Film Listings

Pub date September 25, 2012
SectionFilm Reviews


“Aerobicide Sunday: A Marathon of Murder in Tights” Two things that made the 1980s taste great, slasher movies and aerobic exercise, were each too crassly, promiscuously commercial not to hook up a few times — even if the sub-sub-genre they created together is even less well remembered than the Lambada musical. Sun/30, however, it shall reign as king at the Vortex, where a triple bill of exer-psycho obscurities will really make you feel the burn. First up is 1987’s Aerobicide a.k.a. Killer Workout, in which the fitness emporium owned by Rhonda (Marcia Karrof of 1984’s Savage Streets) — as sour a grape as you’ll find in pastel spandex and pouf-shouldered Valley Girl dresses — experiences a rash of hard bodies being reduced to bloody pulp by an unknown killer wielding a large killer safety pin. Totally gross! We get many close-ups of overexposed thighs and over assisted cleavage gyrating to heinous dance tracks with inexplicable lyrics like “Hey baby! I’ve got your number! Red and juicy, warm and sweet” — plus some feathered-hair beefcake too — before the culprit turns out to be exactly who you think it is. This was but an early effort among 32 features to date by writer-director David A. Prior, and based on the evidence present there’s a reason why you’ve never heard of any of them. Slightly slicker was 1990’s Death Spa (a.k.a. Witch Bitch), in which a computer automated gym goes all HAL-slash-The Shining, to the mortal danger of its highly toned staff and clientele. We’re talking death by blender, sauna paneling, and reanimated frozen fish products. The facility’s bitchy programmer is played by Merrick Butrick, who’d portrayed Captain Kirk’s son and a Square Peg earlier in the decade, and died of AIDS before this movie was released. Directed by Austrian Michael Fischa, it’s comparatively glossy but definitely senseless nonsense with a Eurotrash-genre feel. Lastly, in the same vein, and even slicker, there’s 1984’s Murder Rock: Dancing Death a.k.a. Giallo a Disco a.k.a. Slashdance (one of, incredibly, no less than three movies with that third name), a lesser exercise by that occasionally great horror director Lucio Fulci. Rather than a health club, the setting here is a dance school where choreography seems less indebted to Balanchine and Martha Graham than Jane Fonda and Shabba Doo. For that crime the punishment is, of course … death by hatpin? Whatever. If you survive this evening, you will be sore, winded, and desperate to sweat the toxins out of your system. Vortex Room. (Harvey)

Backwards Athletic disappointment is not a new feeling for Abi (Sarah Megan Thomas, who also wrote the script), who has just learned she’s been named the alternate for the Olympic crew team — a bench warming role she was also relegated to in the last Olympics. But after she quits the team in a huff and moves home, it’s not long before she realizes that her life off the water is pretty depressing, too. Enter former boyfriend Geoff (James Van Der Beek), now the athletic director at the high school where Abi honed her rowing talents, who gives her a job coaching the talented but undisciplined girls who make up the current team. Will this new venture help Abi finally grow up and regain her self-confidence? Will she re-ignite her spark with Geoff? Will there be a last-act conflict involving yet another chance at the Olympics? Will there be multiple training montages? As directed by Ben Hickernell, Backwards hits all of the expected themes about following one’s heart and Doing the Right Thing. Thomas, a former rower herself, has an ordinary-girl appeal, but even Backwards’ attention to authenticity can’t elevate what’s essentially a very predictable sports drama. (1:29) Sundance Kabuki. (Eddy)

Detropia See “We Were Here.” (1:30) Elmwood, Roxie, Smith Rafael.

Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel See “Chronic Youth.” (1:26) Embarcadero.

Hotel Transylvania Genndy Tartakovsky (TV’s Star Wars: The Clone Wars) directs this 3D animated comedy about a resort run by Dracula (voiced by Adam Sandler) for Frankenstein (Kevin James) and other monsters. (1:32) Shattuck.


Liberal Arts See “Chronic Youth.” (1:37) Bridge, Shattuck.

Looper Writer-director Rian Johnson reunites with Brick (2005) star Joseph Gordon-Levitt for this sci-fi thriller about time-traveling assassins. (1:58) Four Star, Piedmont, Presidio.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower Stephen Chbosky wrote and directed this adaptation of his best-selling YA novel, about a high-school misfit (Logan Lerman) comes out of his shell when he befriends a brother-sister duo (Ezra Miller, Emma Watson). (1:43) California, Embarcadero.

Peter Ford: A Little Prince See “Chronic Youth.” (:40) Delancey Street.

Pitch Perfect Anna Kendrick stars in this musical comedy set within the cutthroat world of competitive college a capella groups. (1:52)

Solomon Kane Conceived by Conan the Barbarian creator Robert E. Howard, this 16th-century hero is cut from the same sword-and-sorcery cloth, being a brawny brute of slippery but generally sorta-kinda upright morals. Solomon (James Purefoy) is slaughtering his way to a North African treasure trove when demons swallow up his likewise greedy, conscience-free cohorts and damn his soul for a lifetime of bad deeds. Suddenly committed to the greater good, he returns homeward to cold gray England, where Jason Flemyng’s evil sorcerer soon imperils both our protagonist and the Puritan family (complete with love interest) he’s befriended. This movie has been around a while — since 2009, to be exact, yet barely beating director Michael J. Bassett’s new Silent Hill: Revelation 3D to U.S. theaters — and is a good illustration of what can happen when you make a fairly expensive ($45 million) fantasy-action adventure without major stars nor any marketable novelty. Which is to say: not much. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the good-looking, watchable but generic-feeling Solomon Kane, save that nothing about it feels remotely original or inspired. It’s the perfectly okay, like-a-thousand-others mall flick you’ll forget you saw by Thanksgiving, despite being peopled with such normally interesting actors as Max Von Sydow, Alice Krige, and the late Pete Postlethwaite. (1:54) (Harvey)

“Stars In Shorts” Outside of the festival circuit, it’s an uncommon feat for shorts to make it to the big screen, so it can’t hurt to make name recognition a prerequisite for selection. In writer-director Rupert Friend’s Steve, Keira Knightley plays an embattled Londoner under siege by her lonely, pathologically odd neighbor (Colin Firth). Written by Neil LaBute, Jacob Chase’s After School Special sets up a semi-flirtation between two strangers (Sarah Paulson and Wes Bentley) at a playground, only to deliver the kind of gut-level punch you might expect from the writer-director of 1998’s Your Friends and Neighbors. LaBute’s own Sexting is an entertaining exercise in stream-of-consciousness monologuing by Julia Stiles. As with most shorts programs, “Stars” is a mixed bag. Robert Festinger’s The Procession, in which Lily Tomlin and Modern Family‘s Jesse Tyler Ferguson play reluctant participants in a funeral procession, sounds promising, but the conversation palls during the 10-plus minutes we’re stuck in the car with them. Benjamin Grayson’s sci-fi thriller Prodigal, starring Kenneth Branagh, reaches its predictable crisis points several minutes after the viewer has arrived. More successful are Jay Kamen’s musical comedy Not Your Time, starring Seinfeld‘s Jason Alexander as an old Hollywood hand whose writing career has stalled out, and Chris Foggin’s Friend Request Pending, which treats viewers to the sight of Dame Judi Dench gamely wading into the social network in search of a date. (1:53) Opera Plaza, Shattuck. (Rapoport)

Vulgaria Raunchy HK import about a film producer who convinces a gangster to finance his porn epic. (1:32) Metreon.

Won’t Back Down Determined mothers (Maggie Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis) become education activists in this based-on-true-events drama. (2:00)


Arbitrage As Arbitrage opens, its slick protagonist, Robert Miller (Richard Gere), is trying to close the sale of his life, on his 60th birthday: the purchase of his company by a banking goliath. The trick is completing the deal before his fraud, involving hundreds of millions of dollars, is uncovered, though the whip-smart daughter who works for him (Brit Marling) might soon be onto him. Meanwhile, Miller’s gaming his personal affairs as well, juggling time between a model wife (Susan Sarandon) and a Gallic gallerist mistress (Laetitia Casta), when sudden-death circumstances threaten to destroy everything, and the power broker’s livelihood — and very existence — ends up in the hands of a young man (Nate Parker) with ambitions of his own. It’s a realm that filmmaker Nicholas Jarecki is all too familiar with. Though like brothers Andrew (2003’s Capturing the Friedmans) and Eugene (2005’s Why We Fight), Jarecki’s first love is documentaries (his first film, 2006’s The Outsider, covered auteur James Toback), his family is steeped in the business world. Both his parents were commodities traders, and Jarecki once owned his own web development firm and internet access provider, among other ventures. When he started writing Arbitrage‘s script in 2008, he drew some inspiration from Bernard Madoff — but ultimately, the film is about a good man who became corrupted along the way, to the point of believing in his own invincibility. (1:40) Metreon, Presidio, Smith Rafael, Shattuck, Sundance Kabuki. (Chun)

Beasts of the Southern Wild Six months after winning the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance (and a Cannes Camera d’Or), Beasts of the Southern Wild proves capable of enduring a second or third viewing with its originality and strangeness fully intact. Magical realism is a primarily literary device that isn’t attempted very often in U.S. cinema, and succeeds very rarely. But this intersection between Faulkner and fairy tale, a fable about — improbably — Hurricane Katrina, is mysterious and unruly and enchanting. Benh Zeitlin’s film is wildly cinematic from the outset, as voiceover narration from six-year-old Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) offers simple commentary on her rather fantastical life. She abides in the Bathtub, an imaginary chunk of bayou country south of New Orleans whose residents live closer to nature, amid the detritus of civilization. Seemingly everything is some alchemical combination of scrap heap, flesh, and soil. But not all is well: when “the storm” floods the land, the holdouts are forced at federal gunpoint to evacuate. With its elements of magic, mythological exodus, and evolutionary biology, Beasts goes way out on a conceptual limb; you could argue it achieves many (if not more) of the same goals Terrence Malick’s 2011 The Tree of Life did at a fraction of that film’s cost and length. (1:31) Shattuck, Smith Rafael. (Harvey)

Beauty is Embarrassing You may not recognize the name Wayne White offhand, but you will know his work: he designed and operated many of the puppets on Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, including Randy (the blockheaded bully) and Dirty Dog (the canine jazzbo). Neil Berkeley’s Beauty Is Embarrassing — named for a mural White painted on the side of a Miami building for Art Basel 2009 — charts the life of an artist whose motto is both “I want to try everything I can!” and “Fuck you!” The Southern-born oddball, who came of age in the early-1980s East Village scene, is currently styling himself as a visual artist (his métier: painting non-sequitur phrases into landscapes bought from thrift stores), but Beauty offers a complex portrait of creativity balanced between the need to be subversive and the desire to entertain. (1:27) Roxie. (Eddy)

The Bourne Legacy Settle down, Matt Damon fans — the original Bourne appears in The Bourne Legacy only in dialogue (“Jason Bourne is in New York!”) and photograph form. Stepping in as lead badass is Jeremy Renner, whose twin powers of strength and intelligence come courtesy of an experimental-drug program overseen by sinister government types (including Edward Norton in an utterly generic role) and administered by lab workers doing it “for the science!,” according to Dr. Rachel Weisz. Legacy‘s timeline roughly matches up with the last Damon film, The Bourne Ultimatum, which came out five years ago and is referenced here like we’re supposed to be on a first-name basis with its long-forgotten plot twists. Anyway, thanks to ol’ Jason and a few other factors involving Albert Finney and YouTube, the drug program is shut down, and all guinea-pig agents and high-security-clearance doctors are offed. Except guess which two, who manage to flee across the globe to get more WMDs for Renner’s DNA. Essentially one long chase scene, The Bourne Legacy spends way too much of its time either in Norton’s “crisis suite,” watching characters bark orders and stare at computer screens, or trying to explain the genetic tinkering that’s made Renner a super-duper-superspy. Remember when Damon killed that guy with a rolled-up magazine in 2004’s The Bourne Supremacy? Absolutely nothing so rad in this imagination-free enterprise. (2:15) 1000 Van Ness, SF Center. (Eddy)

The Campaign (1:25) 1000 Van Ness, SF Center.

Celeste and Jesse Forever Married your best friend, realized you love but can’t be in love with each other, and don’t want to let all those great in-jokes wither away? Such is the premise of Celeste and Jesse Forever, the latest in what a recent wave of meaty, girl-centric comedies penned by actresses — here Rashida Jones working with real-life ex Will McCormack; there, Zoe Kazan (Ruby Sparks), Zoe Lister Jones (Lola Versus), and Lena Dunham (Girls) — who have gone the DIY route and whipped up their own juicy roles. There’s no mistaking theirs for your average big-screen rom-com: they dare to wallow harder, skew smarter, and in the case of Celeste, tackle the thorny, tough-to-resolve relationship dilemma that stubbornly refuses to conform to your copy-and-paste story arc. Nor do their female protagonists come off as uniformly likable: in this case, Celeste (Jones) is a bit of an aspiring LA powerbitch. Her Achilles heel is artist Jesse (Andy Samberg), the slacker high school sweetheart she wed and separated from because he doesn’t share her goals (e.g., he doesn’t have a car or a job). Yet the two continue to spend all their waking hours together and share an undeniable rapport, extending from Jesse’s encampment in her backyard apartment to their jokey simulated coitus featuring phallic-shaped lip balm. Throwing a wrench in the works: the fact that they’re still kind of in love with each other, which all their pals, like Jesse’s pot-dealer bud Skillz (McCormack), can clearly see. It’s an shaggy, everyday breakup yarn, writ glamorous by its appealing leads, that we too rarely witness, and barring the at-times nausea-inducing shaky-cam under the direction of Lee Toland Krieger, it’s rendered compelling and at times very funny — there’s no neat and tidy way to say good-bye, and Jones and McCormack do their best to capture but not encapsulate the severance and inevitable healing process. It also helps that the chemistry practically vibrates between the boyish if somewhat one-note Samberg and the soulful Jones, who fully, intelligently rises to the occasion, bringing on the heartbreak. (1:31) Shattuck, Sundance Kabuki. (Chun)

The Dark Knight Rises Early reviews that called out The Dark Knight Rises‘ flaws were greeted with the kind of vicious rage that only anonymous internet commentators can dish out. And maybe this is yet another critic-proof movie, albeit not one based on a best-selling YA book series. Of course, it is based on a comic book, though Christopher Nolan’s sophisticated filmmaking and Christian Bale’s tortured lead performance tend to make that easy to forget. In this third and “final” installment in Nolan’s trilogy, Bruce Wayne has gone into seclusion, skulking around his mansion and bemoaning his broken body and shattered reputation. He’s lured back into the Batcave after a series of unfortunate events, during which The Dark Knight Rises takes some jabs at contemporary class warfare (with problematic mixed results), introduces a villain with pecs of steel and an at-times distractingly muffled voice (Tom Hardy), and unveils a potentially dangerous device that produces sustainable energy (paging Tony Stark). Make no mistake: this is an exciting, appropriately moody conclusion to a superior superhero series, with some nice turns by supporting players Gary Oldman and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. But in trying to cram in so many characters and plot threads and themes (so many prisons in this thing, literal and figural), The Dark Knight Rises is ultimately done in by its sprawl. Without a focal point — like Heath Ledger’s menacing, iconic Joker in 2008’s The Dark Knight — the stakes aren’t as high, and the end result feels more like a superior summer blockbuster than one for the ages. (2:44) Metreon. (Eddy)

Dredd 3D Cartoonishly, gleefully gruesome violence abounds in Dredd 3D, a pretty enjoyable comic-book adaptation thanks to star Karl Urban’s deadpan zingers. This is not a remake of the 1995 Sly Stallone flop Judge Dredd, by the way, though it might as well be a remake of 2011 Indonesian import The Raid: Redemption. The stories are identical. Like, lawsuit material-identical: supercop infiltrates (and then becomes trapped in, and must battle his way out of) a high-rise apartment tower run by a ruthless crime boss. Key difference is that Dredd has futuristic weapons, and The Raid had badass martial arts. Also Dredd‘s villain is played by Lena “Cersei Lannister” Headey, so there’s that. (1:38) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness. (Eddy)

End of Watch Buddy cop movies tend to go one of two ways: the action-comedy route (see: the Rush Hour series) or the action-drama route. End of Watch is firmly in the latter camp, despite some witty shit-talking between partners Taylor (a chrome-domed Jake Gyllenhaal) and Zavala (Michael Peña from 2004’s Crash) as they patrol the mean streets of Los Angeles. Writer-director David Ayer, who wrote 2001’s Training Day, aims for authenticity by piecing together much of (but, incongruously, not all of) the story through dashboard cameras, surveillance footage, and Officer Taylor’s own ever-present camera, which he claims to be carrying for a school project, though we never once see him attending classes or mentioning school otherwise. Gyllenhaal and Peña have an appealing rapport, but End of Watch‘s adrenaline-seeking plot stretches credulity at times, with the duo stumbling across the same group of gangsters multiple times in a city of three million people. Natalie Martinez and Anna Kendrick do what they can in underwritten cop-wife roles, but End of Watch is ultimately too familiar (but not lawsuit-material familiar) to leave any lasting impression. Case in point: in the year 2012, do we really need yet another love scene set to Mazzy Star’s “Fade Into You”? (1:49) Marina, 1000 Van Ness, SF Center. (Eddy)

The Expendables 2 (1:43) Metreon.

Finding Nemo 3D (1:40) 1000 Van Ness, SF Center, Shattuck, Sundance Kabuki.

For a Good Time, Call&ldots; Suffering the modern-day dilemmas of elapsed rent control and boyfriend douchebaggery, sworn enemies Katie (Ari Graynor) and Lauren (Lauren Miller) find themselves shacking up in Katie’s highly covetable Manhattan apartment, brought together on a stale cloud of resentment by mutual bestie Jesse (Justin Long, gamely delivering a believable version of your standard-issue young hipster NYC gay boy). The domestic glacier begins to melt somewhere around the time that Lauren discovers Katie is working a phone-sex hotline from her bedroom; equipped with a good head for business, she offers to help her go freelance for a cut of the proceeds. Major profitability ensues, as does a friendship evoking the pair bonding at the center of your garden-variety romantic comedy, as Katie trains Lauren to be a phone-sex operator and the two share everything from pinkie swears and matching pink touch-tone phones to intimate secrets and the occasional hotline threesome. Directed by Jamie Travis and adapted from a screenplay by Miller and Katie Anne Naylon, the film is a welcome response to the bromance genre, and with any luck it may also introduce linguistic felicities like “phone-banging” and “let’s get this fuckshow started” into the larger culture. The raunchy telephonic interludes include cameos by Kevin Smith and Seth Rogen (Miller’s husband) as customers calling from such unfurtive locations as a public bathroom stall and the front seat of a taxicab. But the two roomies supply plenty of dirty as Katie, an abashed wearer of velour and denim pantsuits, helps the more restrained Lauren discover the joys of setting free her inner potty mouth. (1:25) SF Center. (Rapoport)

Hello I Must Be Going Blindsided by her recent divorce, 35-year-old Amy (Melanie Lynskey) flees New York City for quaint Westport, Conn., where she nurses her wounds, mostly by sleeping and watching Marx Brothers movies. Amy’s protracted moping rankles her perfectionist mother (Blythe Danner, bringing nuance to what could have been a clichéd character) and concerns her workaholic father (John Rubenstein). Dad’s trying to land a big client so he can “make back some of the money we lost in the market” — a subtle aside in Sarah Koskoff’s script that suggests Amy’s parents aren’t as well-heeled as they used to be, despite the ongoing renovations to their swanky home, catered dinners, and expensive art purchases. Money woes are just one of Amy’s many concerns, though, and when a distraction presents itself in the form of 19-year-old Jeremy (Girls’ Christopher Abbott), she finds herself sneaking out at night, making out in her mom’s car, smoking weed, and basically behaving like a teenager herself. As directed by indie actor turned director Todd Louiso (2002’s Love Liza), Hello I Must Be Going is a nicely contained, relatable (self-loathing: we’ve all been there) character study — and props for casting the endearing Lynskey, so often seen in supporting roles, as the film’s messy, complex lead. (1:35) SF Center. (Eddy)

House At the End of the Street Tight T-shirts, a creepy cul-de-sac, couples in cars on lonely lanes, and the cute but weird loner kid — all the stuff of classic drive-in horror fare, revisited in this ambitious tribute of sorts. Don’t mistake House at the End of the Street for genre-reviving efforts by super fans like Eli Roth and Rob Zombie; Mark Tonderai’s mash up of Psycho (1960) and Last House on the Left (1972) lacks the rock ‘n’ roll brio and jet-black humor of, say, Cabin Fever (2002) or The Devil’s Rejects (2005). Instead House reads like an earnest effort to add a thin veneer of psychological realism and even girl power sincerity to a blood-spattered back catalog. Teenage musician Elissa (Jennifer Lawrence) and her overwhelmed mom Sarah (Elisabeth Shue) have found themselves quite a deal of a new rental home — a bit too good, since their next door neighbors were both brutally killed by their brain-damaged offspring who was obviously afflicted with the same greasy hair issues as the ghoulish gal in The Ring. Ryan (Bay Area native Max Thieriot), the boy who continues to live in the house where his parents were murdered, is ostracized, attractive, and much like his home, a fixer — making him mighty attractive to Elissa. A hearty, artistic soul who likes to venture where others fear to tread, she’s drawn to him despite the fact that she feels like she’s being watched from the woods that separate their homes. Switching back and forth between various perspectives — like that of a sputtering, spasmodically edited psychopath-cam and the steady, thoughtful gaze of a rebellious yet empathetic girl — House manages to effectively throw a few curveballs your way, while toying with genre conventions and upsetting your expectations. Shoring up its efforts is a talented cast, headed up by Lawrence’s feisty heroine and Shue’s sad-eyed struggling mom. (1:43) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness. (Chun)

How to Survive a Plague David France’s documentary chronicles the unprecedented impact political activism had on the course of AIDS in the U.S. — drastically curtailing its death toll within a few years despite considerable institutional indifference and downright hostility. As the epidemic here first surfaced in, and decimated, the gay male community, much of Reagan America (particularly in religious quarters) figured the death sentence was deserved. The President himself infamously refrained from even saying the word “AIDS” publicly until his final year of office, after thousands had died. Both terrified and outraged, the gay community took it upon themselves to demand treatment, education, and research. Most of this urgent 1980s overview is concerned with the rise of ACT-UP, whose angry young men successfully lobbied and shamed corporate, academic, medical, and pharmaceutical bodies into action, with the result that by the mid-90s new drugs existed that made this dreaded diagnosis no longer a necessarily terminal one. France is a journalist who’s been covering AIDS practically since day one, and his first feature (made with the help of numerous first-rate collaborators) is authoritative and engrossing. Just don’t expect much (or really any) attention paid to the contributions made by S.F. or other activist hotspots — like many a gay documentary, this one hardly notices there’s a world (or gay community) outside Manhattan. (1:49) Opera Plaza. (Harvey)

Lawless Lawless has got to be the most pretentiously humorless movie ever made about moonshiners — a criminal subset whose adventures onscreen have almost always been rambunctious and breezy, even when violent. Not here, bub. Adapting Matt Bondurant’s fact-inspired novel The Wettest County in the World about his family’s very colorful times a couple generations back, director John Hillcoat and scenarist (as well as, natch, composer) Nick Cave have made one of those films in which the characters are presented to you as if already immortalized on Mount Rushmore — monumental, legendary, a bit stony. They’ve got a crackling story about war between hillbilly booze suppliers and corrupt lawmen during Prohibition, and while the results aren’t dull (they’re too bloody for that, anyway), they’d be a whole lot better if the entire enterprise didn’t take itself so gosh darned seriously. The Bondurant brothers of Franklin County, Va. are considered “legends” when we meet them in 1931, having defied all and sundry as well as survived a few bullets: mack-truck-built Forrest (Tom Hardy); eldest Howard (Jason Clarke), who tipples and smiles a lot; and “runt of the litter” Jack (Shia LeBeouf), who has a chip on his shoulder. The local law looks the other way so long as their palms are greased, but the Feds send sneering Special Deputy Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce), it’s an eye for an eye for an eye, etc. The revenge-laden action in Lawless is engaging, but the filmmakers are trying so hard to make it all resonant and folkloric and meta-cinematic, any fun you have is in spite of their efforts. (1:55) 1000 Van Ness, SF Center. (Harvey)

The Master Paul Thomas Anderson’s much-hyped likely Best Picture contender lives up: it’s easily the best film of 2012 so far. Philip Seymour Hoffman stars as Lancaster Dodd, the L. Ron Hubbard-ish head of a Scientology-esque movement. “The Cause” attracts Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix, in a welcome return from the faux-deep end), less for its pseudo-religious psychobabble and bizarre personal-growth exercises, and more because it supplies the aimless, alcoholic veteran — a drifter in every sense of the word — with a sense of community he yearns for, yet resists submitting to. As with There Will Be Blood (2007), Anderson focuses on the tension between the two main characters: an older, established figure and his upstart challenger. But there’s less cut-and-dried antagonism here; while their relationship is complex, and it does lead to dark, troubled places, there are also moments of levity and weird hilarity — which might have something to do with Freddie’s paint-thinner moonshine. (2:17) Albany, Balboa, Embarcadero, 1000 Van Ness, Presidio, Sundance Kabuki. (Eddy)

Moonrise Kingdom Does Wes Anderson’s new film mark a live-action return to form after 2007’s disappointingly wan Darjeeling Limited? More or less. Does it tick all the Andersonian style and content boxes? Indubitably. In the most obvious deviation Anderson has taken with Moonrise, he gives us his first period piece, a romance set in 1965 on a fictional island off the New England coast. After a chance encounter at a church play, pre-teen Khaki Scout Sam (newcomer Jared Gilman) instantly falls for the raven-suited, sable-haired Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward, ditto). The two become pen pals, and quickly bond over the shared misery of being misunderstood by both authority figures and fellow kids. The bespectacled Sam is an orphan, ostracized by his foster parents and scout troop (much to the dismay of its straight-arrow leader Edward Norton). Suzy despises her clueless attorney parents, played with gusto by Bill Murray and Frances McDormand in some of the film’s funniest and best scenes. When the two kids run off together, the whole thing begins to resemble a kind of tween version of Godard’s 1965 lovers-on the-lam fantasia Pierrot le Fou. But like most of Anderson’s stuff, it has a gauzy sentimentality more akin to Truffaut than Godard. Imagine if the sequence in 2001’s The Royal Tenenbaums where Margot and Richie run away to the Museum of Natural History had been given the feature treatment: it’s a simple yet inspired idea, and it becomes a charming little tale of the perils of growing up and selling out the fantasy. But it doesn’t feel remotely risky. It’s simply too damn tame. (1:37) Shattuck, Sundance Kabuki. (Michelle Devereaux)

ParaNorman (1:32) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness.

The Possession (1:31) Metreon.

Premium Rush “Fixed gear. Steel frame. No brakes. Can’t stop … don’t want to.” Thus goes the gear breakdown and personal philosophy of New York City bike messenger Wilee (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), an aggro rider who uses his law school-refined brain to make split-second decisions regarding which way to dart through Midtown traffic. Though bike messengers had a pop culture moment in the 1990s, Premium Rush is set in the present day, with one of Wilee’s numerous voice-overs explaining the job’s continued importance even in the digital era. One such example: a certain envelope he’s tasked with ferrying across the city, given to him by the troubled roommate (Jamie Chung) of the pretty fellow messenger (Dania Ramirez) he’s romantically pursuing. The contents of the envelope, and the teeth-gnashingly evil-cop-with-a-gambling-problem (Michael Shannon, adding some weird flair to what’s essentially a stock villain) who would dearly love to get his mitts on it, are less crucial to Premium Rush than the film’s many, many chase scenes featuring Wilee outwitting all comers with his two-wheeled Frogger moves. Silly fun from director David Koepp (2008’s Ghost Town), but not essential unless you’re a fixie fanatic or a JGL completist. (1:31) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness. (Eddy)

Resident Evil: Retribution (1:35) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness.

Robot and Frank Imagine the all-too-placid deadpan of Hal from 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) coming out of a home-healthcare worker, and you get just part of the appeal of this very likable comedy debut with a nonrobotic pulse directed by Jake Schreier. Sometime in the indeterminate near future, former jewel thief and second-story man Frank (Frank Langella) can be found quietly deteriorating in his isolated home, increasingly forgettable and unable to care for himself and assemble a decent bowl of Cap’n Crunch (though he can still steal fancy soaps from the village boutique). In an effort to cover his own busy rear, Frank’s distracted son (James Marsden) buys him a highly efficient robotic stand-in (voiced by Peter Sarsgaard), much to his father’s grim resistance (“That thing is going to murder me in my sleep”) and the dismay of crunchy sibling Madison (Liv Tyler). The robot, however, is smarter than it looks, as it bargains with Frank to eat better, get healthier, and generally reanimate: it’s willing to learn to pick locks, participate in a robbery, and even plan a jewel heist, provided, say, Frank agrees to a low-sodium diet. Frank flourishes, like the garden the robot nurtures in a vain attempt to interest his human charge, and even goes on a date with his librarian crush (Susan Sarandon), though can the self-indulgent idyll last forever? A tale about aging as much as it is about rediscovery, Robot tells an old story, but one that’s wise beyond its years and willing to dress itself up in some of the smooth, sleek surfaces of an iGeneration. (1:30) Piedmont, Shattuck, Sundance Kabuki. (Chun)

Samsara Samsara is the latest sumptuous, wordless offering from director Ron Fricke, who helped develop this style of dialogue- and context-free travelogue with Koyaanisqatsi (1982) and Baraka (1992). Spanning five years and shooting on 70mm film to capture glimmers of life in 25 countries on five continents, Samsara, which spins off the Sanskrit word for the “ever-turning wheel of life,” is nothing if not good-looking, aspiring to be a kind of visual symphony boosted by music by the Dead Can Dance’s Lisa Gerrard and composers Michael Stearns and Marcello De Francisci. Images of natural beauty, baptisms, and an African woman and her babe give way to the madness of modern civilization — from jam-packed subways to the horrors of mechanized factory farming to a bizarre montage of go-go dancers, sex dolls, trash, toxic discarded technology, guns, and at least one gun-shaped coffin. After such dread, the opening and closing scenes of Buddhist spirituality seem almost like afterthoughts. The unmistakable overriding message is: humanity, you dazzle in all your glorious and inglorious dimensions — even at your most inhumane. Sullying this hand wringing, selective meditation is Fricke’s reliance on easy stereotypes: the predictable connections the filmmaker makes between Africa and an innocent, earthy naturalism, and Asia and a vaguely threatening, mechanistic efficiency, come off as facile and naive, while his sonic overlay of robot sounds over, for instance, an Asian woman blinking her eyes comes off as simply offensive. At such points, Fricke’s global leap-frogging begins to eclipse the beauty of his images and foregrounds his own biases. (1:39) Opera Plaza, Shattuck. (Chun)

Searching for Sugar Man The tale of the lost, and increasingly found, artist known as Rodriguez seems to have it all: the mystery and drama of myth, beginning with the singer-songwriter’s stunning 1970 debut, Cold Fact, a neglected folk rock-psychedelic masterwork. (The record never sold in the states, but somehow became a beloved, canonical LP in South Africa.) The story goes on to parse the cold, hard facts of vanished hopes and unpaid royalties, all too familiar in pop tragedies. In Searching for Sugar Man, Swedish documentarian Malik Bendjelloul lays out the ballad of Rodriguez as a rock’n’roll detective story, with two South African music lovers in hot pursuit of the elusive musician — long-rumored to have died onstage by either self-immolation or gunshot, and whose music spoke to a generation of white activists struggling to overturn apartheid. By the time Rodriguez himself enters the narrative, the film has taken on a fairy-tale trajectory; the end result speaks volumes about the power and longevity of great songwriting. (1:25) Clay. (Chun)

Sleepwalk with Me Every year lots of movies get made by actors and comedians who want to showcase themselves, usually writing and often directing in addition to starring. Most of these are pretty bad, and after a couple of festival appearances disappear, unremembered by anyone save the credit card companies that vastly benefited from its creation. Mike Birbiglia’s first feature is an exception — maybe not an entirely surprising one (since it’s based on his highly praised Off-Broadway solo show and best-seller), but still odds-bucking. Particularly as it’s an autobiographical feeling story about an aspiring stand-up comic (Mike as Matt) who unfortunately doesn’t seem to have much natural talent in that direction, but nonetheless obsessively perseveres. This pursuit of seemingly fore destined failure might be causing his sleep disorder, or it might be a means of avoiding taking the martial next step with long-term girlfriend (Lauren Ambrose, making something special out of a conventional reactive role) everyone else agrees is the best thing in his life. Yep, it’s another commitment-phobic man-boy/funny guy who regularly talks to the camera, trying to find himself while quirky friends and family stand around like trampoline spotters watching a determined clod. If all of these sounds derivative and indulgent, well, it ought to. But Sleepwalk turns a host of familiar, hardly foolproof ideas into astute, deftly performed, consistently amusing comedy with just enough seriousness for ballast. Additional points for “I zinged him” being the unlikely most gut-busting line here. (1:30) Balboa, Opera Plaza, Piedmont, Shattuck. (Harvey)

Somewhere Between Five years ago, when filmmaker Linda Goldstein Knowlton adopted a baby girl from China, she was inspired to make Somewhere Between, a doc about the experiences of other Chinese adoptees. The film profiles four teenage girls, including Berkeley resident Fang “Jenni” Lee, whose American lives couldn’t be more different (one girl has two moms and attends a fancy prep school; another, raised by devout Christians, dreams of playing her violin at the Grand Ole Opry) but who share similar feelings about their respective adoptions. The film follows the girls on trips to London (as part of an organized meeting of fellow adoptees), Spain (to chat with people interested in adopting Chinese babies, and where the question “What does it feel like to be abandoned?” is handled with astonishing composure), and China (including one teen’s determined quest to track down her birth family). Highly emotional at times, Somewhere Between benefits from its remarkably mature and articulate subjects, all of whom have much to say about identity and personal history. Lee and filmmaker Goldstein Knowlton will appear in person at select opening shows; visit for more information. (1:28) Shattuck. (Eddy)

Ted Ah, boys and their toys — and the imaginary friends that mirror back a forever-after land of perpetual Peter Pans. That’s the crux of the surprisingly smart, hilarious Ted, aimed at an audience comprising a wide range of classes, races, and cultures with its mix of South Park go-there yuks and rom-commie coming-of-age sentiment. Look at Ted as a pop-culture-obsessed nerd tweak on dream critter-spirit animal buddy efforts from Harvey (1950) to Donnie Darko (2001) to TV’s Wilfred. Of course, we all know that the really untamable creature here wobbles around on two legs, laden with big-time baggage about growing up and moving on from childhood loves. Young John doesn’t have many friends but he is fortunate enough to have his Christmas wish come true: his beloved new teddy bear, Ted (voice by director-writer Seth MacFarlane), begins to talk back and comes to life. With that miracle, too, comes Ted’s marginal existence as a D-list celebrity curiosity — still, he’s the loyal “Thunder Buddy” that’s always there for the now-grown John (Mark Wahlberg), ready with a bong and a broheim-y breed of empathy that involves too much TV, an obsession with bad B-movies, and mock fisticuffs, just the thing when storms move in and mundane reality rolls through. With his tendency to spew whatever profanity-laced thought comes into his head and his talents are a ladies’ bear, Ted is the id of a best friend that enables all of John’s most memorable, un-PC, Hangover-style shenanigans. Alas, John’s cool girlfriend Lori (Mila Kunis) threatens that tidy fantasy setup with her perfectly reasonable relationship demands. Juggling scary emotions and material that seems so specific that it can’t help but charm — you’ve got to love a shot-by-shot re-creation of a key Flash Gordon scene — MacFarlane sails over any resistance you, Lori, or your superego might harbor about this scenario with the ease of a man fully in touch with his inner Ted. (1:46) Metreon. (Chun)

10 Years (1:50) Metreon.

Total Recall Already the source material for Paul Verhoeven’s campy, quotable 1990 film (starring the campy, quotable Arnold Schwarzenegger), Philip K. Dick’s short story gets a Hollywood do-over, with meh results. The story, anyway, is a fine nugget of sci-fi paranoia: to escape his unsatisfying life, Quaid (Colin Farrell) visits a company capable of implanting exciting memories into his brain. When he chooses the “secret agent” option, it’s soon revealed he actually does have secret agent-type memories, suppressed via brain-fuckery by sinister government forces (led by Bryan Cranston) keeping him in the dark about his true identity. Shit immediately gets crazy, with high-flying chases and secret codes and fight scenes all over the place. The woman Quaid thinks is his wife (Kate Beckinsale) is actually a slithery killer; the woman he’s been seeing in his dreams (Jessica Biel) turns out to be his comrade in a secret rebel movement. Len Wiseman (writer and sometimes director of the Underworld films) lenses futuristic urban grime with a certain sleek panache, and Farrell is appealing enough to make highly generic hero Quaid someone worth rooting for — until the movie ends, and the entire enterprise (save perhaps the tri-boobed hooker, a holdover from the original) becomes instantly forgettable, no amnesia trickery required. (1:58) Metreon. (Eddy)

Trouble with the Curve Baseball scout Gus (Clint Eastwood) relies on his senses to sign players to the Atlanta Braves, and his roster of greats is highly regarded by everyone — save a sniveling climber named Sanderson (Matthew Lillard), who insists his score-keeping software can replace any scout. Gus’ skill in his field are preternatural, but with his senses dwindling, his longtime-friend Pete (a brilliant John Goodman) begs Gus’ daughter Mickey (Amy Adams) to go with him — to see how bad the situation is and maybe drive him around. Ultimately, the film’s about the rift between career woman Mickey, and distant dad Gus, with some small intrusions from Justin Timberlake as Mickey’s romantic interest. Trouble with the Curve is a phrase used to describe batters who can’t hit a breaking ball and it’s a nuance — if an incontrovertible one — unobservable to the untrained eye. While Mickey and Gus stumble messily toward a better relationship (with a reasonable amount of compromise), Curve begins to look a bit like The Blind Side (2009), trading the church and charity for therapy and baggage. But what it offers is sweet and worthwhile, if you’re tolerant of the sanitized psychology and personality-free aesthetics. But it’s a movie about love and compromise — and if you love baseball you won’t have trouble forgiving some triteness, especially when Timberlake, the erstwhile Boo-Boo, gets to make a Yogi Berra joke. (1:51) Four Star, Marina, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Sundance Kabuki, Vogue. (Sara Vizcarrondo)

2 Days in New York Messy, attention-hungry, random, sweet, pathetic, and even adorable — such is the latest dispatch from Julie Delpy, here with her follow-up to 2007’s 2 Days in Paris. It’s also further proof that the rom-com as a genre can yet be saved by women who start with the autobiographical and spin off from there. Now separated from 2 Days in Paris‘s Jake and raising their son, artist Marion is happily cohabiting with boyfriend Mingus (Chris Rock), a radio host and sometime colleague at the Village Voice, and his daughter, while juggling her big, bouncing bundle of neuroses. Exacerbating her issues: a visit by her father Jeannot (Delpy’s real father Albert Delpy), who eschews baths and tries to smuggle an unseemly selection of sausages and cheeses into the country; her provocative sister Rose (Alexia Landeau), who’s given to nipple slips in yoga class and Marion and Mingus’ apartment; and Rose’s boyfriend Manu (Alexandre Nahon), who’s trouble all around. The gang’s in NYC for Marion’s one-woman show, in which she hopes to auction off her soul to the highest, and hopefully most benevolent, bidder. Rock, of course, brings the wisecracks to this charming, shambolic urban chamber comedy, as well as, surprisingly, a dose of gravitas, as Marion’s aggrieved squeeze — he’s uncertain whether these home invaders are intentionally racist, cultural clueless, or simply bonkers but he’s far too polite to blurt out those familiar Rock truths. The key, however, is Delpy — part Woody Allen, if the Woodman were a maturing, ever-metamorphosing French beauty — and part unique creature of her own making, given to questioning her identity, ideas of life and death, and the existence of the soul. 2 Days in New York is just a sliver of life, but buoyed by Delpy’s thoughtful, lightly madcap spirit. You’re drawn in, wanting to see what happens next after the days are done. (1:31) Smith Rafael. (Chun)

The Words We meet novelist Rory Jansen (Bradley Cooper) as he’s making his way from a posh building to a cab in the rain; it’s important the shot obscures his generally shiny exterior, because we’re meant to believe this guy’s a sincere and struggling novelist. Jeremy Irons, aged with flappy eye makeup, watches him vengefully. Seems Rory fell upon the unpublished novel Irons’ character wrote in sadness and loss — and feeling himself incapable of penning such prose, transcribed the whole thing. When his lady friend (Zoe Saldana) encourages him to sell it, he becomes the next great American writer. He’s living the dream on another man’s sweat. But that’s not the tragedy, exactly, because The Words isn’t so concerned with the work of being a writer — it’s concerned with the look and insecurity of it. Bradley and Irons aren’t “real,” they’re characters in a story read by Clay Hammond (Dennis Quaid) while the opportunistic, suggestive Daniella (Olivia Wilde) comes onto him. She can tell you everything about Clay, yet she hasn’t read the book that’s made him the toast of the town — The Words, which is all about a young plagiarist and the elderly writer he steals from. “I don’t know how things happen!”, the slimy, cowering writers each exclaim. So, how do you sell a book? Publish a book? Make a living from a book? How much wine does it take to bed Olivia Wilde? Sure, they don’t know how things happen; they only know what it looks like to finish reading Hemingway at a café or watch the sun rise over a typewriter. Rarely has a movie done such a trite job of depicting the process of what it’s like to be a writer — though if you found nothing suspect about, say, Owen Wilson casually re-editing his 400-page book in one afternoon in last year’s Midnight in Paris, perhaps you won’t be so offended by The Words, either. (1:36) SF Center. (Vizcarrondo)