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.
Ain’t Them Bodies Saints See “Lone Stars.” (1:45) California, Smith Rafael.
Austenland Jane (Keri Russell) is a Jane Austen fanatic who finds real-life modern romance highly lacking as compared to the fictive Regency Era variety — though having a life-sized cutout of Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy in her bedroom surely didn’t help recent relationships. After yet another breakup, she decides to live her fantasy by flying to England to vacation at the titular theme park-fantasy role play establishment, where guests and staff meticulously act out Austen-like scenarios of well-dressed upper class leisure and chaste courtship. Upon arriving, however, Jane discovers she’s very much a second-class citizen here, not having been able to afford the “platinum premium” package purchased by fellow guests. Thus cast by imperious proprietor Mrs. Wattlesbrook (Jane Seymour) as the unmarriageable “poor relation,” she gets more flirtatious vibes from the actor cast as sexy stable boy (Bret McKenzie) than the one playing a quasi-Darcy (JJ Feild), at least initially. Adapting Shannon Hale’s novel, Jerusha Hess (making her directorial bow after several collaborations with husband Jared Hess, of 2004’s Napoleon Dynamite) has delightfully kitsch set and costume designs and a generally sweet-natured tone somewhat let down by the very broad, uninspired humor. Even wonderful Jennifer Coolidge can’t much elevate the routine writing as a cheerfully vulgar Yank visitor. The rich potential to cleverly satirize all things Austen is missed. Still, the actors are charming and the progress lively enough to make Austenland harmless if flyweight fun. (1:37) Albany, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki. (Harvey)
Cutie and the Boxer See “Scenes from a Marriage.” (1:22) Opera Plaza, Shattuck.
Long Distance Revolutionary: A Journey with Mumia Abu-Jamal Or, almost everything you ever wanted to know about the guy who inspired all those “Free Mumia” rallies, though Abu-Jamal’s status as a cause célèbre has become somewhat less urgent since his death sentence — for killing a Philadelphia police officer in 1981 — was commuted to life without parole in 2012. Stephen Vittoria’s doc assembles an array of heavy hitters (Alice Walker, Giancarlo Esposito, Cornel West, Angela Davis, Emory Douglas) to discuss Abu-Jamal’s life, from his childhood in Philly’s housing projects, to his teenage political awakening with the Black Panthers, to his career as a popular radio journalist — aided equally by his passion for reporting and his mellifluous voice. Now, of course, he’s best-known for the influential, eloquent books he’s penned since his 1982 incarceration, and for the worldwide activists who’re either convinced of his innocence or believe he didn’t receive a fair trial (or both). All worthy of further investigation, but Long Distance Revolutionary is overlong, fawning, and relentlessly one-sided — ultimately, a tiresome combination. (2:00) Roxie. (Eddy)
The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones Lily Collins stars as a teen who discovers her supernatural powers in this adaptation of Cassandra Clare’s YA fantasy novel. (2:00) Shattuck.
The World’s End The final film in Edgar Wright’s “Blood and Ice Cream Trilogy” finally arrives, and the TL:DR version is that while it’s not as good as 2004’s sublime zombie rom-com Shaun of the Dead, it’s better than 2007’s cops vs. serial killers yarn Hot Fuzz. That said, it’s still funnier than anything else in theaters lately. Simon Pegg returns to star and co-write (with Wright); this time, the script’s sinister bugaboo is an invasion of body snatchers — though (as usual) the conflict is really about the perils of refusing to actually become an adult, the even-greater perils of becoming a boring adult, and the importance of male friendships. Pegg plays rumpled fuck-up Gary, determined to reunite with the best friends he’s long since alienated for one more crack at their hometown’s “alcoholic mile,” a pub crawl that ends at the titular beer joint. The easy chemistry between Pegg and the rest of the cast (Nick Frost, Paddy Considine, Martin Freeman, and Eddie Marsan) elevates what’s essentially a predictable “one crazy night” tale, with a killer soundtrack of 1990s tunes, slang you’ll adopt for your own posse (“Let’s Boo-Boo!”), and enough hilarious fight scenes to challenge This is the End to a bro-down of apocalyptic proportions. (1:49) (Eddy)
You’re Next The hit of the 2011 Toronto Film Festival’s midnight section — and one that’s taken its sweet time getting to theaters — indie horror specialist (2010’s A Horrible Way to Die, 2007’s Pop Skull, 2012’s V/H/S) Adam Wingard’s feature isn’t really much more than a gussied-up slasher. But it’s got vigor, and violence, to spare. An already uncomfortable anniversary reunion for the wealthy Davison clan plus their children’s spouses gets a lot more so when dinner is interrupted by an arrow that sails through a window, right into someone’s flesh. Immediately a full on siege commences, with family members reacting with various degrees of panic, selfishness. and ingenuity, while an unknown number of animal-masked assailants prowl outside (and sometimes inside). Clearly fun for its all-star cast and crew of mumblecore-indie horror staples, yet preferring gallows’ humor to wink-wink camp, it’s a (very) bloody good ride. (1:36) (Harvey)
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) Smith Rafael. (Eddy)
Adjust Your Tracking: The Untold Story of the VHS Collector Dan M. Kinem and Levi Peretic’s documentary peeks into the tidy lairs of borderline hoarders (all horror and genre fans) who oversee their massive VHS collections with a mixture of pride, good-natured defensiveness, and culty spirit. A few celebrities drop by (Troma’s Lloyd Kaufman admits he prefers DVDs “because of the extras”), but this is mostly regular-dude turf, with a home-video history lesson (“Blockbuster ruined it for everybody”) mixed into the nostalgia. High points include extended discussions of “VHS covers that lie to you,” as in, when box artwork promises wonders that aren’t actually in the film; and of Tales from the Quadead Zone, a (terrible) film so exquisitely rare it sparked an eBay bidding war and inspired at least one tattoo. (1:24) Balboa. (Eddy)
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)
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) Vogue. (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) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness. (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) SF Center. (Vizcarrondo)
Drug War The sleek, gloomy Drug War is the latest from Hong Kong’s Johnnie To — a director who needs no introduction for fans of his prolific output (2001’s Fulltime Killer, 2005’s Election, 2006’s Exiled, 2009’s Vengeance). Unlike To’s previous crime dramas, Drug War was shot in mainland China, where heavy-handed censors rule. According to the film’s press notes, To decided “nobody will disagree with the idea of arresting drug dealers,” particularly in a country fond of imposing death sentences for drug-related offenses. The tactic appears to have worked, since this thing’s dripping with vicious shootouts — even as it subtly points out China’s surveillance-state abundance of CCTV cameras, and examines how just far criminals will go to avoid those draconian punishments. Timmy Choi (Louis Koo), for one, is terrified of execution. Busted for manufacturing meth after his factory explodes, Timmy runs up against Captain Zhang (Sun Honglei), a no-nonsense drug cop who reluctantly takes on a new informant with the goal of busting a kingpin higher up the cartel’s chain of command. Timmy’s a slippery character whose motivations remain murky right up until the last act; it’s all Zhang can do to keep up, which he does for the most part. In one incredible sequence, the cop pretends to be Chang, a taciturn junkie accompanying Timmy for a meeting with the flashy “Haha,” named for his staccato laugh. With a quick wardrobe change and seconds to spare, Zhang then morphs into Haha to meet with the real Chang. In the process, tiny cameras are deployed, drugs are snorted, and loyalties are stretched razor-thin. It’s a tour de force — yet remarkably unforced — moment for both actor and director. (1:45) Metreon. (Eddy)
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, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Sundance Kabuki. (Eddy)
Europa Report Directed by Ecuador’s Sebastián Cordero (2004’s Crónicas), deep-space tale Europa Report benefits from its interesting international cast, including Michael Nyqvist (Mikael Blomkvist in the Swedish Girl With a Dragon Tattoo series); Romanian Anamaria Marinca (2007’s 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days); Bay Area-born Daniel Wu, who’s a megastar in Hong Kong; and South African Sharlto Copley, also in concurrent sci-fi release Elysium. Together, they comprise the bulk of a crew crammed into an elegant ship bound for Europa, a moon of Jupiter that may have water — and therefore, life — beneath its icy surface. These journeys never end well, do they? As we’re told by grim-faced Dr. Unger (Embeth Davidtz), what we’re watching has been pieced together from “recently declassified footage” — and yes, that makes Europa Report yet another “found-footage” movie. At this point, it’s a stale way to tell a story, though it’s mostly plausible in this case; time-stamped scenes are cut together from multiple cameras mounted aboard the spacecraft, plus some astronaut helmet-cam shots. From the start, we know the mission is doomed. But even if its conclusion is a little abrupt and dissatisfying, at least Europa Report heaps on the claustrophobic atmosphere while rocketing toward the inevitable. (1:30) Opera Plaza. (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) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, 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) 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) Castro. (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)
In a World… (1:33) Sundance Kabuki.
Jobs With the upcoming Aaron Sorkin adaptation of Walter Isaacson’s biography nipping at its heels, Jobs feels like a quickie — true to Silicon Valley form, someone realized that the first to ship can end up defining the market. But as this independent biopic goes for each easy cliché and facile cinematic device, you can practically hear Steve Jobs himself spinning in the ether somewhere. Ashton Kutcher as Jobs lectures us over and over again about the virtues of quality product, but little seemed to have penetrated director Joshua Michael Stern as he distracts with a schmaltzy score (he should have stuck to Bob Dylan, Joe Walsh, and era-defining AOR), and relies on corny slow-motion to dramatize the passing of a circuit board. The fact that Kutcher might be the best thing here — he clearly throws himself into impersonating the Apple icon, from his intense, upward-glancing glare to his hand gestures — says a bit about the film itself, as it coasts on its self-made man-captain of enterprise narrative arc. Dispensing with much about the man Jobs became outside of Apple, apart from a few nods to his unsavory neglect of friends and offspring, and simply never acknowledging his work at, say, Pixar, Jobs, in the end, comes off as a lengthy infomercial for the Cupertino heavyweight. (2:02) 1000 Van Ness, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki. (Chun)
Kick-Ass 2 Even an ass-kicking subversive take on superherodom runs the risk of getting its rump tested, toasted, roasted — and found wanting. Too bad the exhilaratingly smarty-pants, somewhat mean-spirited Kick-Ass (2010), the brighter spot in a year of superhero-questioning flicks (see also: Super), has gotten sucker-punched in all the most predictable ways in its latest incarnation. Dave, aka Kick-Ass (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), and Mindy, otherwise known as Hit-Girl (Chloë Grace Moretz), are only half-heartedly attempting to live normal lives: they’re training on the sly, mostly because Mindy’s new guardian, Detective Marcus Williams (Morris Chestnut), is determined to restore her childhood. Little does he realize that Mindy only comes alive when she pretends she’s battling ninjas at cheerleader tryouts — or is giving her skills a workout by unhanding, literally and gleefully, a robber. Kick-Ass is a little unnerved by her semi-psychotic enthusiasm for crushing bad guys, but he’s crushing, too, on Mindy, until Marcus catches her in the Hit-Girl act and grounds her in real life, where she has to deal with some really nasty characters: the most popular girls in school. So Kick-Ass hooks up with a motley team of would-be heroes inspired by his example, led Colonel Stars and Stripes (an almost unrecognizable Jim Carrey), while old frenemy Chris, aka Red Mist (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) begins to find his real calling — as a supervillain he dubs the Motherfucker — and starts to assemble his own gang of baddies. Unlike the first movie, which passed the whip-smart wisecracks around equally, Mintz-Plasse and enabler-bodyguard Javier (John Leguizamo) get most of the choice lines here. Otherwise, the vigilante action gets pretty grimly routine, in a roof-battling, punch-’em-up kind of way. A romance seems to be budding between our two young superfriends, but let’s skip part three — I’d rather read about it in the funny pages. (1:43) 1000 Van Ness, SF Center. (Chun)
Lee Daniels’ The Butler (1:53) Balboa, 1000 Van Ness, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki.
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)
Paranoia (1:46) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness.
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. (Vizcarrondo)
Portrait of Jason Nearly half a century ago, Shirley Clarke’s documentary “portrait” of one rather flaming real-life personality — not just gay, but African American, too — seemed unprecedentedly exotic. The latest in Milestone Films’ “Project Shirley” series of restored Clarke re-releases, Portrait of Jason can’t be experienced that way now. Any surviving exoticism is now related to the subject’s defining a certain pre Stonewall camp persona, and the movie’s reflecting a 1960s cinema vérité style of which its director was a major proponent. The setup couldn’t be simpler: we spend 12 hours in the company of Jason Holliday, née Aaron Payne. Or rather, Clarke and her then-partner, actor Carl Lee, spend those hours — from 9 pm to 9 am — with Jason, while we get a 107-minute distillation. Nattily attired, waving a cigarette around while downing an epic lineup of cocktails, Jason is a natural performer who relishes this filmic showcase as “my moment.” No matter what, he says, he will now “have one beautiful something that is my own.” At first Clarke and Lee simply let him riff, prompting him to speak calculated outrages they’ve probably already heard. (“What do you do for a living, Jason?” “I’m a … I’m a stone whore. And I’m not ashamed of it.”) He’s indeed the life of his own party — increasingly smashed as wee hours encroach in Clarke’s Chelsea Hotel room — but there’s a certain desperation to this act that she and particularly Lee eventually pounce on. “Nervous and guilty and simple as I am,” Jason’s braggadocio camouflages a self-loathing he’s just as willing to expose. When actual tears-of-a-clown are shed, the filmmakers seem cruel. Still, the “portrait” is incomplete — Clarke and Lee don’t press their subject to explicate the past spousal abuse, suicide attempt, and “nuthouse” and jail stays he drops into conversation as casually as he mentions a friendship with Miles Davis. (1:47) Roxie. (Harvey)
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) Roxie. (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.
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, Sundance Kabuki. (Rapoport)
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. (Eddy)
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) Smith Rafael. (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. (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) Metreon, 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) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, 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) *