Film Listings: August 14 – 20, 2013

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.

OPENING

Adjust Your Tracking: The Untold Story of the VHS Collector See “Midsummer Mayhem.” (1:24) Balboa.

The Artist and the Model The horror of the blank page, the raw sensuality of marble, and the fresh-meat attraction of a new model — just a few of the starting points for this thoughtful narrative about an elderly sculptor finding and shaping his possibly finest and final muse. Bedraggled and homeless beauty Mercè (Aida Folch) washes up in a small French town in the waning days of World War II and is taken in by a kindly woman (Claudia Cardinale), who seems intent on pleasantly pimping her out as a nude model to her artist husband (Jean Rochefort). As his former model, she knows Mercè has the type of body he likes — and that she’s capable of restoring his powers, in more ways than one, if you know what I mean. Yet this film by Fernando Trueba (1992’s Belle Époque) isn’t that kind of movie, with those kinds of models, especially when Mercè turns out to have more on her mind than mere pleasure. Done up in a lustrous, sunlit black and white that recalls 1957’s Wild Strawberries, The Artist and the Model instead offers a steady, respectful, and loving peek into a process, and unique relationship, with just a touch of poetry. (1:41) Opera Plaza. (Chun)

Blue Exorcist: The Movie Though it’s spawned from Kazue Kato’s manga-turned-TV-series, familiarity with the source material is not necessary to enjoy Blue Exorcist: The Movie‘s supernatural charms. Set in True Cross Academy Town — named for the Hogwarts-ish school of exorcism at its center — the film opens with a folk tale about an adorable demon that wrecked an entire town by turning all of its inhabitants into lazy slackers. The creature was eventually captured, but nobody knows where it’s been hiding — until boyish exorcist-in-training Rin, half-demon himself, encounters a suspiciously adorable critter while chasing yet another demon, this one huge and prone to damaging city blocks (and cracking open things that should remain sealed in the process). Trouble ahead! Blue Exorcist does contain some yep-this-is-anime moments (there’s a powerful female exorcist … who wears a tiny bikini top that barely contains her enormous bazongas), but it’s mostly fun fantasy, with a sly sense of humor (“Let’s put a beatdown on these Tokyo demons!”) and some endearingly flawed heroes. (1:28) Four Star. (Eddy)

Drug War See “Midsummer Mayhem.” (1:45) Four Star, Metreon.

Europa Report See “Midsummer Mayhem.” (1:30) Opera Plaza, Shattuck.

In a World… Lake Bell (Childrens Hospital, How to Make It in America) writes, directs, and stars in this comedy about a women who sets her sights on a career in movie-trailer voiceovers. (1:33) Shattuck.

Jobs Yep, it’s that biopic, in which Ashton Kutcher portrays Apple CEO Steve Jobs. (2:02) Presidio.

Kick-Ass 2 Hit-Girl (Chloë Grace Moritz) and company return in this sequel to the 2010 superhero hit. (1:43) California.

Lee Daniels’ The Butler Forest Whitaker stars as the White House’s longtime butler in this based-on-a-true-story tale, with the added bonus of some creative POTUS casting (John Cusack as Richard Nixon; Alan Rickman as Ronald Reagan; Robin Williams as Dwight Eisenhower). (1:53) Balboa, Marina, Piedmont.

Paranoia A young go-getter (Liam Hemsworth) gets drawn into the world of corporate espionage thanks to a feud between evil tech billionaires (Harrison Ford and Gary Oldman). (1:46)

Portrait of Jason See “Real to Reel.” (1:47) Roxie.

ONGOING

The Act of Killing What does Anwar Congo — a man who has brutally strangled hundreds of people with piano wire — dream about? As Joshua Oppenheimer’s Indonesia-set documentary The Act of Killing discovers, there’s a thin line between a guilty conscience and a haunted psyche, especially for an admitted killer who’s never been held accountable for anything. In fact, Congo has lived as a hero in North Sumatra for decades — along with scores of others who participated in the country’s ruthless anti-communist purge in the mid-1960s. In order to capture this surreal state of affairs, Oppenheimer zeroes in on a few subjects — like the cheerful Congo, fond of flashy clothes, and the theatrical Herman Koto — and a method, spelled out by The Act of Killing‘s title card: “The killers proudly told us stories about what they did. To understand why, we asked them to create scenes in whatever ways they wished.” Because Congo and company are huge movie buffs, they chose to recreate their crimes with silver-screen flourish. There are costumes and gory make-up. There are props: a stuffed tiger, a dummy torso with a detachable head. There are dancing girls. Most importantly, however, there are mental consequences, primarily for Congo, whose emotional fragility escalates as the filming continues — resulting in an unforgettable, at-times mind-blowing viewing experience. (1:55) Opera Plaza, Shattuck, Smith Rafael. (Eddy)

The Attack After an explosion in Tel Aviv kills 17, respected surgeon Amin Jaafari (Ali Suliman of 2005’s Paradise Now) — an Palestinian with Israeli citizenship, who deflects moments like a bleeding man on his operating table gasping, “I want another doctor!” with a certain amount of practiced detachment — is called to ID a body nestled in the morgue of his hospital. It’s his wife, Siham (Reymonde Amsellem, seen in flashbacks) — the apparent suicide bomber. Amin can’t believe it, but Israeli officers sure do, and the doctor is interrogated for hours about his wife’s alleged terrorist leanings and her suspicious behavior in the days leading up to the attack. When Siham’s involvement in the bombing is confirmed, Amin visits family in the West Bank, intent on discovering more about her secret fundamentalism and answering one simple question: “Why?” Emotions and tension run high as he digs into a world that’s been carefully constructed to keep unsympathetic parties from obtaining access. Lebanese-born director Ziad Doueiri, directing from a script he co-wrote from the 2008 novel by Yasmina Khadra (former Algerian army major Mohammed Moulessehoul, who wrote under his wife’s name to evade military censorship), delivers a suspenseful tale that offers new perspective on the Palestine-Israel divide. (1:42) Shattuck. (Eddy)

Blackfish The 911 call placed from SeaWorld Orlando on February 24, 2010 imparted a uniquely horrific emergency: “A whale has eaten one of the trainers.” That revelation opens Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s Blackfish, a powerful doc that offers a compelling argument against keeping orcas in captivity, much less making them do choreographed tricks in front of tourists at Shamu Stadium. Whale experts, former SeaWorld employees, and civilian eyewitnesses step forward to illuminate an industry that seemingly places a higher value on profits than it does on safety — skewed priorities that made headlines after veteran trainer Dawn Brancheau was killed by Tilikum, a massive bull who’d been involved in two prior deaths. Though SeaWorld refused to speak with Cowperthwaite on camera, they recently released a statement calling Blackfish “shamefully dishonest, deliberately misleading, and scientifically inaccurate” — read the filmmaker’s response to SeaWorld’s criticisms at film blog Indiewire, or better yet, see this important, eye-opening film yourself and draw your own conclusions. (1:30) SF Center, Shattuck. (Eddy)

Blue Jasmine The good news about Blue Jasmine isn’t that it’s set in San Francisco, but that it’s Woody Allen’s best movie in years. Although some familiar characteristics are duly present, it’s not quite like anything he’s done before, and carries its essentially dramatic weight more effectively than he’s managed in at least a couple decades. Not long ago Jasmine (a fearless Cate Blanchett) was the quintessential Manhattan hostess, but that glittering bubble has burst — exactly how revealed in flashbacks that spring surprises up to the script’s end. She crawls to the West Coast to “start over” in the sole place available where she won’t be mortified by the pity of erstwhile society friends. That would be the SF apartment of Ginger (Sally Hawkins), a fellow adoptive sister who was always looked down on by comparison to pretty, clever Jasmine. Theirs is an uneasy alliance — but Ginger’s too big-hearted to say no. It’s somewhat disappointing that Blue Jasmine doesn’t really do much with San Francisco. Really, the film could take place anywhere — although setting it in a non-picture-postcard SF does bolster the film’s unsettled, unpredictable air. Without being an outright villain, Jasmine is one of the least likable characters to carry a major US film since Noah Baumbach’s underrated Margot at the Wedding (2007); the general plot shell, moreover, is strongly redolent of A Streetcar Named Desire. But whatever inspiration Allen took from prior works, Blue Jasmine is still distinctively his own invention. It’s frequently funny in throwaway performance bits, yet disturbing, even devastating in cumulative impact. (1:38) Albany, Clay, Metreon, Piedmont. (Harvey)

The Canyons Now that “train wreck” is an official celebrity category popular media ignore at their peril, certain people and projects are deemed doomed automatically. Lindsay Lohan can’t redeem herself — she’d lose her entertainment value by regaining any respect. Ergo, The Canyons was earmarked as a disaster from the outset. How could it be otherwise, with the former Disney luminary co-starring opposite porn superstar James Deen in an envelope-pushing screenplay from literary bad boy Bret Eaton Ellis (Less Than Zero, American Psycho)? Lohan’s widely reported difficulty on set only heightened a sense that The Canyons would be a pretentious, full-frontal crapfest. But The Canyons isn’t exactly bad. Instead, it’s a middling exercise in upscale erotic-thrillerdom, beautifully crafted (on a Kickstarter dime), clever yet superficial in terms of psychological depth. Ellis trades on his usual themes of corrosive privilege, sex, and violence to deliver a rather simplistic if sardonic lesson in Hollywood amorality that director Paul Schrader angles toward credibility, turning the film into a stern, chilly, minimalist exercise in psychological suspense. A little underwhelming at first (in part because Lohan’s performance is little wobbly, Deen’s a tad one-note), it actually improves with repeat viewings. (1:40) Roxie. (Harvey)

The Conjuring Irony can be so overrated. Paying tribute to those dead-serious ’70s-era accounts of demonic possession — like 1973’s The Exorcist, which seemed all the scarier because it were based on supposedly real-life events — the sober Conjuring runs the risk of coming off as just more Catholic propaganda, as so many exorcism-is-the-cure creepers can be. But from the sound of the long-coming development of this project — producer Tony DeRosa-Grund had apparently been wanting to make the movie for more than a dozen years — 2004’s Saw and 2010’s Insidious director James Wan was merely applying the same careful dedication to this story’s unfolding as those that came before him, down to setting it in those groovy VW van-borne ’70s that saw more families torn apart by politics and cultural change than those ever-symbolic demonic forces. This time, the narrative framework is built around the paranormal investigators, clairvoyant Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) and demonologist Ed Warren (Patrick Wilson), rather than the victims: the sprawling Perron family, which includes five daughters all ripe for possession or haunting, it seems. The tale of two families opens with the Warrens hard at work on looking into creepy dolls and violent possessions, as Carolyn (Lili Taylor) and Roger Perron (Ron Livingston) move into a freezing old Victorian farmhouse. A very eerie basement is revealed, and hide-and-seek games become increasingly creepy, as Carolyn finds unexplained bruises on her body, one girl is tugged by the foot in the night, and another takes on a new invisible pal. The slow, scary build is the achievement here, with Wan admirably handling the flow of the scares, which go from no-budg effects and implied presences that rely on the viewer’s imagination, to turns of the screws that will have audiences jumping in their seats. Even better are the performances by The Conjuring‘s dueling mothers, in the trenches of a genre that so often flirts with misogyny: each battling the specter of maternal filicide, Farmiga and Taylor infuse their parts with an empathetic warmth and wrenching intensity, turning this bewitched horror throwback into a kind of women’s story. (1:52) 1000 Van Ness, SF Center. (Chun)

Despicable Me 2 The laughs come quick and sweet now that Gru (Steve Carell) has abandoned his super-villainy to become a dad and “legitimate businessman” — though he still applies world-class gravitas to everyday events. (His daughter’s overproduced birthday party is a riot of medieval festoonage.) But like all the best reformed baddies, the Feds, or in this case the Anti-Villain League, recruit him to uncover the next international arch-nemesis. Now a spy, he gets a goofy but highly competent partner (Kristen Wiig) and a cupcake shop at the mall to facilitate sniffing out the criminal. This sequel surpasses the original in charm, cleverness, and general lovability, and it’s not just because they upped the number of minion-related gags, or because Wiig joined the cast; she ultimately gets the short end of the stick as the latecomer love-interest (her spy gadgets are also just so-so). However, Carell kills it as Gru 2 — his faux-Russian accent and awkward timing are more lived-in. Maybe the jokes are about more familiar stuff (like the niggling disappointments of family life) but they’re also sharper and more surprising. And though the minions seemed like one-trick ponies in the first film, those gibberish-talking jellybeans outdo themselves in the sequel’s climax. (1:38) 1000 Van Ness, SF Center, Shattuck. (Vizcarrondo)

Elysium By the year 2154, the one percent will all have left Earth’s polluted surface for Elysium, a luxurious space station where everyone has access to high-tech machines that can heal any wound or illness in a matter of seconds. Among the grimy masses in burned-out Los Angeles, where everyone speaks a mixture of Spanish and English, factory worker Max (Matt Damon) is trying to put his car-thief past behind him — and maybe pursue something with the childhood sweetheart (Alice Braga) he’s recently reconnected with. Meanwhile, up on Elysium, icy Secretary of Defense Delacourt (Jodie Foster, speaking in French and Old Hollywood-accented English) rages against immigration, even planning a government takeover to prevent any more “illegals” from slipping aboard. Naturally, the fates of Max and Delacourt will soon intertwine, with “brain to brain data transfers,” bionic exo-skeletons, futuristic guns, life-or-death needs for Elysium’s medical miracles, and some colorful interference by a sword-wielding creeper of a sleeper agent (Sharlto Copley) along the way. In his first feature since 2009’s apartheid-themed District 9, South African writer-director Neill Blomkamp once again turns to obvious allegory to guide his plot. If Elysium‘s message is a bit heavy-handed, it’s well-intentioned, and doesn’t take away from impressive visuals (mercifully rendered in 2D) or Damon’s committed performance. (2:00) Balboa, Marina, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Sundance Kabuki. (Eddy)

Fruitvale Station By now you’ve heard of Fruitvale Station, the debut feature from Oakland-born filmmaker Ryan Coogler. With a cast that includes Academy Award winner Octavia Spencer and rising star Michael B. Jordan (The Wire, Friday Night Lights), the film premiered at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, winning both the Audience Award and the Grand Jury Prize en route to being scooped up for distribition by the Weinstein Company. A few months later, Coogler, a USC film school grad who just turned 27, won Best First Film at Cannes. Accolades are nice, especially when paired with a massive PR push from a studio known for bringing home little gold men. But particularly in the Bay Area, the true story behind Fruitvale Station eclipses even the most glowing pre-release hype. The film opens with real footage captured by cell phones the night 22-year-old Oscar Grant was shot in the back by BART police, a tragedy that inspired multiple protests and grabbed national headlines. With its grim ending already revealed, Fruitvale Station backtracks to chart Oscar’s final hours, with a deeper flashback or two fleshing out the troubled past he was trying to overcome. Mostly, though, Fruitvale Station is very much a day in the life, with Oscar (Jordan, in a nuanced performance) dropping off his girlfriend at work, picking up supplies for a birthday party, texting friends about New Year’s Eve plans, and deciding not to follow through on a drug sale. Inevitably, much of what transpires is weighted with extra meaning — Oscar’s mother (Spencer) advising him to “just take the train” to San Francisco that night; Oscar’s tender interactions with his young daughter; the death of a friendly stray dog, hit by a car as BART thunders overhead. It’s a powerful, stripped-down portrait that belies Coogler’s rookie-filmmaker status. (1:24) California, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Presidio, Sundance Kabuki. (Eddy)

Hannah Arendt New German Cinema’s Margarethe von Trotta (1975’s The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum, 1986’s Rosa Luxemburg) delivers this surprisingly dull biopic about the great German-Jewish political theorist and the heated controversy around her New Yorker article (and subsequent book) about Israel’s 1961 trial of Nazi Adolph Eichmann. Played with dignified, slightly vulnerable countenance by the inimitable Barbara Sukowa, Arendt travels from her teaching job and cozy expat circles in New York to Jerusalem for the trial. There she comes face to face with the “banality of evil” in Eichmann, the petty careerist of the Holocaust, forcing her to “try and reconcile the shocking mediocrity of the man with his staggering deeds.” This led her to further insights into the nature of modern society, and triggered a storm of outrage and vitriol — in particular from the Commentary crowd of future neocons — all of which is clearly of relevance today, and the impetus for von Trotta’s revisiting this famous episode. But the film is too mannered, too slick, too formulaic —burdened by a television-friendly combination of posture and didacticism, and bon mots from famous and about famous figures in intellectual and literary history to avoid being leaden and tedious. A mainstream film, in other words, for a very unconventional personality and dissident intellectual. While not exactly evil, there’s something dispiriting in so much banality. (1:49) Opera Plaza, Shattuck, Smith Rafael. (Robert Avila)

The Heat First things first: I hated Bridesmaids (2011). Even the BFF love fest between Maya Rudolph and Kristen Wiig couldn’t wash away the bad taste of another wolf pack in girl’s clothing. Dragging and dropping women into dude-ly storylines is at best wonky and at worst degrading, but The Heat finds an alternate route. Its women are unlikable; you don’t root for them, and you’re not hoping they become princesses because such horrifying awkwardness can only be redeemed by a prince. In Bridesmaids and Heat director Paul Feig’s universe, friendship saves the day. Sandra Bullock is Murtaugh to Melissa McCarthy’s Riggs, with tidy Bullock angling for a promotion and McCarthy driving a busted hoopty through Boston like she’s in Grand Theft Auto. Circumstances conspire to bring them together on a case, in one of many elements lifted from traditional buddy-cop storylines. But! The jokes are constant, pelting, and whiz by like so much gunfire. In one running gag, a low-rung villain’s worst insult is telling the women they look old — but neither character is bothered by it. It’s refreshing to see embarrassment humor, so beloved by chick flicks, get taken down a peg by female leads who don’t particularly care what anyone thinks of them. (1:57) SF Center. (Vizcarrondo)

The Hunt Mads Mikkelsen has the kind of face that is at once strikingly handsome and unconventional enough to get him typecast in villain roles. Like so many great foreign-accented actors, he got his big international break playing a bad guy in a James Bond film — as groin-torturing gambler Le Chiffre in 2006 franchise reviver Casino Royale. Currently, he’s creeping TV viewers out as a young Dr. Lecter on Hannibal. His ability to evoke both sympathy and a suspicion of otherness are particularly well deployed in Thomas Vinterberg’s very Danish The Hunt, which won Mikkelsen the Best Actor prize at Cannes last year. He plays Lucas, a lifelong small-town resident recently divorced from his son’s mother, and who currently works at the local kindergarten. One day one of his charges says something to the principal that suggests Lucas has exposed himself to her. Once the child’s misguided “confession” is made, Lucas’ boss immediately assumes the worst. She announces her assumptions at a parent-teachers meeting even before police can begin their investigation. By the time they have, the viral paranoia and suggestive “questioning” of other potential victims has created a full-on, massive pederasty scandal with no basis in truth whatsoever. The Hunt is a valuable depiction of child-abuse panic, in which there’s a collective jumping to drastic conclusions about one subject where everyone is judged guilty before being proven innocent. Its emotional engine is Lucas’ horror at the speed and extremity with which he’s ostracized by his own community — and its willingness to believe the worst about him on anecdotal evidence. Engrossing, nuanced, and twisty right up to the fade-out, The Hunt deftly questions one of our era’s defining public hysterias. (1:45) Smith Rafael. (Harvey)

Kid-Thing At last year’s Sundance Festival, Beasts of the Southern Wild rode its deserved attention all the way to the Oscars. Yet another, in some ways eerily similar Southern-wild-child tale — this latest by the Zellner Brothers, two things that are actually good about today’s Texas — was almost completely ignored. A pity, because it, too, is rather bizarre and inspired. Ten-year-old Annie (Sydney Aguirre) is a little terror running amok in the backwoods with scant-to-zero supervision by an airhead father (Nathan Zellner) much more interested in hanging with his equally dim sometime-demolition-derby-driver pal Caleb (David Zellner). Furious at a neglect she probably can’t even pinpoint as such, Annie acts out in all kinds of ways — from minor vandalism and crank calls to scaring local kids who don’t want to play with her anyway. Her clashing desire for company and resistance toward any authority reach a crisis when one day she hears a voice crying for help in the woods — an elderly woman (voiced by Susan Tyrell) has apparently fallen in a deep hole can’t get herself out of. The latter’s increasingly desperate pleas that Annie get outside assistance trigger mixed emotions in a child who’s at once sympathetic yet suspicious, because nothing in her own experience has taught her to trust adults making demands. This could have been played for grim tragic realism, but the Zellners still inject a large strain of absurdist humor even as they make Annie’s troubled psychology disturbingly vivid — greatly assisted by one helluva performance from wee Miss Aguirre (who could no doubt bring the wrath of God if circumstances necessitated). Though no one seems to be paying attention in commercial terms, these filmmakers are true originals who keep growing artistically in intriguing ways. Kid-Thing‘s belated week-long booking is one of those times when you just have to thank Zoroaster for a venue like the Roxie that’s willing to go out on a limb because a movie is just so damn interesting without necessarily being pleasant. (1:22) Roxie. (Harvey)

Lovelace We first meet Linda Boreman (Amanda Seyfried) in 1970 as a slightly prudish 21-year-old living under the thumb of her strict Catholic parents (Robert Patrick, Sharon Stone) in suburban Florida. Then she meets Chuck Traynor (Peter Sarsgaard), a titty-bar owner and all-around swinging dude who turns her on to all kinds of stuff —including the how-not-to-gag-while-giving-a-b.j. trick that would rocket her to fame two years later. The vehicle for that was Deep Throat, a crudely made XXX feature that arrived at just the right time to ignite the “porn chic” vogue and break down censorship laws. (It grossed as much as $600 million, all of which disappeared into the pockets of mob financiers.) Halfway through Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman’s film, “Linda Lovelace” is basking in the glow of celebrity at a private screening orchestrated by Hugh Hefner (James Franco). At that point, however, the movie rewinds to present the dark underside of the Traynors’ marriage, in which (according to Linda several years later) she was regularly beaten, pimped, and kept a virtual prisoner. This second narrative feature from the Oscar-winning local documentarians is a much more straightforward biopic than 2010’s Howl. Andy Bellin’s script pretty much hews to the version of events put forward by the subject’s 1980 book Ordeal — an account still disputed in parts by some former associates. After a first section that’s a savvy, lively recreation of the Me Decade’s dawn (with particular attention to the era’s garish fashions and décor), film’s latter half turns into a somewhat one-note, familiar saga of domestic abuse, escape and recovery, albeit with a few very powerful scenes. The directors have assembled a great cast, with Juno Temple, Chris Noth, Hank Azaria, Wes Bentley, Eric Roberts, Bobby Cannavale, and Chloe Sevigny all turning up (sometimes unrecognizably) in supporting roles. For a different, fully contextualized take on a watershed moment in American cultural (and sexual) history, check out Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato’s excellent 2005 documentary Inside Deep Throat. (1:32) Metreon. (Harvey)

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) SF Center. (Vizcarrondo)

Pacific Rim The fine print insists this film’s title is actually Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures Pacific Rim (no apostrophe, guys?), but that fussy studio demand flies in the face of Pacific Rim‘s pursuit of pure, dumb fun. One is tempted to picture director/co-writer Guillermo del Toro plotting out the battle scenes using action figures — Godzillas vs. Transformers is more or less what’s at play here, and play is the operative word. Sure, the end of the world seems certain, thanks to an invading race of giant “Kaiju” who’ve started to adapt to Earth’s decades-long countermeasures (giant robot suits, piloted by duos whose minds are psychically linked), but there’s far too much goofy glee here for any real panic to accumulate. Charlie Hunnam is agreeable as the wounded hunk who’s humankind’s best hope for salvation, partnered with a rookie (Rinko Kikuchi) who’s eager, for her own reasons, to kick monster butt. Unoriginal yet key supporting roles are filled by Idris Elba (solemn, ass-kicking commander); Charlie Day (goofy science type); and Ron Perlman (flashy-dressing, black-market-dealing Kaiju expert). Pacific Rim may not transcend action-movie clichés or break much new ground (drinking game idea: gulp every time there’s an obvious reference or homage, be it to Toho or Bruckheimer), but damn if it doesn’t pair perfectly with popcorn. (2:11) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness. (Eddy)

Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters (1:46) 1000 Van Ness, SF Center.

Planes Dane Cook voices a crop duster determined to prove he can do more than he was built for in Planes, the first Disney spin-off from a Pixar property. (Prior to the film’s title we see “From The World of Cars,” an indicator the film is an extension of a known universe — but also not quite from it.) And indeed, Planes resembles one of Pixar’s straight-to-DVD releases as it struggles for liftoff. Dreaming of speed, Dusty Crophopper (Cook) trains for the Wings Around the World race with his fuel-truck friend, Chug (Brad Garrett). A legacy playing Brewster McCloud and Wilbur Wright makes Stacy Keach a pitchy choice for Skipper, Dusty’s reluctant ex-military mentor. Charming cast choices buoy Planes somewhat, but those actors are feathers in a cap that hardly supports them — you watch the film fully aware of its toy potential: the race is a geography game; the planes are hobby sets; the cars will wind up. The story, about overcoming limitations, is in step with high-value parables Pixar proffers, though it feels shallower than usual. Perhaps toys are all Disney wants — although when Ishani (a sultry Priyanka Chopra) regrets an integrity-compromising choice she made in the race, and her pink cockpit lowers its eyes, you can feel Pixar leaning in. (1:32) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Shattuck. (Vizcarrondo)

Prince Avalanche It has been somewhat hard to connect the dots between David Gordon Green the abstract-narrative indie poet (2000’s George Washington, 2003’s All the Real Girls) and DGG the mainstream Hollywood comedy director (2008’s Pineapple Express, yay; 2011’s Your Highness and The Sitter, nay nay nay). But here he brings those seemingly irreconcilable personas together, and they make very sweet music indeed. Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch play two men — one a fussy, married grown-up, another a short-attention-spanned manchild — spending the summer in near-total isolation, painting yellow divider lines on recently fire-damaged Texas roads. Their very different personalities clash, and at first the tone seems more conventionally broad than that of the 2011 Icelandic minimalist-comedy (Either Way) this revamp is derived from. But Green has a great deal up his sleeve — gorgeous widescreen imagery, some inspired wordless montages, and a well-earned eventual warmth — that makes the very rare US remake that improves upon its European predecessor. (1:34) Shattuck. (Harvey)

Red 2 Are blockbusters entitled to senior moments? Even the best can fail the test — and coast along on past glories on their way to picking up their checks — as Red 2 makes the fatal error of skimping on the grunt work of basic storytelling to simply take up where the first installment on these “retired, extremely dangerous” ex-black ops killers left off. Master hitman Frank (Bruce Willis) and his girlfriend Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker) are semi-contentedly nesting in suburbia when acid-damaged cohort Marvin (John Malkovich) warns them that they’re about to get dragged back into the life. Turns out the cold war isn’t quite as iced out as we all thought, and a portable nuclear device, the brainchild of a physicist (Anthony Hopkins) once in Frank and Marvin’s care, just might be in Moscow. Good-old-days-style high jinks ensue, along with the arrival of old chums like Victoria (Helen Mirren), former flames such as Katja (Catherine Zeta-Jones), and new-gen assassins like Han (Byung-hun Lee). Plus, jet-setting, and the deaths of many, many nameless soldiers, goons, and Iranian embassy staffers (almost all played for laughs, as cued by the comic book-y intertitles). A pity that the thrown-together-ish, throwback story line — somewhat reminiscent of those trashy, starry ’60s clusters, like the original 1960 Ocean’s Eleven — lazily relies on the assumption that we care a jot about the Frank and Sarah romance (the latter now an stereotypically whiny quasi-spouse) and that Frank can essentially talk any killer into joining him out of, er, professional courtesy or basic human decency. Wasting the thoroughbred cast on hand, particularly in the form of Mirren and Hopkins, one wishes the makers had only had the professional courtesy not to phone this effort in. (1:56) Metreon. (Chun)

The Smurfs 2 (1:45) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Shattuck.

The Spectacular Now The title suggests a dreamy, fireworks-inflected celebration of life lived in the present tense, but in this depiction of a stalled-out high school senior’s last months of school, director James Ponsoldt (2012’s Smashed) opts for a more guarded, uneasy treatment. Charming, likable, underachieving, and bright enough to frustrate the adults in his corner, Sutter (Miles Teller, 2012’s Project X) has long since managed to turn aimlessness into a philosophical practice, having chosen the path of least resistance and alcohol-fueled unaccountability. His mother (Jennifer Jason Leigh), raising him solo since the departure of a father (Kyle Chandler) whose memories have acquired — for Sutter, at least — a blurry halo effect, describes him as full of both love and possible greatness, but he settles for the blessings of social fluidity and being an adept at the acquisition of beer for fellow underage drinkers. When he meets and becomes romantically involved with Aimee (Shailene Woodley), a sweet, unpolished classmate at the far reaches of his school’s social spectrum, it’s unclear whether the impact of their relationship will push him, or her, or both into a new trajectory, and the film tracks their progress with a watchful, solicitous eye. Adapted for the screen by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber (2009’s 500 Days of Summer) from a novel by Tim Tharp, The Spectacular Now gives the quirky pop cuteness of Summer a wide berth, steering straight into the heart of awkward adolescent striving and mishap. (1:35) SF Center, Shattuck, Sundance Kabuki. (Rapoport)

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) Metreon. (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) 1000 Van Ness, Shattuck. (Eddy)

Turbo It’s unclear whether the irony of coupling racing — long the purview of white southern NASCAR lovers — with an animated leap into “urban” South Central LA is lost on the makers of Turbo, but even if it is, they’re probably too busy dreaming of getting caught in the drift of Fast and Furious box office success to care much. After all, director David Soren, who came up with the original idea, digs into the main challenge — how does one make a snail’s life, before and after a certain magical makeover, at all visually compelling? — with a gusto that presumes that he’s fully aware of the delicious conundrums he’s set up for himself. Here, Theo (voiced by Ryan Reynolds) is your ordinary garden snail with big, big dreams — he wants to be a race car driver like ace Guy Gagne (Bill Hader). Those reveries threaten to distract him dangerously from his work at the plant, otherwise known as the tomato plant, in the garden where he and brother Chet (Paul Giamatti) live and toil. One day, however, Theo makes his way out of the garden and falls into the guts of a souped-up vehicle in the midst of a street race, gobbles a dose of nitrous oxide, and becomes a miraculous mini version of a high-powered race car. It takes a meeting with another dreamer, taco truck driver Tito (Michael Pena), for Theo, a.k.a. Turbo, to meet up with a crew of streetwise racing snails who overcome their physical limitations to get where they want to go (Samuel L. Jackson, Snoop Dogg, Maya Rudolph, Michael Bell). One viral video, several Snoop tracks, and one “Eye of the Tiger” remix later, the Indianapolis 500 is, amazingly, in Turbo’s headlights — though will Chet ever overcome his doubts and fears to get behind his bro? The hip-hop soundtrack, scrappy strip-mall setting, and voice cast go a long way to revving up and selling this Cinderella tall/small tale about the bottommost feeder in the food chain who dared to go big, and fast; chances are Turbo will cross over in more ways than one. (1:36) 1000 Van Ness, SF Center. (Chun)

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, Smith Rafael, Sundance Kabuki. (Chun)

2 Guns Rob a bank of cartel cash, invade a naval base, and then throw down against government heavies — you gotta expect to find a few bullet-hole-sized gaps in the play-by-play of 2 Guns. The action flick is riddled with fun-sized pleasures — usually centered on the playful banter and effortless chemistry between stars Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg — and the clever knot of a narrative throws a twist or two in, before director Baltasar Kormákur (last year’s Wahlberg vehicle Contraband) simply surrenders to the tidal pull of action. After visiting Mexican mafia kingpin Papi (Edward James Olmos) and finding the head of their contact in a bag, Bobby (Washington) and Stig (Wahlberg) decide to hit Papi where he’ll feel it: the small border bank where his men have been making drops to safe deposit boxes. Much like Bobby and Stig’s breakfast-time diner gab fest, which seems to pick up where Vincent and Jules left off in Pulp Fiction (1994), as they trade barbs, truisms, and tells, there’s more going on than simply bank robbery foreplay. Both are involved for different reasons: Bobby is an undercover DEA agent, and Stig is a masquerading navy officer. When the payout is 10 times the expected size, not only do Papi, Bobby’s contact Deb (Paula Patton), and Stig’s superior Quince (James Marsden) come calling, but so does mystery man Earl (Bill Paxton), who seems to be obsessed with following the money. We know, sort of, what’s in it for Bobby — all fully identifiable charm, as befits Washington, who makes it rain charisma with the lightest of touches. But Stig? The others? The lure of a major payday is supposed to sweep away all other loyalties, except a little bromantic bonding between two rogue sharp shooters, saddled, unfortunately, with not the sharpest of story lines. (1:49) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Sundance Kabuki. (Chun)

The Way, Way Back Duncan (Liam James) is 14, and if you remember being that age you remember the awkwardness, the ambivalence, and the confusion that went along with it. Duncan’s mother (Toni Collette) takes him along for an “important summer” with her jerky boyfriend, Trent (Steve Carell) — and despite being the least important guy at the summer cottage, Duncan’s only marginally sympathetic. Most every actor surrounding him plays against type (Rob Corddry is an unfunny, whipped husband; Allison Janney is a drunk, desperate divorcee), and since the cast is a cattle call for anyone with indie cred, you’ll wonder why they’re grouped for such a dull movie. Writer-directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash previously wrote the Oscar-winning screenplay for 2011’s The Descendants, but The Way, Way Back doesn’t match that film’s caliber of intelligent, dry wit. Cast members take turns resuscitating the movie, but only Sam Rockwell saves the day, at least during the scenes he’s in. Playing another lovable loser, Rockwell’s Owen dropped out of life and into a pattern of house painting and water-park management in the fashion of a conscientious objector. Owen is antithetical to Trent’s crappy example of manhood, and raises his water wing to let Duncan in. The short stint Duncan has working at Water Wizz is a blossoming that leads to a minor romance (with AnnaSophia Robb) and a major confrontation with Trent, some of which is affecting, but none of which will help you remember the movie after credits roll. (1:42) California, Metreon, Presidio, Sundance Kabuki. (Vizcarrondo)

We’re the Millers After weekly doses on the flat-screen of Family Guy, Modern Family, and the like, it’s about time movieland’s family comedies got a little shot of subversion — the aim, it seems, of We’re the Millers. Scruffy dealer David (Jason Sudeikis) is shambling along — just a little wistful that he didn’t grow up and climb into the Suburban with the wife, two kids, and the steady 9-to-5 because he’s a bit lonely, much like the latchkey nerd Kenny (Will Poulter) who lives in his apartment building, and neighboring stripper Rose (Jennifer Aniston), who bites his head off at the mailbox. When David tries to be upstanding and help out crust punk runaway Casey (Emma Roberts), who’s getting roughed up for her iPhone, he instead falls prey to the robbers and sinks into a world of deep doo-doo with former college bud, and supplier of bud, Brad (Ed Helms). The only solution: play drug mule and transport a “smidge and a half” of weed across the Mexican-US border. David’s supposed cover: do the smuggling in an RV with a hired crew of randoms: Kenny, Casey, and Rose&sdquo; all posing as an ordinary family unit, the Millers. Yes, it’s that much of a stretch, but the smart-ass script is good for a few chortles, and the cast is game to go there with the incest, blow job, and wife-swapping jokes. Of course, no one ever states the obvious fact, all too apparent for Bay Area denizens, undermining the premise of We’re the Millers: who says dealers and strippers can’t be parents, decent or otherwise? We may not be the Millers, but we all know families aren’t what they used to be, if they ever really managed to hit those Leave It to Beaver standards. Fingers crossed for the cineplex — maybe movies are finally catching on. (1:49) California, Four Star, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Presidio, Sundance Kabuki. (Chun)

The Wolverine James Mangold’s contribution to the X-Men film franchise sidesteps the dizzy ambition of 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine and 2011’s X-Men: First Class, opting instead for a sleek, mostly smart genre piece. This movie takes its basics from the 1982 Wolverine series by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller, a stark dramatic comic, but can’t avoid the convoluted, bad sci-fi plot devices endemic to the X-Men films. The titular mutant with the healing factor and adamantium-laced skeleton travels to Tokyo, to say farewell to a dying man who he rescued at the bombing of Nagasaki. But the dying man’s sinister oncologist has other plans, sapping Wolverine of his healing powers as he faces off against ruthless yakuza and scads of ninjas. The movie’s finest moments come when Mangold pays attention to context, taking superhero or Western movie clichés and revamping them for the modern Tokyo setting, such as a thrilling duel on top of a speeding bullet train. Another highlight: Rila Fukushima’s refreshing turn as badass bodyguard Yukio. Oh, and stay for the credits. (2:06) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Sundance Kabuki. (Sam Stander)

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) 1000 Van Ness, Sundance Kabuki. (Eddy) *