Film listings are edited by Cheryl Eddy. Reviewers are Kimberly Chun, Dennis Harvey, Lynn Rapoport, Sam Stander, and Sara Maria Vizcarrondo. For rep house showtimes, see Rep Clock.
Battle of the Year That’s “battle” as in “dance battle.” And yes, it’s in 3D. (1:49)
Blue Caprice See “Highway to Hell.” (1:34) Roxie.
C.O.G. The first feature adapted from David Sedaris’ writing, Kyle Patrick Alvarez’s film captures his acerbic autobiographical comedy while eventually revealing the misfit pain hidden behind that wit. Tightly wound David (Jonathan Groff), on the run from problematic family relations and his sexual identity, takes the bus from East Coast grad school to rural Oregon — his uninhibited fellow passengers providing the first of many mortifications here en route. Having decided that seasonal work as an apple picker will somehow be liberating, he’s viewed with suspicion by mostly Mexican co-workers and his crabby boss (Dean Stockwell). More fateful kinda-sorta friendships are forged with a sexy forklift operator (Corey Stoll) and a born-again war vet (Denis O’Hare). Under the latter’s volatile tutelage, David briefly becomes a C.O.G. — meaning “child of God.” Balancing the caustic, absurd, and bittersweet, gradually making us care about an amusingly dislikable, prickly protagonist, this is a refreshingly offbeat narrative that pulls off a lot of tricky, ambivalent mood shifts. (1:37) Elmwood, Smith Rafael, Sundance Kabuki. (Harvey)
Herb and Dorothy 50X50 Building upon her 2008 doc Herb and Dorothy, Megumi Sasaki revisits elderly Manhattan couple Herb and Dorothy Vogel, art-world legends for amassing a jaw-dropping collection of contemporary art despite holding modest jobs and living an otherwise low-key lifestyle. (Out of necessity, they favored smaller works on paper — and whatever they bought had to fit into their one-bedroom apartment.) Remarkably, in 1992, they donated the majority of their highly valuable collection to the National Gallery of Art, but it was so vast that most of it was put into storage rather than displayed. Sasaki’s camera picks back up with the couple (Herb now in a wheelchair, with Dorothy doing most of the talking) as they work with the National Gallery to select 50 museums nationwide, each of which will receive 50 pieces of the collection. Though the film chats with some of the Vogels’ favorite artists (Richard Tuttle, notably, was initially angered by the idea of the collection being broken up), its most compelling segments are those that focus on Vogel exhibitions in relatively far-flung places, Hawaii and North Dakota included. Of particular interest: scenes in which museums without modern-art traditions help skeptical patrons engage with the art — a towering challenge since much of it appears to be of the deceptively simple, “I-could-have-done-that” variety. (1:25) Elmwood, Roxie. (Eddy)
Ip Man: The Final Fight Yep, it’s yet another take on kung-fu icon Ip Man, whose real-life legacy as Wing Chun’s greatest ambassador (tl;dr, he taught Bruce Lee) has translated into pop-culture stardom, most recently with Donnie Yen’s Ip Man series and Wong Kar-wai’s still-in-theaters The Grandmaster. Final Fight is directed by the prolific Herman Yau, and though it lacks the slickness of Ip Man or the high-art trappings of The Grandmaster, it does have one heavy weapon: Hong Kong superstar Anthony Wong. A less-charismatic actor might get lost in Yau’s hectic take on Ip’s later years; it’s chockablock with plot threads (union strikes, police corruption, health woes, romantic drama, brawls with rival martial-arts schools, scar-faced gangsters …) that battle for supremacy. But that’s not a problem for Wong, who calmly rises above the chaos, infusing even corny one-liners (“You can’t buy kung fu like a bowl of rice!”) with gravitas. (1:42) (Eddy)
Mademoiselle C Fabien Constant’s portrait of French fashion editor-professional muse-stylish person Carine Roitfeld may be unabashedly fawning, but it does offer the rest of us slobs a peek into the glamorous life. The film begins as Roitfeld leaves her job at Vogue Paris; there’s passing mention of her subsequent feud with Condé Nast as she readies her own luxury magazine start-up, CR Fashion Book, but the only conflicts the film lingers on are 1) when a model cancels last-minute and 2) when Roitfeld goes double over budget on her first issue. (Looking at the lavish photo shoots in action, with big-name photogs and supermodels aplenty, it’s not hard to see why.) Mostly, though this is a fun ride-along with Roitfeld in action: hanging with “Karl” (Lagerfeld) and “Tom” (Ford); swooning over her first grandchild; sneaking a little cell phone footage inside the Met Ball; allowing celebs like Sarah Jessica Parker and designer Joseph Altuzarra to suck up to her, etc. There’s also a funny moment when her art-dealer son, Vladimir, recalls that he was never allowed to wear sweatpants as a kid — and her daughter, fashion-person Julia, remembers her mother’s horror when she dared to wear Doc Martens. (1:30) Sundance Kabuki. (Eddy)
Museum Hours See “The Observer.” (1:46) Opera Plaza.
My Lucky Star Aspiring cartoonist Sophie (Ziyi Zhang) puts her romantic fantasies into her artwork — the bright spot in an otherwise dull life working in a Beijing call center and being hassled about her perma-single status by her mother and catty friends. As luck would have it, Sophie wins a trip to Singapore right when dreamy secret agent David (Leehom Wang) is dispatched there to recover the stolen “Lucky Star Diamond;” it doesn’t take long before our klutzy goofball stumbles into exactly the kind of adventure she’s been dreaming about. Romancing the Stone (1984) this ain’t, but Zhang, so often cast in brooding parts, is adorable, and occasional animated sequences add further enhancement to the silly James Bond/Charlie’s Angels-lite action. (1:53) (Eddy)
Prisoners Canadian director Denis Villeneuve (2010’s Incendies) guides a big-name cast through this thriller about a father (Hugh Jackman) frantically searching for his missing daughter with the help of a cop (Jake Gyllenhaal). (2:33) Four Star, Marina.
Salinger Documentary about the reclusive author of Catcher in the Rye. (2:00) Presidio.
Thanks for Sharing Mark Ruffalo, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Tim Robbins star in this comedy about sex addicts from the co-writer of 2010’s The Kids Are All Right. (1:52)
Wadjda The first-ever feature directed by a female Saudi Arabian follows a young Saudi girl who dreams of buying a bicycle. (1:37) Opera Plaza.
You Will Be My Son Set at a Bordeaux vineyard that’s been in the same family for generations, Gilles Legrand’s drama hides delightfully trashy drama beneath its highbrow exterior. Patriarch Paul de Marseul (Niels Arestrup of 2009’s A Prophet) treats his only son, Martin (Lorànt Deutsch) with utter contempt — think the relationship between Tywin and Tyrion Lannister on Game of Thrones, only with even more petty digs and insults. Still hopeful that he’ll inherit the estate someday, despite Papa Jackass’ loud proclamations about his “lack of palate,” Martin sees his future prospects crumble when dapper Philippe (Nicolas Bridet) blows into town, having left his California gig as “Coppola’s head winemaker” to care for his dying father, Paul’s longtime second-in-command François (Patrick Chesnais). Things go from terrible to utterly shitty when Paul decides Philippe is the answer to his prayers (see: title). Melodrama is the only recourse here, and the film’s over-the-top last act delivers some gasp-inducing (or guffaw-inducing, your choice) twists. Heading up a classy cast, Arestrup manages to make what could’ve been a one-note character into a villain with seemingly endless layers, each more vile than the last. (1:41) Opera Plaza. (Eddy)
Adore This glossy soap opera from director Anne Fontaine (2009’s Coco Before Chanel) and scenarist Christopher Hampton, adapted from a Doris Lessing novella, has had its title changed from Two Mothers — perhaps because under that name it was pretty much the most howled-at movie at Sundance this year. Lil (Naomi Watts) and Roz (Robin Wright) are lifelong best friends whose hunky surfer sons Ian (Xavier Samuel) and Tom (James Frecheville) are likewise best mates. Widow Lil runs a gallery and Roz has a husband (Ben Mendelsohn), but mostly the two women seem to lay around sipping wine on the decks of their adjacent oceanfront homes in Western Australia’s Perth, watching their sinewy offspring frolic in the waves. This upscale-lifestyle-magazine vision of having it all — complete with middle-aged female protagonists who look spectacularly youthful without any apparent effort — finds trouble in paradise when the ladies realize that something, in fact, is missing. That something turns out to be each other’s sons, in their beds. After very little hand-wringing this is accepted as the way things are meant to be — a MILF fantasy viewed through the distaff eyes — despite some trouble down the road. This outlandish basic concept might have worked for Lessing, but Fontaine’s solemn, gauzily romantic take only slightly muffles its inherent absurdity. (Imagine how creepy this ersatz women-finding-fulfillment-at-midlife saga would be if it were two older men boning each others’ daughters.) Lord knows it isn’t often that mainstream movies (this hardly plays as “art house”) focus on women over 40, and the actors give it their all. But you’ll wish they’d given it to a better vehicle instead. (1:50) Sundance Kabuki. (Harvey)
Afternoon Delight It takes about five seconds to suss that Kathryn Hahn is going to give a spectacular performance in Jill Soloway’s charming seriocomedy. Figuring to re-ignite husband Jeff’s (Josh Radnor) flagging libido by taking them both to a strip club, Rachel (Hahn) decides to take on as a home- and moral-improvement project big-haired, barely-adult stripper McKenna (Juno Temple). When the latter’s car slash-home is towed, bored Silver Lake housewife and mother Rachel invites the street child into their home. Eventually she’s restless enough to start accompanying McKenna on the latter’s professional “dates.” Afternoon Delight is a better movie than you’d expect — not so much a typical raunchy comedy as a depthed dramedy with a raunchy hook. It’s a notable representation of no-shame sex workerdom. It’s also funny, cute, and eventually very touching. Especially memorable: a ladies’ round-table discussion about abortion that drifts every which way. (1:42) Sundance Kabuki. (Harvey)
Blue Jasmine The good news about Blue Jasmine isn’t that it’s set in San Francisco, but that it’s Woody Allen’s best movie in years. Although some familiar characteristics are duly present, it’s not quite like anything he’s done before, and carries its essentially dramatic weight more effectively than he’s managed in at least a couple decades. Not long ago Jasmine (a fearless Cate Blanchett) was the quintessential Manhattan hostess, but that glittering bubble has burst — exactly how revealed in flashbacks that spring surprises up to the script’s end. She crawls to the West Coast to “start over” in the sole place available where she won’t be mortified by the pity of erstwhile society friends. That would be the SF apartment of Ginger (Sally Hawkins), a fellow adoptive sister who was always looked down on by comparison to pretty, clever Jasmine. Theirs is an uneasy alliance — but Ginger’s too big-hearted to say no. It’s somewhat disappointing that Blue Jasmine doesn’t really do much with San Francisco. Really, the film could take place anywhere — although setting it in a non-picture-postcard SF does bolster the film’s unsettled, unpredictable air. Without being an outright villain, Jasmine is one of the least likable characters to carry a major US film since Noah Baumbach’s underrated Margot at the Wedding (2007); the general plot shell, moreover, is strongly redolent of A Streetcar Named Desire. But whatever inspiration Allen took from prior works, Blue Jasmine is still distinctively his own invention. It’s frequently funny in throwaway performance bits, yet disturbing, even devastating in cumulative impact. (1:38) Balboa, Clay, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness. (Harvey)
Closed Circuit (1:36) 1000 Van Ness, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki.
Elysium By the year 2154, the one percent will all have left Earth’s polluted surface for Elysium, a luxurious space station where everyone has access to high-tech machines that can heal any wound or illness in a matter of seconds. Among the grimy masses in burned-out Los Angeles, where everyone speaks a mixture of Spanish and English, factory worker Max (Matt Damon) is trying to put his car-thief past behind him — and maybe pursue something with the childhood sweetheart (Alice Braga) he’s recently reconnected with. Meanwhile, up on Elysium, icy Secretary of Defense Delacourt (Jodie Foster, speaking in French and Old Hollywood-accented English) rages against immigration, even planning a government takeover to prevent any more “illegals” from slipping aboard. Naturally, the fates of Max and Delacourt will soon intertwine, with “brain to brain data transfers,” bionic exo-skeletons, futuristic guns, life-or-death needs for Elysium’s medical miracles, and some colorful interference by a sword-wielding creeper of a sleeper agent (Sharlto Copley) along the way. In his first feature since 2009’s apartheid-themed District 9, South African writer-director Neill Blomkamp once again turns to obvious allegory to guide his plot. If Elysium‘s message is a bit heavy-handed, it’s well-intentioned, and doesn’t take away from impressive visuals (mercifully rendered in 2D) or Damon’s committed performance. (2:00) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Sundance Kabuki. (Eddy)
The Family It’s hard to begrudge an acting monolith like Robert De Niro from cashing out in his golden years and essentially going gently into that good night amid a volley of mild yuks. And when his mobster-in-witness-protection Giovanni Manzoni takes a film-club stage in his Normandy hideout to hold forth on the veracity of Goodfellas (1990), you yearn to be right there in the fictional audience, watching De Niro’s Brooklyn gangster take on his cinematic past. That’s the most memorable moment of this comedy about an organized criminal on the lam with his violent, conniving family unit. Director-cowriter Luc Besson aims to lightly demonstrate that you can extract a family from the mob but you can’t expunge the mob from the family. There’s a $20 million bounty on Giovanni’s head, and it’s up to his keeper Stansfield (Tommy Lee Jones) to keep him and his kin quiet and undercover. But the latter has his hands full with Gio penning his memoirs, wife Maggie (Michelle Pfeiffer) blowing up the local supermarket, daughter Belle (Dianna Agron, wrapped in bows like a soft-focus fantasy nymphet) given to punishing schoolyard transgressors with severe beatings, and son Warren (John D’Leo) working all the angles in class. Besson plays the Manzoni family’s violence for chuckles, while painting the mob family’s mayhem with more ominous colors, making for a tonal clash that’s as jarring as some of his edits. The pleasure here comes with watching the actors at play: much like his character, De Niro is on the run from his career-making albeit punishing past, though if he keeps finding refuge in subpar fare, one wonders if his “meh” fellas will eventually outweigh the Goodfellas. (1:51) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Presidio, Sundance Kabuki, Vogue. (Chun)
Fruitvale Station By now you’ve heard of Fruitvale Station, the debut feature from Oakland-born filmmaker Ryan Coogler. With a cast that includes Academy Award winner Octavia Spencer and rising star Michael B. Jordan (The Wire, Friday Night Lights), the film premiered at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, winning both the Audience Award and the Grand Jury Prize en route to being scooped up for distribition by the Weinstein Company. A few months later, Coogler, a USC film school grad who just turned 27, won Best First Film at Cannes. Accolades are nice, especially when paired with a massive PR push from a studio known for bringing home little gold men. But particularly in the Bay Area, the true story behind Fruitvale Station eclipses even the most glowing pre-release hype. The film opens with real footage captured by cell phones the night 22-year-old Oscar Grant was shot in the back by BART police, a tragedy that inspired multiple protests and grabbed national headlines. With its grim ending already revealed, Fruitvale Station backtracks to chart Oscar’s final hours, with a deeper flashback or two fleshing out the troubled past he was trying to overcome. Mostly, though, Fruitvale Station is very much a day in the life, with Oscar (Jordan, in a nuanced performance) dropping off his girlfriend at work, picking up supplies for a birthday party, texting friends about New Year’s Eve plans, and deciding not to follow through on a drug sale. Inevitably, much of what transpires is weighted with extra meaning — Oscar’s mother (Spencer) advising him to “just take the train” to San Francisco that night; Oscar’s tender interactions with his young daughter; the death of a friendly stray dog, hit by a car as BART thunders overhead. It’s a powerful, stripped-down portrait that belies Coogler’s rookie-filmmaker status. (1:24) Four Star. (Eddy)
Getaway (1:29) SF Center.
The Grandmaster The Grandmaster is dramatic auteur Wong Kar-Wai’s take on the life of kung-fu legend Ip Man — famously Bruce Lee’s teacher, and already the subject of a series of Donnie Yen actioners. This episodic treatment is punctuated by great fights and great tragedies, depicting Ip’s life and the Second Sino-Japanese War in broad strokes of martial arts tradition and personal conviction. Wong’s angsty, hyper stylized visuals lend an unusual focus to the Yuen Woo-Ping-choreographed fight scenes, but a listless lack of narrative momentum prevents the dramatic segments from being truly engaging. Abrupt editing in this shorter American cut suggests some connective tissue may be missing from certain sequences. Tony Leung’s performance is quietly powerful, but also a familiar caricature from other Wong films; this time, instead of a frustrated writer, he is a frustrated martial artist. Ziyi Zhang’s turn as the driven, devastated child of the Northern Chinese Grandmaster provides a worthy counterpoint. Another Wong cliché: the two end up sadly reminiscing in dark bars, far from the rhythm and poetry of their martial pursuits. (1:48) Four Star, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Sundance Kabuki. (Stander)
In a World… (1:33) Sundance Kabuki.
Insidious: Chapter 2 The bloodshot, terribly inflamed font of the opening title gives away director James Wan and co-writer and Saw series cohort Leigh Whannell’s intentions: welcome to their little love letter to Italian horror. The way an actor, carefully lit with ruby-red gels, is foregrounded amid jade greens and cobalt blues, the ghastly clown makeup, the silent movie glory of a gorgeous face frozen in terror, the fixation with 1981’s The Beyond — lovers of spaghetti shock will appreciate even a light application of these aspects, even if many others will be disappointed by this sequel riding a wee bit too closely on its financially successful predecessor’s coattails. Attempting to pick up exactly where 2011’s Insidious left off, Chapter 2 opens with a flashback to the childhood of demonically possessed Josh Lambert (Patrick Wilson), put into a trance by the young paranormal investigator Elise. Flash-forward to Elise’s corpse and the first of many terrified looks from Josh’s spouse Renai (Rose Byrne). She knows Josh killed Elise, but she can’t face reality — so instead she gets to face the forces of supernatural fantasy. Meanwhile Josh is busy forcing a fairy tale of normalcy down the rest of his family’s throats — all the while evoking a smooth-browed, unhinged caretaker of the Overlook Hotel. Subverting that fiction are son Dalton (Ty Simpkins), who’s fielding messages from the dead, and Josh’s mother Lorraine (Barbara Hershey), who sees apparitions in her creepy Victorian and looks for help in Elise’s old cohort Carl (Steve Coulter) and comic-relief ghost busters Specs (Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson). Sure, there are a host of scares to be had, particularly those of the don’t-look-over-your-shoulder variety, but tribute or no, the derivativeness of the devices is dissatisfying. Those seeking wickedly imaginative death-dealing machinations, or even major shivers, will curse the feel-good PG-13 denouement. (1:30) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness. (Chun)
Instructions Not Included (1:55) Metreon.
Kick-Ass 2 Even an ass-kicking subversive take on superherodom runs the risk of getting its rump tested, toasted, roasted — and found wanting. Too bad the exhilaratingly smarty-pants, somewhat mean-spirited Kick-Ass (2010), the brighter spot in a year of superhero-questioning flicks (see also: Super), has gotten sucker-punched in all the most predictable ways in its latest incarnation. Dave, aka Kick-Ass (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), and Mindy, otherwise known as Hit-Girl (Chloë Grace Moretz), are only half-heartedly attempting to live normal lives: they’re training on the sly, mostly because Mindy’s new guardian, Detective Marcus Williams (Morris Chestnut), is determined to restore her childhood. Little does he realize that Mindy only comes alive when she pretends she’s battling ninjas at cheerleader tryouts — or is giving her skills a workout by unhanding, literally and gleefully, a robber. Kick-Ass is a little unnerved by her semi-psychotic enthusiasm for crushing bad guys, but he’s crushing, too, on Mindy, until Marcus catches her in the Hit-Girl act and grounds her in real life, where she has to deal with some really nasty characters: the most popular girls in school. So Kick-Ass hooks up with a motley team of would-be heroes inspired by his example, led Colonel Stars and Stripes (an almost unrecognizable Jim Carrey), while old frenemy Chris, aka Red Mist (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) begins to find his real calling — as a supervillain he dubs the Motherfucker — and starts to assemble his own gang of baddies. Unlike the first movie, which passed the whip-smart wisecracks around equally, Mintz-Plasse and enabler-bodyguard Javier (John Leguizamo) get most of the choice lines here. Otherwise, the vigilante action gets pretty grimly routine, in a roof-battling, punch-’em-up kind of way. A romance seems to be budding between our two young superfriends, but let’s skip part three — I’d rather read about it in the funny pages. (1:43) SF Center. (Chun)
Lee Daniels’ The Butler (1:53) Marina, 1000 Van Ness, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki.
The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones Adapted from the first volume of Cassandra Clare’s bestselling YA urban fantasy series, The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones follows young Clary Fray (Lily Collins) through her mother’s disappearance, the traumatic discovery of her supernatural heritage, and her induction into the violent demon-slaying world of Shadowhunters. This franchise-launching venture is unlikely to win any new converts with its flimsy acting, stilted humor, and clichéd action. It will probably also disappoint diehard fans, since it plays fast and loose with the mythology and plot of the novel, with crucial details and logical progressions left by the wayside for no clear reason. It’s never particularly awful — except for a few plot twists that fall wincingly, hilariously flat — but it’s hard to care about the perfectly coiffed, emotionally clueless protagonists. Fantastic character actors Jared Harris, Lena Headey, and Jonathan Rhys Meyers are all dismally underused, though at least Harris gets to exercise a bit of his vaguely irksome British charm. (2:00) SF Center. (Stander)
One Direction: This is Us Take them home? The girls shrieking at the opening minutes of One Direction: This Is Us are certainly raring to — though by the closing credits, they might feel as let down as a Zayn Malik fanatic who was convinced that he was definitely future husband material. Purporting to show us the real 1D, in 3D, no less, This Is Us instead vacillates like a boy band in search of critical credibility, playing at an “authorized” look behind the scenes while really preferring the safety of choreographed onstage moves by the self-confessed worst dancers in pop. So we get endless shots of Malik, Niall Horan, Liam Payne, Harry Styles, and Louis Tomlinson horsing around, hiding in trash bins, punking the road crew, jetting around the world, and accepting the adulation of innumerable screaming girls outside — interspersed with concert footage of the lads pouring their all into the poised and polished pop that has made them the greatest success story to come out of The X Factor. Too bad the music — including “What Makes You Beautiful” and “Live While We’re Young” — will bore anyone who’s not already a fan, while the 1D members’ well-filtered, featureless, and thoroughly innocuous on-screen personalities do little to dispel those yawns. Director Morgan Spurlock (2004’s Super Size Me) adds just a dollop of his own personality, in the way he fixates on the tearful fan response: he trots out an expert to talk about the chemical reaction coursing through the excitable listener’s system, and uses bits of animation to slightly puff up the boy’s live show. But generally as a co-producer, along with 1D mastermind Simon Cowell, Spurlock goes along with the pop whitewashing, sidestepping the touchy, newsy paths this biopic could have sallied down — for instance, Malik’s thoughts on being the only Muslim member of the biggest boy band in the world — and instead doing his best undermine that also-oh-so-hyped 3D format and make One Direction as tidily one dimensional as possible. (1:32) 1000 Van Ness. (Chun)
Our Nixon Cobbled together from previously unseen footage shot by some of Richard Nixon’s closest aides — the destined-for-infamy trio of H.R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman, and Dwight Chapin — Penny Lane’s doc, which also uses Oval Office recordings and additional archival material (not to mention the best-ever use of Tracey Ullman’s 1983 pop confection “They Don’t Know”), offers a new perspective on Tricky Dick and White House life during his tumultuous reign. But while Our Nixon brings fresh perspective to notable moments like Nixon’s visit to China and Tricia Nixon’s lavish wedding, and peeks behind the public façade to reveal the “real” Nixon (hardly a spoiler: he’s shown to be bigoted and behind the times), the POTUS is just one of many figures in this inventive collage. The home movies themselves are the real stars here, filled with unguarded moments and shot for no reason other than personal documentation; as a result, and even taking Lane’s editing choices into account, Our Nixon feels thrillingly authentic. (1:25) Roxie. (Eddy)
Passion The notion of Brian De Palma directing a remake of Alain Corneau’s 2010 hit Love Crime suggested camp guilty pleasure at the very least. The original film was a clever if implausible psychological thriller in which a corporate boss (Kristin Scott Thomas) and junior-executive protegee (Ludivine Sagnier) come to fatal comeuppance blows over a particularly cruel abuse of power in the name of love. It was a stereotypical girlfight par excellance, dressed up via reasonably smart treatment. You’d expect De Palma to ramp up the lurid and tawdry-violent aspects to delightfully tasteless degrees — but what’s most depressing about Passion is that the life has gone out even from his love of violence and sexploitation. It’s a tepid movie, and not even a stylish one. In contrast to Scott Thomas’ formidible strength through-negativity, Rachel McAdams’ villain is just another yuppie princess with a snit fit in store. Sagnier might well be the Gallic answer to Chloe Sevigny, yet her waxy inexpressiveness is still better than another horribly awkward English language performance (see: last year’s Prometheus) by Swedish star Noomi Rapace. Passion (which notably took a full year to secure any US release after a festival debut) commits a sin that De Palma has seldom attained: it is just dull. It promises titillation, yet real people and real sex are so plastic and cartooned here they seem the last call of an old-school playboy horndog who can’t get it up anymore. (1:42) Smith Rafael. (Harvey)
Planes Dane Cook voices a crop duster determined to prove he can do more than he was built for in Planes, the first Disney spin-off from a Pixar property. (Prior to the film’s title we see “From The World of Cars,” an indicator the film is an extension of a known universe — but also not quite from it.) And indeed, Planes resembles one of Pixar’s straight-to-DVD releases as it struggles for liftoff. Dreaming of speed, Dusty Crophopper (Cook) trains for the Wings Around the World race with his fuel-truck friend, Chug (Brad Garrett). A legacy playing Brewster McCloud and Wilbur Wright makes Stacy Keach a pitchy choice for Skipper, Dusty’s reluctant ex-military mentor. Charming cast choices buoy Planes somewhat, but those actors are feathers in a cap that hardly supports them — you watch the film fully aware of its toy potential: the race is a geography game; the planes are hobby sets; the cars will wind up. The story, about overcoming limitations, is in step with high-value parables Pixar proffers, though it feels shallower than usual. Perhaps toys are all Disney wants — although when Ishani (a sultry Priyanka Chopra) regrets an integrity-compromising choice she made in the race, and her pink cockpit lowers its eyes, you can feel Pixar leaning in. (1:32) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness. (Vizcarrondo)
Populaire Perhaps if it weren’t set in the 1950s, this would be the fluorescent-lit story of a soul-sucking data entry job and the office drone who supplements it with a moonlighting gig. But it is the ’50s — a cheery, upbeat version of the era — and director Régis Roinsard’s Populaire reflects its shiny glamour onto the transformation of small-town girl Rose Pamphyle (Déborah François) from an incompetent but feisty secretary with mad hunting-and-pecking skills into a celebrated and adored speed-typing champion. Her daffy boss, Louis Échard (Romain Duris), is a handsome young insurance salesman who bullies her (very charmingly) into competing against a vast secretarial pool in a series of hectic, nail-biting tourneys, which treat typing as a sporting event for perhaps the first time in cinematic history. (See also: scenes of Rose cranking up her physical endurance with daily jogs and cross-training at the piano.) The glamour slips a touch when Populaire starts to delve into psychological motivations to rationalize some of Louis’s more caddish maneuvers. But meanwhile, back in the arena, bets are made, words-per-minute stats are quoted by screaming, tearful fans in the bleachers, hearts are won and bruised, a jazz band performs that classic tune “Les Secrétaires Cha Cha Cha,” and we find ourselves rooting passionately for Rose to best the reigning champ’s 512(!)-wpm record. (1:51) Smith Rafael. (Rapoport)
Riddick This is David Twohy’s third flick starring Vin Diesel as the titular misunderstood supercriminal. Aesthetically, it’s probably the most interesting of the lot, with a stylistic weirdness that evokes ’70s Eurocomix in the best way — a pleasing backdrop to what is essentially Diesel playing out the latest in a series of Dungeons & Dragons scenarios where he offers his wisecracking sci-fi take on Conan. Gone are the scares and stakes of Pitch Black (2000) or the cheeseball epic scale of The Chronicles of Riddick (2004); this is a no-nonsense action movie built on the premise that Riddick just can’t catch a break. He’s on the run again, targeted by two bands of ruthless mercenaries, on a planet threatened by an oncoming storm rather than Pitch Black‘s planet-wide night. One unfortunate element leaves a bitter taste: the lone female character in the movie, Dahl (Katee Sackhoff), is an underdeveloped cliché “Strong Female Character,” a violent, macho lesbian caricature who is the object of vile sexual aggression (sometimes played for laughs) from several other characters, including Riddick. (1:59) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness. (Stander)
Short Term 12 A favorite at multiple 2013 festivals (particularly SXSW, where it won multiple awards), Short Term 12 proves worthy of the hype, offering a gripping look at twentysomethings (led by Brie Larson, in a moving yet unshowy performance) who work with at-risk teens housed in a foster-care facility, where they’re cared for by a system that doesn’t always act with their best interests in mind. Though she’s a master of conflict resolution and tough love when it comes to her young chargers, Grace (Larson) hasn’t overcome her deeply troubled past, to the frustration of her devoted boyfriend and co-worker (John Gallagher, Jr.). The crazy everyday drama — kids mouthing off, attempting escape, etc. — is manageable enough, but two cases cut deep: Marcus (Keith Stanfield), an aspiring musician who grows increasingly anxious as his 18th birthday, when he’ll age out of foster care, approaches; and 16-year-old Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever), whose sullen attitude masks a dark home life that echoes Grace’s own experiences. Expanding his acclaimed 2008 short of the same name, writer-director Destin Daniel Cretton’s wrenchingly realistic tale achieves levels of emotional honesty not often captured by narrative cinema. He joins Fruitvale Station director Ryan Coogler as one of the year’s most exciting indie discoveries. (1:36) SF Center. (Eddy)
The Spectacular Now The title suggests a dreamy, fireworks-inflected celebration of life lived in the present tense, but in this depiction of a stalled-out high school senior’s last months of school, director James Ponsoldt (2012’s Smashed) opts for a more guarded, uneasy treatment. Charming, likable, underachieving, and bright enough to frustrate the adults in his corner, Sutter (Miles Teller, 2012’s Project X) has long since managed to turn aimlessness into a philosophical practice, having chosen the path of least resistance and alcohol-fueled unaccountability. His mother (Jennifer Jason Leigh), raising him solo since the departure of a father (Kyle Chandler) whose memories have acquired — for Sutter, at least — a blurry halo effect, describes him as full of both love and possible greatness, but he settles for the blessings of social fluidity and being an adept at the acquisition of beer for fellow underage drinkers. When he meets and becomes romantically involved with Aimee (Shailene Woodley), a sweet, unpolished classmate at the far reaches of his school’s social spectrum, it’s unclear whether the impact of their relationship will push him, or her, or both into a new trajectory, and the film tracks their progress with a watchful, solicitous eye. Adapted for the screen by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber (2009’s 500 Days of Summer) from a novel by Tim Tharp, The Spectacular Now gives the quirky pop cuteness of Summer a wide berth, steering straight into the heart of awkward adolescent striving and mishap. (1:35) Balboa, Presidio, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki. (Rapoport)
This Is the End It’s a typical day in Los Angeles for Seth Rogen as This Is the End begins. Playing a version of himself, the comedian picks up pal and frequent co-star Jay Baruchel at the airport. Since Jay hates LA, Seth welcomes him with weed and candy, but all good vibes fizzle when Rogen suggests hitting up a party at James Franco’s new mansion. Wait, ugh, Franco? And Jonah Hill will be there? Nooo! Jay ain’t happy, but the revelry — chockablock with every Judd Apatow-blessed star in Hollywood, plus a few random inclusions (Rihanna?) — is great fun for the audience. And likewise for the actors: world, meet Michael Cera, naughty coke fiend. But stranger things are afoot in This Is the End. First, there’s a giant earthquake and a strange blue light that sucks passers-by into the sky. Then a fiery pit yawns in front of Casa Franco, gobbling up just about everyone in the cast who isn’t on the poster. Dudes! Is this the worst party ever — or the apocalypse? The film — co-written and directed by Rogen and longtime collaborator Evan Goldberg — relies heavily on Christian imagery to illustrate the endtimes; the fact that both men and much of their cast is Jewish, and therefore marked as doomed by Bible-thumpers, is part of the joke. But of course, This Is the End has a lot more to it than religious commentary; there’s also copious drug use, masturbation gags, urine-drinking, bromance, insult comedy, and all of the uber-meta in-jokes fans of its stars will appreciate. (1:46) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Presidio. (Eddy)
20 Feet From Stardom Singing the praises of those otherwise neglected backup vocalists who put the soul into that Wall of Sound, brought heft to “Young Americans,” and lent real fury to “Gimme Shelter,” 20 Feet From Stardom is doing the rock ‘n’ roll true believer’s good work. Director Morgan Neville follows a handful of mainly female, mostly African American backing vocal legends, charts their skewed career trajectories as they rake in major credits and keep working long after one-hit wonders are forgotten (the Waters family) but fail to make their name known to the public (Merry Clayton), grasp Grammy approval yet somehow fail to follow through (Lisa Fischer), and keep narrowly missing the prize (Judith Hill) as label recording budgets shrivel and the tastes, technology, and the industry shift. Neville gives these industry pros and soulful survivors in a rocked-out, sample-heavy, DIY world their due on many levels, covering the low-coverage minis, Concert for Bangladesh high points, gossipy rumors, and sheer love for the blend that those intertwined voices achieve. One wishes the director had done more than simply touch in the backup successes out there, like Luther Vandross, and dug deeper to break down the reasons Fischer succumbed to the sophomore slump. But one can’t deny the passion in the voices he’s chosen to follow — and the righteous belief the Neville clearly has in his subjects, especially when, like Hill, they are ready to pick themselves up and carry on after being told they’re not “the Voice.” (1:30) Smith Rafael. (Chun)
We’re the Millers After weekly doses on the flat-screen of Family Guy, Modern Family, and the like, it’s about time movieland’s family comedies got a little shot of subversion — the aim, it seems, of We’re the Millers. Scruffy dealer David (Jason Sudeikis) is shambling along — just a little wistful that he didn’t grow up and climb into the Suburban with the wife, two kids, and the steady 9-to-5 because he’s a bit lonely, much like the latchkey nerd Kenny (Will Poulter) who lives in his apartment building, and neighboring stripper Rose (Jennifer Aniston), who bites his head off at the mailbox. When David tries to be upstanding and help out crust punk runaway Casey (Emma Roberts), who’s getting roughed up for her iPhone, he instead falls prey to the robbers and sinks into a world of deep doo-doo with former college bud, and supplier of bud, Brad (Ed Helms). The only solution: play drug mule and transport a “smidge and a half” of weed across the Mexican-US border. David’s supposed cover: do the smuggling in an RV with a hired crew of randoms: Kenny, Casey, and Rose&sdquo; all posing as an ordinary family unit, the Millers. Yes, it’s that much of a stretch, but the smart-ass script is good for a few chortles, and the cast is game to go there with the incest, blow job, and wife-swapping jokes. Of course, no one ever states the obvious fact, all too apparent for Bay Area denizens, undermining the premise of We’re the Millers: who says dealers and strippers can’t be parents, decent or otherwise? We may not be the Millers, but we all know families aren’t what they used to be, if they ever really managed to hit those Leave It to Beaver standards. Fingers crossed for the cineplex — maybe movies are finally catching on. (1:49) 1000 Van Ness. (Chun)
The Wolverine James Mangold’s contribution to the X-Men film franchise sidesteps the dizzy ambition of 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine and 2011’s X-Men: First Class, opting instead for a sleek, mostly smart genre piece. This movie takes its basics from the 1982 Wolverine series by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller, a stark dramatic comic, but can’t avoid the convoluted, bad sci-fi plot devices endemic to the X-Men films. The titular mutant with the healing factor and adamantium-laced skeleton travels to Tokyo, to say farewell to a dying man who he rescued at the bombing of Nagasaki. But the dying man’s sinister oncologist has other plans, sapping Wolverine of his healing powers as he faces off against ruthless yakuza and scads of ninjas. The movie’s finest moments come when Mangold pays attention to context, taking superhero or Western movie clichés and revamping them for the modern Tokyo setting, such as a thrilling duel on top of a speeding bullet train. Another highlight: Rila Fukushima’s refreshing turn as badass bodyguard Yukio. Oh, and stay for the credits. (2:06) Metreon. (Stander)
The World’s End The final film in Edgar Wright’s “Blood and Ice Cream Trilogy” finally arrives, and the TL:DR version is that while it’s not as good as 2004’s sublime zombie rom-com Shaun of the Dead, it’s better than 2007’s cops vs. serial killers yarn Hot Fuzz. That said, it’s still funnier than anything else in theaters lately. Simon Pegg returns to star and co-write (with Wright); this time, the script’s sinister bugaboo is an invasion of body snatchers — though (as usual) the conflict is really about the perils of refusing to actually become an adult, the even-greater perils of becoming a boring adult, and the importance of male friendships. Pegg plays rumpled fuck-up Gary, determined to reunite with the best friends he’s long since alienated for one more crack at their hometown’s “alcoholic mile,” a pub crawl that ends at the titular beer joint. The easy chemistry between Pegg and the rest of the cast (Nick Frost, Paddy Considine, Martin Freeman, and Eddie Marsan) elevates what’s essentially a predictable “one crazy night” tale, with a killer soundtrack of 1990s tunes, slang you’ll adopt for your own posse (“Let’s Boo-Boo!”), and enough hilarious fight scenes to challenge This is the End to a bro-down of apocalyptic proportions. (1:49) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Presidio. (Eddy)
You’re Next The hit of the 2011 Toronto Film Festival’s midnight section — and one that’s taken its sweet time getting to theaters — indie horror specialist (2010’s A Horrible Way to Die, 2007’s Pop Skull, 2012’s V/H/S) Adam Wingard’s feature isn’t really much more than a gussied-up slasher. But it’s got vigor, and violence, to spare. An already uncomfortable anniversary reunion for the wealthy Davison clan plus their children’s spouses gets a lot more so when dinner is interrupted by an arrow that sails through a window, right into someone’s flesh. Immediately a full on siege commences, with family members reacting with various degrees of panic, selfishness. and ingenuity, while an unknown number of animal-masked assailants prowl outside (and sometimes inside). Clearly fun for its all-star cast and crew of mumblecore-indie horror staples, yet preferring gallows’ humor to wink-wink camp, it’s a (very) bloody good ride. (1:36) SF Center. (Harvey) *