Film listings are edited by Cheryl Eddy. Reviewers are Kimberly Chun, Max Goldberg, Dennis Harvey, Lynn Rapoport, and Matt Sussman. For rep house showtimes, see Rep Clock.
*Bedazzled and The Car After several weeks of delivering some fairly purgatorial cinematic meditations on Mephistopheles, the Vortex Room’s final demonic double bill is da bomb. First up is mother of all cult comedies Bedazzled (1967), in which Goon Show regulars Peter Cook and Dudley Moore ramped up their anticipation of Monty Python-esque absurd sketch-humor outrages by positing themselves as wily Devil and major chump in a not-so-swinging contemporary London. Moore’s besotted (with the divine Eleanor Bron) Wimpy Burger employee gets seven wishes for true happiness in exchange for his soul, but each fantasy granted — ranging from animation to killer pop-star satire to nuns on trampolines — somehow comes with a fly in its ointment. Too ahead of its time for popular success (despite an elongated cameo by reigning sexpot Raquel Welch as Lillian Lust), Bedazzled is now a bit dated, but still bloody marvelous. One doubts that compound adjective was ever applied to The Car (1977), which came out a decade later and sort of managed to couple 1975’s Jaws and 1976’s The Omen (albeit without achieving anywhere near their success). A killer car — a black Continental Mark III, to be precise — trolls around the Southwest edging bicyclists off cliffs, mowing down pedestrians, even attacking potty-mouthed schoolteachers inside their homes. (This last scene alone is definitely worth the price of admission.) What’s more, there appears to be no driver, suggesting this vehicle is fueled by pure evil. James Brolin at his hairiest is the local sheriff whose guns alone can’t save the town. Unquestionably silly, The Car nonetheless remains the Rolls Royce of supernaturally-possessed-automotive-transportation movies. Vortex Room. (Harvey)
*El Bulli: Cooking in Progress Oh to be a fly on the wall of El Bulli — back in 2008 and 2009, when director Gereon Wetzel turned his lens on the Spanish landmark, it was considered the best restaurant in the world. This elegantly wrought documentary, covering a year at the culinary destination (now closed), allows you to do just that. Wetzel opens on chef-owner Ferran Adrià shutting down his remarkable eatery for the winter and then drifting in and out of his staff’s Barcelona lab as they develop dishes for the forthcoming season. Head chef Oriol Castro and other trusted staffers treat ingredients with the detached methodicalness of scientists — a champignon mushroom, say, might be liquefied from its fried, raw, sous-vide-cooked states — and the mindful intuition of artists, taking notes on both MacBooks and paper, accompanied by drawings and much photo-snapping. Fortunately the respectful Wetzel doesn’t shy away from depicting the humdrum mechanics of running a restaurant, as Adrià is perpetually interrupted by his phone, must wrangle with fishmongers reluctant to disclose “secret” seasonal schedules, and slowly goes through the process of creating an oil cocktail and conceptualizing a ravioli whose pasta disappears when it hits the tongue, tasting everything as he goes. Energized by an alternately snappy and meditative percussive score, this look into the most influential avant-garde restaurant in the world is a lot like the concluding photographs of the many menu items we glimpse at their inception — a memorable, sublimely rendered document that leaves you hungry for more. (1:48) Embarcadero. (Chun)
Le Havre Aki Kaurismäki’s second French-language film (following 1992’s La Vie de Boheme) offers commentary on modern immigration issues wrapped in the gauze of a feel good fairy tale and cozy French provincialism a la Marcel Pagnol. Worried about the health of his hospitalized wife (Kaurismäki regular Kati Outinen), veteran layabout and sometime shoe shiner Marcel (Andre Wilms) gets some welcome distraction in coming to the aid of Idrissa (Blondin Miguel), a young African illegally trying to make way to his mother in London while eluding the gendarmes. Marcel’s whole neighborhood of port-town busybodies and industrious émigrés eventually join in the cause, turning Le Havre into a sort of old-folks caper comedy with an incongruously sunny take on a rising European multiculturalism in which there are no real racist xenophobes, just grumps deserving comeuppance. Incongruous because Kaurismäki is, of course, the king of sardonically funny Finnish miserabilism — and while it’s charmed many on the festival circuit, this combination of his usual poker-faced style and feel-good storytelling formula may strike others as an oil-and-water mismatch. (1:43) Clay, Smith Rafael. (Harvey)
Immortals Tarsem Singh (2006’s The Fall) directs Mickey Rourke and Stephen Dorff in this CG-laden mythology adventure. (1:50) Presidio.
*Into the Abyss: A Tale of Death, a Tale of Life How remarkable is it that, some 50-plus features along, filmmaker Werner Herzog would become the closest thing to a cinema’s conscience? This time the abyss is much closer to home than the Amazon rainforest or the Kuwaiti oil fields — it lies in the heart of Rick Perry country. What begins as an examination of capital punishment, introduced with an interview with Reverend Richard Lopez, who has accompanied Texas death row inmates to their end, becomes a seeming labyrinth of human tragedy. Coming into focus is the execution of Michael Perry, convicted as a teenager of the murder of a Conroe, Tex., woman, her son, and his friend — all for sake of a red Camaro. Herzog obtains an insightful interview with the inmate, just days before his execution, as well as his cohort Jason Burkett, police, an executioner, and the victims’ family members, in this haunting examination of crime, punishment, and a small town in Texas where so many appear to have gone wrong. So wrong that one might see Into the Abyss as more related to 1977’s Stroszek and its critical albeit compassionate take on American life, than Herzog’s last tone poem about the mysterious artists of 2010’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams (and it’s also obviously directly connected to next year’s TV documentary, Death Row). The layered tragedies and the strata of destroyed lives stays with you, as do the documentary’s difficult questions, Herzog’s gentle humanity as an interviewer, and the fascinating characters that don’t quite fit into a more traditional narrative — the Conroe bystander once stabbed with a screwdriver who learned to read in prison, and the dreamy woman impregnated by a killer whose entire doomed family appears to be incarcerated. (1:46) Embarcadero. (Chun)
J. Edgar The usual polished, sober understatement of Clint Eastwood’s directing style and the highlights-compiling CliffsNotes nature of Dustin Lance Black’s screenplay turn out to be interestingly wrong choices for this biopic about one of the last American century’s most divisive figures. Interesting in that they’re perhaps among the very few who would now dare viewing the late, longtime FBI chief with so much admiration tempered by awareness of his faults — rather than the other way around. After all, Hoover (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) strengthened his bureau in ways that, yes, often protected citizens and state, but at what cost? The D.C. native eventually took to frequently “bending” the law, witch-hunting dubious national enemies (he thought the Civil Rights movement our worst threat since the bomb-planting Bolshevik anarchists of half a century earlier), blackmailing personal ones, weakening individual rights against surveillance, hoarding power (he resented the White House’s superior authority), lying publicly, and doing just about anything to heighten his own fame. A movie that internalized and communicated his rising paranoid megalomania (ironically Hoover died during the presidency of Nixon, his equal in that regard) might have stood some chance of making us understand this contradiction-riddled cipher. But J. Edgar is doggedly neutral, almost colorless (literally so, in near-monochrome visual presentation), its weird appreciation of the subject’s perfectionism and stick-to-it-iveness shutting out almost any penetrating insight. (Plus there’s Eastwood’s own by-now-de rigueur soundtrack of quasi-jazz noodling to make what is vivid here seem more dull and polite.) The love that dare not speak its name — or, evidently, risk more than a rare peck on the cheek — between Hoover and right-hand-man/life companion Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer, very good if poorly served by his old-age makeup) becomes both the most compelling and borderline-silly thing here, fueled by a nervous discretion that seems equal parts Black’s interest and Eastwood’s discomfort. While you might think the directors polar opposites in many ways, the movie J. Edgar ultimately recalls most is Oliver Stone’s 1995 Nixon: both ambitiously, rather sympathetically grapple with still-warm dead gorgons and lose, filmmaker and lead performance alike laboring admirably to intelligent yet curiously stilted effect. (2:17) Marina. (Harvey)
Jack and Jill Adam Sandler plays a dude who has a Thanksgiving from hell thanks to his twin sister (played by an in-drag Adam Sandler). Somehow Al Pacino is also involved. (runtime not available) Presidio.
*Melancholia Lars von Trier is a filmmaker so fond of courting controversy it’s like he does it in spite of himself — his rambling comments about Hitler (“I’m a Nazi”) were enough to get him banned from the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year, where Melancholia had its debut (and star Kirsten Dunst won Best Actress). Oops. Maybe after the (here’s that word again) controversy that accompanied 2009’s Antichrist, von Trier felt like he needed a shocking context for his more mellow latest. Pity that, for Melancholia is one of his strongest, most thoughtful works to date. Split into two parts, the film follows first the opulent, disastrous, never-ending wedding reception of Justine (Dunst) and Michael (Alexander Skarsgard), held at a lavish estate owned by John (Kiefer Sutherland), the tweedy husband of Justine’s sister, Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg). Amid the turmoil of arguments (John Hurt and Charlotte Rampling as Justine and Claire’s divorced parents), pushy guests (Stellan Skarsgard as Justine’s boss), livid wedding planner (Udo Kier, amazing), and hurt feelings (Michael is the least-wanted groom since Kris Humphries), it’s clear that something is wrong with Justine beyond just marital jitters. The film’s second half begins an unspecified amount of time later, as Claire talks her severely depressed, near-catatonic sister into moving into John’s mansion. As Justine mopes, it’s revealed that a small planet, Melancholia — glimpsed in Melancholia‘s Wagner-scored opening overture — is set to pass perilously close to Earth. John, an amateur astronomer, is thrilled; Claire, fearful for her young son’s future and goaded into high anxiety by internet doomsayers, is convinced the planets will collide, no matter what John says. Since Justine (apparently von Trier’s stand-in for himself) is convinced that the world’s an irredeemably evil place, she takes the news with a shrug. Von Trier’s vision of the apocalypse is somber and surprisingly poetic; Dunst and Gainsbourg do outstanding work as polar-opposite sisters whose very different reactions to impending disaster are equally extreme. (2:15) Embarcadero. (Eddy)
Octubre This downtempo drama directed by Daniel and Diego Vega follows Clemente (Bruno Odar), a stone-faced moneylender living in a shabby apartment in Lima, Peru. Clemente’s days couldn’t be more bleak. When he’s not dealing with clients over his kitchen table — appraising watches and jewelry, handing out or collecting cash — he’s eating egg sandwiches and paying cold visits to prostitutes. When one of them leaves a baby girl in his apartment, Clemente goes on a search for the mother. Meanwhile, he enlists a client, Sofía (Gabriela Velásquez), as a live-in nanny for the baby. Both Sofía and the baby add some life and color to Clemente’s apartment and ultimately, his reclusive existence. Octubre is a slow rolling and muted film that’s interested in detail. Most of the time, you’re searching Clemente’s stony face (Odar’s acting is superb and unbroken), hoping he might betray a thought or even better, a feeling — he does. (1:23) SFFS New People Cinema. (James H. Miller)
Anonymous Hark, what bosom through yonder bodice heaves? If you like your Shakespearean capers OTT and chock-full of fleshy drama, political intrigue, and groundling sensation, then Anonymous will enthrall (and if the lurid storyline doesn’t hold, the acting should). Writer John Orloff spins his story off one popular theory of Shakespeare authorship — that Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, was the true pen behind the works attributed to William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon. Our modern-day narrator (Derek Jacobi) foregrounds the fictitious nature of the proceedings, pulling back the curtain on Ben Jonson (Sebastian Armesto) staging his unruly comedies for the mob, much to the amusement of a mysterious aging dandy of a visitor: the Earl of Oxford (Rhys Ifans). Hungry for the glory that has always slipped through his pretty fingers, the Earl yearns to have his works staged for audiences beyond those in court, where Queen Elizabeth I (Vanessa Redgrave as the elder regent, daughter Joely Richardson as the lusty young royal) dotes on them, and out of the reach of his puritan father-in-law Robert Cecil (David Thewlis), Elizabeth’s close advisor, and he devises a plan for Jonson to stage them under his own name. But much more is triggered by the productions, uncovering secret trysts, hunchback stratagems, and more royal bastards than you can shake a scepter at. Director Roland Emmerich invests the production with the requisite high drama — and camp — to match the material, as well as pleasing layers of grime and toxic-looking Elizabethan makeup for both the ladies and the dudes who look like ladies (the crowd-surfing, however, strikes the off-key grunge-era note). And if the inherent elitism of the tale — could only a nobleman have written those remarkable plays and sonnets? — offends, fortunately the cast members are more than mere players. Ifans invests his decadent Earl with the jaded gaze and smudgy guyliner of a fading rock star, and Redgrave plays her Elizabeth like a deranged, gulled grotesque. (2:10) 1000 Van Ness, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki. (Chun)
*Drive Such a lovely way to Drive, drunk on the sensual depths of a lush, saturated jewel tone palette and a dreamlike, almost luxurious pacing that gives off the steamy hothouse pop romanticism of ’80s-era Michael Mann and David Lynch — with the bracing, impactful flecks of threat and ultraviolence that might accompany a car chase, a moody noir, or both, as filtered through a first-wave music video. Drive comes dressed in the klassic komforts — from the Steve McQueen-esque stances and perfectly cut jackets of Ryan Gosling as the Driver Who Shall Remain Nameless to the foreboding lingering in the shadows and the wittily static, statuesque strippers that decorate the background. Gosling’s Driver is in line with Mann’s other upstanding working men who hew to an old-school moral code and are excellent at what they do, regardless of what side of the law they’re working: he likes to keep it clear and simple — his services as a wheelman boil down to five minutes, in and out — but matters get messy when he falls for sweet-faced neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan), who lives down the hall with her small son, and her ex-con husband (Oscar Isaac) is dragged back into the game. Populated by pungent side players like Albert Brooks, Bryan Cranston, Ron Perlman, and Christina Hendricks, and scattered with readily embeddable moments like a life-changing elevator kiss that goes bloodily wrong-right, Drive turns into a real coming-out affair for both Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn (2008’s Bronson), who rises above any crisis of influence or confluence of genre to pick up the po-mo baton that Lynch left behind, and 2011’s MVP Ryan Gosling, who gets to flex his leading-man muscles in a truly cinematic role, an anti-hero and under-the-hood psychopath looking for the real hero within. (1:40) Bridge, SF Center. (Chun)
50/50 This is nothing but a mainstream rom-com-dramedy wrapped in indie sheep’s clothes. When Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) learns he has cancer, he undergoes the requisite denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance like a formality. Aided by his bird-brained but lovable best friend Kyle (Seth Rogan), lovable klutz of a counselor Katherine (Anna Kendrick), and panicky mother (Anjelica Huston), Adam gets a new lease on life. This comes in the form of one-night-stands, furious revelations in parked cars, and a prescribed dose of wacky tobaccy. If 50/50 all sounds like the setup for a pseudo-insightful, kooky feel-goodery, it is. The film doesn’t have the brains or spleen to get down to the bone of cancer. Instead, director Jonathan Levine (2008’s The Wackness) and screenwriter Will Reiser favor highfalutin’ monologues, wooden characters, and a Hollywood ending (with just the right amount of ambiguity). Still, Gordon-Levitt is the most gorgeous cancer patient you will ever see, bald head and all. (1:40) Bridge, Four Star, 1000 Van Ness, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki. (Ryan Lattanzio)
Footloose Another unnecessary remake joins the queue at the box office, aiming for the pockets of ’80s-era nostalgics and fans of dance movies and naked opportunism. A recap for those (if there are those) who never saw the 1984 original: city boy Ren McCormack moves to a Middle American speck-on-the-map called Bomont and riles the town’s inhabitants with his rock ‘n’ roll ways — rock ‘n’ roll, and the lewd acts of physicality it inspires, i.e., dancing, having been criminalized by the town council to preserve the souls and bodies of Bomont’s young people. Ren falls for wayward preacher’s daughter Ariel Moore — whose father has sponsored this oversolicitous piece of legislation — and vows to fight city hall on the civil rights issue of a senior prom. Ren McCormack 2.0 is one Kenny Wormald (prepped for the gig by his tenure in the straight-to-cable dance-movie sequel Center Stage: Turn It Up), who forgoes the ass-grabbing blue jeans that Kevin Bacon once angry-danced through a flour mill in. Otherwise, the 2011 version, directed and cowritten by Craig Brewer (2005’s Hustle & Flow), regurgitates much of the original, hoping to leverage classic lines, familiar scenes, and that Dance Your Ass Off T-shirt of Ariel’s. It doesn’t work. Ren and Ariel (Dancing with the Stars‘ Julianne Hough) are blandly unsympathetic and have the chemistry of two wet paper towels, the adult supporting cast should have known better, and the entire film comes off as a tired, tuneless echo. (1:53) Four Star. (Rapoport)
*Gainsbourg: The Man Who Loved Women Those hungry for more of the real Serge Gainsbourg — after being tantalized and teased by Joann Sfar’s whimsical comic book-inspired feature — will want to catch this documentary by Pascal Forneri for many of the details that didn’t fit or were skimmed over, here, in the very words and image of the songwriter and the many iconic women in his life. Much of the chanson master’s photographic or video history seems to be here — from his blunt-force on-camera proposition of Whitney Houston to multiple, insightful interviews with the love of his life, Jane Birkin, as well as the many women who won his heart for just a little while, such as Brigitte Bardot, Juliette Gréco, Françoise Hardy, and Vanessa Paradis. Gainsbourg may be marred by its somewhat choppy, mystifying structure, at times chronological, at times organized according to creative periods, but overriding all are the actual footage and photographs loosely, louchely assembled and collaged by Forneri; delightful pre-music-videos Scopitones of everyone from France Gall to Anna Karina; and the gemlike, oh-so-quotable interviews with the mercurial, admirably honest musical genius and eternally subversive provocateur. Quibble as you might with the short shrift given his later career—in addition to major ’70s LPs like Histoire de Melody Nelson and L’Homme à tête de chou (Cabbage-Head Man) — this is a must-see for fans both casual and seriously seduced. (1:45) Roxie. (Chun)
The Ides of March Battling it out in the Ohio primaries are two leading Democratic presidential candidates. Filling the role of idealistic upstart new to the national stage — even his poster looks like you-know-who’s Hope one — is Governor Mike Morris (George Clooney), who’s running neck-and-neck in the polls with his rival thanks to veteran campaign manager (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and ambitious young press secretary Steven (Ryan Gosling). The latter is so tipped for success that he’s wooed to switch teams by a rival politico’s campaign chief (Paul Giamatti). While he declines, even meeting with a representative from the opposing camp is a dangerous move for Steven, who’s already juggling complex loyalties to various folk including New York Times reporter Ida (Marisa Tomei) and campaign intern Molly (Evan Rachel Wood), who happens to be the daughter of the Democratic National Party chairman. Adapted from Beau Willimon’s acclaimed play Farragut North, Clooney’s fourth directorial feature is assured, expertly played, and full of sharp insider dialogue. (Willimon worked on Howard Dean’s 2004 run for the White House.) It’s all thoroughly engaging — yet what evolves into a thriller of sorts involving blackmail and revenge ultimately seems rather beside the point, as it turns upon an old-school personal morals quandary rather than diving seriously into the corporate, religious, and other special interests that really determine (or at least spin) the issues in today’s political landscape. Though stuffed with up-to-the-moment references, Ides already feels curiously dated. (1:51) Marina, 1000 Van Ness, Sundance Kabuki. (Harvey)
In Time Justin Timberlake moves from romantic comedy to social commentary to play Will Salas, a young man from the ghetto living one day at a time. Many 12-steppers may make this claim, but Salas literally is, because in his world, time actually is money and people pay, say, four minutes for a cup of coffee, a couple hours for a bus ride home from work, and years to travel into a time zone where people don’t run from place to place to stay ahead of death. In writer-director Andrew Niccol’s latest piece of speculative cinema, humans are born with a digitized timepiece installed in their forearm and a default sell-by date of 25 years, with one to grow on — though most end up selling theirs off fairly quickly while struggling to pay rent and put food on the table. Time zones have replaced area codes in defining social stature and signaling material wealth, alongside those pesky devices that give the phrase “internal clock” an ominous literality. Niccol also wrote and directed Gattaca (1997) and wrote The Truman Show (1998), two other films in which technological advances have facilitated a merciless, menacing brand of social engineering. In all three, what is most alarming is the through line between a dystopian society and our own, and what is most hopeful is the embattled protagonist’s promises that we don’t have to go down that road. Amanda Seyfried proves convincible as a bored heiress to eons, her father (Vincent Kartheiser) less amenable to Robin Hood-style time banditry. (1:55) 1000 Van Ness, SF Center. (Rapoport)
Johnny English Reborn (1:41) Four Star.
*Like Crazy Jacob (Anton Yelchin) and Anna (Felicity Jones) meet near the end of college; after a magical date, they’re ferociously hooked on each other. Trouble is, she’s in Los Angeles on a soon-to-expire student visa — and when she impulsively overstays, then jets home to London for a visit months later, her re-entry to America is stopped cold at LAX. (True love’s no match for homeland security.) An on-and-off long-distance romance ensues, and becomes increasingly strained, even as their respective careers (he makes furniture, she’s a magazine staffer) flourish. Director and co-writer Drake Doremus (2010’s Douchebag) achieves a rare midpoint between gritty mumblecore and shiny Hollywood romance; the characters feel very real and the script ably captures the frustration that settles in when idealized fantasies give way to the messy workings of everyday life. There are some contrivances here — Anna’s love-token gift from Jacob, a bracelet engraved “Patience,” breaks when she’s with another guy — but for the most part, Like Crazy offers an honest portrait of heartbreak. (1:29) SF Center. (Eddy)
*Love Crime Early this year came the announcement that Brian De Palma was hot to do an English remake of Alain Corneau’s Love Crime. The results, should they come to fruition, may well prove a landmark in the annals of lurid guilty-pleasure trash. But with the original Love Crime finally making it to local theaters, it’s an opportune moment to be appalled in advance about what sleazy things could potentially be done to this neat, dry, fully clothed model of a modern Hitchcockian thriller. No doubt in France Love Crime looks pretty mainstream. But here its soon-to be-despoiled virtues of narrative intricacy and restraint are upscale pleasures. Ludivine Sagnier plays assistant to high-powered corporate executive Christine (Kristin Scott Thomas). The boss enjoys molding protégée Isabelle to her own image, making them a double team of carefully planned guile unafraid to use sex appeal as a business strategy. But Isabelle is expected to know her place — even when that place robs her of credit for her own ideas — and when she stages a small rebellion, Christine’s revenge is cruelly out of scale, a high-heeled boot brought down to squash an ant. Halfway through an act of vengeance occurs that is shocking and satisfying, even if it leaves the remainder of Corneau and Nathalie Carter’s clever screenplay deprived of the very thing that had made it such a sardonic delight so far. Though it’s no masterpiece, Love Crime closes the book on his Corneau’s career Corneau (he died at age 67 last August) not with a bang but with a crisp, satisfying snap. (1:46) Lumiere. (Harvey)
*Margin Call Think of Margin Call as a Mamet-like, fictitious insider jab at the financial crisis, a novelistic rejoinder to Oscar-winning doc Inside Job (2010). First-time feature director and writer J.C. Chandor shows a deft hand with complex, writerly material, creating a darting dance of smart dialogue and well-etched characters as he sidesteps the hazards of overtheatricality, a.k.a. the crushing, overbearing proscenium. The film opens on a familiar Great Recession scene: lay-off day at an investment bank, marked by HR functionaries calling workers one by one into fishbowl conference rooms. The first victim is the most critical — Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci), a risk-management staffer who has stumbled on an investment miscalculation that could potentially trigger a Wall Street collapse. On his way out, he passes a drive with his findings to one of his young protégés, Peter (Zachary Quinto), setting off a flash storm over the next 24 hours that will entangle his boss Sam (Kevin Spacey), who’s agonizing over his dying dog while putting up a go-big-or-go-home front; cynical trading manager Will (Paul Bettany); and the firm’s intimidating head (Jeremy Irons), who gets to utter the lines, “Explain to me as you would to a child. Or a Golden Retriever.” Such top-notch players get to really flex their skills here, equipped with Chandor’s spot-on script, which manages to convey the big issues, infuse the numbers with drama and the money managers with humanity, and never talk down to the audience. (1:45) Sundance Kabuki. (Chun)
*Martha Marcy May Marlene If Winter’s Bone star Jennifer Lawrence was the breakout ingénue of 2010, look for Martha Marcy May Marlene‘s Elizabeth Olsen to take the 2011 title. Both films are backwoodsy and harrowing and offer juicy roles for their leading starlets — not to mention a pair of sinister supporting roles for the great John Harkes. Here, he’s a Manson-y figure who retains disturbing control over Olsen’s character even after the multi-monikered girl flees his back-to-the-land cult. Writer-director Sean Durkin goes for unflashy realism and mounds on the dread as the hollow-eyed Martha attempts to resume normal life, to the initial delight of her estranged, guilt-ridden older sister (Sarah Paulson). Soon, however, it becomes clear that Things Are Not Ok. You’d be forgiven for pooh-poohing Olsen from the get-go; lavish Sundance buzz and the fact that she’s Mary-Kate and Ashley’s sis have already landed her mountains of pre-release publicity. But her performance is unforgettable, and absolutely fearless. (1:41) Sundance Kabuki. (Eddy)
Midnight in Paris Owen Wilson plays Gil, a self-confessed “Hollywood hack” visiting the City of Light with his conservative future in-laws and crassly materialistic fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams). A romantic obviously at odds with their selfish pragmatism (somehow he hasn’t realized that yet), he’s in love with Paris and particularly its fabled artistic past. Walking back to his hotel alone one night, he’s beckoned into an antique vehicle and finds himself transported to the 1920s, at every turn meeting the Fitzgeralds, Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates), Dali (Adrien Brody), etc. He also meets Adriana (Marion Cotillard), a woman alluring enough to be fought over by Hemingway (Corey Stoll) and Picasso (Marcial di Fonzo Bo) — though she fancies aspiring literary novelist Gil. Woody Allen’s latest is a pleasant trifle, no more, no less. Its toying with a form of magical escapism from the dreary present recalls The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985), albeit without that film’s greater structural ingeniousness and considerable heart. None of the actors are at their best, though Cotillard is indeed beguiling and Wilson dithers charmingly as usual. Still — it’s pleasant. (1:34) Opera Plaza. (Harvey)
Moneyball As fun as it is to watch Brad Pitt listen to the radio, work out, hang out with his cute kid, and drive down I-80 over and over again, it doesn’t quite translate into compelling cinema for the casual baseball fan. A wholesale buy-in to the cult of personality — be it A’s manager Billy Beane or the actor who plays him — is at the center of Moneyball‘s issues. Beane (Pitt) is facing the sad, inevitable fate of having to replace his star players, Jason Giambi and Johnny Damon, once they command the cash from the more-moneyed teams. He’s gotta think outside of the corporate box, and he finds a few key answers in Peter Brand (a.k.a. Paul DePodesta, played by Jonah Hill), who’s working with the sabermetric ideas of Bill James: scout the undervalued players that get on base to work against better-funded big-hitters. Similarly, against popular thought, Moneyball works best when director Bennett Miller (2005’s Capote) strays from the slightly flattening sunniness of its lead actor and plunges into the number crunching — attempting to visualize the abstract and tapping into the David Fincher network, as it were (in a related note, Aaron Sorkin co-wrote Moneyball‘s screenplay) — though the funny anti-chemistry between Pitt and Hill is at times capable of pulling Moneyball out of its slump. (2:13) Marina, 1000 Van Ness, Sundance Kabuki. (Chun)
Oranges and Sunshine At the center of this saga of lives ripped apart by church and state is Margaret Humphreys, the Englishwoman who uncovered the scandalous mass deportation of children from England to Australia. In one of her most rewarding roles since The Proposition (2005), her last foray to Oz, Watson portrays the English social worker who in the ’80s learns of multiple cases of now-adult orphans in Australia who don’t know their real name or even age but remember that they once lived in the UK. She starts to explore the past of victims such as Jack (Hugo Weaving) and Len (David Wenham) and tries to reunite them with their families, including mothers who were told their youngsters were adopted into real families. In the course of her work, and at the expense of her own family life, Humphreys discovers the horrors that befell many young deportees — as child slave-laborers — and the corruption that extends its fingers into government and the Catholic church. In his first feature film, director Jim Loach, son of crusading cinematic force Ken Loach, turns over each stone with care and compassion, finding the perfect filter through which to tell this well-modulated story in Watson, whose Humphreys faces harassment and post-traumatic stress disorder in her quest to heal the children who were lured overseas in the hope that they would ride horses to school and pick oranges off a tree for breakfast. (1:45) Opera Plaza. (Chun)
*Paranormal Activity 3 A prequel to a prequel, this third installment in the faux-home-movie horror series is as good as one could reasonably hope for: considerably better than 2010’s part two, even if inevitably it can’t replicate the relatively fresh impact of the 2007 original. After a brief introductory sequence we’re in 1988, with the grown-up sisters of the first two films now children (Chloe Csengery, Jessica Tyler Brown) living with a recently separated mom (Lauren Bitter) and her nice new boyfriend (Christopher Smith). His wedding-video business provides the excuse for many a surveillance cam to be set up in their home once things start going bump in the night (and sometimes day). Which indeed they do, pretty quickly. Brown’s little Kristi has an invisible friend called Toby she says is “real,” though of course everyone else trusts he’s a normal, harmless imaginary pal. Needless to say, they are wrong. Written by Christopher Landon (Paranormal Activity 2, 2007’s Disturbia) and directed by the guys (Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman) who made interesting nonfiction feature Catfish (2010), this quickly made follow-up does a good job piling on more scares without getting shameless or ludicrous about it, extends the series’ mythology in ways that easily pave way toward future chapters, and maintains the found-footage illusion well enough. (Excellent child performances and creepy camcorder “pans” atop an oscillating fan motor prove a great help; try to forget that video quality just wasn’t this good in ’88.) Not great, but thoroughly decent, and worth seeing in a theater — this remains one chiller concept whose effectiveness can only be diminished to the point of near-uselessness on the small screen. (1:24) 1000 Van Ness. (Harvey)
*Point Blank Not for nothing did Hollywood remake French filmmaker Fred Cavaye’s last film, Anything for Her (2008) as The Next Three Days (2010) — Cavaye’s latest, tauter-than-taut thriller almost screams out for a similar rework, with its Bourne-like handheld camera work, high-impact immediacy, and noirish narrative economy. Point Blank — not to be confused with the 1967 Lee Marvin vehicle —kicks off with a literal slam: a mystery man (Roschdy Zem) crashing into a metal barrier, on the run from two menacing figures until he is cornered and then taken out of the action by fate. His mind mainly on the welfare of his very pregnant wife Nadia (Elena Anaya), nursing assistant Samuel (Gilles Lellouche) has the bad luck to stumble on a faux doctor attempting to make sure that the injured man never rises from his hospital bed. As police wrangle over whose case this exactly is — the murder of an industrialist seems to have expanded the powers of the stony-faced, monolithic Commandant Werner (Gerard Lanvin) — Samuel gets sucked into the mystery man’s lot, a conspiracy that allows them to trust no one, and seemingly impossibly odds against getting out of the mess alive. Cavaye never quite stops applying the pressure in this clever, unrelenting cat-and-mouse and mouse-and-his-spouse game, topping it with a nerve-jangling search through a messily chaotic police station. (1:24) Opera Plaza. (Chun)
Puss in Boots (1:45) 1000 Van Ness, Presidio.
Real Steel Everybody knows what this movie about rocking, socking robots should have been called. Had the producers secured the rights to the name, we’d all be sitting down to Over The Top II: Child Endangerment. Absentee father Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman) and his much-too-young son Max (Dakota Goyo) haul their remote-controlled pugilists in a big old truck from one underground competition to the next. Along the way Charlie learns what it means to be a loving father while still routinely managing to leave cherubic Max alone in scenarios of astonishing peril. Seriously, there are displays of parental neglect in this movie that strain credulity well beyond any of its Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em elements. Fortunately the filmmakers had the good sense to make those elements awesome. The robots look great and the ring action can be surprisingly stirring in spite of the paper-thin human story it depends on. And as adept as the script proves to be at skirting the question of robot sentience, we’re no less compelled to root for our scrappy contender. Recommended if you love finely wrought spectacle but hate strong characterization and children. (2:07) 1000 Van Ness. (Jason Shamai)
Revenge of the Electric Car The timing is right for Chris Paine to make a follow-up to his 2006 Who Killed the Electric Car?, a celebrity-studded doc examining the much-mourned downfall of GM’s EV1 — with gas prices so high and oil politics so distressing, even drivers who don’t consider themselves radical environmentalists are interested in going electric, as choices aplenty flood the marketplace. The aptly-titled Revenge of the Electric Car makes nice with GM’s Bob Lutz as he readies the release of the Chevy Volt. It also profiles Silicon Valley’s own electric car startup, Tesla; tracks Nissan’s top gun Carlos Ghosn as he pushes the Nissan Leaf into production; and even digs up an off-the-grid mechanical wizard known as “Gadget,” who makes his living converting regular autos (if a Porsche is “regular”) into vehicles with plug-in power. The film makes it clear that for most of these folks, business comes first — sure, it’s great to be green, but you have to make green, too — and there’s some tension when the crash of 2008 threatens the auto industry’s enthusiasm for planet-friendly innovations. But there’s far more optimism here than Paine’s first Electric Car film, not to mention a refreshing lack of Mel Gibson. (1:30) Lumiere. (Eddy)
The Rum Diary Hunter S. Thompson’s writing has been adapted twice before into feature form. Truly execrable Where the Buffalo Roam (1980) suggested his style was unfilmable, but Terry Gilliam’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998) duly captured a “gonzo” mindset filtered through quantities of drugs and alcohol that might kill the ordinary mortal — a hallucinatory excess whose unpleasant effectiveness was underlined by the loathing Fear won in most quarters. Now between those two extremes there’s the curiously mild third point of this Johnny Depp pet project, translating an early, autobiographical novel unpublished until late in the author’s life. Failed fiction writer Paul Kemp (Johnny Depp) thinks things are looking up when he’s hired to an English-language San Juan newspaper circa 1960 — though it turns out he was the only applicant. A gruff editor (Richard Jenkins), genially reckless photographer flatmate (Michael Rispoli) and trainwreck vision of his future self (Giovanni Ribisi) introduce him to the thanklessness of writing puff pieces for the gringo community of tourists and robber barons. One of the latter (Aaron Eckhart as Sanderson) introduces him to the spoils to be had exploiting this tax-shelter island “paradise” without sharing one cent with its angrily cast-aside, impoverished natives. Sanderson also introduces Kemp to blonde wild child Chenault (Amber Heard), who’s just the stock Girl here. Presumably hired for his Withnail & I (1987) cred, Bruce Robinson brings little of that 1987’s cult classic’s subversive cheek to his first writing-directing assignment in two decades. Handsomely illustrating without inhabiting its era, toying with matters of narrative and thematic import (American colonialism, Kemp-slash-Thompson finding his writing “voice,” etc.) that never develop, this slack quasi-caper comedy ambles nowhere in particular pleasantly enough. But the point, let alone the rage and outrageousness one expects from Thompson, is missing. On the plus side, there’s some succulent dialogue, as when Ribisi asks Depp for an amateur STD evaluation: “Is it clap?” “A standing ovation.” (2:00) Four Star, 1000 Van Ness, Sundance Kabuki. (Harvey)
The Skin I Live In I’d like to think that Pedro Almodóvar is too far along in his frequently-celebrated career to be having a midlife crisis, but all the classic signs are on display in his flashy, disjointed new thriller. Still mourning the death of his burn victim wife and removed from his psychologically disturbed daughter, brilliant-but-ethically compromised plastic surgeon Robert (played with smoldering creepiness by former Almodóvar heartthrob Antonio Banderas) throws himself into developing a new injury-resistant form of prosthetic skin, testing it on his mysterious live-in guinea pig, Vera (the gorgeous Elena Anaya, whose every curve is on view thanks to an après-ski-ready body suit). Eventually, all hell breaks loose, as does Vera, whose back story, as we find out, owes equally to 1960’s Eyes Without a Face and perhaps one of the Saw films. And that’s not even the half of it — to fully recount every sharp turn, digression and MacGuffin thrown at us would take the entirety of this review. That’s not news for Almodóvar, though. Much like Rainer Werner Fassbinder before him, Almodóvar’s métier is melodrama, as refracted through a gay cinephile’s recuperative affections. His strength as a filmmaker is to keep us emotionally tethered to the story he’s telling, amidst all the allusions, sex changes and plot twists torn straight from a telenovela. The real shame of The Skin I Live In is that so much happens that you don’t actually have time to care much about any of it. Although its many surfaces are beautiful to behold (thanks largely to cinematographer José Luis Alcaine), The Skin I Live In ultimately lacks a key muscle: a heart. (1:57) Embarcadero, Sundance Kabuki. (Sussman)
*Sutro’s: The Palace at Land’s End Filmmaker Tom Wyrsch (2008’s Watch Horror Films, Keep America Strong and 2009’s Remembering Playland) explores the unique and fascinating history behind San Francisco’s Sutro Baths in his latest project, an enjoyable documentary that covers the stories behind Adolph Sutro, the construction of his swimming pools, and the amazingly diverse, and somewhat strange collection of other attractions that entertained generations of locals that came to Land’s End for amusement. Told through interviews with local historians and residents, the narrative is illustrated with a host of rarely-seen historic photographs, archival film footage, contemporary video, and images of old documents, advertisements and newspapers. The film should appeal not only to older viewers who fondly remember going to Sutro’s as children, and sadly recall it burning down in 1966, but also younger audiences who have wandered through the ruins below the Cliff House and wondered what once stood there. (1:24) Balboa. (Sean McCourt)
Tower Heist The mildest of mysteries drift around the edges of Tower Heist — like, how plausible is Ben Stiller as the blue-collar manager of a tony uptown NYC residence? How is that Eddie Murphy’s face has grown smoother and more seamless with age? And how much heavy lifting goes into an audience member’s suspension of disbelief concerning a certain key theft, dangling umpteen floors above Thanksgiving parade, in the finale? Yet those questions might not to deter those eager to escape into this determinedly undemanding, faintly entertaining Robin Hood-style comedy-thriller. Josh Kovacs (Stiller) is the wildly competent manager of an upscale residence — toadying smoothly and making life run perfectly for his entitled employers — till Bernie Madoff-like penthouse dweller Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda) is arrested for big-time financial fraud, catching the pension fund of Josh’s staffers in his vortex. After a showy standoff gets the upstanding Josh fired, he assembles a crew of ex-employees Enrique (Michael Peña) and Charlie (Casey Affleck), maid Odessa (Gabourey Sidibe), and foreclosed former resident Mr. Fitzhugh (Matthew Broderick), as well as childhood friend, neighbor, and thief Slide (Murphy). Murphy gets to slink effortlessly through supposed comeback role — is he vital here? Not really. Nevertheless, a few twists and a good-hearted feel for the working-class 99 percent who got screwed by the financial sector make this likely the most likable movie Brett Ratner has made since 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand — provided you can get over those dangles over the yawning gaps in logic. (1:45) Balboa, 1000 Van Ness, Presidio. (Chun)
A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas Delivery of a mystery package to the crash pad Kumar (Kal Penn) no longer shares with now-married, successfully yuppiefied Harold (John Cho) forces the former to visit the latter in suburbia after a couple years’ bromantic lapse. Unfortunately Kumar’s unreconstructed stonerdom once again wreaks havoc with Harold’s well-laid plans, necessitating another serpentine quest, this time aimed toward an all-important replacement Xmas tree but continually waylaid by random stuff. Which this time includes pot (of course), an unidentified hallucinogen, ecstasy, a baby accidentally dosed on all the aforementioned, claymation, Ukrainian mobsters, several penises in peril, a “Wafflebot,” and a Radio City Music Hall-type stage holiday musical extravaganza starring who else but Neil Patrick Harris. Only in it for ten minutes or so, NPH manages to make his iffy material seem golden. But despite all CGI wrapping and self-aware 3D gratuitousness, this third Harold and Kumar adventure is by far the weakest. While the prior installments were hit/miss but anarchic, occasionally subversive, and always good-natured, Christmas substitutes actual race jokes for jokes about racism, amongst numerous errors on the side of simple crassness. There are some laughs, but you know creators Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg are losing interest when the majority of their gags would work as well for Adam Sandler. Cho and Penn remain very likeable; this time, however, their movie isn’t. (1:30) 1000 Van Ness. (Harvey)
*Weekend In post-World War II Britain, the “Angry Young Man” school excited international interest even as it triggered alarm and disdain from various native bastions of cultural conservatism. Alan Sillitoe’s Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1958) discomfited many by depicting a young factory grunt who frequently wakes in a married woman’s bed, chases other available tail, lies as naturally as he breathes, and calls neighborhood busybodies “bitches and whores.” Today British movies (at least the ones that get exported) are still more or less divided by a sort of class system. There’s the Masterpiece Theatre school of costumed romance and intrigue on one hand, the pint-mouthed rebel yellers practicing gritty realism on another. Except contemporary examples of the latter now allow that Angry Young Men might be something else beyond the radar once tuned to cocky, white male antiheroes. The “something else” is gay in Weekend, which was shot in some of the same Nottingham locations where Albert Finney kicked against the pricks in the 1960 film version of Saturday Night. The landscape has changed, but is still nondescript; the boozy clubs still loud but with different bad music. It’s at one such that bearded, late-20s Russell (Tom Cullen) wakes up next morning with a hangover next to no married lady but rather Glen (Chris New). It would be unfair to reveal more of Weekend‘s plot, what little there is. Suffice it to say these two lads get to know each other over less than 48 hours, during which it emerges that Russell isn’t really “out,” while Glen is with a vengeance — though the matter of who is more emotionally mature or well adjusted isn’t so simple. Writer-director Andrew Haigh made one prior feature, a semi-interesting, perhaps semi-staged portrait of a male hustler called Greek Pete (2009). It didn’t really prepare one for Weekend, which is the kind of yakkety, bumps and-all romantic brief encounter movies (or any other media) so rarely render this fresh, natural, and un-stagy. (1:36) Lumiere. (Harvey)
The Woman on the Sixth Floor There is a particular strain of populist European comedy in which stuffy northerners are loosened up by liberating exposure to those sensual, passionate, loud, all-embracing simple folk from the sunny south. The line between multicultural inclusion and condescension is a thin one these movies not infrequently cross. Set in 1960, Philippe Le Guay’s film has a bourgeoisie Paris couple hiring a new maid in the person of attractive young Maria (Natalia Verbeke). She joins a large group of Spanish women toiling for snobbish French gentry in the same building. Her presence has a leavening effect on investment counselor employer Jean-Louis (Fabrice Luchini), to the point where he actually troubles to improve the poorly housed maids’ lot. (Hitherto no one has cared that their shared toilet is broken.) But he also takes an inappropriate and (initially) unwanted romantic interest in this woman, lending a creepy edge to what’s intended as a feel-good romp. (For the record, Verbeke is about a quarter-century younger than Luchini — a difference one can’t imagine the film would ignore so completely if the genders were reversed.) Le Guay’s screenplay trades in easy stereotypes — the Spanish “help” are all big-hearted lovers of life, the Gallic upper-crusters (including Sandrine Kiberlain as J-L’s shallow, insecure wife) emotionally constipated, xenophobic boors — predictable conflicts and pat resolutions. As formulaic crowd-pleasers go, it could be worse. But don’t be fooled — if this were in English, there’d be no fawning mainstream reviews. In fact, it has been in English, more or less. And that ugly moment in cinematic history was called Spanglish (2004). (1:44) Opera Plaza. (Harvey)