Film listings are edited by Cheryl Eddy. Reviewers are Kimberly Chun, Dennis Harvey, Lynn Rapoport, and Sara Maria Vizcarrondo. For rep house showtimes, see Rep Clock.
Amour Arriving in local theaters atop a tidal wave of critical hosannas, Amour now seeks to tempt popular acclaim though actually liking this perfectly crafted, intensely depressing film (from Austrian director Michael Haneke) may be nigh impossible for most audience members. Eightysomething former music teachers Georges and Anne (the flawless Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva) are living out their days in their spacious Paris apartment, going to classical concerts and enjoying the comfort of their relationship. Early in the film, someone tries to break into their flat and the rest of Amour unfolds with a series of invasions, with Anne’s declining health the most distressing, though there are also unwanted visits from the couple’s only daughter (an appropriately self-involved Isabelle Huppert), an inept nurse who disrespects Anne and curses out Georges, and even a rogue pigeon that wanders in more than once. As Anne fades into a hollow, twisted, babbling version of her former self, Georges also becomes hollow and twisted, taking care of her while grimly awaiting the inevitable. Of course, the movie’s called Amour, so there’s some tenderness involved. But if you seek heartwarming hope and last-act uplift, look anywhere but here. (2:07) Clay. (Eddy)
California Solo Whatever happened to &ldots;? In a sense, Robert Carlyle lost too long to US movie audiences while marooned on SGU Stargate Universe might have found the ideal role in this soulful indie turn as a Scottish rock star on the decline. Lachlan (Carlyle) was once the guitarist in a Britpop-band-on-the-verge called the Cranks now he’s grounding himself by working at a farm outside LA and doing his humble part in the music world with a podcast on spectacular rock ‘n’ roll deaths. But Lachlan’s attempts to hold steady are dashed when he’s slapped with a DUI and his immigration status is threatened. With few bucks saved and a life that has gone strictly solo for far too long, the free spirit is forced to reckon with his past an old manager (Michael Des Barres), the ex-wife (Kathleen Wilhoite) and daughter (Savannah Lathem) he never sees in an attempt to avoid getting deported. Echoes of both Dennis Wilson’s and Noel Gallagher’s rock histories reverberate through California Solo, as do 1983’s Tender Mercies, 2009’s Crazy Heart, and other music films about charismatic old reprobates coming to terms with their misdeeds. The intense, sexy Carlyle, however, makes it clear through the specifics of his performance that this story, and these sins, is his extremely flawed, charmingly self-absorbed character’s own. Will he or won’t he fabulously flame out rather than fade away, asks writer-director Marshall Lewy (2007s Blue State)? The more heroic path, according to California Solo, might be waking up to face yet another day. For a longer review of this film, see "The Damage Done." (1:34) Opera Plaza. (Chun)
Gangster Squad Ryan Gosling leads a fedora-wearing cast in this cops ‘n’ mobsters tale set in 1949 Los Angeles. (1:53)
A Haunted House Marlon Wayans stars in this spoof of the Paranormal Activity series and other "found footage" films. Mocking the trend means it’s on its way out, right? (1:25)
Only the Young First seen locally at the 2012 San Francisco International Film Festival, this documentary from Elizabeth Mims and Jason Tippet is styled like a narrative and often shot like a fine art photograph (or at least a particularly bitchin’ Instagram), with an unexpectedly groovy soundtrack. It follows a pair of high schoolers with ever-changing hairstyles in dried-up Santa Clarita, Calif. a burg of abandoned mini-golf courses and squatter’s houses, and a place where the owner of the local skate shop seems equally obsessed with tacos and Jesus. It’s never clear where Garrison and Kevin fall on the religious spectrum though "the church" has a looming importance, influencing relationships if not wardrobe choices but one gets the feeling all they really care about is skateboarding, with their own friendship a close second. Less certain are Garrison’s feelings about punky, tough-yet-sweet gal pal Skye especially when they begin spending time with new flames. Only the Young‘s seemingly random choice of subjects works to its advantage, capturing the kids’ unaffected, surprisingly honest point of view on subjects as varied as cars, dating, college, the economy, and Gandalf Halloween costumes. (1:10) Roxie. (Eddy)
Anna Karenina Joe Wright broke out of British TV with the 9,000th filmed Pride and Prejudice (2005), unnecessary but quite good. Too bad it immediately went to his head. His increasing showiness as director enlivened the silly teenage-superspy avenger fantasy Hanna (2011), but it started to get in the way of Atonement (2007), a fine book didn’t need camera gymnastics to make a great movie. Now it’s completely sunk a certified literary masterpiece still waiting for a worthy film adaptation. Keira Knightley plays the titular 19th century St. Petersburg aristocrat whose staid, happy-enough existence as a doting mother and dutiful wife (to deglammed Jude Law’s honorable but neglectful Karenin) is upended when she enters a mutually passionate affair with dashing military officer Count Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson, miscast). Scandal and tragedy ensue. There’s nothing wrong with the screenplay, by Tom Stoppard no less. What’s wrong is Wright’s bright idea of staging the whole shebang as if it were indeed staged a theatrical production in which nearly everything (even a crucial horse race) takes place on a proscenium stage, in the auditorium, or "backstage" among riggings. Whenever we move into a "real" location, the director makes sure that transition draws attention to its own cleverness as possible. What, you might ask, is the point? That the public social mores and society Anna lives in are a sort of "acting"? Like wow. Add to that another brittle, mannered performance by Wright’s muse Knightley, and there’s no hope of involvement here, let alone empathy in love with its empty (but very prettily designed) layers of artifice, this movie ends up suffocating all emotion in gilded horseshit. The reversed-fortune romance between Levin (Domhall Gleeson) and Kitty (Alicia Vikander) does work quite well though since Tolstoy called his novel Anna Karenina, it’s a pretty bad sign when the subsidiary storyline ends up vastly more engaging than hers. (2:10) Albany, Embarcadero. (Harvey)
Argo If you didn’t know the particulars of the 1979 Iranian Revolution, you won’t be an expert after Argo, but the film does a good job of capturing America’s fearful reaction to the events that followed it particularly the hostage crisis at the US embassy in Tehran. Argo zeroes in on the fate of six embassy staffers who managed to escape the building and flee to the home of the sympathetic Canadian ambassador (Victor Garber). Back in Washington, short-tempered CIA agents (including a top-notch Bryan Cranston) cast about for ways to rescue them. Enter Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck, who also directs), exfil specialist and father to a youngster wrapped up in the era’s sci-fi craze. While watching 1973’s Battle for the Planet of the Apes, Tony comes up with what Cranston’s character calls "the best bad idea we have:" the CIA will fund a phony Canadian movie production (corny, intergalactic, and titled Argo) and pretend the six are part of the crew, visiting Iran for a few days on a location shoot. Tony will sneak in, deliver the necessary fake-ID documents, and escort them out. Neither his superiors, nor the six in hiding, have much faith in the idea. ("Is this the part where we say, ‘It’s so crazy it just might work?’" someone asks, beating the cliché to the punch.) Argo never lets you forget that lives are at stake; every painstakingly forged form, every bluff past a checkpoint official increases the anxiety (to the point of being laid on a bit thick by the end). But though Affleck builds the needed suspense with gusto, Argo comes alive in its Hollywood scenes. As the show-biz veterans who mull over Tony’s plan with a mix of Tinseltown cynicism and patiotic duty, John Goodman and Alan Arkin practically burst with in-joke brio. I could have watched an entire movie just about those two. (2:00) Embarcadero, Castro, Piedmont, Sundance Kabuki. (Eddy)
The Central Park Five Acclaimed documentarian Ken Burns takes on the 1989 rape case that shocked and divided a New York City already overwhelmed by racially-charged violence. The initial crime was horrible enough a female jogger was brutally assaulted in Central Park but what happened after was also awful: cops and prosecutors, none of whom agreed to appear in the film, swooped in on a group of African American and Latino teenagers who had been making mischief in the vicinity (NYC’s hysterical media dubbed the acts "wilding," a term that became forever associated with the event). Just 14 to 16 years old, the boys were questioned for hours and intimidated into giving false, damning confessions. Already guilty in the court of public opinion, the accused were convicted in trials only to see their convictions vacated years after they’d served their time, when the real assailant was finally identified. Using archival news footage (in one clip, Gov. Mario Cuomo calls the crime "the ultimate shriek of alarm that says none of us are safe") and contemporary, emotional interviews with the Five, Burns crafts a fascinating study of a crime that ran away with itself, in an environment that encouraged it, leaving lives beyond just the jogger’s devastated in the process. (1:59) Roxie. (Eddy)
Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away (1:31) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Shattuck.
Cloud Atlas Cramming the six busy storylines of David Mitchell’s wildly ambitious novel into just three hours the average reader might have thought at least 12 would be required this impressive adaptation directed (in separate parts) by Tom Twyker (1998’s Run Lola Run) and Matrix siblings Lana and Andy Wachowski has a whole lot of narrative to get through, stretching around the globe and over centuries. In the mid 19th century, Jim Sturgess’ sickly American notory endures a long sea voyage as reluctant protector of a runaway-slave stowaway from the Chatham Islands (David Gyasi). In 1931 Belgium, a talented but criminally minded British musician (Ben Whishaw) wheedles his way into the household of a famous but long-inactive composer (Jim Broadbent). A chance encounter sets 1970s San Francisco journalist Luisa (Halle Berry) on the path of a massive cover-up conspiracy, swiftly putting her life in danger. Circa now, a reprobate London publisher’s (Broadbent) huge windfall turns into bad luck that gets even worse when he seeks help from his brother (Hugh Grant). In the not-so-distant future, a disposable "fabricant" server to the "consumer" classes (Doona Bae) finds herself plucked from her cog-like life for a rebellious higher purpose. Finally, in an indeterminately distant future after "the Fall," an island tribesman (Tom Hanks) forms a highly ambivalent relationship toward a visitor (Berry) from a more advanced but dying civilization. Mitchell’s book was divided into huge novella-sized blocks, with each thread split in two; the film wastes very little time establishing its individual stories before beginning to rapidly intercut between them. That may result in a sense of information (and eventually action) overload, particularly for non-readers, even as it clarifies the connective tissues running throughout. Compression robs some episodes of the cumulative impact they had on the page; the starry multicasting (which in addition to the above mentioned finds many uses for Hugo Weaving, Keith David, James D’Arcy, and Susan Sarandon) can be a distraction; and there’s too much uplift forced on the six tales’ summation. Simply put, not everything here works; like the very different Watchmen, this is a rather brilliant "impossible adaptation" screenplay (by the directors) than nonetheless can’t help but be a bit too much. But so much does work in alternating currents of satire, melodrama, pulp thriller, dystopian sci-fi, adventure, and so on that Cloud Atlas must be forgiven for being imperfect. If it were perfect, it couldn’t possibly sprawl as imaginatively and challengingly as it does, and as mainstream movies very seldom do. (2:52) Castro. (Harvey)
Django Unchained Quentin Tarantino’s spaghetti western homage features a cameo by the original Django (Franco Nero, star of the 1966 film), and solid performances by a meticulously assembled cast, including Jamie Foxx as the titular former slave who becomes a badass bounty hunter under the tutelage of Dr. Schultz (Christoph Waltz). Waltz, who won an Oscar for playing the evil yet befuddlingly delightful Nazi Hans Landa in Tarantino’s 2009 Inglourious Basterds, is just as memorable (and here, you can feel good about liking him) as a quick-witted, quick-drawing wayward German dentist. There are no Nazis in Django, of course, but Tarantino’s taboo du jour (slavery) more than supplies motivation for the filmmaker’s favorite theme (revenge). Once Django joins forces with Schultz, the natural-born partners hatch a scheme to rescue Django’s still-enslaved wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), whose German-language skills are as unlikely as they are convenient. Along the way (and it’s a long way; the movie runs 165 minutes), they encounter a cruel plantation owner (Leonardo DiCaprio), whose main passion is the offensive, shocking "sport" of "Mandingo fighting," and his right-hand man, played by Tarantino muse Samuel L. Jackson in a transcendently scandalous performance. And amid all the violence and racist language and Foxx vengeance-making, there are many moments of screaming hilarity, as when a character with the Old South 101 name of Big Daddy (Don Johnson) argues with the posse he’s rounded up over the proper construction of vigilante hoods. It’s a classic Tarantino moment: pausing the action so characters can blather on about something trivial before an epic scene of violence. Mr. Pink would approve. (2:45) Four Star, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Presidio, Sundance Kabuki. (Eddy)
The Guilt Trip (1:35) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Shattuck.
Hitchcock On the heels of last year’s My Week With Marilyn comes another biopic about an instantly recognizable celebrity viewed through the lens of a specific film shoot. Here, we have Anthony Hopkins (padded and prosthetic’d) playing the Master of Suspense, mulling over which project to pursue after the success of 1959’s North by Northwest. Even if you’re not a Hitch buff, it’s clear from the first scene that Psycho, based on Robert Bloch’s true crime-inspired pulpy thriller, is looming. We open on "Ed Gein’s Farmhouse, 1944;" Gein (Michael Wincott) is seen in his yard, his various heinous crimes murder, grave-robbing, body-part hoarding, human-skin-mask crafting, etc. as yet undiscovered. Hitchcock, portrayed by the guy who also played the Gein-inspired Hannibal Lecter, steps into the frame with that familiar droll greeting: "Guhhd eevvveeeening." And we’re off, following the veteran director as he muses "What if somebody really good made a horror picture?" Though his wife and collaborator, Alma (Helen Mirren), cautions him against doing something simply because everyone tells him not to, he plows ahead; the filmmaking scenes are peppered with behind-the-scenes moments detailed in Stephen Rebello’s Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho, the source material for John J. McLaughlin’s script. But as the film’s tagline "Behind every Psycho is a great woman" suggests, the relationship between Alma and Hitch is, stubbornly, Hitchcock‘s main focus. While Mirren is effective (and I’m all for seeing a lady who works hard behind the scenes get recognition), the Hitch-at-home subplot exists only to shoehorn more conflict into a tale that’s got plenty already. Elsewhere, however, Hitchcock director Sacha Gervasi making his narrative debut after hit 2008 doc Anvil: The Story of Anvil shows stylistic flair, working Hitchcock references into the mise-en-scène. (1:32) Embarcadero, Four Star. (Eddy)
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Make no mistake: the Lord of the Rings trilogy represented an incredible filmmaking achievement, with well-deserved Oscars handed down after the third installment in 2003. If director Peter Jackson wanted to go one more round with J.R.R. Tolkien’s beloved characters for a Hobbit movie, who was gonna stop him? Not so fast. This return to Middle-earth (in 3D this time) represents not one but three films which would be self-indulgent enough even if part one didn’t unspool at just under three hours, and even if Jackson hadn’t decided to shoot at 48 frames per second. (I can’t even begin to explain what that means from a technical standpoint, but suffice to say there’s a certain amount of cinematic lushness lost when everything is rendered in insanely crystal-clear hi-def.) Journey begins as Bilbo Baggins (a game, funny Martin Freeman) reluctantly joins Gandalf (a weary-seeming Ian McKellan) and a gang of dwarves on their quest to reclaim their stolen homeland and treasure, batting Orcs, goblins, Gollum (Andy Serkis), and other beasties along the way. Fan-pandering happens (with characters like Cate Blanchett’s icy Galadriel popping in to remind you how much you loved LOTR), and the story moves at a brisk enough pace, but Journey never transcends what came before or in the chronology of the story, what comes after. I’m not quite ready to declare this Jackson’s Phantom Menace (1999), but it’s not an unfair comparison to make, either. (2:50) California, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Sundance Kabuki. (Eddy)
Holy Motors Holy moly. Offbeat auteur Leos Carax (1999’s Pola X) and frequent star Denis Lavant (1991’s Lovers on the Bridge) collaborate on one of the most bizarrely wonderful films of the year, or any year. Oscar (Lavant) spends every day riding around Paris in a white limo driven by Céline (Edith Scob, whose eerie role in 1960’s Eyes Without a Face is freely referenced here). After making use of the car’s full complement of wigs, theatrical make-up, and costumes, he emerges for "appointments" with unseen "clients," who apparently observe each vignette as it happens. And don’t even try to predict what’s coming next, or decipher what it all means, beyond an investigation of identity so original you won’t believe your eyes. This wickedly humorous trip through motion-capture suits, graveyard photo shoots, teen angst, back-alley gangsters, old age, and more (yep, that’s the theme from 1954’s Godzilla you hear; oh, and yep, that’s pop star Kylie Minogue) is equal parts disturbing and delightful. Movies don’t get more original or memorable than this. (1:56) Roxie. (Eddy)
Hyde Park on Hudson Weeks after the release of Lincoln, Hyde Park on Hudson arrives with a lighthearted (-ish) take on Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1939 meeting with King George VI (of stuttering fame) and Queen Elizabeth at FDR’s rural New York estate. Casting Bill Murray as FDR is Hyde Park‘s main attraction, though Olivia Williams makes for a surprisingly effective Eleanor. But the thrust of the film concerns FDR’s relationship with his cousin, Daisy played by Laura Linney, who’s relegated to a series of dowdy outfits, pouting reaction shots, and far too many voice-overs. The affair has zero heat, and the film is disappointingly shallow how many times can one be urged to giggle at someone saying "Hot dogs!" in an English accent? not to mention a waste of a perfectly fine Bill Murray performance. As that sideburned Democrat bellows in Lincoln, "Howwww dare you!" (1:35) Albany, Embarcadero. (Eddy)
The Impossible Spanish director Juan Antonio Bayona (2007’s The Orphanage) directs The Impossible, a relatively modestly-budgeted take on the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, based on the real story of a Spanish family who experienced the disaster. Here, the family (Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor, three young sons) is British, on a Christmas vacation from dad’s high-stress job in Japan. Beachy bliss is soon ruined by that terrible series of waves; they hit early in the film, and Bayona offers a devastatingly realistic depiction of what being caught in a tsunami must feel like: roaring, debris-filled water threatening death by drowning, impalement, or skull-crushing. And then, the anguish of surfacing, alive but injured, stranded, and miles from the nearest doctor, not knowing if your family members have perished. Without giving anything away (no more than the film’s suggestive title, anyway), once the survivors are established (and the film’s strongest performer, Watts, is relegated to hospital-bed scenes) The Impossible finds its way inevitably to melodrama, and triumph-of-the-human-spirit theatrics. As the family’s oldest son, 16-year-old Tom Holland is effective as a kid who reacts exactly right to crisis, morphing from sulky teen to thoughtful hero but the film is too narrowly focused on its tourist characters, with native Thais mostly relegated to background action. It’s a disconnect that’s not quite offensive, but is still off-putting. (1:54) California, Piedmont, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki. (Eddy)
Jack Reacher (2:10) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness.
Killing Them Softly Lowest-level criminal fuckwits Frankie (Scoot McNairy) and Russell (Ben Mendelsohn) are hired to rob a mob gambling den, a task which miraculously they fail to blow. Nevertheless, the repercussions are swift and harsh, as a middleman suit (Richard Jenkins) to the unseen bosses brings in one hitman (Brad Pitt), who brings in another (James Gandolfini) to figure out who the thieves are and administer extreme justice. Based on a 1970s novel by George V. Higgins, this latest collaboration by Pitt and director-scenarist Andrew Dominik would appear superficially to be a surer commercial bet after the box-office failure of their last, 2007’s The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford one of the great films of the last decade. But if you’re looking for action thrills or even Guy Ritchie-style swaggering mantalk (though there is some of that), you’ll be disappointed to find Killing more in the abstracted crime drama arena of Drive (2011) or The American (2010), landing somewhere between the riveting former and the arid latter. This meticulously crafted tale is never less than compelling in imaginative direction and expert performance, but it still carries a certain unshakable air of so-what. Some may be turned off by just how vividly unpleasant Mendelsohn’s junkie and Gandolfini’s alchie are. Others will shrug at the wisdom of re-setting this story in the fall of 2008, with financial-infrastructure collapse and the hollow promise of President-elect Obama’s "Change" providing ironical background noise. It’s all a little too little, too soon. (1:37) New Parkway. (Harvey)
Life of Pi Several filmmakers including Alfonso Cuarón, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, and M. Night Shyamalan had a crack at Yann Martel’s "unfilmable" novel over the last decade, without success. That turns out to have been a very good thing, since Ang Lee and scenarist David Magee have made probably the best movie possible from the material arguably even an improvement on it. Framed as the adult protagonist’s (Irrfan Khan) lengthy reminiscence to an interested writer (Rafe Spall) it chronicles his youthful experience accompanying his family and animals from their just shuttered zoo on a cargo ship voyage from India to Canada. But a storm capsizes the vessel, stranding teenaged Pi (Suraj Sharma) on a lifeboat with a mini menagerie albeit one swiftly reduced by the food chain in action to one Richard Parker, a whimsically named Bengal tiger. This uneasy forced cohabitation between Hindu vegetarian and instinctual carnivore is an object lesson in survival as well as a fable about the existence of God, among other things. Shot in 3D, the movie has plenty of enchanted, original imagery, though its outstanding technical accomplishment may lie more in the application of CGI (rather than stereoscopic photography) to something reasonably intelligent for a change. First-time actor Sharma is a natural, while his costar gives the most remarkable performance by a wild animal this side of Joaquin Phoenix in The Master. It’s not a perfect film, but it’s a charmed, lovely experience. (2:00) 1000 Van Ness, SF Center. (Harvey)
Lincoln Distinguished subject matter and an A+ production team (Steven Spielberg directing, Daniel Day-Lewis starring, Tony Kushner adapting Doris Kearns Goodwin, John Williams scoring every emotion juuust so) mean Lincoln delivers about what you’d expect: a compelling (if verbose), emotionally resonant (and somehow suspenseful) dramatization of President Lincoln’s push to get the 13th amendment passed before the start of his second term. America’s neck-deep in the Civil War, and Congress, though now without Southern representation, is profoundly divided on the issue of abolition. Spielberg recreates 1865 Washington as a vibrant, exciting place, albeit one filled with so many recognizable stars it’s almost distracting wondering who’ll pop up in the next scene: Jared Harris as Ulysses S. Grant! Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Robert Lincoln! Lena Dunham’s shirtless boyfriend on Girls (Adam Driver) as a soldier! Most notable among the huge cast are John Hawkes, Tim Blake Nelson, and a daffy James Spader as a trio of lobbyists; Sally Field as the troubled First Lady; and likely Oscar contenders Tommy Lee Jones (as winningly cranky Rep. Thaddeus Stevens) and Day-Lewis, who does a reliably great job of disappearing into his iconic role. (2:30) 1000 Van Ness, Presidio, SF Center, Shattuck, Sundance Kabuki. (Eddy)
Les Misérables There is a not-insignificant portion of the population who already knows all the words to all the songs of this musical-theater warhorse, around since the 1980s and honored here with a lavish production by Tom Hooper (2010’s The King’s Speech). As other reviews have pointed out, this version only tangentially concerns Victor Hugo’s French Revolution tale; its true raison d’être is swooning over the sight of its big-name cast crooning those famous tunes. Vocals were recorded live on-set, with microphones digitally removed in post-production but despite this technical achievement, there’s a certain inorganic quality to the proceedings. Like The King’s Speech, the whole affair feels spliced together in the Oscar-creation lab. The hardworking Hugh Jackman deserves the nomination he’ll inevitably get; jury’s still out on Anne Hathaway’s blubbery, "I cut my hair for real, I am so brave!" performance. (2:37) Balboa, Marina, 1000 Van Ness, SF Center, Shattuck, Sundance Kabuki. (Eddy)
Monsters, Inc. 3D (1:35) Metreon.
My Worst Nightmare First seen locally in the San Francisco Film Society’s 2012 "French Cinema Now" series, My Worst Nightmare follows icy art curator Agathe (Isabelle Huppert) as her airless, tightly-controlled world begins to crumble thanks in no small part to an exuberantly uncouth, down-on-his-luck Belgian contractor named Patrick (Benoît Poelvoorde). (His obnoxious, freewheeling presence in Agathe’s precision-mapped orbit gives rise to the film’s title.) Director and co-writer Anne Fontaine (2009’s Coco Before Chanel) injects plenty of offbeat, occasionally raunchy humor into what could’ve been a predictable personal-liberation tale the sight of classy dame Huppert driving through a bikini car wash, for instance. (1:43) Smith Rafael. (Eddy)
Not Fade Away How to explain why the Beatles have been tossed so many cinematic bon mots and not the Stones? The group’s relatively short lifespan and even the tragic, unexpectedly dramatic passing of John Lennon seem to have all played into the band’s nostalgia-marinated legend, while the Stones’ profitable tour rotation and shocking physical resilience have lessened their romantic charge. So it reads as a counterintuitive, and a bit random, that Sopranos creator David Chase would open his first feature film with a black and white re-creation of the Mick Jagger and Keith Richards meet-up, before switching to the ’60s coming-of-age of New Jersey teen geek Douglas (John Magaro), trapped in an oppressively whiny nuclear family headed up by his Pep Boy grouch of a dad (James Gandolfini) at least until rock ‘n’ roll saves his soul and he starts beating the skins. Graduating to better-than-average singer after his band’s frontman Eugene (Boardwalk Empire‘s Jack Huston) inhales a joint, Douglas not only finds his voice, but also wins over dream girl Grace (Bella Heathcote). Sure, Not Fade Away is about sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll and much attention is dutifully squandered on basement shows, band practice, and politics, and posturing with wacky new haircuts and funny cigarettes, thanks to Chase’s own background in garage bands and executive producer, music supervisor, and true believer Steve Van Zandt’s considerable passion. Yet despite the amount screen time devoted to rock’s rites, those familiar gestures never rise above the clichéd, and Not Fade Away only finds its authentic emotional footing when Gandolfini’s imposing yet trapped patriarch and the rest of Douglas’s beaten-down yet still kicking family enters the picture they’re the force that refuses to fade away, even after they disappear in the rear view. (1:52) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Shattuck. (Chun)
Parental Guidance (1:36) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower Move over, Diary of a Wimpy Kid series there’s a new shrinking-violet social outcast in town. These days, life might not suck quite so hard for 90-pound weaklings in every age category, what with so many films and TV shows exposing, and sometimes even celebrating, the many miseries of childhood and adolescence for all to see. In this case, Perks author Stephen Chbosky takes on the directorial duties both a good and bad thing, much like the teen years. Smart, shy Charlie is starting high school with a host of issues: he’s painfully awkward and very alone in the brutal throng, his only friend just committed suicide, and his only simpatico family member was killed in a car accident. Charlie’s English teacher Mr. Andersen (Paul Rudd) appears to be his only connection, until the freshman strikes up a conversation with feline, charismatic, shop-class jester Patrick (Ezra Miller) and his magnetic, music- and fun-loving stepsister Sam (Emma Watson). Who needs the popular kids? The witty duo head up their gang of coolly uncool outcasts their own, the Wallflowers (not to be confused with the deeply uncool Jakob Dylan combo), and with them, Charlie appears to have found his tribe. Only a few small secrets put a damper on matters: Patrick happens to be gay and involved with football player Brad (Johnny Simmons), who’s saddled with a violently conservative father, and Charlie is in love with the already-hooked-up Sam and is frightened that his fragile equilibrium will be destroyed when his new besties graduate and slip out of his life. Displaying empathy and a devotion to emotional truth, Chbosky takes good care of his characters, preserving the complexity and ungainly quirks of their not-so-cartoonish suburbia, though his limitations as a director come to the fore in the murkiness and choppily handled climax that reveals how damaged Charlie truly is. (1:43) New Parkway, Opera Plaza.. (Chun)
Promised Land Gus Van Sant’s fracking fable co-written by stars Matt Damon and John Krasinski, from a story by Dave Eggers offers a didactic lesson in environmental politics, capped off by the earth-shattering revelation that billion-dollar corporations are sleazy and evil. You don’t say! Formulated like a Capra movie, Promised Land follows company man Steve Butler (Matt Damon) as he and sales partner Sue (Frances McDormand) travel to a small Pennsylvania town to convince its (they hope) gullible residents to allow drilling on their land. But things don’t go as smoothly as hoped, when the pair faces opposition from a science teacher with a brainiac past (Hal Holbrook), and an irritatingly upbeat green activist (Krasinski) breezes into town to further monkey-wrench their scheme. That Damon is such a likeable actor actually works against him here; his character arc from soulless salesman to emotional-creature-with-a-conscience couldn’t be more predictable or obvious. McDormand’s wonderfully biting supporting performance is the best (and only) reason to see this ponderous, faux-folksy tale, which targets an audience that likely already shares its point of view. (1:46) 1000 Van Ness, Presidio, SF Center. (Eddy)
Rise of the Guardians There’s nothing so camp as "Heat Miser" from The Year Without a Santa Claus (1974) in Rise of the Guardians,, but there’s plenty here to charm all ages. The mystery at its center: we open on Jack Frost (voiced by Chris Pine) being born, pulled from the depths of a frozen pond by the Man on the Moon and destined to spread ice and cold everywhere he goes, invisible to all living creatures. It’s an individualistic yet lonely lot for Jack, who’s styled as an impish snowboarder in a hoodie and armed with an icy scepter, until the Guardians spirits like North/Santa Claus (Alec Baldwin), the Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher), and the Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman) call on him to join them. Pitch the Boogeyman (Jude Law) is threatening to snuff out all children’s hopes and dreams with fears and nightmares, and it’s up to the Guardians must keep belief in magic alive. But what’s in it for Jack, except the most important thing: namely who is he and what is his origin story? Director Peter Ramsey keeps those fragile dreams aloft with scenes awash with motion and animation that evokes the chubby figures and cozy warm tones of ’70s European storybooks. And though Pine verges on blandness with his vocal performance, Baldwin, Jackman, and Fisher winningly deliver the jokes. (1:38) Metreon. (Chun)
Rust and Bone Unlike her Dark Knight Rises co-star Anne Hathaway, Rust and Bone star Marion Cotillard never seems like she’s trying too hard to be sexy, or edgy, or whatever (plus, she already has an Oscar, so the pressure’s off). Here, she’s a whale trainer at a SeaWorld-type park who loses her legs in an accident, which complicates (but ultimately strengthens) her relationship with Ali (Belgian actor Matthias Schoenaerts, so tremendous in 2011’s Bullhead), a single dad trying to make a name for himself as a boxer. Jacques Audiard’s follow-up to 2009’s A Prophet gets a bit overwrought by its last act, but there’s an emotional authenticity in the performances that makes even a ridiculous twist (like, the kind that’ll make you exclaim "Are you fucking kidding me?") feel almost well-earned. (2:00) Embarcadero, Shattuck. (Eddy)
The Sessions Polio has long since paralyzed the body of Berkeley poet Mark O’Brien (John Hawkes) from the neck down. Of course his mind is free to roam but it often roams south of the personal equator, where he hasn’t had the same opportunities as able-bodied people. Thus he enlists the services of Cheryl (Helen Hunt), a professional sex surrogate, to lose his virginity at last. Based on the real-life figures’ experiences, this drama by Australian polio survivor Ben Lewin was a big hit at Sundance this year (then titled The Surrogate), and it’s not hard to see why: this is one of those rare inspirational feel-good stories that doesn’t pander and earns its tears with honest emotional toil. Hawkes is always arresting, but Hunt hasn’t been this good in a long time, and William H. Macy is pure pleasure as a sympathetic priest put in numerous awkward positions with the Lord by Mark’s very down-to-earth questions and confessions. (1:35) Opera Plaza. (Harvey)
Silver Linings Playbook After guiding two actors to Best Supporting Oscars in 2010’s The Fighter, director David O. Russell returns (adapting his script from Matthew Quick’s novel) with another darkly comedic film about a complicated family that will probably earn some gold of its own. Though he’s obviously not ready to face the outside world, Pat (Bradley Cooper) checks out of the state institution he’s been court-ordered to spend eight months in after displaying some serious anger-management issues. He moves home with his football-obsessed father (Robert De Niro) and worrywart mother (Jacki Weaver of 2010’s Animal Kingdom), where he plunges into a plan to win back his estranged wife. Cooper plays Pat as a man vibrating with troubled energy always in danger of flying into a rage, even as he pursues his forced-upbeat "silver linings" philosophy. But the movie belongs to Jennifer Lawrence, who proves the chops she showcased (pre-Hunger Games megafame) in 2010’s Winter’s Bone were no fluke. As the damaged-but-determined Tiffany, she’s the left-field element that jolts Pat out of his crazytown funk; she’s also the only reason Playbook‘s dance-competition subplot doesn’t feel eye-rollingly clichéd. The film’s not perfect, but Lawrence’s layered performance emotional, demanding, bitchy, tough-yet-secretly-tender damn near is. (2:01) Piedmont, Presidio, SF Center, Shattuck. (Eddy)
Skyfall Top marks to Adele, who delivers a magnificent title song to cap off Skyfall‘s thrilling pre-credits chase scene. Unfortunate, then, that the film that follows squanders its initial promise. After a bomb attack on MI6, the clock is running out for Bond (Daniel Craig) and M (Judi Dench), accused of Cold War irrelevancy in a 21st century full of malevolent, stateless computer hackers. The audience, too, will yearn for a return to simpler times; dialogue about "firewalls" and "obfuscated code" never fails to sound faintly ridiculous, despite the efforts Ben Whishaw as the youthful new head of Q branch. Javier Bardem is creative and creepy as keyboard-tapping villain Raoul Silva, but would have done better with a megalomaniac scheme to take over the world. Instead, a small-potatoes revenge plot limps to a dull conclusion in the middle of nowhere. Skyfall never decides whether it prefers action, bon mots, and in-jokes to ponderous mythologizing and ripped-from-the-headlines speechifying the result is a unsatisfying, uneven mixture. (2:23) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Shattuck, Sundance Kabuki. (Ben Richardson)
Texas Chainsaw 3D (1:32) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness.
Tchopitoulas Three adolescent brothers enjoy a dusk-to-dawn night in the Big Easy New Orleans, baby in this impressionistic documentary that blurs the line between staged and sampled lyricism. Bill and Turner Ross’ film sets the trio loose in the French Quarter and beyond, where they sample the company of various drunks, buskers, oyster shuckers, painted ladies, and so forth. No laws are conspicuously broken, though a few get bent it’s safe to say these kids probably won’t be visiting several environs again until they’re of legal drinking age. The long night is an inebriate dream of color and sound, strange but seldom menacing. Like the "city symphony" movies of the 1920s and 30s, this is less nonfiction cinema in a strict vérité vein than a poetically contrived ode to life a life that’s sturdier than it looks, since Tchoupitoulas finds NO back to the business of partying like Katrina never happened. If you’re looking for a harder-edged portrait of the burg’s status quo, there are plenty of other documentaries to choose from; the Ross’ provide a woozy mash note rather than a sober pulse-taking. You’ll definitely want to go bar-hopping afterward. (1:20) Roxie. (Harvey)
This is 40 A spin-off of sorts from 2007’s Knocked Up, Judd Apatow’s This is 40 continues the story of two characters nobody cared about from that earlier film: Debbie (Leslie Mann, Apatow’s wife) and Pete (Paul Rudd), plus their two kids (played by Mann and Apatow’s kids). Pete and Debbie have accumulated all the trappings of comfortable Los Angeles livin’: luxury cars, a huge house, a private personal trainer, the means to throw catered parties and take weekend trips to fancy hotels (and to whimsically decide to go gluten-free), and more Apple products than have ever before been shoehorned into a single film. But! This was crap they got used to having before Pete’s record label went into the shitter, and Debbie’s dress-shop employee (Charlene Yi, another Knocked Up returnee who is one of two people of color in the film; the other is an Indian doctor who exists so Pete can mock his accent) started stealing thousands from the register. How will this couple and their whiny offspring deal with their financial reality? By arguing! About bullshit! In every scene! For nearly two and a half hours! By the time Melissa McCarthy, as a fellow parent, shows up to command the film’s only satisfying scene ripping Pete and Debbie a new one, which they sorely deserve you’re torn between cheering for her and wishing she’d never appeared. Seeing McCarthy go at it is a reminder that most comedies don’t make you feel like stabbing yourself in the face. I’m honestly perplexed as to who this movie’s audience is supposed to be. Self-loathing yuppies? Masochists? Apatow’s immediate family, most of whom are already in the film? (2:14) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Shattuck, Vogue. (Eddy)
Tristana The morality tale rarely gets as twisted as it does in Luis Buñuel’s 1970 late-in-the-day beauty Tristana. Working with Benito Perez Galdos’s novel, the filmmaker gleefully picked up a thread entwining erotic politics and S&M explored to exquisite effect in 1967’s Belle de Jour and again offset by the immaculate bone structure of anti-heroine Catherine Deneuve while bringing a corrosive intimacy to his black-humored disembowelment of a self-serving aristocracy, hypocritical church, and Franco-era fascism. Today it feels like one of Buñuel’s most personal and Spanish films, with the director-cowriter basing the impressionable Tristana on his sister Conchita. The starting point is an archetypal innocent "strange flower" clad in black, Tristana (Deneuve). She has been placed in the care of the aristocratic Don Lope (Buñuel regular Fernando Rey), a dissolute "senorito" (akin to Buñuel’s own father) who lives off his inheritance and espouses a kind of anti-clerical, antiauthoritarian, albeit elitist, libertine lifestyle. The patriarch can hardly deny himself anything, let alone his gorgeous ward, who is confined to the house like a prisoner and learns at Don Lope’s feet to despise the man who admits he’s her father or her husband, depending on when it suits him. Enter a dashing young artist Horacio (Franco Nero, the original Django) to spirit the increasingly embittered Tristana away from the battered, mazelike streets of Toledo, Spain. But that feat is far from easy when the "fallen" woman’s daydreams of teaching piano pale in comparison to a recurring nightmare of Don Lope’s head at the end of a rather phallic church bell clapper. What follows photographed with disciplined, earthy beauty by cinematographer Jose Aguayo and now restored to its dusky, lustrous good looksis a de-evolution of sorts, as both an innocent and corruptor are defiled, though Tristana‘s psychosexual reverberations, which would have given both Freud and the Marquis de Sade palpitations, echo out beyond the closing montage, its tolling bell, and the repeated heavy thud of a prosthetic slamming into the floor. (1:38) Opera Plaza. (Chun)
Wreck-It Ralph Wreck-It Ralph cribs directly from the Toy Story series: when the lights go off in the arcade, video game characters gather to eat, drink, and endure existential crises. John C. Reilly is likable and idiosyncratic as Ralph, the hulking, ham-fisted villain of a game called Fix-It-Felix. Fed up with being the bad guy, Ralph sneaks into gritty combat sim Hero’s Duty under the nose of Sergeant Calhoun (Jane Lynch), a blond space marine who mixes Mass Effect‘s Commander Shepard with a PG-rated R. Lee Ermey. Things go quickly awry, and soon Ralph is marooned in cart-racing candyland Sugar Rush, helping Vanellope Von Schweetz (a manic Sarah Silverman), with Calhoun and opposite number Felix (Jack McBrayer) hot on his heels. Though often aggressively childish, the humor will amuse kids, parents, and occasionally gamers, and the Disney-approved message about acceptance is moving without being maudlin. The animation, limber enough to portray 30 years of changing video game graphics, deserves special praise. (1:34) Metreon. (Ben Richardson)
Zero Dark Thirty The extent to which torture was actually used in the hunt for Osama Bin Ladin may never be known, though popular opinion will surely be shaped by this film, as it’s produced with the same kind of "realness" that made Kathryn Bigelow’s previous film, the Oscar-winning The Hurt Locker (2008), so potent. Zero Dark Thirty incorporates torture early in its chronology which begins in 2003, after a brief opening that captures the terror of September 11, 2001 using only 911 phone calls but the practice is discarded after 2008, a sea-change year marked by the sight of Obama on TV insisting that "America does not torture." (The "any more" goes unspoken.) Most of Zero Dark Thirty is set in Pakistan and/or "CIA black sites" in undisclosed locations; it’s a suspenseful procedural that manages to make well-documented events (the July 2005 London bombings; the September 2008 Islamabad Marriott Hotel bombing) seem shocking and unexpected. Even the raid on Bin Ladin’s HQ is nail-bitingly intense. The film immerses the viewer in the clandestine world, tossing out abbreviations ("KSM" for al-Qaeda bigwig Khalid Sheikh Mohammed) and jargon ("tradecraft") without pausing for a breath. It is thrilling, emotional, engrossing the smartest, most tightly-constructed action film of the year. At the center of it all: a character allegedly based on a real person whose actual identity is kept top-secret by necessity. She’s interpreted here in the form of a steely CIA operative named Maya, played to likely Oscar-winning perfection by Jessica Chastain. No matter the film’s divisive subject matter, there’s no denying that this is a powerful performance. "Washington says she’s a killer," a character remarks after meeting this seemingly delicate creature, and he’s proven right long before Bin Ladin goes down. Some critics have argued that character is underdeveloped, but anyone who says that isn’t watching closely enough. Maya may not be given a traditional backstory, but there’s plenty of interior life there, and it comes through in quick, vulnerable flashes leading up to the payoff of the film’s devastating final shot. (2:39) Balboa, Marina, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki. (Eddy)