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. For complete film listings, see www.sfbg.com.
Beware of Mr. Baker This mesmerizing bio-doc about volatile, wildly talented drummer Ginger Baker (Cream, Blind Faith) begins with the 70-something musician clocking director Jay Bulger in the face. After this opening, Bulger who also wrote a deeply compelling article about Baker for Rolling Stone last year wisely pulls himself out of the narrative, instead turning to a wealth of new interviews (with Baker, his trademark red locks faded to gray, and many of his musical and personal partners, including Eric Clapton and multiple ex-Mrs. Bakers), vintage performance footage, and artful animation to weave his tale. Baker’s colorfully-lived, improbably long life has been literally all over the map; he overcame a hardscrabble British childhood to find jazz and rock stardom, and along the way jammed with Fela Kuti in Nigeria (where he picked up his fierce love of polo), broke many hearts (his own kids’ among them) and lost multiple fortunes, spent a stint in the US, and eventually landed at his current farm in South Africa. Two constants: his musical genius, and his frustratingly jerky behavior the consequence of a naturally prickly personality exacerbated by copious drug use and bitterness. A must-see for musicians and those who love them. (1:30) Roxie. (Eddy)
Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton star in this fairy-tale action film directed by Tommy Wirkola (2009’s Dead Snow). (1:41) California.
In Another Country This latest bit of gamesmanship from South Korea’s Hong Sang-soo (2000’s Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors) has Isabelle Huppert playing three Frenchwomen named Anne visiting the same Korean beachside community under different circumstances in three separate but wryly overlapping stories. In the first, she’s a film director whose presence induces inapt overtures from both her married colleague-host and a strapping young lifeguard. In the more farcical second, she’s a horny spouse herself, married to an absent Korean man; in the third, a woman whose husband has run away with a Korean woman. The same actors as well as variations on the same characters and situations appear in each section, their rejiggered intersections poking fun at Koreans’ attitudes toward foreigners, among other topics. Airy and amusing, In Another Country is a playful divertissement that’s shiny as a bubble, and leaves about as much of a permanent impression. (1:39) (Harvey)
Movie 43 An A-list ensemble cast (Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Kate Winslet) and multiple directors (Peter Farrelly, James Gunn, Bob Odenkirk) combine their star power for this 12-chapter comedy film. (1:37)
Parker "Jason Statham" is pretty much a distinct genre at this point, yeah? (1:58) Shattuck.
Quartet See "Smith Happens." (1:38) Embarcadero.
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) Smith Rafael. (Eddy)
Broken City Catherine Zeta-Jones’ measured performance and killer wardrobe run away with this uneven political thriller about a made-up Manhattan with real(-ish) problems. Russell Crowe is only slightly improving his record post-Les Mis, as he plays another harried and morally confused agent "for the people." Here, he’s Mayor Hostetler, a swaggering politico with fingers in New York’s real estate cookie jar and the sort of "get shit done" directive that results in bodies lying in NYC’s overfilled gutters. Good thing he has Mark Wahlberg in his back pocket, a cop who slipped a murder wrap and now scrapes the bottom for gigs as a private detective. Seven years ago Billy Taggart (Wahlberg) was seeking vigilante justice for the victim of a rape-murder in the city’s biggest ghetto. The victim became a household name but the killer was let off, leading to cries about the validity of NY’s justice system and to allusions to the Central Park Five. Broken City is less about a broken City and more about broken Men, and there are certain elements that seem too subtle for a story built on such bald-faced and predictable strategy. Between a script that’s struggling to demonstrate moral compromise and integrity, and direction (by Allen Hughes) that’s as sensitive to nuance as a border collie, it’s hard to find much beyond Zeta-Jones’ shoe stylings to admire. (1:49) 1000 Van Ness, SF Center. (Vizcarrondo)
Gangster Squad It’s 1949, and somewhere in the Hollywood hills, a man has been tied hand and foot to a pair of automobiles with the engines running. Coyotes pace in the background like patrons queuing up for a table at Flour + Water, and when dinner is served, the presentation isn’t very pretty. We’re barely five minutes into Ruben Fleischer’s Gangster Squad, and fair warning has been given of the bloodletting to come. None of it’s quite as visceral as the opening scene, but Fleischer (2009’s Zombieland) packs his tale of urban warfare with plenty of stylized slaughter to go along with the glamour shots of mob-run nightclubs, leggy pin-curled dames, and Ryan Gosling lounging at the bar cracking wise. At the center of all the gunplay and firebombing is what’s framed as a battle for the soul of Los Angeles, waged between transplanted Chicago mobster Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) who wields terms like "progress" and "manifest destiny" as a rationale for a continental turf war and a police sergeant named John O’Mara (Josh Brolin), tasked with bringing down Cohen’s empire. The assignment requires working under cover so deep that only the police chief (Nick Nolte) and the handpicked members of O’Mara’s "gangster squad" ncluding Gosling, a half-jaded charmer who poaches Cohen’s arm candy (Emma Stone) know of its existence. This leaves plenty of room for improvisation, and the film pauses now and again to wonder about what happens when you pit brutal amorality against brutal morality, but it’s a rhetorical question, and no one shows much interest in it. Dragged down by talking points that someone clearly wanted wedged in (as well as by O’Mara’s ponderous voice-overs), the film does better when it abandons gravitas and refocuses on spinning its mythic tale of wilder times in the Golden State. (1:53) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness. (Rapoport)
The Last Stand With gun control issues dominating the news, what better time to release a movie that lovingly glorifies the wonders of excessive firepower? Fortunately for star Arnold Schwarzenegger, making his return to leading-man status after that little fling with politics, The Last Stand is stupidly enjoyable enough to make any such PC-minded realizations relatively fleeing ones. When a Mexican drug lord (who also happens to be an expert race-car driver) escapes from federal custody and begins speeding home in a super-Corvette, the lead FBI agent (Forest Whitaker, slumming big-time) realizes his only hope is a teeny Arizona border town that happens to be overseen by Sheriff Schwarzenegger. (Other residents include a couple of hapless deputies; an Iraq war vet; and a gun nut played by a cartoonishly obnoxious Johnny Knoxville.) Can this ragtag crew hold off first the drug lord’s advance team (led by a swaggering Peter Stormare), and then the head baddie himself? Duh. The biggest surprise The Last Stand offers is that it’s actually pretty fun no doubt thanks to the combo of Korean director Kim Jee-woon (2008’s eccentric The Good, The Bad, and the Weird; 2003’s spooky A Tale of Two Sisters) and the heft of Schwarzenegger’s still-potent charisma. (1:47) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness. (Eddy)
The Law in These Parts Ra’anan Alexandrowicz’s documentary is a rather extraordinary historical record: he interviews numerous retired Israeli judges and lawyers who shaped and enforced the country’s legal positions as occupiers of Palestinian land and "temporary guardians" of a Palestinian populace living under foreign occupation. The key word there is "temporary" in using here a different (military rather than civil) justice from the one Israeli citizens experience, Israel has been able to exert the extraordinary powers of an invading force in wartime. But what is "temporary" about an occupation that’s now lasted nearly 45 years? How can the state justify (under Geneva Convention rules, for one thing) building permanent Jewish settlements that now house about half a million Israelis on land that is as yet not legally Israel’s? By constantly changing the terms and laws of occupation, they do just that. If many policies have been perhaps necessary to control terrorist attacks, one can argue that they and other policies have created the climate in which oppositional fervor and terroristic acts were bound to flourish. That, of course, is a political-ethical judgement far beyond the public purview of the judges and others here, whose dry legalese admits no personal culpability and indeed sometimes seems almost absurdly divorced from real-world ethics and consequence, which of course serves an increasingly rigid governmental stance just fine. Without preaching, The Law in These Parts raises a number of discomfiting questions about bending law to suit an agenda that in any other context would seem frankly unlawful. (1:40) Roxie. (Harvey)
Mama From bin Laden to wild babes in woods, Jessica Chastain can’t seem to grab a break. Equipped with just the bare outlines of a character, however, she’s one of the few pleasures in this missed-opportunity of a grim, ghostly fairy tale. Expanding his short of the same name, director Andres Muschietti kicks off his yarn on a sadly familiar note in these days of seemingly escalating gun violence: little sisters Victoria and Lily have disappeared from their home, shortly after their desperate father (Game of Thrones‘ Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) has gone on a shooting spree. They repair to an abandoned cabin scattered with mid-century modern furniture. Five years on, the girls’ scruffy artist uncle Lucas (also Coster-Waldau) is still searching for them, supported by his punk rock girlfriend Annabel (Chastain). The little girls lost are finally found by trackers and they appear to be hopelessly feral, with the angelic-looking Victoria (Megan Charpentier), acting as the ringleader and the younger, bedraggled Lily (Maya Dawe) given to sleeping under beds and eating on all fours next to the dog bowl. The arty couple take them in and move into a "test house" provided by the sisters’ enthralled therapist (Daniel Kash), obviously psyched to study not one but two Kaspar Hausers. The traumatized kids are clearly haunted by their experience in more ways than one as inexplicable bumps go off, night and day, and Misfits t-shirt-clad Annabel discovers the real meaning of goth while getting in touch with her seemingly deeply buried maternal urges. Unfortunately, despite possessing the raw material for a truly scary outing that plunges to the core of our primal instincts (what’s scarier than an unsocialized kid that’s capable of anything?) and showing off Muschietti’s occasional instances of cinematic flair (as when multiple rooms are shown using split-screens), Mama ends up running away from the filmmaker and is finally simply spoiled by its mawkishly sentimental finale. It doesn’t help that the inadequate script sports logic holes that a mama could drive a truck though. (1:40) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness. (Chun)