Amigo John Sayles’ career is a fascinating one too varied to fully examine here; suffice it to say, the man’s first big gig was writing 1978’s Piranha before he became the indie auteur behind such notables as 1984’s The Brother from Another Planet, 1987’s Matewan, 1988’s Eight Men Out, and 1996’s Lone Star. He favors large ensemble casts, socially-conscious themes, and an unhurried pace that allows the exploration of various plot threads. Amigo is possibly most similar to 1997’s Men With Guns, in that it’s largely subtitled, is set in a foreign country (here, the Philippines), and plays out against a backdrop of political and military unrest. The film takes place during the Philippine-American War, circa 1900, as U.S. troops (led by Sayles favorite Chris Cooper) roam the just-freed-from-Spain jungles searching for rebels who threaten America’s claim to the land. Also in the mix are town leader Rafael (Filipino superstar Joel Torre), his guerilla brother (Ronnie Lazaro), and a crooked priest (Yul Vázquez) fond of incorrectly translating between sides. Amigo‘s an important film simply because it educates about a little-known conflict — frankly, America’s conduct as occupiers is so cruel that it’s no surprise the history books gloss over it — but it’s slow-moving and heavy-handed, with a tone that pitches uneasily between humor and tragedy. (2:08) Stonestown. (Eddy)
*The Arbor An audaciously conceived and genuinely haunting chronicle of a family, The Arbor reinvents two of the most debased forms of nonfiction film: the venerating portrait of an artist who died young and the voyeuristic confession of abuse. The locus here is the short, bottle-strewn life of Andrea Dunbar, a brilliant playwright whose work distilled the manners and speech of the West Yorkshire housing projects. The Arbor effectively stages some of this work in a park near the same apartments, but the project’s focus is Dunbar’s shambling private life and its devastating effect on friends, lovers, and daughters. Our emotions are strained by their collective fury and grief, but never cheated. Curiously, Clio Barnard accomplishes this by being up front in her manipulations. After collecting interviews with the key players, she cast actors to lip sync the answers — that is, the voices are documentary while the images are staged, an uncanny effect that becomes even more so when Barnard stitches together responses to narrate a single event. The technique is eerie and literally disembodying. In the same way that one affected by trauma may experience a separation from his or her self, so the image of the actor speaking comes unglued from the “real” voice — and so too is there a crucial hesitation in our assigning authenticity to a single, undivided subject. There are shades of Greek tragedy in The Arbor‘s patient, distanced unfolding of its characters’ fates. The speakers are imagined as a chorus, and though the drama is offscreen, long since buried, the pain still lives. (1:34) Roxie. (Goldberg)
*Bellflower Picture Two Lane Blacktop (1971) drifters armed with “dude”-centric vocabulary and an obsession with The Road Warrior (1981) and its apocalypse-wow survivalist chic. There are so many pleasures in this janky, so-very-DIY, heavy-on-the-sunblasted-atmosphere indie that you’re almost willing to overlook the clichés, the dead zones, and the annoying characters. Seeming every-dudes Woodrow (director-writer-producer Evan Glodell) and Aiden (Tyler Dawson) are far too obsessed with tricking out their cars and building a flamethrower for their own good — the misfits must force themselves out of the metal shop of the mind to meet women. So when Woodrow goes up against Milly (Jessie Wiseman) in a cricket-eating contest at a bar, it’s love at first bite. Their meet-gross morphs into a road trip and eventually a relationship, while the flamethrower nags, unexplained, in the background, like an unfired gun — or an unconsummated, not-funny bromance. These manifestations of male fantasy — muscle cars, weapons, and tough chicks — are cast in a dreamy, saturated, and burnt-at-the-edges light, as Glodell and company weave together barely articulated reveries and bad-new-west imagery with a kind of fuck-all intelligence, culminating in a finale that will either haunt you with its scattershot machismo-romanticism or leave you scratching your noggin wondering what just happened. (1:46) (Chun)
Conan the Barbarian Jason Momoa (Game of Thrones), Rose McGowan, and Ron Perlman star (in 3D) in this latest take on the Robert E. Howard hero. (1:42)
*The Future See “Fear and Longing.” (1:31)
Fright Night Don’t let the spooky trailer fool you: the Fright Night remake is almost as silly as the original. In fact, it follows the 1985 film closely, as young Charley Brewster (Anton Yelchin) comes to realize that his neighbor Jerry (Colin Farrell) is a vampire. The biggest change is a smart one — this Fright Night transforms late-night TV host Peter Vincent into Criss Angel-type illusionist Peter Vincent (David Tennant). The casting is spot on all-around, and frankly, Farrell is a lot more believable than Chris Sarandon as the seductive bad boy. The only real problem with the new Fright Night — other than the unnecessary 3D — is that it never fully commits to camp the way the original did. There’s a bit too much back-and-forth between serious scares and goofy blood splatters. Luckily, it’s still an entertaining remake that doesn’t crap all over a classic. It’s also a great reminder that vampires don’t have to be moody — remember, they used to be fun. (2:00) (Peitzman)
Griff the Invisible See “Fortress of Meh.” (1:33) Shattuck.
Gun Hill Road See “Once Upon a Time in the Bronx.” (1:28) Sundance Kabuki.
*One Day See “Deep in the Heart.” (1:48) Balboa.
*Senna When Ayrton Senna died in 1994 at the age of 34, he had already secured his legacy as one of the greatest and most beloved Formula One racers of all time. The three-time world champion was a hero in his native Brazil and a respected and feared opponent on the track. This eponymous documentary by director Asif Kapadia is nearly as dynamic as the man himself, with more than enough revving engines and last minute passes to satisfy your lust for speed and a decent helping Ayrton’s famous personality as well. Senna was a champion, driven to win even as the sometimes-backhanded politics of the racing world stood in his way. A tragic figure, maybe, but a legend nonetheless. You don’t have to be an F1 fan to appreciate this film, but you may wind up one by the time the credits roll. (1:44) Embarcadero, Smith Rafael. (Cooper Berkmoyer)
Sholem Aleichem: Laughing in the Darkness This documentary cuts to the chase right at the beginning: yeah, Sholem Aleichem was the guy who wrote the Tevye stories that inspired Fiddler on the Roof. But filmmaker Joseph Dorman isn’t trying to make Fiddler: Behind the Musical. Instead, he takes an in-depth look at the life, writing career, and cultural significance of “one of the great modern Jewish writers — and our greatest Yiddish writer,” per the film’s press notes. Fans of Jewish lit will be particularly engaged by Sholem Aleichem’s tale; raised in a shtetl in what’s now the Ukraine, he moved around Europe and to the United States pursuing various careers, but always writing the popular stories that addressed not just Jewish life, but broader issues facing turn-of-the-last-century Jews, including the cross-generational conflicts that make up much of Fiddler‘s plot and humor. That said, this film does rely an awful lot on PBS-style slow pans over black-and-white photos and intellectual talking heads; one suspects the subject himself (so devoted was he to entertaining the regular folk who gobbled up his tales) would’ve preferred his life story to unfold in a livelier fashion. (1:33) Opera Plaza. (Eddy)
Spy Kids: All the Time in the World Robert Rodriguez just can’t stop making these. (1:29)
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) Opera Plaza, Shattuck. (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)
Beats, Rhymes & Life Actor Michael Rapaport probably didn’t set out to make a hip-hop Metallica: Some Kind of Monster (2004), but that’s pretty much where his portrait of A Tribe Called Quest ends up. The first half of Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest is predictably worshipful, slathering on low angles and slow motion to cover mediocre live shows. More effectively, Rapaport traces the Queens group’s brief incubation period and subsequent breakthroughs in what would later be called alternative or, more obnoxiously, conscious hip-hop. A slew of notable followers and contemporaries toast Tribe’s first three albums, but by the time Rapaport catches up to the group’s 2008 reunion even their longtime friends De La Soul are wishing they’d call the whole thing off. The documentary slides into the Monster zone of hurt feelings and passive aggressive behavior in accounting for the group’s split after their inappropriately named 1998 album, The Love Movement. Phife Dawg and Q-Tip are the warring egos, though perennially slighted Phife is really no match for the imperially cool Tip. DJ Ali Shaheed Muhammad is the Kirk Hammett of the outfit, looking on helplessly as the two bigger personalities make a mess of things. There’s still novelty in a story about aging in hip-hop, but Rapaport’s portrait is utterly conventional. He also doesn’t pursue more interesting questions of race and politics that naturally follow the band’s crossover appeal. (1:38) Shattuck. (Goldberg)
*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) 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)
*Bridesmaids For anyone burned out on bad romantic comedies, Bridesmaids can teach you how to love again. This film is an answer to those who have lamented the lack of strong female roles in comedy, of good vehicles for Saturday Night Live cast members, of an appropriate showcase for Melissa McCarthy. The hilarious but grounded Kristen Wiig stars as Annie, whose best friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph) is getting hitched. Financially and romantically unstable, Annie tries to throw herself into her maid of honor duties — all while competing with the far more refined Helen (Rose Byrne). Bridesmaids is one of the best comedies in recent memory, treating its relatable female characters with sympathy. It’s also damn funny from start to finish, which is more than can be said for most of the comedies Hollywood continues to churn out. Here’s your choice: let Bridesmaids work its charm on you, or never allow yourself to complain about an Adam Sandler flick again. (2:04) Shattuck. (Peitzman)
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, Shattuck. (Sam Stander)
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) SF Center, Shattuck, Sundance Kabuki. (Eddy)
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) Four Star, Marina, 1000 Van Ness, Shattuck. (Chun)
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) 1000 Van Ness, Presidio, 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 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) Marina, 1000 Van Ness, SF Center, Shattuck, Sundance Kabuki. (Chun)
*Crime After Crime In 1983, Deborah Peagler was sentenced to 25 years to life for first-degree murder in the death of her former boyfriend Oliver Wilson, whom two local L.A. gang members had strangled — supposedly at her behest. Encouraged to plead guilty to avoid the death penalty, Peagler had a juryless trial and was quickly shunted off to prison. There she was repeatedly turned down for parole despite spending the years of her incarceration as a church leader, mentor, and tutor to other inmates; a highly skilled electronics-assembly supervisor; earning two degrees; and sustaining good long-distance relationships with her two daughters. Even most of the victim’s surviving relatives had come to believe she should have been released years earlier. For her part, Peagler always claimed she intended Wilson to be beaten, but had not asked for or condoned his murder. What was missing (or suppressed) from the original trial were the myriad reasons she’d wanted to frighten him away from herself and her family, including the fact that he’d frequently beaten her. Walnut Creek attorneys Nadia Costa and Joshua Safran agreed to take on Peagler’s case pro bono, and they launched what turned into years of effort during which her cause becomes a public cause célèbre, and indications emerge of some very ugly misconduct by the District Attorney’s office. This battle is chronicled in Bay Area filmmaker Yoav Potash’s documentary Crime After Crime. It’s a story with plenty of lurid and tragic revelations, ranging from child sexual abuse to terminal illness to hidden evidence of perjury. The film won’t exactly stoke your faith in the justice system, but this thoroughly engrossing document does affirm that there is hope good people can and will fight the system. (1:33) Smith Rafael. (Harvey)
The Devil’s Double Say hello to my little friend, again— and rest assured, it’s not a dream and you’re seeing double. New Zealand filmmaker Lee Tamahori gets back to his potboiler roots with this campy, claustrophobic look back at the House of Saddam Hussein, based on a true story and designed to win over fans of Scarface (1983) with its portrait of mad excess and deca-dancey ’80s-ish soundtrack. The craziest poseur of all is Hussein’s son Uday (Dominic Cooper), a petty dictator-in-the-making — and, according to this film, a full-fledged murderous pedophile — who chomps cigars and wraps his jaws around schoolgirls while Cooper happily chews scenery. Uday needs a double to sidestep all those troublesome assassination attempts, so he enlists look-alike childhood friend Latif (also Cooper) to get the surgery, pop in the overbite, bray like a madman, make appearances in his stead, and function as a kind of pet human. Never mind Ludivine Sagnier, glassy-eyed and absurd in the role of Uday’s favorite sex kitten Sarrab — Double is completely Cooper’s, who seizes the moment, investing the morally upstanding Latif with a serious sincerity with just his eyes and body language and infusing evil odd job Uday with a dangerous, comic-book unpredictability. To his credit, Cooper imbues such cult-ready, blow-the-doors-off lines as “I love cunt! I love cunt more than god!” with, erm, believability, even as the denouement rings somewhat false. (1:48) California, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki. (Chun)
*Final Destination 5 The thing about my undying love for the Final Destination series is that it’s completely legitimate and 100 percent sincere. You know exactly what you’re getting with each new movie, and these films never try to tell you otherwise. Yes, everyone will die. Yes, the deaths will be creative and disgusting. Yes, the quality of acting will be sacrificed for some of the more expensive splatter effects. For those of us who understand what the series is all about, Final Destination 5 is a triumph. It’s gory, wickedly funny, and a notable improvement on previous sequels. Not to mention the fact that Tony “Candyman” Todd gets a beefed-up role. For once, the 3D is actually a big help, with some of the best in-your-face effects I’ve seen. As for non-fans, I can’t say Final Destination 5 has much to offer. You have to embrace the absurdity and the mission statement before you can fully appreciate death by laser eye surgery. (1:32) 1000 Van Ness. (Peitzman)
*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) Sundance Kabuki. (Rapoport)
*The Future Dreams and drawings, cats and fantasies, ambition and aimlessness, and the mild-mannered yet mortifying games people play, all wind their way into Miranda July’s The Future. The future’s a scary place, as many of us fully realize, even if you hide from it well into your 30s, losing yourself in the everyday. But you can’t duck July’s collection of moments, objects, and small gestures transformed into something strangely slanted and enchanted, both weird and terrifying, when viewed through July’s looking glass. Care and commitment — to oneself and others — are two vivid threads running through The Future. Cute couple Sophie (July) and Jason (Hamish Linklater) — unsettling look-alikes with their curly crops — appear at first to be sailing contently, aimlessly toward an undemanding unknown: Jason works from home as a customer-service operator, and Sophie attempts to herd kiddies as a children’s dance instructor. But enormous, frightening demands beckon — namely the oncoming adoption of a special-needs feline named Paw-Paw (voiced by July as if it’s a traumatized, innocent child). Lickety-splitsville, they must be all they can be before Paw-Paw’s arrival. The weirdness of the familiar, and the kindness of strangers, become ways into fantasy and escape when the couple bumps up against the limits of their imagination. This ultra-low-key horror movie of the banal is obviously remote territory for July (2005’s Me and You and Everyone We Know). The Future is her best film to date and finds her tumbling into a kind of magical realism or plastic fantastic, embodied by a talking cat that becomes the conscience of the movie. (1:31) Shattuck. (Chun)
Glee: The 3D Concert Movie (1:30) 1000 Van Ness.
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, Shattuck, Sundance Kabuki. (Eddy)
*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) Empire, 1000 Van Ness, Sundance Kabuki. (Peitzman)
The Help It’s tough to stitch ‘n’ bitch ‘n’ moan in the face of such heart-felt female bonding, even after you brush away the tears away and wonder why the so-called help’s stories needed to be cobbled with those of the creamy-skinned daughters of privilege that employed them. The Help purports to be the tale of the 1960s African American maids hired by a bourgie segment of Southern womanhood — resourceful hard-workers like Aibileen (Viola Davis) and Minny (Octavia Spencer) raise their employers’ daughters, filling them with pride and strength if they do their job well, while missing out on their own kids’ childhood. Then those daughters turn around and hurt their caretakers, often treating them little better than the slaves their families once owned. Hinging on a self-hatred that devalues the nurturing, housekeeping skills that were considered women’s birthright, this unending ugly, heartbreaking story of the everyday injustices spells separate-and-unequal bathrooms for the family and their help when it comes to certain sniping queen bees like Hilly (Bryce Dallas Howard). But the times they are a-changing, and the help get an assist from ugly duckling of a writer Skeeter (Emma Stone, playing against type, sort of, with fizzy hair), who risks social ostracism to get the housekeepers’ experiences down on paper, amid the Junior League gossip girls and the seismic shifts coming in the civil rights-era South. Based on the best-seller by Kathryn Stockett, The Help hitches the fortunes of two forces together — the African American women who are trying to survive and find respect, and the white women who have to define themselves as more than dependent breeders — under the banner of a feel-good weepie, though not without its guilty shadings, from the way the pale-faced ladies already have a jump, in so many ways, on their African American sisters to the Keane-eyed meekness of Davis’ Aibileen to The Help‘s most memorable performances, which are also tellingly throwback (Howard’s stinging hornet of a Southern belle and Jessica Chastain’s white-trash bimbo-with-a-heart of-gold). (2:17) Balboa, California, Empire, 1000 Van Ness, Presidio, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki. (Chun)
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) 1000 Van Ness. (Lattanzio)
*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) Lumiere. (Chun)
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) Albany, Embarcadero, 1000 Van Ness, Piedmont, Sundance Kabuki. (Harvey)
*My Perestroika Robin Hessman’s very engaging documentary takes one very relatable look at how changes since glasnost have affected some average Russians. The subjects here are five thirtysomethings who, growing up in Moscow in the 70s and 80s, were the last generation to experience full-on Communist Party indoctrination. But just as they reached adulthood, the whole system dissolved, confusing long-held beliefs and variably impacting their futures. Andrei has ridden the capitalist choo-choo to considerable enrichment as the proprietor of luxury Western menswear shops. But single mother Olga, unlucky in love, just scrapes by, while married schoolteachers Lyuba and Boris are lucky to have inherited an apartment (cramped as it is) they could otherwise ill afford. Meanwhile Ruslan, once member of a famous punk band (which he abandoned on principal because it was getting “too commercial”), both disdains and resents the new order just as he did the old one. Home movies and old footage of pageantry celebrating Soviet socialist glory make a whole ‘nother era come to life in this intimate, unexpectedly charming portrait of its long-term aftermath. (1:27) Balboa. (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, Piedmont, Shattuck, Smith Rafael. (Harvey)
*Point Blank Not for nothing did Hollywood remake French filmmaker Fred Cavaye’s last film, Anything for Her (2008) as The Next Three Days (2010) — Cavaye’s latest, tauter-than-taut thriller almost screams out for a similar rework, with its Bourne-like handheld camera work, high-impact immediacy, and noirish narrative economy. Point Blank — not to be confused with the 1967 Lee Marvin vehicle —kicks off with a literal slam: a mystery man (Roschdy Zem) crashing into a metal barrier, on the run from two menacing figures until he is cornered and then taken out of the action by fate. His mind mainly on the welfare of his very pregnant wife Nadia (Elena Anaya), nursing assistant Samuel (Gilles Lellouche) has the bad luck to stumble on a faux doctor attempting to make sure that the injured man never rises from his hospital bed. As police wrangle over whose case this exactly is — the murder of an industrialist seems to have expanded the powers of the stony-faced, monolithic Commandant Werner (Gerard Lanvin) — Samuel gets sucked into the mystery man’s lot, a conspiracy that allows them to trust no one, and seemingly impossibly odds against getting out of the mess alive. Cavaye never quite stops applying the pressure in this clever, unrelenting cat-and-mouse and mouse-and-his-spouse game, topping it with a nerve-jangling search through a messily chaotic police station. (1:24) Embarcadero. (Chun)
*Rise of the Planet of the Apes “You gotta love a movie where the animals beat up on the humans,” declared my Rise of the Planet of the Apes companion. Indeed, ape must not kill ape, and this Planet of the Apes prequel-cum-remake of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972) takes the long view, back to the days when ape-human relations were still high-minded enough to forbid smart apes from killing those well-armed, not-so-bright humanoids. I was a fan of the original series, but honestly, I approached Rise with trepidation: I dreaded the inevitable scenes of human cruelty meted out to exploited primates — the current wave of chimp-driven films seems focused on holding a scary, shaming mirror up to the two-legged mammalian violence toward their closest living genetic relatives. It’s a contrast to the original series, which provided prisms with which to peer at race relations and generational conflict. But I needn’t have feared this PG-13 “reboot.” There’s little CGI-driven gore, apart from the visceral opening and the showdown, though the heartbreak remains. Scientist Will (James Franco, brow perpetually furrowed with worry) is working to find a medicine designed to supercharge the brain in the wake of Alzheimer’s — a disease that has struck down his father (John Lithgow). When the experimental chimp that responds to his serum becomes violently aggressive, the project is shut down, although the primate leaves behind a surprise: a baby chimp that Will and his father name Caesar and raise like a beloved child in their idyllic Bay Area Victorian. Growing in intelligence as he matures, Caesar finds himself torn by an existential dilemma: is he a pet or a mammal with rights that must be respected? Rise becomes Caesar’s story, rendered in heart-wrenching, exhilarating ways — to director Rupert Wyatt and his team’s credit you don’t miss the performance finesse of Roddy McDowell and Kim Hunter in groundbreaking prosthetic ape face in the original movies — while resolving at least one question about why humans gave up the globe to the primates. One can only imagine the next edition will take care of the lingering question about how even the cleverest of apes will feed themselves in Muir Woods. (1:50) Empire, 1000 Van Ness, Presidio, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki. (Chun)
*Salvation Boulevard The ridiculous and ill-reputed worlds of ex-Deadheads and evangelical mega-churches collide in director George Ratliff’s Salvation Boulevard, based on Larry Beinhart’s novel of the same name. When proselytizing pastor Dan Day (Pierce Brosnan) accidentally murders an atheist professor (Ed Harris), churchgoer Carl (Greg Kinnear) tries to forget what he saw. He soon finds himself embroiled in plots involving a kidnapping in Mexico and the fundamentalist takeover of his town. Carl’s god-fearin’, brainwashed wife (Jennifer Connelly) isn’t the least bit understanding, and instead takes to painting demons to exorcise her grief. Though the film often struggles to find a consistent tone, its lampoon of spiritual hogwash (i.e. purity balls) and the sheer inanity of the situational comedy makes for pleasantly amusing satire. The real saint of the film — and no surprise here — is Marisa Tomei as a pothead security guard named Honey. (1:35) Opera Plaza, Shattuck. (Lattanzio)
Sarah’s Key (1:42) Albany, Embarcadero, Piedmont.
Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy (2:09) Four Star.
30 Minutes or Less In some ways, 30 Minutes or Less is reminiscent of 2008’s Pineapple Express: both are stoner action comedies about normal people shoved into high-stakes criminal activity. But while Pineapple Express was an exciting addition to the genre, 30 Minutes or Less is a flimsy 80-minute diversion that still feels like a waste of time. Jesse Eisenberg plays Nick, a pizza delivery boy who is forced to rob a bank after two would-be criminals strap a bomb to his chest. Strangely, Eisenberg was more charming as Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network (2010) — and his buddy Chet (Aziz Ansari) doesn’t exactly up the likability factor. There’s actually the potential for an interesting story here: something darker seems appropriate, given that 30 Minutes or Less was inspired by a true story with a very unhappy ending. But the film completely fumbles, delivering an action comedy that’s neither tense nor funny. That means the pizza’s free, right? (1:29) 1000 Van Ness, Presidio, SF Center, Shattuck. (Peitzman)
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) California, 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, Shattuck. (Devereaux)
*Vigilante Vigilante Eschewing any pretense of objectivity and adopting a civic-journalism approach, Bay Area director Max Good and producer Nathan Wollman exhaustively explore the issues at stake in the current graffiti and street art scene by focusing on some unexpected, once-hidden antagonists: the so-called buffers, graffiti abatement advocates, and self-styled vigilantes who obsessively paint over graffiti in cities like Los Angeles (Joe Connolly) and New Orleans (Fred Radtke). Good wraps his interviews with well-known street artists like Shepard Fairey, cultural critics such as Stefano Bloch, and graf advocates a la SF author Steve Rotman around his central pursuit: he’s trying to uncover the identity of the Silver Buff, the mysterious figure who has splashed silver over artwork and tags in Berkeley for more than a decade. After capturing the Buff on camera in the wee hours of the morn, the documentarian get his story — it’s Jim Sharp, a stubborn preservationist intent on “beautifying” the blight, tearing down street posters, picking up trash, and covering over what he sees as vandalism, even if he has to damage the property he claims to be cleaning up. In a witty twist on if-you-can’t-beat-’em-join-’em, Good and Wollman ratchet their tale up a notch when they follow Sharp with colorful paint of their own, brilliantly driving home an appeal for freedom of expression and a reclamation of public space. (1:26) Roxie. (Chun)
The Whistleblower (1:58) Embarcadero, Shattuck, Smith Rafael.
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.