Film listings are edited by Cheryl Eddy. Reviewers are Kimberly Chun, Michelle Devereaux, Peter Galvin, Max Goldberg, Dennis Harvey, Johnny Ray Huston, Louis Peitzman, Lynn Rapoport, Ben Richardson, and Matt Sussman. For rep house showtimes, see Rep Clock. For first-run showtimes, see Movie Guide.
The Beaver Jodie Foster directs and co-stars in this film about a man (Mel Gibson) who communicates using a hand puppet. No word if said hand puppet calls anyone “sugar tits.” (1:30)
*Carancho What Psycho (1960) did for showers this equally masterful, if far more bloody, neo-noir is bound to do for crossing the street at night. Argentine director Pablo Trapero has spun his country’s grim traffic statistics (the film’s opening text informs us that more than 8,000 people die every year in road accidents at a daily average of 22) into a Jim Thompson-worthy drama of human ugliness and squandered chances. Sosa (Ricardo Darín of 2009’s The Secret in Their Eyes) is the titular “carancho,” or buzzard, a disbarred lawyer-turned-ambulance chaser who swoops down on those injured in road accidents on behalf of a shady foundation that fixes personal injury lawsuits. It’s only a matter of time before he crosses paths with and falls for Lujan (a wonderful Martina Gusman, also of Trapero’s 2008 Lion’s Den), a young ambulance medic battling her own demons and a grueling work schedule. A May-December affair begins to percolate until Sosa botches a job and incurs the wrath of the foundation, kicking off a chain reaction that only leads to further tragedy for him and his newfound love. Trapero keeps a steady hand at the wheel throughout, deftly guiding his film through intimate scenes that lay bare Lujan’s quiet desperation and Sosa’s moral ambivalence as well as genuinely shocking moments of violence. The Academy passed over Carancho as one of this year’s nominees for Best Foreign Language Film, but Hollywood would do well to learn from talent like Trapero’s. (1:47) Lumiere, Shattuck. (Sussman)
Desert Flower Based on the best-selling “model memoir,” Desert Flower spins the remarkable tale of Waris Dirie, who fled across the Somalian desert as a young teen to escape an arranged marriage. The marriage was not the most cruel tradition to be imposed on the girl, however — as a toddler, she’d been circumcised, and the crude operation (designed to keep her “pure” until marriage) caused her pain for years after. Waris (played as an adult by Ethiopian supermodel Liya Kebede) eventually makes her way to London, where she’s discovered by a top photographer (Timothy Spall) while mopping floors at a fast-food restaurant. Part culture-clash drama, part girl-power success story (Waris befriends a spunky Topshop clerk, played by Sally Hawkins), Desert Flower is directed (by Sherry Hormann) with the heavy-handedness of a TV movie. But the film does a powerful job drawing attention to a subject not often discussed — despite the efforts of activists like the real-life Dirie, female circumcision still affects some 6,000 girls a day — and for that it cannot be faulted. (2:00) (Eddy)
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules Sequel to last year’s hit comedy based on the best-selling YA books by Jeff Kinney. (1:36)
Kill the Irishman If you enjoy 1970s-set Mafia movies featuring characters with luxurious facial hair zooming around in Cadillacs, flossing leather blazers, and outwitting cops and each other — you could do a lot worse than Kill the Irishman, which busts no genre boundaries but delivers enjoyable retro-gangsta cool nonetheless. Adapted from the acclaimed true crime book by a former Cleveland police lieutenant, the film details the rise and fall of Danny Greene, a colorful and notorious Irish-American mobster who both served and ran afoul of the big bosses in his Ohio hometown. During one particularly conflict-ridden period, the city weathered nearly 40 bombings — buildings, mailboxes, and mostly cars, to the point where the number of automobiles going sky-high is almost comical (you’d think these guys would’ve considered taking the bus). The director of the 2004 Punisher, Jonathan Hensleigh, teams up with the star of 2008’s Punisher: War Zone, Ray Stevenson, who turns in a magnetic performance as Greene; it’s easy to see how his combination of book- and street smarts (with a healthy dash of ruthlessness) buoyed him nearly to the top of the underworld. The rest of the cast is equally impressive, with Vincent D’Onofrio, Val Kilmer, Christopher Walken, and Linda Cardellini turning in supporting roles, plus a host of dudes who look freshly defrosted from post-Sopranos storage. (1:46) (Eddy)
*Queen of the Sun: What Are the Bees Telling Us? There are plenty of docs out there detailing the slow decline of the human race — self-inflicted decline, that is, thanks to our disregard for long-term environmental damage caused by our greedy, polluting ways. But unlike the recent Carbon Nation (2010), for example, which took a broad look at renewable energy, Queen of the Sun studies a far more specific issue. A tiny one, in fact: the size of a honeybee. Of course, as the movie points out, this honeybee-sized disaster is actually a global disaster in the making. The latest from Taggart Siegel, director of 2005’s The Real Dirt on Farmer John, investigates the global bee crisis, talking to numerous beekeepers and scientists to discover why bees are disappearing, how their mass-vanishing act affects the food chain, and what (if anything) can be done before it’s too late. Creative animation and quite a few characters (including a shirtless French guy who tickles his hive with his graying mustache) keep Queen of the Bees from feeling too much like a lecture; in fact, it’s quite an eye-opener. You’ll think twice before ever swatting another bee. (1:23) Roxie. (Eddy)
Sucker Punch From what I can tell, Sucker Punch is Zach Snyder’s remake of his 300 (2006), except with jailbait instead of Spartans. (2:00) Presidio.
*Win Win See “#Winning.” (1:46) Bridge.
Winter in Wartime A 13-year-old boy joins the resistance movement in 1945 Nazi-occupied Holland. (1:43) Embarcadero, Shattuck, Smith Rafael.
The Adjustment Bureau As far as sci-fi romantic thrillers go, The Adjustment Bureau is pretty standard. But since that’s not an altogether common genre mash-up, I guess the film deserves some points for creativity. Based on a short story by Philip K. Dick, The Adjustment Bureau takes place in a world where all of our fates are predetermined. Political hotshot David Norris (Matt Damon) is destined for greatness — but not if he lets a romantic dalliance with dancer Elise (Emily Blunt) take precedence. And in order to make sure he stays on track, the titular Adjustment Bureau (including Anthony Mackie and Mad Men‘s John Slattery) are there to push him in the right direction. While the film’s concept is intriguing, the execution is sloppy. The Adjustment Bureau suffers from flaws in internal logic, allowing the story to skip over crucial plot points with heavy exposition and a deus ex machina you’ve got to see to believe. Couldn’t the screenwriter have planned ahead? (1:39) Marina, 1000 Van Ness, Piedmont, SF Center, Shattuck, Sundance Kabuki. (Peitzman)
*Battle: Los Angeles Michael Bay is likely writhing with envy over Battle: Los Angeles; his Transformers flicks take a more, erm, nuanced view of alien-on-human violence. But they’re not all such bad guys after all; these days, as District 9 (2009) demonstrated, alien invasions are more hazardous to the brothers and sisters from another planet than those trigger-happy humanoids ready to defend terra firma. So Battle arrives like an anomaly — a war-is-good action movie aimed at faceless space invaders who resemble the Alien (1979) mother more than the wide-eyed lost souls of District 9. Still reeling from his last tour of duty, Staff Sergeant Nantz (Aaron Eckhart) is ready to retire, until he’s pulled back in by a world invasion, staged by thirsty aliens. In approximating D-Day off the beach of Santa Monica, director Jonathan Liebesman manages to combine the visceral force of Saving Private Ryan (1998) with the what-the-fuck hand-held verite rush of Cloverfield (2008) while crafting tiny portraits of all his Marines, including Michelle Rodriguez, Ne-Yo, and True Blood‘s Jim Parrack. A few moments of requisite flag-waving are your only distractions from the almost nonstop white-knuckle tension fueling Battle: Los Angeles. (1:57) California. (Chun)
Biutiful Uxbal (Javier Bardem) has problems. To name but a few: he is raising two young children alone in a poor, crime-beset Barcelona hood. He is making occasional attempts to rope back in their bipolar, substance-abusive mother (Maricel Álvarez), a mission without much hope. He is trying to stay afloat by various not-quite legal means while hopefully doing the right thing by the illegals — African street drug dealers and Chinese sweatshop workers — he acts as middleman to, standing between them and much less sympathetically-inclined bossmen. He’s got a ne’er-do-well brother (Eduard Fernandez) to cope with. Needless to say, with all this going on (and more), he isn’t getting much rest. But when he wearily checks in with a doc, the proverbial last straw is stacked on his camelback: surprise, you have terminal cancer. With umpteen odds already stacked against him in everyday life, Uxbal must now put all affairs in order before he is no longer part of the equation. This is Alejandro González Iñárritu’s first feature since an acrimonious creative split with scenarist Guillermo Arriaga. Their films together (2006’s Babel, 2003’s 21 Grams, 2000’s Amores Perros) have been criticized for arbitrarily slamming together separate baleful storylines in an attempt at universal profundity. But they worked better than Biutiful, which takes the opposite tact of trying to fit several stand-alone stories’ worth of hardship into one continuous narrative — worse, onto the bowed shoulders of one character. Bardem is excellent as usual, but for all their assured craftsmanship and intense moments, these two and a half hours collapse from the weight of so much contrived suffering. Rather than making a universal statement about humanity in crisis, Iñárritu has made a high-end soap opera teetering on the verge of empathy porn. (2:18) Shattuck. (Harvey)
*Black Swan “Lose yourself,” ballet company head Thomas (Vincent Cassel) whispers to his leading lady, Nina (Natalie Portman), moments before she takes the stage. But Nina is already consumed with trying to find herself, and rarely has a journey of self-discovery been so unsettling. Set in New York City’s catty, competitive ballet world, Black Swan samples from earlier dance films (notably 1948’s The Red Shoes, but also 1977’s Suspiria, with a smidgen of 1995’s Showgirls), though director Darren Aronofsky is nothing if not his own visionary. Black Swan resembles his 2008 The Wrestler somewhat thematically, with its focus on the anguish of an athlete under ten tons of pressure, but it’s a stylistic 180. Gone is the gritty, stripped-down aesthetic used to depict a sad-sack strongman. Like Dario Argento’s 1977 horror fantasy, the gory, elegantly choreographed Black Swan is set in a hyper-constructed world, with stabbingly obvious color palettes (literally, white = good; black = evil) and dozens of mirrors emphasizing (over and over again) the film’s doppelgänger obsession. As Nina, Portman gives her most dynamic performance to date. In addition to the thespian fireworks required while playing a goin’-batshit character, she also nails the role’s considerable athletic demands. (1:50) Shattuck. (Eddy)
*Cedar Rapids What if The 40 Year Old Virgin (2005) got so Parks and Rec‘d at The Office party that he ended up with a killer Hangover (2009)? Just maybe the morning-after baby would be Cedar Rapids. Director Miguel Arteta (2009’s Youth in Revolt) wrings sweet-natured chuckles from his banal, intensely beige wall-to-wall convention center biosphere, spurring such ponderings as, should John C. Reilly snatch comedy’s real-guy MVP tiara away from Seth Rogen? Consider Tim Lippe (Ed Helms of The Hangover), the polar opposite of George Clooney’s ultracompetent, complacent ax-wielder in Up in the Air (2009). He’s the naive manchild-cum-corporate wannabe who never quite graduated from Timmyville into adulthood. But it’s up to Lippe to hold onto his firm’s coveted two-star rating at an annual convention in Cedar Rapids. Life conspires against him, however, and despite his heartfelt belief in insurance as a heroic profession, Lippe immediately gets sucked into the oh-so-distracting drama, stirred up by the dangerously subversive “Deanzie” Ziegler (John C. Reilly), whom our naif is warned against as a no-good poacher. Temptations lie around every PowerPoint and potato skin; as Deanzie warns Lippe’s Candide, “I’ve got tiger scratches all over my back. If you want to survive in this business, you gotta daaance with the tiger.” How do you do that? Cue lewd, boozy undulations — a potbelly lightly bouncing in the air-conditioned breeze. “You’ve got to show him a little teat.” Fortunately Arteta shows us plenty of that, equipped with a script by Wisconsin native Phil Johnston, written for Helms — and the latter does not disappoint. (1:26) California, Empire, Sundance Kabuki. (Chun)
Certified Copy Abbas Kiarostami’s beguiling new feature signals “relationship movie” with every cobblestone step, but it’s manifestly a film of ideas — one in which disillusionment is as much a formal concern as a dramatic one. Typical of Kiarostami’s dialogic narratives, Certified Copy is both the name of the film and an entity within the film: a book written against the ideal of originality in art by James Miller (William Shimell), an English pedant fond of dissembling. After a lecture in Tuscany, he meets an apparent admirer (Juliette Binoche) in her antique shop. We watch them talk for several minutes in an unbroken two-shot. They gauge each other’s values using her sister as a test case — a woman who, according to the Binoche character, is the living embodiment of James’ book. Do their relative opinions of this off-screen cipher constitute characterization? Or are they themselves ciphers of the film’s recursive structure? Kiarostami makes us wonder. They begin to act as if they were married midway through the film, though the switch is not so out of the blue: Kiarostami’s narrative has already turned a few figure-eights. Several critics have already deemed Certified Copy derivative of many other elliptical romances; the strongest case for an “original” comes of Roberto Rossellini’s Voyage to Italy (1954). The real difference is that while Rossellini’s masterpiece realizes first-person feelings in a third-person approach, Kiarostami stays in the shadow of doubt to the end. (1:46) Clay, Shattuck, Smith Rafael. (Goldberg)
Even the Rain It feels wrong to criticize an “issues movie” — particularly when the issues addressed are long overdue for discussion. Even the Rain takes on the privatization of water in Bolivia, but it does so in such an obvious, artless way that the ultimate message is muddled. The film follows a crew shooting an on-location movie about Christopher Columbus. The film-within-a-film is a less-than-flattering portrait of the explorer: if you’ve guessed that the exploitation of the native people will play a role in both narratives, you’d be right. The problem here is that Even the Rain rests on our collective outrage, doing little to explain the situation or even develop the characters. Case in point: Sebastian (Gael García Bernal), who shifts allegiances at will throughout the film. There’s an interesting link to be made between the time of Columbus and current injustice, but it’s not properly drawn here, and in the end, the few poignant moments get lost in the shuffle. (1:44) Opera Plaza, Shattuck. (Peitzman)
*Heartbeats Twenty-one-year-old French Canadian Xavier Dolan — who wrote, directed, and starred in 2009’s I Killed My Mother — returns with the romantic farce Heartbeats, a film peppered with homages to the films, art, and literature that inspired it. While the story is simple — friends Francis (Dolan) and Marie (Monia Chokri) both fall for stunning stranger Nicolas (Niels Schneider) — Dolan’s visual references give his film weight. As with his first movie, he draws from his own life, though Heartbeats is more an amalgamation of stories than Dolan’s singular experience. (1:35) Lumiere. (Peitzman)
*The Human Resources Manager What happens when a nameless, faceless “human resource” begin to resolve into a palpably real being with hopes, fears, loved ones, a hometown, a past? The harried Human Resources Manager of a big Jerusalem bakery finds out when one of his employer’s foreign workers is killed in a suicide bombing. After her body remains unclaimed in a city morgue, his employer is tagged with callous indifference, and it’s up to the beleaguered HR Manager (Mark Ivanir) — already suffering from something of an existential crisis — to undertake damage control. That task turns out to be absurdly above and beyond the ordinary when he retraces his late charge’s footsteps and tracks down her family in Romania, dogged by a meddling reporter (Guri Alfi). Back in the bleak old country, “neither east nor west,” as he’s constantly reminded, the HR Manager encounters a suitably salty, strange array of characters — the earthy Consul (Rozina Cambos) and the deceased’s divorced husband (Reymond Amsalem) and her feral son (Noah Silver) — though who can actually claim the lady’s remains? The troublesome chore turns into a journey about reconnecting with the people the HR Manager stopped seeing as full-fledged, complicated beings. Working from A.B. Yehoshua’s 2006 novel, A Woman in Jerusalem, director Eran Riklis deigns to give his characters names, apart from the dead, and instead focuses on crafting a carefully balanced, altogether enjoyable and accessible black comedy, rendering it all with a delicate touch that Anton Chekhov might have approved of. (1:43) Opera Plaza. (Chun)
I Am File in the dusty back drawer of An Inconvenient Truth (2006) wannabes. The cringe-inducing, pretentious title is a giveaway — though the good intentions are in full effect — in this documentary by and about director Tom Shadyac’s search for answers to life’s big questions. After a catastrophic bike accident, the filmmaker finds his lavish lifestyle as a successful Hollywood director of such opuses as Bruce Almighty (2003) somewhat wanting. Thinkers and spiritual leaders such as Desmond Tutu, Howard Zinn, UC Berkeley psychology professor Dacher Keltner, and scientist David Suzuki provide some thought-provoking answers, although Shadyac’s thinking behind seeking out this specific collection of academics, writers, and activists remains somewhat unclear. I Am‘s shambling structure and perpetual return to its true subject — Shadyac, who resembles a wide-eyed Weird Al Yankovic — doesn’t help matters, leaving a viewer with mixed feelings, less about whether one man can work out his quest for meaning on film, than whether Shadyac complements his subjects and their ideas by framing them in such a random, if well-meaning, manner. And sorry, this film doesn’t make up for Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (1994). (1:16) Shattuck. (Chun)
*The Illusionist Now you see Jacques Tati and now you don’t. With The Illusionist, aficionados yearning for another gem from Tati will get a sweet, satisfying taste of the maestro’s sensibility, inextricably blended with the distinctively hand-drawn animation of Sylvain Chomet (2004’s The Triplets of Belleville). Tati wrote the script between 1956 and 1959 — a loving sendoff from a father to a daughter heading toward selfhood — and after reading it in 2003 Chomet decided to adapt it, bringing the essentially silent film to life with 2D animation that’s as old school as Tati’s ambivalent longing for bygone days. The title character should be familiar to fans of Monsieur Hulot: the illusionist is a bemused artifact of another age, soon to be phased out with the rise of rock ‘n’ rollers. He drags his ornery rabbit and worn bag of tricks from one ragged hall to another, each more far-flung than the last, until he meets a little cleaning girl on a remote Scottish island. Enthralled by his tricks and grateful for his kindness, she follows him to Edinburgh and keeps house while the magician works the local theater and takes on odd jobs in an attempt to keep her in pretty clothes, until she discovers life beyond their small circle of fading vaudevillians. Chomet hews closely to bittersweet tone of Tati’s films — and though some controversy has dogged the production (Tati’s illegitimate, estranged daughter Helga Marie-Jeanne Schiel claimed to be the true inspiration for The Illusionist, rather than daughter and cinematic collaborator Sophie Tatischeff) and Chomet neglects to fully detail a few plot turns, the dialogue-free script does add an intriguing ambiguity to the illusionist and his charge’s relationship — are they playing at being father and daughter or husband and wife? — and an otherwise straightforward, albeit poignant tale. (1:20) Opera Plaza. (Chun)
Inside Job Inside Job is director Charles Ferguson’s second investigative documentary after his 2007 analysis of the Iraq War, No End in Sight, but it feels more like the follow-up to Alex Gibney’s Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (2005). Keeping with the law of sequels, more shit blows up the second time around. As with No End in Sight, Ferguson adeptly packages a broad overview of complex events in two hours, respecting the audience’s intelligence while making sure to explain securities exchanges, derivatives, and leveraging laws in clear English (doubly important when so many Wall Street executives hide behind the intricacy of markets). The revolving door between banks, government, and academia is the key to Inside Job‘s account of financial deregulation. At times borrowing heist-film conventions (it is called Inside Job, after all), Ferguson keeps the primary players in view throughout his history so that the eventual meltdown seems anything but an accident. The filmmaker’s relentless focus on the insiders isn’t foolproof; tarring Ben Bernanke, Henry Paulson, and Timothy Geithner as “made” guys, for example, isn’t a substitute for evaluating their varied performances over the last two years. Inside Job makes it seem that the entire crisis was caused by the financial sector’s bad behavior, and this too is reductive. Furthermore, Ferguson does not come to terms with the politicized nature of the economic fallout. In Inside Job, there are only two kinds of people: those who get it and those who refuse to. The political reality is considerably more contentious. (2:00) Lumiere. (Goldberg)
*Jane Eyre Do we really need another adaptation of Jane Eyre? As long as they’re all as good as Cary Fukunaga’s stirring take on the gothic romance, keep ’em coming. Mia Wasikowska stars in the titular role, with the dreamy Michael Fassbender stepping into the high pants of Edward Rochester. The cast is rounded out by familiar faces like Judi Dench, Jamie Bell, and Sally Hawkins — all of whom breathe new life into the material. It helps that Fukunaga’s sensibilities are perfectly suited to the story: he stays true to the novel while maintaining an aesthetic certain to appeal to a modern audience. Even if you know Jane Eyre’s story — Mr. Rochester’s dark secret, the fate of their romance, etc. — there are still surprises to be had. Everyone tells the classics differently, and this adaptation is a thoroughly unique experience. And here’s hoping it pushes the engaging Wasikowska further in her ascent to stardom. (2:00) Albany, Embarcadero, Piedmont, Sundance Kabuki. (Peitzman)
The King’s Speech Films like The King’s Speech have filled a certain notion of “prestige” cinema since the 1910s: historical themes, fully-clothed romance, high dramatics, star turns, a little political intrigue, sumptuous dress, and a vicarious taste of how the fabulously rich, famous, and powerful once lived. At its best, this so-called Masterpiece Theatre moviemaking can transcend formula — at its less-than-best, however, these movies sell complacency, in both style and content. In The King’s Speech, Colin Firth plays King George VI, forced onto the throne his favored older brother Edward abandoned. This was especially traumatic because George’s severe stammer made public address tortuous. Enter matey Australian émigré Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush, mercifully controlled), a speech therapist whose unconventional methods include insisting his royal client treat him as an equal. This ultimately frees not only the king’s tongue, but his heart — you see, he’s never had anyone before to confide in that daddy (Michael Gambon as George V) didn’t love him enough. Aww. David Seidler’s conventionally inspirational script and BBC miniseries veteran Tom Hooper’s direction deliver the expected goods — dignity on wry, wee orgasms of aesthetic tastefulness, much stiff-upper-lippage — at a stately promenade pace. Firth, so good in the uneven A Single Man last year, is perfect in this rock-steadier vehicle. Yet he never surprises us; role, actor, and movie are on a leash tight enough to limit airflow. (1:58) Embarcadero, Empire, 1000 Van Ness, Piedmont, Shattuck, Sundance Kabuki. (Harvey)
*Last Lions It’s hard being a single mom. Particularly when you are a lioness in the Botswana wetlands, your territory invaded and mate killed by an invading pride forced out of their own by encroaching humanity. Add buffalo herds (tasty yes, but with sharp horns they’re not afraid to use) and crocodiles (no upside there), and our heroine is hard-pressed to keep herself alive, let alone her three small cubs. Derek Joubert’s spectacular nature documentary, narrated by Jeremy Irons (in plummiest Lion King vocal form) manages a mind-boggling intimacy observing all these predators. Shot over several years, while seeming to depict just a few weeks or months’ events, it no doubt fudges facts a bit to achieve a stronger narrative, but you’ll be too gripped to care. Warning: those kitties sure are cute, but this sometimes harsh depiction of life (and death) in the wild is not suitable for younger children. (1:28) Opera Plaza, Shattuck. (Harvey)
*Limitless An open letter to the makers of Limitless: please fire your marketing team because they are making your movie look terrible. The story of a deadbeat writer (Bradley Cooper) who acquires an unregulated drug that allows him to take advantage of 100 percent of his previously under-utilized brain, Limitless is silly, improbable and features a number of distracting comic-book-esque stylistic tics. But consumed with the comic book in mind, Limitless is also unpredictable, thrilling, and darkly funny. The aforementioned style, which includes many instances of the infinite regression effect that you get when you point two mirrors at each other, and a heavy blur to distort depth-of-field, only solidifies the film’s cartoonish intentions. Cooper learns foreign languages in hours, impresses women with his keen attention to detail, and sets his sights on Wall Street, a move that gets him noticed by businessman Carl Van Loon (Robert DeNiro in a glorified cameo) as well as some rather nasty drug dealers and hired guns looking to cash in on the drug. Limitless is regrettably titled and masquerades in TV spots as a Wall Street series spin-off, but in truth it sports the speedy pacing and tongue-in-cheek humor required of a good popcorn flick. (1:37) 1000 Van Ness, Presidio, SF Center. (Galvin)
*The Lincoln Lawyer Outfitted with gym’d-tanned-and-laundered manly blonde bombshells like Matthew McConaughey, Josh Lucas, and Ryan Phillippe, this adaptation of Michael Connelly’s LA crime novel almost cries out for an appearance by the Limitless Bradley Cooper — only then will our cabal of flaxen-haired bros-from-other-‘hos be complete. That said, Lincoln Lawyer‘s blast of morally challenged golden boys nearly detracts from the pleasingly gritty mise-en-scène and the snappy, almost-screwball dialogue that makes this movie a genre pleasure akin to a solid Elmore Leonard read. McConaughey’s criminal defense attorney Mickey Haller is accustomed to working all the angles — hence the title, a reference to a client who’s working off his debt by chauffeuring Haller around in his de-facto office: a Lincoln Town Car. Haller’s playa gets truly played when he becomes entangled with Louis Roulet (Phillippe), a pretty-boy old-money realtor accused of brutally attacking a call girl. Loved ones such as Haller’s ex Maggie (Marisa Tomei) and his investigator Frank (William H. Macy) are in jeopardy — and in danger of turning in some delightfully textured cameos — in this enjoyable walk on the sleazy side of the law, the contemporary courtroom counterpart to quick-witted potboilers like Sweet Smell of Success (1957). (1:59) Marina, 1000 Van Ness, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki. (Chun)
Mars Needs Moms (1:28) 1000 Van Ness, SF Center.
The Music Never Stopped Based on a Dr. Oliver Sacks case history, this neurological wild-ride focuses on the generation gap in extremis: after a ’60s teenage son rebels against his parents, staying incommunicado in the interim, he resurfaces over two decades later as a disoriented, possibly homeless patient they’re called to identify at a hospital. He’s had a benign brain tumor removed — yet it had grown so large before surgery that it damaged gray-matter areas including those handling recent memory. As a result, Gabriel (Lou Taylor Pucci) relates to Mr. (J.K. Simmons) and Mrs. Sawyer (a terrific but underutilized Cara Seymour) as if they were still his upstate NY domestic keepers. A radiant Julia Ormond plays the music therapist who convinces them Gabe might respond to music, which had helped serially glue and sever the father-son bond decades earlier. This is an inherently fascinating psychological study. But director Jim Kohlberg and his scenarists render it placidly inspirational, with too little character nuance, scant period atmosphere (somewhat due to budgetary limitations), and weak homage to the Grateful Dead (ditto) rendering an unusual narrative oddly formulaic. (1:45) Shattuck, Sundance Kabuki. (Harvey)
*Of Gods and Men It’s the mid-1990s, and we’re in Tibhirine, a small Algerian village based around a Trappist monastery. There, eight French-born monks pray and work alongside their Muslim neighbors, tending to the sick and tilling the land. An emboldened Islamist rebel movement threatens this delicate peace, and the monks must decide whether to risk the danger of becoming pawns in the Algerian Civil War. On paper, Of Gods and Men sounds like the sort of high-minded exploitation picture the Academy swoons over: based on a true story, with high marks for timeliness and authenticity. What a pleasant surprise then that Xavier Beauvois’s Cannes Grand Prix winner turns out to be such a tightly focused moral drama. Significantly, the film is more concerned with the power vacuum left by colonialism than a “clash of civilizations.” When Brother Christian (Lambert Wilson) turns away an Islamist commander by appealing to their overlapping scriptures, it’s at the cost of the Algerian army’s suspicion. Etienne Comar’s perceptive script does not rush to assign meaning to the monks’ decision to stay in Tibhirine, but rather works to imagine the foundation and struggle for their eventual consensus. Beauvois occasionally lapses into telegraphing the monks’ grave dilemma — there are far too many shots of Christian looking up to the heavens — but at other points he’s brilliant in staging the living complexity of Tibrihine’s collective structure of responsibility. The actors do a fine job too: it’s primarily thanks to them that by the end of the film each of the monks seems a sharply defined conscience. (2:00) Albany, Embarcadero. (Goldberg)
Paul Across the aisle from the alien-shoot-em-up Battle: Los Angeles is its amiable, nerdy opposite: Paul, with its sweet geeks Graeme (Simon Pegg) and Clive (Nick Frost), off on a post-Comic-Con pilgrimage to all the US sites of alien visitation. Naturally the buddies get a close encounter of their very own, with a very down-to-earth every-dude of a schwa named Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen), given to scratching his balls, spreading galactic wisdom, utilizing Christ-like healing powers, and cracking wise when the situation calls for it (as when fear of anal probes escalates). Despite a Pegg-and-Frost-penned script riddled with allusions to Hollywood’s biggest extraterrestrial flicks and much 12-year-old-level humor concerning testicles and farts, the humor onslaught usually attached to the two lead actors — considered Lewis and Martin for pop-smart Anglophiles — seems to have lost some of its steam, and teeth, with the absence of former director and co-writer Edgar Wright (who took last year’s Scott Pilgrim vs. the World to the next level instead). Call it a “soft R” for language and an alien sans pants. (1:44) California, Four Star, 1000 Van Ness, Presidio. (Chun)
*Phil Ochs: There But For Fortune When Phil Ochs was at his peak, he was one of the finest polemical folksingers to come out of the ’60s, and when he tumbled from those heights, the fall was terrible: he lost more than friends and fame — he appeared to completely lose himself, to substance abuse and mental illness. Director Kenneth Bowser does the singer-songwriter justice with this documentary, threading to-the-ramparts tunes like “Hazard, Kentucky,” questioning numbers a la “Love Me, I’m a Liberal,” and achingly beautiful songs such as “Jim Dean of Indiana” throughout political events of the day, scenes from a protest movement that were inextricably entangled with Ochs’ oeuvre. Along with the many clips of Ochs in performance are interviews with the artist’s many friends, cohorts, and fans including Van Dyke Parks (who is becoming a Thurston Moore-like go-to for a generation’s damaged voices), brother (and music archivist) Michael Ochs, Joan Baez, Tom Hayden, Peter Yarrow, Billy Bragg, daughter Meegan Ochs, and Ed Sanders. Expect an education in Ochs’ art, but also, perhaps more importantly (to the singer-songwriter), a glimpse into a time and place that both fed, fueled and bestowed meaning on his songs. Bowser succeeds in paints the portrait of a performer that was both idealistic and careerist, driven to fight injustice yet also propelled to explore new creative avenues (like recording with local musicians in Africa). Did Ochs fall — by way of drink, drugs, and mental illness — or was he pushed, as the artist claimed when he accused CIA thugs of destroying his vocal chords? The filmmaker steps back respectfully, allowing us to draw our own conclusion about this life lived fully. (1:38) Smith Rafael. (Chun)
Rango (1:47) Empire, Presidio, 1000 Van Ness, Sundance Kabuki.
Red Riding Hood In order to appreciate a movie like Red Riding Hood, you have to be familiar with the teen supernatural romance genre. Catherine Hardwicke’s sexy reinterpretation of the fairy tale is not high art: the script is often laughable, the acting flat, and the werewolf CGI embarrassing. But there’s something undeniably enjoyable about Red Riding Hood, especially in the wake of the duller, more sexually repressed Twilight series. Amanda Seyfried stars as Valerie, a young woman living in a village of werewolf cannon fodder. She’s torn between love and duty — or, more accurately, Peter (Shiloh Fernandez) and Henry (Max Irons). Meanwhile, a vicious werewolf hunter (Gary Oldman) has arrived to overact his way into killing the beast. It’s a silly story with plenty of hamfisted references to the original fairy tale, but if you can embrace the camp factor and the striking visuals, Red Riding Hood is actually quite fun. Though, to be fair, it might help if you suffer through Beastly first. (1:38) 1000 Van Ness, Shattuck, SF Center. (Peitzman)
*True Grit Jeff Bridges fans, resist the urge to see your Dude in computer-trippy 3D and make True Grit your holiday movie of choice. Directors Ethan and Joel Coen revisit (with characteristic oddball touches) the 1968 Charles Portis novel that already spawned a now-classic 1969 film, which earned John Wayne an Oscar for his turn as gruff U.S. Marshall Rooster Cogburn. (The all-star cast also included Dennis Hopper, Glen Campbell, Robert Duvall, and Strother Martin.) Into Wayne’s ten-gallon shoes steps an exceptionally crusty Bridges, whose banter with rival bounty hunter La Boeuf (a spot-on Matt Damon) and relationship with young Mattie Ross (poised newcomer Hailee Steinfeld) — who hires him to find the man who killed her father — likely won’t win the recently Oscar’d actor another statuette, but that doesn’t mean True Grit isn’t thoroughly entertaining. Josh Brolin and a barely-recognizable Barry Pepper round out a cast that’s fully committed to honoring two timeless American genres: Western and Coen. (1:50) Shattuck. (Eddy)
Unknown Everything is blue skies as Dr. Martin Harris (Liam Neeson) flies to Germany for a biotech conference, accompanied by lovely wife Elizabeth (January Jones in full Betty Draper mode). Landing in Berlin things quickly become grey, as he’s separated from his wife and ends up in a coma. Waking in a hospital room, Harris experiences memory loss, but like Harrison Ford he’s getting frantic with an urgent need to find his wife. Luckily she’s at the hotel. Unluckily, so is another man, who she and everyone else claims is the real Dr. Harris. What follows is a by-the-numbers thriller, with car chases and fist fights, that manages to entertain as long as the existential question is unanswered. Once it’s revealed to be a knock-off of a successful franchise, the details of Unknown‘s dated Cold War plot don’t quite make sense. On the heels of 2008’s Taken, Neeson again proves capable in action-star mode. Bruno Ganz amuses briefly as an ex-Stasi detective, but the vacant parsing by bad actress Jones, appropriate for her role on Mad Men, only frustrates here. (1:49) 1000 Van Ness, SF Center. (Ryan Prendiville)
You Won’t Miss Me Look at this fucking hipster: dour, aimless Shelly (Stella Schnabel, daughter of Julian) has her own New York City apartment (plus access to a country home, the ability to travel to Atlantic City on a whim, etc.) despite having no apparent source of income. Shelly drifts, going on auditions to further her as-yet unsuccessful acting career; leaving monotone voice mails for her mother; visiting her therapist; hooking up with assorted unwashed dudes; and hanging out with her insipid friends, one of whom helps our hapless 21st century protagonist set up her very first email account. That Shelly is depressed is a given; why anyone would choose to watch this drag of a film is a mystery. Director Ry Russo-Young aims to break up the angst by deploying an array of formats — from Super 8 to Flip — but no amount of artsy quirks (or cameos recognizable only to mumblecore enthusiasts) can make up for You Won’t Miss Me‘s uninvolving plot and unsympathetic characters. For a less painful (though by no means pain-free) experience, seek out last year’s similar Tiny Furniture instead. (1:21) Roxie. (Eddy)
Dimension 5 and ESPY The Vortex Room March series of vintage espionage obscurities continues with this double bill of two particularly off-radar relics. First up is a 1966 U.S. B-flick that was one of a gazillion cheap James Bond imitations flooding the market at the time. It stars Jeffrey Hunter — a fading late 50s movie star who this same year made the mistake of surrendering Star Trek‘s Kirk role to William Shatner. He’s Justin Power, a big swingin’ dick type who works for “Espionage, Inc.,” surrounded by a bevy of pantingly available female assistants. He discovers a “fantastic Red plot” to “destroy Los Angeles unless all Allied forces are withdrawn from Southeast Asia” being executed by Bond villain Harold “Oddjob” Sakata, who shows off his wrestling physique in a wheelchair and barks things (obviously dubbed by another actor) like “You?! Attack me?! Your superior?!?!” Our hero is thrown a “horizontal curve” by the “curious cat” Kitty (France Nguyen of 1958’s South Pacific and 1993’s Joy Luck Club), an ally with her own hidden agenda. The cheesy big gimmick is Power’s use of a “time travel belt,” but the main attraction today is the film’s occasionally jaw-dropping sexist and racist condescensions. More overtly fantasy-oriented is 1974’s Japanese ESPY from director Jun Fukuda, a veteran of Toho Godzilla epics. Gifted with telekinetic powers, racecar driver Miki (handsome ex-model Masao Kusakari, still active in movies and TV) is drafted into a organization of similar extra-normal abilities to avert international crisis — unknown forces are assassinating world leaders attempting to negotiate peace in various trouble spots. Turns out “superhumans” living among us want to winnow the “weak” human race. It’s good mutants vs. these bad mutants in a globe-trotting adventure that anticipates elements of X-Men (2000), The Fury (1978), Scanners (1981), and even Team America: World Police (2004) while hovering on the borders of spy, kung fu, disaster flick, and (briefly but memorably) sexploitation … with a very groovy 70s soundtrack to boot. Vortex Room. (Harvey)<\!s>2