Film listings are edited by Cheryl Eddy. Reviewers are Kimberly Chun, Max Goldberg, Dennis Harvey, and Lynn Rapoport. For rep house showtimes, see Rep Clock at www.sfbg.com. Complete film listings also posted at www.sfbg.com.
Battleship During idle moments before the action revs up, the aliens start menacing, and the deadly razor balls-cum-air mines start rampaging, wrap your noggin around these random brainwaves: can Taylor Kitsch be any better named? Is it possible for Alexander Skarsgård’s glassy eyes to get any deader? Where are all the Hawaiians, Asians, and people of color in this white-bread vision of Hawaii? All matters to puzzle over in this toy franchise hopeful directed by ex-Chicago Hope regular Peter Berg. The 2007 Transformers is the best this gung-ho hybrid of up-with-the-military “Army of One” commercial and alien invasion flick — with plenty of blow-’em-up-real-good explosions and a dab of J-monster movies, but the writing never quite rises to the occasion. Here, an international group of navy folk and their ships are convening in Hawaii for playful wargames, though the exercises turn somewhat more serious when alien vessels splash down in the middle of the fun —and some mild, no-investment family drama: Alex (Kitsch) is the screw-up younger brother of stony-faced naval man Stone (Skarsgård) and courting the daughter (Brooklyn Decker) of the fleet commander (Liam Neesom), who seems to hate his guts. The ultimate battle with space invaders, however, promises to turn that all around, as Alex is forced to sailor up and lead crew mates like Rihanna and work with former opponents like Captain Nagata (Tadanobu Asano). Here, at least, in the shadow of Pearl Harbor, U.S. and Japanese naval dudes can heal the wounds of World War II and bond in battle against the last unimpeachable interstellar villains who couldn’t give a rat’s ass if you say “I sunk your battleship.” But Berg’s muddled direction doesn’t help when it comes to piecing out the chronology and balancing assorted perspectives in this latest effort to equate militarism with the games big and little kids play. (2:11) (Chun)
Bernie See “Small-Town Confidential.” (1:39) Embarcadero, Shattuck, Smith Rafael.
The Dictator As expected, The Dictator is, yet again, Sacha Baron Cohen doing his bumbling-foreigner shtick. Said character (here, a ruthless, spoiled North African dictator) travels to America and learns a heaping teaspoon of valuable lessons, which are then flung upon the audience — an audience which, by film’s end, has spent 80 minutes squealing at a no-holds-barred mix of disgusting gags, tasteless jokes, and schadenfreude. If you can’t forgive Cohen for carbon-copying his Borat (2006) formula, at least you can muster admiration for his ability to be an equal-opportunity offender (dinged: Arabs, Jews, African Americans, white Americans, women of all ethnicities, and green activists) — and for that last-act zinger of a speech. If The Dictator doesn’t quite reach Borat‘s hilarious heights, it’s still proudly repulsive, smart in spite of itself, and guaranteed to get a rise out of anyone who watches it. (1:23) Balboa, Presidio. (Eddy)
Elles Graphic sex scenes distinguish this otherwise fairly unremarkable tale of Anne (Juliette Binoche), a magazine writer whose blah life (sure, she has a luxurious apartment, but it’s populated by a distant husband, a sullen teenager, and a younger son who’d rather interface with technology than humans) becomes even more unbearable when she begins a new assignment: an article on college students who moonlight as call girls. The always-reliable Binoche brings depth to her role as a bored woman who finds herself unexpectedly titillated by her close brush with dirty thrills, but her eventual rebellion is anti-climactic after all that naughty build-up. Elles does plenty to earn its NC-17 rating, but filmmaker Malgoska Szumowska could’ve titled it Ennui instead. (1:36) Bridge, Shattuck. (Eddy)
Indie Game: The Movie Much like the film business, the video-game biz is mostly controlled by a few huge companies with thousands of employees, hell-bent on ensnaring as many of the billions of dollars spent on games annually as possible. And then, as James Swirsky and Lisanne Pajot’s documentary explores,
there are the little guys, who are “not trying to be professional” or produce glossy content for the masses. Instead, these individuals (or pairs) take advantage of the miracle of digital distribution to follow their own visions and create their own games. The best-case scenarios — illustrated by San Francisco indie developer Jonathan Blow and his hugely successful Braid — can reap enormous creative and financial rewards, but getting there — as the struggles facing the creators of Super Meat Boy and Fez plainly attest — can be a mentally and physically draining process, filled with frustration and self-doubt, exacerbated by the taunts of haters online. A thoughtful, artfully-shot peek at one tiny corner of a behemoth industry, Indie Game also offers a surprisingly tense, raw look at some very bright minds struggling to triumph on their own terms. (1:36) Roxie. (Eddy)
Mansome This study of contemporary male grooming — from ironic mustaches to competitive “beardbuilding” to the fine art of the hairpiece — is yet another lighthearted entry from prolific doc-factory Morgan Spurlock (the subject matter being particularly appropriate, given his own trademark ‘stache). With interstitials by co-producers Will Arnett and Jason Bateman — getting pedicures and facials while exchanging barbs, like the TV brothers they are — and input from an array of famous faces (Zach Galifianakis, Paul Rudd, the Old Spice Guy, Judd Apatow, ZZ Top), Mansome is actually most interesting when it focuses on less boldfaced names — like the deadly-serious “beardsman” whose flowing red locks have won him international titles, and the old-school toupee expert who matter-of-factly erases baldness for grateful clients. One quibble: though John Waters appears to discuss his own trademark facial hair, and there’s a Freddy Mercury clip, Mansome remains stubbornly focused on straight dudes — though it does dig up the only man in the galaxy still using the term “metrosexual.” (1:24) Lumiere, Shattuck. (Eddy)
Payback Jumping off Margaret Atwood’s Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth, her 2008 meditation on borrowing and lending and the way those acts reverberate through culture, documentarian Jennifer Baichwal finds a thought-provoking, graceful, seemingly free-form way into the writer’s ideas. The film dips into the dynamics between a handful of unlikely debtors and creditors scattered around the globe: two families in Northern Albania tied by a blood feud over disputed land and dishonor; organizing migrant workers and their employers in Florida; and the BP oil spill and an unsuspecting environment. Baichwal, like Atwood, uncovers few easy answers — especially when it comes to handling disasters on the scale of the BP spill — all the while treating her material with elegantly considered imagery and handling her subjects with a cool intelligence. That approach might leave some yearning for an uptick in emotional connection, or simply some connect-the-dots storytelling and, dare we say, drama. Meanwhile fans of the director’s Manufactured Landscapes (2006) will see Payback as its writerly relation, a tone poem about the crimes we’ve manufactured and muddled. (1:26) Lumiere, Shattuck. (Chun)
What to Expect When You’re Expecting The mommy guidebook hits the big screen, with an all-star cast including Jennifer Lopez and Cameron Diaz. (1:50) Presidio, Shattuck.
Where Do We Go Now? With very real, deadly sectarian conflict on their doorstep, a group of Lebanese village women are making it up as they go along in this absurdist, ultimately inspiring dramedy with a dash of musical. Once sheltered by its isolation and the cheek-to-jowl intimacy of its denizens, the uneasy peace between Muslims and Christians in this small town threatens to shatter when the outside world begins to filter in, first through town-square TV broadcasts then tit-for-tat jabs that appear ready to escalate into violence. So the village’s women conspire to preserve harmony any way they can, even if that means importing a motley cadre of Ukrainian “exotic” dancers. What results is a post debauchery climax that almost one-ups 2009’s The Hangover — and a film that injects ground-level merriment and humanity into the headlines, thanks to director, co-writer, and star Nadine Labaki (2007’s Caramel), who has a gimlet eye and a generous spirit. (1:40) Embarcadero. (Chun)
The Artist With the charisma-oozing agility of Douglas Fairbanks swashbuckling his way past opponents and the supreme confidence of Rudolph Valentino leaning, mid-swoon, into a maiden, French director-writer Michel Hazanavicius hits a sweet spot, or beauty mark of sorts, with his radiant new film The Artist. In a feat worthy of Fairbanks or Errol Flynn, Hazanavicius juggles a marvelously layered love story between a man and a woman, tensions between the silents and the talkies, and a movie buff’s appreciation of the power of film — embodied in particular by early Hollywood’s union of European artistry and American commerce. Dashing silent film star George Valentin (Jean Dujardin, who channels Fairbanks, Flynn, and William Powell — and won this year’s Cannes best actor prize) is at the height of his career, adorable Jack Russell by his side, until the talkies threaten to relegate him to yesterday’s news. The talent nurtured in the thick of the studio system yearns for real power, telling the newspapers, “I’m not a puppet anymore — I’m an artist,” and finances and directs his own melodrama, while his youthful protégé Peppy Miller (Bérénice Béjo) becomes a yakky flapper age’s new It Girl. Both a crowd-pleasing entertainment and a loving précis on early film history, The Artist never checks its brains at the door, remaining self-aware of its own conceit and its forebears, yet unashamed to touch the audience, without an ounce of cynicism. (1:40) Metreon. (Chun)
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (1:42) Albany, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki.
Bully Anyone who’s ever been a kid on the wrong side of a bully — or was sensitive and observant enough not to avert his or her eyes — will be puzzling over the MPAA’s R rating of this doc, for profanity. It’s absurd when the gory violence on network and basic cable TV stops just short of cutting characters’ faces off, as one blurred-out bus bully threatens to do to the sweet, hapless Alex, dubbed “Fish Face” by the kids who ostracize him and make his life hell on the bus. It’s a jungle out there, as we all know — but it’s that real, visceral footage of the verbal (and physical) abuse bullied children deal with daily that brings it all home. Filmmaker Lee Hirsch goes above and beyond in trying to capture all dimensions of his subject: the terrorized bullied, the ineffectual school administrators, the desperate parents. There’s Kelby, the gay girl who was forced off her beloved basketball team after she came out, and Ja’Maya, who took drastic measures to fend off her tormenters — as well as the specters of those who turned to suicide as a way out. Hirsch is clearly more of an activist than a fly on the wall: he steps in at one point to help and obviously makes an uplifting effort to focus on what we can do to battle bullying. Nevertheless, at the risk of coming off like the Iowa assistant principal who’s catching criticism for telling one victim that he was just as bad as the bully that he refused to shake hands with, one feels compelled to note one prominent component that’s missing here: the bullies themselves, their stories, and the reasons why they’re so cruel — admittedly a daunting, possibly libelous task. (1:35) Smith Rafael. (Chun)
The Cabin in the Woods If the name “Joss Whedon” doesn’t provide all the reason you need to bum-rush The Cabin in the Woods (Whedon produced and co-wrote, with director and frequent collaborator Drew Goddard), well, there’s not much more that can be revealed without ruining the entire movie. In a very, very small nutshell, it’s about a group of college kids (including Chris “Thor” Hemsworth) whose weekend jaunt to a rural cabin goes horribly awry, as such weekend jaunts tend to do in horror movies (the Texas Chainsaw and Evil Dead movies are heavily referenced). But this is no ordinary nightmare — its peculiarities are cleverly, carefully revealed, and the movie’s inside-out takedown of scary movies produces some very unexpected (and delightfully blood-gushing) twists and turns. Plus: the always-awesome Richard Jenkins, and in-jokes galore for genre fans. (1:35) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Shattuck. (Eddy)
Chimpanzee (2:00) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness.
Dark Shadows Conceptually, there’s nothing wrong with attempting to turn a now semi-obscure supernaturally themed soap opera with a five-year run in the late 1960s and early ’70s into a feature film. Particularly if the film brings together the sweetly creepy triumvirate of Tim Burton, Johnny Depp, and Helena Bonham Carter and emerges during an ongoing moment for vampires, werewolves, and other things that go hump in the night. Depp plays long-enduring vampire Barnabas Collins, the undead scion of a once-powerful 18th-century New England family that by the 1970s — the groovy decade in which the bulk of the story is set — has suffered a shabby deterioration. Barnabas forms a pact with present-day Collins matriarch Elizabeth (Michelle Pfeiffer) to raise the household — currently comprising her disaffected daughter, Carolyn (Chloë Grace Moretz), her derelict brother, Roger (Jonny Lee Miller), his mournful young son, David (Gulliver McGrath), David’s live-in lush of a psychiatrist, Dr. Hoffman (Carter), and the family’s overtaxed manservant, Willie (Jackie Earle Haley) — to its former stature, while taking down a lunatic, love-struck, and rather vindictive witch named Angelique (Eva Green). The latter, a victim of unrequited love, is the cause of all Barnabas’s woes and, by extension, the entire clan’s, but Angelique can only be blamed for so much. Beyond her hocus-pocus jurisdiction is the film’s manic pileup of plot twists, tonal shifts, and campy scenery-chewing by Depp, a startling onslaught that no lava lamp joke, no pallid reaction shot, no room-demolishing act of paranormal carnality set to Barry White, and no cameo by Alice Cooper can temper. (2:00) California, Marina, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Sundance Kabuki. (Rapoport)
Darling Companion When the carelessness of self-absorbed surgeon Joseph (Kevin Kline) results in the stray dog adopted by Beth (Diane Keaton) going missing during a forest walk, that event somehow brings all the fissures in their long marriage to a crisis point. Big Chill (1983) director Lawrence Kasdan’s first feature in a decade hews back to the more intimate, character-based focus of his best films. But this dramedy is too often shrilly pitched and overly glossy (it seems to take place in a Utah vacation-themed L.L. Bean catalog), with numerous talented actors — including Richard Jenkins, Dianne Wiest, Mark Duplass, Elisabeth Moss, and Sam Shepard — playing superficially etched characters that merely add to the clutter. Most cringe-inducing among them is Ayelet Zurer’s Carmen, a woman of Roma extraction who apparently has a crystal ball in her psychic head and actually speaks lines like “My people have a saying….” (1:43) Opera Plaza, Shattuck. (Harvey)
First Position Bess Kargman’s documentary follows a handful of exceptional young ballet dancers, ranging in age from 10 to 17, over the course of a year as they prepare for the Youth America Grand Prix, the world’s largest ballet scholarship competition. Those who make it from the semifinals (in which some 5,000 dancers aged 9 to 19 perform in 15 cities around the world) to the finals (which bring some 300 contestants to New York City) compete for scholarships to prestigious ballet schools, dance-company contracts, and general notice by both the judges and the company directors in the audience. The film’s subjects come from varied backgrounds — 16-year-old Joan Sebastian lives and studies in NYC, far from his family in Colombia; 14-year-old Michaela was born in civil war-torn Sierra Leone and adopted from an orphanage by an American couple in Philadelphia; 11-year-old Aran, an American, lives in Italy with his mother while his father serves in Kuwait. The common threads in their stories are the daily sacrifices made by them as well as their families, whose energies and other resources are largely poured into these children’s single-minded pursuit. We get a vague sense of the difficult world they are driving themselves, in nearly every waking hour, to enter. But the film largely keeps its focus on the challenges of preparing for the competition, offering us many magnificent shots of the dancers pushing their bodies to mesmerizing physical extremes both on- and offstage. (1:34) Embarcadero, Piedmont, Shattuck, Smith Rafael. (Rapoport)
The Five-Year Engagement In 2008’s Forgetting Sarah Marshall, viewers were treated to the startling, tragicomic sight of Jason Segel’s naked front side as his character got brutally dumped by the titular perky, put-together heartbreaker. In The Five-Year Engagement, which he reunited with director Nicholas Stoller to co-write, Segel once again sacrifices dignity and the right to privacy, this time in exchange for fake orgasms (his own), ghastly hand-knit sweaters, egregious facial-hair arrangements, and various other exhaustively humiliating psychological lows — all part of an earnest, undying quest to make people giggle uncomfortably. Segel plays Tom, a talented chef with a promising career ahead of him in San Francisco’s culinary scene (naturally, food carts get a cameo in the film). On the one-year anniversary of meeting his girlfriend, Violet (Emily Blunt), a psychology postgrad, he asks her to marry him in a meticulously planned, gloriously botched proposal scene coengineered by Tom’s oafish friend Alex (Chris Pratt), little realizing that this romantic gesture will soon lead to successive frozen winters in the Midwest (Violet gets offered a job at the University of Michigan), loss of professional stature, cabin fever, mead making, bow-hunting accidents, the titular nuptial postponement, and other, more gruesome events. The humor at times descends to some banally low depths as Segel and Stoller explore the terrain of the awkward, the poorly socialized, and the playfully grotesque. But Segel and Blunt present a believable, likable relationship between two warm, funny, flawed people, and, however disgusted, no one should walk out before a scene in which Violet and her sister (Alison Brie) channel Elmo and Cookie Monster to elaborate on the themes of romantic idealism and marital discontent. (2:04) 1000 Van Ness, Presidio, SF Center, Vogue. (Rapoport)
Footnote (1:45) Opera Plaza, Shattuck.
Girl in Progress (1:30) SF Center.
God Bless America Middle-aged office drone Frank (Joel Murray) is not having a good day-week-month-year-life. His ex-wife is about to happily remarry; his only child is a world-class brat who finds father-daughter time “boring;” his neighbors are a young couple who only get more loudly obnoxious when politely asked to keep the noise down. When that and insistent migraines keep Frank awake night after night, the parade of pundit and reality stupidities on TV only turn his insomnia into wide awake fury. Then he’s fired from his job for unjust reasons — on the same day he gets a diagnosis of brain cancer. Mad as hell, not-gonna-take-it-anymore, he impulsively decides to make a “statement” by assassinating a viral-video poster child for “entitlement.” This attracts admiring attention from extremely pushy, snarky teen Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr), who appoints herself Bonnie to his reluctant Clyde. They drive around the country bestowing “big dirt naps” on other exemplars of what’s wrong with America today, including religious hate mongers, rude moviegoers, and the purveyors of American Idol-type idiotainment. Comedian Bobcat Goldthwait’s latest feature as writer-director has its head in the right place, and so many good ideas, that it’s a pity this gonzo satire-rant runs out of steam so quickly. Aiming splattering paintball gun at the broadest possible targets, it covers them with disdainful goo but not as much wit as one would like. Plus, Barr’s hyper precocious smart mouth is yet another annoying Juno (2007) knockoff — never mind that she counts Diablo Cody among her (many) pet peeves. If God Bless winds up closer to Uwe Boll’s Postal (2007) than, say, Network (1976) in scattershot impact, it nonetheless almost makes it on sheer outré audacity and will alone. A movie that hates everything you hate should not be sneezed at; if only it hated them with more parodic snap, thematic depth and narrative structure. (1:44) Lumiere, Shattuck. (Harvey)
Headhunters Despite being the most sought-after corporate headhunter in Oslo, Roger (Aksel Hennie) still doesn’t make enough money to placate his gorgeous wife; his raging Napoleon complex certainly doesn’t help matters. Crime is, as always, the only solution, so Roger’s been supplementing his income by stealthily relieving his rich, status-conscious clients of their most expensive artworks (with help from his slightly unhinged partner, who works for a home-security company). When Roger meets the dashing Clas Greve (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau of Game of Thrones) — a Danish exec with a sinister, mysterious military past, now looking to take over a top job in Norway — he’s more interested in a near-priceless painting rumored to be stashed in Greve’s apartment. The heist is on, but faster than you can say “MacGuffin,” all hell breaks loose (in startlingly gory fashion), and the very charming Roger is using his considerable wits to stay alive. Based on a best-selling “Scandi-noir” novel, Headhunters is just as clever as it is suspenseful. See this version before Hollywood swoops in for the inevitable (rumored) remake. (1:40) Clay, Piedmont, Shattuck. (Eddy)
Here (2:00) SF Film Society Cinema.
The Hunger Games Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is a teenager living in a totalitarian state whose 12 impoverished districts, as retribution for an earlier uprising, must pay tribute to the so-called Capitol every year, sacrificing one boy and one girl each to the Hunger Games. A battle royal set in a perilous arena and broadcast live to the Capitol as gripping diversion and to the districts as sadistic propaganda, the Hunger Games are, depending on your viewpoint, a “pageant of honor, courage, and sacrifice” or a brutal, pointless bloodbath involving children as young as 12. When her little sister’s name comes up in the annual lottery, Katniss volunteers to take her place and is joined by a boy named Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), with whom she shares an old, unspoken bond. Tasked with translating to the screen the first installment of Suzanne Collins’s rabidly admired trilogy, writer-director Gary Ross (2003’s Seabiscuit, 1998’s Pleasantville) telescopes the book’s drawn-out, dread-filled tale into a manageable two-plus-hour entertainment, making great (and horrifying) use of the original work’s action, but losing a good deal of the narrative detail and emotional force. Elizabeth Banks is comic and unrecognizable as Effie Trinket, the two tributes’ chaperone; Lenny Kravitz gives a blank, flattened reading as their stylist, Cinna; and Donald Sutherland is sufficiently creepy and bloodless as the country’s leader, President Snow. More exceptionally cast are Woody Harrelson as Katniss and Peeta’s surly, alcoholic mentor, Haymitch Abernathy, and Stanley Tucci as games emcee Caesar Flickerman, flashing a bank of gleaming teeth at each contestant as he probes their dire circumstances with the oily superficiality of a talk show host. (2:22) 1000 Van Ness, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki. (Rapoport)
Jiro Dreams of Sushi Celebrity-chef culture has surely reached some kind of zeitgeist, what with the omnipresence of Top Chef and other cooking-themed shows, and the headlines-making power of people like Paula Deen (diabetes) and Mario Batali (sued for ripping off his wait staff). Unconcerned with the trappings of fame — you’ll never see him driving a Guy Fieri-style garish sports car — is Jiro Ono, 85-year-old proprietor of Sukiyabashi Jiro, a tiny, world-renowned sushi restaurant tucked into Tokyo’s Ginza station. Jiro, a highly-disciplined perfectionist who believes in simple, yet flavorful food, has devoted his entire life to the pursuit of “deliciousness” — to the point of sushi invading his dreams, as the title of David Gelb’s reverential documentary suggests. But Jiro Dreams of Sushi goes deeper than food-prep porn (though, indeed, there’s plenty of that); it also examines the existential conflicts faced by Jiro’s two middle-aged sons. Both were strongly encouraged to enter the family business — and in the intervening years, have had to accept the soul-crushing fact that no matter how good their sushi is, it’ll never be seen as exceeding the creations of their legendary father. (1:21) Embarcadero, Shattuck. (Eddy)
Last Call at the Oasis If you like drinking water, or eating food, or using mass-produced physical objects, and you also enjoy not being poisoned by virulent chemicals such as hexavalent chromium and atrazine, you probably want to see — but most likely won’t much enjoy — Jessica Yu’s latest documentary, about the impending global water crisis. Or rather, the crisis, the film makes clear, that has already arrived in many parts of the world and — in the sense that it’s about a shortage of safe drinking water — in many parts of the United States. The Academy Award–winning Yu, whose previous films include the 2004 Henry Darger documentary In the Realms of the Unreal, invites various experts to lay out the alarming facts for us, as we sit in the theater clutching our bottles of Dasani. Last Call‘s talking heads include UC Irvine professor Jay Famiglietti, the Pacific Institute’s Peter Gleick (who, regardless of February’s firestorm over an ethical lapse, speaks eloquently here), journalist Alex Prud’homme, whose book The Ripple Effect the documentary is based on, and Erin Brockovich. An unexpected appearance by Jack Black in the role of potential future spokesperson for potable recycled water (one name under consideration: Porcelain Springs) adds levity to a film that is short on silver linings, as well as solutions. The title conveys the sort of gallows humor occasionally displayed by Yu’s subjects — one of whom ponders for a moment the situation he’s just described and then offers this succinct summary: “We’re screwed.” (1:45) Opera Plaza. (Rapoport)
The Lucky One Iraq War veteran Logan (Zac Efron) beats PTSD by walking with his German shepherd from Colorado to the Louisiana bayou, in search of a golden-haired angel in cutoff blue jean short shorts (Taylor Schilling). His stated (in soporific voice-over) aim is to meet and thank the angel, who he believes repeatedly saved his life in the combat zone after he plucked her photograph from the rubble of a bombed-out building. The snapshot offers little in the way of biographical information, but luckily, there are only 300 million people in the United States, and he manages to find her after walking around for a bit. The angel, or Beth, as her friends call her, runs a dog kennel with her grandmother (Blythe Danner) while raising her noxiously Hollywood-precocious eight-year-old son (Riley Thomas Stewart) and fending off the regressive advances of her semi-villainous ex-husband (Jay R. Ferguson). Logan’s task seems simple enough, and he’s certainly walked a fair distance to complete it, but rather than expressing his gratitude, he becomes tongue-tied in the face of Beth’s backlit blondness and instead fills out a job application and proceeds to soulfully but manfully burrow his way into her affections and short shorts. Being an adaptation of a Nicholas Sparks novel, The Lucky One requires some forceful yanking on the heartstrings, but director Scott Hicks (1999’s Snow Falling on Cedars, 1996’s Shine) is hobbled in this task by, among other things, Efron’s wooden, uninvolved delivery of queasy speeches about traveling through darkness to find the light and how many times a day a given woman should be kissed. (1:41) SF Center. (Rapoport)
Marley Oscar-winning documentarian Kevin Macdonald (1999’s One Day in September; he also directed Best Actor Forest Whitaker in 2006’s The Last King of Scotland) takes on the iconic Bob Marley, using extensive interviews — both contemporary (with Marley friends and family) and archival (with the musician himself) — and performance and off-the-cuff footage. The end result is a compelling (even if you’re not a fan) portrait of a man who became a global sensation despite being born into extreme poverty, and making music in a style that most people had never heard outside of Jamaica. The film dips into Marley’s Rastafari beliefs (no shocker this movie is being released on 4/20), his personal life (11 children from seven different mothers), his impact on Jamaica’s volatile politics, his struggles with racism, and, most importantly, his remarkable career — achieved via a combination of talent and boldness, and cut short by his untimely death at age 36. (2:25) California, Opera Plaza, Smith Rafael. (Eddy)
Marvel’s The Avengers The conflict — a mystical blue cube containing earth-shattering (literally) powers is stolen, with evil intent — isn’t the reason to see this long-hyped culmination of numerous prequels spotlighting its heroic characters. Nay, the joy here is the whole “getting’ the band back together!” vibe; director and co-writer Joss Whedon knows you’re just dying to see Captain America (Chris Evans) bicker with Iron Man (a scene-stealing Robert Downey Jr.); Thor (Chris Hemsworth) clash with bad-boy brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston); and the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) get angry as often as possible. (Also part of the crew, but kinda mostly just there to look good in their tight outfits: Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye and Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow.) Then, of course, there’s Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) running the whole Marvel-ous show, with one good eye and almost as many wry quips as Downey’s Tony Stark. Basically, The Avengers gives you everything you want (characters delivering trademark lines and traits), everything you expect (shit blowing up, humanity being saved, etc.), and even makes room for a few surprises. It doesn’t transcend the comic-book genre (like 2008’s The Dark Knight did), but honestly, it ain’t trying to. The Avengers wants only to entertain, and entertain it does. (2:23) Balboa, Marina, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Presidio, Sundance Kabuki. (Eddy)
Michael Michael follows a few months in the lives of a pedophile (Michael Fulth) and his captive (David Rauchenberger). It is no surprise that Austrian director Markus Schleinzer previously worked for Michael Haneke: the film’s cold, inanimate aesthetic is the means for psychological torture, on the part of both Michael’s prisoner, and the audience. Michael, a sociopath who works in an office by day, keeps the boy, a pensive 10-year-old named Wolfgang, in a basement behind a bolted door. He visits him nightly, and allows the boy to dine with him. As master and slave go about their mundane routine their level of comfort with one another is just as unsettling as the off-screen sex. Equally disturbing is how Michael manages to maintain such a normal life on the surface. After he tries to bring a new victim home and fails, Wolfgang starts to find ways to push his captor’s buttons. In spite of the loud subject, rarely has such formal reticence registered as this horrifying. (1:36) SF Film Society Cinema. (Ryan Lattanzio)
Monsieur Lazhar When their beloved but troubled teacher hangs herself in the classroom — not a thoughtful choice of location, but then we never really discover her motives — traumatized Montreal sixth-graders get Bachir Lazhar (Fellag), a middle-aged Algerian émigré whose contrastingly rather strict, old-fashioned methods prove surprisingly useful at helping them past their trauma. He quickly becomes the crush object of studious Alice (Sophie Nelisse), whose single mother is a pilot too often away, while troublemaker Simon (Emilien Neron) acts out his own domestic and other issues at school. Lazhar has his own secrets as well — for one thing, we see that he’s still petitioning for permanent asylum in Canada, contradicting what he told the principal upon being hired — and while his emotions are more tightly wrapped, circumstances will eventually force all truths out. This very likable drama about adults and children from Quebec writer-director Philippe Falardeau doesn’t quite have the heft and resonance to rate among the truly great narrative films about education (like Laurent Cantet’s recent French The Class). But it comes close enough, gracefully touching on numerous other issues while effectively keeping focus on how a good teacher can shape young lives in ways as incalculable as they are important. (1:34) Opera Plaza, Piedmont, Shattuck, Smith Rafael. (Harvey)
The Perfect Family Having survived years of hardship by dint of her faith, devout Catholic Eileen Cleary (Kathleen Turner) now lets nothing stand between her and the heavy-handed pursuit of grace — including her own family’s perceived imperfections. The past, in which long-sober husband Frank (Michael McGrady) was an abusive alcoholic, is not discussed. The present — in which ne’er-do-well son Frank Jr. (Jason Ritter) is not yet divorced yet already involved with a Protestant manicurist (Kristen Dalton), while otherwise exemplary daughter Shannon (Emily Deschanel) insists on marrying and child-raising with another woman (Angelique Cabral) — is ignored when it can’t be nagged into submission. These modern aberrations from the Pope-embraced allowable lifestyles must be addressed, however, when Eileen’s endless charitable toil gets her nominated as Catholic Woman of the Year. This would be her crowning achievement, but naturally something’s gotta give: either her family’s going to at least pretend it’s “normal,” or she’s got to grow more accepting at the potential loss of her big moment in the spotlight. Directed by Anne Renton, written by Paula Goldberg and Claire V. Riley, The Perfect Family is an ensemble dramedy (also encompassing Richard Chamberlain and Elizabeth Peña) that trundles as effortfully as its stressed-out protagonist from sitcomish humor to tearjerking, leaving no melodramatic contrivance unmilked along the way. Its intentions (primarily gay-positive ones, in line with the scenarists’ prior features) are good. But the execution is like a sermon whose every calculated chuckle and insight you anticipate five minutes before you hear it. To see Turner really excel as a controlling mother, rent 1994’s Serial Mom again. (1:24) Sundance Kabuki. (Harvey)
The Pirates! Band of Misfits Aardman Animations, home studio of the Wallace and Gromit series as well as 2000’s Chicken Run, are masters of tiny details and background jokes. In nearly every scene of this swashbuckling comedy, there’s a sight gag, double entendre, or tossed-off reference (the Elephant Man!?) that suggests The Pirates! creators are far more clever than the movie as a whole would suggest. Oh, it’s a cute, enjoyable story about a kind-hearted Pirate Captain (Hugh Grant) who dreams of winning the coveted Pirate of the Year award (despite the fact that he gets more excited about ham than gold) — and the misadventures he gets into with his amiable crew, a young Charles Darwin, and a comically evil Queen Victoria. But despite its toy-like, 3D-and-CG-enhanced claymation, The Pirates! never matches the depth (or laugh-out-loud hilarity) of other Aardman productions. Yo ho-hum. (1:27) 1000 Van Ness, SF Center. (Eddy)
The Raven How did Edgar Allan Poe, dipsomaniac, lover of 13-year-old child brides, and teller of tales designed to make the flesh creep and crawl, wind up, at age 40, nearly dying in the gutter and spending his last days in a Baltimore hospital, muttering incoherent imprecations about a mysterious fellow named Reynolds? In The Raven, director James McTeigue (2006’s V for Vendetta) makes the case for a crafty, sociopathic serial killer having played a role in the famous yet impoverished writer’s sad, derelict demise. Recently returned to the dark, thickly fog-machined streets of Baltimore, Poe, vehemently embodied by John Cusack, is chagrined to learn from one Detective Fields (Luke Evans) that someone has begun using his macabre stories (“The Pit and the Pendulum” to particularly gory effect) to enact a series of murders. When the killer successfully gains Poe’s full attention by seizing his ladylove, Emily Hamilton (Alice Eve), the pileup of bodies inspires a few last outbursts of genius. The trail of literary clues feels a bit forced, and Cusack’s Poe possesses an admirable quantity of energy, passion, and general zest for life for one so roundly indicted — by everyone from his editor to his barkeep to his sweetheart’s roundly repellent father (Brendan Gleeson) — as a useless, used-up slave to opiates and alcohol. But the script is smart enough and the action absorbing enough to keep us engaged as Poe attempts to rescue Emily and the film attempts to rescue Poe’s reputation through imagined heroics of both the pen and the sword. (1:50) 1000 Van Ness, SF Center. (Rapoport)
Safe The poster would be slightly more on-point if its suave thug of a star, Jason Statham, were hiding behind the scrunched-faced Catherine Chan rather than the other way around — because at times it’s tough to see this alternately enjoyable and credibility-taxing action flick as more than some kind of naked play for the Chinese filmgoer. Jamming the screen with a frantic kineticism, director-writer Boaz Yakin seems to be smoothing over the problems in his vaguely stereotype-flaunting, patchy puzzle of a narrative with a high body count: the cadavers pile like those in an old martial arts flick — made in Asia, it’s implied, where life is cheap and spectacle is paramount. Picking up in the middle, with flashbacks stacked like firewood, Safe opens on young math prodigy Mei (Chan) on the run from the Russian mafia. A pawn and virtual slave of the Chinese mob, she holds a number in her head that all sorts of ruthless crime factions want. To her rescue is mystery man Luke Wright (Statham), who has had his own deadly tussle with the same Russian baddies and is now on the street and on the verge of suicide, believe it or not. It’s tough to wrap your head around the fact that any of Statham’s rock-hard tough guys could possibly crumble — or even have a sense of humor. You’ll need one to accept the ludicrous storyline as well as the notion that a jillion bullets could be fired and never hit his superhuman street-fighting man. (1:35) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness. (Chun)
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen In Lasse Hallström’s latest film, a sheikh named Muhammed (Amr Waked) with a large castle in Scotland, an ardent love of fly-fishing, and unlimited funds envisions turning a dry riverbed in the Yemeni desert into an aquifer-fed salmon-run site and the surrounding lands into an agricultural cornucopia. Tasked with realizing this dream are London marketing consultant Harriet Chetwode-Talbot (Emily Blunt) and government fisheries scientist Alfred Jones (Ewan McGregor), a reluctant participant who refers to the project as “doolally” and signs on under professional duress. Despite numerous feasibility issues (habitat discrepancies, the necessity for a mass exodus of British salmon, two million irate British anglers), Muhammed’s vision is borne forward on a rising swell of cynicism generated within the office of the British prime minister’s press secretary (Kristin Scott Thomas), whose lackeys have been scouring the wires for a shred of U.K.-related good news out of the Middle East. Ecology-minded killjoys may question whether this qualifies. But putting aside, if one can, the possible inadvisability of relocating 10,000 nonnative salmon to a wadi in Yemen — which is to say, putting aside the basic premise — it’s easy and pleasant enough to go with the flow of the film, infected by Jones’s growing enthusiasm for both the project and Ms. Chetwode-Talbot. Adapted from Paul Torday’s novel by Simon Beaufoy (2009’s Slumdog Millionaire), Salmon Fishing is a sweet and funny movie, and while it suffers from the familiar flurried third-act knotting together of loose ends, its storytelling stratagems are entertaining and its characters compellingly textured, and the cast makes the most of the well-polished material. (1:52) Piedmont. (Rapoport)
Think Like a Man (2:02) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness.
Titanic 3D (3:14) Metreon.
21 Jump Street One of the more pleasant surprises on the mainstream comedy landscape has to be this, ugh, “reboot” of the late-’80s TV franchise. I wasn’t a fan of the show — or its dark-eyed, bad-boy star, Johnny Depp — back in the day, but I am of this unexpectedly funny rework overseen by apparent enthusiast, star, co-writer, and co-executive producer Jonah Hill, with a screenplay by Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010) co-writer Michael Bacall. There’s more than a smidge of Bacall’s other high school fantasy, Project X, in the buddy comedy premise of nerd (Hill’s Schmidt) meets blowhard (Channing Tatum’s Jenko), but 21 Jump Street thankfully leapfrogs the former with its meta-savvy, irreverent script and har-dee-har cameo turns by actors like Ice Cube as Captain Dickson (as well as a few key uncredited players who shall remain under deep cover). High school continues to haunt former classmates Schmidt and Jenko, who have just graduated from the lowly police bike corps to a high school undercover operation — don’t get it twisted, though, Dickson hollers at them; they got this gig solely because they look young. Still, the whole drug-bust enchilada is put in jeopardy when the once-socially toxic Schmidt finds his brand of geekiness in favor with the cool kids and so-called dumb-jock Jenko discovers the pleasures of the mind with the chem lab set. Fortunately for everyone, this crew doesn’t take themselves, or the source material, too seriously. (1:49) Metreon. (Chun)
Wrath of the Titans Playing fast and loose with Greek myths but not agile enough to kick out a black metal jam during a flaming underworld power-grab, Wrath of Titans is, as expected, a bit of a CGI-crammed mess. Still, the sword-and-sandals franchise has attracted scads of international actorly talent — the cast is enriched this time by Édgar Ramírez (2010’s Carlos), Bill Nighy, and Rosamund Pike — and you do get at least one cool monster and paltry explication (Cerberus, which bolts from earth for no discernible reason except that maybe all hell is breaking loose). Just because action flicks like Cloverfield (2008) have long dispensed with narrative handlebars doesn’t mean that age-old stories like the Greek myths should get completely random with their titanic tale-spinning. Wrath opens on the twilight of the gods: Zeus (Liam Neeson) is practically groveling before Perseus (Sam Worthington) — now determined to go small, raise his son, and work on his fishing skills — and trying to persuade him to step up and help the Olympians hold onto power. Fellow Zeus spawn Ares (Ramírez) is along for the ride, so demigod up, Perseus. In some weird, last-ditch attempt to ream his bro Zeus, the oily, mulleted Hades (Ralph Fiennes) has struck a deal with their entrapped, chaotic, castrating fireball of a dad Cronus to let them keep their immortality, on the condition that Zeus is sapped of his power. Picking up Queen Andromeda (Pike) along the way, Perseus gets the scoop on how to get to Hell from Hephaestus (Nighy playing the demented Vulcan like a ’60s acid casualty, given to chatting with mechanical owl Bubo, a wink to 1981 precursor Clash of the Titans, which set the bar low for the remake). Though there are some distracting action scenes (full of speedy, choppy edits that confuse disorientation for excitement) and a few intriguing monsters (just how did the Minotaur make it to this labyrinth?), there’s no money line like “Release the Kraken!” this time around, and there’s way too much nattering on about fatherly responsibility and forgiveness —making these feel-good divinities sound oddly, mawkishly Christian and softheaded rather than mythically pagan and brattily otherworldly. Wasn’t the appeal of the gods linked to the fact that they always acted more like outta-hand adolescents than holier-than-thou deities? I guess that’s why no one’s praying to them anymore. (1:39) Metreon. (Chun)