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.
The Heat Sandra Bullock + Melissa McCarthy + Bridesmaids (2011) director Paul Feig = buddy-cop magic? (1:57) Marina.
Hey Bartender Hey, have you heard of this trendy thing called craft cocktails? Be warned, sophisticated San Francisco drinkers: Douglas Tirola’s upbeat documentary mentions our fair city in passing only a handful of times; instead, it concentrates on New York City’s relatively recent “cocktail revolution,” interviewing movers and (literal) shakers on the scene while giving a brief history of cocktails in America (again, with an emphasis on NYC). Hey Bartender‘s focal points are well-chosen studies in contrast: ex-Marine Scott — tattooed and scrupulously mustached — who’s working his way up the ranks at hipster lounge Employees Only; and middle-aged Steve, who runs a struggling blue-collar bar just outside the city and is slowly coming around to the idea of adding fancier drinks to his menu. Though dive-bar denizens may roll their eyes at some of Hey Bartender‘s more pretentious trappings (the movie doesn’t mention it, but drinks at Employees Only are in the $15-16 range), it does make the case that today’s superstar “mixologists” deserve just as much recognition as superstar restaurateurs. And the film has a point: can a Top Chef spinoff for bartenders be that far off? (1:32) Roxie. (Eddy)
Laurence Anyways Xavier Dolan’s latest is yet another gorgeously-designed love story; it fits perfectly alongside his extremely personal I Killed My Mother (2009) and the devastating Heartbeats (2010). Although some critics have suggested that this young director needs to hire an editor (Laurence Anyways clocks in at two hours and 48 minutes), I would argue that this epic, gender-bending love story needed to take its stylized time to achieve what most films never do: humanize a transgendered lead character. Melvil Poupaud (Raúl Ruiz’s favorite ingénue) is stunning as Laurence; as his longtime lover, Fred, Suzanne Clément performs with a guttural passion that should keep audiences glued to the screen. For those willing to accept a decade’s worth of hypnotic set and costume designs (the film spans 1989-1999); cryptic character development; a crew of campy castaways; and an electric, eclectic soundtrack (Depeche Mode, Celine Dion), Laurence Anyways is well worthy of its epic running time. Could this be the film that elevates Canada’s best-kept secret to being the leader of a post-gender film movement that’s just about to explode? (2:48) Metreon. (Jesse Hawthorne Ficks)
The Secret Disco Revolution Jamie Kaster’s Canadian documentary chronicles the rise and fall of the 70s booty shaking phenomenon — though what with the subsequent developments of house music, rave culture, et al., you might say disco never really went away. It’s got a goldmine of kitschy vintage clips, and plenty of enjoyable interviews with the scene’s erstwhile stars (Thelma Houston, “KC” Casey, etc.), producers, and observers. (The weirdest are scenes with the Village People, who today are staples on the corporate-party circuit and seem bizarrely eager to deny they were ever a subversively gay act.) Unfortunately, Kaster also burdens the film with sometimes overreaching arguments for disco’s sociopolitical radicalism, as mostly articulated by academic Alice Echols. And there’s a labored staged thread in which an arch narrator informs of us the behind-the-scenes mechanizations of three fictive “masterminds” (played by actors) who propagated disco to liberate gays, women and ethnic minorities. It’s a whimsical conceit that falls completely flat. As a result, there’s plenty of fun to be had here, but the conceptual missteps make this less than the definite disco doc it aims to be. (1:25) Opera Plaza, Shattuck. (Harvey)
20 Feet From Stardom Singing the praises of those otherwise neglected backup vocalists who put the soul into that Wall of Sound, brought heft to “Young Americans,” and lent real fury to “Gimme Shelter,” 20 Feet From Stardom is doing the rock ‘n’ roll true believer’s good work. Director Morgan Neville follows a handful of mainly female, mostly African American backing vocal legends, charts their skewed career trajectories as they rake in major credits and keep working long after one-hit wonders are forgotten (the Waters family) but fail to make their name known to the public (Merry Clayton), grasp Grammy approval yet somehow fail to follow through (Lisa Fischer), and keep narrowly missing the prize (Judith Hill) as label recording budgets shrivel and the tastes, technology, and the industry shift. Neville gives these industry pros and soulful survivors in a rocked-out, sample-heavy, DIY world their due on many levels, covering the low-coverage minis, Concert for Bangladesh high points, gossipy rumors, and sheer love for the blend that those intertwined voices achieve. One wishes the director had done more than simply touch in the backup successes out there, like Luther Vandross, and dug deeper to break down the reasons Fischer succumbed to the sophomore slump. But one can’t deny the passion in the voices he’s chosen to follow — and the righteous belief the Neville clearly has in his subjects, especially when, like Hill, they are ready to pick themselves up and carry on after being told they’re not “the Voice.” (1:30) Shattuck. (Chun)
Unfinished Song A grumpy widower (Terrence Stamp) learns to enjoy life again by joining an unconventional choir group. Vanessa Redgrave, Gemma Arterton, and Christopher Eccleston round out the cast. (1:36) Albany, Clay.
White House Down See “Flagging.” (2:17) Shattuck.
Berberian Sound Studio It’s the 1970s, and frumpy British sound designer Gilderoy (a flawless Toby Jones) has, somewhat inexplicably, been hired by a flamboyant Italian filmmaker to work on his latest lurid genre piece, The Equestrian Vortex — about a girl who realizes her riding academy is haunted by witches. Any resemblance to 1977’s Suspiria is entirely intentional, as writer-director Peter Strickland crafts a meta-horror film that’s both tribute to Argento and co. and a freaky number all its own, as Gilderoy begins to realize that the “vortex” he’s dealing with isn’t merely confined to the screen. Fans of vintage Euro horror will appreciate the behind-the-scenes peek at the era’s filmmaking process, as well as Strickland’s obvious affection for one of cinema’s most oddly addictive genres. Bonus points for the Goblin reference. (1:28) Roxie. (Eddy)
The Bling Ring When it was revealed that high schoolers were behind a series of robberies targeting the lavish homes of Hollywood’s famous-for-being-famous types — most notably Paris Hilton — the fallout became fodder for gossip websites like TMZ.com, plus a memorable Vanity Fair article. The latter (recently expanded into a book by author Nancy Jo Sales) is the basis for Sofia Coppola’s new film, a fictionalized take on the crimes. Bored by upper-middle-class lives that leave them with lots of free time and habitually absent parents, a posse of SoCal teens (newcomers Katie Chang and Israel Broussard, and Harry Potter‘s all-grown-up Emma Watson, lead the charge) begin creepy-crawling the homes of Hilton and others, dovetailing their celebrity obsessions with a raging hunger for expensive shit. (Was ever a crime so victimless, one wonders, than a heist perpetrated at the expense of a starlet’s handbag collection, so vast she won’t even notice a few missing Birkins?) Flashing their ill-gotten new clothes, jewelry, and wads of cash in Facebook selfies, the burglars miss the most valuable lesson of all: that the friendships they share are fleeting and meaningless — kind of like fame, kind of like blowing (stolen) money on designer clothes that will soon be out of style. Ironically, with The Bling Ring, Coppola has delivered her least-vapid film since 1999’s The Virgin Suicides; it’s both candy-colored and canny, a cautionary tale that lingers just long enough on its scenes of youthful excess to let you know it’s in on the joke. (1:27) Metreon, Shattuck, Sundance Kabuki. (Eddy)
Dirty Wars Subtitled “the world is a battlefield,” this doc follows author and Nation magazine writer Jeremy Scahill as he probes the disturbing underbelly of America’s ongoing counterterrorism campaign. After he gets wind of a deadly nighttime raid on a home in rural Afghanistan, Scahill does his best to investigate what really happened, though what he hears from eyewitnesses doesn’t line up with the military explanation — and nobody from the official side of things cares to discuss it any further, thank you very much. With its talk of cover-ups and covert military units, and interviewees who appear in silhouette with their voices disguised, Dirty Wars plays like a thriller until Osama bin Laden’s death shifts certain (but not all) elements of the story Scahill’s chasing into the mainstream-news spotlight. The journalist makes valid points about how an utter lack of accountability or regard for consequences (that will reverberate for generations to come) means the “war on terror” will never end, but Dirty Wars suffers a bit from too much voice-over. Even the film’s gorgeous cinematography — director Rick Rowley won a prize for it at Sundance earlier this year — can’t alleviate the sensation that Dirty Wars is mostly an illustrated-lecture version of Scahill’s source-material book. Still, it’s a compelling lecture. (1:26) Shattuck. (Eddy)
Man of Steel As beloved as he is, Superman is a tough superhero to crack — or otherwise bend into anything resembling a modern character. Director Zack Snyder and writer David S. Goyer, working with producer Christopher Nolan on the initial story, do their best to nuance this reboot, which focuses primarily on Supe’s alien origins and takes its zoom-happy space battles from Battlestar Galactica. The story begins with Kal-El’s birth on a Krypton that’s rapidly going into the shitter: the exploited planet is about to explode and wayward General Zod (Michael Shannon) is staging a coup, killing Kal-El’s father, Jor-El (Russell Crowe), the Kryptonians’ lead scientist, and being conveniently put on ice in order to battle yet another day. That day comes as Kal-El, now a 20-something earthling named Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) — resigned to his status as an outsider, a role dreamed up by his protective adoptive dad (Kevin Costner) — has turned into a bit of a (dharma) bum, looking like a buff Jack Kerouac, working Deadliest Catch-style rigs, and rescuing people along the way to finding himself. Spunky Lois Lane (Amy Adams) is the key to his, erm, coming-out party, necessitated by a certain special someone looking to reboot the Kryptonian race on earth. The greatest danger here lies in the fact that all the leached-of-color quasi-sepia tone action can turn into a bit of a Kryptonian-US Army demolition derby, making for a mess of rubble and tricky-to-parse fight sequences that, of course, will satisfy the fanboys and -girls, but will likely glaze the eyes of many others. Nevertheless, the effort Snyder and crew pack into this lengthy artifact — with its chronology-scrambling flashbacks and multiple platforms for Shannon, Diane Lane, Christopher Meloni, Laurence Fishburne, and the like — pays off on the level of sheer scale, adding up to what feels like the best Superman on film or TV to date — though that bar seems pretty easy to leap over in a single bound. (2:23) Balboa, Marina, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Sundance Kabuki. (Chun)
Monsters University Seven-year-old Mike Wazowski is even more adorable than grown-up, Billy-Crystal-voiced Mike Wazowski. It’s a pity, then, that one of the big lessons Monsters University teaches is that the essence of monster-identity is how scary one is. What Mike loses in frightfulness he forcefully recovers in spunk, and after a trip to the scare floor that briskly reminds us the premise of 2001’s Monsters, Inc., mini-Mike becomes the first ever career-driven Pixar character. (For this, I love him.) We all know he eventually becomes a superstar in this scare-powered retro-verse, but first he has to overcome frat boy-inflicted embarrassment and flunk out of school. The most noteworthy thing about Pixar’s first prequel is how very massively its characters fail — it’s a lovely tilt that suggest the greatness of tomorrow begins when you overcome the failures of today. The administrators of Monsters University (in particular Helen Mirren’s dragon-lady Dean) require formal perfection in the scares they grade, but in the world of actual scarers, oddness and difference actually become advantages. It’s all theory but no rulebook. And doesn’t that sound like a good lesson from the studio that once proudly said “story is king,” yet now scrambles to meet Disney’s once-a-year feature demands? Such rigidity comes at a price. (1:50) 1000 Van Ness, Presidio, SF Center, Shattuck, Sundance Kabuki, Vogue. (Vizcarrondo)
Much Ado About Nothing Joss Whedon (last year’s The Avengers) shifts focus for a minute to stage an adaptation of the Shakespeare comedy, drawing his players from 15 years’ worth of awesome fantasy/horror/sci-fi TV and film projects. When the Spanish prince Don Pedro (Reed Diamond) pays a post-battle visit to the home of Leonato (Clark Gregg) with his officers Claudio (Fran Kranz) and Benedick (Alexis Denisof), Claudio falls for Leonato’s daughter, Hero (Jillian Morgese), while Benedick falls to verbal blows with Hero’s cousin Beatrice (Amy Acker). Preserving the original language of the play while setting his production in the age of the iPhone and the random hookup, Whedon makes clever, inventive use of the juxtaposition, teasing out fresh sources of visual comedy as well as bringing forward the play’s oddities and darker elements. These shadows fall on Beatrice and Benedick, whose sparring — before they succumb to a playfully devious setup at the hands of their friends — has an ugly, resentful heat to it, as well as on Hero and Claudio, whose filmy romance is unsettlingly easy for their enemies, the malevolent Don John (Sean Maher) and his cohorts, to sabotage. Some of Acker and Denisof’s broader clowning doesn’t offer enough comic payoff for the hammy energy expenditure, but Nathan Fillion, heading up local law enforcement as the constable Dogberry, delivers a gleeful depiction of blundering idiocy, and the film as a whole has a warm, approachable humor while lightly exposing “all’s well that ends well”‘s wacky, dysfunctional side. (1:49) Albany, 1000 Van Ness, Piedmont, SF Center. (Rapoport)
Somm First-time filmmaker Jason Wise follows four wine-obsessed men (including three from the Bay Area) on their quest to become Master Sommeliers. Their genial rivalry — the stuffiest member of the quartet is nicknamed “Dad” — somewhat offsets the immense pressure they’re under, though every guy turns into Rain Man when he starts ID-ing each unmarked glass, detecting subtle yet highly specific aromas like “sage, truffle, wet forest floor, decaying dried red rose petals,” “a freshly opened can of tennis balls,” and (in the weirdest example) “grandma’s closet.” It’s an insular, elite world, but Wise’s camera gets right to the front lines as the candidates prep for the grueling, multi-day test, interviewing the long-suffering spouses of the candidates (one of whom ruminates on the grossness of “spit buckets” left behind after late-night tasting marathons). As the day of reckoning looms, the tension mounts along with the piles of flash cards — but the friendships and good humor remain, even after the results are revealed. (1:33) Sundance Kabuki. (Eddy)
This Is the End It’s a typical day in Los Angeles for Seth Rogen as This Is the End begins. Playing a version of himself, the comedian picks up pal and frequent co-star Jay Baruchel at the airport. Since Jay hates LA, Seth welcomes him with weed and candy, but all good vibes fizzle when Rogen suggests hitting up a party at James Franco’s new mansion. Wait, ugh, Franco? And Jonah Hill will be there? Nooo! Jay ain’t happy, but the revelry — chockablock with every Judd Apatow-blessed star in Hollywood, plus a few random inclusions (Rihanna?) — is great fun for the audience. And likewise for the actors: world, meet Michael Cera, naughty coke fiend. But stranger things are afoot in This Is the End. First, there’s a giant earthquake and a strange blue light that sucks passers-by into the sky. Then a fiery pit yawns in front of Casa Franco, gobbling up just about everyone in the cast who isn’t on the poster. Dudes! Is this the worst party ever — or the apocalypse? The film — co-written and directed by Rogen and longtime collaborator Evan Goldberg — relies heavily on Christian imagery to illustrate the endtimes; the fact that both men and much of their cast is Jewish, and therefore marked as doomed by Bible-thumpers, is part of the joke. But of course, This Is the End has a lot more to it than religious commentary; there’s also copious drug use, masturbation gags, urine-drinking, bromance, insult comedy, and all of the uber-meta in-jokes fans of its stars will appreciate. (1:46) Four Star, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Presidio, Shattuck. (Eddy)
World War Z Or, Brad Pitt saves the world from undead beings with rotted brains but super-sharp hearing. Somehow, Max Brooks’ innovative multi-character book — written in the form of interviews with survivors of a recent zombie outbreak — becomes by-the-numbers action horror in the hands of director Marc Forster (2008’s Quantum of Solace, a.k.a. that Bond movie nobody remembers), complete with credit sequence filled with real news reports of environmental disasters, global unrest, and even a little shout-out to that guy who ate another guy’s face off last year in Florida. No bath-salt jokes here, though; instead, we have Pitt playing a verrrry serious former UN investigator — former, because he quit to spend more time with his family, a promise he actually considers keeping even when the survival of the world hinges, apparently, on his very specific expertise. He jets around the world (South Korea! Israel! Wales?) in search of a cure, but it’s obvious from the beginning — when he escapes immediate death in the initial rampage with his picture-perfect wife (Mireille Enos) and two daughters — that he’ll eventually suss out a planet-saving solution. (Sorry, but if that’s a spoiler you’ve never seen a movie before.) A few nifty setpieces can’t save World War Z from more or less embodying the descriptor “meh,” with its undynamic 3D, uninspiring CG, and cobbled-together script, complete with reassuring final voice-over. And one more thing: for the love of flesh-ripping gore, can we please make this the last PG-13 zombie movie? (1:56) California, Four Star, 1000 Van Ness, Presidio, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki. (Eddy) *