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.
The Awakening In 1921 England Florence Cathcart (Rebecca Hall) is a best-selling author who specializes in exposing the legions of phony spiritualists exploiting a nation still grieving for its World War I dead. She’s rather rudely summoned to a country boys’ boarding school by gruff instructor Robert (Dominic West), who would be delighted if she could disprove the presence of a ghost there preferably before it frightens more of his young charges to death. Borrowing tropes from the playbooks of recent Spanish and Japanese horror flicks, Nick Murphy’s period thriller is handsome and atmospheric, but disappointing in a familiar way the buildup is effective enough, but it all unravels in pat logic and rote "Boo!" scares when the anticlimactic payoff finally arrives. The one interesting fillip is Florence’s elaborate, antiquated, meticulously detailed arsenal of equipment and ruses designed to measure (or debunk) possibly supernatural phenomena. (1:47) Embarcadero, Shattuck. (Harvey)
Beloved There is a touch of Busby Berkeley to the first five or so minutes of Christophe Honoré’s Beloved a fetishy, mid-’60s-set montage in which a series of enviably dressed Parisian women stride purposefully in and out of a shoe shop, trying on an endless array of covetable pumps. As for the rest, it’s a less delightful tale of two women, a mother and a daughter, and the unfathomable yet oft-repeated choices they make in their affairs of the heart. It helps very little that the mother is played by Ludivine Sagnier and then Catherine Deneuve whose handsome Czech lover (Rasha Bukvic) is somewhat unkindly but perhaps deservedly transformed by the years into Milos Forman or that the daughter, as an adult, is played by Deneuve’s real-life daughter, Chiara Mastroianni. And it helps even less that the film is a musical, wherein one character or another occasionally takes the opportunity, during a moment of inexplicable emotional duress, to burst into song and let poorly written pop lyrics muddy the waters even further. The men are sexist cads, or children, or both, and if they’re none of those, they’re gay. The women find these attributes to be charming and irresistible. None of it feels like a romance for the ages, but nonetheless the movie arcs through four interminable decades. When tragedy strikes, it’s almost a relief, until we realize that life goes on and so will the film. (2:15) Lumiere, Shattuck. (Rapoport)
The Expendables 2 Pretty much every aging action hero in the universe (except Steven Seagal) appears in this plot-lite but explosion-heavy sequel. (1:43)
Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai See "The Trouble with Demons." (2:08) Four Star.
Love in the City See "Mid-Century Modern." (1:45) SF Film Society Cinema.
The Odd Life of Timothy Green A childless couple (Jennifer Garner, Joel Edgerton) adopt a boy after he mysteriously appears in their garden. (2:05) Presidio.
Painted Skin: The Resurrection See "The Trouble with Demons." (2:11) Metreon.
ParaNorman A boy who can speak to the dead saves his small town from a ghoul invasion in this spooky, 3D stop-motion animated film. (1:32) Balboa, Presidio.
Sparkle A 1960s Motown girl group faces the perils of stardom in this musical drama, featuring Whitney Houston in her last screen appearance. (1:56) Marina.
2 Days in New York Messy, attention-hungry, random, sweet, pathetic, and even adorable such is the latest dispatch from Julie Delpy, here with her follow-up to 2007’s 2 Days in Paris. It’s also further proof that the rom-com as a genre can yet be saved by women who start with the autobiographical and spin off from there. Now separated from 2 Days in Paris‘s Jake and raising their son, artist Marion is happily cohabiting with boyfriend Mingus (Chris Rock), a radio host and sometime colleague at the Village Voice, and his daughter, while juggling her big, bouncing bundle of neuroses. Exacerbating her issues: a visit by her father Jeannot (Delpy’s real father Albert Delpy), who eschews baths and tries to smuggle an unseemly selection of sausages and cheeses into the country; her provocative sister Rose (Alexia Landeau), who’s given to nipple slips in yoga class and Marion and Mingus’ apartment; and Rose’s boyfriend Manu (Alexandre Nahon), who’s trouble all around. The gang’s in NYC for Marion’s one-woman show, in which she hopes to auction off her soul to the highest, and hopefully most benevolent, bidder. Rock, of course, brings the wisecracks to this charming, shambolic urban chamber comedy, as well as, surprisingly, a dose of gravitas, as Marion’s aggrieved squeeze he’s uncertain whether these home invaders are intentionally racist, cultural clueless, or simply bonkers but he’s far too polite to blurt out those familiar Rock truths. The key, however, is Delpy part Woody Allen, if the Woodman were a maturing, ever-metamorphosing French beauty and part unique creature of her own making, given to questioning her identity, ideas of life and death, and the existence of the soul. 2 Days in New York is just a sliver of life, but buoyed by Delpy’s thoughtful, lightly madcap spirit. You’re drawn in, wanting to see what happens next after the days are done. (1:31) Embarcadero, Shattuck, Smith Rafael. (Chun)
Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry Unstoppable force meets immovable object and indeed gets stopped in Alison Klayman’s documentary about China’s most famous contemporary artist. A larger than life figure, Ai Weiwei’s bohemian rebel persona was honed during a long (1981-93) stint in the U.S., where he fit right into Manhattan’s avant-garde and gallery scenes. Returning to China when his father’s health went south, he continued to push the envelope with projects in various media, including architecture he’s best known today for the 2008 Beijing Olympics’ "Bird’s Nest" stadium design. But despite the official approval implicit in such high-profile gigs, his incessant, obdurate criticism of China’s political repressive politics and censorship a massive installation exposing the government-suppressed names of children killed by collapsing, poorly-built schools during the 2008 Sichuan earthquake being one prominent example has tread dangerous ground. This scattershot but nonetheless absorbing portrait stretches its view to encompass the point at which the subject’s luck ran out: when the film was already in post-production, he was arrested, then held for two months without official charge before he was accused of alleged tax evasion. (He is now free, albeit barred from leaving China, and "suspected" of additional crimes including pornography and bigamy.) (1:31) Shattuck, Smith Rafael. (Harvey)
The Amazing Spider-Man A mere five years after Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man 3 forgettable on its own, sure, but 2002’s Spider-Man and especially 2004’s Spider-Man 2 still hold up Marvel’s angsty web-slinger returns to the big screen, hoping to make its box-office mark before The Dark Knight Rises opens in a few weeks. Director Marc Webb (2009’s 500 Days of Summer) and likable stars Andrew Garfield (as the skateboard-toting hero) and Emma Stone (as his high-school squeeze) offer a competent reboot, but there’s no shaking the feeling that we’ve seen this movie before, with its familiar origin story and with-great-power themes. A little creativity, and I don’t mean in the special effects department, might’ve gone a long way to make moviegoers forget this Spidey do-over is, essentially, little more than a soulless cash grab. Not helping matters: the villain (Rhys Ifans as the Lizard) is a snooze. (2:18) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness. (Eddy)
Beasts of the Southern Wild Six months after winning the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance (and a Cannes Camera d’Or), Beasts of the Southern Wild proves capable of enduring a second or third viewing with its originality and strangeness fully intact. Magical realism is a primarily literary device that isn’t attempted very often in U.S. cinema, and succeeds very rarely. But this intersection between Faulkner and fairy tale, a fable about improbably Hurricane Katrina, is mysterious and unruly and enchanting. Benh Zeitlin’s film is wildly cinematic from the outset, as voiceover narration from six-year-old Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) offers simple commentary on her rather fantastical life. She abides in the Bathtub, an imaginary chunk of bayou country south of New Orleans whose residents live closer to nature, amid the detritus of civilization. Seemingly everything is some alchemical combination of scrap heap, flesh, and soil. But not all is well: when "the storm" floods the land, the holdouts are forced at federal gunpoint to evacuate. With its elements of magic, mythological exodus, and evolutionary biology, Beasts goes way out on a conceptual limb; you could argue it achieves many (if not more) of the same goals Terrence Malick’s 2011 The Tree of Life did at a fraction of that film’s cost and length. (1:31) Bridge, California, Embarcadero, Smith Rafael. (Harvey)
Bernie Jack Black plays the titular new assistant funeral director liked by everybody in small-town Carthage, Tex. He works especially hard to ingratiate himself with shrewish local widow Marjorie (Shirley MacLaine), but there are benefits estranged from her own family, she not only accepts him as a friend (then companion, then servant, then as virtual "property"), but makes him her sole heir. Richard Linklater’s latest is based on a true-crime story, although in execution it’s as much a cheerful social satire as I Love You Philip Morris and The Informant! (both 2009), two other recent fact-based movies about likable felons. Black gets to sing (his character being a musical theater queen, among other things), while Linklater gets to affectionately mock a very different stratum of Lone Star State culture from the one he started out with in 1991’s Slacker. There’s a rich gallery of supporting characters, most played by little-known local actors or actual townspeople, with Matthew McConaughey’s vainglorious county prosecutor one delectable exception. Bernie is its director’s best in some time, not to mention a whole lot of fun. (1:39) Opera Plaza, Smith Rafael. (Harvey)
Bill W. Even longtime AA members are unlikely to know half the organizational history revealed in this straightforward, chronological, fast-moving portrait of its late founder. Bill Wilson was a bright, personable aspiring businessman whose career was nonetheless perpetually upset by addiction to the alcohol that eased his social awkwardness but brought its own worse troubles. During one mid-1930s sanitarium visit, attempting to dry out, he experienced a spiritual awakening. From that moment slowly grew the idea of Alcoholics Anonymous, which he shaped with the help of several other recovering drunks, and saw become a national movement after a 1941 Saturday Evening Post article introduced it to the general public. Wilson had always hoped the "leaderless" organization would soon find its own feet and leave him to build a separate, sober new career. But gaining that distance was difficult; attempts to find other "cures" for his recurrent depression (including LSD therapy) laid him open to internal AA criticism; and he was never comfortable on the pedestal that grateful members insisted he stay on as the organization’s founder. Admittedly, he appointed himself its primary public spokesman, which rendered his own hopes for privacy somewhat self-canceling though fortunately it also provides this documentary with plenty of extant lecture and interview material. He was a complicated man whose complicated life often butted against the role of savior, despite his endless dedication and generosity toward others in need. That thread of conflict makes for a movie that’s compelling beyond the light it sheds on an institution as impactful on individual lives and society as any other to emerge from 20th-century America. (1:43) Roxie. (Harvey)
The Bourne Legacy Settle down, Matt Damon fans the original Bourne appears in The Bourne Legacy only in dialogue ("Jason Bourne is in New York!") and photograph form. Stepping in as lead badass is Jeremy Renner, whose twin powers of strength and intelligence come courtesy of an experimental-drug program overseen by sinister government types (including Edward Norton in an utterly generic role) and administered by lab workers doing it "for the science!," according to Dr. Rachel Weisz. Legacy‘s timeline roughly matches up with the last Damon film, The Bourne Ultimatum, which came out five years ago and is referenced here like we’re supposed to be on a first-name basis with its long-forgotten plot twists. Anyway, thanks to ol’ Jason and a few other factors involving Albert Finney and YouTube, the drug program is shut down, and all guinea-pig agents and high-security-clearance doctors are offed. Except guess which two, who manage to flee across the globe to get more WMDs for Renner’s DNA. Essentially one long chase scene, The Bourne Legacy spends way too much of its time either in Norton’s "crisis suite," watching characters bark orders and stare at computer screens, or trying to explain the genetic tinkering that’s made Renner a super-duper-superspy. Remember when Damon killed that guy with a rolled-up magazine in 2004’s The Bourne Supremacy? Absolutely nothing so rad in this imagination-free enterprise. (2:15) Balboa, 1000 Van Ness, Presidio, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki. (Eddy)
Brave Pixar’s latest is a surprisingly familiar fairy tale. Scottish princess Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald) would rather ride her horse and shoot arrows than become engaged, but it’s Aladdin-style law that she must marry the eldest son of one of three local clans. (Each boy is so exaggeratedly unappealing that her reluctance seems less tomboy rebellion than common sense.) Her mother (Emma Thompson) is displeased; when they quarrel, Merida decides to change her fate (Little Mermaid-style) by visiting the local spell-caster (a gentle, absent-minded soul that Ursula the Sea Witch would eat for brunch). Naturally, the spell goes awry, but only the youngest of movie viewers will fear that Merida and her mother won’t be able to make things right by the end. Girl power is great, but so are suspense and originality. How, exactly, is Brave different than a zillion other Disney movies about spunky princesses? Well, Merida’s fiery explosion of red curls, so detailed it must have had its own full-time team of animators working on it, is pretty fantastic. (1:33) 1000 Van Ness, SF Center, Shattuck. (Eddy)
The Campaign (1:25) California, 1000 Van Ness, Presidio, SF Center, Vogue.
Celeste and Jesse Forever Married your best friend, realized you love but can’t be in love with each other, and don’t want to let all those great in-jokes wither away? Such is the premise of Celeste and Jesse Forever, the latest in what a recent wave of meaty, girl-centric comedies penned by actresses here Rashida Jones working with real-life ex Will McCormack; there, Zoe Kazan (Ruby Sparks), Zoe Lister Jones (Lola Versus), and Lena Dunham (Girls) who have gone the DIY route and whipped up their own juicy roles. There’s no mistaking theirs for your average big-screen rom-com: they dare to wallow harder, skew smarter, and in the case of Celeste, tackle the thorny, tough-to-resolve relationship dilemma that stubbornly refuses to conform to your copy-and-paste story arc. Nor do their female protagonists come off as uniformly likable: in this case, Celeste (Jones) is a bit of an aspiring LA powerbitch. Her Achilles heel is artist Jesse (Andy Samberg), the slacker high school sweetheart she wed and separated from because he doesn’t share her goals (e.g., he doesn’t have a car or a job). Yet the two continue to spend all their waking hours together and share an undeniable rapport, extending from Jesse’s encampment in her backyard apartment to their jokey simulated coitus featuring phallic-shaped lip balm. Throwing a wrench in the works: the fact that they’re still kind of in love with each other, which all their pals, like Jesse’s pot-dealer bud Skillz (McCormack), can clearly see. It’s an shaggy, everyday breakup yarn, writ glamorous by its appealing leads, that we too rarely witness, and barring the at-times nausea-inducing shaky-cam under the direction of Lee Toland Krieger, it’s rendered compelling and at times very funny there’s no neat and tidy way to say good-bye, and Jones and McCormack do their best to capture but not encapsulate the severance and inevitable healing process. It also helps that the chemistry practically vibrates between the boyish if somewhat one-note Samberg and the soulful Jones, who fully, intelligently rises to the occasion, bringing on the heartbreak. (1:31) Metreon, Shattuck, Sundance Kabuki. (Chun)
Dark Horse You can look at filmmaker Todd Solondz’s work and find it brilliant, savage, and challenging; or show-offy, contrived, and fraudulent. The circles of interpersonal (especially familial) hell he describes are simultaneously brutal, banal, and baroque. But what probably distresses people most is that they’re also funny raising the issue of whether he trivializes trauma for the sake of cheap shock-value yuks, or if black comedy is just another valid way of facing the unbearable. Dark Horse is disturbing because it’s such a slight, inconsequential, even soft movie by his standards; this time, the sharp edges seem glibly cynical, and the sum ordinary enough to no longer seem unmistakably his. Abe (Jordan Gelber) is an obnoxious jerk of about 35 who still lives with his parents (Mia Farrow, Christopher Walken) and works at dad’s office, likely because no one else would employ him. But Abe doesn’t exactly see himself as a loser. He resents and blames others for being winners, which is different he sees the inequality as their fault. Dark Horse is less of an ensemble piece than most of Solondz’s films, and in hinging on Abe, it diminishes his usual ambivalence toward flawed humanity. Abe has no redemptive qualities he’s just an annoyance, one whose mental health issues aren’t clarified enough to induce sympathy. (1:25) Smith Rafael. (Harvey)
The Dark Knight Rises Early reviews that called out The Dark Knight Rises‘ flaws were greeted with the kind of vicious rage that only anonymous internet commentators can dish out. And maybe this is yet another critic-proof movie, albeit not one based on a best-selling YA book series. Of course, it is based on a comic book, though Christopher Nolan’s sophisticated filmmaking and Christian Bale’s tortured lead performance tend to make that easy to forget. In this third and "final" installment in Nolan’s trilogy, Bruce Wayne has gone into seclusion, skulking around his mansion and bemoaning his broken body and shattered reputation. He’s lured back into the Batcave after a series of unfortunate events, during which The Dark Knight Rises takes some jabs at contemporary class warfare (with problematic mixed results), introduces a villain with pecs of steel and an at-times distractingly muffled voice (Tom Hardy), and unveils a potentially dangerous device that produces sustainable energy (paging Tony Stark). Make no mistake: this is an exciting, appropriately moody conclusion to a superior superhero series, with some nice turns by supporting players Gary Oldman and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. But in trying to cram in so many characters and plot threads and themes (so many prisons in this thing, literal and figural), The Dark Knight Rises is ultimately done in by its sprawl. Without a focal point like Heath Ledger’s menacing, iconic Joker in 2008’s The Dark Knight the stakes aren’t as high, and the end result feels more like a superior summer blockbuster than one for the ages. (2:44) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Sundance Kabuki. (Eddy)
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days (1:34) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness.
Easy Money A title like that is bound to disprove itself, and it doesn’t take long to figure out that the only payday the lead characters are going to get in this hit 2010 Swedish thriller (from Jens Lapidus’ novel) is the kind measured in bloody catastrophe. Chilean Jorge (Matias Padin Varela), just escaped from prison, returns to Stockholm seeking one last big drug deal before he splits for good; JW (Joel Kinnaman from AMC series The Killing) is a economics student-slash-cabbie desperate for the serious cash needed to support his double life as a pseudo-swell running with the city’s rich young turks. At first reluctantly thrown together, they become friends working for JW’s taxi boss or to be more specific, for that boss’ cocaine smuggling side business. Their competitors are a Serbian gang whose veteran enforcer Mrado (Dragomir Mrsic) is put in the awkward position of caring for his eight-year-old daughter (by a drug addicted ex-wife) just as "war" heats up between the two factions. But then everyone here has loved ones they want to protect from an escalating cycle of attacks and reprisals from which none are immune. Duly presented here by Martin Scorsese, Daniel Espinosa’s film has the hurtling pace, engrossing characters and complicated (sometimes confusing) plot mechanics of some good movies by that guy, like Casino (1995) or The Departed (2006). Wildly original it’s not, but this crackling good genre entertainment that make you cautiously look forward to its sequel which is just about to open in Sweden. (1:59) Opera Plaza. (Harvey)
Farewell, My Queen (Benoît Jacquot, France, 2012) Opening early on the morning of July 14, 1789, Farewell, My Queen depicts four days at the Palace of Versailles on the eve of the French Revolution, as witnessed by a young woman named Sidonie Laborde (Léa Seydoux) who serves as reader to Marie Antoinette (Diane Kruger). Sidonie displays a singular and romantic devotion to the queen, while the latter’s loyalties are split between a heedless amour propre and her grand passion for the Duchess de Polignac (Virginie Ledoyen). These domestic matters and other regal whims loom large in the tiny galaxy of the queen’s retinue, so that while elsewhere in the palace, in shadowy, candle-lit corridors, courtiers and their servants mingle to exchange news, rumor, panicky theories, and evacuation plans, in the queen’s quarters the task of embroidering a dahlia for a projected gown at times overshadows the storming of the Bastille and the much larger catastrophe on the horizon. (1:39) Albany, Opera Plaza. (Rapoport)
Girlfriend Boyfriend The onscreen title of this Taiwanese import is Gf*Bf, but don’t let the text-speak fool you: the bulk of the film is set in the 1980s and 90s, long before smart phones were around to complicate relationships. And the trio at the heart of Girlfriend Boyfriend is complicated enough as it is: sassy Mabel (Gwei Lun-Mei) openly pines for brooding Liam (Joseph Chang), who secretly pines for rebellious Aaron (Rhydian Vaughan), who chases Mabel until she gives in; as things often go in stories like this, nobody gets the happy ending they desire. Set against the backdrop of Taiwan’s student movement, this vibrant drama believably tracks its leads as they mature from impulsive youths to bitter adults who never let go of their deep bond despite all the misery it causes, and a last-act turn into melodrama that’s hinted at by the film’s frame story featuring an older Liam and a pair of, um, sassy and rebellious twin girls he’s been raising as his own. (1:45) Metreon. (Eddy)
Hope Springs Heading into her 32nd year of matrimony with aggressively oblivious Arnold (Tommy Lee Jones), desperate housewife Kay (Meryl Streep) sets aside her entrenched passivity in a last-ditch effort to put flesh back on the skeleton of a marriage. Stumbling upon the guidance of one Dr. Bernard Feld (Steve Carell) in the self-help section of a bookstore, Kay (barely) convinces Arnold to accompany her to a weeklong session at Feld’s Center for Intensive Couples Counseling, in Hope Springs, Maine. The scenes from a marriage leading up to their departure, as well as the incremental advances and crippling setbacks of their therapeutic sojourn, are poignant and distressing and possibly familiar. Some slow drift, long ago set in motion, though we don’t know by what, has settled them in concrete in their separate routines and bedrooms. It’s the kind of thing that, if it were happening in real life say, to you might make you weep. But somehow, through the magic of cinema and the uncomfortable power of witnessing frankly depicted failures of intimacy, we laugh. This is by no means a wackiness-ensues sort of sexual comedy, though. Director David Frankel (2006’s The Devil Wears Prada and, unfortunately, 2008’s Marley & Me) and Jones and Streep, through the finely detailed particularities of their performances, won’t let it be, while Carell resists playing the therapeutic scenes for more than the gentlest pulses of humor. More often, his empathetic silences and carefully timed queries provide a place for these two unhappy, inarticulate, isolated people to fall and fumble and eventually make contact. (1:40) Four Star, Marina, 1000 Van Ness, Piedmont, SF Center, Shattuck, Sundance Kabuki. (Rapoport)
Ice Age: Continental Drift (1:27) Metreon.
The Imposter A family tragedy, an international thriller, a Southern-fried mystery, and a true story: The Imposter is all of these things. This unique documentary reveals the tale of Frédéric Bourdin, dubbed "the Chameleon" for his epic false-identity habit. His ballsiest accomplishment was also his most heinous con: in 1997, he claimed to be Nicholas Barclay, a San Antonio teen missing since 1994. Amazingly, the impersonation worked for a time, though Bourdin (early 20s, brown-eyed, speaks English with a French accent) hardly resembled Nicholas (who would have been 16, and had blue eyes). Using interviews with Nicholas’ shell-shocked family, government types who unwittingly aided the charade, and Bourdin himself and ingenious re-enactments that borrow more from crime dramas than America’s Most Wanted, director Bart Layton weaves a multi-layered chronicle of one man’s unbelievable deception. (1:39) Lumiere, Shattuck. (Eddy)
The Intouchables Cries of "racism" seem a bit out of hand when it comes to this likable albeit far-from-challenging French comedy loosely based on a real-life relationship between a wealthy white quadriplegic and his caretaker of color. The term "cliché" is more accurate. And where were these critics when 1989’s Driving Miss Daisy and 2011’s The Help movies that seem designed to make nostalgic honkies feel good about those fraught relationships skewed to their advantagewere coming down the pike? (It also might be more interesting to look at how these films about race always hinge on economies in which whites must pay blacks to interact with/educate/enlighten them.) In any case, Omar Sy, portraying Senegalese immigrant Driss, threatens to upset all those pundits’ apple carts with his sheer life force, even when he’s shaking solo on the dance floor to sounds as effortlessly unprovocative, and old-school, as Earth, Wind, and Fire. In fact, everything about The Intouchables is as old school as 1982’s 48 Hrs., spinning off the still laugh-grabbing humor that comes with juxtaposing a hipper, more streetwise black guy with a hapless, moneyed chalky. The wheelchair-bound Philippe (Francois Cluzet) is more vulnerable than most, and he has a hard time getting along with any of his nurses, until he meets Driss, who only wants his signature for his social services papers. It’s not long before the cultured, classical music-loving Philippe’s defenses are broken down by Driss’ flip, somewhat honest take on the follies and pretensions of high culture a bigger deal in France than in the new world, no doubt. Director-writer Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano aren’t trying to innovate they seem more set on crafting an effervescent blockbuster that out-blockbusters Hollywood and the biggest compliment might be that the stateside remake is already rumored to be in the works. (1:52) Clay. (Chun)
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) Four Star. (Eddy)
Killer Joe William Friedkin made two enormously popular movies that have defined his career (1971’s The French Connection and 1973’s The Exorcist), but his resumé also contains an array of lesser films that are both hit-and-miss in critical and popular appeal. Most have their defenders. After a couple biggish action movies, it seemed a step down for him to be doing Bug in 2006; though it had its limits as a psychological quasi-horror, you could feel the cracking recognition of like minds between cast, director, and playwright Tracy Letts. Letts and Friedkin are back in Killer Joe, which was a significant off-Broadway success in 1998. In the short, violent, and bracing film version, Friedkin gets the ghoulish jet-black-comedic tone just right, and his actors let themselves get pushed way out on a limb to their great benefit including Matthew McConaughey, playing the title character, who’s hired by the Smith clan of Texas to bump off a troublesome family member. Needless to say, almost nothing goes as planned, escalating mayhem to new heights of trailer-trash Grand Guignol. Things get fugly to the point where Killer Joe becomes one of those movies whose various abuses are shocking enough to court charges of gratuitous violence and misogyny; unlike the 2010 Killer Inside Me, for instance, it can’t really be justified as a commentary upon those very entertainment staples. (Letts is highly skilled, but those looking for a message here will have to think one up for themselves.) Still, Friedkin and his cast do such good work that Killer Joe‘s grimly humorous satisfaction in its worst possible scenarios seems quite enough. (1:43) Embarcadero, Shattuck. (Harvey)
Klown A spinoff from a long-running Danish TV show, with the same director (Mikkel Nørgaard) and co-writer/stars, this bad-taste comedy might duly prove hard to beat as "the funniest movie of the year" (a claim its advertising already boasts). Socially hapless Frank (Frank Hvam) discovers his live-in girlfriend Mia (Mia Lyhne) is pregnant, but she quite reasonably worries "you don’t have enough potential as a father." To prove otherwise, he basically kidnaps 12-year-old nephew Bo (Marcuz Jess Petersen) and drags him along on a canoe trip with best friend Casper (Casper Christensen). Trouble is, Casper has already proclaimed this trip will be a "Tour de Pussy," in which they or at least he will seize any and every opportunity to cheat on their unknowing spouses. Ergo, there’s an almost immediate clash between awkward attempts at quasi-parental bonding and activities most unsuited for juvenile eyes. Accusations of rape and pedophilia, some bad advice involving "pearl necklaces," an upscale one-night-only bordello, reckless child endangerment, encouragement of teenage drinking, the consequences of tactical "man flirting," and much more ensue. Make no mistake, Klown one-ups the Judd Apatow school of raunch (at least for the moment), but it’s good-natured enough to avoid any aura of crass Adam Sandler-type bottom-feeding. It’s also frequently, blissfully, very, very funny. (1:28) Roxie. (Harvey)
Magic Mike Director Steven Soderbergh pays homage to the 1970s with the opening shot of his male stripper opus: the boxy old Warner Bros. logo, which evokes the gritty, sexualized days of Burt Reynolds and Joe Namath posing in pantyhose. Was that really the last time women, en masse, were welcome to ogle to their heart’s content? That might be the case considering the outburst of applause when a nude Channing Tatum rises after a hard night in a threesome in Magic Mike‘s first five minutes. Ever the savvy film historian, Soderbergh toys with the conventions of the era, from the grimy quasi-redneck realism of vintage Reynolds movies to the hidebound framework of the period’s gay porn, almost for his own amusement, though the viewer might be initially confused about exactly what year they’re in. Veteran star stripper Mike (Tatum) is working construction, stripping to the approval of many raucous ladies and their stuffable dollar bills. He decides to take college-dropout blank-slate hottie Adam (Alex Pettyfer) under his wing and ropes him into the strip club, owned by Dallas (Matthew McConaughey, whose formidable abs look waxily preserved) and show him the ropes of stripping and having a good time, much to the disapproval of Adam’s more straight-laced sister Brooke (Cody Horn). Really, though, all Mike wants to do is become a furniture designer. Boasting Foreigner’s "Feels like the First Time" as its theme of sorts and spot-on, hot choreography by Alison Faulk (who’s worked with Madonna and Britney Spears), Magic Mike takes off and can’t help but please the crowd when it turns to the stage. Unfortunately the chemistry-free budding romance between Mike and Brooke sucks the air out of the proceedings every time it comes into view, which is way too often. (1:50) Metreon. (Chun)
Moonrise Kingdom Does Wes Anderson’s new film mark a live-action return to form after 2007’s disappointingly wan Darjeeling Limited? More or less. Does it tick all the Andersonian style and content boxes? Indubitably. In the most obvious deviation Anderson has taken with Moonrise, he gives us his first period piece, a romance set in 1965 on a fictional island off the New England coast. After a chance encounter at a church play, pre-teen Khaki Scout Sam (newcomer Jared Gilman) instantly falls for the raven-suited, sable-haired Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward, ditto). The two become pen pals, and quickly bond over the shared misery of being misunderstood by both authority figures and fellow kids. The bespectacled Sam is an orphan, ostracized by his foster parents and scout troop (much to the dismay of its straight-arrow leader Edward Norton). Suzy despises her clueless attorney parents, played with gusto by Bill Murray and Frances McDormand in some of the film’s funniest and best scenes. When the two kids run off together, the whole thing begins to resemble a kind of tween version of Godard’s 1965 lovers-on the-lam fantasia Pierrot le Fou. But like most of Anderson’s stuff, it has a gauzy sentimentality more akin to Truffaut than Godard. Imagine if the sequence in 2001’s The Royal Tenenbaums where Margot and Richie run away to the Museum of Natural History had been given the feature treatment: it’s a simple yet inspired idea, and it becomes a charming little tale of the perils of growing up and selling out the fantasy. But it doesn’t feel remotely risky. It’s simply too damn tame. (1:37) Four Star, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Piedmont, Shattuck, Sundance Kabuki. (Michelle Devereaux)
Moth Diaries The Moth Diaries, Rachel Klein’s 2002 novel turned into Mary Harron’s film, is the director’s most mainstream-friendly effort, being less edgy and grown-up than American Psycho (2000), I Shot Andy Warhol (1996), or even The Notorious Bettie Page (2005). It’s the start of a new academic year at an upscale girls’ boarding school. Becca (Sarah Bolger from The Tudors) is particularly happy to be reunited with best friend Lucie (Sarah Gadon), as the former is still psychologically fragile in the wake of her well-known poet father’s suicide. But a wedge is driven between them by the arrival of Ernessa (Lily Cole), a tall, English-accented student with a face like a creepy porcelain doll. She "colonizes" Lucie, who at first guiltily hides her infatuation from Becca, then (along with everyone else) accuses her of simple jealousy. But Becca notices things others don’t, or dismiss: how Ernessa never seems to eat, how she can’t abide water, the sickly sweet smell emanating from her room and her odd disappearances into the luxury-hotel-turned-school’s off limits basement. Klein’s book, which had our heroine looking back on this episode from middle age, insisted on ambiguity: we’re never sure whether Ernessa really is a supernatural predator, or if all this is just a hysterical fantasy. Adapted by Harron as scenarist, the movie eliminates that frame and leaves little room for doubt that there be vampires here. The film’s weakness is that it still tries to play it both ways, as troubled coming-of-age portrait and Gothic horror, with the result that the two elements end up seeming equally half-realized. (1:22) SF Film Society Cinema. (Harvey)
Nitro Circus the Movie 3D (1:28) Metreon.
The Queen of Versailles Lauren Greenfield’s obscenely entertaining The Queen of Versailles takes a long, turbulent look at the lifestyles lived by David and Jackie Siegel. He is the 70-something undisputed king of timeshares; she is his 40-something (third) wife, a former beauty queen with the requisite blonde locks and major rack, both probably not entirely Mother Nature-made. He’s so compulsive that he’s never saved, instead plowing every buck back into the business. When the recession hits, that means this billionaire is in ready-cash as opposed to paper terms suddenly sorta kinda broke, just as an enormous Las Vegas project is opening and the family’s stupefyingly large new "home" (yep, modeled after Versailles) is mid-construction. Plugs must be pulled, corners cut. Never having had to, the Siegels discover (once most of the servants have been let go) they have no idea how to run a household. Worse, they discover that in adversity they have a very hard time pulling together in particular, David is revealed as a remote, cold, obsessively all-business person who has no use for getting or giving "emotional support;" not even for being a husband or father, much. What ultimately makes Queen poignantly more than a reality-TV style peek at the garishly wealthy is that Jackie, despite her incredibly vulgar veneer (she’s like a Jennifer Coolidge character, forever squeezed into loud animal prints), is at heart just a nice girl from hicksville who really, really wants to make this family work. (1:40) Lumiere, Smith Rafael. (Harvey)
Ruby Sparks Meta has rarely skewed as appealingly as with this indie rom-com spinning off a writerly version of the Pygmalion and Galatea tale, as penned by the object-of-desire herself: Zoe Kazan. Little Miss Sunshine (2006) directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris helm this heady fantasy about a crumpled, geeky novelist, Calvin (Paul Dano), who’s suffering from the sophomore slump he can’t seem to break his rock-solid writers block and pen a follow-up to his hit debut. He’s a victim of his own success, especially when he finally begins to write, about a dream girl, a fun-loving, redheaded artist named Ruby (scriptwriter Kazan), who one day actually materializes. When he types that she speaks nothing but French, out comes a stream of the so-called language of diplomacy. Calvin soon discovers the limits and dangers of creation say, the hazards of tweaking a manifestation when she doesn’t do what you desire, and the question of what to do when one’s baby Frankenstein grows bored and restless in the narrow circle of her creator’s imagination. Kazan and Dayton and Faris go to the absurd, even frightening, limits of the age-old Pygmalion conceit, giving it a feminist charge, while helped along by a cornucopia of colorful cameos by actors like Annette Bening and Antonio Banderas as Calvin’s boho mom and her furniture-building boyfriend. Dano is as adorably befuddled as ever and adds the crucial texture of every-guy reality, though ultimately this is Kazan’s show, whether she’s testing the boundaries of a genuinely codependent relationship or tugging at the puppeteer’s strings. (1:44) Metreon, Piedmont, Shattuck, Sundance Kabuki. (Chun)
Searching for Sugar Man The tale of the lost, and increasingly found, artist known as Rodriguez seems to have it all: the mystery and drama of myth, beginning with the singer-songwriter’s stunning 1970 debut, Cold Fact, a neglected folk rock-psychedelic masterwork. (The record never sold in the states, but somehow became a beloved, canonical LP in South Africa.) The story goes on to parse the cold, hard facts of vanished hopes and unpaid royalties, all too familiar in pop tragedies. In Searching for Sugar Man, Swedish documentarian Malik Bendjelloul lays out the ballad of Rodriguez as a rock’n’roll detective story, with two South African music lovers in hot pursuit of the elusive musician long-rumored to have died onstage by either self-immolation or gunshot, and whose music spoke to a generation of white activists struggling to overturn apartheid. By the time Rodriguez himself enters the narrative, the film has taken on a fairy-tale trajectory; the end result speaks volumes about the power and longevity of great songwriting. (1:25) Embarcadero. (Chun)
Step Up Revolution The Step Up franchise makes a play for the Occupy brand, setting up its fourth installment’s Miami street crew, the Mob, as the warrior dance champions of the 99 percent here represented by a vibrant lower-income neighborhood slated for redevelopment. Embodying the one percent is a hotel-chain mogul named Bill Anderson (Peter Gallagher), armed with a wrecking ball and sowing the seeds of a soulless luxury monoculture. Our hero, Mob leader Sean (Ryan Guzman), and heroine, Anderson progeny and aspiring professional dancer Emily (Kathryn McCormick), meet beachside; engage in a sandy, awkward interlude of grinding possibly meant to showcase their dance skills; and proceed to spark a romance and a revolution that feel equally fake (brace yourself for the climactic corporate tie-in). The Mob’s periodic choreographed invasions of the city’s public and private spaces are the movie’s sole source of oxygen. The dialogue, variously mumbled and slurred and possibly read off cue cards, drifts aimlessly from tepid to trite as the protagonists attempt to demonstrate sexual chemistry by breathily trading off phrases like "What we do is dangerous!" and "Enough with performance art it’s time to make protest art!" Occasionally you may remember that you have 3D glasses on your face and wonder why, but the larger philosophical question (if one may speak of philosophy in relation to the dance-movie genre) concerns the Step Up films’ embrace of postproduction sleights of hand that distance viewers from whatever astonishing feats of physicality are actually being achieved in front of the camera. (1:20) SF Center. (Rapoport)
Ted Ah, boys and their toys and the imaginary friends that mirror back a forever-after land of perpetual Peter Pans. That’s the crux of the surprisingly smart, hilarious Ted, aimed at an audience comprising a wide range of classes, races, and cultures with its mix of South Park go-there yuks and rom-commie coming-of-age sentiment. Look at Ted as a pop-culture-obsessed nerd tweak on dream critter-spirit animal buddy efforts from Harvey (1950) to Donnie Darko (2001) to TV’s Wilfred. Of course, we all know that the really untamable creature here wobbles around on two legs, laden with big-time baggage about growing up and moving on from childhood loves. Young John doesn’t have many friends but he is fortunate enough to have his Christmas wish come true: his beloved new teddy bear, Ted (voice by director-writer Seth MacFarlane), begins to talk back and comes to life. With that miracle, too, comes Ted’s marginal existence as a D-list celebrity curiosity still, he’s the loyal "Thunder Buddy" that’s always there for the now-grown John (Mark Wahlberg), ready with a bong and a broheim-y breed of empathy that involves too much TV, an obsession with bad B-movies, and mock fisticuffs, just the thing when storms move in and mundane reality rolls through. With his tendency to spew whatever profanity-laced thought comes into his head and his talents are a ladies’ bear, Ted is the id of a best friend that enables all of John’s most memorable, un-PC, Hangover-style shenanigans. Alas, John’s cool girlfriend Lori (Mila Kunis) threatens that tidy fantasy setup with her perfectly reasonable relationship demands. Juggling scary emotions and material that seems so specific that it can’t help but charm you’ve got to love a shot-by-shot re-creation of a key Flash Gordon scene MacFarlane sails over any resistance you, Lori, or your superego might harbor about this scenario with the ease of a man fully in touch with his inner Ted. (1:46) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness. (Chun)
To Rome with Love Woody Allen’s film legacy is not like anybody else’s. At present, however, he suffers from a sense that he’s been too prolific for too long. It’s been nearly two decades since a new Woody Allen was any kind of "event," and the 19 features since Bullets Over Broadway (1994) have been hit and-miss. Still, there’s the hope that Allen is still capable of really surprising us or that his audience might, as they did by somewhat inexplicably going nuts for 2011’s Midnight in Paris. It was Allen’s most popular film in eons, if not ever, probably helped by the fact that he wasn’t in it. Unfortunately, he’s up there again in the new To Rome With Love, familiar mannerisms not hiding the fact that Woody Allen the Nebbish has become just another Grumpy Old Man. There’s a doddering quality that isn’t intended, and is no longer within his control. But then To Rome With Love is a doddering picture a postcard-pretty set of pictures with little more than "Have a nice day" scribbled on the back in script terms. Viewers expecting more of the travelogue pleasantness of Midnight in Paris may be forgiving, especially since it looks like a vacation, with Darius Khondji’s photography laying on the golden Italian light and making all the other colors confectionary as well. But if Paris at least had the kernel of a good idea, Rome has only several inexplicably bad ones; it’s a quartet of interwoven stories that have no substance, point, credibility, or even endearing wackiness. The shiny package can only distract so much from the fact that there’s absolutely nothing inside. (1:52) Albany, Opera Plaza, Sundance Kabuki. (Harvey)
Total Recall Already the source material for Paul Verhoeven’s campy, quotable 1990 film (starring the campy, quotable Arnold Schwarzenegger), Philip K. Dick’s short story gets a Hollywood do-over, with meh results. The story, anyway, is a fine nugget of sci-fi paranoia: to escape his unsatisfying life, Quaid (Colin Farrell) visits a company capable of implanting exciting memories into his brain. When he chooses the "secret agent" option, it’s soon revealed he actually does have secret agent-type memories, suppressed via brain-fuckery by sinister government forces (led by Bryan Cranston) keeping him in the dark about his true identity. Shit immediately gets crazy, with high-flying chases and secret codes and fight scenes all over the place. The woman Quaid thinks is his wife (Kate Beckinsale) is actually a slithery killer; the woman he’s been seeing in his dreams (Jessica Biel) turns out to be his comrade in a secret rebel movement. Len Wiseman (writer and sometimes director of the Underworld films) lenses futuristic urban grime with a certain sleek panache, and Farrell is appealing enough to make highly generic hero Quaid someone worth rooting for until the movie ends, and the entire enterprise (save perhaps the tri-boobed hooker, a holdover from the original) becomes instantly forgettable, no amnesia trickery required. (1:58) California, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness. (Eddy)
Unforgiveable The distinguishing characteristic of André Téchiné’s movies is the speed and force with which life changes people and their relationships with one another, even as the director’s presentation is so matter-of-fact that no single moment betrays the enormity of changes endured. Unforgiveable‘s Francis (the estimable André Dussollier) is the French author of best-selling crime novels who’s decided to recharge his batteries by living in Venice for a year. He’s struck by the brisk attractiveness of Judith (Carole Bouquet), the estate agent he consults to find a rental; 18 months later they’re contentedly married, and hosting two daughters of his by a prior marriage. When the eldest (Mélanie Thierry) disappears, Francis hires a private detective (Adriana Asti), who was once ex-model Judith’s paramour and, like Francis, has a problem child in the recently prison-sprung Jérémie (Mauro Conte). The paternal quest that’s become an obsession oddly fosters a bond between Francis and this mercurial delinquent, even as it erodes the happiness he’s won in autumnal life with Judith. Unforgivable is based on a novel by Philippe Djian, but feels very much of a piece with films whose stories Téchiné originated with or without collaborators. It hurtles forward with a casual intensity that’s uniquely his own, sometimes surprising or even shocking us, but never inflating incidents to the point of melodrama. It isn’t among the director’s most memorable creations, but it’s satisfying to spend two hours with someone who thinks like an adult, and treats the audience as one. (1:52) Opera Plaza. (Harvey)
The Watch Directed by Lonely Island member Akiva Schaffer (famed for Saturday Night Live‘s popular digital shorts, including "Dick in a Box"), The Watch is, appropriately enough, probably the most dick-focused alien-invasion movie of all time. When a security guard is mangled to death at Costco, store manager and uber-suburbanite Evan (Ben Stiller, doing a damn good Steve Carell impersonation) organizes a posse to keep an eye on the neighborhood despite the fact that the other members (Vince Vaughn as the overprotective dad with the bitchin’ man cave; Jonah Hill as the creepy wannabe cop; and British comedian Richard Ayoade as the sweet pervert) would much rather drink beers and bro down. Much bumbling ensues, along with a thrown-together plot about unfriendly E.T.s. The Watch offers some laughs (yes, dick jokes are occasionally funny) but overall feels like a pretty minor effort considering its big-name cast. (1:38) 1000 Van Ness, SF Center. (Eddy) *