Film listings

Pub date December 15, 2009
SectionFilm Reviews

Film listings are edited by Cheryl Eddy. Reviewers are Kimberly Chun, Michelle Devereaux, Max Goldberg, Dennis Harvey, Johnny Ray Huston, Louis Peitzman, Lynn Rapoport, Ben Richardson, Matt Sussman, and Laura Swanbeck. The film intern is Fernando F. Croce. For rep house showtimes, see Rep Clock. For first-run showtimes, see Movie Guide.


Avatar Special effects master and woeful screenplay-penner James Cameron returns, for better and worse. (2:42)

Broken Embraces Pedro Almodóvar has always dabbled in the Hitchcockian tropes of uxoricide, betrayal, and double-identity, but with Broken Embraces he has attained a polyglot, if slightly mimicking, fluency with the language of Hollywood noir. A story within a story and a movie within a movie, Embraces begins in the present day with middle-aged Catalan Harry Caine (Lluís Homar), a blind screenwriter who takes time between his successful writing career to seduce and bed young women sympathetic to his disability. "Everything’s already happened to me," he explains to his manager, Judit (Blanca Portillo). "All that’s left is to enjoy life." But this life of empty pleasures is brought to a sudden halt when local business magnate Ernesto Martel (José Luis Gómez) has died; soon after, Ernesto Jr. (Rubén Ochandiano), who has renamed himself Ray X, visits Caine with an unusual request. The action retreats 14 years when Caine was a young (and visually abled) director named Mateo Blanco; he encounters a breathtaking femme fatale, Lena (Penelope Cruz) — an actress-turned-prostitute named Severine, turned secretary-turned-trophy wife of Ernesto Martel — when she appears to audition for his latest movie. If all of the narrative intricacies and multiplicitous identities in Broken Embraces appear a bit intimidating at first glance, it is because this is the cinema of Almodóvar taken to a kind of generic extreme. As with all of the director’s post-’00 films, which are often referred to as Almodóvar’s "mature" pictures, there is a microscopic attention to narrative development combined with a frenzied sub-plotting of nearly soap-operatic proportions. But, in Embraces, formalism attains such prominence that one might speculate the director is simply going through the motions. The effect is a purposely loquacious and overly-dramatized performance that pleasures itself as much by setting up the plot as unraveling it. For the complete version of this review, visit (2:08) Clay. (Erik Morse)

Did You Hear About the Morgans? A married couple (Hugh Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker) move from Manhattan to a small town after witnessing a murder. (1:48)

In Search of Beethoven After the success of his In Search of Mozart, director Phil Grabsky applies his truth-seeking documentary template to Ludwig van Beethoven, a composer so genius he continued creating (and to a lesser extent, performing) even as he succumbed to deafness. Still photos, paintings, interviews with historians and musicologists, and visits to actual Beethoven haunts, along with dramatic readings of the maestro’s letters (by actor David Dawson) and stern narration (by actor Juliet Stevenson, who also loaned her pipes to Mozart), flesh out this biographical portrait. But its most stirring moments come courtesy of its musical performances (by seasoned professionals) of Moonlight Sonata and other notable works. As the doc proves, there’s no better insight into Beethoven’s tumultuous, sometimes tortured life than the notes he left behind. (2:18) Roxie. (Eddy)

*35 Shots of Rum Claire Denis’s portrait in domesticity is so patiently timed and achingly photographed (by her longtime cinematographer Agnès Godard) that your own life routines are liable to seem freshly poetic in its afterglow. We begin with familiar images of transitory longing: trains switching tracks, keeping time. A man smokes a cigarette at dusk, its embers warming his dark skin. He is Lionel (Alex Descas), a Metro operator who lives simply in a boxy apartment building in the outer rings of Paris. He returns home from work with a rice cooker for his twentysomething daughter, Josephine (Mati Diop), though Denis allows their relationship to remain unclear for a while (she is remarkably free when it comes to exposition). Coincidentally, serious Jo has bought herself a cooker on the same day. There’s a whole untold story about the rice cooker, but Denis is content watching them appreciatively spoon out the first batch in their pajamas. The attention to generations, meals, the trains and the small comic gestures (a well-timed fart, an awry romantic moment in the Seine) all suggest Ozu, but the elliptical rhythms and sensual apprehension of bodies is pure Denis. She once did a documentary about a choreographer (2005’s Towards Mathilde), and she approaches everyday life as a kind of dance. Lionel and Jo’s relationship is unlike almost any other father-daughter dynamic in recent movie memory — nonverbal, but clearly loving. If the other characters are kept at arm’s length, that’s because Lionel and Jo keep their safe haven so closely guarded. Things begin to unspool, as they must, in a memorable restaurant dance sequence that makes exquisite use of the Commodores’ 1985 platter, "Nightshift." (1:39) (Goldberg)

The Young Victoria Those who envision the Victorian Age as one of restraint and repression will likely be surprised by The Young Victoria, which places a vibrant Emily Blunt in the title role. Her Queen Victoria is headstrong and romantic — driven not only by her desire to stand tall against the men who would control her, but also by her love for the dashing Prince Albert (Rupert Friend). To be honest, the story itself is nothing spectacular, even for those who have imagined a different portrait of the queen. But The Young Victoria is still a spectacle to behold: the opulent palaces, the stunning gowns, and the flawless Blunt going regal. Her performance is rich and nuanced — and her chemistry with Prince Albert makes the film. No, it doesn’t leave quite the impression that 1998’s Elizabeth did, but it’s a memorable costume drama and romance, worthy of at least a moderate reign in theaters. (1:40) Embarcadero. (Peitzman)


Armored (1:28) 1000 Van Ness.

The Blind Side When the New York Times Magazine published Michael Lewis’ article "The Ballad of Big Mike" — which he expanded into the 2006 book The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game —nobody could have predicated the cultural windfall it would spawn. Lewis told the incredible story of Michael Oher — a 6’4, 350-pound 16-year-old, who grew up functionally parentless, splitting time between friends’ couches and the streets of one of Memphis’ poorest neighborhoods. As a sophomore with a 0.4 GPA, Oher serendipitously hitched a ride with a friend’s father to a ritzy private school across town and embarked on an unbelievable journey that led him into a upper-class, white family; the Dean’s List at Ole Miss; and, finally, the NFL. The film itself effectively focuses on Oher’s indomitable spirit and big heart, and the fearless devotion of Leigh Anne Tuohy, the matriarch of the family who adopted him (masterfully played by Sandra Bullock). While the movie will delight and touch moviegoers, its greatest success is that it will likely spur its viewers on to read Lewis’ brilliant book. (2:06) 1000 Van Ness. (Daniel Alvarez)

Brothers There’s nothing particularly original about Brothers — first, because it’s based on a Danish film of the same name, and second, because sibling rivalry is one of the oldest stories in the book. The story is fairly straightforward: good brother (Tobey Maguire) goes AWOL in Afghanistan, bad brother (Jake Gyllenhaal) comforts his sister-in law (Natalie Portman), attraction develops, but then — and here’s where things get awkward — good brother comes home. Throughout much of Brothers, the script is surprisingly restrained, holding the film back from Movie of the Week territory. Those moments of subtlety are the movie’s strongest, but by the end they’ve given way to giant, maudlin explosions of angst, which aren’t nearly as impressive. Still, the acting is consistently strong. Maguire is especially good as Captain Sam Cahill in a performance that runs the gamut from doting father to terrifyingly unbalanced. It’s unfortunate that the quiet scenes, in which all the actors excel, are overshadowed by the big, plate-smashing ones. (1:50) 1000 Van Ness, Sundance Kabuki. (Peitzman)

Christmas with Walt Disney Specially made for the Presidio’s recently opened Walt Disney Family Museum, this nearly hour-long compilation of vintage Yuletide-themed moments from throughout the studio’s history (up to Walt’s 1966 death) is more interesting than you might expect. The engine is eldest daughter Diane Disney Miller’s narrating reminiscences, often accompanied by excerpts from an apparently voluminous library of high-quality home movies. Otherwise, the clips are drawn from a mix of short and full-length animations, live-action features (like 1960’s Swiss Family Robinson), TV shows Wonderful World of Disney and Mickey Mouse Club, plus public events like Disneyland’s annual Christmas Parade and Disney’s orchestration of the 1960 Winter Olympics’ pageantry. If anything, this documentary is a little too rushed –- it certainly could have idled a little longer with some of the less familiar cartoon material. But especially for those who who grew up with Disney product only in its post-founder era, it will be striking to realize what a large figure Walt himself once cut in American culture, not just as a brand but as an on-screen personality. The film screens Nov 27-Jan 2; for additional information, visit (:59) Walt Disney Family Museum. (Harvey)

Disney’s A Christmas Carol (1:36) 1000 Van Ness.

*An Education The pursuit of knowledge — both carnal and cultural — are at the tender core of this end-of-innocence valentine by Danish filmmaker Lone Scherfig (who first made her well-tempered voice heard with her 2000 Dogme entry, Italian for Beginners), based on journalist Lynn Barber’s memoir. Screenwriter Nick Hornby breaks further with his Peter Pan protagonists with this adaptation: no man-boy mopers or misfits here. Rather, 16-year-old schoolgirl Jenny (Carey Mulligan) is a good girl and ace student. It’s 1961, and England is only starting to stir from its somber, all-too-sober post-war slumber. The carefully cloistered Jenny is on track for Oxford, though swinging London and its high-style freedoms beckon just around the corner. Ushering in those freedoms — a new, more class-free world disorder — is the charming David (Peter Sarsgaard), stopping to give Jenny and her cello a ride in the rain and soon proffering concerts and late-night suppers in the city. He’s a sweet-faced, feline outsider: cultured, Jewish, and given to playing fast and loose in the margins of society. David can see Jenny for the gem she is and appreciate her innocence with the knowing pleasure of a decadent playing all the angles. The stakes are believably high, thanks to An Education‘s careful attention to time and place and its gently glamored performances. Scherfig revels in the smart, easy-on-eye curb appeal of David and his friends while giving a nod to the college-educated empowerment Jenny risks by skipping class to jet to Paris. And Mulligan lends it all credence by letting all those seduced, abandoned, conflicted, rebellious feelings flicker unbridled across her face. (1:35) (Chun)

Everybody’s Fine Robert De Niro works somewhere between serious De Niro and funny De Niro in this portrait of a family in muffled crisis, a remake of the 1991 Italian film Stanno Tutti Bene. The American version tracks the comings and goings of Frank (De Niro), a recently widowed retiree who fills his solitary hours working in the garden and talking to strangers about his children, who’ve flung themselves across the country in pursuit of various dreams and now send home overpolished reports of their achievements. Disappointed by his offspring’s collective failure to show up for a family get-together, he embarks on a cross-country odyssey to connect with each in turn. Writer-director Kirk Jones (1998’s Waking Ned Devine) effectively underscores Frank’s loneliness with shots of him steering his cart through empty grocery stores, interacting only with the occasional stock clerk, and De Niro projects a sense of drifting disconnection with poignant restraint. But Jones also litters the film with a string of uninspired, autopilot comic moments, and manifold shots of telephone wires as Frank’s children (Kate Beckinsale, Drew Barrymore, and Sam Rockwell) whisper across the miles behind their father’s back — his former vocation, manufacturing the telephone wires’ plastic coating, funded his kids’ more-ambitious aims — feel like glancing blows to the head. A vaguely miraculous third-act exposition of everything they’ve been withholding to protect both him and themselves is handled with equal subtlety and the help of gratingly precocious child actors. (1:35) 1000 Van Ness. (Rapoport)

*Fantastic Mr. Fox A lot of people have been busting filmmaker Wes Anderson’s proverbial chops lately, lambasting him for recent cinematic self-indulgences hewing dangerously close to self-parody (and in the case of 2007’s Darjeeling Limited, I’m one of them). Maybe he’s been listening. Either way, his new animated film, Fantastic Mr. Fox, should keep the naysayer wolves at bay for a while — it’s nothing short of a rollicking, deadpan-hilarious case study in artistic renewal. A kind of man-imal inversion of Anderson’s other heist movie, his debut feature Bottle Rocket (1996), his latest revels in ramshackle spontaneity and childlike charm without sacrificing his adult preoccupations. Based on Roald Dahl’s beloved 1970 book, Mr. Fox captures the essence of the source material but is still full of Anderson trademarks: meticulously staged mise en scène, bisected dollhouse-like sets, eccentric dysfunctional families coming to grips with their talent and success (or lack thereof).(1:27) Empire, 1000 Van Ness, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki. (Devereaux)

Invictus Elected President of South Africa in 1995 — just five years after his release from nearly three decades’ imprisonment — Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman) perceives a chance to forward his message of reconciliation and forgiveness by throwing support behind the low-ranked national rugby team. Trouble is, the Springboks are currently low-ranked, with the World Cup a very faint hope just one year away. Not to mention the fact that despite having one black member, they represent the all-too-recent Apartheid past for the country’s non-white majority. Based on John Carlin’s nonfiction tome, this latest Oscar bait by the indefatigable Clint Eastwood sports his usual plusses and minuses: An impressive scale, solid performances (Matt Damon co-stars as the team’s Afrikaaner captain), deft handling of subplots, and solid craftsmanship on the one hand. A certain dull literal-minded earnestness, lack of style and excitement on the other. Anthony Peckham’s screenplay hits the requisite inspirational notes (sometimes pretty bluntly), but even in the attenuated finals match, Eastwood’s direction is steady as she goes — no peaks, no valleys, no faults but not much inspiration, either. It doesn’t help that Kyle Eastwood and Michael Stevens contribute a score that’s as rousing as a warm milk bath. This is an entertaining history lesson, but it should have been an exhilarating one. (2:14) 1000 Van Ness, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki. (Harvey)

Me and Orson Welles It’s 1937, and New York City, like the rest of the nation, presumably remains in the grip of the Great Depression. That trifling historical detail, however, is upstaged in Richard Linklater’s Me and Orson Welles (adapted from the novel by Robert Kaplow) by the doings at the newly founded Mercury Theatre. There, in the equally tight grip of actor, director, and company cofounder Orson Welles — who makes more pointed use of the historical present, of Italian fascism — a groundbreaking production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar hovers on the brink of premiere and possible disaster. Luckily for swaggering young aspirant Richard (High School Musical series star Zac Efron), Welles (Christian McKay), already infamously tyrannical at 22, is not a man to shrink from firing an actor a week before opening night and replacing him with a 17-year-old kid from New Jersey. Finding himself working in perilous proximity to the master, his unharnessed ego, and his winsome, dishearteningly pragmatic assistant, Sonja (Claire Danes), our callow hero is destined, predictably, to be handed some valuable life experience. McKay makes a credible, enjoyable Welles, presented as the kind of engaging sociopath who handles people like props and hails ambulances like taxicabs. Efron projects a shallow interior life, an instinct for survival, and the charm of someone who has had charming lines written for him. Still, he and Welles and the rest are all in service to the play, and so is the film, which offers an absorbing account of the company’s final days of rehearsal. (1:54) Shattuck. (Rapoport)

Ninja Assassin Let’s face it: it’d be nigh impossible to live up to a title as awesome as Ninja Assassin –- and this second flick from V for Vendetta (2005) director James McTeigue doesn’t quite do it. Anyone who’s seen a martial arts movie will find the tale of hero Raizo overly familiar: a student (played by the single-named Rain) breaks violently with his teacher; revenge on both sides ensues. That the art form in question is contemporary ninja-ing adds a certain amount of interest, though after a killer ninja vs. yakuza opening scene (by far the film’s best), and a flashback or two of ninja vs. political targets, the rest of the flick is concerned mostly with either ninja vs. ninja or ninja vs. military guys. (As ninjas come "from the shadows," most of these battles are presented in action-masking darkness.) There’s also an American forensic researcher (Noemie Harris) who starts poking around the ninja underground, a subplot that further saps the fun out of a movie that already takes itself way too seriously. (1:33) 1000 Van Ness. (Eddy)

Pirate Radio I wanted to like Pirate Radio, a.k.a., The Boat That Rocked –- really, I did. The raging, stormy sounds of the British Invasion –- sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll, and all that rot. Pirate radio outlaw sexiness, writ large, influential, and mind-blowingly popular. This shaggy-dog of a comedy about the boat-bound, rollicking Radio Rock is based loosely on the history of Radio Caroline, which blasted transgressive rock ‘n’ roll (back when it was still subversive) and got around stuffy BBC dominance by broadcasting from a ship off British waters. Alas, despite the music and the attempts by filmmaker Richard Curtis to inject life, laughs, and girls into the mix (by way of increasingly absurd scenes of imagined listeners creaming themselves over Radio Rock’s programming), Pirate Radio will be a major disappointment for smart music fans in search of period accuracy (are we in the mid- or late ’60s or early or mid-’70s –- tough to tell judging from the time-traveling getups on the DJs, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman and Rhys Darby, among others?) and lame writing that fails to rise above the paint-by-the-numbers narrative buttressing, irksome literalness (yes, a betrayal by a lass named Marianne is followed by "So Long, Marianne"), and easy sexist jabs at all those slutty birds. Still, there’s a reason why so many artists –- from Leonard Cohen to the Stones –- have lent their songs to this shaky project, and though it never quite gets its sea legs, Pirate Radio has its heart in the right place –- it just lost its brains somewhere along the way down to its crotch. (2:00) 1000 Van Ness. (Chun)

Planet 51 (1:31) 1000 Van Ness.

*Precious: Based on the Novel Push By Sapphire This gut-wrenching, little-engine-that-could of a film shows the struggles of Precious, an overweight, illiterate 16-year-old girl from Harlem. Newcomer Gabourey Sidibe is so believably vigilant (she was only 15 at the time of filming) that her performance alone could bring together the art-house viewers as well as take the Oscars by storm. But people need to actually go and experience this film. While Precious did win Sundance’s Grand Jury and Audience Award awards this year, there is a sad possibility that filmgoers will follow the current trend of "discussing" films that they’ve actually never seen. The daring casting choices of comedian Mo’Nique (as Precious’ all-too-realistically abusive mother) and Mariah Carey (brilliantly understated as an undaunted and dedicated social counselor) are attempts to attract a wider audience, but cynics can hurdle just about anything these days. What’s most significant about this Dancer in the Dark-esque chronicle is how Damien Paul’s screenplay and director Lee Daniels have taken their time to confront the most difficult moments in Precious’ story –- and if that sounds heavy-handed, so be it. Stop blahging for a moment and let this movie move you. (1:49) SF Center, Sundance Kabuki. (Jesse Hawthorne Ficks)

*The Princess and the Frog Expectations run high for The Princess and the Frog: it’s the first Disney film to feature an African American princess, the first 2D Disney cartoon since the regrettable Home on the Range (2004), and the latest entry from the writing-directing team responsible for The Little Mermaid (1989) and Aladdin (1992). Here’s the real surprise — The Princess and the Frog not only meets those expectations, it exceeds them. After years of disappointment, many of us have given up hope on another classic entry into the Disney 2D animation canon. And yet, The Princess and the Frog is up there with the greats, full of catchy songs, gorgeous animation, and memorable characters. Set in New Orleans, the story is a take off on the Frog Prince fairy tale. Here, the voodoo-cursed Prince Naveen kisses waitress Tiana instead — transferring his froggy plight to her as well. A fun twist, and a positive message: wishing is great, but it takes hard work to make your dreams come true. For those of us raised on classic Disney, The Princess and the Frog is almost too good to believe. (1:37) 1000 Van Ness. (Peitzman)

*The Private Lives of Pippa Lee Rebecca Miller’s latest is that seldom-produced thing, the female midlife crisis movie. Daughter to playwright Arthur Miller, a titan of Big Theme manly guilts, her projects are indie-scaled, about troubled domestic minutae, with whimsical twists of fate that methodical realist Arthur would never have countenanced. She’s been consistently interesting since 1995’s striking Angela — first among many narratives from the viewpoint of a child struggling in the shadow of an overwhelming and/or unstable parent. In Private Lives, Pippa (Robin Wright Penn) has her own monstrous parental past. Like many people hailing from chaos, Pippa has turned self-conscious model citizen. In drifting early adulthood, she glommed onto the first man who respected her mind — or did he just recognize a rudderless, much younger woman susceptible to flattery? Ever since she’s been ideal consort to newly retired publisher Herb (Alan Arkin), as well as doting mother to their variably grateful children. Barely 40 and living in an old folks’ village, Pippa is starting to think her life a tad ridiculous. Such nagging but inchoate doubt is underlined by the return of a widow neighbor’s shaggy, somewhat surly son (Keanu Reeves) to Chez Mom after his latest failure at adulthood. Opposites attract, though it’s more complicated than that. Miller’s cluttered canvas also makes room for teensy-to-major characters played by Shirley Knight, Blake Lively, Robin Weigert, Julianne Moore, and Monica Bellucci. As is her wont, she piles on both invigorating insights and a few too many whiplash narrative left turns. But The Private Lives of Pippa Lee has charm and idiosyncrasy to spare. (1:40) Smith Rafael. (Harvey)

A Single Man In this adaptation of Christopher Isherwood’s 1964 novel, Colin Firth plays George, a middle-aged gay expat Brit and college professor in 1962 Los Angeles. Months after the accidental death of Jim (Matthew Goode), his lover for 16 years, George still feels worse than bereft; simply waking each morning is agony. So on this particular day he has decided to end it all, first going through a series of meticulous preparations and discreet leave-takings that include teaching one last class and having supper with the onetime paramour (Julianne Moore) turned best friend who’s still stuck on him. The main problem with fashion designer turned film director Tom Ford’s first feature is that he directs it like a fashion designer, fussing over surface style and irrelevant detail in a story whose tight focus on one hard, real-world thing–grief–cries for simplicity. Not pretentious overpackaging, which encompasses the way his camera slavers over the excessively pretty likes of Nicholas Hoult as a student and Jon Kortajarena as a hustler, as if they were models selling product rather than characters, or even actors. (In fact Kortajarena is a male supermodel; the shocker is that Hoult is not, though Hugh Grant’s erstwhile About a Boy co-star is so preening here you’d never guess.) Eventually Ford stops showing off so much, and A Single Man is effective to the precise degree it lets good work by Goode, Moore and especially the reliably excellent Firth unfold without too much of his terribly artistic interference. (1:39) Sundance Kabuki. (Harvey)

2012 I don’t need to give you reasons to see this movie. You don’t care about the clumsy, hastily dished-out pseudo scientific hoo-ha that explains this whole mess. You don’t care about John Cusack or Woody Harrelson or whoever else signed on for this embarrassing notch in their IMDB entry. You don’t care about Mayan mysteries, how hard it is for single dads, and that Danny Glover and Chiwetel Ejiofor jointly stand in for Obama (always so on the zeitgeist, that Roland Emmerich). You already know what you’re in store for: the most jaw-dropping depictions of humankind’s near-complete destruction that director Emmerich –- who has a flair for such things –- has ever come up with. All the time, creative energy, and money James Cameron has spent perfecting the CGI pores of his characters in Avatar is so much hokum compared to what Emmerich and his Spartan army of computer animators dish out: the U.S.S. John F. Kennedy emerging through a cloud of toxic dust like some Mary Celeste of the military-industrial complex, born aloft on a massive tidal wave that pulverizes the White House; the dome of St. Paul’s flattening the opium-doped masses like a steamroller; Hawaii returned to its original volcanic state; and oodles more scenes in which we are allowed to register terror, but not horror, at the gorgeous destruction that is unfurled before us as the world ends (again) but no one really dies. Get this man a bigger budget. (2:40) 1000 Van Ness. (Sussman)

The Twilight Saga: New Moon Oh my God, you guys, it’s that time of the year: another Twilight chapter hits theaters. New Moon reunites useless cipher Bella (Kristen Steward) and Edward (Robert Pattinson), everyone’s favorite sparkly creature of darkness. Because this is a teen wangstfest, the course of true love is kind of bumpy. This time around, there’s a heavy Romeo and Juliet subplot and some interference from perpetually shirtless werewolf Jacob (Taylor Lautner). Chances are you know this already, as you’ve either devoured Stephenie Meyer’s book series or you were one of the record-breaking numbers in attendance for the film’s opening weekend. And for those non-Twilight fanatics — is there any reason to see New Moon? Yes and no. Like the 2008’s Twilight, New Moon is reasonably entertaining, with plenty of underage sexual tension, supernatural slugfests, and laughable line readings. But there’s something off this time around: New Moon is fun but flat. For diehard fans, it’s another excuse to shriek at the screen. For anyone else, it’s a soulless diversion. (2:10) Empire, 1000 Van Ness, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki. (Peitzman)

Up in the Air After all the soldiers’ stories and the cannibalism canards of late, Up in the Air‘s focus on a corporate ax-man — an everyday everyman sniper in full-throttle downsizing mode — is more than timely; it’s downright eerie. But George Clooney does his best to inject likeable, if not quite soulful, humanity into Ryan Bingham, an all-pro mileage collector who prides himself in laying off employees en masse with as few tears, tantrums, and murder-suicide rages as possible. This terminator’s smooth ride from airport terminal to terminal is interrupted not only by a possible soul mate, fellow smoothie and corporate traveler Alex (Vera Farmiga), but a young tech-savvy upstart, Natalie (Anna Kendrick), who threatens to take the process to new reductionist lows (layoff via Web cam) and downsize Ryan along the way. With Up in the Air, director Jason Reitman, who oversaw Thank You for Smoking (2005) as well as Juno (2007), is threatening to become the bard of office parks, Casual Fridays, khaki-clad happy hours, and fly-over zones. But Up in the Air is no Death of a Salesman, and despite some memorable moments that capture the pain of downsizing and the flatness of real life, instances of snappily screwball dialogue, and some more than solid performances by all (and in particular, Kendrick), he never manages to quite sell us on the existence of Ryan’s soul. (1:49) SF Center. (Chun)