. Tapped 6. Motherhood 6:30. The Maid 8:15. Sorry, Thanks 9.
Smith Rafael The Letter for the King 12:30. Shylock 1:15. "New Movies Lab: Girl Geeks" 1. "Insight: Henry Selick and the Art of Coraline" 3:15. Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench 3:30. The Red Machine 3:45. Elevator 5:30. The Private Lives of Pippa Lee 5:45. Room and a Half 6. The Bass Player: A Song for Dad 7:30. The Eclipse 8:15. Imbued 9.
Throck "Children’s FilmFest Party" 12:30. "Live Show: Jazz Icons Among Us" 8.
Sequoia "5@5: America is Not the World" (shorts program) 5. Barking Water 6. Storm 6:45. The Private Lives of Pippa Lee 7. Four of a Kind 8. Sparrow 9:30.
Smith Rafael Room and a Half 4. The Red Machine 4:30. "5@5: Oscillate Wildly" (shorts program) 5. Breath Made Visible 6:45. Linoleum 7. Jermal 7:15. A Year Ago in Winter 9. Here and There 9:15. Sorry, Thanks 9:30.
Cinema Youth in Revolt 7.
Sequoia "5@5: The More You Ignore Me, the Closer I Get" (shorts program) 5. The Horse Boy 6:30. Skin 6:45. Fish Tank 9. Passengers 9:15.
Smith Rafael "5@5: Sister I’m a Poet" 5. Pierrot le fou 6. HomeGrown 6:45. Saint Misbehavin’: The Wavy Gravy Movie 7. Shameless 8:45. Superstar 9. The Maid 9:15.
The Boys Are Back "Inspired by a true story," as its poster trumpets, The Boys Are Back is truly all about inspiration. It hopes to propel its parenting-age demographic to be their better selves, wooing them with elusive shots of adorable, floppy-haired youngsters whooping it up or at least to make them feel good about their own attempts at child-rearing. Director Scott Hicks (1996’s Shine) positively luxuriates in Australia’s countryside its rippling, golden waves of grass, dazzling vistas of ocean in way that seems to simulate the honey-hued memories of an adult looking back fondly on his or her own childhood. But alas, despite some lyrical cinematography, The Boys Are Back doesn’t rise far beyond its heart-tugging TV movie material. Clive Owen is a sports writer who finds his life torn asunder when his wife dies of cancer: like a true sportsman, he’s game to the task of learning to care, solo, for the scrumptiously shaggy 7-year-old Arthur (Nicholas McAnulty) as best he can all is permissible in his household except swearing and do whatever dad says. And when his guarded older son Harry (George MacKay) jets in from boarding school in England, it’s as if The Dangerous Book for Boys has come to cinematic fruition, with a few mildly tough lessons to boot. Owen does his best to transfigure that scary, albeit sexy, rage lurking behind blue eyes into the stuff of parental panic, but for half the audience at least, that can’t save this feel-gooder designed for women about a man among boys. The gender breakdown at my screening could be encapsulated by the woman quietly sobbing at the start and the man gently snoring through two-thirds. (1:45) California, Embarcadero. (Chun)
Chelsea on the Rocks Abel Ferrara’s first documentary should be a sure thing: a storied New York extremist contemplates the place where others before him went to push the edge in a kind of ritualized bohemia. The Chelsea Hotel is a long poem of death at an early age, with a registry that includes Dylan Thomas’s chasers, Harry Smith’s debts, Warhol’s superstars, Leonard Cohen and Janis Joplin in a room, and Sid and Nancy at the end. One doesn’t expect a straight-laced historical record from the prowling Ferrara; what disappoints about Chelsea on the Rocks isn’t the film’s loose, marinating narration, but rather Ferrara’s refusal to pursue any conversational threads past a convivial but stultifying, "No fucking way." One wants more of the longtime residents’ molasses-slow anecdotes and further investigation of their own private Xanadus. The film is a fount of New York conversation, but it’s also teeming with irritating "wish you were here" postcards from a bygone underground. The question isn’t one of self-regard the Chelsea wouldn’t exist without it so much as editing. Milos Foreman’s Cheshire grin is fun, but do we really need to watch him network with Julian Schnabel’s daughter? At the heart of Chelsea on the Rocks is a fairly conventional underdog story: longtime manager and patron Stanley Bard has been cut out by a new board looking to cash in on the Chelsea’s legend, leaving the "real" bohemians in the lurch. But then, pace Ethan Hawke, hasn’t this hipster haunted house been cannibalizing its own past all along? (1:28) Lumiere, Shattuck. (Goldberg)
Couples Retreat Vince Vaughn heads up an ensemble cast in this comedy about four couples who unwittingly vacation at a resort for couples who need relationship therapy. (1:47) Grand Lake, Marina.
Eating Out 3: All You Can Eat A third entry in the low-budget gay franchise that goes mano-a-mano for crassness with mainstream teen sex comedies, this latest ages past even collegiate youth. That’s doubtless due to the expired jeune-fille status of series fave Rebekah Kochan, whose character Tiffani is a bitchy, potty-mouthed, horndoggie drag queen improbably inhabiting the person of an actual heterosexual born-female. Who operates a nail shop in West Hollywood, yet. That she bears no resemblance to credible real-world womanhood doesn’t entirely erase the line-snapping panache of Kochan herself, a gifted comedienne. If only she had better material to work with. After a truly horrific opening reel duly tasteless but so, so unfunny director Glenn Gaylord (is that really his name?) and scenarist Phillip J. Bartell’s sequel mercifully goes from rancid to semisweet. There’s little surprise in the Tiffani-assisted pursuit of slightly nelly dreamboat Zack (Chris Salvatore) by pseudo-nerdy, equally bodyfat-deprived new kid in town Casey (Daniel Skelton). But there is a pretty amusing climax involving a three-way (theoretically four) recalling the original’s hilarious phone-sex-coaching highlight. (1:23) Roxie. (Harvey)
*Paranormal Activity In this ostensible found-footage exercise, Katie (Katie Featherson) and Micah (Micah Sloat) are a young San Diego couple whose first home together has a problem: someone, or something, is making things go bump in the night. In fact, Katie has sporadically suffered these disturbances since childhood, when an amorphous, not-at-reassuring entity would appear at the foot of her bed. Skeptical technophile Micah’s solution is to record everything on his primo new video camera, including a setup to shoot their bedroom while they sleep surveillance footage sequences that grow steadily more terrifying as incidents grow more and more invasive. Like 1999’s The Blair Witch Project, Oren Peli’s no-budget first feature may underwhelm mainstream genre fans who only like their horror slick and slasher-gory. But everybody else should appreciate how convincingly the film’s very ordinary, at times annoying protagonists (you’ll eventually want to throttle Micah, whose efforts are clearly making things worse) fall prey to a hostile presence that manifests itself in increments no less alarming for being (at first) very small. When this hits DVD, you’ll get to see the original, more low-key ending (the film has also been tightened up since its festival debut two years ago). But don’t wait Paranormal‘s subtler effects will be lost on the small screen. Not to mention that it’s a great collective screaming-audience experience. (1:39) Metreon. (Harvey)
*A Serious Man You don’t have to be Jewish to like A Serious Man or to identify with beleaguered physics professor Larry Gopnik (the grandly aggrieved Michael Stuhlbarg), the well-meaning nebbishly center unable to hold onto a world quickly falling apart and looking for spiritual answers. It’s a coming of age for father and son, spurred by the small loss of a radio and a 20-dollar bill. Larry’s about-to-be-bar-mitzvahed son is listening to Jefferson Airplane instead of his Hebrew school teachers and beginning to chafe against authority. His daughter has commandeered the family bathroom for epic hair-washing sessions. His wife is leaving him for a silkily presumptuous family friend and has exiled Larry to the Jolly Roger Motel. His failure-to-launch brother is a closeted mathematical genius and has set up housekeeping on his couch. Larry’s chances of tenure could be spoiled by either an anonymous poison-pen writer or a disgruntled student intent on bribing him into a passing grade. One gun-toting neighbor vaguely menaces the borders of his property; the other sultry nude sunbather tempts with "new freedoms" and high times. What’s a mild-mannered prof to do, except envy Schrodinger’s Cat and approach three rungs of rabbis in his quest for answers to life’s most befuddling proofs? Reaching for a heightened, touched-by-advertising style that recalls Mad Men in look and Barton Fink (1991) in narrative and stooping for the subtle jokes as well as the ones branded "wide load" the Coen Brothers seem to be turning over, examining, and flirting with personally meaningful, serious narrative, though their Looney Tunes sense of humor can’t help but throw a surrealistic wrench into the works. (1:45) Embarcadero. (Chun)
The Wedding Song Continuing the examination of Muslim-Jewish tensions and female sexuality that she started in La Petit Jerusalem (2005), writer-director Karin Albou’s sophomore feature places the already volatile elements in the literally explosive terrain of World War II. Set in Tunis in 1942, it charts the relationship between Nour (Olympe Borval), a young Arab woman engaged to her handsome cousin, and Myriam (Lizzie Brocheré), the outspoken Jew she’s known since childhood. Bombs rain down from the sky and toxic Nazi propaganda fills the air, but to Albou the most trenchant conflict lies between the two heroines, who bond over their place in an oppressive society while secretly pining for each other’s lives and loves. Jettisoning much of the didacticism that weighted down her previous film, Albou surveys the mores, rituals, and connections informing the thorny politics of female identity with an assured eye worthy of veteran feminist filmmaker Margarethe von Trotta (1986’s Rosa Luxemburg). (1:40) Smith Rafael. (Croce)
Amreeka Dreaming of freedom and white picket fences in the US, West Bank transplants Muna (Nisreen Faour) and son Fadi (Melkar Muallem) instead get racist slurs and White Castle. Despite being overqualified with previous experience as a banker, Muna must work at the restaurant chain to make ends meet while Fadi struggles with bigotry and culture shock in school. Set in the days following September 11, Amreeka (the Arabic word for "America") details the backlash against innocent, unsuspecting minorities who many labeled as terrorists. Cherien Dabis’ feature film debut is smart and enticing (a sign outside White Castle meant to spell "Support Our Troops" drops the "tr" to display a clever preternatural clairvoyance) and creates a lively debate on immigration and discrimination. Ending with a symbolic dance between two nationalities, Dabis recognizes that while people may be bombarded with empty promises of freedom and hope on the Internet, the real American Dream doesn’t exist online but, instead, in small pockets of the community where a Palestinian and a Polish Jew can dance side by side. (1:37) Opera Plaza. (Swanbeck)
*The Baader Meinhof Complex "The Baader Meinhof gang? Those spoiled, hipster terrorists?" That was the response of one knowledgeable pop watcher when I told her about The Baader Meinhof Complex, the new feature from Uli Edel (1989’s Last Exit to Brooklyn). The violence-prone West German anarchist group, otherwise known as the Red Army Faction (RAF), still inspires both venomous spew and starry-eyed fascinatio; Edel’s sober, clear-eyed view of the youthful and sexy yet arrogant and murderous, gun-toting radicals at the center of Baader-Meinhof’s mythology a complex construct, indeed manages to do justice to the core of their sprawling chronology, while never overstating their narrative’s obvious post-9/11 relevance. The director’s far from sympathetic when it comes to these self-absorbed, smug rebels, yet he’s not immune to their cocky, idealistic charms. Cool-headed yet fully capable of thrilling to his subjects’ eye-popping audacity, the filmmaker does an admirable job of contextualizing the group within the global student and activist movements and bringing the viewer, authentically, to the still timely question: how does one best (i.e., morally) respond to terrorism? (2:24) Opera Plaza. (Chun)
*Bright Star Is beauty truth; truth, beauty? John Keats, the poet famed for such works as "Ode on a Grecian Urn," and Jane Campion, the filmmaker intent on encapsuutf8g the last romance of the archetypal Romantic, would have undoubtedly bonded over a love of sensual details and the way a certain vellum-like light can transport its viewer into elevated reverie. In truth, Campion doesn’t quite achieve the level of Keats’ verse with this somber glimpse at the tubercular writer and his final love, neighbor Fanny Brawne. But she does bottle some of their pale beauty. Less-educated than the already respected young scribe, Brawne nonetheless may have been his equal in imagination as a seamstress, judging from the petal-bonneted, ruffled-collar ensembles Campion outfits her in. As portrayed by the soulful-eyed Abbie Cornish, the otherwise-enigmatic, plucky Brawne is the singularly bright blossom ready to be wrapped in a poet’s adoration, worthy of rhapsody by Ben Whishaw’s shaggily, shabbily puppy-dog Keats, who snatches the preternaturally serene focus of a fine mind cut short by illness, with the gravitational pull of a serious indie-rock hottie. The two are drawn to each other like the butterflies flittering in Brawne’s bedroom/farm, one of the most memorable scenes in the dark yet sweetly glimmering Bright Star. Bathing her scenes in lengthy silence, shot through with far-from-flowery dialogue, Campion is at odds with this love story, so unlike her joyful 1990 ode to author Janet Frame, An Angel at My Table (Kerry Fox appears here, too, as Fanny’s mother): the filmmaker refuses to overplay it, sidestepping Austenian sprightliness. Instead she embraces the dark differences, the negative inevitability, of this death-steeped coupling, welcoming the odd glance at the era’s intellectual life, the interplay of light and shadow. (1:59) Marina, Piedmont, Sundance Kabuki. (Chun)
*Capitalism: A Love Story Gun control. The Bush administration. Healthcare. Over the past decade, Michael Moore has tackled some of the most contentious issues with his trademark blend of humor and liberal rage. In Capitalism: A Love Story, he sets his sights on an even grander subject. Where to begin when you’re talking about an economic system that has defined this nation? Predictably, Moore’s focus is on all those times capitalism has failed. By this point, his tactics are familiar, but he still has a few tricks up his sleeve. As with Sicko (2007), Moore proves he can restrain himself he gets plenty of screen time, but he spends more time than ever behind the camera. This isn’t about Moore; it’s about the United States. When he steps out of the limelight, he’s ultimately more effective, crafting a film that’s bipartisan in nature, not just in name. No, he’s not likely to please all, but for every Glenn Beck, there’s a sane moderate wondering where all the money has gone. (2:07) California, Empire, Grand Lake, Marina, 1000 Van Ness, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki. (Peitzman)
Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs (1:21) Grand Lake, 1000 Van Ness.
Coco Before Chanel Like her designs, Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel was elegant, très chic, and utterly original. Director Anne Fontaine’s French biopic traces Coco (Audrey Tautou) from her childhood as a struggling orphan to one of the most influential designers of the 20th century. You’ll be disappointed if you expect a fashionista’s up close and personal look at the House of Chanel, as Fontaine keeps her story firmly rooted in Coco’s past, including her destructive relationship with French playboy Etienne Balsar (Benoît Poelvoorde) and her ill-fated love affair with dashing Englishman Arthur "Boy" Capel (Alessandro Nivola). The film functions best in scenes that display Coco’s imagination and aesthetic magnetism, like when she dances with Capel in her now famous "little black dress" amidst a sea of stiff, white meringues. Tautou imparts a quiet courage and quick wit as the trailblazing designer, and Nivola is unmistakably charming and compassionate as Boy. Nevertheless, Fontaine rushes the ending and never truly seizes the opportunity to explore how Coco’s personal life seeped into her timeless designs that were, in the end, an extension of herself. (1:50) Albany, Clay, SF Center. (Swanbeck)
*District 9 As allegories go, District 9 is not all that subtle. This is a sci-fi action flick that’s really all about racial intolerance and to drive the point home, they went and set it in South Africa. Here’s the set-up: 20 years ago, an alien ship arrived and got stuck, hovering above the Earth. Faster than you can say "apartheid," the alien refugees were confined to a camp the titular District 9 where they have remained in slum-level conditions. As science fiction, it’s creative; as a metaphor, it’s effective. What’s most surprising about District 9 is the way everything comes together. This is a big, bloody summer blockbuster with feelings: for every viscera-filled splatter, there’s a moment of poignant social commentary, and nothing ever feels forced or overdone. Writer-director Neill Blomkamp has found the perfect balance and created a film that doesn’t have to compromise. District 9 is a profoundly distressing look at the human condition. It’s also one hell of a good time. (1:52) Four Star, 1000 Van Ness, Sundance Kabuki. (Peitzman)
Fame Note to filmmakers: throwing a bunch of talented young people together does not a good film make. And that’s putting it mildly. Fame is an overstuffed mess, a waste of teenage performers, veteran actors, and, of course, the audience’s time. Conceptually, it’s sound: it makes sense to update the 1980 classic for a new, post-High School Musical generation. But High School Musical this ain’t. Say what you will about the Disney franchise but those films have (at the very least) some semblance of cohesion and catchy tunes. Fame is music video erratic, with characters who pop up, do a little dance, then disappear for a while. The idea that we should remember them is absurd that we should care about their plights even stranger. It doesn’t help that said plights are leftovers from every other teen song-and-dance movie ever: unsupportive parents, tough-love teachers, doomed romance. "Fame" may mean living forever, but I give this movie two weeks. (1:45) 1000 Van Ness. (Peitzman)
(500) Days of Summer There’s a warning at the tender, bruised heart of (500) Days of Summer, kind of like an alarm on a clock-radio set to MOPEROCK-FM, going off somewhere in another room. Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a student of architecture turned architect of sappy greeting card messages, opts to press snooze and remain in the dream world of "I’m the guy who can make this lovely girl believe in love." The agnostic in question is a luminous, whimsical creature named Summer (Zooey eschanel), who’s sharp enough to flirtatiously refer to Tom as "Young Werther" but soft enough to seem capable of reshaping into a true believer. Her semi-mysterious actions throughout (500) Days raise the following question, though: is a mutual affinity for Morrissey and Magritte sufficient predetermining evidence of what is and is not meant to be? Over the course of an impressionistic film that flips back and forth and back again through the title’s 500 days, mimicking the darting, perilous maneuvers of ungovernable memory, first-time feature director Marc Webb and screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber answer this and related questions in a circuitous fashion, while gently querying our tendency to edit and manufacture perceptions. (1:36) Shattuck. (Rapoport)
*Five Minutes of Heaven Most bad guys were good guys once it’s a process, not a natal condition. It’s unpleasant but valuable work to imagine exactly how fanaticism can create a sense of righteousness in violence. Who really knows what we’re be capable of after a few weeks, months, years of deprivation or indoctrination? It took Patty Hearst just 71 days to become machine-gun-wielding Tania. Who can blame her if she chose a life of John Waters cameos and never discussed the matter afterward? Alistair, the character played by Liam Neeson in Five Minutes of Heaven, deals with his terroristic youth in precisely the opposite fashion it’s become both penitentiary cause and ruination of his life. At age 17, he assassinated a young Catholic local to prove mettle within a midsize Irish city’s pro-England, Protestant guerrilla sect. He served 12 years for that crime. But in mind’s eye he keeps seeing his young self committing murder as witnessed by the victim’s little brother, Joe. Directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel, German director of 2004’s Downfall, Five Minutes of Heaven the ecstatic timespan James Nesbitt’s flop-sweating adult Joe figures he’d experience upon killing Alistair is divided into three acts. The first is a vivid, gritty flashback. The second finds our anxious protagonists preparing for a "reconciliation" TV show taping that doesn’t go as planned. Finally the two men face each other in an off-camera meeting that vents Joe’s pent-up lifetime of rage. Heaven has been labeled too theatrical, with its emphasis on two actors and a great deal of dialogue. But there’s nothing stagy in the skillful way both rivet attention. This very good movie asks a very human question: how do you live with yourself after experiencing the harm fanaticism can wreak, as perp or surviving victim? (1:30) Opera Plaza, Smith Rafael. (Harvey)
*Food, Inc. Providing a broader survey of topics already covered in prior documentaries like 2004’s Super Size Me and 2007’s King Corn, Robert Kenner’s feature taps the expertise of authors Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation), Michael Pollan (The Omnivore’s Dilemma), and others to explore how agribusiness’ trend toward "faster, fatter, bigger, cheaper" is bad news for your health, and that of the planet. Corporations have monopolized factory farming, slaughterhouses, and processing plants and made themselves largely immune from regulatory agencies while creating more risks of food poisoning and diabetes through the use of food engineering, antibiotics, pesticides, and even ammonia. Lobbyists, in-pocket legislators (Clarence Thomas is just one of the many policy-setters still loyal to their behemoth ex-employer Monsanto), immigrant worker exploitation, grotesque livestock conditions, and much more figure among the appetite-suppressing news spread here. This informative, entertaining documentary with slick graphics ends on an upbeat note, stressing that your own consumer choices remain the most powerful tool for changing this juggernaut of bad culinary capitalism. (1:34) Roxie. (Harvey)
*In the Loop A typically fumbling remark by U.K. Minister of International Development Simon Foster (Tom Hollander) ignites a media firestorm, since it seems to suggest war is imminent even though Brit and U.S. governments are downplaying the likelihood of the Iraq invasion they’re simultaneously preparing for. Suddenly cast as an important arbiter of global affairs a role he’s perhaps less suited for than playing the Easter Bunny Simon becomes one chess piece in a cutthroat game whose participants on both sides of the Atlantic include his own subordinates, the prime minister’s rageaholic communications chief, major Pentagon and State Department honchos, crazy constituents, and more. Writer-director Armando Iannucci’s frenetic comedy of behind-the-scenes backstabbing and its direct influence on the highest-level diplomatic and military policies is scabrously funny in the best tradition of English television, which is (naturally) just where its creators hail from. (1:49) Lumiere, Shattuck. (Harvey)
Inglourious Basterds With Inglourious Basterds Quentin Tarantino pulls off something that seemed not only impossible, but undesirable, and surely unnecessary: making yet another of his in-jokey movies about other movies, albeit one that also happens to be kinda about the Holocaust or at least Jews getting their own back on the Nazis during World War II and (the kicker) is not inherently repulsive. As Rube Goldbergian achievements go, this is up there. Nonetheless, Basterds is more fun, with less guilt, than it has any right to be. The "basterds" are Tennessee moonshiner Pvt. Brad Pitt’s unit of Jewish soldiers committed to infuriating Der Fuhrer by literally scalping all the uniformed Nazis they can bag. Meanwhile a survivor (Mélanie Laurent) of one of insidious SS "Jew Hunter" Christoph Waltz’s raids, now passing as racially "pure" and operating a Paris cinema (imagine the cineaste name-dropping possibilities!) finds her venue hosting a Third Reich hoedown that provides an opportunity to nuke Hitler, Himmler, Goebbels, and Goering in one swoop. Tactically, Tarantino’s movies have always been about the ventriloquizing of that yadadada-yadadada whose self-consciousness is bearable because the cleverness is actual; brief eruptions of lasciviously enjoyed violence aside, Basterds too almost entirely consists of lengthy dialogues or near-monologues in which characters pitch and receive tasty palaver amid lethal danger. Still, even if he’s practically writing theatre now, Tarantino does understand the language of cinema. There isn’t a pin-sharp edit, actor’s raised eyebrow, artful design excess, or musical incongruity here that isn’t just the business. (2:30) Lumiere, 1000 Van Ness, SF Center, Shattuck. (Harvey)
*The Informant! The best satire makes you uncomfortable, but nothing will make you squirm in your seat like a true story that feels like satire. Director Steven Soderbergh introduces the exploits of real-life agribusiness whistleblower Mark Whitacre with whimsical fonts and campy music just enough to get the audience’s guard down. As the pitch-perfect Matt Damon laden with 30 extra pounds and a fright-wig toupee gee-whizzes his way through an increasingly complicated role, Soderbergh doles out subtle doses of torturous reality, peeling back the curtain to reveal a different, unexpected curtain behind it. Informant!’s tale of board-room malfeasance is filled with mis-directing cameos, jokes, and devices, and its ingenious, layered narrative will provoke both anti-capitalist outrage and a more chimerical feeling of satisfied frustration. Above all, it’s disquietingly great. (1:48) Bridge, Empire, Four Star, Marina, Oaks, 1000 Van Ness, SF Center. (Richardson)
The Invention of Lying Great concept. Great cast. All The Invention of Lying needed was a great script editor and it might have reached classic comedy territory. As it stands, it’s dragged down to mediocrity by a weak third act. This is the story of a world where no one can lie and we’re not just talking about big lies either. The Invention of Lying presents a vision of no sarcasm, no white lies, no gasp creative fiction. All that changes when Mark Bellison (Ricky Gervais) realizes he can bend the truth. And because no one else can, everything Mark makes up becomes fact to the rubes around him. If you guessed that hilarity ensues, you’re right on the money! Watching Mark use his powers for evil (robbing the bank! seducing women!) makes for a very funny first hour. Then things take a turn for the heavy when Mark becomes a prophet by letting slip his vision of the afterlife. Faster than you can say "Jesus beard," he’s rocking a God complex and the audience is longing for the simpler laughs, like Jennifer Garner admitting to some pre-date masturbation. (1:40) 1000 Van Ness, Piedmont, Shattuck. (Peitzman)
Irene in Time With a scheduled limited release following Father’s Day, Irene in Time no doubt hoped to capitalize on its father/daughter sob stories of altruism and abandonment alike. Set in modern-day L.A., the film opens with Irene, a neurotic, self-absorbed singer, listening eagerly to recollections of her late father, a compulsive gambler and philanderer whom she nonetheless idealizes. Plagued by "daddy issues," Irene believes that her father’s inconsistent presence has left her unable to form a mature and lasting relationship. When not strung along by a procession of two-timing suitors, she is scaring them away with her manic bravado. Additionally, her fundamental need to recapture her father in the form of a lover (can you say "Electra complex"?) comes across as creepy and borderline incestuous. This self-indulgent endeavor of epic proportions finally descends into soap-opera kitsch when a family secret surfaces (explaining Irene’s pipes but not her grating personality) and sinks further still with a slow-mo musical montage using old footage of Irene and her father frolicking in the surf. (1:35) Opera Plaza. (Swanbeck)
Julie and Julia As Julie Powell, disillusioned secretary by day and culinary novice by night, Amy Adams stars as a woman who decides to cook and blog her way through 524 of Julia Child’s recipes in 365 days. Nora Ephron oscillates between Julie’s drab existence in modern-day New York and the exciting life of culinary icon and expatriate, Julia Child (Meryl Streep), in 1950s Paris. As Julia gains confidence in the kitchen by besting all the men at the Cordon Bleu, Julie follows suit, despite strains on both her marriage and job. While Streep’s Julia borders on caricature at first, her performance eventually becomes more nuanced as the character’s insecurities about cooking, infertility, and getting published slowly emerge. Although a feast for the eyes and a rare portrait of a female over 40, Ephron’s cinematic concoction leaves you longing for less Julie with her predictable empowerment storyline and more of Julia and Streep’s exuberance and infectious joie de vivre. (2:03) Oaks, Piedmont. (Swanbeck)
My One and Only (1:48) Opera Plaza, Shattuck.
*9 American animation rarely gets as dark and dystopian as the PG-13-rated 9, the first feature by Shane Acker, who dreamed up the original short. The end of the world has arrived, the cities are wastelands of rubble, and the machines robots that once functioned as the War of the Worlds-like weapons of an evil dictator have triumphed. Humans have been eradicated or maybe not. Some other, more vulnerable, sock-puppet-like machines, concocted with a combination of alchemy and engineering, have been created to counter their scary toaster brethren, like 9 (voiced by Elijah Wood), who stumbles off his worktable like a miniature Pinocchio, a so-called stitch-punk. He’s big-eyed, bumbling, and vulnerable in his soft knitted skin and deprived of his guiding Geppetto. But he quickly encounters 2 (Martin Landau), who helps him jump start his nerves and fine-tune his voice box before a nasty, spidery ‘bot snatches his new friend up, as well a mysterious object 9 found at his creator’s lab. Too much knowledge in this ugly new world is something to be feared, as he learns from the other surviving models. The crotchety would-be leader 1 (Christopher Plummer), the one-eyed timid 5 (John C. Reilly), and the brave 7 (Jennifer Connelly) have very mixed feelings about stirring up more trouble. Who can blame them? People and machines and even little dolls with the spark of life in their innocent, round eyes die. Still, 9 manages to sidestep easy consolation and simple answers delivering the always instructive lesson that argument and dialogue is just as vital and human as blowing stuff up real good while offering heroic, relatively complicated thrills. And yes, our heros do get to run for their little AI-enhanced lives from a massive fireball. (1:19) Four Star, 1000 Van Ness, SF Center. (Chun)
*Oblivion We go to documentaries to learn about the lives of others, but rarely are we put in touch with the patience, sensitivity, and grit required of listening. Heddy Honigmann’s films privilege the social aspect of these encounters and are the emotionally richer for it I’d bet her hard-earned humanism would appeal to a wide cross-section of audiences if given the chance, but her documentaries remain woefully under-distributed. Oblivion is her first set in Lima since 1992’s Metal and Melancholy, still my favorite film of hers. Honigmann, who was born in Lima to Holocaust survivors but left the city to study and work in Europe, made that first film to clarify the everyday reality of Peru’s economic ruin. In Oblivion, Honigmann reverses angle, following children and adolescents as they flip cartwheels for stopped traffic, the crosswalk their stage. She also zeroes in on the more established service class, from a stunned shoeshine boy up to a dexterous master of the pisco sour. Slowly, we realize Honigmann’s interviews are an exercise in political geography: she talks to people in the near proximity of the presidential palace, the long shadow of Peru’s ignominious political history framing their discreet stories. Oblivion exhibits both class consciousness and formal virtuosity in its coterminous realizations of an Altman-numbered array of characters. As ever, Honigmann’s ability to transform the normally airless interview format into a cohesive band of intimate encounters is simply stunning. History consigned them to oblivion, but as Honigmann adroitly shows by periodic cut-aways to past presidential inaugurations, personal memory often outlasts the official record. (1:33) Sundance Kabuki. (Goldberg)
Pandorum (1:48) 1000 Van Ness.
*Paris Cédric Klapisch’s latest offers a series of interconnected stories with Paris as the backdrop, designed if you’ll pardon the cliché as a love letter to the city. On the surface, the plot of Paris sounds an awful lot like Paris, je t’aime (2006). But while the latter was composed entirely of vignettes, Paris has an actual, overarching plot. Perhaps that’s why it’s so much more effective. Juliette Binoche stars as Élise, whose brother Pierre (Romain Duris) is in dire need of a heart transplant. A dancer by trade, Pierre is also a world-class people watcher, and it’s his fascination with those around him that serves as Paris‘ wraparound device. He sees snippets of these people’s lives, but we get the full picture or at least, something close to it. The strength of Paris is in the depth of its characters: every one we meet is more complex than you’d guess at first glance. The more they play off one another, the more we understand. Of course, the siblings remain at the film’s heart: sympathetic but not pitiable, moving but not maudlin. Both Binoche and Duris turn in strong performances, aided by a supporting cast of French actors who impress in even the smallest of roles. (2:04) Albany, Embarcadero. (Peitzman)
*Passing Strange: The Movie Spike Lee should do more concert films. His records of theatrical events like the all-star stand-up gathering in The Original Kings of Comedy (2000) or Roger Guenveur Smith’s one-man show in A Huey P. Newton Story (2001) are not without the director’s trademark stylistic bombast, yet they show how, when serving the material, Lee’s overheated camera tricks become rollicking rather than overbearing. So it goes with this kinetic filmed performance of the Tony-winning Broadway rock musical, shot during its last two nights at New York’s Belasco Theater. Starting slow but building to a cheering frenzy, the show takes its timbre from the rich rumble of writer-composer-narrator Stew (nee Mark Stewart), who regales the audience with an autobiographical tale of restless youth (energetically embodied by Daniel Breaker), clinging motherhood (Eisa Davis), and burgeoning artistic identity. Performed and directed with celebratory vigor, this is Lee’s most purely enjoyable work in nearly a decade. (2:15) Shattuck. (Croce)
*The September Issue The Lioness D’Wintour, the Devil Who Wears Prada, or the High Priestess of Condé Nasty it doesn’t matter what you choose to call Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour. If you’re in the fashion industry, you will call her or at least be amused by the power she wields as the overseer of style’s luxury bible, then 700-plus pages strong for its legendary September fall fashion issue back in the heady days of ’07, pre-Great Recession. But you don’t have to be a publishing insider to be fascinated by director R.J. Cutler’s frisky, sharp-eyed look at the making of fashion’s fave editorial doorstop. Wintour’s laser-gazed facade is humanized, as Cutler opens with footage of a sparkling-eyed editor breaking down fashion’s fluffy reputation. He then follows her as she assumes the warrior pose in, say, the studio of Yves St. Laurent, where she has designer Stefano Pilati fluttering over his morose color choices, and in the offices of the magazine, where she slices, dices, and kills photo shoots like a sartorial samurai. Many of the other characters at Vogue (like OTT columnist André Leon Talley) are given mere cameos, but Wintour finds a worthy adversary-compatriot in creative director Grace Coddington, another Englishwoman and ex-model the red-tressed, pale-as-a-wraith Pre-Raphaelite dreamer to Wintour’s well-armored knight. The two keep each other honest and craftily ingenious, and both the magazine and this doc benefit. (1:28) Presidio, Shattuck, Sundance Kabuki. (Chun)
*Still Walking Hirokazu Kore-eda’s 1998 After Life stepped into a bureaucratic beyond. His 2001 Distance probed the aftermath of a religious cult’s mass suicide. Likewise loosely inspired by fact, Nobody Knows (2004) charted the survival of an abandoning mother’s practically feral children in a Tokyo apartment. 2006’s Hana was a splashy samurai story albeit one atypically resistant to conventional action. Despite their shared character nuance, these prior features don’t quite prepare one for the very ordinary milieu and domestic dramatics of Still Walking. Kore-eda’s latest recalls no less than Ozu in its seemingly casual yet meticulous dissection of a broken family still awkwardly bound if just for one last visit by the onerous traditions and institution of "family" itself. There’s no conceptually hooky lure here. Yet Walking is arguably both Kore-eda’s finest hour so far, and as emotionally rich a movie experience as 2009 has yet afforded. One day every summer the entire Yokohama clan assembles to commemorate an eldest son’s accidental death 15 years earlier. This duty calls, even if art restorer Ryota (Hiroshi Abe) chafes at retired M.D. dad’s (Yoshio Harada) obvious disappointment over his career choice, at the insensitivity of his chatterbox mum (Kiri Kirin), and at being eternally compared to a retroactively sainted sibling. Not subject to such evaluative harshness, simply because she’s a girl, is many-foibled sole Yokohama daughter Chinami (Nobody Knows‘ oblivious, helium-voiced mum You). Small crises, subtle tensions, the routines of food preparation, and other minutae ghost-drive a narrative whose warm, familiar, pained, touching, and sometimes hilarious progress seldom leaves the small-town parental home interior yet never feels claustrophobic in the least. (1:54) Roxie. (Harvey)
Surrogates In a world where cops don’t even leave the house to eat doughnuts, Bruce Willis plays a police detective wrestling with life’s big questions while wearing a very disconcerting blond wig. For example, does it count as living if you’re holed up in your room in the dark 24/7 wearing a VR helmet while a younger, svelter, pore-free, kind of creepy-looking version of yourself handles with the help of a motherboard the daily tasks of walking, talking, working, and playing? James Cromwell reprises his I, Robot (2004) I-may-have-created-a-monster role (in this case, a society in which human "operators" live vicariously through so-called surrogates from the safe, hygienic confines of their homes). Willis, with and sans wig, and with the help of his partner (Radha Mitchell), attempts to track down the unfriendly individual who’s running around town frying the circuits of surrogates and operators alike. (While he’s at it, perhaps he could also answer this question: how is it that all these people lying in the dark twitching their eyeballs haven’t turned into bed-sore-ridden piles of atrophied-muscle mush?) Director Jonathan Mostow (2003’s Terminator 3) takes viewers through the twists and turns at cynically high velocity, hoping we won’t notice the unsatisfying story line or when things stop making very much sense. (1:44) Empire, 1000 Van Ness, Sundance Kabuki. (Rapoport)
Toy Story and Toy Story 2 Castro, Grand Lake, 1000 Van Ness, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki.
*We Live in Public Documentarian Ondi Timoner (2004’s DiG!) turns her camera on a longtime acquaintance, internet pioneer Josh Harris, as talented and maddening a subject as DiG! trainwreck Anton Newcombe. From the internet’s infancy, Harris exhibited a creative and forward-thinking outlook that seized upon the medium’s ability to allow people to interact virtually (via chat rooms) and also to broadcast themselves (via one of the internet’s first "television" stations). Though he had an off-putting personality which sometimes manifested itself in his clown character, "Luvvy" (drawn from the TV-obsessed Harris’ love for Gilligan’s Island) he racked up $80 million. Some of those new-media bucks went into his art project, "Quiet," an underground bunker stuffed full of eccentrics who allowed themselves to be filmed 24/7. Later, he and his girlfriend moved into a Big Brother-style apartment that was outfitted with dozens of cameras; unsurprisingly, the relationship crumbled under such constant surveillance. His path since then has been just as bizarre, though decidedly more low-tech (and far less well-funded). Though I’m not entirely sold on Timoner’s thesis that Harris’ experiments predicted the current social-networking obsession, her latest film is fascinating, and crafted with footage that only someone who was watching events unfurl first-hand could have captured. (1:30) Roxie. (Eddy)
Whip It What’s a girl to do? Stuck in small town hell, Bliss Cavendar (Ellen Page), the gawky teen heroine of Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut, Whip It, faces a pressing dilemma conform to the standards of stifling beauty pageantry to appease her mother or rebel and enter the rough-and tumble world of roller derby. Shockingly enough, Bliss chooses to escape to Austin and join the Hurl Scouts, a rowdy band of misfits led by the maternal Maggie Mayhem (Kristin Wiig) and the accident-prone Smashley Simpson (Barrymore). Making a bid for grrrl empowerment, Bliss dawns a pair of skates, assumes the moniker Babe Ruthless, and is suddenly throwing her weight around not only in the rink, but also in school where she’s bullied. Painfully predictable, the action comes to a head when, lo and behold, the dates for the Bluebonnet Pageant and the roller derby championship coincide. At times funny and charming with understated performances by Page and Alia Shawcat as Bliss’ best friend, Whip It can’t overcome its paper-thin characters, plot contrivances, and requisite scenery chewing by Jimmy Fallon as a cheesy announcer and Juliette Lewis as a cutthroat competitor. (1:51) 1000 Van Ness, Presidio, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki. (Swanbeck)
A Woman in Berlin As titles go, A Woman in Berlin is rather vague. A clearer option, to borrow from a popular children’s books series, would be A Series of Unfortunate Events. Based on a true story published anonymously by, well, a woman in Berlin, the film recounts the tribulations faced by German women at the end of World War II. As the Russian army occupies Berlin, these ladies must defend themselves against rape and domination while they await their husbands’ return. It’s a dark chapter in historyand a frequently forgotten one at that. But though A Woman in Berlin may be an important film, it’s not a good one. Without the cinematic flair required to handle a story of this magnitude, writer-director Max Färberböck turns the movie into something monotonous and draining. The characters are morally ambiguous but not interesting; the plot is depressing but tedious. I’m reminded of a quote from The History Boys (2006), another film that touches on (albeit briefly) the atrocities of the second world war: "How do I define history? It’s just one fuckin’ thing after another." (2:11) Four Star. (Peitzman)
*Zombieland First things first: it’s clever, but it ain’t no Shaun of the Dead (2004). That said, Zombieland is an outstanding zombie comedy, largely thanks to Woody Harrelson’s performance as Tallahassee, a tough guy whose passion for offing the undead is rivaled only by his raging Twinkie jones. Set in a world where zombies have already taken over (the beginning stages of the outbreak are glimpsed only in flashback), Zombieland presents the creatures as yet another annoyance for Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg, who’s nearly finished morphing into Michael Cera), a onetime antisocial shut-in who has survived only by sticking to a strict set of rules (the "double tap," or always shooting each zombie twice, etc.) This odd couple meets a sister team (Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin), who eventually lay off their grifting ways so that Columbus can have a love interest (in Stone) and Tallahassee, still smarting from losing a loved one to zombies, can soften up a scoch by schooling the erstwhile Little Miss Sunshine in target practice. Sure, it’s a little heavy on the nerd-boy voiceover, but Zombieland has just enough goofiness and gushing guts to counteract all them brrraiiinss. (1:23) 1000 Van Ness, Shattuck, Sundance Kabuki. (Eddy)
*"Pink Cinema Revolution: The Radical Films of Koji Wakamatsu" See article at www.sfbg.com. Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.