Film listings are edited by Cheryl Eddy. Reviewers are Kimberly Chun, Dennis Harvey, Lynn Rapoport, Sam Stander, and Sara Maria Vizcarrondo. For rep house showtimes, see Rep Clock.
Dallas Buyers Club See “Life’s Work.” (1:58) Embarcadero.
The Motel Life Brothers (Stephen Dorff, Emile Hirsch) go on the run after a tragic accident. Kris Kristofferson and Dakota Fanning co-star. (1:25) Roxie.
Running From Crazy Can one ever escape one’s toxic genetic legacy, especially when one’s makeup, and even one’s genius, is so entangled with mental illness, the shadow of substance abuse, and a kind of burden of history? Actor, author, healthy-living proponent, and now suicide prevention activist Mariel Hemingway seems cut out to try, as, eh, earnestly as she can, to offer up hope. Part of that involves opening the door to documentarian Barbara Kopple, in this look at the 20th century’s most infamous literary suicide, Mariel’s grandfather Ernest Hemingway, and just one of his familial threads, one full of lives cut deliberately short. For Running From Crazy, Kopple generally keeps the focus on Mariel, who displays all the disarming groundedness and humility of the youngest care-taking, “good” child. Her father, Ernest’s eldest son, Jack, regularly indulged in “wine time” with his ailing wife and, according to Mariel, had a pitch-black side of his own. But we don’t look to closely at him as the filmmaker favors the present, preferring to watch Mariel mountain climb and bicker with her stuntman boyfriend, meet up with her eldest sister Muffet, and ‘fess up about the depression that runs through the Hemingway line to her own daughters. Little is made of Mariel’s own artistic contributions in acting, though Kopple’s work is aided immeasurably by the footage Mariel’s rival middle sister Margaux shot for a documentary she planned to do on Ernest. Once the highest paid model in the world, Margaux leaves the viewer with a vivid impression of her brash, raw, eccentric, and endearingly goofy spirit — she’s courageous in her own way as she sips vino with her parents and older sister and tears up during a Spanish bull fight. Are these just first world problems for scions who never hesitated to trade on their name? Kopple is more interested in the humans behind the gloss of fame, spectacle and sensation — the women left in the wake of a literary patriarch’s monumental brand of masculinity and misogyny. And you feel like you get that here, plainly and honestly, in a way that even Papa might appreciate. (1:40) Opera Plaza, Smith Rafael. (Chun)
Spinning Plates Joseph Levy’s enjoyable documentary contrasts life at three widely disparate U.S. restaurants: the Martinez family’s modest enterprise La Cocina de Gabby, a Tucson showcase for a wife and mother’s Mexican cooking; Breitbach’s Country Dining in rural Iowa, a 151-year-old purveyor of all-American comfort food; and superstar chef Grant Achatz’s Chicago Alinea, where a 24-course meal of culinary art/science experiments can set you back $800 (yes, that’s for one diner). The latter is a global destination for serious foodies, acclaimed by the industry’s most prestigious observers. (Its nearly 24/7 supply deliveries are also a noisy nightmare for someone I know whose apartment is next door.) The teensy town that’s grown up around Breitbach’s has a population of 70; on a busy weekend, the business attracts up to 2,000, many driving long distances to get there. Yet the people we get to know the best here, the émigré Martinezes, illustrate another side of restaurant life — the side in which a majority of new eateries fail within three years, despite (as seemingly is the case at Gabby’s) all palate-pleasing, reasonable pricing and tireless labor. Tying together these three stories is … well, nothing, really, beyond some vague notion that good food is something that breeds “community.” (Yet high-ticket Alinea can hardly be said to reflect that, while Levy doesn’t actually bother interviewing any patrons to let us know whether the other two establishments’ food is anything special.) Still, and despite some rather bogus dramatic chronology-manipulation of events that happened several years ago, Spinning Plates is an entertaining sampler plate of a movie. And the Martinez family’s story lends it a bit of real gravitas. (1:32) Opera Plaza, Shattuck. (Harvey)
Thor: The Dark World The Avengers juggernaut rolls on as Thor (Chris Hemsworth) grabs his hammer for a stand-alone sequel. See review at www.sfbg.com. (2:00) Balboa, Presidio.
About Time Richard Curtis, the man behind 2003’s Love Actually, must be enjoying his days in England, rolling in large piles of money. Coinciding with the 10-year anniversary of that twee cinematic love fest comes Curtis’ latest ode to joy, About Time. The film begins in Cornwall at an idyllic stone beach house, as Tim (Domhnall Gleeson) describes his family members (Bill Nighy is dad; Richard Cordery is the crazy uncle) and their pleasures (rituals (tea on the beach, ping pong). Despite beachside bliss, Tim is lovelorn and ready to begin a career as a barrister (which feels as out of the blue as the coming first act break). Oh! And as it happens, the men in Tim’s family can travel back in time. There are no clear rules, though births and deaths are like no-trespass signs on the imaginary timeline. When he meets Mary (Rachel McAdams), he falls in love, but if he paves over his own evening by bouncing back and spending that night elsewhere, he loses the path he’s worn into the map and has to fix it. Again and again. Despite potential repetition, About Time moves smoothly, sweetly, slowly along, giving its audience time enough to feel for the characters, and then feel for the characters again, and then keep crying just because the ball’s already in motion. It’s the most nest-like catharsis any British film ever built. (2:03) Marina, SF Center, Shattuck, Sundance Kabuki. (Vizcarrondo)
All Is Lost As other reviewers have pointed out, All Is Lost‘s nearly dialogue-free script (OK, there is one really, really well-placed “Fuuuuuck!”) is about as far from J.C. Chandor’s Oscar-nominated script for 2011’s Margin Call as possible. Props to the filmmaker, then, for crafting as much pulse-pounding magic out of austerity as he did with that multi-character gabfest. Here, Robert Redford plays “Our Man,” a solo sailor whose race to survive begins along with the film, as his boat collides with a hunk of Indian Ocean detritus. Before long, he’s completely adrift, yet determined to outwit the forces of nature that seem intent on bringing him down. The 77-year-old Redford turns in a surprisingly physical performance that’s sure to be remembered as a late-career highlight. (1:46) Albany, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki. (Eddy)
Big Sur (1:21) 1000 Van Ness, Smith Rafael.
Blue is the Warmest Color The stars (Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux) say the director was brutal. The director says he wishes the film had never been released (but he might make a sequel). The graphic novelist is uncomfortable with the explicit 10-minute sex scene. And most of the state of Idaho will have to wait to see the film on Netflix. The noise of recrimination, the lesser murmur of backpedaling, and a difficult-to-argue NC-17 rating could make it harder, as French director Abdellatif Kechiche has predicted, to find a calm, neutral zone in which to watch Blue is the Warmest Color, his Palme d’Or–winning adaptation (with co-writer Ghalya Lacroix) of Julie Maroh’s 2010 graphic novel Le Blue Est une Couleur Chaude. But once you’ve committed to the three-hour runtime, it’s not too difficult to tune out all the extra noise and focus on a film that trains its mesmerized gaze on a young woman’s transforming experience of first love. (2:59) Embarcadero, Shattuck, Smith Rafael, Sundance Kabuki. (Rapoport)
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, Opera Plaza, Shattuck, Vogue. (Harvey)
Captain Phillips In 2009, Captain Richard Phillips was taken hostage by Somali pirates who’d hijacked the Kenya-bound Maersk Alabama. His subsequent rescue by Navy SEALs came after a standoff that ended in the death of three pirates; a fourth, Abduwali Abdukhadir Muse, surrendered and is serving a hefty term in federal prison. A year later, Phillips penned a book about his ordeal, and Hollywood pounced. Tom Hanks is perfectly cast as Phillips, an everyman who runs a tight ship but displays an admirable ability to improvise under pressure — and, once rescued, finally allows that pressure to diffuse in a scene of memorably raw catharsis. Newcomer Barkhad Abdi, cast from an open call among Minneapolis’ large Somali community, plays Muse; his character development goes deep enough to emphasize that piracy is one of few grim career options for Somali youths. But the real star here is probably director Paul Greengrass, who adds this suspenseful high-seas tale to his slate of intelligent, doc-inspired thrillers (2006’s United 93, 2007’s The Bourne Ultimatum). Suffice to say fans of the reigning king of fast-paced, handheld-camera action will not be disappointed. (2:14) Four Star, 1000 Van Ness, Piedmont, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki. (Eddy)
Carrie Is the world ready for a candy-covered Carrie? It’s a sad state of affairs when the best thing about a movie, particularly a wholly superfluous remake like this, is its creepy poster. That’s the closest thing this Carrie has to offer next to that retina-scorching, iconic 1976 image of blood-saturated Sissy Spacek that continues to lend inspiration to baby Billiths everywhere. Nonetheless, like a shy violet cowering in the gym showers, this Carrie comes loaded with potential, with Boys Don’t Cry (1999) director Kimberly Peirce at the helm, the casting of Julianne Moore and Chloe Grace Moretz in the critical mother-daughter roles, and the unfortunately topical bullying theme. Peirce makes a half-hearted attempt to update the, um, franchise when the tormented Carrie (a miscast Moretz) is virally videoed by spoiled rival Chris (Portia Doubleday), but the filmmaker’s heart — and guts — aren’t in this pointless exercise. We speed through the buildup — which unconvincingly sets up Carrie’s torments at home, instigated by obviously mentally ill, Christian fundamentalist mom Margaret (Moore), and at school, where the PE teacher (Judy Greer) pep-talks Carrie and Sue Snell (Gabriella White) is mysteriously hellbent on paying penance for her bullying misdeeds — to the far-from-scary denouement. Let’s say mean-spirited reflexive revenge-taking is no real substitute for true horror and shock. Supposedly drawn to Carrie for its female-empowerment message, Peirce nevertheless isn’t cut out to wade into horror’s crimson waters — especially when one compares this weak rendition with Brian De Palma’s double-screen brio and high-camp Freudian passion play. (1:32) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Shattuck. (Chun)
Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 (1:35) Metreon.
The Counselor The reviews are in, and it’s clear Ridley Scott has made the most polarizing film of the season. Most of The Counselor‘s detractors blame Cormac McCarthy’s screenplay, the acclaimed author’s first that isn’t drawn from a prexisting novel. To date, the best film made from a McCarthy tale is 2007’s No Country for Old Men, and The Counselor trawls in similar border-noir genre trappings in its tale of a sleek, greedy lawyer (Michael Fassbender) who gets in way over his head after a drug deal (entered into with slippery compadres played by Brad Pitt and Javier Bardem) goes wrong. Yes, there are some problems here, with very few unexpected twists in a downbeat story that’s laden with overlong monologues, most of them delivered by random characters that appear, talk, and are never seen again. But some of those speeches are doozies — and haters are overlooking The Counselor‘s sleazy pleasures (many of which are supplied by Cameron Diaz’s fierce, feline femme fatale) and attention to grimy detail. One suspects cult appreciation awaits. (1:57) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Sundance Kabuki. (Eddy)
Diana The final years of Diana, Princess of Wales are explored in what’s essentially a classed-up Lifetime drama, delving into the on-off romance between “the most famous woman in the world” (Naomi Watts) and heart surgeon Hasnat Khan (Naveen Andrews). Relationship roadblocks (his Muslim family, back home in Pakistan, is hesistant to accept a divorced, Christian Brit as their son’s partner) are further complicated by extraordinary circumstances (Diana’s fame, which leads to paparazzi intrusions on the very private doctor’s life), but there’s real love between the two, which keeps them returning to each other again and again. By the third or fourth tearful breakup — followed by a passionate reunion — Diana‘s story becomes repetitive as it marches toward its inevitable tragic end. Still, director Oliver Hirschbiegel (2004’s Downfall, another last-days-in-the-life biopic, albeit of a slightly different nature) includes some light-hearted moments, as when a giggling Diana smuggles Hasnat through the palace gates (past guards who know exactly what she’s up to). As you’d expect, Watts is the best thing here, bringing warmth and complexity to a performance that strives to reach beyond imitation. (1:52) SF Center. (Eddy)
Don Jon Shouldering the duties of writer, director, and star for the comedy Don Jon, Joseph Gordon-Levitt has also picked up a broad Jersey accent, the physique of a gym rat, and a grammar of meathead posturing — verbal, physical, and at times metaphysical. His character, Jon, is the reigning kingpin in a triad of nightclubbing douchebags who pass their evenings assessing their cocktail-sipping opposite numbers via a well-worn one-to-10 rating system. Sadly for pretty much everyone involved, Jon’s rote attempts to bed the high-scorers are spectacularly successful — the title refers to his prowess in the art of the random hookup — that is, until he meets an alluring “dime” named Barbara (Scarlett Johansson), who institutes a waiting period so foreign to Jon that it comes to feel a bit like that thing called love. Amid the well-earned laughs, there are several repulsive-looking flies in the ointment, but the most conspicuous is Jon’s stealthy addiction to Internet porn, which he watches at all hours of the day, but with a particularly ritualistic regularity after each night’s IRL conquest has fallen asleep. These circumstances entail a fair amount of screen time with Jon’s O face and, eventually, after a season of growth — during which he befriends an older woman named Esther (Julianne Moore) and learns about the existence of arty retro Swedish porn — his “Ohhh&ldots;” face. Driven by deft, tight editing, Don Jon comically and capably sketches a web of bad habits, and Gordon-Levitt steers us through a transformation without straining our capacity to recognize the character we met at the outset — which makes the clumsy over-enunciations that mar the ending all the more jarring. (1:30) Elmwood, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness. (Rapoport)
Ender’s Game Those entering Ender’s Game in search of homophobic threads or politically unsavory themes will likely be frustrated. After all, Orson Scott Card — once a board member of the National Organization for Marriage, and here serving as a producer intent on preserving the 1985 novel that netted him acclaim — has revisited what was initially a short story multiple times over the years, tweaking it to reflect a new political climate, to ready it for new expedient uses. Who knows — the times are a-changin’ fast enough, with the outcry of LGBT activists and the growing acceptance of gay military members, to hope that a gay character might enter the mix someday. Of course, sexuality of all sorts is kept firmly in check in the Ender‘s world. Earth has been invaded by an insect-like species called the Formics, and the planet unifies to serve up its best and brightest (and, it’s implied, most ruthless) young minds, sharpened on first-person-shooters and tactical games, to the cause of defeating the alien “other.” Andrew “Ender” Wiggin (Asa Butterfield) is the knowing hybrid of his sociopath brother Peter (Jimmy Pinchak) and compassionate sister Valentine (Abigail Breslin) — of the trinity, he’s “the One,” as Han Solo, I mean, Harrison Ford, cadet talent-spotter and trainer Colonel Graff, puts it. Ender impresses the leather off the hardened old war horse, though the Colonel’s psychologically more equipped cohort Major Anderson (Viola Davis) suspects there’s more going on within their chosen leader. Director-screenwriter Gavin Hood demonstrates his allegiance to Card’s vision, valorizing the discipline and teamwork instilled by military school with the grim purpose and dead serious pleasure one might take in studying a well-oiled machine, while Ender is sharpened and employed as a stunningly effective tool in a war he never truly conceived of. This game has a bit more in common with the recent Wii-meets-Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Godzillas of Pacific Rim than the winking, acidic satire of Starship Troopers (1997), echoing a drone-driven War on Terror that has a way of detaching even the most evolved fighter from the consequences of his or her actions. The question is how to undo, or rewrite, the damage done. (1:54) 1000 Van Ness, Presidio, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki. (Chun)
Enough Said Eva (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) is a divorced LA masseuse who sees naked bodies all day but has become pretty wary of wanting any in her bed at night. She reluctantly changes her mind upon meeting the also-divorced Albert (James Gandolfini), a television archivist who, also like her, is about to see his only child off to college. He’s no Adonis, but their relationship develops rapidly — the only speed bumps being provided by the many nit-picking advisors Eva has in her orbit, which exacerbate her natural tendency toward glass-half-empty neurosis. This latest and least feature from writer-director Nicole Holofcener is a sitcom-y thing of the type that expects us to find characters all the more adorable the more abrasive and self-centered they are. That goes for Louis-Dreyfus’ annoying heroine as well as such wasted talents as Toni Colette as her kvetching best friend and Catherine Keener as a new client turned new pal so bitchy it makes no sense Eva would desire her company. The only nice person here is Albert, whom the late Gandolfini makes a charming, low-key teddy bear in an atypical turn. The revelation of an unexpected past tie between his figure and Keener’s puts Eva in an ethically disastrous position she handles dismally. In fact, while it’s certainly not Holofcener’s intention, Eva’s behavior becomes so indefensible that Enough Said commits rom-com suicide: The longer it goes on, the more fervently you hope its leads will not end up together. (1:33) Albany, Piedmont. (Harvey)
Escape Plan It’s fascinating how ruined faces and silvered goatees can lend an air of, uh, gravitas to even the most muscle-bound action-movie veterans. The logic: Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger have been around so long that they must possess more than a few brain cells to rub together. And rub they do — to surprisingly pleasing effect in this cut-above-the-next-Expendables-sequel meeting of blockbuster behemoths. Stallone’s Ray Breslin is a prison security specialist so nerdily devoted to his work that he gets himself locked up to test his clients’ jails. He gets in over his head when he’s thrown into the most secure private prison in the world, which happens to be run by former Blackwater mercenaries. It’s essentially the next, rather permanent-looking step after your not-so-friendly rendition flight. Breslin befriends security man Rottmayer (Schwarzenegger), who’s in the clink on behalf of his “digital Robin Hood” boss. Menaced by warden Hobbs (Jim Caviezel) and brawny Drake (Vinnie Jones), the two prisoners kick off a changeable game, Muslim prisoner Javed (Faran Tahir) in tow. Director Mikael Håfström lays out the plans with geeky enthusiasm by way of zippy point-of-view shots that are supposed to let you into Breslin’s noggin. Shockingly, after Stallone’s recent brain-dead exercises (2012’s Bullet to the Head), it’s not an unhappy experience in this smarter-than-it-looks post-9/11 prison-break drama that wears its complicated feelings about War on Terror-era crime and punishment — and torture — on its sleeve. Still, matters never get too bleeding-heart liberal here, at the risk of alienating the stars’ audiences. Sly obviously embraces this opportunity to play smarter than usual, while the ex-Governator sinks his choppers into his role with glee, trotting out a Commando-style slo-mo gun-swinging move that will have his geek brigade cheering. (1:56) SF Center. (Chun)
Free Birds (1:31) Elmwood, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness.
God Loves Uganda Most contemporary Americans don’t know much about Uganda — that is, beyond Forest Whitaker’s Oscar-winning performance as Idi Amin in 2006’s The Last King of Scotland. Though that film took some liberties with the truth, it did effectively convey the grotesque terrors of the dictator’s 1970s reign. But even decades post-Amin, the East African nation has somehow retained its horrific human-rights record. For example: what extremist force was behind the country’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which proposed the death penalty as punishment for gayness? The answer might surprise you, or not. As the gripping, fury-fomenting doc God Loves Uganda reveals, America’s own Christian Right has been exporting hate under the guise of missionary work for some time. Taking advantage of Uganda’s social fragility — by building schools and medical clinics, passing out food, etc. — evangelical mega churches, particularly the Kansas City, Mo.-based, breakfast-invoking International House of Prayer, have converted large swaths of the population to their ultra-conservative beliefs. Filmmaker Roger Ross Williams, an Oscar winner for 2010 short Music by Prudence, follows naive “prayer warriors” as they journey to Uganda for the first time; his apparent all-access relationship with the group shows that they aren’t outwardly evil people — but neither do they comprehend the very real consequences of their actions. His other sources, including two Ugandan clergymen who’ve seen their country change for the worse and an LGBT activist who lives every day in peril, offer a more harrowing perspective. Evocative and disturbing, God Loves Uganda seems likely to earn Williams more Oscar attention. (1:23) Roxie. (Eddy)
Gravity “Life in space is impossible,” begins Gravity, the latest from Alfonso Cuarón (2006’s Children of Men). Egghead Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is well aware of her precarious situation after a mangled satellite slams into her ship, then proceeds to demolition-derby everything (including the International Space Station) in its path. It’s not long before she’s utterly, terrifyingly alone, and forced to unearth near-superhuman reserves of physical and mental strength to survive. Bullock’s performance would be enough to recommend Gravity, but there’s more to praise, like the film’s tense pacing, spare-yet-layered script (Cuarón co-wrote with his son, Jonás), and spectacular 3D photography — not to mention George Clooney’s warm supporting turn as a career astronaut who loves country music almost as much as he loves telling stories about his misadventures. (1:31) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Presidio, Sundance Kabuki. (Eddy)
Inequality for All Jacob Kornbluth’s Inequality for All is the latest and certainly not the last documentary to explore why the American Dream is increasingly out of touch with everyday reality, and how the definition of “middle class” somehow morphed from “comfortable” to “struggling, endangered, and hanging by a thread.” This lively overview has an ace up its sleeve in the form of the director’s friend, collaborator, and principal interviewee Robert Reich — the former Clinton-era Secretary of Labor, prolific author, political pundit, and UC Berkeley Professor of Public Policy. Whether he’s holding forth on TV, going one-on-one with Kornbluth’s camera, talking to disgruntled working class laborers, or engaging students in his Wealth and Poverty class, Inequality is basically a resourcefully illustrated Reich lecture — as the press notes put it, “an Inconvenient Truth for the economy.” Fortunately, the diminutive Reich is a natural comedian as well as a superbly cogent communicator, turning yet another summary of how the system has fucked almost everybody (excluding the one percent) into the one you might most want to recommend to the bewildered folks back home. He’s sugar on the pill, making it easier to swallow so much horrible news. (1:25) California. (Harvey)
Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa (1:32) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness.
Kill Your Darlings Relieved to escape his Jersey home, dominated by the miseries of an oft-institutionalized mother (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and long-suffering father (David Cross), Allen Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe) enters Columbia University in 1944 as a freshman already interested in the new and avant-garde. He’s thus immediately enchanted by bad-boy fellow student Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan), a veteran of numerous prestigious schools and well on the road to getting kicked out of this one. Charismatic and reckless, Carr has a circle of fellow eccentrics buzzing around him, including dyspeptic William S. Burroughs (Ben Foster) and merchant marine wild child Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston). Variably included in or ostracized from this training ground for future Beat luminaries is the older David Kammerer (Michael C. Hall), a disgraced former academic who’d known Carr since the latter was 14, and followed him around with pathetic, enamored devotion. It’s this last figure’s apparent murder by Carr that provides the bookending crux of John Krokidas’ impressive first feature, a tragedy whose motivations and means remain disputed. Partly blessed by being about a (comparatively) lesser-known chapter in an overexposed, much-mythologized history, Kill Your Darlings is easily one of the best dramatizations yet of Beat lore, with excellent performances all around. (Yes, Harry Potter actually does pass quite well as a somewhat cuter junior Ginsberg.) It’s sad if somewhat inevitable that the most intriguing figure here — Hall’s hapless, lovelorn stalker-slash-victim — is the one that remains least knowable to both the film and to the ages. (1:40) SF Center, Shattuck. (Harvey)
Last Vegas This buddy film may look like a Bucket List-Hangover hybrid, but it’s got a lot more Spring Breakers in it than you expect — who beats Vegas for most bikinis per capita? Four old friends reunite for a wedding in Vegas, where they drink, gamble, and are confused for legendary men. Morgan Freeman sneaks out of his son’s house to go. Kevin Kline’s wife gave him a hall pass to regain his lost sense of fun. Kline and Freeman trick Robert De Niro into going — he’s got a grudge against Michael Douglas, so why celebrate that jerk’s nuptials to a 30-year-old? The conflicts are mostly safe and insubstantial, but the in-joke here is that all of these acting legends are confused for legends by their accidentally obtained VIP host (Romany Malco). These guys have earned their stature, so what gives? When De Niro flings fists you shudder inside remembering Jake LaMotta. Kline’s velvety comic delivery is just as swaggery as it was during his 80s era collaborations with Lawrence Kasdan. Douglas is “not as charming as he thinks he is,” yet again, and voice-of-God Freeman faces a conflict specific to paternal protective urges. Yes, Last Vegas jokes about the ravages of age and prescribes tenacity for all that ails us, but I want a cast this great celebrated at least as obviously as The Expendables films. Confuse these guys for better? Show me who. (1:44) Four Star, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Presidio. (Vizcarrondo)
Man of Tai Chi (1:45) Metreon.
Muscle Shoals Hard on the heels of Dave Grohl’s Sound City comes another documentary about a legendary American recording studio. Located in the titular podunk Northern Alabama burg, Fame Studio drew an extraordinary lineup of musicians and producers to make fabled hits from the early 1960s through the early ’80s. Among them: Percy Sledge’s “When a Man Loves a Woman,” a slew of peak era Aretha Franklin smashes, the Rolling Stones’ “Brown Sugar,” and those cornerstones of Southern rock, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Freebird” and “Sweet Home Alabama.” Tales of how particular tracks came about are entertaining, especially when related by the still-lively likes of Etta James, Wilson Pickett, and Keith Richards. (Richards is a hoot, while surprisingly Mick Jagger doesn’t have much to say.) Director Greg Camalier’s feature can be too worshipful and digressive at times, and he’s skittish about probing fallouts between Fame’s founder Rick Hall and some long-term collaborators (notably the local in-house session musicians known as the Swampers who were themselves a big lure for many artists, and who left Fame to start their own successful studio). Still, there’s enough fascinating material here — also including a lot of archival footage — that any music fan whose memory or interest stretches back a few decades will find much to enjoy. (1:51) Opera Plaza, Shattuck. (Harvey)
12 Years a Slave Pop culture’s engagement with slavery has always been uneasy. Landmark 1977 miniseries Roots set ratings records, but the prestigious production capped off a decade that had seen some more questionable endeavors, including 1975 exploitation flick Mandingo — often cited by Quentin Tarantino as one of his favorite films; it was a clear influence on his 2012 revenge fantasy Django Unchained, which approached its subject matter in a manner that paid homage to the Westerns it riffed on: with guns blazing. By contrast, Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave is nuanced and steeped in realism. Though it does contain scenes of violence (deliberately captured in long takes by regular McQueen collaborator Sean Bobbitt, whose cinematography is one of the film’s many stylistic achievements), the film emphasizes the horrors of “the peculiar institution” by repeatedly showing how accepted and ingrained it was. Slave is based on the true story of Solomon Northup, an African American man who was sold into slavery in 1841 and survived to pen a wrenching account of his experiences. He’s portrayed here by the powerful Chiwetel Ejiofor. Other standout performances come courtesy of McQueen favorite Michael Fassbender (as Epps, a plantation owner who exacerbates what’s clearly an unwell mind with copious amounts of booze) and newcomer Lupita Nyong’o, as a slave who attracts Epps’ cruel attentions. (2:14) California, Embarcadero, Marina, Piedmont, Sundance Kabuki. (Eddy)
Wadjda Hijabs, headmistresses, and errant fathers fall away before the will and wherewithal of the 11-year-old title character of Wadjda, the first feature by a female Saudi Arabian filmmaker. Director Haifaa al-Mansour’s own story — which included filming on the streets of Riyadh from the isolation of a van because she couldn’t work publicly with the men in the crew — is the stuff of drama, and it follows that her movie lays out, in the neorealist style of 1948’s The Bicycle Thief, the obstacles to freedom set in the path of women and girls in Saudi Arabia, in terms that cross cultural, geographic, and religious boundaries. The fresh star setting the course is Wadjda (first-time actor Waad Mohammed), a smart, irrepressibly feisty girl practically bursting out of her purple high-tops and intent on racing her young neighborhood friend Abudullah (Abdullrahman Algohani) on a bike. So many things stand in her way: the high price of bicycles and the belief that girls will jeopardize their virginity if they ride them; her distracted mother (Reem Abdullah) who’s worried that Wadjda’s father will take a new wife who can bear him a son; and a harsh, elegant headmistress (Ahd) intent on knuckling down on girlish rebellion. So Wadjda embarks on studying for a Qu’ran recital competition to win money for her bike and in the process learns a matter or two about discipline — and the bigger picture. Director al-Mansour teaches us a few things about her world as well — and reminds us of the indomitable spirit of girls — with this inspiring peek behind an ordinarily veiled world. (1:37) Opera Plaza, Shattuck. (Chun)
Zaytoun It’s 1982 in war-torn Beirut, and on the semi-rare occasion that streetwise 12-year-old Palestinian refugee Fahed (Abdallah El Akal) attends school, he’s faced with an increasing number of empty desks, marked by photos of the dead classmates who used to sit there. His own father is killed in an air strike as Zaytoun begins. When an Israeli pilot (Stephen Dorff — a surprising casting choice, but not a bad one) is shot down and becomes a PLO prisoner, Fahed’s feelings of hatred give way to curiosity, and he agrees to help the man escape back to Israel, so long as he brings Fahed, who’s intent on planting his father’s olive sapling in his family’s former village, along. It’s not an easy journey, and a bond inevitably forms — just as problems inevitably ensue when they reach the border. Israeli director Eran Riklis (2008’s Lemon Tree) avoids sentimentality in this tale that nonetheless travels a pretty predictable path. (1:50) Smith Rafael. (Eddy) *