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.
Elemental Even those suffering from environmental-doc fatigue (a very real condition, particularly in the eco-obsessed Bay Area) will find much to praise about Elemental, co-directed by Gayatri Roshan and NorCal native Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee (who also co-composed the film’s score). This elegantly shot and edited film approaches the issues via three “eco-warriors,” who despite working on different causes on various corners of the planet encounter similar roadblocks, and display like-minded determination, along the way: Rajendra Singh, on a mission to heal India’s heavily polluted Ganges River; Jay Harman, whose ingenious inventions are based on “nature’s blueprints”; and Eriel Deranger, who fights for her indigenous Canadian community in the face of Big Oil. Deranger cuts a particularly inspiring figure: a young, tattooed mother who juggles protests, her moody tween (while prepping for a new baby), and the more bureaucratic aspects of being a professional activist — from defending her grassroots methods when questioned by her skeptical employer, to deflecting a drunk, patronizing Robert F. Kennedy Jr. at a big-ticket fundraiser — with a calm, steely sense of purpose. (1:33) Opera Plaza. (Eddy)
Epic Animated fantasy about a teenager who finds herself drawn into a conflict between warring forest creatures. Features the voices of Amanda Seyfried, Colin Farrell, Beyoncé, and Christoph Waltz. (1:42) Balboa, Presidio.
Fast and Furious 6 Just FYI, part seven has already been announced. (2:10)
Frances Ha See “Let’s Dance.” (1:26) Embarcadero, Piedmont, Shattuck, Smith Rafael.
The Hangover Part III The bros reunite for another ill-advised Las Vegas trip. (1:40) Four Star, Marina, Shattuck.
The Painting Veteran animator Jean-François Laguionie’s French-Belgian feature is a charming and imaginative fable whose characters live in the worlds of an elusive artist’s canvases. It begins in one particular picture, a fanciful landscape in which society is strictly stratified in terms of how “finished” the figures in it are. At the top of the heap are the Alldunns, elitist castle-dwelling snobs who look down on the semi-completed Halfies. Everybody shuns the Sketchies, pencil preliminaries come to life. When members of each group get chased into the Forbidden Forest, they discover they can actually exit the frame entirely and visit other paintings in the artist’s studio. As a parable of prejudice and tolerance it’s not exactly sophisticated, and the story doesn’t quite sustain its early momentum. But it’s a visual treat throughout, nodding to various early 20th-century modern art styles and incorporating some different animation techniques (plus, briefly, live action). Note: the last screenings of each day will be in the film’s original French language, with English subtitles; all others offer the English-dubbed version. (1:18) Opera Plaza, Shattuck. (Harvey)
A Wedding Invitation Already a hit in China, this romantic drama directed by Korea’s Oh Ki-hwan follows a young couple (Eddie Peng, Bai Baihe) as they break up to pursue careers in Beijing and Shanghai, making a pact that they’ll reunite in five years if they’re both still single. (1:45) Metreon.
What Maisie Knew In Scott McGehee and David Siegel’s adaptation of the 1897 Henry James novel, the story of a little girl caught between warring, self-involved parents is transported forward to modern-day New York City, with Julianne Moore and Steve Coogan as the ill-suited pair responsible, in theory, for the care and upbringing of the title character, played by Onata Aprile. Moore’s Susanna is a rock singer making a slow, halting descent from some apex of stardom, as we gather from the snide comments of her partner in dysfunctionality, Beale (Coogan). As their relationship implodes and they move on to custody battle tactics, each takes on a new, inappropriate companion — Beale marrying in haste Maisie’s pretty young nanny, Margo (Joanna Vanderham), and Susanna just as precipitously latching on to a handsome bartender named Lincoln (True Blood‘s Alexander Skarsgård). The film mostly tracks the chaotic action — Susanna’s strung-out tantrums, both parents’ impulsive entrances and exits, Margo and Lincoln’s ambivalent acceptance of responsibility — from Maisie’s silent vantage, as details large and small convey, at least to us, the deficits of her caretakers, who shield her from none of the emotional shrapnel flying through the air and rarely bother to present an appropriate, comprehensible explanation. Yet Maisie understands plenty — though longtime writing-and-directing team McGehee and Siegel (2001’s The Deep End, 2005’s Bee Season, 2008’s Uncertainty) have taken pains in their script and their casting to present Maisie as a lovely, watchful child, not the precocious creep often favored in the picture shows. So we watch too, with a grinding anxiety, as she’s passed from hand to hand, forced to draw her own unvoiced conclusions. (1:38) Albany, Embarcadero. (Rapoport)
At Any Price Growing up in rural Iowa very much in the shadow of his older brother, Dean Whipple (Zac Efron) cultivated a chip on his shoulder while dominating the figure 8 races at the local dirt track. When papa Henry (Dennis Quaid) — a keeping-up-appearances type, with secrets a-plenty lurking behind his good ol’ boy grin — realizes Dean is his best hope for keeping the family farm afloat, he launches a hail-mary attempt to salvage their relationship. This latest drama from acclaimed indie director Ramin Bahrani (2008’s Goodbye Solo) is his most ambitious to date, enfolding small-town family drama and stock-car scenes into a pointed commentary on modern agribusiness (Henry deals in GMO corn, and must grapple with the sinister corporate practices that go along with it). But the film never gels, particularly after an extreme, third-act plot twist is deployed to, um, hammer home the title — which refers to prices both monetary and spiritual. A solid supporting cast (Kim Dickens, Heather Graham, Clancy Brown, Red West, newcomer Maika Monroe) helps give the film some much-needed added weight as it veers toward melodrama. (1:45) SF Center. (Eddy)
The Big Wedding The wedding film has impacted our concepts of matrimony, fashion, and marital happiness more than all the textbooks in the world have affected our national testing average; but it’s with that margin of mediocrity I report from the theater trenches of The Big Wedding. With this, the wedding movie again peters to a crawl. Susan Sarandon (an actress I love with a loyalty beyond sense) is Bebe, the stepmother/caterer swept under the rug by the selfishness of her live in lover Don (De Niro), his ex-wife/baby momma Elle (Diane Keaton) and their racist wackjob future in-laws. When Don and Elle faced the end of their marriage, they tried to rekindle with a Columbian orphan. Cue Ben Barnes in brownface. Alejandro is set to wed Amanda Seyfried and when his mother ascends from Columbia for the wedding, he decides Don and Elle have to act like their marriage never ended &ldots; which makes Bebe a mistress. Surprise! A decade of caring selflessly for your lover’s kids has won you a super shitty wedding you still have to cater! To give you a sense of the conflict management on display, Bebe — the film’s graceful savior —drops a drink on Don before fleeing the scene in her Alfa Romeo; she’s the one character not determined to act out her more selfish urges in the style of an MTV reality show. Despite some less imaginative conflicts and degrading “solutions,” this blended family still speaks some truth about the endearing embarrassment of the happy family. (1:29) SF Center. (Vizcarrondo)
The Croods (1:38) Metreon.
Disconnect (1:55) SF Center.
Evil Dead “Sacrilege!” you surely thought when hearing that Sam Raimi’s immortal 1983 classic was being remade. But as far as remakes go, this one from Uruguayan writer-director Fede Alvarez (who’d previously only made some acclaimed genre shorts) is pretty decent. Four youths gather at a former family cabin destination because a fifth (Jane Levy) has staged her own intervention — after a near-fatal OD, she needs her friends to help her go cold turkey. But as a prologue has already informed us, there is a history of witchcraft and demonic possession in this place. The discovery of something very nasty (and smelly) in the cellar, along with a book of demonic incantations that Lou Taylor Pucci is stupid enough to read aloud from, leads to … well, you know. The all-hell that breaks loose here is more sadistically squirm-inducing than the humorously over-the-top gore in Raimi’s original duo (elements of the sublime ’87 Evil Dead II are also deployed here), and the characters are taken much more seriously — without, however, becoming more interesting. Despite a number of déjà vu kamikaze tracking shots through the Michigan forest (though most of the film was actually shot in New Zealand), Raimi’s giddy high energy and black comedy are replaced here by a more earnest if admittedly mostly effective approach, with plenty of decent shocks. No one could replace Bruce Campbell, and perhaps it was wise not to even try. So: pretty good, gory, expertly crafted, very R-rated horror fun, even with too many “It’s not over yet!” false endings. But no one will be playing this version over and over and over again as they (and I) still do the ’80s films. (1:31) SF Center. (Harvey)
42 Broad and morally cautious, 42 is nonetheless an honorable addition to the small cannon of films about the late, great baseball player Jackie Robinson. When Dodgers owner Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford) declares that he wants a black player in the white major leagues because “The only real color is green!”, it’s a cynical explanation that most people buy, and hate him for. It also starts the ball curving for a PR shitstorm. But money is an equal-opportunity leveling device: when Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) tries to use the bathroom at a small-town gas station, he’s denied and tells his manager they should “buy their 99 gallons of gas another place.” Naturally the gas attendant concedes, and as 42 progresses, even those who reject Robinson at first turn into men who find out how good they are when they’re tested. Ford, swashbuckling well past his sell-by date, is a fantastic old coot here; his “been there, lived that” prowess makes you proud he once fled the path of a rolling bolder. His power moves here are even greater, but it’s ultimately Robinson’s show, and 42 finds a lot of ways to deliver on facts and still print the legend. (2:08) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Sundance Kabuki. (Vizcarrondo)
The Great Gatsby Every bit as flashy and in-your-face as you’d expect the combo of “Baz Luhrmann,” “Jazz Age,” and “3D” to be, this misguided interpretation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic tale is, at least, overstuffed with visual delights. For that reason only, all the fashion-mag fawning over leading lady Carey Mulligan’s gowns and diamonds, and the opulent production design that surrounds them, seems warranted. And in scenes where spectacle is appropriate — Gatsby’s legendary parties; Tom Buchanan’s wild New York romp with his mistress — Luhrmann delivers in spades. The trade-off is that the subtler aspects of Fitzgerald’s novel are either pushed to the side or shouted from the rooftops. Leonardo DiCaprio, last seen cutting loose in last year’s Django Unchained, makes for a stiff, fumbling Gatsby, laying on the “Old Sports” as thickly as his pancake make-up. There’s nothing here so startlingly memorable as the actor and director’s 1996 prior collaboration, Romeo + Juliet — a more successful (if still lavish and self-consciously audacious) take on an oft-adapted, much-beloved literary work. (2:22) California, Four Star, Marina, 1000 Van Ness, Presidio, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki, Vogue. (Eddy)
The Iceman Methody-y changeling Michael Shannon is pretty much the whole show in The Iceman, about a real-life hitman who purportedly killed over 100 people during his career. Despite some scarily violent moments, however, Ariel Vromen’s film doesn’t show much of that body count — he’s more interested in the double life Richard Kuklinski (Shannon) leads as a cold-blooded killer whose profession remains entirely unknown for years to his wife, daughters, and friends. The waitress he marries, Deborah (Winona Ryder), isn’t exactly a brainiac. But surely there’s some willful denial in the way she accepts his every excuse and fake profession, starting with “dubbing Disney movies” when he actually dupes prints of pornos. It’s in that capacity that he first meets Roy Demeo (Ray Liotta), a volatile Newark mobster who, impressed by Kuklinski’s blasé demeanor at gunpoint, correctly surmises this guy would make a fine contract killer. When he has a falling out with Demeo, Kuklinski “freelances” his skill to collaborate with fellow hitman Mr. Freezy (Chris Evans), so named because he drives an ice-cream truck — and puts his victims on ice for easier disposal. For the sake of a basic contrast defined by its ad line — “Loving husband. Devoted father. Ruthless killer.” — The Iceman simplifies Kuklinski’s saga, making him less of a monster. The movie only briefly suggests Kuklinski’s abused childhood, and it omits entirely other intriguing aspects of the real-life story. But Shannon creates a convincing whole character whose contradictions don’t seem so to him — or to us. (1:46) Embarcadero, Shattuck, Sundance Kabuki. (Harvey)
In the House In François Ozon’s first feature since the whimsical 2010 Potiche, he returns somewhat to the playful suspense intrigue of 2003’s Swimming Pool, albeit with a very different tone and context. Fabrice Luchini plays a high school French literature teacher disillusioned by his students’ ever-shrinking articulacy. But he is intrigued by one boy’s surprisingly rich description of his stealth invasion into a classmate’s envied “perfect” family — with lusty interest directed at the “middle class curves” of the mother (Emmanuelle Seigner). As the boy Claude’s writings continue in their possibly fictive, possibly stalker-ish provocations, his teacher grows increasingly unsure whether he’s dealing with a precocious bourgeoisie satirist or a literate budding sociopath — and ambivalent about his (and spouse Kristin Scott Thomas’ stressed gallery-curator’s) growing addiction to these artfully lurid possible exposé s of people he knows. And it escalates from there. Ozon is an expert filmmaker in nimble if not absolute peak form here, no doubt considerably helped by Juan Mayorga’s source play. It’s a smart mainstream entertainment that, had it been Hollywood feature, would doubtless be proclaimed brilliant for its clever tricks and turns. (1:45) Smith Rafael. (Harvey)
Iron Man 3 Neither a sinister terrorist dubbed “the Mandarin” (Ben Kingsley) nor a spray-tanned mad scientist (Guy Pearce) are as formidable an enemy to Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) as Tony Stark himself, the mega-rich playboy last seen in 2012’s Avengers donning his Iron Man suit and thwarting alien destruction. It’s been rough since his big New York minute; he’s been suffering panic attacks and burying himself in his workshop, shutting out his live-in love (Gwyneth Paltrow) in favor of tinkering on an ever-expanding array of manned and un-manned supersuits. But duty, and personal growth, beckon when the above-mentioned villains start behaving very badly. With some help (but not much) from Don Cheadle’s War Machine — now known as “Iron Patriot” thanks to a much-mocked PR campaign — Stark does his saving-the-world routine again. If the plot fails to hit many fresh beats (a few delicious twists aside), the 3D special effects are suitably dazzling, the direction (by series newcomer Shane Black) is appropriately snappy, and Downey, Jr. again makes Stark one of the most charismatic superheros to ever grace the big screen. For now, at least, the continuing Avengers spin-off extravaganza seems justified. (2:06) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Presidio, Sundance Kabuki. (Eddy)
Jurassic Park 3D “Life finds a way,” Jeff Goldblum’s leather-clad mathematician remarks, crystallizing the theme of this 1993 Spielberg classic, which at its core is more about human relationships than genetically manufactured terrors. Of course, it’s got plenty of those, and Jurassic Park doesn’t really need its (admittedly spiffy) 3D upgrade to remain a thoroughly entertaining thriller. The dinosaur effects — particularly the creepy Velociraptors and fan-fave T. rex — still dazzle. Only some early-90s computer references and Laura Dern’s mom jeans mark the film as dated. But a big-screen viewing of what’s become a cable TV staple allows for fresh appreciation of its less-iconic (but no less enjoyable) moments and performances: a pre-megafame Samuel L. Jackson as a weary systems tech; Bob Peck as the park’s skeptical, prodigiously thigh-muscled game warden. Try and forget the tepid sequels — including, dear gawd, 2014’s in-the-works fourth installment. This is all the Jurassic you will ever need. (2:07) 1000 Van Ness. (Eddy)
Kon-Tiki In 1947 Norwegian explorer and anthropologist Thor Heyderdahl arranged an expedition on a homemade raft across the Pacific, recreating what he believed was a route by which South Americans traveled to Polynesia in pre-Columbian times. (Although this theory is now disputed.) The six-man crew (plus parrot) survived numerous perils to complete their 101-day, 4300-mile journey intact — winning enormous global attention, particularly through Heyderdahl’s subsequent book and documentary feature. Co-directors Joachim Roenning and Espen Sandberg’s dramatization is a big, impressive physical adventure most arresting for its handsome use of numerous far-flung locations. Where it’s less successful is in stirring much emotional involvement, with the character dynamics underwhelming despite a decent cast led by Pal Sverr Hagen as Thor (who, incredibly, was pretty much a non-swimmer). Nonetheless, this new Kon-Tiki offers all the pleasures of armchair travel, letting you vicariously experience a high-risk voyage few could ever hope (or want) to make in real life. (1:58) Albany, Embarcadero, Piedmont. (Harvey)
Love is All You Need Copenhagen hairdresser Ida (Trine Dyrholm) has just finished her cancer treatments — with their success still undetermined — when she arrives home to find her longtime husband Leif (Kim Bodnia) boning a coworker on their couch. “I thought you were in chemo” is the closest he comes to an apology before walking out. Ida is determined to maintain a cheerful front when attending the Italian wedding of their daughter Astrid (Molly Blixt Egelind) — even after emotionally deaf Leif shows up with his new girlfriend in tow. Meanwhile brusque businessman and widower Philip (Pierce Brosnan), the groom’s father, is experiencing the discomfort of returning to the villa he once shared with his beloved late wife. This latest from Danish director Susanne Bier and writing partner Anders Thomas Jensen (2006’s After the Wedding, 2004’s Brothers, 2010’s In a Better World) is more conventionally escapist than their norm, with a general romantic-seriocomedy air reinforced by travel-poster-worthy views of the picturesque Italian coastline. They do try to insert greater depth and a more expansive story arc than you’d get in a Hollywood rom com. But all the relationships here are so prickly — between middle-aged leads we never quite believe would attract each other, between the clearly ill-matched aspiring newlyweds, between Paprika Steen’s overbearing sister in-law and everyone — that there’s very little to root for. It’s a romantic movie (as numerous soundtracked variations on “That’s Amore” constantly remind us) in which romance feels like the most contrived element. (1:50) Opera Plaza, Shattuck. (Harvey)
Midnight’s Children Deepa Mehta (2005’s Water) directs and co-adapts with Salman Rushdie the author’s Booker Prize-winning 1981 novel, which mixes history (India’s 1947 independence, and the subsequent division of India and Pakistan) with magical elements — suggested from its fairy-tale-esque first lines: “I was born in the city of Bombay, once upon a time.” This droll voice-over (read by Rushdie) comes courtesy of Saleem Sinai, born to a poor street musician and his wife (who dies in childbirth; dad is actually an advantage-taking Brit played by Charles “Tywin Lannister” Dance) but switched (for vaguely revolutionary reasons) with Shiva, born at the same moment to rich parents who unknowingly raise the wrong son. Rich or poor, it seems all children born at the instant of India’s independence have shared psychic powers; over the years, they gather for “meetings” whenever Saleem summons them. And that’s just the 45 minutes or so of story. Though gorgeously shot, Midnight’s Children suffers from page-to-screen-itis; the source material is complex in both plot and theme, and it’s doubtful any film — even one as long as this — could translate its nuances and more fanciful elements (“I can smell feelings!,” Saleem insists) into a consistently compelling narrative. Last-act sentimentality doesn’t help, though it’s consistent with the fairy-tale vibe, I suppose. (2:20) Shattuck, Smith Rafael. (Eddy)
Mud (2:15) California, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Piedmont, Sundance Kabuki.
Oblivion Spoiler alert: the great alien invasion of 2017 does absolutely zilch to eliminate, or at least ameliorate, the problem of sci-fi movie plot holes. However, puny humans willing to shut down the logic-demanding portions of their brains just might enjoy Oblivion, which is set 60 years after that fateful date and imagines that Earth has been rendered uninhabitable by said invasion. Tom Cruise plays Jack, a repairman who zips down from his sterile housing pod (shared with comely companion Andrea Riseborough) to keep a fleet of drones — dispatched to guard the planet’s remaining resources from alien squatters — in working order. But Something is Not Quite Right; Jack’s been having nostalgia-drenched memories of a bustling, pre-war New York City, and the déjà vu gets worse when a beautiful astronaut (Olga Kurylenko) literally crash-lands into his life. After an inaugural gig helming 2010’s stinky Tron: Legacy, director Joseph Kosinski shows promise, if not perfection, bringing his original tale to the screen. (He does, however, borrow heavily from 1968’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, 1996’s Independence Day, and 2008’s Wall-E, among others.) Still, Oblivion boasts sleek production design, a certain creative flair, and some surprisingly effective plot twists — though also, alas, an overlong running time. (2:05) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness. (Eddy)
Pain & Gain In mid-1995 members of what became known as the “Sun Gym Gang” — played here by Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, and Anthony Mackie — were arrested for a series of crimes including kidnapping, extortion, and murder. Simply wanting to live large, they’d abducted one well-off man (Tony Shalhoub) months earlier, tortured him into signing over all his assets, and left him for dead — yet incredibly the Miami police thought the victim’s story was a tall tale, leaving the perps free until they’d burned through their moolah and sought other victims. Michael Bay’s cartoonish take on a pretty horrific saga repeatedly reminds us that it’s a true story, though the script plays fast and loose with many real-life details. (And strangely it downplays the role steroid abuse presumably played in a lot of very crazy behavior.) In a way, his bombastic style is well-suited to a grotesquely comic thriller about bungling bodybuilder criminals redundantly described here as “dumb stupid fucks.” There have been worse Bay movies, even if that’s like saying “This gas isn’t as toxic as the last one.” But despite the flirtations with satire of fitness culture, motivational gurus and so forth, his sense of humor stays on a loutish plane, complete with fag-bashing, a dwarf gag, and representation of Miami as basically one big siliconed titty bar. Nor can he pull off a turn toward black comedy that needs the superior intelligence of someone like the Coen Brothers or Soderbergh. As usual everything is overamped, the action sequences overblown, the whole thing overlong, and good actors made to overact. You’ve got to give cranky old Ed Harris credit: playing a private detective, he alone here refuses to be bullied into hamming it up. (2:00) Metreon. (Harvey)
Peeples (1:35) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness.
The Place Beyond the Pines Powerful indie drama Blue Valentine (2010) marked director Derek Cianfrance as one worthy of attention, so it’s with no small amount of fanfare that this follow-up arrives. The Place Beyond the Pines‘ high profile is further enhanced by the presence of Bradley Cooper (currently enjoying a career ascension from Sexiest Man Alive to Oscar-nominated Serious Actor), cast opposite Valentine star Ryan Gosling, though they share just one scene. An overlong, occasionally contrived tale of three generations of fathers, father figures, and sons, Pines‘ initial focus is Gosling’s stunt-motorcycle rider, a character that would feel more exciting if it wasn’t so reminiscent of Gosling’s turn in Drive (2011), albeit with a blonde dye job and tattoos that look like they were applied by the same guy who inked James Franco in Spring Breakers. Robbing banks seems a reasonable way to raise cash for his infant son, as well as a way for Pines to draw in another whole set of characters, in the form of a cop (Cooper) who’s also a new father, and who — as the story shifts ahead 15 years — builds a political career off the case. Of course, fate and the convenience of movie scripts dictate that the mens’ sons will meet, the past will haunt the present and fuck up the future, etc. etc. Ultimately, Pines is an ambitious film that suffers from both its sprawl and some predictable choices (did Ray Liotta really need to play yet another dirty cop?) Halfway through the movie I couldn’t help thinking what might’ve happened if Cianfrance had dared to swap the casting of the main roles; Gosling could’ve been a great ambitious cop-turned-powerful prick, and Cooper could’ve done interesting things with the Evel Knievel-goes-Point Break part. Just sayin’. (2:20) Opera Plaza, Shattuck, Sundance Kabuki. (Eddy)
The Reluctant Fundamentalist Based on Pakistani novelist Mohsin Hamid’s award-winning 2007 novel, and directed by the acclaimed Mira Nair (2001’s Monsoon Wedding, 2006’s The Namesake), The Reluctant Fundamentalist boasts an international cast (Kate Hudson, Martin Donovan, Kiefer Sutherland, Liev Schreiber, Om Puri) and nearly as many locations. British-Pakistani actor Riz Ahmed (2010’s Four Lions) stars as Changez Khan, a Princeton-educated professor who grants an interview with a reporter (Schreiber) after another prof at Lahore University — an American citizen — is taken hostage; their meeting grows more tense as the atmosphere around them becomes more charged. Most of the film unfolds as an extended flashback, as Changez recounts his years on Wall Street as a talented “soldier in [America’s] economic army,” with a brunette Hudson playing Erica, a photographer who becomes his NYC love interest. After 9/11, he begins to lose his lust for star-spangled yuppie success, and soon returns to his homeland to pursue a more meaningful cause. Though it’s mostly an earnest, soul-searching character study, The Reluctant Fundamentalist suddenly decides it wants to be a full-throttle political thriller in its last act; ultimately, it offers only superficial insight into what might inspire someone’s conversion to fundamentalism (one guess: Erica’s embarrassingly bad art installation, which could make anyone hate America). Still, Ahmed is a compelling lead. (2:08) Smith Rafael. (Eddy)
Renoir The gorgeous, sun-dappled French Riviera setting is the high point of this otherwise low-key drama about the temperamental women (Christa Theret) who was the final muse to elderly painter Auguste Renoir (Michel Bouquet), and who encouraged the filmmaking urges in his son, future cinema great Jean (Vincent Rottiers). Cinematographer Mark Ping Bin Lee (who’s worked with Hou Hsiao-hsein and Wong Kar Wai) lenses Renoir’s leafy, ramshackle estate to maximize its resemblance to the paintings it helped inspire; though her character, Dédée, could kindly be described as “conniving,” Theret could not have been better physically cast, with tumbling red curls and pale skin she’s none too shy about showing off. Though the specter of World War I looms in the background, the biggest conflicts in Gilles Bourdos’ film are contained within the household, as Jean frets about his future, Dédée faces the reality of her precarious position in the household (which is staffed by aging models-turned-maids), and Auguste battles ill health by continuing to paint, though he’s in a wheelchair and must have his brushes taped to his hands. Though not much really happens, Renoir is a pleasant, easy-on-the-eyes experience. (1:51) Smith Rafael. (Eddy)
Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s This glossy love letter to posh New York City department store Bergdorf Goodman — a place so expensive that shopping there is “an aspirational dream” for the grubby masses, according to one interviewee — would offend with its slobbering take on consumerism if it wasn’t so damn entertaining. The doc’s narrative of sorts is propelled by the small army assembled to create the store’s famed holiday windows; we watch as lavish scenes of upholstered polar bears and sea creatures covered in glittering mosaics (flanking, natch, couture gowns) take shape over the months leading up to the Christmas rush. Along the way, a cavalcade of top designers (Michael Kors, Vera Wang, Giorgio Armani, Jason Wu, Karl Lagerfeld) reminisce on how the store has impacted their respective careers, and longtime employees share anecdotes, the best of which is probably the tale of how John Lennon and Yoko Ono saved the season by buying over 70 fur coats one magical Christmas Eve. Though lip service is paid to the current economic downturn (the Madoff scandal precipitated a startling dropoff in personal-shopper clients), Scatter My Ashes is mostly just superficial fun. What do you expect from a store whose best-selling shoe is sparkly, teeteringly tall, and costs $6,000? (1:33) Clay. (Eddy)
Star Trek Into Darkness Do you remember 1982? There are more than a few echoes of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan in J. J. Abrams’ second film retooling the classic sci-fi property’s characters and adventures. Darkness retains the 2009 cast, including standouts Zachary Quinto as Spock and Simon Pegg as comic-relief Scotty, and brings in Benedict “Sherlock” Cumberbatch to play the villain (I think you can guess which one). The plot mostly pinballs between revenge and preventing/circumventing the destruction of the USS Enterprise, with added post-9/11, post-Dark Knight (2008) terrorism connotations that are de rigueur for all superhero or fantasy-type blockbusters these days. But Darkness isn’t totally, uh, dark: there’s quite a bit of fan service at work here (speak Klingon? You’re in luck). Abrams knows what audiences want, and he’s more than happy to give it to ’em, sometimes opening up massive plot holes in the process — but never veering from his own Prime Directive: providing an enjoyable ride. (2:07) Balboa, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Presidio, Sundance Kabuki. (Eddy)
Stories We Tell Actor and director Sarah Polley (2011’s Take This Waltz) turns the camera on herself and her family for this poignant, moving, inventive, and expectation-upending blend of documentary and narrative. Her father, actor Michael Polley, provides the narration; our first hint that this film will take an unconventional form comes when we see Sarah directing Michael’s performance in a recording-studio booth, asking him to repeat certain phrases for emphasis. On one level, Stories We Tell is about Sarah’s own history, as she sets out to explore longstanding family rumors that Michael is not her biological father. The missing piece: her mother, actress Diane Polley (who died of cancer just days after Sarah’s 11th birthday), a vivacious character remembered by Sarah’s siblings and those who knew and loved her. Stories We Tell‘s deeper meaning emerges as the film becomes ever more meta, retooling the audience’s understanding of what they’re seeing via convincingly doc-like reenactments. To say more would lessen the power of Stories We Tell‘s multi-layered revelations. Just know that this is an impressively unique film — about family, memories, love, and (obviously) storytelling — and offers further proof of Polley’s tremendous talent. (1:48) Embarcadero, Shattuck, Smith Rafael. (Eddy)
Sun Don’t Shine Prolific indie producer and actor (Upstream Color) Amy Seimetz’s debut as feature writer-director is a intriguingly ambiguous mumblecore noir about a couple on the run, à la Bonnie and Clyde. Crystal (Kate Lyn Sheil) and Leo (Kentucker Audley) are driving south through Florida — a state that seemingly always relaxes demands on intelligence and legality — with a handgun, innumerable anxieties, and something problematic hidden in the trunk. We gradually realize she’s unstable, though to what extent remains unclear. Seimetz’s refusal to spell out that and other basic narrative elements lends her film a compelling aura of mystery, one that heightens some striking, tense sequences but also can prove somewhat frustrating in the long run. (A little more insight would have made it easier to understand why the seemingly level-headed Leo has hitched his wagon to the increasingly off-putting Crystal.) Overall, though, it’s the kind of first feature that makes you eager to see what she’ll come up with next. (1:20) Roxie. (Harvey)
Upstream Color A woman, a man, a pig, a worm, Walden — what? If you enter into Shane Carruth’s Upstream Color expecting things like a linear plot, exposition, and character development, you will exit baffled and distressed. Best to understand in advance that these elements are not part of Carruth’s master plan. In fact, based on my own experiences watching the film twice, I’m fairly certain that not really understanding what’s going on in Upstream Color is part of its loopy allure. Remember Carruth’s 2004 Primer? Did you try to puzzle out that film’s array of overlapping and jigsawed timelines, only to give up and concede that the mystery (and sheer bravado) of that film was part of its, uh, loopy allure? Yeah. Same idea, except writ a few dimensions larger, with more locations, zero tech-speak dialogue, and — yes! — a compelling female lead, played by Amy Seimetz, an indie producer and director in her own right. Enjoying (or even making it all the way through) Upstream Color requires patience and a willingness to forgive some of Carruth’s more pretentious noodlings; in the tradition of experimental filmmaking, it’s a work that’s more concerned with evoking emotions than hitting some kind of three-act structure. Most importantly, it manages to be both maddening and moving at the same time. (1:35) Roxie. (Eddy)