Film listings are edited by Cheryl Eddy. Reviewers are Kimberly Chun, Michelle Devereaux, Max Goldberg, Dennis Harvey, Louis Peitzman, Lynn Rapoport, Ben Richardson, and Matt Sussman. For rep house showtimes, see Rep Clock.
SAN FRANCISCO JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL
The 31st San Francisco Jewish Film Festival runs through August 8 at the Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center, 1119 Fourth St., San Rafael; Oshman Jewish Community Center, 3921 Fabian Way, Palo Alto; and Roda Theatre at Berkeley Rep, 2025 Addison, Berk. For tickets (most shows $12) and a full schedule, visit www.sfjff.org.
*Between Two Worlds See “Whose Voice?” (1:10) Roxie.
The Change-Up This brom-com just might go down as the one where Ryan Reynolds proves his acting chops by playing a creepy Peter Pan and an upstanding family man with Jason Bateman’s physical tics. And it’s almost good enough to wipe out those terrible memories of Reynolds’ dances with CGI in Green Lantern. Yet 2011 summer movies’ MVP Bateman still manages to steal all the best scenes as both the straight man and the kidult-in-a-grown-up’s-body: namely those R-pushing moments he’s changing diapers and taking a face full of baby poo, coming on like a pink-Polo’d jackass at a big-money meeting, and watching the woman of his dreams saunter into the can to cope with backfiring Thai grub. It’s the stuff of fantasy — as well as some clever writing and considerable buddy-buddy chemistry — when career-climbing, do-right lawyer Dave (Bateman) and perpetual playa Mitch (Reynolds) voice envy for each other’s lives while pissing into a magical fountain. The old switcheroo inexplicably occurs the next morning when each chum find himself in the other’s body. Fortunately the Freaky Friday (1976) kookiness that ensues rises a bit above the safe norm by plunging headlong into all the cringey discomfort that comes with watching babies toy with cleavers and electrical outlets. The Change-Up is completely ludicrous, fo’ sho’, and never really strays from the reassuring confines of its story arc, but the laughs accompanying its morning-afters will satisfy more than any new Hangover. (1:52) (Chun)
*Crime After Crime See “Time Served.” (1:33) Elmwood, Roxie, Smith Rafael.
The Devil’s Double Lee Tamahori directs Dominic Cooper in this 80s-set drama about Saddam Hussein’s sinister son Uday and his reluctant body double. (1:48)
The Guard Irish police sergeant Gerry Boyle (Brendan Gleeson) is used to running his small town on his own terms — not in a completely Bad Lieutenant (1992) kind of way, though he’s not afraid to sample drugs and hang with hookers. More like, he’s been running the show for years, and would prefer that big-city cops stay the hell out of his village. Alas, a gang of drug smugglers is doing business in the area, so an officious group of investigators from Dublin (horrors!) and America (in the form of an FBI agent played by Don Cheadle) soon descend. His mother’s dying, his brand-new partner’s missing, and between all the interlopers on both sides of the law, Boyle’s having a hard time having a pint in peace. Good thing he’s not as simple-minded as all who surround him think he is. Writer-director John Michael McDonagh (brother of playwright Martin, who directed 2008’s In Bruges — also starring Gleeson) puts an affable Irish spin on what’s essentially a pretty typical indie comedy, with some pretty typical crime-drama elements layered atop. Boyle’s character is memorably clever, but the film that contains him never quite elevates to his level. (1:36) Embarcadero. (Eddy)
*Magic Trip How to bottle the lysergic thrills and chills of a monumental road trip that marked the close of the Beat Generation era and the dawn of the hippie years? Remarkably, Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters did just that — and with the help of directors-writers Alison Ellwood and Alex Gibney, their efforts have been retrieved from the swamps of yesterday. You don’t have to be a Summer of Love easy rider, Kesey reader, Deadhead, or acid gobbler to appreciate the freewheeling energy and epoch-making antics of Magic Trip, which arrives well-outfitted in much invaluable, real-deal-y footage and audio of Kesey, driver Neal Cassady, and the proto-Merry Pranksters, shot during their 1964 trip from La Honda to the World’s Fair in NYC, off, on, and hovering 10 miles above the paint-strewn school bus named Further. Already viewed through the lens of Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, the trip unfolds in all its truly weird, silly, LSD-laden, improvised, awkward, flailing, freeing glory, as the filmmakers gracefully sidestep the audio sync problems that drove Kesey to give up on assembling the film himself. Instead Ellwood and Gibney contextualize the hijinks with voice-over interviews from Pranksters prepped to look back on the journey’s consciousness-expanding trips, both good and bad, and imaginatively animate memorable asides, including a tape recording of Kesey’s first LSD experiments as a Stanford student. “What long, strange trip,” indeed — and this affectionate document viscerally, wonderfully conveys why it changed lives as well. (1:47) Embarcadero. (Chun)
*Pianomania You think your job is detail-oriented, your bosses fussy? Walk a mile in the shoes of Stefan Knupfer, a Steinway technician — i.e. “piano tuner” — who must attend every minute aspect of each instrument’s inner workings, surrounding physical spaces, and their temperature fluctuations, idiosyncratically demanding players, etc. when preparing for either a live performance or studio session. “When I see the kind of life pianists have, I am very happy I can get off the stage when the public comes,” Knupfer explains. Nonetheless, he’s so dedicated to his job he has regular nightmares about strings breaking. His good-humored expertise and ingenuity make for engaging company on a multi-city itinerary, during which we meet a roll call of world-class virtuosi. Following this affable, unflappable protagonist over a year’s course, with an important Bach recording project at its end, this beautifully assembled documentary (a rare one these days shot on 35mm) by Lilian Franck and Robert Cibis should fascinate even those not especially attuned to classical music. (1:33) Opera Plaza. (Harvey)
Rise of the Planet of the Apes Fun fact: according to this origin story starring James Franco, the first supersmart apes were bred right here in San Francisco. (1:50)
Sarah’s Key Kristen Scott Thomas stars as a journalist in France who becomes deeply involved in a story she’s researching about the Jewish family forced by Nazis to vacate the home she now lives in. (1:42) Embarcadero.
Another Earth After serving a prison sentence for a youthful drunk-driving incident that killed two passengers in another car, Rhoda (Brit Marling) emerges no longer a blithe party girl but a haunted loner who prefers working as a high school janitor. Obsessed by her crime, she starts spying on the man it had left widowed and childless, a onetime composer (William Mapother) who like her has retreated into a solitary shell of depression. She finds a way to integrate herself (without revealing her identity) into his threadbare current existence, the two of them bonding over fascination with a newly discovered planet that appears the exact duplicate of Earth — complete with the possibility of our doubles living a parallel existence there. You can take Mike Cahill’s modestly scaled U.S. indie feature (cowritten with actor Marling) as a familiar drama about grief and repentance with a novel gloss of sci-fi, or as a sci-fi story with unusual attention to character emotions and almost no need of fantasy FX. Either way, it’s earnest, well-acted and interesting if not quite memorable; as has been noted elsewhere, the material could have fit just as effectively into a half-hour Twilight Zone episode. (1:32) Embarcadero, Sundance Kabuki. (Harvey)
*Attack the Block The Goonies go to a South London projects, with more gore, guts, and gumption? With good reason, writer, director, and Edgar Wright/Simon Pegg cohort Joe Cornish’s own project, Attack the Block, has been getting raves at fests for its effortless, energetic originality, discernible through its thick, glottal stop-chomping, Jafaican-draped local brogue. The question posed, ever so entertainingly: what happens when you pit the toughest kids on the block against a ferocious pack of outer-space critters — not quite out to serve man but rather sever him limb from limb? We start out seeing this gang of at-risk, risk-taking youth through the peepers of a vulnerable female mugging victim and neighbor, Sam (Jodie Whittaker)—they seem as scary as any alien invader and she wants to bring down the full force of the law on them. But the pack, led by Moses (John Boyega, who charismatically scowls like a young 50 Cent), has more pressing matters at hand: a mysterious creature has come crashing down from out of the sky, and naturally, being nasty terrors, they kill it, bringing down a intergalactic shit storm of trouble. Their favorite refuge: the top-floor weed room overseen by Ron (Pegg sidekick Nick Frost), where they attempt to suss out why they’ve become the prime prey for wolfish aliens out for blood. Throw in chills, bike chases, a resourceful use of elevators and dumpsters, and an epic, eerie dubstep theme by Basement Jaxx, and you have a very fun horror-thriller that declines to preach but manages to bring home a message reminiscent of Night of the Living Dead (1968). Consider this a whole-hearted, double-fisted antidote to the fearful vigilantism of films like 2009’s Harry Brown. (1:28) Metreon. (Chun)
*Beginners There is nothing conventional about Beginners, a film that starts off with the funeral arrangements for one of its central characters. That man is Hal (Christopher Plummer), who came out to his son Oliver (Ewan McGregor) at the ripe age of 75. Through flashbacks, we see the relationship play out — Oliver’s inability to commit tempered by his father’s tremendous late-stage passion for life. Hal himself is a rare character: an elderly gay man, secure in his sexuality and, by his own admission, horny. He even has a much younger boyfriend, played by the handsome Goran Visnjic. While the father-son bond is the heart of Beginners, we also see the charming development of a relationship between Oliver and French actor Anna (Mélanie Laurent). It all comes together beautifully in a film that is bittersweet but ultimately satisfying. Beginners deserves praise not only for telling a story too often left untold, but for doing so with grace and a refreshing sense of whimsy. (1:44) Elmwood, Lumiere. (Peitzman)
Bride Flight Who doesn’t love a sweeping Dutch period piece? Ben Sombogaart’s Bride Flight is pure melodrama soup, enough to give even the most devout arthouse-goer the bloats. Emigrating from post-World War II Holland to New Zealand with two gal pals, the sweetly staid Ada (Karina Smulders) falls for smarm-ball Frank (Waldemar Torenstra, the Dutchman’s James Franco) and kind of joins the mile high club to the behest of her conscience. The women arrive with emotional baggage and carry-ons of the uterine kind. As the harem adjusts to the country mores of the Highlands, Frank tries a poke at all of them in a series of sex scenes more moldy than smoldery. This Flight, set to a plodding score and stuffy mise-en-scene, never quite leaves the runway. Not to mention the whole picture, pale as a corpse, resembles one of those old-timey photographs of your great grandma’s wedding. These kinds of pastoral romances ought to be put out to, well, pasture. (2:10) Opera Plaza. (Ryan Lattanzio)
Buck This documentary paints a portrait of horse trainer Buck Brannaman as a sort of modern-day sage, a sentimental cowboy who helps “horses with people problems.” Brannaman has transcended a background of hardship and abuse to become a happy family man who makes a difference for horses and their owners all over the country with his unconventional, humane colt-starting clinics. Though he doesn’t actually whisper to horses, he served as an advisor and inspiration for Robert Redford’s The Horse Whisperer (1998). Director Cindy Meehl focuses generously on her saintly subject’s bits of wisdom in and out of a horse-training setting — e.g. “Everything you do with a horse is a dance” — as well as heartfelt commentary from friends and colleagues. In the harrowing final act of the film, Brannaman deals with a particularly unruly horse and his troubled owner, highlighting the dire and disturbing consequences of improper horse rearing. (1:28) Opera Plaza. (Sam Stander)
*Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff is to a large extent exactly what is sounds like: a well-made documentary on one of cinema’s most prolific and well-regarded cinematographers. Featuring interviews with the elderly Cardiff himself as well as with Martin Scorsese, Kirk Douglas, Lauren Bacall, and others, Cameraman examines Cardiff’s career, from his beginnings in 1918 as a child actor through his early innovations with color film, his mastery of lighting, and his brief transition into directing. As much as this is a film about Cardiff, though, it’s also about the collaborative process of filmmaking and the artistry of cinematography. With big-name directors and actors soaking up the headlines, it’s easy to forget the talent behind the camerawork. Cardiff, who passed away in 2009 at the age of 94, was a true artist, as at ease with a lens as with a paintbrush. (1:30) Balboa, Smith Rafael. (Cooper Berkmoyer)
Captain America: The First Avenger OK, Marvel. I could get behind 2008’s Iron Man (last year’s Iron Man 2, not so much), but after Thor and now Captain America, I’m starting to get cynical about this multi-year build-up to the full-on Avengers movie, due in May 2012. Can even a superhero-stuffed movie directed by Joss Whedon live up to all this hype? There’s plenty of time to ponder, and maybe worry a little, with Captain America’s backstory-explaining picture now in theaters. Chris Evans stars as the 90-pound weakling who morphs into a supersoldier, thanks to the World War II-era tinkerings of a scientist (Stanley Tucci) and an inventor (Dominic Cooper as Howard Stark, a.k.a. Iron Man’s dad). The original plan for the musclebound shield-bearer (fighting Nazis, natch) gets waylaid a bit when the newly famous Captain America becomes a PR prop for the U.S. government; it’s abandoned entirely when a worse-than-Hitler foe, in the guise of power-obsessed Red Skull (Hugo Weaving), threatens the world. Directed by Spielberg cohort Joe Johnston, Captain America is gee-whiz enjoyable enough, but it’s very nearly the same movie as Thor, which no amount of Tommy Lee Jones (as a sarcastic army colonel) wisecracks can conceal. And here’s an anti-spoiler: there’s no post-credits surprise in this one, so you can bolt as soon as they start to roll. (2:09) Cerrito, Empire, 1000 Van Ness, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki. (Eddy)
Cars 2 You pretty much can’t say a bad thing about a Pixar film. Cars 2 is by no means Ratatouille (2007) or Wall-E (2008), but the sequel to the 2006 hit Cars offers plenty of sleek visuals and one-note gags under its hollow hood. If nothing else, Pixar seems to have overcome the dingy, dark glaze that plagues 3-D films. Directors John Lasseter and Joe Ranft return to beloved autos Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) and the “extremely American” Mater (Larry the Cable Guy). This time around, secret agents Finn McMissile (Michael Caine) and Holley Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer) come along for the ride while working to expose sabotage in the alternative fuel industry. Compelling chase sequences, explosions and more than a few jabs at cultural stereotypes follow suit. This is the lightest, silliest Pixar film to date, but you probably don’t have any business seeing it unless you’ve got a kid in tow. (1:52) SF Center. (Lattanzio)
Cowboys and Aliens Here ’tis in a nutshell: the movie’s called Cowboys and Aliens — and that’s exactly, entirely what you’ll get. Director Jon Favreau may never best 2008’s Iron Man (actor Jon Favreau will prob never top 1996’s Swingers, but that’s a debate for another time), but that doesn’t mean he won’t have a good time trying. Cowboys is a genre mash-up in the most literal sense; as the title suggests, it pits Wild West gunslingers (Harrison Ford as a crabby cattleman, Daniel Craig as an amnesiac outlaw) against gold-seeking space invaders who also delight in kidnapping and torturing humans. As stupidly entertaining as it is, this is a textbook example of a pretty OK movie that could have been so much better … if only. If only the alien characters had a little bit more District 9-style personality. If only the story had a shred of suspense — look ye not here for “spooky” and “mysterious;” this shit is 100 percent full-on explosions. If only Craig’s comically fine-tooled physique didn’t outshine his wooden acting. And so forth. (1:58) Balboa, 1000 Van Ness, SF Center. (Eddy)
Crazy, Stupid, Love Keep the poster’s allusion to 1967’s The Graduate to one side: there aren’t many revelations about midlife crises in this cleverly penned yet strangely flat ensemble rom-com, awkwardly pitched at almost every demographic at the cineplex. There’s the middle-aged romance that’s withered at the vine: nice but boring family man Cal (Steve Carell) finds himself at a hopeless loss when wife and onetime teenage sweetheart Emily (Julianne Moore) tells him she wants a divorce and she’s slept with a coworker (Kevin Bacon). He ends up waxing pathetic at a slick nightclub where he catches the eye of the well-dressed, spray-tanned smoothie Jacob (Ryan Gosling), who appears to have taken his ladies man stance from the Clooney playbook. It’s manly makeover time: GQ meets Pretty Woman (1990)! Cut to Cal and Emily’s babysitter Jessica (Analeigh Tipton), who is crushing out on Cal, while the separated couple’s tween Robbie (Jonah Bobo) hankers for Jessica. Somehow Josh Groban worms his way into the mix as the dullard suitor of Hannah (Emma Stone) in a hanging chad of a storyline that must somehow be resolved in this mad, mad, mad, mad — actually, the problem with Crazy, Stupid, Love is that it isn’t really that mad or crazy. It tries far too hard to please everybody in the theater to its detriment, reminding the viewer of a tidy, episodic TV series (albeit a quality effort) like Modern Family more than an actual film. Likewise I yearned for a way to fast-forward through the too-cute Jessica-Robbie scenes in order to get back to the sleazy-smart, punchy complexity of Gosling, playing adeptly off both Carrell and Stone. (1:58) 1000 Van Ness, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki. (Chun)
*Friends With Benefits If you see only one romantic comedy this summer about a sex-sans-pair-bonding pact between a girl and a guy saddled with intimacy issues — well, chances are, if you tend to see movies with premises like this, you probably already saw No Strings Attached. In which case, poor unlucky Friends with Benefits may be filed away in your brain as that other movie about fuckbuddies, the one in which Ashton Kutcher is played by Justin Timberlake and Natalie Portman (in a slightly eerie cosmic echo of last year’s Black Swan) is played by Mila Kunis. But if you see two such movies this summer, and admit it, you probably might, you’ll likely agree that FWB kicks NSA‘s booty call, particularly in the areas of scriptwriting ingenuity, pacing, and the casting subcategory of basic chemistry between romantic leads, with points possibly taken off for shark-jumping use of flash mobs and the fact that the maddeningly sticky song “Closing Time” will now be with you from closing credits ’til doomsday. This is not a searing, psychologically nuanced portrayal of two young people’s struggles to grapple with modern-day sexual mores and their own crippling pathologies — rather, the pair’s emotional baggage mostly seems to be stuffed with packing peanuts, and scenes in which they catalog their sexual proclivities in a humorously businesslike, gently raunchy fashion reveal them to be hearteningly adept at the art of communication. But such moments keep us entertained as the film, salted with light jabs at the genre’s worn-down touchstones yet utterly complicit, depicts the inevitable stages of a non-relationship relationship. (1:44) 1000 Van Ness, Sundance Kabuki. (Rapoport)
*Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 Chances are you aren’t going to jump into the Harry Potter series with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2. So while the movie is probably the best Harry Potter film yet, it’s more a fitting conclusion than a standalone film. For fans of the books, there are no real surprises — this is a close adaptation. And for those Harry Potter movie fans who haven’t read the books, shame on you, and kudos if you managed to not get spoiled. It’s hard for me to offer a serious critical analysis of Part 2, because it represents the end of a long and very emotional journey. (Everyone in that audience was crying. Everyone.) I will say that, as was the case in the book, there are a few overdone, schmaltzy moments that aren’t really necessary. But in the context of the series, they’re forgivable — this may not be the great cinematic event of our generation, but Harry Potter as a whole is sure to be one of our most enduring cultural icons. (2:10) Cerrito, Empire, 1000 Van Ness, Sundance Kabuki. (Peitzman)
Horrible Bosses Lead by a clearly talented ensemble of comic actors, Horrible Bosses is yet another example of a big-budget summer comedy with a promising conceit (see: Bad Teacher) that fails to deliver anything but crude alms to the lowest common denominator. Seth Gordon directs Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis, and Charlie Day as three pals fed up with their evil employers (Kevin Spacey, Colin Farrell and Jennifer Aniston, respectively) so they hatch a plan to have them killed. Because the answer to their problem obviously lies in a dive bar in the “bad part of town,” Jamie Foxx plays Motherfucker Jones, their murder consultant and the film’s most likable character-stereotype. In the tradition of The Hangover (2009) and its ilk of beer-guzzling, frat-boy cousins, Horrible Bosses is a disastrous pile-up of idiocy that’s more vapid than vulgar despite a few amusing performances. See it for no other reason than Michael Bluth and Charlie Kelly on coke. (1:33) Elmwood, 1000 Van Ness, Sundance Kabuki. (Lattanzio)
Life, Above All It’s tough enough to simply grow up, let alone care for a parent with AIDS and deal with the suspicions and fears of the no-nothing adults all around you. Rising above easy preaching and hand-wringing didacticism, Life, Above All takes as its blueprint the 2004 best-seller by Allan Stratton, Chandra’s Secrets, and makes compelling work of the story of 12-year-old Chandra (Khomotso Manyaka) and her unfortunate family, unable to get effective help amid the thicket of ignorance regarding AIDS in Africa. After her newborn sister dies, Chandra finds her loyalty torn between her bright-eyed best friend Esther (Keaobaka Makanyane), who’s rumored to hooking among the truck drivers in their dusty, sun-scorched rural South African hometown, and her mother (Lerato Mvelase), who listens far too closely to her bourgie friend Mrs. Tafa (an OTT Harriet Manamela), for her own good. Cape Town native director Oliver Schmitz sticks close to the action playing across his actors’ faces, and he’s rewarded, particularly by the graceful Manyaka, in this life-affirmer about little girls forced to shoulder heart-breaking responsibility far too soon. (1:46) Sundance Kabuki. (Chun)
Life in a Day (1:30) Balboa.
Midnight in Paris Owen Wilson plays Gil, a self-confessed “Hollywood hack” visiting the City of Light with his conservative future in-laws and crassly materialistic fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams). A romantic obviously at odds with their selfish pragmatism (somehow he hasn’t realized that yet), he’s in love with Paris and particularly its fabled artistic past. Walking back to his hotel alone one night, he’s beckoned into an antique vehicle and finds himself transported to the 1920s, at every turn meeting the Fitzgeralds, Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates), Dali (Adrien Brody), etc. He also meets Adriana (Marion Cotillard), a woman alluring enough to be fought over by Hemingway (Corey Stoll) and Picasso (Marcial di Fonzo Bo) — though she fancies aspiring literary novelist Gil. Woody Allen’s latest is a pleasant trifle, no more, no less. Its toying with a form of magical escapism from the dreary present recalls The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985), albeit without that film’s greater structural ingeniousness and considerable heart. None of the actors are at their best, though Cotillard is indeed beguiling and Wilson dithers charmingly as usual. Still — it’s pleasant. (1:34) Embarcadero, 1000 Van Ness, Sundance Kabuki. (Harvey)
*The Names of Love Arthur (Jacques Gamblin) is a 40-ish scientist being interviewed about the threat of a bird flu epidemic when his radio broadcast is interrupted by 20-something Baya (Sara Forestier), who denounces him on-air as a “fascist” for frightening the public. But then, Baya tends to use that label rather indiscriminately, applying it to anyone who might conceivably have views to the right of the dial — and Arthur is in fact a solid liberal, which means she can bed him for love. As opposed to the many, many other men she beds as a self-described “political whore,” seeking out conservative types in order to seduce them and hopefully induce an idealogical shift by whispering sweet nothings (“Not all Arabs are thieves,” etc.) as they orgasm. Raised by parents whose emotions are so tightly wound his mother won’t acknowledge her parents were Jews killed at Auschwitz, Arthur has a hard time adjusting to a relationship with a lover who is faithful emotionally but sees promiscuity as her propagandic gift to the world. Meanwhile Baya’s largely Algerian family treats garrulous political argument as the very air they breathe. This odd-couple story written by Baya Kasmi and director Michel Leclerc deals with serious issues in both humorous and respectful fashion, making for one of the more novel, delightful and depthed French romantic comedies in a long time. Added plus: lots of antic gratuitous nudity. (1:42) Clay, Smith Rafael. (Harvey)
*NEDs There is bleak, and there is Scottish bleak. Weighed down by class and roundly ignored by apathetic institutions, the non-educated delinquent is the star of writer-director Peter Mullan’s wrenching but delightful NEDS (2010), a dark and curiously fanciful tale of youth in the housing estates of 1970s Glasgow. John McGill (Conor McCarron) is a bright and talented student with high hopes for a future at university until abuse by peers and teachers alike leads him down the well worn path of drinking, fighting, and gang life with the Young Car-Ds, his older brother Benny’s (Joe Szula) crew. The quiet John can’t escape the tide of history that society has set him upon and soon he’s joined the fray, abandoning his academic promise for a life of Doc Martens and concealed blades. As J. McGill so eloquently explains: “Youse want a NED? I’ll gie youse a fucking NED!” (2:03) Balboa. (Berkmoyer)
*Page One: Inside the New York Times When Andrew Rossi’s documentary premiered at Sundance this January, word of mouth on it was respectable but qualified, with nearly everyone opining that it was good … just not what they’d been led to expect. What they expected was (in line with the original subtitle A Year Inside the New York Times) a top-to-bottom overview of how the nation’s most respected — and in some circles resented — arbiter of news, “style,” and culture is created on a day-to-day as well as longer term basis. That’s something that would doubtless fascinate anyone still interested in print media, or even that realm of web media not catering to the ADD nation. But that big picture and the wealth of minute cogs within isn’t Page One‘s subject. Instead, Rossi focuses on the Gray Lady’s wrestling with admittedly fast-changing times in which newspapers and any other information source on paper seem to constitute an endangered species. This particular Times, however, is such a special case that that crisis might better have been explored by training a camera on a less fabled publication, perhaps one of the many that have succumbed to a once unthinkable, market-shrunk mortality in recent years. The film finds its colorful protagonist in David Carr, an ex-crack addict turned media columnist who retains his cranky, nonconformist edge even as he defends the Times itself from the same out-with-the-old cheerleaders who 15 years ago were inflating the dot-com boom till it burst. Facing one particularly smug champion of the blogosphere at a forum, Carr notes that without a few remaining outlets — like the Times — doing the hard work of serious research and reportage, the web would have nothing to purloin or offer but its own unending trivia and gossip. Page One does what it does entertainingly well, but if you’re looking for insight toward this not-dead-yet U.S. institution as a whole, you’d be better off simply picking up this week’s Sunday edition and reading every last word. (1:28) Opera Plaza. (Harvey)
The Smurfs in 3D (1:43) 1000 Van Ness.
*Tabloid Taking a break from loftier subjects, Errol Morris’ latest documentary simply finds a whopper of a story and lets the principal participant tell her side of it — one we gradually realize may be very far from the real truth. In 1978 former Miss Wyoming Joyce McKinney flew to England, where the Mormon boy she’d grown infatuated with had been posted for missionary work by his church. What ensued became a U.K. tabloid sensation, as the glamorous, not at all publicity-shy Yankee attracted accusations of kidnapping, imprisonment, attempted rape and more. Her victim of love, one Kirk Anderson, is not heard from here — presumably he’s been trying to live down an embarrassing life chapter ever since. But we do hear from others who shed considerable light on the now middle-aged McKinney’s continued protestations that it was all just one big misunderstanding. Most importantly, we hear from the lady herself — and she is colorful, unflappable, unapologetic, and quite possibly stone-cold nuts. (1:28) Lumiere. (Harvey)
Transformers: Dark of the Moon I’ll never understand the wisdom behind epic-length children’s movies. What child — or adult, for that matter — wants to sit through 154 minutes of assaultive popcorn entertainment? It’s an especially confounding decision for this third installment in the Transformers franchise because there’s a fantastic 90-minute movie in there, undone at every turn by some of the worst jokes, most pointless characters, and most hateful cultural politics you’re likely to see this summer. But when I say a fantastic movie, I mean a fantastic movie. It took two very expensive earlier attempts before director Michael Bay figured out that big things require a big canvas. Every shot of Dark of the Moon‘s predecessors seemed designed to hide their effects by crowding the screen. Finally we get the full view — the scale is now rightly calibrated to operatic and ridiculous. The marquee set pieces are inspired and terrifying, eliciting a sense of vertigo that’s earned for once, not imposed by the editing. The human hijinks are less consistent but ingratiatingly batshit, and without resorting to preening self-awareness and elaborately contrived mea culpas. But unfortunately Bay is too unapologetic even to walk back the ethnic buffoonery that not only upsets hippies like me but also seems defiantly disharmonious with the movie he’s trying to make. Bay is like that guy at the party who thinks amping up the racism will prove he’s not a racist. It’s that kind of garbage (plus, I guess, some universal primal hatred of Shia LaBeouf that I don’t really get) that makes people dismiss these movies wholesale. This time it’s just not deserved. I wouldn’t want to meet the asshole who made this thing, but credit where credit is due. It’s a visual marvel with perfectly integrated, utterly tactile, brilliantly choreographed CG robotics — a point that’ll no doubt be conceded in passing as if it’s not the very reason the movie exists. As if it’s not a feat of mastery to make a megaton changeling truck look graceful. (2:34) 1000 Van Ness. (Jason Shamai)
The Tree of Life Mainstream American films are so rarely adventuresome that overreactive gratitude frequently greets those rare, self-conscious, usually Oscar-baiting stabs at profundity. Terrence Malick has made those gestures so sparingly over four decades that his scarcity is widely taken for genius. Now there’s The Tree of Life, at once astonishingly ambitious — insofar as general addressing the origin/meaning of life goes — and a small domestic narrative artificially inflated to a maximally pretentious pressure-point. The thesis here is a conflict between “nature” (the way of striving, dissatisfied, angry humanity) and “grace” (the way of love, femininity, and God). After a while Tree settles into a fairly conventional narrative groove, dissecting — albeit in meandering fashion — the travails of a middle-class Texas household whose patriarch (a solid Brad Pitt) is sternly demanding of his three young sons. As a modern-day survivor of that household, Malick’s career-reviving ally Sean Penn has little to do but look angst-ridden while wandering about various alien landscapes. Set in Waco but also shot in Rome, at Versailles, and in Saturn’s orbit (trust me), The Tree of Life is so astonishingly self-important while so undernourished on some basic levels that it would be easy to dismiss as lofty bullshit. Its Cannes premiere audience booed and cheered — both factions right, to an extent. (2:18) Empire, Lumiere. (Harvey)
*The Trip Eclectic British director Michael Winterbottom rebounds from sexually humiliating Jessica Alba in last year’s flop The Killer Inside Me to humiliating Steve Coogan in all number of ways (this time to positive effect) in this largely improvised comic romp through England’s Lake District. Well, romp might be the wrong descriptive — dubbed a “foodie Sideways” but more plaintive and less formulaic than that sun-dappled California affair, this TV-to-film adaptation displays a characteristic English glumness to surprisingly keen emotional effect. Playing himself, Coogan displays all the carefree joie de vivre of a colonoscopy patient with hemorrhoids as he sloshes through the gray northern landscape trying to get cell reception when not dining on haute cuisine or being wracked with self-doubt over his stalled movie career and love life. Throw in a happily married, happy-go-lucky frenemy (comic actor Rob Brydon) and Coogan (TV’s I’m Alan Partridge), can’t help but seem like a pathetic middle-aged prick in a puffy coat. Somehow, though, his confused narcissism is a perverse panacea. Come for the dueling Michael Caine impressions and snot martinis, stay for the scallops and Brydon’s “small man in a box” routine. (1:52) Bridge. (Devereaux)
Winnie the Pooh (1:09) Elmwood, 1000 Van Ness.
*World on a Wire The words “Rainer Werner Fasbinder” and “science fiction film” are enough to get certain film buffs salivating, but the Euro-trashy interior décor is almost reason enough to see this restored print of the New German Cinema master’s cyber thriller. Originally a two-part TV miniseries, World on a Wire is set in an alternate present (then 1973) in which everything seems to be made of concrete, mirror, Lucite, or orange plastic. When the inventor of a supercomputer responsible for generating an artificial world mysteriously disappears, his handsome predecessor must fight against his corporate bosses to find out what really happened, and in the process, stumbles upon a far more shattering secret about the nature of reality itself. Riffing off the understated cool of Godard’s Alphaville (1965) while beating 1999’s The Matrix to the punch by some 25 years, World on a Wire is a stylistically singular entry in Fassbinder’s prolific filmography. (3:32) Roxie. (Sussman)