Crime

Invisible no more

9

We all want to be responsible for our environment. We sort our trash. We put the right things into the right containers, and feel good when we see them at the curb on trash pickup day.

Then the trash disappears. End of story.

But really, it’s not the end. Not only does the trash go somewhere, but people still have to sort through what we’ve thrown away. In a society full of people doing work that’s unacknowledged, and often out of sight, those who deal with our recycled trash are some of the most invisible of all.

Sorting trash is dangerous and dirty work. In 2012 two East Bay workers were killed in recycling facilities. With some notable exceptions, putting your hands into fast moving conveyor belts filled with cardboard and cans does not pay well — much less, for instance, than the jobs of the drivers who pick up the containers at the curb. And the sorting is done almost entirely by women of color; in the Bay Area, they are mostly immigrants from Mexico and Central America, as well as some African Americans.

This spring, one group of recycling workers, probably those with the worst conditions of all, finally had enough. Their effort to attain higher wages, particularly after many were fired for their immigration status, began to pull back recycling’s cloak of invisibility. Not only did they become visible activists in a growing movement of East Bay recycling workers, but their protests galvanized public action to stop the firings of undocumented workers.

 

ILLEGAL WAGES FOR “TEMPORARY” WORKERS

Alameda County Industries occupies two big, nondescript buildings at the end of a cul-de-sac in a San Leandro industrial park. Garbage trucks with recycled trash pull in every minute, dumping their fragrant loads gathered on routes in Livermore, Alameda, and San Leandro. These cities contract with ACI to process the trash. In the Bay Area, only one city, Berkeley, picks up its own garbage. All the rest sign contracts with private companies. Even Berkeley contracts recycling to an independent sorter.

At ACI, the company contracts out its own sorting work. A temp agency, Select Staffing, hires and employs the workers on the lines. As at most temp agencies, this means sorters have no health insurance, no vacations, and no holidays. It also means wages are very low, even for recycling. After a small raise two years ago, sorters began earning $8.30 per hour during the day shift, and $8.50 at night.

Last winter, workers discovered this was an illegal wage.

Because ACI has a contract with the city of San Leandro to process its recycling, it is covered by the city’s Living Wage Ordinance, passed in 2007. Under that law, as of July 2013: “Covered businesses are required to pay no less than $14.17 per hour or $12.67 with health benefits valued at least $1.50 per hour, subject to annual CPI [consumer price index] adjustment.”

There is no union for recycling workers at ACI, but last fall some of the women on the lines got a leaflet advertising a health and safety training workshop for recycling workers, put on by Local 6 of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. There, they met the union’s organizing director, Agustin Ramirez. “Sorting trash is not a clean or easy job anywhere,” he recalls, “but what they described was shocking. And when they told me what they were paid, I knew something was very wrong.”

Ramirez put them in touch with a lawyer. In January, the lawyer sent ACI and Select a letter stating workers’ intention to file suit to reclaim the unpaid wages. ACI has about 70 sorters. At 2,000 work hours per year each, and a potential discrepancy of almost $6 per hour, that adds up to a lot of money in back wages.

The response by ACI and Select was quick. In early February, 18 workers — including all but one who’d signed onto the initial suit — were called into the Select office. They were told the company had been audited by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency of the Department of Homeland Security a year before, and that ICE had questioned their immigration status. Unless they could provide a good Social Security number and valid work authorization within a few days, they’d be terminated.

Instead of quietly disappearing, though, about half the sorters walked off the lines on Feb. 27, protesting the impending firings and asking for more time from the company and ICE. Faith leaders and members of Alameda County United for Immigrant Rights joined them in front of the ACI office. Workers came from other recycling facilities. Jack in the Box workers, some of whom were fired after last fall’s fast-food strikes, marched down the cul-de-sac carrying their banner of the East Bay Organizing Committee. Even San Leandro City Councilman Jim Prola showed up.

“The company told us they’d fire anyone who walked out,” said sorter Ignacia Garcia. But after a confrontation at the gate, with trucks full of recycled trash backed up for a block, Select and ACI managers agreed the strikers could return to work the following day. The next week, however, all 18 accused of being undocumented were fired. “Some of us have been there 14 years, so why now?” wondered Garcia.

In the weeks that followed, East Bay churches, which earlier called ICE to try to stop the firings, collected more than $6,500 to pay rent for nine families. According to Rev. Deborah Lee, director of the Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights, “after they had a chance to meet the fired workers and hear their stories, their hearts went out to these hardworking workers and parents, who had no warning, and no safety net.” Money is still coming in, she says.

 

ONE OF MANY BATTLES

Because cities give contracts for recycling services, they indirectly control how much money is available for workers’ wages. But a lot depends on the contractor. San Francisco workers have the gold standard. Recology, whose garbage contract is written into the city charter, has a labor contract with the Teamsters Union. Under it, workers on its recycle lines are guaranteed to earn $21 an hour.

Across the bay, wages are much lower.

ACI is one battle among many taking place among recycling workers concerning low wages. In 1998, Ramirez and the ILWU began organizing sorters. That year 70 workers struck California Waste Solutions, which received a contract for half of Oakland’s recycling in 1992. As at ACI, workers were motivated by a living wage ordinance. At the time, Oakland mandated $8 an hour plus $2.40 for health insurance. Workers were only paid $6, and the city had failed to monitor the company for seven years, until the strike.

Finally, the walkout was settled for increases that eventually brought CWS into compliance. During the conflict, however, it became public (through the Bay Guardian in particular) that Councilman Larry Reid had a financial interest in the business, and that CWS owner David Duong was contributing thousands of dollars in city election races.

Waste Management, Inc., holds the Oakland city garbage contract. While garbage haulers have been Teamster members for decades, when Waste Management took over Oakland’s recycling contract in 1991 it signed an agreement with ILWU Local 6. Here too workers faced immigration raids. In 1998, sorters at Waste Management’s San Leandro facility staged a wildcat work stoppage over safety issues, occupying the company’s lunchroom. Three weeks later immigration agents showed up, audited company records, and eventually deported eight of them. And last year another three workers were fired from Waste Management, accused of not having legal immigration status.

Today Waste Management sorters are paid $12.50 under the ILWU contract — more than ACI, but a long way from the hourly wage Recology pays in San Francisco. Furthermore, the union contracts with both CWS and Waste Management expired almost two years ago. The union hasn’t signed new ones, because workers are tired of the second-class wage standard.

To increase wages, union recycling workers in the East Bay organized a coalition to establish a new standard — not just for wages, but safety and working conditions — called the Campaign for Sustainable Recycling. Two dozen organizations belong to it in addition to the union, including the Sierra Club, the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, Movement Generation, the Justice and Ecology Project, the East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy, and the Faith Alliance for a Moral Economy.

ILWU researcher Amy Willis points out, “San Francisco, with a $21 wage, charges garbage rates to customers of $34 a month. East Bay recyclers pay half that wage, but East Bay ratepayers still pay $28-30 for garbage, recycling included. So where’s the money going? Not to the workers, clearly.”

Fremont became the test for the campaign’s strategy of forcing cities to mandate wage increases. Last December the Fremont City Council passed a 32-cent rate increase with the condition that its recycler, BLT, agree to provide raises. The union contract there now mandates $14.59 per hour for sorters in 2014, finally reaching $20.94 in 2019. Oakland has followed, requiring wage increases for sorters as part of the new recycling contract that’s currently up for bid.

Good news for those still working. But even for people currently on the job, and certainly for the 18 workers fired at ACI, raising wages only addresses part of the problem. Even more important is the ability to keep working and earn that paycheck.

 

CRIMINALIZING IMMIGRANT WORKERS

When ACI and Select told workers they’d be fired if they couldn’t produce good Social Security numbers and proof of legal immigration status, they were only “obeying the law.” Since 1986, U.S. immigration law has prohibited employers from hiring undocumented workers. Yet according to the Pew Hispanic Trust, 11-12 million people without papers live in the U.S. — and not only do the vast majority of them work, they have to work as a matter of survival. Without papers people can’t collect unemployment benefits, family assistance or almost any other public benefit.

To enforce the law, all job applicants must fill out an I-9 form, provide a Social Security number and show the employer two pieces of ID. Since 1986 immigration authorities have audited the I-9 forms in company personnel records to find workers with bad Social Security numbers or other ID problems. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) then sends the employer a letter, demanding that it fire those workers.

According to ICE, last year the agency audited over 2,000 employers, and similar numbers in previous years. One of the biggest mass firings took place in San Francisco in 2010, when 475 janitors cleaning office buildings for ABM Industries lost their jobs. Olga Miranda, president of Service Employees Local 87, the city’s janitors union, charges: “You cannot kill a family quicker than by taking away their right to find employment. The I-9 audits, the workplace raids, E-Verify, make workers fear to speak out against injustices, that because of their immigration status they have no standing in this country. They have criminalized immigrants. They have dehumanized them.”

One fired janitor, Teresa Mina, said at the time, “This law is very unjust. We’re doing jobs that are heavy and dirty, to help our children have a better life, or just to eat. Now my children won’t have what they need.”

Similar I-9 audits have taken place in the past two years at the Pacific Steel foundry in Berkeley, at Silicon Valley cafeterias run by Bon Appetit, at South Bay building contractor Albanese Construction, and at the Dobake bakery, where workers prepare food for many Bay Area schools. All are union employers.

Sometimes the audits take place where workers have no union, but are protesting wages and conditions. Like the ACI workers, in 2006 employees at the Woodfin Suites hotel in Emeryville asked their employer to raise their wages to comply with the city’s living wage ordinance. Twenty-one housekeepers were then fired for not having papers. Emeryville finally collected over $100,000 in back pay on their behalf, but the workers were never able to return to their jobs.

Last fall, as fast-food workers around the country were demanding $15 an hour, several were fired at an Oakland Jack in the Box for being undocumented. “They knew that when they hired us,” said Diana Rivera. “I don’t believe working is a crime. What we’re doing is something normal — we’re not hurting anyone.” The Mi Pueblo Mexican market chain also fired many workers in an immigration audit, during a union organizing drive.

Because the audits are not public, no exact total of the number of workers fired is available. ICE spokesperson Virginia Kice would not comment on the audit at ACI. In response to an information request, she stated: “To avoid negatively impacting the reputation of law-abiding businesses, we do not release information or confirm an audit unless the investigation results in a fine or the filing of criminal charges.” Neither ACI nor Select Staffing responded to requests for comment.

San Francisco became a leader in opposing the firings in January, when the Board of Supervisors passed unanimously a resolution calling on the Obama administration to implement a moratorium on the audits and on deportations. Other cities, like Los Angeles, have also opposed deportations, but San Francisco added: “End the firings of undocumented workers by ending the I-9 audits and the use of the E-Verify system.”

Gordon Mar, of Jobs with Justice, urged the board to act at a rally in front of City Hall. “When hundreds of workers are fired from their jobs,” he declared, “the damage is felt far beyond the workers themselves. Many communities have voiced their opposition to these ‘silent raids’ because they hurt everyone. Making it a crime to work drives people into poverty, and drives down workplace standards for all people.” Like many Bay Area progressive immigrant rights activists, Mar calls for repealing the section of immigration law that prohibits the undocumented from working.

The Board of Supervisors urged President Obama to change the way immigration law is enforced, in part because Congress has failed to pass immigration reform that would protect immigrants’ rights. The Senate did pass a bill a year ago, but although it might eventually bring legal status to some of the undocumented, other provisions would increase firings and deportations.

Like the Board of Supervisors, therefore, the California Legislature has also passed measures that took effect Jan. 1, to ameliorate the consequences of workplace immigration enforcement: AB 263, AB 524, and SB 666. Retaliation is now illegal against workers who complain they are owed unpaid wages, or who testify about an employer’s violation of a statute or regulation. Employers can have their business licenses suspended if they threaten to report the immigration status of workers who exercise their rights. Lawyers who do so can be disbarred. And threats to report immigration status can be considered extortion.

It’s too early to know how effective these new measures will be in protecting workers like the 18 who were fired at ACI. While a memorandum of understanding between ICE and the Department of Labor bars audits or other enforcement actions in retaliation for enforcing wage and hour laws, ICE routinely denies it engages in such retaliation.

Yet, as difficult as their situation is, the fired recyclers don’t seem to regret having filed the suit and standing up for their rights. Meanwhile, the actions by the cities of Oakland and Fremont hold out the promise of a better standard of living for those still laboring on the lines.

 

Norman Solomon: Obama escalates his war on journalism

2

By Norman Solomon

 (Norman Solomon is executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy and co-founder of RootsAction.org. His books include “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.” Information about the documentary based on the book is at www.WarMadeEasyTheMovie.org.)

In a memoir published this year, the CIA’s former top legal officer John Rizzo says that on the last day of 2005 a panicky White House tried to figure out how to prevent the distribution of a book by New York Times reporter James Risen. Officials were upset because Risen’s book, State of War, exposed what — in his words — “may have been one of the most reckless operations in the modern history of the CIA.”

The book told of a bungled CIA attempt to set back Iran’s nuclear program in 2000 by supplying the Iranian government with flawed blueprints for nuclear-bomb design. The CIA’s tactic might have actually aided Iranian nuclear development.

When a bootlegged copy of State of War reached the National Security Council, a frantic meeting convened in the Situation Room, according to Rizzo. “As best anyone could tell, the books were printed in bulk and stacked somewhere in warehouses.” The aspiring censors hit a wall. “We arrived at a rueful consensus: game over as far as any realistic possibility to keep the book, and the classified information in it, from getting out.”

But more than eight years later, the Obama White House is seeking a different form of retribution. The people running the current administration don’t want to pulp the book — they want to put its author in jail.

The Obama administration is insisting that Risen name his confidential source — or face imprisonment. Risen says he won’t capitulate.

The Freedom of the Press Foundation calls the government’s effort to force Risen to reveal a source “one of the most significant press freedom cases in decades.”

Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg says: “The pursuit of Risen is a warning to potential sources that journalists cannot promise them confidentiality for disclosing Executive Branch criminality, recklessness, deception, unconstitutional policies or lying us into war. Without protecting confidentiality, investigative journalism required for accountability and democracy will wither and disappear.”

A recent brief from the Obama administration to the nation’s top court “is unflinchingly hostile to the idea of the Supreme Court creating or finding protections for journalists,” Politico reported. The newspaper added that Risen “might be sent to jail or fined if he refuses to identify his sources or testify about other details of his reporting.”

This threat is truly ominous. As Ellsberg puts it, “We would know less than we do now about government abuses, less than we need to know to hold officials accountable and to influence policy democratically.”

So much is at stake: for whistleblowers, freedom of the press and the public’s right to know. For democracy.

That’s why five organizations — RootsAction.org, The Nation, the Center for Media and Democracy / The Progressive, Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR) and the Freedom of the Press Foundation — have joined together to start a campaign for protecting the confidentiality of journalists’ sources. So far, in May, about 50,000 people have signed a petition telling President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder to end legal moves against Risen.

Charging that the administration has launched “an assault on freedom of the press,” the petition tells Obama and Holder: “We urge you in the strongest terms to halt all legal action against Mr. Risen and to safeguard the freedom of journalists to maintain the confidentiality of their sources.”

The online petition — “We Support James Risen Because We Support a Free Press” — includes thousands of personal comments from signers. Here’s a sampling of what they had to say:

“Freedom of the press and freedom of speech are the cornerstones of our democracy. Stop trying to restrict them.”  Jim T., Colorado Springs, Colorado

“Protected sources are essential to a real democracy. Without whistleblowers, there is no truth.”  Jo Ellen K., San Francisco, California

“Enough of the government assault on freedom of the press! Whistleblowers are heroes to the American people.”  Paul D., Keaau, Hawaii

“It seems our government is out of control. The premise of deriving power from the people would appear to be a quaint notion to most within the three branches. Instead they now view us as subjects that must bend to their will rather than the other way around.”  Gary J., Liberty Township, Ohio

“‘Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed. Everything else is public relations.’ — George Orwell”  Todd J., Oxford, Michigan

“As a writer, I support freedom of the press around the world as a vital first step toward regaining control of our compromised democracies.”  Patricia R., Whitehorse, YT, Canada

“You promised an open and transparent administration. Please keep that promise.”  Willard S., Cary, North Carolina

“Without a free press, we really have nothing.”  Robin H., Weehawken, New Jersey

“The Obama administration’s attack on press freedom is an issue of grave concern. Why are we spending billions of dollars going after supposed ‘terrorists’ when the greatest threat to democracy resides right here in Washington, DC.”  Karen D., Detroit, Michigan

“Damn you, Obama! You become more like Nixon daily!”  Leonard H., Manchester, Michigan

“Congratulations, Mr. Risen!”  Marian C., Hollister, California

“The U.S. is becoming an increasingly frightening place to live, more than a little like a police state. President Obama, you have been a huge disappointment. I expected better from you.”  Barbara R., Newport, Rhode Island

“Come on, President Obama… you’re a Constitutional scholar. You know better than this. Knock it off.”  James S., Burbank, California

“There can be no true freedom of the press unless the confidentiality of sources is protected. Without this, no leads, informants or whistleblowers will be motivated to come forward. Reporters should not be imprisoned for doing their job.”  Chris R., North Canton, Ohio

“You took an oath to ‘preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States,’ freedom of the press!”  Diane S., San Jose, California

“Whatever became of the progressive Obama and the change you promised? Evidently it was a load of campaign bull puckey, making you just another politician who says whatever it takes to get elected. In other words, you and your administration are a complete sham. As for your constitutional scholarship, it would appear to be in the service of undermining the Constitution a la Bush and Cheney.”  Barry E., Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvani

“Without a free press, our republic is paper-mache. Remember John Peter Zenger! We must not shoot the messenger — we must raise the bar for conduct and probity!”  Lance K., Chelsea, Massachusetts

“A free press is the only counterbalance to crony capitalism, corrupt legislators, and a pitifully partisan Supreme Court, that continues to destroy our Constitutional protections.”  Dion B., Cathedral City, California

“I implore you to RESPECT THE FIRST AMENDMENT.”  Glen A., Lacey, Washington

“Did you not learn in grade school that freedom of the press is essential to a free country?”  Joanne D., Colorado Springs, Colorado

“We’ve been down this road before. What amazes me is that we condemn other countries for stifling freedom of the press, then turn around and do the same thing to advance our own purposes. Are we proponents of democracy and a free press or not?”  William M., Whittier, California

“Journalism is a vital component of a democracy, and it is a core function protected by the freedom of expression enshrined in both international and domestic law. You must stop harassing and persecuting journalists and their sources who are providing a vital public service in prying open the activities of governments that are illegitimately concealed from the public. If the public is not informed of state actions executed in their name, they cannot evaluate and render consent to those actions through the vote. This secrecy therefore subverts democracy, and you must stop using police powers to destroy the whistleblowers who enable government accountability to the public.”  Jim S., Gatlinburg, Tennessee

“I support freedom of the press, not the attorney general’s vicious abuse of his position!”  Bettemae J., Albuquerque, New Mexico

“Compelling reporters to reveal their sources just means that sources will stop talking to reporters. That will cripple the free press. If you think that’s not important, please resign immediately.”  Stephen P., Gresham, Oregon

“As an old woman who remembers the lies of Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush (especially) and the current administration, I do not trust my own government to tell me the truth anymore.  Freedom of the press is my only chance [to] find out what the truth is. Protect reporters’ sources!”  Monica O., Lomita, California

“Without freedom of the press, we might as well kiss democracy goodbye!”  Melvin M., Vashon, Washington

“I am ashamed of this administration, its policies and its Department of Justice — what a travesty of criminal turpitude and mass media complicity. ‘Transparency’ — hah! Cheap campaign rhetoric.”  Mitch L., Los Altos Hills, California

“Walk the walk or stop talking about democracy. Free press is the basis of our constitution.”  Carl D., Manassas, Virginia

“No free press, no democracy!”  James F., Moab, Utah

“If you force the media to reveal its sources, no one will ever come forth with a news story or lead again. I’m sure this is precisely what the politicians and big business want. Then there’d be absolutely no accountability. We need an effective shield law rather than persecuting journalists and news organizations for reporting the news.”  Jim S., Ladera Ranch, California

“Freedom of the Press is the hallmark of a free society. Your administration has done everything in its power to subvert Freedom of the Press by jailing whistleblowers and reporters who uncover wrong doing. This must stop!”  Ed A., Queens, New York

“We have very few real journalists left. Let’s not jail them!”  Karen H., West Grove, Pennsylvania

“As the press goes, so goes citizens’ rights.”  Kathy F., West Bend, Wisconsin

“I have been shocked at how this administration has treated the American people’s right to know, prosecuting reporters, whistleblowers, and others who have had the temerity to cast light into the dark corners of our government. You bring the whole concept of democracy into disrepute and set a bad example for the rest of the world.”  Marjorie P., Montpelier, Vermont

“We need our investigative reporters more now than ever in history. Keep our press free.”  Joan R., Novato, California

“Investigative reporting is becoming too rare in the U.S., and compelling J. Risen to reveal his sources will only make such reporting even rarer. Is this your deliberate intent?”  Elaine L., Elk Grove, California

“I am responding in support of James Risen. Freedom of the press is one of the cornerstones of our democracy and should never be trampled on by government.”  Lois D., San Jacinto, California

“Freedom of the press is more important than some stinking government attempt to find out how bad shenanigans made it into the press. Quit this crap about trying to make a reporter reveal his or her sources. We need good reporting a lot more than lousy stinking politicians trying to shut up the truth.”  Ralph M., Bakerstown, Pennsylvania

“Without a free press tyranny will ensue.”  Bob P., Holland, Pennsylvania

“I thought Mr. Obama was supposed to be a Constitutional lawyer and swore to uphold it. I thought the Attorney General was supposed to also protect the Constitution. It seems you both have abandoned those duties. Prove you hold the Constitution as the authority from which you derive your own and cease this persecution of a reporter who epitomizes one of the crucial things the Constitution stands for — a truly free press.”  Michael S., Tukwila, Washington

“I’ve seen mud more transparent than the Obama admin.”  Paul H., Carlton, Oregon

“Wow, this coming from the Obama administration who supposedly is for open govt. Isn’t it a police state when the govt cracks down on reporters for telling the truth? James Risen is a hero who will go to jail before revealing his source and the fact that you want to throw him in jail is the real crime here.”  Gayle J., Seattle, Washington

“Shocking.”  Peggy K., Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin

“You have way overstepped your authority. I consider myself a moderate, but your aggressive pursuit of journalists and whistleblowers strikes fear in my heart. Your use of intimidation to weaken the press is contributing to the dismantling of our democracy.”  Marcia B., Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

“Quit trying to silence journalists! This is a Vladimir Putin approach to government. Hope and Change? Get Real!”  Rich W., Grass Valley, California

“Stop destroying our heroes, the courageous whistleblowers and journalists, including Risen and others who should be thanked, not prosecuted! You know damn well that the People want these people honored!”  Nancy G., Palm Desert, California

“Please recognize the need for a journalist to be free of coercion to reveal confidential sources. Bravo to James Risen for having the courage to resist this onerous government intimidation.”  Thomas S., Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

“We are already seeing freedom of the press undermined by consolidation of media ownership. The founding fathers believed that we could only keep this republic if we have free press and an informed public. Stop the suppression of information. Free access to information is not an optional ingredient.”  Janelle J., Buffalo, Missouri

“Stop persecuting journalists and whistleblowers. Information is the lifeblood of a democracy.”  William C., Sherman Oaks, California

“Our government has become big brother. Journalists must not be forced to name their sources if we are to know the truth.”  Carolyn S., Los Angeles, California

“A free press is gone if confidential sources are revealed.”  Vincent H., Rutledge, Tennessee

“Frankly, Mr. President, I’m surprised at you, and I have to say, disappointed. This seems like something that happens in totalitarian countries.”  Karen B., Felton, California

“Freedom of the press is already under siege because big business controls so much of the message. The Obama administration must respect James Risen’s right to withhold his source.”  Patricia B., Marco Island, Florida

“Whistleblowers are vital to keeping our democracy from turning into a police state. And a free press is vital to keeping us informed. Drop this case, and uphold the principles of our Constitution.”  Cynthia D., E. Boston, MA

“The press should be free to do its job! How about some of that ‘most transparent administration’ stuff. If an administration has nothing to hide it has nothing to fear.”  Mike H., Terre Haute, Indiana

“James Risen is an investigative reporter of high repute who should not be subjected to state harassment and punishment for upholding his pledge of confidentiality to his sources. These encroachments on our Fourth Estate’s watchdog function as a check on the abuse of power must not stand.”  Barbara K., Santa Fe, New Mexico

“You both have to stop talking out of both sides of your mouth, i.e. lying. We are fighting for freedom of the press. Stop being enemies to us people.”  Judith N., North Bonneville, Washington

“Please don’t trash the Bill of Rights. Protect the freedom and independence of the press. Drop the case against James Risen.”  Andrew M., Lower Gwynedd, Pennsylvania

“Daniel Ellsberg was right. James Risen is right.”  Leonore J., Toledo, Ohio

“When the light of free press is no more, darkness prevails and evildoers flourish. I know this is what this corrupt government wants but over our dead bodies.”  Felix C., San Antonio, Texas

“What Mr. Risen did in this instance, was not criminal. Rather it was EXACTLY what a free press should do, without fear of reprisal. Stop the strong arm tactics.”  John S., Trumbull, Connecticut

“The investigative work of journalists sheds light on the world and what is happening. The increasing punishment of journalists is pushing our world and news into a scary age of non-information. Safeguard the confidentiality of journalists and their sources.”  Christin B., Barnegat Light, New Jersey

“Stop persecuting journalists and truth tellers.”  Phyllis B., Desert Hot Springs, California

Norman Solomon is executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy and co-founder of RootsAction.org. His books include “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.” Information about the documentary based on the book is at www.WarMadeEasyTheMovie.org.

(The Bruce blog is written and edited by Bruce B. Brugmann, editor at large of the San Francisco Bay Guardian. He is the former co-founder and co-publisher with his wife Jean Dibble, 1966-2012.)

James Risen is printing the news and raising hell for a damn good cause in the best jounalistic tradition. He needs our support. B3

Cruise into the weekend (oh yes we did) with new flicks!

0

Dudes! The (lucky) 13th San Francisco Documentary Film Festival, aka DocFest to those in the know, is underway now, running through June 19 with all kinds of weird and wonderful docs. Check out Dennis Harvey’s recommendations here

From the spangly tentacles of Hollywood, we’ve got Shailene “I Am Not the Poor Man’s Jennifer Lawrence” Woodley in a certified tearjerker, and Tom “Still a Big Enough Star to Avoid Being Cast in an Expendables Flick Just Yet” Cruise fighting aliens (and, surprisingly, his own ego). Plus: indie picks, including the latest from Kelly Reichardt and Lukas Moodysson. Read on for more.

 

Edge of Tomorrow Is it OK to root for Tom Cruise again? (The Oprah thing was almost a decade ago, after all.) The entertaining Edge of Tomorrow, crisply directed by Bourne series vet Doug Liman, takes what’s most irritating about Cruise’s persona (he’s so goddamn earnest) and uses it to great advantage, casting him as military PR guru Cage — repping our armed forces on talk shows amid battles with alien invaders dubbed “Mimics” — whose oiliness masks the fact that he’s terrified of actual combat. When he’s forced to fight by a no-nonsense superior (Brendan Gleeson), he’s gruesomely killed, along with nearly every other human soldier. But wait! Thanks to a particularly close encounter with outer-space pixie dust, he awakens, unharmed, to re-live the day, over and over again (yep, shades of a certain Bill Murray comedy classic). Each “reset” offers Cage a chance to work his way closer to changing the course of the war in humanity’s favor, with key help from a badass (Emily Blunt) whose heroics on the battlefield have earned her the nickname “Full Metal Bitch.” Nothing groundbreaking here — but Edge of Tomorrow manages to make its satisfying plot as important as its 3D explosions, which means it automatically rises above what passes for popcorn fun these days. (1:53) (Cheryl Eddy)

The Fault in Our Stars Shailene Woodley stars in this based-on-a-best-seller romance about two teens who meet at a cancer support group. (2:05)

Night Moves Not to be confused with Arthur Penn’s same-named 1975 Gene Hackman thriller, Kelly Reichardt’s latest film nonetheless is also a memorably quiet, unsettling tale of conspiracy and paranoia. It takes us some time to understand what makes temporary allies of jittery Josh (Jesse Eisenberg), Portland, Ore.-style alterna-chick Dena (Dakota Fanning) and genial rural recluse Harmon (Peter Sarsgaard), beyond it being a mission of considerable danger and secrecy. When things don’t go exactly as planned, however, the three react very differently to the resulting fallout, becoming possibly greater threats to one another than the police or FBI personnel pursuing them. While still spare by mainstream standard, this is easily Reichardt’s most accessible work, carrying the observational strengths of 2010’s Meek’s Cutoff, 2008’s Wendy and Lucy, and 2006’s Old Joy over to a genuinely tense story that actually goes somewhere. (1:52) (Dennis Harvey)

Rigor Mortis Spooky Chinese folklore (hopping vampires) meets J-horror (female ghouls with long black hair) in this film — directed by Juno Mak, and produced by Grudge series helmer Takashi Shimizu — inspired by Hong Kong’s long-running Mr. Vampire comedy-horror movie series. Homage takes the form of casting, with several of Vampire’s key players in attendance, rather than tone, since the supernatural goings-on in Rigor Mortis are more somber than slapstick. Washed-up film star Chin Siu-ho (playing an exaggerated version of himself) moves into a gloomy apartment building stuffed with both living and undead tenants; his own living room was the scene of a horrific crime, and anguished spirits still linger. Neighbors include a frustrated former vampire hunter; a traumatized woman and her white-haired imp of a son; a kindly seamstress who goes full-tilt ruthless in her quest to bring her deceased husband back to life; and an ailing shaman whose spell-casting causes more harm than good. Shot in tones so monochromatic the film sometimes appears black-and-white (with splashes of blood red, natch), Rigor Mortis unfortunately favors CG theatrics over genuine scares. That said, its deadpan, world-weary tone can be amusing, as when one old ghost-chaser exclaims to another, “You’re still messing around with that black magic shit?” (1:45) (Cheryl Eddy)

Test Writer-director Chris Mason Johnson sets his film at a particular moment in the early years of the AIDS epidemic — when the first HIV blood test became publicly available, in 1985 — within a milieu, the world of professional modern dance, that rarely makes an appearance in narrative films. Test’s protagonist, Frankie (Scott Marlowe), is a young understudy in a prestigious San Francisco company, and the camera follows him on daily rounds from a rodent-infested Castro apartment, where he lives with his closeted roommate, to the dance studio, where he marks the steps of the other performers and waits anxiously for an opportunity to get onstage. Larger anxieties are hovering, moving in. We get a rehearsal scene in which a female dancer recoils from her male partner’s embrace, lest his sweat contaminate her; conversations about the virus in changing rooms and at parties; a sexual encounter between Frankie and a stranger, after which he stares at the man as if he might be a mortal enemy; a later, aborted encounter in which the man sits up in bed, appalled and depressed, after Frankie hesitantly proffers a condom, remarking, “They say we should use these…” A neighbor watches Frankie examine himself for skin lesions. Rock Hudson dies. Frankie warily embarks on a friendship with a brash, handsome fellow dancer (Matthew Risch) who offers a counterpoint to his cerebral, watchful reserve. And throughout, the company rehearses and performs, in scenes that beautifully evoke the themes of the film, a quiet, thoughtful study of a person, and a community, trying to reorient and find footing amid a cataclysm. (1:29) Elmwood (director in person Sat/7, 7:15pm show), Presidio (director in person Fri/6, 8:30pm; Sat/7, 3:50pm; and Sun/8, 6:15pm shows). (Lynn Rapoport)

We Are the Best! Fifteen years after Show Me Love, Lukas Moodysson’s sweet tale of two girls in love in small-town Sweden, the writer-director returns to the subject of adorably poignant teen angst. Set in Stockholm in 1982, and adapted from a graphic novel by Moodysson’s wife, Coco Moodysson, We Are the Best! focuses on an even younger cohort: a trio of 13-year-old girls who form a punk band in the interest of fighting the power and irritating the crap out of their enemies. Best friends Bobo (Mira Barkhammar) and Klara (Mira Grosin) spend their time enduring the agonies of parental embarrassment and battling with schoolmates over personal aesthetics (blond and perky versus chopped and spiked), nukes, and whether punk’s dead or not. Wreaking vengeance on a group of churlish older boys by snaking their time slot in the local rec center’s practice space, they find themselves equipped with a wealth of fan enthusiasm, but no instruments of their own and scant functional knowledge of the ones available at the rec center. Undaunted, they recruit a reserved Christian classmate named Hedvig (Liv LeMoyne), whose objectionable belief system — which they vow to subvert for her own good — is offset by her prodigious musical talents. Anyone who was tormented by the indignities of high school PE class will appreciate the subject matter of the group’s first number (“Hate the Sport”). And while the film has a slightness to it and an unfinished quality, Moodysson’s heartfelt interest in the three girls’ triumphs and trials as both a band and a posse of friends suffuses the story with warmth and humor. (1:42) (Lynn Rapoport)

Film Listings: June 4 – 10, 2014

0

Film listings are edited by Cheryl Eddy. Reviewers are Kimberly Chun, Dennis Harvey, Lynn Rapoport, and Sara Maria Vizcarrondo. For rep house showtimes, see Rep Clock.

DOCFEST

The 13th San Francisco Documentary Film Festival runs June 5-19 at the Brava Theater, 2781 York, SF; Roxie Theater, 3117 16th St, SF; and Oakland School of the Arts Theater, 530 19th St, Oakl. For tickets (most shows $12) and complete schedule, visit www.sfindie.com. For commentary, see “Peculiar Thrills.”

OPENING

Edge of Tomorrow Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt star in this sci-fi thriller about an alien war being fought by soldiers caught in a seemingly endless time loop. (1:53) Four Star, Presidio.

The Fault in Our Stars Shailene Woodley stars in this based-on-a-best-seller romance about two teens who meet at a cancer support group. (2:05) Marina.

Night Moves Not to be confused with Arthur Penn’s same-named 1975 Gene Hackman thriller, Kelly Reichardt’s latest film nonetheless is also a memorably quiet, unsettling tale of conspiracy and paranoia. It takes us some time to understand what makes temporary allies of jittery Josh (Jesse Eisenberg), Portland, Ore.-style alterna-chick Dena (Dakota Fanning) and genial rural recluse Harmon (Peter Sarsgaard), beyond it being a mission of considerable danger and secrecy. When things don’t go exactly as planned, however, the three react very differently to the resulting fallout, becoming possibly greater threats to one another than the police or FBI personnel pursuing them. While still spare by mainstream standard, this is easily Reichardt’s most accessible work, carrying the observational strengths of 2010’s Meek’s Cutoff, 2008’s Wendy and Lucy, and 2006’s Old Joy over to a genuinely tense story that actually goes somewhere. (1:52) Metreon. (Harvey)

Rigor Mortis Spooky Chinese folklore (hopping vampires) meets J-horror (female ghouls with long black hair) in this film — directed by Juno Mak, and produced by Grudge series helmer Takashi Shimizu — inspired by Hong Kong’s long-running Mr. Vampire comedy-horror movie series. Homage takes the form of casting, with several of Vampire‘s key players in attendance, rather than tone, since the supernatural goings-on in Rigor Mortis are more somber than slapstick. Washed-up film star Chin Siu-ho (playing an exaggerated version of himself) moves into a gloomy apartment building stuffed with both living and undead tenants; his own living room was the scene of a horrific crime, and anguished spirits still linger. Neighbors include a frustrated former vampire hunter; a traumatized woman and her white-haired imp of a son; a kindly seamstress who goes full-tilt ruthless in her quest to bring her deceased husband back to life; and an ailing shaman whose spell-casting causes more harm than good. Shot in tones so monochromatic the film sometimes appears black-and-white (with splashes of blood red, natch), Rigor Mortis unfortunately favors CG theatrics over genuine scares. That said, its deadpan, world-weary tone can be amusing, as when one old ghost-chaser exclaims to another, “You’re still messing around with that black magic shit?” (1:45) Metreon. (Eddy)

Test Writer-director Chris Mason Johnson sets his film at a particular moment in the early years of the AIDS epidemic — when the first HIV blood test became publicly available, in 1985 — within a milieu, the world of professional modern dance, that rarely makes an appearance in narrative films. Test‘s protagonist, Frankie (Scott Marlowe), is a young understudy in a prestigious San Francisco company, and the camera follows him on daily rounds from a rodent-infested Castro apartment, where he lives with his closeted roommate, to the dance studio, where he marks the steps of the other performers and waits anxiously for an opportunity to get onstage. Larger anxieties are hovering, moving in. We get a rehearsal scene in which a female dancer recoils from her male partner’s embrace, lest his sweat contaminate her; conversations about the virus in changing rooms and at parties; a sexual encounter between Frankie and a stranger, after which he stares at the man as if he might be a mortal enemy; a later, aborted encounter in which the man sits up in bed, appalled and depressed, after Frankie hesitantly proffers a condom, remarking, “They say we should use these&ldots;” A neighbor watches Frankie examine himself for skin lesions. Rock Hudson dies. Frankie warily embarks on a friendship with a brash, handsome fellow dancer (Matthew Risch) who offers a counterpoint to his cerebral, watchful reserve. And throughout, the company rehearses and performs, in scenes that beautifully evoke the themes of the film, a quiet, thoughtful study of a person, and a community, trying to reorient and find footing amid a cataclysm. (1:29) Elmwood (director in person Sat/7, 7:15pm show), Presidio (director in person Fri/6, 8:30pm; Sat/7, 3:50pm; and Sun/8, 6:15pm shows). (Rapoport)

We Are the Best! Fifteen years after Show Me Love, Lukas Moodysson’s sweet tale of two girls in love in small-town Sweden, the writer-director returns to the subject of adorably poignant teen angst. Set in Stockholm in 1982, and adapted from a graphic novel by Moodysson’s wife, Coco Moodysson, We Are the Best! focuses on an even younger cohort: a trio of 13-year-old girls who form a punk band in the interest of fighting the power and irritating the crap out of their enemies. Best friends Bobo (Mira Barkhammar) and Klara (Mira Grosin) spend their time enduring the agonies of parental embarrassment and battling with schoolmates over personal aesthetics (blond and perky versus chopped and spiked), nukes, and whether punk’s dead or not. Wreaking vengeance on a group of churlish older boys by snaking their time slot in the local rec center’s practice space, they find themselves equipped with a wealth of fan enthusiasm, but no instruments of their own and scant functional knowledge of the ones available at the rec center. Undaunted, they recruit a reserved Christian classmate named Hedvig (Liv LeMoyne), whose objectionable belief system — which they vow to subvert for her own good — is offset by her prodigious musical talents. Anyone who was tormented by the indignities of high school PE class will appreciate the subject matter of the group’s first number (“Hate the Sport”). And while the film has a slightness to it and an unfinished quality, Moodysson’s heartfelt interest in the three girls’ triumphs and trials as both a band and a posse of friends suffuses the story with warmth and humor. (1:42) Embarcadero, Shattuck, Smith Rafael. (Rapoport)

ONGOING

Cold in July Though he’s best-known for his cut-above indie horror flicks (2010’s Stake Land; 2013’s We Are What We Are), Jim Mickle’s most accomplished film to date explores new turf for the writer-director: small-town noir. Cold in July, a thriller ranging across East Texas, circa 1989, is adapted from the novel by Joe R. Lansdale, who — buckle up, cultists — also penned the short story which spawned 2002’s Bubba Ho-Tep. That said, there are no supernatural elements afoot here; all darkness springs entirely from the coal-black hearts beating in its characters. Well, some of its characters, anyway; though Cold in July begins with a killing, the trigger hand is attached to mild-mannered Richard Dane (Dexter‘s Michael C. Hall, rocking a splendid mullet). The masked man he shot was breaking into his home; Richard was just protecting his family, and the crime is breezed over by the police. Unlike Viggo Mortensen’s secret gangster in 2005’s A History of Violence, a film which begins with a similar premise, Richard has zero past aggression to draw on; dude’s got a history of mildness — with a heretoforth untapped curiosity about the wilder side of life awakened by a sudden bloody act. The good guy/bad guy dynamic is twisted, tested, and taken to extremes as the story progresses; it’s the sort of film best viewed without much knowledge of its plot twists, which are numerous and cleverly plotted. Throughout, the film expertly works its 1980s setting as both homage to and embodiment of the era’s gritty thrillers; its synth-heavy score and the casting of Wyatt Russell (son of Kurt) add to the feeling that Cold in July was crafted after much time spent in the church of St. John Carpenter. Amen to that. (1:49) Opera Plaza. (Eddy)

The Dance of Reality His unique vision recently re-introduced to audiences by unmaking-of documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune, cinematic fabulist Alejandro Jodorowsky is back with his first film in a quarter-century. This autobiographical fantasia shows all initial signs of being a welcome yet somewhat redundant retread of his cult-famed early work (1970’s El Topo, 1973’s The Holy Mountain), as Santa Sangre was in 1989. It starts with the filmmaker himself fulminating wisdoms about the spiritual emptiness of a money-centric world, then appearing as guardian angel to his child self (Jeremias Herskovits). Little Alejandro is raised by a bullying, hyper macho father (Brontis Jodorowsky) and warm, indulgent mother (soprano Pamela Flores, singing every line of dialogue) who naturally clash at every turn. Jodorowsky’s stunning eye for bizarre imagery (abetted by DP Jean-Marie Dreujou’s handsome compositions) hasn’t faded, so there are delights to be had even in what fans might consider an over-familiar parade of dwarfs, amputees, anti clerical burlesques (like a dress-up dog beauty contest at church), Chaplinesque circus sentimentality, and other simple if surreal illustrations of society’s eternal victims and overlords. At a certain point, however, the misdeeds of father Jaime force his self-exile. The film’s consequent picaresque allegory of epic suffering toward redemption becomes cheerfully goofy, its symbol-strewn path increasingly funny and sweet rather than burdened by import. A large part of that appeal is due to junior Jodorowsky Brontis, who demonstrates considerable farcical esprit while flashing more full-frontal nudity than Michael Fassbender and Ewan McGregor combined ever dreamed of obliging. Shot in the family’s native Chile on a purported crowd funded budget of $3 million — could Hollywood provide so much original spectacle for 30 times that amount?—The Dance of Reality finds its 84-year-old maker as frisky as a pony, one that provides an endearingly unpredictable ride. (2:10) Opera Plaza, Shattuck. (Harvey)

The Grand Seduction Canadian actor-director Don McKellar (1998’s Last Night) remakes 2003 Quebecois comedy Seducing Doctor Lewis, about a depressed community searching for the town doctor they’ll need before a factory will agree to set up shop and bring much-needed jobs to the area. Canada is still the setting here, with the harbor’s name — Tickle Head — telegraphing with zero subtlety that whimsy lies ahead. A series of events involving a Tickle Head-based TSA agent, a bag of cocaine, and a harried young doctor (Taylor Kitsch) trying to avoid jail time signals hope for the hamlet, and de facto town leader Murray (Brendan Gleeson) snaps into action. The seduction of “Dr. Paul,” who agrees to one month of service not knowing the town is desperate to keep him, is part Northern Exposure culture clash, part Jenga-like stack of lies, as the townspeople pretend to love cricket (Paul’s a fanatic) and act like his favorite lamb dish is the specialty at the local café. The wonderfully wry Gleeson is the best thing about this deeply predictable tale, which errs too often on the side of cute (little old ladies at the switchboard listening in on Paul’s phone-sex with his girlfriend!) rather than clever, as when an unsightly structure in the center of town is explained away with a fake “World Heritage House” plaque. Still, the scenery is lovely, and “cute” doesn’t necessarily mean “not entertaining.” (1:52) Embarcadero. (Eddy)

Ida The bomb drops within the first ten minutes: after being gently forced to reconnect with her only living relative before taking her vows, novice nun Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska) learns that her name is actually Ida, and that she’s Jewish. Her mother’s sister, Wanda (Agneta Kulesza) — a Communist Party judge haunted by a turbulent past she copes with via heavy drinking, among other vices — also crisply relays that Ida’s parents were killed during the Nazi occupation, and after some hesitation agrees to accompany the sheltered young woman to find out how they died, and where their bodies were buried. Drawing great depth from understated storytelling and gorgeous, black-and-white cinematography, Pawel Pawilowski’s well-crafted drama offers a bleak if realistic (and never melodramatic) look at 1960s Poland, with two polar-opposite characters coming to form a bond as their layers of painful loss rise to the surface. (1:20) Clay. (Eddy)

The Immigrant Ewa (Marion Cotilliard) is an orphaned Polish émigré who’s separated from her sickly sister at Ellis Island in 1921, and scheduled for deportation as an alleged “woman of low morals.” She’s rescued from that by Bruno (Joaquin Phoenix), though he’s not quite the agent of charity he seems — in fact, Ewa doesn’t realize she’s actually been recruited for a prostitution racket he thinly veils as a theatrical troupe. Still, she stays, believing she has no other viable path to freeing her sister from quarantine, she allows her own degradation for money’s sake. This latest collaboration between Phoenix and director-coscenarist James Gray is a handsome period piece that’s done skillfully and tastefully enough to downplay — but not quite hide — the fact that its moral melodrama might as well have been written (as well as set) nearly a century ago. Cotilliard is fine in her best English-language role to date, and Phoenix is compelling as usual; Jeremy Renner is somewhat miscast as a distant-third lead. But whether you find The Immigrant poignant or forced will depend on your tolerance for a script whose every turn is all too predictable. (2:00) Metreon. (Harvey)

Maleficent Fairytale revisionism is all the rage these days, what with the unending power of Disney princesses to latch into little girls everywhere and bring parental units (and their wallets) to their knees. Yet princesses almost seem beside the point in this villain’s-side-of-the-story tale — Maleficent (Angelina Jolie), the queen of the fairies in the magical moors, wronged by Stefan (Sharlto Copley), who saws off her wings in order to win a crown. Accompanied by her shape-shifting minion, crow Diaval (Sam Riley), Maleficent attends the christening of King Stefan’s first-born daughter, Aurora, hot on the heels of three clownish good fairies (Lesley Manville, Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple), and delivers a curse that will have this future Sleeping Beauty (Elle Fanning) prick her finger on a spindle and sink into a deathlike coma until her true love’s kiss. Will that critical smooch be delivered  by Prince Bieber, er, Phillip (Brenton Thwaites)? Considering the potential for Disney’s trademark, heart-tugging enchantment to get magically tangled up in girl power, it’s tough to suck up the disappointment in the ooey-gooey, gummy-faced troll-doll aesthetics of the art direction and animation, as well as first-time director Robert Stromberg’s choppy, dashed-through storytelling. Part of the problem is that there’s almost zero threat here, despite its antihero’s devilish presence — is there ever any doubt that a healthy resolution will win out, even at the expense of blood ties? Best to find dangerous pleasures where one can — namely in the vivid Jolie, cheekbones honed to a razor edge, who spits biting remarks at her accursed charge, beneath Joan Crawford-esque eyebrows and horns crying out for club-kid Halloween treatments. (1:37) Marina, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Shattuck, Sundance Kabuki, Vogue. (Chun) *

 

Peculiar thrills

0

arts@sfbg.com

FILM Documentaries are often the best section of any given film festival. But even die-hard fans admit to occasional Social Issue Fatigue — that feeling you get when you’ve just seen too many all-too-convincing portraits of real life injustices, reasons why the planet is dying, etc. “It was great — I’ll just go kill myself now” is a reaction few want to experience, you know, three times in one day. Yet it’s a typical plaint heard on queue at events like Toronto’s Hot Docs, let alone the touring United Nations Association Film Festival (a virtual global wrist-slitting orgy).

You’d be hard-pressed to have such a hard time at our own SF DocFest, however. For 13 years it’s managed to emphasize the entertaining and eccentric over grim reportage. To be sure, the latest edition, opening Thu/5 (with programs primarily at the Roxie and Oakland School for the Arts) has its share of films on topically important subject themes. Centerpiece presentation The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz poignantly recalls the short history of the brilliant young programmer-activist whose fate is especially chilling given the potential imminent death of net neutrality. Of Kites and Borders examines the harsh lives of children in the Tijuana area; Goodbye Gauley Mountain has Bay Area “eco-sexuals” Annie Sprinkle and Beth Stephens uniquely protesting the mountaintop removal industry in the Appalachians. But among 2014 SF DocFest’s 40 or so features, only Ivory Tower — about the increasingly high cost of higher U.S. education — offers straight-up journalistic overview of an urgent social issue.

More typical of DocFest’s sensibility are its numerous portraits of peculiar individuals and even more peculiar obsessions. In the jobs-make-the-man department, there’s An Honest Liar, whose magician subject The Amazing Randi has made it his personal mission to expose those who’d use his profession’s tricks to defraud the vulnerable; The Engineer, profiling the sole criminologist working in gang crime-ridden El Salvador; Bronx Obama, in which one man’s uncanny resemblance to the POTUS sets him on a lucrative but discomfiting career of impersonation for (mostly) audiences of hooting conservatives; and Vessel, whose protagonist Dr. Rebecca Gomperts sails the world trying to make abortions available to women whose countries ban the procedure.

There are no less than three features about people trying to succeed among the professionally tough: Fake It So Real (the South’s independent pro wrestling circuit), Bending Steel (a Coney Island performing strongman) and Glena (struggling mother hopes to hit paydirt as a cage fighter).

On the obsessive side, Wicker Kittens examines the world of competitive jigsaw puzzling. Jingle Bell Rocks! examines the netherworld of serious Christmas-music aficionados; Vannin’ observes the 1970s customized-van culture still alive today. Magical Universe is Jeremy Workman’s very first-person account of his friendship with an elderly Maine widower who turns out to have secretly created epic quantities of bizarre Barbie-related art. Hairy Who and the Imagists recalls the somewhat less “outsider”-ish achievements of Chicago’s ’60s avant-garde art scene, while Amos Poe’s 1976 The Blank Generation, DocFest 13’s sole archival feature, flashes back to punk’s birth throes at CBGB’s.

Another legendary moment is remembered in Led Zeppelin Played Here, about an extremely early, ill-received 1969 Zep show at a Maryland youth center that few attended, but many claim to have. Portraits of artists expanding their forms in the present tense include Trash Dance (a choreographer collaborates with truckers and their big rigs) and When My Sorrow Died (theremin!).

Exerting a somewhat wacked fascination is the cast of We Always Lie to Strangers, which is somewhat spotty and unfocused as an overall picture of tourist mecca Branson, Mo. — Vegas for people who don’t sin — but intriguing as a study of showboy/girl types stuck in a milieu where gays remain closeted and Broadway-style divas need to keep that bitching hole shut 24/7. Further insight into your entertainment options is provided by Doc of the Dead (on zombiemania) and self-explanatory Video Games: The Movie.

One pastime nearly everyone pursues — looking for love — gets sobering treatment in Love Me, one of several recent documentaries probing the boom in Internet “mail order brides” from former Soviet nations. Its various middle-aged sad sacks pursuing much younger Eastern bombshells mostly find themselves simply ripped off for their troubles. Those looking for quicker, cheaper gratification may identify with Back Issues: The Hustler Magazine Story.

Of particular local interest is the premiere of Rick Prelinger’s No More Road Trips, culled from his collection of nearly 10,000 vintage home movies. A preview screening of First Friday offers a first peek at this forthcoming documentary about tragic violence at the monthly arts festival in Oakland last year. True Son follows 22-year-old Michael Tubbs’ attempt to win a City Council seat and reverse the fortunes of his beleaguered native Stockton. The “Don’t Call It Frisco!” program encompasses shorts about the Bay Bridge troll, a Santa Rosa animal “retirement home,” and a salute to South Bay hardcore veterans Sad Boy Sinister.

DocFest ends June 19 with that rare thing, a documentary about downbeat, hard-to-encapsulate material that’s won considerable attention simply because it’s so beautifully crafted and affecting. Andrew Droz Palermo and Tracy Droz Tragos’ Rich Hill focuses on three kids in worse-than-average circumstances in a generally depressed Missouri town of 1,400 souls. Harley is an alarmingly temperamental teen housed on thin ice with his grandmother while his mother sits in prison for reasons that explain a great deal about him. Potty-mouthed Appachey is a little hellion perpetually setting off his exasperated, multi-job-juggling single mother, living in near-squalor.

Still, both are at least superficially better off than Andrew, an almost painfully resilient and hopeful boy constantly uprooted by an obscurely damaged mother and a father who can’t hold a job to save his life. “We’re not trash, we’re good people,” he tells us early on, later rationalizing his continuing dire straits with “God must be busy with everyone else.” He’s the heartbreaking face of a hardworking, religious, white American underclass that is being betrayed into desperation by the politicians who claim to share its values.

DOCFEST 13

June 5-19

Check website for venues, times, and prices

www.sfindie.com

 

Event Listings: May 28-June 3, 2014

0

Listings are compiled by Guardian staff. Submit items for the listings at listings@sfbg.com. For further information on how to submit items for the listings, see Selector.

WEDNESDAY 28

Cassandra Dallett Pegasus Books Downtown, 2349 Shattuck, Berk; www.pegasusbookstore.com. 7:30pm, free. The author celebrates her poetic memoir, Wet Reckless.

Madison Young Booksmith, 1644 Haight, SF; www.booksmith.com. 7:30pm, free. The author and sex-positive activist reads from her memoir, Daddy.

THURSDAY 29

“BiConic Flashpoints: Four Decades of Bay Area Bisexual Politics” GBLT History Museum, 4127 18th St, SF; www.glbthistorymuseum.org. Opening reception 7-9pm, $3-5. A new multimedia exhibit explores the history of bisexual activism in the Bay Area since the 1970s.

“Chemical Reactions NightLife” California Academy of Sciences, 55 Music Concourse, Golden Gate Park, SF; www.calacademy.org. 6-10pm, $12. “Think before you drink” with author Adam Rogers (Proof:: The Science of Booze), get a close-up (like, microscopic) look at beer brewing, dance to disco with DJ BANG!, and more.

SATURDAY 31

“Babylon Salon” Cantina SF, 580 Sutter, SF; www.babylonsalon.com. 6:30pm, free. With readings by Kathryn Ma, Dave “Davey D” Cook, Porter Shreve, and Kirstin Chen, plus a musical performance by singer-songwriter Ying-sun Ho.

Chocolate and Chalk Art Festival Shattuck between Rose and Vine, Berk. www.anotherbullwinkelshow.com/chocolate-chalk-art. 10am-5pm, free. Chalk artists compete for prizes while turning the sidewalks into eye candy — and speaking of candy, sweet tooth-ers can pick up ticket packs ($20 for 20) to sample chocolate items galore, including exotic treats like picante habañero chocolate gelato.

“Ecology Center Farmers’ Markets Family Fun Festival” Civic Center Park, MLK at Center, Berk; www.ecologycenter.org. 10am-3pm, free. Petting zoos (baby goats!), bouncy houses, an obstacle course, puppet-making using recycled materials, a zine-making station, and more green fun.

Maddie’s Pet Adoption Days Pet Food Express, 3868 Piedmont, Oakl; www.mainecoonadoptions.com (check web site for additional locations). 9am-3pm, free. Also Sun/1, 10am-3pm. Nonprofit cat-rescue organization Maine Coon Adoptions offers free adoptions of cats and kittens in honor of Maddie’s Pet Adoption Days, the largest free pet adoption event in the country.

SUNDAY 1

“Poetry Unbound #13” Art House Gallery, 2905 Shattuck, Berk; berkeleyarthouse.wordpress.com. 5pm, $5. Reading with COPUS, Charles Curtis Blackwell, and Kayla Sussell, with a brief open mic hosted by Clive Matson and Richard Loranger.

MONDAY 2

“Invisible Hands: Voices from the Global Economy” David Brower Center, Goldman Theater, 2150 Allston, Berk; www.browercenter.org. 7pm, free. The Brower Center and Voice of Witness partner for this book launch (Invisible Hands) and panel discussion on the state of labor the global economy.

“13 Crime Stories from Latin America: McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern #46” Booksmith, 1644 Haight, SF; www.booksmith.com. 7:30pm, free. Editor Daniel Gumbiner and translators Katherine Silver and Joel Streiker discuss this new collection of work by contemporary writers from 10 different countries.

“Todd Trexler: A Solo Exhibition of His Legendary Portraits” Magnet, 4122 18th St, SF; www.magnetsf.org. Gallery hours: Mon-Tue and Sat, 11am-6pm; Wed-Fri, 11am-9pm. Opening reception June 6, 7-10pm. Free. Legendary poster artist Todd Trexler (the Cockettes, Sylvester, Divine) shows his work in the first exhibit of its kind in over 40 years.

TUESDAY 3

“Creating Children’s Books: An Immigrant’s Story” San Francisco Main Library, 100 Larkin, SF; www.sfpl.org. 6pm, free. Author Yuyi Morales (Niño Wrestles the World) delivers the SFPL’s 18th annual Effie Lee Morris Lecture, discussing the need for diversity in children’s literature.

James Fearnley Booksmith, 1644 Haight, SF; www.booksmith.com. 7:30pm, free. The music biographer discusses Here Comes Everybody: The Story of the Pogues. *

 

It’s all reel

0

cheryl@sfbg.com

FILM As far as Hollywood is concerned, it’s already been summer for weeks, with superheroes (Captain America and Spider-Man have had their turns; X-Men: Days of Future Past opens Fri/23) and monsters (Godzilla) looking mighty comfortable atop the box office. But the season is just getting started, screen fiends, and there’s plenty more — maybe too many more, if you’re operating on a limited popcorn budget — ahead. Read on for a highly opinionated, by-no-means-comprehensive guide; as always, dates are subject to change. (And keep reading for a list of local film festivals, too, since the healthiest diet is always a balanced one.)

The first post-Memorial Day weekend unveils Angelina Jolie (dem cheekbones!) as Sleeping Beauty’s worst nightmare in Maleficent, probably the biggest Disney casting coup since Johnny Depp sailed to the Caribbean. First-time helmer Robert Stromberg has a pair of Oscars for his art-direction work on Avatar (2009) and Alice in Wonderland (2010); if this dark fantasy clicks with audiences, expect a raft of live-action films starring Disney’s ever-growing stable of villains (fingers crossed for Ursula the Sea Witch next).

If fairy tales aren’t your thing, add thriller Cold in July to your calendar (like Maleficent, it’s out May 30). It’s the latest from genre man Jim Mickle (2013’s We Are What We Are), with his highest-profile cast to date. Dexter‘s Michael C. Hall, rocking a mullet, plays a small-town Texan whose unremarkable life goes into pulpy overdrive after he kills a burglar, angering the man’s ex-con father (Sam Shepard). But nothing is what it seems in this twisty tale, which also features Don Johnson and a synth score — both stellar enhancements to the film’s late-1980s aesthetic.

Moving into June, sci-fi thriller Edge of Tomorrow  has Tom Cruise saving the world — just another day on the job for the suspiciously ageless star, though he apparently lives the same day over and over here. Look for director Doug Liman (multiple Bourne movies) and co-stars like Emily Blunt and Game of Thrones‘ Noah Taylor to add some depth — though, OK, this’ll probably still be a one-man show. Never change, Tom. Elsewhere June 6, erstwhile Divergent ass-kicker Shailene Woodley aims to prove she’s not just the poor man’s Jennifer Lawrence with young-adult weepie The Fault in Our Stars.

June 13, undercover cops Schmidt and Jenko — played by the likable team of Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum — return for more jokes (and winks, because they’re in on the joke too, you guys!) in 22 Jump Street. Far less comedic, and far more brain-melting, is sci-fi drama The Signal, which starts off like a typical road-trip movie, then switches gears a few times before slam-banging into weirdness so out-there it’s almost (almost) a spoiler to note that Laurence “Morpheus” Fishburne plays a key role.

The following week (June 20), Aussie filmmaker David Michôd — whose gritty 2010 Animal Kingdom became an insta-classic of the crime genre, and launched the stateside careers of Jackie Weaver and Joel Edgerton — reunites with Kingdom star Guy Pearce for The Rover, the outback-set tale of a man seeking revenge on a gang of car thieves. In an intriguing casting choice, former vampire Robert Pattinson co-stars as a wounded baddie forced along for the ride.

Next up, June 27 unleashes Transformers: Age of Extinction. Memo to the world: Until we all agree to stop seeing these movies, Michael Bay and company will keep grinding ’em out. At least this one is LaBeouf-less.

Ahead of the long Fourth of July weekend, July 2 unleashes saucy comedy Tammy, which stars Melissa McCarthy (she also co-wrote the script) and Susan Sarandon as a road-tripping granddaughter and grandmother. Or, you could check out Eric Bana as an NYPD detective who teams up with a priest (Edgar “Carlos the Jackal” Ramírez, recently cast in the Swayze role in the highly unnecessary Point Break remake) in Deliver Us From Evil; despite sharing a title with Amy Berg’s harrowing 2006 doc about pedophiles in the Catholic Church, it’s about demonic possession — but is still probably less frightening than the Berg film, to be honest.

July 11, Richard Linklater’s Boyhood has a gimmicky premise — filmed over 12 years, it charts the coming-of-age of a child, and his relationship with his parents (played by Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette) — but also glowing reviews from its film festival stints. And, just when you thought it was safe to go back to the banana aisle, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes arrives, laying further waste to a San Francisco that already took a beating in the first film, not to mention losing most of its downtown to Godzilla and friends just a week ago. Andy Serkis returns as chimp king Caesar. Also: Roman Polanski’s latest, Venus in Fur — based on the David Ives play, and starring Polanski’s wife, Emmanuelle Seigner — arrives on our shores after picking up a César award for the director in France.

Andy and Lana Wachowski’s latest eye candy-laden epic action fantasy, Jupiter Ascending, is about an ordinary human (Mila Kunis) who turns out to be Neo the One, er, royalty from another planet. Based on production stills, this film also features Channing Tatum flying through the air shooting guns and stuff. July 18 also brings The Purge: Anarchy, sequel to last year’s sleeper hit about a near-future America that allows a crime spree free-for-all one night per year. The follow-up lacks Lena Heady — but it does have Michael K. “Omar” Williams, and the characters actually leave the house this time.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5w0KAHhKECg

Then, on July 25, choose your hero: Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson sporting a hat made out of a lion’s head (and, apparently, beard made out of yak hair) in Hercules, or those dancin’ kids of Las Vegas-set Step Up All In. (For those keeping score, this is the fifth Step Up film.) Plus, there’s Woody Allen’s 1920s-set Magic in the Moonlight, starring Emma Stone as a psychic and Colin Firth as the skeptic who falls for her. Sounds kinda twee, and Allen’s private life remains controversial, but that cast, which also includes Marcia Gay Harden and Jackie Weaver, is all kinds of dynamite.

August begins with a bang — Marvel’s hotly-anticipated Guardians of the Galaxy, which just about broke the Internet when its first trailer rolled out in February, is out on the first — before meandering a bit. Taking a break from her own Marvel duties, Scarlett Johansson (so great in Under the Skin) plays a different kind of superhuman in Luc Besson’s Lucy, while the live action-CG mash-up I’m not sure anyone was really begging for, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, also takes a bow (both Aug. 8).

As the summer winds down, Phillip Noyce (2002’s The Quiet American) strays onto YA turf with an adaptation of Lois Lowry’s The Giver, with Jeff “The Dude” Bridges playing the title role, and Brenton Thwaits (who also stars in The Signal, above) as his protégé. Also out Aug. 15, The Expendables 3 adds Harrison Ford, Antonio Banderas, and Wesley Snipes (!!) to its cast o’ aging action hunks. Don’t you worry, Nic Cage — there’s still room for you in the inevitable part four. And don’t miss The Trip to Italy, which re-teams British comedians Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon for a foodie road trip that will make you guffaw (at the impressions) and drool (over the plates of pasta).

Labor Day looms as Robert Rodriguez brings Frank Miller’s Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, which looks to be as visually stunning as its 2005 predecessor, if not much friendlier to the female perspective; a sports drama inspired by Concord’s own De La Salle High School football team, When the Game Stands Tall; and yet another YA adaptation, If I Stay, starring Chloë Grace Moretz, who is one of the more dynamic teen actors of late, and may make this girlfriend-in-a-coma tale livelier than it sounds. *

ESCAPE THE MULTIPLEX: SUMMER FESTIVALS

San Francisco Green Film Festival (May 29-June 4; www.sfgreenfilmfest.org) Doc-heavy fest of films from 21 countries that explore environmental issues and themes.

San Francisco Silent Film Festival (May 29-June 1; www.silentfilm.org) Exquisitely curated and rock-concert-popular showcase of films from cinema’s earliest days, plus live accompaniment and special guests.

SF DocFest (June 5-19; www.sfindie.com) The San Francisco Independent Film Festival’s doc-tastic offshoot consistently offers a strong slate of true-life tales.

New Filipino Cinema (June 11-15; www.ybca.org) Documentaries, narratives, shorts, and experimental films direct from the Philippines’ burgeoning film scene.

Queer Women of Color Film Festival (June 14-16; www.qwocmap.org) Five shorts programs highlight 55 works, with a focus this year on queer culture in Southeast Asian, North African, Middle Eastern, and other Muslim communities.

Martin Scorsese Presents Masterpieces of Polish Cinema (June 14-Aug 23, bampfa.berkeley.edu) Rare and important works by Andrzej Wajda, Jerzy Kawalerowicz, Wojciech Has, and others — and since Uncle Marty’s in charge, expect glorious digital restorations across the board.

Frameline (June 19-29; www.frameline.org) The oldest and largest fest of its kind, the San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival has been programming the best in queer cinema for 38 years.

San Francisco Jewish Film Festival (July 24-Aug 10; www.sfjff.org) Also the oldest and largest fest of its kind, the SFJFF presents year-round programming, though this fest, now in its 34th year, is its centerpiece event.

Stony lonesome

0

arts@sfbg.com

FILM Prison should be the most natural setting for film noir, as that’s where most of the genre’s protagonists are headed (if they don’t get bumped off first), and where many of them have already been. But it’s had spotty representation onscreen, with time served either skipped over in the narrative (how many pulp fictions start with a hard-luck protagonist just getting out of long-term for what’s sure to be short-term freedom?), or dominating entirely.

This spring’s edition of “I Wake Up Dreaming,” the recurrent Roxie noir showcase programmed by Elliot Lavine, has a number of notable titles dealing with the claustrophobic consequences of crime-not-paying. What’s even more notable this time around is the cross-pollination with Lavine’s other Roxie perennial, the series of Hollywood “pre-Codes” made in an approximately five-year window between the advent of “talkies” and the 1934 arrival of more rigidly enforced, censorious industry standards toward potentially objectionable content. Their peaks separated by about 15 years, pre-Codes and noirs shared a taste for hard-boiled dialogue and seamy situations, so their programmatic overlapping here feels right.

Two of the strongest entries here were released at least a decade before the arrival of anything that might legitimately be labeled noir. Daintily titled Ladies They Talk About (1933) is a rip-roaring original Women in Prison exploiter, with the inimitable Barbara Stanwyck as a moll who sashays into the hoosegow after enabling a bank stick-up. Getting two-to-five in San Quentin’s women’s ward, which here is like the world’s saltiest sorority, she quickly identifies her allies and enemies while spurning the visits of a childhood pal turned crusading DA (Preston Foster) — when she’d ratted on herself to prove “I’m on the level now” to him, he had the noive to actually charge her with the crime. That bum!

Another enduring star who came in with the sound era, Edward G. Robinson, gets all of Two Seconds (1932) to recall what got him to the electric chair — though that translates into a still-trim 67 minutes’ screen time in Mervyn LeRoy’s drama. The first half is a gem of snappy patter as the headliner and a terrific Foster play construction-worker roommates — Robinson the penny-pinching plodder, Foster the one always ready to blow his paycheck on booze, broads, and the horses. Yet it’s the former who’s taken for a chump’s ride by dancehall girl Vivienne Osborne, whose personality goes from Jekyll to Hyde the moment she’s manipulated him into an unholy matrimony. You can guess what happens — she’s already murder just to live with. As a none-too-bright lug who can’t get a break, Robinson gets a serious acting workout here, even if the climactic pre-execution Big Speech smacks overmuch of writing for Oscar’s sake.

Several rarities that verge on horror come from before and after the semi-official, immediately post-World War II noir era. Miracles for Sale (1939) was the final feature for director Tod Browning of Lon Chaney Sr. and Freaks (1932) fame. It stars Robert Young as a professional “magic” debunker investigating murders connected to an alleged witchcraft circle. Even so, this slick comedy thriller provides scant outlet for Browning’s love of the macabre.

Even less frequently revived are three early 1960s chillers: Erstwhile Incredible Shrinking Man Grant Williams plays a psychiatric patient and serial killer in The Couch (1962), Robert Bloch’s first screenplay after Hitchcock adapted his novel Psycho. The Hypnotic Eye (1960) has tall, dark, and handsome Jacques Bergerac (who married Dorothy Malone and Ginger Rogers) as a hypnotist whose prettier subjects tend to grotesquely disfigure themselves. Two on a Guillotine (1965) is a sub-William Castle gothic with the punishingly perky duo of Connie Stevens and Dean Jones having to spend an inheritance-earning week in the inevitable haunted house. They’re all terrible, but have a certain creaky charm.

Holding up very well indeed is 1949’s The Window, a rare genuine independent production of the era to achieve major recognition. As opening on-screen text announces, it’s the story of the boy who cried wolf — updated to a modern NYC tenement, where little Bobby Driscoll is testing the patience of his parents and playmates with his constant fabrications. Thus nobody believes him, of course, when he witnesses a real murder. Once his homicidal neighbors catch wind of him, our grade-school protagonist becomes prey himself. Criminal child endangerment was far from a typical story element in those days, and with its still-tense chase finale amid crumbling condemned buildings, The Window presented such a novelty that it won a (rather generous) special Oscar for Driscoll, who was usually seen in the more wholesome environs of Disney films like Song of the South (1946) and Treasure Island (1950). Yet soon after, adolescent acne would kill his acting career. Ironically echoing this famous role, the by-then heroin-addicted ex-con was found dead in an abandoned 1968 NYC tenement at age 31, his body found by playing children.

Other “Dreaming” highlights include a glossy 1947 double bill showcasing talented Warner Brothers star Ann Sheridan, the better being The Unfaithful, though Nora Prentiss has the virtue of being partly shot in SF. As sleepers go, though, two vintage “Bs” may rep the series’ best discoveries. Perhaps the program’s least likely inclusion is Angels in Disguise (1948), a later entry among the Bowery Boys’ nearly 100 juvenile hijinks. This one is a spoof of tough urban crime dramas, and a surprisingly good one, complete with shadow-heavy noir imagery and hard-boiled voiceover narration. As ever, the scene stealer is rubber-faced beanpole Huntz Hall.

From 1957, Death in Small Doses (“The picture that crosses the forbidden territory … of THRILL PILLS!”) rips the lid off amphetamine abuse among long-distance truckers, with future Mission: Impossible and Airplane! (1980) star Peter Graves as an undercover federal investigator. What makes it unmissable, however, is the supporting turn by none other than Chuck Connors (1979’s Tourist Trap, 1973’s Soylent Green) as perpetually hopped-up boarding-house hepcat “Mink.” If scene-stealing were a crime, Hall might get life without parole, but Connors would merit the chair. *

“I WAKE UP DREAMING 2014”

May 16-26

Roxie Theater

3117 16th St, SF

www.roxie.com

 

Guardian endorsements

139

OUR CLEAN SLATE VOTERS GUIDE TO TAKE TO THE POLLS IS HERE.

 

Editor’s Note: Election endorsements have been a long and proud part of the Guardian’s 48-year history of covering politics in San Francisco, the greater Bay Area, and at the state level. In low-turnout elections like the one we’re expecting in June, your vote counts more than usual, and we hope our endorsements and explanations help you make the best decisions.

 

GOVERNOR: JERRY BROWN

There is much for progressives to criticize in Jerry Brown’s latest stint as governor of California. He has stubbornly resisted complying with federal court orders to substantially reduce the state’s prison population, as well as shielding the system from needed journalistic scrutiny and reforms of solitary confinement policies that amount to torture. Brown has also refused to ban or limit fracking in California, despite the danger it poses to groundwater and climate change, irritating environmentalists and fellow Democrats. Even Brown’s great accomplishment of winning passage for the Prop. 30 tax package, which eased the state back from financial collapse, sunsets too early and shouldn’t have included a regressive sales tax increase. Much more needs to be done to address growing wealth disparities and restore economic and educational opportunity for all Californians.

For these reasons and others, it’s tempting to endorse one of Brown’s progressive challenges: Green Party candidate Luis Rodriguez or Peace and Freedom Party candidate Cindy Sheehan (see “Left out,” April 23). We were particularly impressed by Rodriguez, an inspiring leader who is seeking to bring more Latinos and other marginalized constituencies into the progressive fold, a goal we share and want to support however we can.

But on balance, we decided to give Brown our endorsement in recognition of his role in quickly turning around this troubled state after the disastrous administration of Arnold Schwarzenegger — and in the hope that his strong leadership will lead to even greater improvement over his next term. While we don’t agree with all of his stands, we admire the courage, independence, and vision that Brown brings to this important office. Whether he is supporting the California High-Speed Rail Project against various attacks, calling for state residents to live in greater harmony with the natural world during the current drought, or refusing to shrink from the challenges posed by global warming, Jerry Brown is the leader that California needs at this critical time.

 

LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR: GAVIN NEWSOM

Gavin Newsom was mayor of San Francisco before he ascended to the position of Lieutenant Governor, and we at the Bay Guardian had a strained relationship with his administration, to put it mildly. We disagreed with his fiscally conservative policies and tendency to align himself with corporate power brokers over neighborhood coalitions. As lieutenant governor, Newsom is tasked with little — besides stepping into the role of governor, should he be called upon to do so — but has nevertheless made some worthwhile contributions.

Consider his stance on drug policy reform: “Once and for all, it’s time we realize that the war on drugs is nothing more than a war on communities of color and on the poor,” he recently told a crowd at the Democratic Party convention in Los Angeles. “It is fundamentally time for drug policies that recognize and respect the full dignity of human beings. We can’t wait.” In his capacity as a member of the UC Board of Regents, Newsom recently voted against a higher executive compensation package for a top-level administrator, breaking from the pack to align with financially pinched university students. In Sacramento, Newsom seems to come off as more “San Francisco” than in his mayoral days, and we’re endorsing him against a weak field of challengers.

 

SECRETARY OF STATE: DEREK CRESSMAN

Although the latest Field Poll shows that he has only single-digit support and is unlikely to make the November runoff, we’re endorsing Derek Cressman for Secretary of State. As a longtime advocate for removing the corrupting influence of money from politics through his work with Common Cause, Cressman has identified campaign finance reform as the important first step toward making the political system more responsive to people’s needs. As Secretary of State, Cressman would be in a position to ensure greater transparency in our political system.

We also like Alex Padilla, a liberal Democrat who has been an effective member of the California Senate. We’ll be happy to endorse Padilla in November if he ends up in a runoff with Republican Pete Peterson, as the current polling seems to indicate is likely. But for now, we’re endorsing Cressman — and the idea that campaign finance reform needs to be a top issue in a state and country that are letting wealthy individuals and corporations have disproportionate influence over what is supposed to be a democracy.

 

CONTROLLER: BETTY YEE

The pay-to-play politics of Leland Yee and two other California Democrats has smeared the Assembly. Amid the growls of impropriety, a report by the Center for Investigative Reporting has painted Speaker of the Assembly John Perez, a leading candidate for Controller, with a similar brush. CIR revealed Perez raised money from special interest groups to charities his lover favored, a lover later sued for racketeering and fraud.

Betty Yee represents an opportunity for a fresh start. On the state’s Board of Equalization she turned down campaign donations from tobacco interests, a possible conflict of interest. She also fought for tax equity between same-sex couples. The Controller is tasked with keeping watch on and disbursing state funds, a position we trust much more to Yee’s careful approach than Perez’s questionable history. Vote for Yee.

 

TREASURER: JOHN CHIANG

While serving as California’s elected Controller, John Chiang displayed his courage and independence by refusing to sign off on budgetary tricks used by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and some legislative leaders, insisting on a level of honesty that protected current and future Californians. During those difficult years — as California teetered on the brink of bankruptcy, paralyzed by partisan brinksmanship each budget season, written off as a failed state by the national media — Chiang and retiring Treasurer Bill Lockyer were somehow able to keep the state functioning and paying its bills.

While many politicians claim they’ll help balance the budget by identifying waste and corruption, Chiang actually did so, identifying $6 billion by his estimate that was made available for more productive purposes. Now, Chiang wants to continue bringing fiscal stability to this volatile state and he has our support.

 

ATTORNEY GENERAL: KAMALA HARRIS

Kamala Harris has kept the promise she made four years ago to bring San Francisco values into the Attorney General’s Office, focusing on the interests of everyday Californians over powerful vested interests. That includes strengthening consumer and privacy protections, pushing social programs to reduce criminal recidivism rather than the tough-on-crime approach that has ballooned our prison population, reaching an $18 billion settlement with the big banks and mortgage lenders to help keep people in their homes, and helping to implement the Affordable Care Act and the legalization of same-sex marriage in the state.

Harris has maintained her opposition to the death penalty even though that has hurt her in the statewide race, and she brings to the office an important perspective as the first woman and first African American ever to serve as the state’s top law enforcement officer. While there is much more work to be done in countering the power of wealthy individuals and corporations and giving the average Californian a stronger voice in our legal system, Harris has our support.

 

INSURANCE COMMISSIONER: DAVE JONES

We’ve been following Dave Jones’s legislative career since his days on the Sacramento City Council and through his terms in the California Legislature, and we’ve always appreciated his autonomy and progressive values. He launched into his role as Insurance Commissioner four years ago with an emergency regulation requiring health insurance companies to use no more than 20 percent of premiums on profits and administrative costs, and he has continued to do what he can to hold down health insurance rates, including implementing the various components of the Affordable Care Act.

More recently, Jones held hearings looking at whether Uber, Lyft, and other transportation network companies are adequately insured to protect both their drivers and the general public, concluding that these companies need to self-insure or otherwise expand the coverage over their business. It was a bold and important move to regulate a wealthy and prosperous new industry. Jones deserves credit for taking on the issue and he has earned our endorsement.

 

SUPERINTENDENT OF SCHOOLS: TOM TORLAKSON

This race is a critical one, as incumbent Tom Torlakson faces a strong challenge from the charter school cheerleader Marshall Tuck. An investment banker and Harvard alum, Tuck is backed by well-heeled business and technology interests pushing for the privatization of our schools. Tech and entertainment companies are pushing charter schools heavily as they wait in the wings for lucrative education supply contracts, for which charter schools may open the doors. And don’t let Waiting for Superman fool you, charter schools’ successful test score numbers are often achieved by pushing out underperforming special needs and economically disadvantaged students.

As national education advocate Diane Ravitch wrote in her blog, “If Tuck wins, the privatization movement will gain a major stronghold.” California ranks 48th in the nation in education spending, a situation we can thank Prop. 13 for. We’d like to see Torlakson advocate for more K-12 school dollars, but for now, he’s the best choice.

 

BOARD OF EQUALIZATION: FIONA MA

Fiona Ma was never our favorite member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, and in the California Legislature, she has seemed more interested in party politics and leadership than moving legislation that is important to San Francisco. There are a few exceptions, such as her attempts last year to require more employers to offer paid sick days and to limit prescription drug co-payments. But she also notoriously tried to ban raves at public venues in 2010, a reactionary bill that was rejected as overly broad.

But the California Board of Equalization might just be a better fit for Ma than the Legislature. She’s a certified public accountant and would bring that financial expertise to the state’s main taxing body, and we hope she continues in the tradition of her BOE predecessor Betty Yee in ensuring the state remains fair but tough in how it collects taxes.

 

ASSEMBLY, DISTRICT 17: DAVID CAMPOS

The race to replace progressive hero Tom Ammiano in the California Assembly is helping to define this important political moment in San Francisco. It’s a contest between the pragmatic neoliberal politics of Board of Supervisors President David Chiu and the populist progressive politics of Sup. David Campos, whom Ammiano endorsed to succeed him.

It’s a fight for the soul of San Francisco, a struggle to define the values we want to project into the world, and, for us at the Bay Guardian, the choice is clear. David Campos is the candidate that we trust to uphold San Francisco’s progressive values in a state that desperately needs that principled influence.

Chiu emphasizes how the two candidates have agreed on about 98 percent of their votes, and he argues that his effectiveness at moving big legislation and forging compromises makes him the most qualified to represent us in Sacramento. Indeed, Chiu is a skilled legislator with a sharp mind, and if “getting things done” — the prime directive espoused by both Chiu and Mayor Ed Lee — was our main criterion, he would probably get our endorsement.

But when you look at the agenda that Chiu and his allies at City Hall have pursued since he came to power — elected as a progressive before pivoting to become a pro-business moderate — we wish that he had been a little less effective. The landlords, tech titans, Realtors, and Chamber of Commerce have been calling the shots in this city, overheating the local economy in a way that has caused rapid displacement and gentrification.

“Effective for whom? That’s what’s important,” Campos told us during his endorsement interview, noting that, “Most people in San Francisco have been left behind and out of that prosperity.”

Campos has been a clear and consistent supporter of tenants, workers, immigrants, small businesses, environmentalists — the vast majority of San Franciscans, despite their lack of power in City Hall. Chiu will sometimes do right by these groups, but usually only after being pushed to do so by grassroots organizing and lobbying efforts.

Campos correctly points out that such lobbying is more difficult in Sacramento, with its higher stakes and wider range of competing interests, than it is on the local level. Chiu’s focus on always trying to find a compromise often plays into the hands of wealthy interests, who sometimes just need to be fought and stopped.

We have faith in Campos and his progressive values, and we believe he will skillfully carry on the work of Ammiano — who is both an uncompromising progressive and an effective legislator — in representing San Francisco’s values in Sacramento.

 

ASSEMBLY, DISTRICT 19: PHIL TING

Incumbent Phil Ting doesn’t have any challengers in this election, but he probably would have won our support anyway. After proving himself as San Francisco’s Assessor, taking a strong stance against corporate landowners and even the Catholic Church on property assessments, Ting won a tough race against conservative businessman Michael Breyer to win his Assembly seat.

Since then, he’s been a reliable vote for legislation supported by most San Franciscans, and he’s sponsoring some good bills that break new ground, including his current AB 1193, which would make it easier to build cycletracks, or bike lanes physically separated from cars, all over the state. He also called a much-needed Assembly committee hearing in November calling out BART for its lax safety culture, and we hope he continues to push for reforms at that agency.

 

PROPOSITION 41: YES

Over a decade ago, Californians voted to use hundreds of millions of our dollars to create the CalVet Home and Farm Loan Program to help veterans purchase housing. But a reduction in federal home loan dollars, the housing crisis, and a plummeting economy hurt the program.

Prop. 41 would repurpose $600 million of those bond funds and raise new money to create affordable housing rental units for some of California’s 15,000 homeless veterans. This would cost Californians $50 million a year, which, as proponents remind us, is one-tenth of 1 percent of the state budget. Why let hundreds of millions of dollars languish unused? We need to reprioritize this money to make good on our unfulfilled promises to homeless veterans.

 

PROPOSITION 42: YES

This one’s important. Last year, Gov. Jerry Brown sought to gut the California Public Records Act by making it optional for government agencies to comply with many of the requirements built into this important transparency law. The CPRA and the Ralph M. Brown Act require government agencies to make records of their activities available for public scrutiny, and to provide for adequate notice of public meetings. Had the bill weakening these laws not been defeated, it would have removed an important defense against shadowy government dealings, leaving ordinary citizens and journalists in the dark.

Prop. 42 is a bid to eliminate any future threats against California’s important government transparency laws, by expressly requiring local government agencies — including cities, counties, and school districts — to comply with all aspects of the CPRA and the Brown Act. It also seeks to prevent local agencies from denying public records requests based on cost, by eliminating the state’s responsibility to reimburse local agencies for cost compliance (the state has repeatedly failed to do so, and local bureaucracies have used this as an excuse not to comply).

 

SF’S PROPOSITION A: YES

Prop. A is a $400 million general obligation bond measure that would cover seismic retrofits and improvements to the city’s emergency infrastructure, including upgrades to the city’s Emergency Firefighting Water System, neighborhood police and fire stations, a new facility for the Medical Examiner, and seismically secure new structures to house the police crime lab and motorcycle unit.

The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to place Prop. A on the ballot, and a two-thirds majority vote is needed for it to pass. Given that San Franciscans can expect to be hit by a major earthquake in the years to come, upgrading emergency infrastructure, especially the high-pressure water system that will aid the Fire Department in the event of a major blaze, is a high priority.

 

SF’S PROPOSITION B: YES

As we report in this issue (see “Two views of the waterfront”), San Francisco’s waterfront is a valuable place targeted by some ambitious development schemes. That’s a good thing, particularly given the need that the Port of San Francisco has for money to renovate or remove crumbling piers, but it needs to be carefully regulated to maximize public benefits and minimize private profit-taking.

Unfortunately, the Mayor’s Office and its appointees at the Port of San Francisco have proven themselves unwilling to be tough negotiators on behalf of the people. That has caused deep-pocketed, politically connected developers to ignore the Waterfront Land Use Plan and propose projects that are out-of-scale for the waterfront, property that San Francisco is entrusted to manage for the benefit of all Californians.

All Prop. B does is require voter approval when projects exceed existing height limits. It doesn’t kill those projects, it just forces developers to justify new towers on the waterfront by providing ample public benefits, restoring a balance that has been lost. San Francisco’s waterfront is prime real estate, and there are only a few big parcels left that can be leveraged to meet the needs of the Port and the city. Requiring the biggest ones to be approved by voters is the best way to ensure the city — all its residents, not just the politicians and power brokers — is getting the best deals possible.

 

SF SUPERIOR COURT JUDGE: DANIEL FLORES

Daniel Flores has an impressive list of endorsers, including the Democratic, Republican, and Green parties of San Francisco — a rare trifecta of political party support. But don’t hold the GOP nod against Flores, who was raised in the Excelsior by parents who immigrated from El Salvador and who interned with La Raza Centro Legal while going to McGeorge School of Law. And he did serve in the Marines for six years, which could explain the broad range of support for him.

Flores is a courtroom litigator with experience in big firms and his own practice, representing clients ranging from business people to tenants fighting against their landlords. Flores told us that he wants to ensure those without much money are treated fairly in court, an important goal we support. We also liked Kimberly Williams and hope she ends up on the bench someday, but in this race, Flores is the clear choice.

 

CONGRESS, DISTRICT 12: NANCY PELOSI

This was a hard decision for us this year. Everyone knows that Pelosi will win this race handily, but in past races we’ve endorsed third party challengers or even refused to endorse anyone more often than we’ve given Pelosi our support. While Pelosi gets vilified by conservatives as the quintessential San Francisco liberal, she’s actually way too moderate for our tastes.

Over her 21 years in Congress, she has presided over economic policies that have consolidated wealth in ever fewer hands and dismantled the social safety net, environmental policies that have ignored global warming and fed our over-reliance on the private automobile, and military policies that expanded the war machine and overreaching surveillance state, despite her insider’s role on the House Intelligence Committee.

Three of her opponents — Democrat David Peterson, Green Barry Hermanson, and fiery local progressive activist Frank Lara of the Peace and Freedom Party — are all much better on the issues that we care about, and we urge our readers to consider voting for one of them if they just can’t stomach casting a ballot for Pelosi. In particular, Hermanson has raised important criticisms of just how out of whack our federal budget priorities are. We also respect the work Lara has done on antiwar and transit justice issues in San Francisco, and we think he could have a bright political future.

But we’ve decided to endorse Pelosi in this election for one main reason: We want the Democrats to retake the House of Representatives this year and for Pelosi to once again become Speaker of the House. The Republican Party in this country, particularly the Tea Party loyalists in the House, is practicing a dangerous and disgusting brand of political extremism that needs to be stopped and repudiated. They would rather shut the government down or keep it hopelessly hobbled by low tax rates than help it become an effective tool for helping us address the urgent problems that our country faces. Pelosi and the Democrats aren’t perfect, but at least they’re reasonable grown-ups and we’d love to see what they’d do if they were returned to power. So Nancy Pelosi has our support in 2014.

 

CONGRESS, DISTRICT 13: BARBARA LEE

Barbara Lee has been one of our heroes since 2001, when she was the only member of Congress to vote against the Authorization for the Use of Military Force Against Terrorists, braving the flag-waving nationalism that followed the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon to warn that such an overly broad declaration of war was dangerous to our national interests. She endured death threats and harsh condemnation for that principled stand, but she was both courageous and correct, with our military overreach still causing problems for this country, both practical and moral.

Lee has been a clear and consistent voice for progressive values in the Congress for 16 years, chairing both the Congressional Black Caucus and Congressional Progressive Caucus, taking stands against capital punishment and the Iraq War, supporting access to abortions and tougher regulation of Wall Street, and generally representing Oakland and the greater Bay Area well in Washington DC. She has our enthusiastic support.

 

CONGRESS, DISTRICT 14: JACKIE SPEIER

Jackie Speier has given her life to public service — almost literally in 1978 when she was an aide to then-Rep. Leo Ryan and survived the airstrip shootings that triggered the massacre at Jonestown — and she has earned our ongoing support. Speier has continued the consumer protection work she started in the California Legislature, sponsoring bills in Congress aimed at protecting online privacy. She has also been a strong advocate for increasing federal funding to public transit in the Bay Area, particularly to Muni and for the electricification of Caltrain, an important prelude to the California High-Speed Rail Project. In the wake of the deadly natural gas explosion in San Bruno, Speier has pushed for tough penalties on Pacific Gas & Electric and expanded pipeline safety programs. She has been a strong advocate of women’s issues, including highlighting the epidemic of sexual assault on college campuses and in the military, seeking greater protections, institutional accountability, and recourse for victims. More recently, Speier has become a key ally in the fight to save City College of San Francisco, taking on the federal accreditation process and seeking reforms. Speier is a courageous public servant who deserves your vote.

Film Listings: April 23 – 29, 2014

0

Film listings are edited by Cheryl Eddy. Reviewers are Kimberly Chun, Dennis Harvey, Lynn Rapoport, and Sara Maria Vizcarrondo. For rep house showtimes, see Rep Clock.

SF INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL

The 57th San Francisco International Film Festival runs April 24-May 8. Screening venues include the Castro Theatre, 429 Castro, SF; New People Cinema, 1746 Post, SF; Pacific Film Archive, 2575 Bancroft, Berk; and Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, 1881 Post, SF. For tickets (most shows $15) and complete schedule, visit festival.sffs.org. For coverage, see film section.

OPENING

Alan Partridge Steve Coogan recently took a serious-movie detour in last year’s Philomena, but he’s primarily a comedian — famed stateside for roles in cult movies like 24 Hour Party People (2002) and The Trip (2011). In his native England, he’s also beloved for playing buffoonish, image-obsessed host Alan Partridge in multiple TV and radio series — and now, a feature film, in which a giant media conglomerate takes over Alan’s North Norwich Digital radio station and gives it a cheesy corporate makeover. When he learns staffing cuts are afoot, Alan secretly throws his longtime friend and fellow DJ Pat (Colm Meany) under the bus. Though he’s oblivious to Alan’s betrayal, the depressed and disgruntled Pat soon bursts into the station, toting a shotgun and taking hostages, and Alan is designated the official go-between — to his utter delight, since he becomes the center of the surrounding media circus (“I’m siege-face!” he crows), and his already-inflated head balloons to even more gargantuan proportions. Along the way, he and Pat continue broadcasting, taking calls from listeners, spinning Neil Diamond records, and occasionally interfacing with an increasingly annoyed police force. Fear not if you haven’t seen any previous Alan Partridge outings — this film is stand-alone hilarious. (1:30) Embarcadero, Shattuck, Smith Rafael. (Eddy)

Brick Mansions This Luc Besson-produced thriller about an undercover Detroit cop stars Paul Walker in one of his final roles. (1:30) Presidio.

Dancing in Jaffa World champion ballroom dancer Pierre Dulaine, possessed of perfect posture and a flamboyant personality, returns to his native Jaffa, a city he hasn’t laid eyes on since his family (Palestinian mother, Irish father) fled in 1948. His love of teaching was dramatized in 2006’s Take the Lead — hey, if someone’s gonna make a movie about your life, you could do worse than being played by Antonio Banderas — but his task in Dancing in Jaffa is a far less glitzy one. Here, the real-life Dulaine aims to train a group of 11-year-olds how to merengue, rumba, tango, and jive, which is tall order under any circumstances, since these kids are still firmly entrenched in the awkward “boys/girls are icky” zone. Complicating matters even further is Dulaine’s determined quest to pair up tiny dancers from both Jewish and Palestinian Israeli schools, despite skeptical parents and religious restrictions against mingling with the opposite sex; it’s his fervent hope that performing together will help the kids see past their differences, and signal hope for the future. Though her documentary hits the expected beats — a depressed youngster we meet early in the film is delightfully (yet unsurprisingly) transformed by the power of dance — director Hilla Medalia (2007’s To Die in Jerusalem) does an admirable job contextualizing the students’ stories, capturing the cultural tensions that permeate everyday life in Jaffa. And a hat-tip to the kids themselves, who become surprisingly graceful hoofers despite all initial suggestions to the contrary. (1:28) Opera Plaza. (Eddy)

The German Doctor Argentine writer-director Lucía Puenzo (2007’s XXY) adapts her novel Wakolda for this drama imagining a post-World War II chapter in the life of Nazi doctor Josef Mengele. It’s 1960, and there’s a new doctor residing in Bariloche, Argentina — a stunningly picturesque town in the Andean foothills that seems to harbor an awful lot of Germans. Polite, well-dressed “Helmut” (Alex Brendemühl) befriends innkeepers Eva (Natalia Oreiro) and Enzo (Diego Peretti), taking a special interest in their 12-year-old daughter Lilith (Florencia Bado), whose petite frame (cruel classmates call her “dwarf”) awakens his let’s-experiment impulses. He gets even more attached when he finds out a pregnant Eva is carrying twins. Meanwhile, Israeli agents are moving in, having just snagged Mengele’s fellow war criminal Eichmann in Buenos Aires, and Lilith’s family soon catches on to their new friend’s true identity. Measured, multi-lingual performances — Brendemühl is both suave and menacing as the “Angel of Death,” forever penciling in his grotesque medical sketchbook — and the contrast between The German Doctor‘s dark themes and the Patagonian beauty of its setting bring haunting nuance to Puenzo’s twisted-history tale. (1:33) Embarcadero, Shattuck. (Eddy)

“Human Rights Watch Film Festival” The 2014 fest wraps up with a pair of nightmarish tales about men who endured wrongful imprisonment. Marc Wiese’s Camp 14 — Total Control Zone follows the solemn Shin Dong-hyuk, who was born in a North Korean death camp and managed to escape not only the camp, but the country itself; he’s thought to be the only person ever to do so. He endured unimaginable horrors both physical (beatings, starvation, torture) and mental (being forced to watch his mother and brother’s executions), and finally gathered the courage to flee when he met a recent detainee who was full of tales from the outside world. These days, he no longer lives in fear; he’s based in South Korea but travels the world speaking with human-rights groups. But he’s a man understandably scarred by his past, living in a nearly empty apartment and rarely raising his voice above a whisper. Meanwhile, American injustice gives a showcase performance in An Unreal Dream: The Michael Morton Story, Al Reinert’s emotional documentary about an innocent man convicted of killing his wife, thanks to some shoddy good ol’ boy police work. Though his own son turned against him as his years behind bars stretched into decades, Morton — now free and reconciled with his family, thanks to the Innocence Project — remains an inspiring, almost beatific example of the power of forgiveness. In Morton’s case, it helps that the real murderer was eventually nabbed and punished; in Camp 14, we meet a pair of former guards who shrug off the horrific cruelty they regularly inflicted on prisoners — and we’re reminded of the hundreds of thousands of North Koreans who remain behind bars, serving life sentences for made-up “crimes.” Not a shred of closure to be found in that one. Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. (Eddy)

Next Goal Wins World Cup fever is imminent — first game is June 12! — so there’s no better timing for this doc, which chronicles the transformation of American Samoa’s soccer team from international joke (thanks to a record-breaking 31-0 drubbing by Australia in 2001) to inspirational underdogs. Filmmakers Steve Jamison and Mike Brett visit the close-knit island nation just as Dutch hired-gun coach Thomas Rongen swoops in to whip the team into shape. Though he’s initially unimpressed, Rongen soon realizes that what his players lack in athletic ability, they make up for in heart, particularly beleaguered keeper Nicky Salapu (coaxed out of retirement, he’s still haunted by the 2001 loss) and upbeat Jaiyah Saelua, who is 100 percent accepted by her teammates, even though she happens to be transgender (“I’m not a male or a female — I’m a soccer player!”) Next Goal Wins is ultimately as much a window into American Samoan culture as it is a sports saga, adding richness to a tale that’s already heart-poundingly rousing. (1:30) Roxie. (Eddy)

The Other Woman Cameron Diaz, Leslie Mann, and Kate Upton star in this comedy about a trio of women who gang up on the man (Game of Thrones’ Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) who’s been playing them all. (1:49) Presidio.

The Quiet Ones Jared Harris (Mad Men) stars in this spooky Hammer Films drama about an Oxford professor studying the supernatural. (1:38)

Teenage This collage documentary by Matt Wolf (2008’s Wild Combination: A Portrait of Arthur Russell) is based on Jon Savage’s Teenage: The Creation of Youth Culture, spanning the adolescent experience from 1875-1945. First-person narrators (voiced by Jena Malone and Ben Whishaw, among others) reflect on the lives of teens from the US, the UK, and Germany, emphasizing current events (notably the stock market crash and World Wars I and II, the latter including segments on the Hitler Youth), and social problems (child labor, racial intolerance) and changes (the rise of Hollywood idols and teen gangs), as well as dance, fashion, nightlife (London’s Bright Young Things get a special spotlight), and music fads. Stock footage, vintage images, textured sound design, and creative reenactments shape this unusually artistic look at the rise of an age group that didn’t merit distinct status 150 years ago — but has since become popular culture’s most influential force, for better and worse. (1:17) Opera Plaza, Shattuck. (Eddy)

Walking with the Enemy Movie history abounds with dramas about the obvious dangers and complicated delights of passing during World War II — Agnieszka Holland’s Europa Europa (1990) and Paul Verhoeven’s Black Book (2006) come immediately to mind. But despite the inherent interest in this story (based on a real person, Pinchas Tibor Rosenbaum), Walking with the Enemy doesn’t hold its own next to those efforts. Elek (Jonas Armstrong), the handsome, intrepid son of a rabbi, is working in Budapest doing what any red-blooded young man of any era might, joking with his boss and flirting with the adorable Hannah (Hannah Tointon). When Hungary’s relations with the Nazis sour, the country’s Jewish citizens are gradually packed off and subjected to deadly crackdowns instigated by Adolf Eichmann, and Hungary’s Regent Horthy (Ben Kingsley) seems powerless to do very much, apart from allowing the neutral Swiss consulate to issue a stream of documents claiming the city’s Jewish denizens as its own. When two SS officers come calling in the Jewish quarter, attack Hannah, and are ultimately killed, fluent German speaker Elek and his friends snatch at the desperate measure of donning their uniforms to spy on their oppressors and save as many Jews as they can. What may have made for a fascinating tale, however, is reduced to broad strokes, awkward choices like onscreen IDs, and comically simplistic characterization, making Walking feel more like a TV movie or an educational film than anything with real power. (2:08) (Chun)

ONGOING

Bears (1:26) 1000 Van Ness, Shattuck.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier Marvel’s most wholesome hero returns in this latest film in the Avengers series, and while it doesn’t deviate from the expected formula (it’s not a spoiler to say that yes, the world is saved yet again), it manages to incorporate a surprisingly timely plot about the dangers of government surveillance. Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), hunkiest 95-year-old ever, is still figuring out his place in the 21st century after his post-World War II deep freeze. Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) has him running random rescue missions with the help of Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), but SHIELD is working on a top-secret project that will allow it to predict crimes before they occur. It isn’t long before Cap’s distrust of the weapon — he may be old-fashioned, but he ain’t stupid — uncovers a sinister plot led by a familiar enemy, with Steve’s former BFF Bucky doing its bidding as the science-experiment-turned-assassin Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan). Anthony Mackie, Robert Redford, and series regular Cobie Smulders are fine in supporting roles, and Johansson finally gets more to do than punch and pose, but the likable Evans ably carries the movie — he may not have the charisma of Robert Downey Jr., but he brings wit and depth to a role that would otherwise be defined mainly by biceps and CG-heavy fights. Oh, and you know the drill by now: superfans will want to stick around for two additional scenes tucked into the end credits. (2:16) Balboa, Marina, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Sundance Kabuki. (Eddy)

Cesar Chavez “You always have a choice,” Cesar Chavez (Michael Peña) tells his bullied son when advising him to turn the other cheek. Likewise, actor-turned-director Diego Luna had a choice when it came to tackling his first English-language film; he could have selected a less complicated, sprawling story. So he gets props for that simple act — especially at a time when workers’ rights and union power have been so dramatically eroded — and for his attempts to impact some complicated nuance to Chavez’s fully evident heroism. Painting his moving pictures in dusty earth tones and burnt sunlight with the help of cinematographer Enrique Chediak, Luna vaults straight into Chavez’s work with the grape pickers that would come to join the United Farm Workers — with just a brief voiceover about Chavez’s roots as the native-born son of a farm owner turned worker, post-Depression. Uprooting wife Helen (America Ferrera) and his family and moving to Delano as a sign of activist commitment, Chavez is seemingly quickly drawn into the 1965 strike by the Mexican workers’ sometime rivals: Filipino pickers (see the recent CAAMFest short documentary Delano Manongs for some of their side of the story). From there, the focus hones in on Chavez, speaking out against violence and “chicken shit macho ideals,” hunger striking, and activating unions overseas, though Luna does give voice to cohorts like Dolores Huerta (Rosario Dawson), growers like Bogdanovitch (John Malkovich), and the many nameless strikers — some of whom lost their lives during the astonishingly lengthy, taxing five-year strike. Luna’s win would be a blue-collar epic on par with 1979’s Norma Rae, and on some levels, he succeeds; scanning the faces of the weathered, hopeful extras in crowd scenes, you can’t help but feel the solidarity. The people have the power, as a poet once put it, and tellingly, his choice of Peña, stolidly opaque when charismatic warmth is called for, might be the key weakness here. One suspects the director or his frequent costar Gael García Bernal would make a more riveting Chavez. (1:38) Metreon. (Chun)

Divergent Based on the blockbuster dystopian-future YA novel by Veronica Roth (the first in a trilogy), Divergent is set in a future city-state version of Chicago in which society is divided into five character-based, color-coded factions: Erudite, Amity, Candor, Abnegation, and Dauntless. Like her peers, Beatrice Prior (Shailene Woodley), the film’s Abnegation-born teenage heroine, must choose a permanent faction — with the help of a standardized aptitude test that forgoes penciling in bubbles in favor of virtual reality psychic manipulation. When the test fails to triangulate her sole innate personality trait, she learns that she belongs to a secret, endangered sixth category: Divergent, an astonishing set of people who are not only capable of, say, acts of selflessness but can also produce intelligent thought, or manifest bravery in the face of danger. Forced to hide her aberrant nature in a society whose leaders (Kate Winslet) are prone to statements like “The future belongs to those who know where they belong,” and seemingly bored among Abnegation’s hive of gray cardigan-wearing worker bees, Beatrice chooses Dauntless, a dashing gang of black-clad, alterna-rock music video extras who jump on and off moving trains and live in a warehouse-chic compound whose dining hall recalls the patio at Zeitgeist. Fittingly, a surly, tattooed young man named Four (Theo James) leads Beatrice, now Tris, and her fellow initiates through a harsh proving regimen that, if they fail, will cast them into an impoverished underclass. Director Neil Burger (2006’s The Illusionist, 2011’s Limitless) and the behemoth marketing force behind Divergent are clearly hoping to stir up the kind of madness stoked by the Twilight and Hunger Games series, but while there are bones a-plenty to pick with those franchises, Divergent may have them beat for pure daffiness of premise and diameter of plot holes — and that’s after screenwriters Evan Daugherty and Vanessa Taylor’s major suturing of the source material’s lacunae. The daffiness doesn’t translate into imaginative world-building, and while a couple of scenes convey the visceral thrills of life in Dauntless, the tension between Tris and Four is awkwardly ratcheted up, and the film’s shift into a mode of crisis is equally jolting without generating much heat. (2:20) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness. (Rapoport)

Dom Hemingway We first meet English safecracker Dom (Jude Law) as he delivers an extremely verbose and flowery ode to his penis, addressing no one in particular, while he’s getting blown in prison. Whether you find this opening a knockout or painfully faux will determine how you react to the rest of Richard Shepard’s new film, because it’s all in that same overwritten, pseudo-shocking, showoff vein, Sprung after 12 years, Dom is reunited with his former henchman Dickie (Richard E. Grant), and the two go to the South of France to collect the reward owed for not ratting out crime kingpin Mr. Fontaine (Demian Bichir). This detour into the high life goes awry, however, sending the duo back to London, where Dom — who admits having “anger issues,” which is putting it mildly — tries to woo a new employer (Jumayn Hunter) and, offsetting his general loutishness with mawkish interludes, to re-ingratiate himself with his long-estranged daughter (Emilia Clarke). Moving into Guy Ritchie terrain with none of the deftness the same writer-director had brought to debunking James Bond territory in 2006’s similarly black-comedic crime tale The Matador, Dom Hemingway might bludgeon some viewers into sharing its air of waggish, self conscious merriment. But like Law’s performance, it labors so effortfully hard after that affect that you’re just as likely to find the whole enterprise overbearing. (1:33) Metreon, Sundance Kabuki. (Harvey)

Draft Day (2:00) 1000 Van Ness, Presidio, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki.

Faust It’s taken nearly three years for Aleksandr Sokurov’s Faust to get to the Bay Area. That seems apt for what was surely, in 2011, the least popular recipient of the Venice Film Festival’s Golden Lion in decades. Sokurov is a bit of a weirdo; even his popular triumphs — 1997’s rhapsodic Mother and Son; 2002’s extraordinary 300-years-of-history-in-one-traveling-shot Russian Ark — are very rarefied stuff, disinterested in conventional narrative or making their meanings too clear. In production scale, Faust is Sokurov’s biggest project, which hardly stops it also being possibly his most perverse. It rings bells redolent of certain classic 1970s Herzog features, and of course Sokurov’s own prior ones (as well as those by his late mentor Tarkovsky). But it has a stoned strangeness all its own. It’s not 140 minutes you should enter lightly, because you are going to exit it headily, drunk off the kind of questionable homebrew elixir that has a worm floating in it. In a clammy mittle-Yurropeon town in which the thin margin between pissy bourgeoisie and dirty swine is none too subtly delineated when a funeral march collides with a cartful of porkers, Professor Faust (the marvelously plastic Johannes Zeiler) dissects a corpse in his filthy studio. Impoverished and hungry, the questionably good doctor is an easy mark for Mephistophelean moneylender Mauricius Muller (physical theater specialist Anton Adasinsky), an insinuating snake who claims the soul is “no heavier than a coin,” and will happily relieve Faust of his in return for some slippery satisfactions. Coming complete with the director’s trademark distortion effects (in both color tinting and image aspect), Faust has a soft, queasy, pickled feel, like a disquieting dream too fascinating to wake yourself from. (2:14) Roxie. (Harvey)

Finding Vivian Maier Much like In the Realms of the Unreal, the 2004 doc about Henry Darger, Finding Vivian Maier explores the lonely life of a gifted artist whose talents were discovered posthumously. In this case, however, the filmmaker — John Maloof, who co-directs with Charlie Siskel — is responsible for Maier’s rise to fame. A practiced flea-market hunter, he picked up a carton of negatives at a 2007 auction; they turned out to be striking examples of early street photography. He was so taken with the work (snapped by a woman so obscure she was un-Google-able) that he began posting images online. Unexpectedly, they became a viral sensation, and Maloof became determined to learn more about the camerawoman. Turns out Vivian Maier was a career nanny in the Chicago area, with plenty of former employers to share their memories. She was an intensely private person who some remembered as delightfully adventurous and others remembered as eccentric, mentally unstable, or even cruel; she was a hoarder who was distrustful of men, and she spoke with a maybe-fake French accent. And she was obsessed with taking photographs that she never showed to anyone; the hundreds of thousands now in Maloof’s collection (along with 8mm and 16mm films) offer the only insight into her creative mind. “She had a great eye, a sense of humor, and a sense of tragedy,” remarks acclaimed photographer Mary Ellen Mark. “But there’s a piece of the puzzle missing.” The film’s central question — why was Maier so secretive about her hobby? — may never be answered. But as the film also suggests, that mystery adds another layer of fascination to her keenly observed photos. (1:23) Clay, Shattuck. (Eddy)

The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden Extensive archival footage and home movies (plus one short, narrative film) enhance this absorbing doc from San Francisco-based Dayna Goldfine and Dan Geller (2005’s Ballets Russes). It tells the tale of a double murder that occurred in the early 1930s on Floreana — the most remote of the already scarcely-populated Galapagos Islands. A top-notch cast (Cate Blanchett, Diane Kruger, Connie Nielsen, Josh Radnour) gives voice to the letters and diary entries of the players in this stranger-than-fiction story, which involved an array of Europeans who’d moved away from civilization in search of utopian simplicity — most intriguingly, a maybe-fake Baroness and her two young lovers — and realized too late that paradise isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Goldfine and Geller add further detail to the historic drama by visiting the present-day Galapagos, speaking with residents about the lingering mystery and offering a glimpse of what life on the isolated islands is like today. (2:00) Embarcadero, Shattuck. (Eddy)

The Grand Budapest Hotel Is this the first Wes Anderson movie to feature a shootout? It’s definitely the first Anderson flick to include a severed head. That’s not to say The Grand Budapest Hotel, “inspired by” the works of Austrian novelist Stefan Zweig, represents too much of a shift for the director — his intricate approach to art direction is still very much in place, as are the deadpan line deliveries and a cast stuffed with Anderson regulars. But there’s a slightly more serious vibe here, a welcome change from 2012’s tooth-achingly twee Moonrise Kingdom. Thank Ralph Fiennes’ performance as liberally perfumed concierge extraordinaire M. Gustave, which mixes a shot of melancholy into the whimsy, and newcomer Tony Revolori as Zero, his loyal lobby boy, who provides gravitas despite only being a teenager. (Being played by F. Murray Abraham as an older adult probably helps in that department.) Hotel‘s early 20th century Europe setting proves an ideal canvas for Anderson’s love of detail — the titular creation rivals Stanley Kubrick’s rendering of the Overlook Hotel — and his supporting cast, as always, looks to be enjoying the hell out of being a part of Anderson’s universe, with Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, and Adrien Brody having particularly oversized fun. Is this the best Wes Anderson movie since 2001’s The Royal Tenenbaums? Yes. (1:40) Balboa, California, 1000 Van Ness, Piedmont, Presidio, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki, Vogue. (Eddy)

A Haunted House 2 (1:26) 1000 Van Ness, SF Center.

Heaven is for Real (1:40) Metreon.

Jodorowsky’s Dune A Chilean émigré to Paris, Alejandro Jodorowsky had avant-garde interests that led him from theater and comic book art to film, making his feature debut with 1968’s Fando y Lis. Undaunted by its poor reception, he created El Topo (1970), a blood-soaked mix of spaghetti western, mysticism, and Buñuellian parabolic grotesquerie that became the very first “midnight movie.” After that success, he was given nearly a million dollars to “do what he wanted” with 1973’s similarly out-there The Holy Mountain, which became a big hit in Europe. French producer Michel Seydoux asked Jodorowsky what he’d like to do next. Dune, he said. In many ways it seemed a perfect match of director and material. Yet Dune would be an enormous undertaking in terms of scale, expense, and technical challenges. What moneymen in their right mind would entrust this flamboyant genius/nut job with it? They wouldn’t, as it turned out. So doc Jodorowsky’s Dune is the story of “the greatest film never made,” one that’s brain-exploding enough in description alone. But there’s more than description to go on here, since in 1975 the director and his collaborators created a beautifully detailed volume of storyboards and other preproduction minutiae they hoped would lure Hollywood studios aboard this space phantasmagoria. From this goldmine of material, as well as input from the surviving participants, Pavich is able to reconstruct not just the film’s making and unmaking, but to an extent the film itself — there are animated storyboard sequences here that offer just a partial yet still breathtaking glimpse of what might have been. (1:30) Embarcadero. (Harvey)

The Lunchbox Ila (Nimrat Kaur) is a self-possessed housewife and a great cook, whose husband confuses her for another piece of furniture. She tries to arouse his affections with elaborate lunches she makes and sends through the city’s lunchbox delivery service. Like marriage in India, lunchbox delivery has a failure rate of zero, which is what makes aberrations seem like magical occurrences. So when widow Saajan (Irrfan Khan) receives her adoring food, he humbly receives the magical lunches like a revival of the senses. Once Ila realizes her lunchbox is feeding the wrong man she writes a note and Saajan replies — tersely, like a man who hasn’t held a conversation in a decade — and the impossible circumstances lend their exchanges a romance that challenges her emotional fidelity and his retreat from society. She confides her husband is cheating. He confides his sympathy for men of lower castes. It’s a May/December affair if it’s an affair at all — but the chemistry we expect the actors to have in the same room is what fuels our urge to see it; that’s a rare and haunting dynamic. Newcomer Kaur is perfect as Ila, a beauty unmarked by her rigorous distaff; her soft features and exhausted expression lend a richness to the troubles she can’t share with her similarly stoic mother (Lillete Dubey). Everyone is sacrificing something and poverty seeps into every crack, every life, without exception — their inner lives are their richness. (1:44) Albany, Opera Plaza. (Vizcarrondo)

Noah Darren Aronofsky’s Biblical epic begins with a brief recap of prior Genesis events — creation is detailed a bit more in clever fashion later on — leading up to mankind’s messing up such that God wants to wipe the slate clean and start over. That means getting Noah (Russell Crowe), wife Naameh (Jennifer Connelly), and their three sons and one adopted daughter (Emma Watson) to build an ark that can save them and two of every animal species from the imminent slate-wiping Great Flood. (The rest of humanity, having sinned too much, can just feed the fishes.) They get some help from fallen angels turned into Ray Harryhausen-type giant rock creatures voiced by Nick Nolte and others. There’s an admirable brute force and some startling imagery to this uneven, somber, Iceland-shot tale “inspired” by the Good Book (which, needless to say, has endured more than its share of revisions over the centuries). Purists may quibble over some choices, including the device of turning minor Biblical figure Tubal-Cain (Ray Winstone) into a royal-stowaway villain, and political conservatives have already squawked a bit over Aronofsky’s not-so-subtle message of eco-consciousness, with Noah being bade to “replenish the Earth” that man has hitherto rendered barren. But for the most part this is a respectable, forceful interpretation that should stir useful discussion amongst believers and non believers alike. Its biggest problem is that after the impressively harrowing flood itself, we’re trapped on the ark dealing with the lesser crises of a pregnancy, a discontented middle son (Logan Lerman), and that stowaway’s plotting — ponderous intrigues that might have been leavened if the director had allowed us to hang out with the animals a little, rather than sedating the whole menagerie for the entire voyage. (2:07) 1000 Van Ness, SF Center, Shattuck, Sundance Kabuki. (Harvey)

Oculus Tim (Brenton Thwaites) and Kaylie (Karen Gillan) are grown siblings with a horrible shared past: When they were children, their parents (Rory Cochrane, Katee Sankhoff) moved them all into a nice suburban house, decorating it with, among other things, a 300-year-old mirror. But that antique seemed to have an increasingly disturbing effect on dad, then mom too, to ultimately homicidal, offspring-orphaning effect. Over a decade later, Tim is released from a juvenile mental lockup, ready to live a normal life after years of therapy have cleaned him of the supernatural delusions he think landed him there in the first place. Imagine his dismay when Kaylie announces she has spent the meantime researching aforementioned “evil mirror” — which turns out to have had a very gruesome history of mysteriously connected deaths — and painstakingly re-acquiring it. She means to destroy it so it can never wreak havoc, and has set up an elaborate room of camcorders and other equipment in which to “prove” its malevolence first, with Tim her very reluctant helper. Needless to say, this experiment (which he initially goes along with only in order to debunk the whole thing for good) turns out to be a very, very bad idea. The mirror is clever — demonically clever. It can warp time and perspective so our protagonists don’t know whether what they’re experiencing is real or not. Expanding on his 2006 short film (which was made before his excellent, little-seen 2011 horror feature Absentia), Mike Flanagan’s tense, atmospheric movie isn’t quite as scary as you might wish, partly because the villain (the spirit behind the mirror) isn’t particularly well-imagined in generic look or murky motivation. But it is the rare new horror flick that is genuinely intricate and surprising plot-wise — no small thing in the current landscape of endless remakes and rehashes. (1:44) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Shattuck. (Harvey)

On My Way Not for nothing too does the title On My Way evoke Going Places (1974): director Emmanuelle Bercot is less interested in exploring Catherine Deneuve’s at-times-chilled hauteur than roughing up, grounding, and blowing fresh country air through that still intimidatingly gorgeous image. Deneuve’s Bettie lost her way long ago — the former beauty queen, who never rose beyond her Miss Brittany status, is in a state of stagnation, working at her seafood restaurant, having affairs with married men, living with her mother, and still sleeping in her girlhood room. One workday mid-lunch hour, she gets in her car and drives, ignoring all her ordinary responsibilities and disappearing down the wormhole of dive bars and back roads. She seems destined to drift until her enraged, equally lost daughter Muriel (Camille) calls in a favor: give her son Charly (Nemo Schiffman) a ride to his paternal grandfather’s. It’s chance to reconnect and correct course, even after Bettie’s money is spent, her restaurant appears doomed, and the adorable, infuriating Charly acts out. The way is clear, however: what could have been a musty, predictable affair, in the style of so many boomer tales in the movie houses these days, is given a crucial infusion of humanity and life, as Bercot keeps an affectionate eye trained on the unglamorous everyday attractions of a French backwater and Deneuve works that ineffable charm that draws all eyes to her onscreen. Her Bettie may have kicked her cigarette habit long ago, but she’s still smokin’ — in every way. (1:53) Embarcadero. (Chun)

Only Lovers Left Alive Jim Jarmusch has subverted genre films before — you don’t have to dig deep to find fierce defenders of 1995 Western Dead Man — but his latest, Only Lovers Left Alive, is poised to be his biggest commercial hit to date. That’s not merely because it’s a vampire film, though this concession to trendiness will certainly work in its favor, as will the casting of high-profile Avengers (2012) star Tom Hiddleston. But this is still a Jarmusch vampire movie, and though it may be more accessible than some of the director’s more existential entries, it’s still wonderfully weird, witty, and — natch — drenched in cool. The opening credits deploy a gothic, blood red font across a night sky — a winking nod to the aesthetics of Hammer classics like Horror of Dracula (1958). Then, the camera begins to rotate, filming a record as it plays, and symbolizing the eternal life of the two figures who’ve entered the frame: gloomy Adam (Hiddleston, rocking a bedhead version of Loki’s dark ‘do), who lurks in a crumbling Detroit mansion, and exuberant Eve (Tilda Swinton, so pale she seems to glow), who dwells amid piles of books in Tangier. These two live apart, partially due to the hassle of traveling when one can’t be in the sun (red-eye flights are a must). Yet they remain entangled in spirit, a phenomenon referenced amid much talk of what Einstein called “spooky action at a distance,” and when at last they reunite, it’s glorious. Unlike those old Hammer films, there’s no stake-wielding Van Helsing type pursuing these creatures of the night; if there’s a villain, it’s actual and emotional vampire Ava (Mia Wasikowska), Eve’s bad-penny sibling, who swoops in for a most unwelcome visit. But Only Lovers Left Alive‘s biggest antagonist is simply the outside world, with its epidemics of dull minds and blood-borne diseases. The delight Jarmusch takes in tweaking the vampire mythos is just as enjoyable as his interest in exploring the agony, ecstasy, and uneventful lulls of immortality. (2:03) Embarcadero, Shattuck, Sundance Kabuki. (Eddy)

Particle Fever “We are hearing nature talk to us,” a physicist remarks in awe near the end of Particle Fever, Mark Levinson’s intriguing doc about the 2012 discovery of the Higgs boson particle. Earlier, another scientist says, “I’ve never heard of a moment like this in [science] history, where an entire field is hinging on a single event.” The event, of course, is the launch of the Large Hardon Collider, the enormous machine that enabled the discovery. Though some interest in physics is probably necessary to enjoy Particle Fever, extensive knowledge of quarks and such is not, since the film uses elegant animation to refresh the basics for anyone whose eyes glazed over during high-school science. But though he offers plenty of context, Levinson wisely focuses his film on a handful of genial eggheads who are involved in the project, either hands-on at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), or watching from afar as the mighty LHC comes to life. Their excitement brings a welcome warmth to the proceedings — and their “fever” becomes contagious. (1:39) Opera Plaza, Shattuck. (Eddy)

The Raid 2 One need not have seen 2011’s The Raid: Redemption to appreciate this latest collaboration between Welsh director Gareth Evans and Indonesian actor, martial artist, and fight choreographer Iko Uwais — it’s recommended, of course, but the sequel stands alone on its own merits. Overstuffed with gloriously brutal, cleverly choreographed fight scenes, The Raid 2 — sometimes written with the subtitle “Berendal,” which means “thugs” — picks up immediately after the events of the first film. Quick recap of part one: a special-forces team invades an apartment tower controlled by gangsters. Among the cops is idealistic Rama (Uwais). Seemingly bulletproof and fleet of fists and feet, Rama battles his way floor-by-floor, encountering machete-toting heavies and wild-eyed maniacs; he also soon realizes he’s working for a police department that’s as corrupt as the gangster crew. The Raid‘s gritty, unadorned approach resonated with thrillseeking audiences weary of CG overload. A second Raid film was inevitable, especially since Evans — who became interested in Indonesian martial arts, or pencak silat, while working on 2007 doc The Mystic Art of Indonesia — already had its story in mind: Rama goes undercover within a criminal organization, a ploy that necessitates he do a prison stint to gain the trust of a local kingpin. Naturally, not much goes according to plan, and much blood is shed along the way, as multiple power-crazed villains set their sinister plans into motion. With expanded locations and ever-more daring (yet bone-breakingly realistic) fight scenes aplenty — including a brawl inside a moving vehicle, and a muddy, bloody prison-yard riot — The Raid 2 more than delivers. Easily the action film of the year so far, with no contenders likely to topple it in the coming months. (2:19) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Sundance Kabuki. (Eddy)

The Railway Man The lackluster title — OK, it’s better than that of director Jonathan Teplitzky’s last movie, 2011’s Burning Man, which confused sad Burners everywhere — masks a sensitive and artful adaptation of Eric Lomax’s book, based on a true story, about an English survivor of WWII atrocities. As Railway Man unfolds, we find Eric (Colin Firth), a stammering, attractive eccentric, oddly obsessed with railway schedules, as he meets his sweet soul mate Patti (Nicole Kidman) in vaguely mid-century England. Their romance, however, takes a steep, downward spiral when Patti discovers her new husband’s quirks overlay a deeply damaged spirit, one with scars that never really healed. As Eric grows more isolated, his best friend Finlay (Stellan Skarsgard) reveals some of their experiences as POWs forced to toil on the seemingly impossible-to-build Thai-Burma Railway by Japanese forces. The brutality of the situation comes home when the young Eric (played by Jeremy Irvine of 2011’s War Horse) takes the rap for building a radio and undergoes a period of torture. The horror seems rectifiable when Finlay discovers that the most memorable torturer Nagase (played at various ages by Tanroh Ishida and Hiroyuki Sanada) is still alive and, outrageously, leading tours of the area. Revenge is sweet, as so many other movies looking at this era have told us, but Railway Man strives for a deeper, more difficult message while telling its story with the care and attention to detail that points away from the weedy jungle of a traumatic past — and toward some kind of true north where reconciliation lies. (1:53) Albany, Embarcadero, Piedmont. (Chun)

Rio 2 (1:41) Four Star, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness.

That Demon Within Hong Kong action director Dante Lam’s latest resides firmly within his preferred wheelhouse of hyper-stylized cops-and-robbers thriller, though this one’s more ghoulish than previous efforts like 2008’s Beast Stalker. Merciless bandits — identities concealed behind traditional masks — have been causing all kinds of trouble, heisting diamonds, mowing down bystanders, blowing up cars, exchanging mad gunfire with police, etc. After he’s injured in one such battle, sinister Hon (Nick Cheung), aka “the Demon King,” stumbles to the hospital, where cop Dave (Daniel Wu) donates blood to save the man’s life, not realizing he’s just revived HK’s public enemy number one. The gangster is soon back to his violent schemes, and Dave — a withdrawn loner given to sudden rage spirals — starts having spooky hallucinations (or are they memories?) that suggest either the duo has some kind of psychic connection, or that Dave is straight-up losing his mind. Meanwhile, a police inspector everyone calls “Pops” (Lam Kar-wah) becomes obsessed with taking Hon down, with additional tension supplied by crooked cops and infighting among the criminal organization. Does an overwrought, mind-warpingly brutal finale await? Hell yes it does. (1:52) Metreon. (Eddy)

Transcendence Darn those high-tech romantics, hiding out and planning global takeover in their shadowy Berkeley Craftsmen and hippie-dippie leafy grottos. That’s one not-so-great notion emanating from this timely thriller, helmed by a first-time director (and veteran cinematographer) Wally Pfister and writer Jack Paglen. In line with the dreamy, brainy idealism of its protagonists — and the fully loaded promises of artificial intelligence — Transcendence starts with a grand idea teeming with torn-from-the-tech-headlines relevancy, only to spiral off course, seemingly far out of the control of its makers. Ray Kurzweil-like scientist Will Caster (Johnny Depp) is in the midst of refining his work on artificial intelligence when Luddite terrorists shoot him, using a bullet coated with radioactive material, after a lecture on the UC Berkeley campus. That tragedy allows Will and devoted wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) a chance to put his ideas into action and to attempt to preserve that beautiful mind, with the help of friend and kindred researcher Max (Paul Bettany). Yet once his intelligence gets online, out to a Burning Man-like tabula rasa desert, and in the cloud, quite literally, there apparently are no limits in sight. Transcendence‘s stoppers, however, are all too human, including technical flubs that betray its newbie filmmaker’s limitations; script slip-ups that, for instance, highlight a rather dated fear of “Y2K”; and a narrative that ends up reading a bit too much like a technophobic Invasion of the Body Snatchers. (1:59) California, Four Star, Marina, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Sundance Kabuki. (Chun)

Under the Skin At the moment, Scarlett Johansson is playing a superhero in the world’s top blockbuster. Her concurrent role in Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin — the tale of an alien who comes to earth to capture men, but goes rogue once her curiosity about the human world gets the better of her — could not be more different in story or scope. Her character’s camouflage (dark wig, thickly-applied lipstick) was carefully calibrated to make her unrecognizable, since Glazer (2000’s Sexy Beast) filmed the alien’s “pick-up” scenes — in which Johansson’s unnamed character cruises around Glasgow in a nondescript van, prowling for prey — using hidden cameras and real people who had no idea they were interacting with a movie star. The film takes liberties with its source material (Michel Farber’s novel), with “feeding” scenes that are far more abstract than as written in the book, allowing for one of the film’s most striking visual motifs. After the alien seduces a victim, he’s lured into what looks like a run-down house. The setting changes into a dark room that seems to represent an otherworldly void, with composer Mica Levi’s spine-tingling score exponentially enhancing the dread. What happens next? It’s never fully explained, but it doesn’t need to be. When the alien begins to mistakenly believe that her fleshy, temporary form is her own, she abandons her predatory quest — but her ill-advised exploration of humanity leads her into another dark place. A chilling, visceral climax caps one of the most innovative sci-fi movies in recent memory. (1:47) California, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki. (Eddy)

Watermark Daring to touch the hem of — and then surpass — Godfrey Reggio’s trippy-movie-slash-visual-essays (1982’s Koyaanisqatsi, 2013’s Visitors) and their sumptuous visual delights and global expansivenesses, with none of the cheese or sensational aftertaste, Watermark reunites documentarian Jennifer Baichwal and photographer Edward Burtynsky, the latter the subject of her 2006 film, Manufactured Landscapes. Baichwal works directly with Burtynsky, as well as DP Nick de Pencier, as the artist assembles a book on the ways water has been shaped by humans. Using mostly natural sound and an unobtrusive score, she’s able to beautifully translate the sensibility of Burtynsky’s still images by following the photographer as he works, taking to the air and going to ground with succinct interviews that span the globe. We meet scientists studying ice cores drilled in Greenland, Chinese abalone farmers, leather workers in Bangladesh, and denizens on both sides of the US/Mexico border who reminisce about ways of life that have been lost to dams. Even as it continually, indirectly poses questions about humans’ dependence on, desire to control, and uses for water, the movie always reminds us of the presence and majesty of oceans, rivers, and tributaries with indelible images — whether it’s a time-lapse study of the largest arch dam in the world; the glorious mandalas of water drilling sites related to the Ogallala Aquifer; or a shockingly stylized scene of Chinese rice terraces that resembles some lost Oskar Kokoschka woodcut. While striking a relevant note in a drought-stricken California, Watermark reaches a kind of elegant earthbound poetry and leaves one wondering what Baichwal and Burtynsky will grapple with next. (1:31) Opera Plaza, Shattuck. (Chun)

Le Week-End Director Roger Michell and writer Hanif Kureishi first collaborated two decades ago on The Buddha of Suburbia, when the latter was still in the business of being Britain’s brashest multiculti hipster voice. But in the last 10 years they’ve made a habit of slowing down to sketching portraits of older lives — and providing great roles for the nation’s bottomless well of remarkable veteran actors. Here Lindsay Duncan and Jim Broadbent play a pair of English academics trying to re-create their long-ago honeymoon’s magic on an anniversary weekend in Paris. They love each other, but their relationship is thorny and complicated in ways that time has done nothing to smooth over. This beautifully observed duet goes way beyond the usual adorable-old-coot terrain of such stories on screen; it has charm and humor, but these are unpredictable, fully rounded characters, not comforting caricatures. Briefly turning this into a seriocomedy three-way is Most Valuable Berserker Jeff Goldblum as an old friend encountered by chance. It’s not his story, but damned if he doesn’t just about steal the movie anyway. (1:33) Embarcadero, Shattuck. (Harvey) *

 

City unveils plan to get tough at 4/20 gatherings

City officials today announced a “comprehensive plan” to crack down on unpermitted 420 events at Golden Gate Park this Sun/20, saying it was necessary because last year’s debauchery got out of hand. That means more police, both in uniform and plainclothes, will be in the park for the greatest marijuana celebration of the year.

“Last year [on 4/20] we had a lot of challenges,” said Sup. London Breed, who is spearheading this year’s efforts since the park falls in her district. “We need to make the city and streets safe this year. We want people to come and enjoy San Francisco, but we also want them to respect San Francisco.”

The problems Breed was alluding to included underage drinking, traffic congestion, and massive amounts of trash left in the park, especially in the area known as Hippie Hill.

Last year, it took 25 city employees over 12 hours to clean up the five tons of trash left by intoxicated visitors, according to Phil Ginsburg, general manager of San Francisco Recreation and Parks. And because 420 activities are unsanctioned and without an official sponsor, the burden to pay for the cleanup falls upon the city. In 2013, the Department of Public Works spent more than $10,000 to restore Golden Gate Park.

In anticipation of an even larger crowd this year, for both 420 and Easter events happening in the park, the city is gearing up to deal with people and traffic. In addition to deploying additional law enforcement in plainclothes and uniform, officials also plan to ramp up parking control, utilize additional bus services, and employ city workers to direct traffic.

A press release issued by Breed’s office indicated that police would take “a strict enforcement approach to all code violations.”

But speaking at the press conference, San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr said officers will have zero tolerance for violations such as underage drinking, open containers, selling drugs, unlicensed vendors, and even walking while texting. Noticeably absent from the list of offenses he mentioned was actually smoking marijuana.

“The sale of marijuana is still a felony,” Suhr emphasized, “but I don’t think [the SFPD is] naive enough to believe that we can stop people from smoking on 4/20.”

Captain Gregory Corrales confirmed that maintaining safety is the station’s top priority. Last year there was only one violent incident and eight arrests for selling drugs, but there were zero citations for possession of marijuana.

Pot smoking, which has long been tolerated, if not embraced, in our progressive enclave, was officially deprioritized as a crime by the Board of Supervisors in 2006, barring incidents that involved driving under the influence, minors, or violence. Breed noted that while she does not “condone illegal activities,” she admits that this aspect of the 420 celebration is difficult to control.

So please, stoners of San Francisco, follow the cardinal rule of nature lovers by packing out whatever you pack in. And above all, have a safe and merry holiday.

Film Listings: April 16 – 22, 2014

0

Film listings are edited by Cheryl Eddy. Reviewers are Kimberly Chun, Dennis Harvey, Lynn Rapoport, and Sara Maria Vizcarrondo. For rep house showtimes, see Rep Clock.

OPENING

Bears John C. Reilly narrates this Disneynature documentary about grizzlies in Alaska. (1:26) Shattuck.

Faust See “Devil’s Advocate.” (2:14) Roxie.

A Haunted House 2 Marlon Wayans returns to star in this sequel, which spoofs last year’s The Conjuring, among other targets. (1:26)

Heaven is for Real No. (1:40)

Only Lovers Left Alive See “Blood Lush.” (2:03) Embarcadero.

The Railway Man The lackluster title — OK, it’s better than that of director Jonathan Teplitzky’s last movie, 2011’s Burning Man, which confused sad Burners everywhere — masks a sensitive and artful adaptation of Eric Lomax’s book, based on a true story, about an English survivor of WWII atrocities. As Railway Man unfolds, we find Eric (Colin Firth), a stammering, attractive eccentric, oddly obsessed with railway schedules, as he meets his sweet soul mate Patti (Nicole Kidman) in vaguely mid-century England. Their romance, however, takes a steep, downward spiral when Patti discovers her new husband’s quirks overlay a deeply damaged spirit, one with scars that never really healed. As Eric grows more isolated, his best friend Finlay (Stellan Skarsgard) reveals some of their experiences as POWs forced to toil on the seemingly impossible-to-build Thai-Burma Railway by Japanese forces. The brutality of the situation comes home when the young Eric (played by Jeremy Irvine of 2011’s War Horse) takes the rap for building a radio and undergoes a period of torture. The horror seems rectifiable when Finlay discovers that the most memorable torturer Nagase (played at various ages by Tanroh Ishida and Hiroyuki Sanada) is still alive and, outrageously, leading tours of the area. Revenge is sweet, as so many other movies looking at this era have told us, but Railway Man strives for a deeper, more difficult message while telling its story with the care and attention to detail that points away from the weedy jungle of a traumatic past — and toward some kind of true north where reconciliation lies. (1:53) Albany, Embarcadero. (Chun)

That Demon Within Hong Kong action director Dante Lam’s latest resides firmly within his preferred wheelhouse of hyper-stylized cops-and-robbers thriller, though this one’s more ghoulish than previous efforts like 2008’s Beast Stalker. Merciless bandits — identities concealed behind traditional masks — have been causing all kinds of trouble, heisting diamonds, mowing down bystanders, blowing up cars, exchanging mad gunfire with police, etc. After he’s injured in one such battle, sinister Hon (Nick Cheung), aka “the Demon King,” stumbles to the hospital, where cop Dave (Daniel Wu) donates blood to save the man’s life, not realizing he’s just revived HK’s public enemy number one. The gangster is soon back to his violent schemes, and Dave — a withdrawn loner given to sudden rage spirals — starts having spooky hallucinations (or are they memories?) that suggest either the duo has some kind of psychic connection, or that Dave is straight-up losing his mind. Meanwhile, a police inspector everyone calls “Pops” (Lam Kar-wah) becomes obsessed with taking Hon down, with additional tension supplied by crooked cops and infighting among the criminal organization. Does an overwrought, mind-warpingly brutal finale await? Hell yes it does. (1:52) Metreon. (Eddy)

Transcendence Academy Award-winning cinematographer Wally Pfister (2010’s Inception) makes his directorial debut with this sci-fi thriller about an AI expert (Johnny Depp) who downloads his own mind into a computer, with dangerously chaotic results. (1:59) California, Four Star, Marina.

Watermark Daring to touch the hem of — and then surpass — Godfrey Reggio’s trippy-movie-slash-visual-essays (1982’s Koyaanisqatsi, 2013’s Visitors) and their sumptuous visual delights and global expansivenesses, with none of the cheese or sensational aftertaste, Watermark reunites documentarian Jennifer Baichwal and photographer Edward Burtynsky, the latter the subject of her 2006 film, Manufactured Landscapes. Baichwal works directly with Burtynsky, as well as DP Nick de Pencier, as the artist assembles a book on the ways water has been shaped by humans. Using mostly natural sound and an unobtrusive score, she’s able to beautifully translate the sensibility of Burtynsky’s still images by following the photographer as he works, taking to the air and going to ground with succinct interviews that span the globe. We meet scientists studying ice cores drilled in Greenland, Chinese abalone farmers, leather workers in Bangladesh, and denizens on both sides of the US/Mexico border who reminisce about ways of life that have been lost to dams. Even as it continually, indirectly poses questions about humans’ dependence on, desire to control, and uses for water, the movie always reminds us of the presence and majesty of oceans, rivers, and tributaries with indelible images — whether it’s a time-lapse study of the largest arch dam in the world; the glorious mandalas of water drilling sites related to the Ogallala Aquifer; or a shockingly stylized scene of Chinese rice terraces that resembles some lost Oskar Kokoschka woodcut. While striking a relevant note in a drought-stricken California, Watermark reaches a kind of elegant earthbound poetry and leaves one wondering what Baichwal and Burtynsky will grapple with next. (1:31) Opera Plaza, Shattuck. (Chun)

ONGOING

Afternoon of a Faun: Tanaquil Le Clercq Writer-director Nancy Buirski’s documentary follows the short, brilliant career of a young dancer named Tanaquil Le Clercq, who came up in the New York City ballet world of the 1940s and ’50s. Le Clercq was discovered by George Balanchine, married him (as three other dancers had done before her), sparked a paradigm shift in the ballet world regarding what was considered the quintessential dancer’s body, had numerous ballets set on her by Balanchine and Jerome Robbins, and then, at the peak of her career, at age 27, was stricken by polio and left paralyzed in both legs. The film takes its time moving toward this catastrophe, recounting Le Clercq’s early adult life through interviews with her contemporaries and tracking her professional progress through gorgeous archival footage of her performances. Equally moving archival material are the letters from a longtime correspondence between Le Clercq and Robbins that documented two very different periods of her life: the first, when Robbins was choreographing ballets for her, including Afternoon of a Faun, and professing his love; the second, after her paralysis, when she wrote him a series of poignant communications describing her impressions of her illness and her new, circumscribed world. The film has some trouble holding on to its center — as in life, Balanchine proves a magnetic force, and Afternoon of a Faun feels inexorably drawn to his professional and personal details. We don’t get enough of Le Clercq, which you could say is the tragedy of her story — nobody did. But the letters do provide a sense of someone resourceful and responsive to life’s richness and joys, someone who would get past this crisis and find a way to reshape her life. (1:31) Opera Plaza. (Rapoport)

Bad Words Settling a grudge score whose precise origin remains unclear until late in the game, world-class misanthrope Guy Trilby (Jason Bateman) is celebrating his 40th birthday by competing in a national spelling bee. Yes, spelling bees are generally for children, and so is this one. But Guy has found a legal loophole permitting his participation, and the general hate wending his way from contest staff (Allison Janney, Philip Baker Hall) — let alone the tiger-mom-and-dad parents ready to form a lynch mob — is just icing on the cake where he’s concerned. What’s more, as some sort of majorly underachieving near-genius, he’s in fact well equipped to whup the bejesus out of overachieving eight-year-olds when it comes to saying the right letters out loud. The only people on his side, sorta, are the online journalist (Kathryn Hahn) reporting on his perverse quest, and the insidiously cute Indian American competitor (Rohan Chand) who wants to be besties, or perhaps just to psych him out. (Note: The tyke’s admitted favorite word is “subjugate.”) Written by Andrew Dodge, this comedy in the tradition (a little too obviously) of 2003’s Bad Santa and such provides the always enjoyable Bateman with not only a tailor-made lead role, but a directorial debut as well. He does just fine by both. Yet as nicely crafted and frequently-pretty-funny Bad Words is, at core it’s a rather petty movie — small, derivative, and cynically mean-spirited without the courage of genuine biliousness. It’s at once not-half-bad, and not half as badass as it pretends to be. (1:29) 1000 Van Ness. (Harvey)

Captain America: The Winter Soldier Marvel’s most wholesome hero returns in this latest film in the Avengers series, and while it doesn’t deviate from the expected formula (it’s not a spoiler to say that yes, the world is saved yet again), it manages to incorporate a surprisingly timely plot about the dangers of government surveillance. Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), hunkiest 95-year-old ever, is still figuring out his place in the 21st century after his post-World War II deep freeze. Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) has him running random rescue missions with the help of Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), but SHIELD is working on a top-secret project that will allow it to predict crimes before they occur. It isn’t long before Cap’s distrust of the weapon — he may be old-fashioned, but he ain’t stupid — uncovers a sinister plot led by a familiar enemy, with Steve’s former BFF Bucky doing its bidding as the science-experiment-turned-assassin Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan). Anthony Mackie, Robert Redford, and series regular Cobie Smulders are fine in supporting roles, and Johansson finally gets more to do than punch and pose, but the likable Evans ably carries the movie — he may not have the charisma of Robert Downey Jr., but he brings wit and depth to a role that would otherwise be defined mainly by biceps and CG-heavy fights. Oh, and you know the drill by now: superfans will want to stick around for two additional scenes tucked into the end credits. (2:16) Balboa, Marina, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Sundance Kabuki. (Eddy)

Cesar Chavez “You always have a choice,” Cesar Chavez (Michael Peña) tells his bullied son when advising him to turn the other cheek. Likewise, actor-turned-director Diego Luna had a choice when it came to tackling his first English-language film; he could have selected a less complicated, sprawling story. So he gets props for that simple act — especially at a time when workers’ rights and union power have been so dramatically eroded — and for his attempts to impact some complicated nuance to Chavez’s fully evident heroism. Painting his moving pictures in dusty earth tones and burnt sunlight with the help of cinematographer Enrique Chediak, Luna vaults straight into Chavez’s work with the grape pickers that would come to join the United Farm Workers — with just a brief voiceover about Chavez’s roots as the native-born son of a farm owner turned worker, post-Depression. Uprooting wife Helen (America Ferrera) and his family and moving to Delano as a sign of activist commitment, Chavez is seemingly quickly drawn into the 1965 strike by the Mexican workers’ sometime rivals: Filipino pickers (see the recent CAAMFest short documentary Delano Manongs for some of their side of the story). From there, the focus hones in on Chavez, speaking out against violence and “chicken shit macho ideals,” hunger striking, and activating unions overseas, though Luna does give voice to cohorts like Dolores Huerta (Rosario Dawson), growers like Bogdanovitch (John Malkovich), and the many nameless strikers — some of whom lost their lives during the astonishingly lengthy, taxing five-year strike. Luna’s win would be a blue-collar epic on par with 1979’s Norma Rae, and on some levels, he succeeds; scanning the faces of the weathered, hopeful extras in crowd scenes, you can’t help but feel the solidarity. The people have the power, as a poet once put it, and tellingly, his choice of Peña, stolidly opaque when charismatic warmth is called for, might be the key weakness here. One suspects the director or his frequent costar Gael García Bernal would make a more riveting Chavez. (1:38) Metreon. (Chun)

Cuban Fury (1:37) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness.

Divergent Based on the blockbuster dystopian-future YA novel by Veronica Roth (the first in a trilogy), Divergent is set in a future city-state version of Chicago in which society is divided into five character-based, color-coded factions: Erudite, Amity, Candor, Abnegation, and Dauntless. Like her peers, Beatrice Prior (Shailene Woodley), the film’s Abnegation-born teenage heroine, must choose a permanent faction — with the help of a standardized aptitude test that forgoes penciling in bubbles in favor of virtual reality psychic manipulation. When the test fails to triangulate her sole innate personality trait, she learns that she belongs to a secret, endangered sixth category: Divergent, an astonishing set of people who are not only capable of, say, acts of selflessness but can also produce intelligent thought, or manifest bravery in the face of danger. Forced to hide her aberrant nature in a society whose leaders (Kate Winslet) are prone to statements like “The future belongs to those who know where they belong,” and seemingly bored among Abnegation’s hive of gray cardigan-wearing worker bees, Beatrice chooses Dauntless, a dashing gang of black-clad, alterna-rock music video extras who jump on and off moving trains and live in a warehouse-chic compound whose dining hall recalls the patio at Zeitgeist. Fittingly, a surly, tattooed young man named Four (Theo James) leads Beatrice, now Tris, and her fellow initiates through a harsh proving regimen that, if they fail, will cast them into an impoverished underclass. Director Neil Burger (2006’s The Illusionist, 2011’s Limitless) and the behemoth marketing force behind Divergent are clearly hoping to stir up the kind of madness stoked by the Twilight and Hunger Games series, but while there are bones a-plenty to pick with those franchises, Divergent may have them beat for pure daffiness of premise and diameter of plot holes — and that’s after screenwriters Evan Daugherty and Vanessa Taylor’s major suturing of the source material’s lacunae. The daffiness doesn’t translate into imaginative world-building, and while a couple of scenes convey the visceral thrills of life in Dauntless, the tension between Tris and Four is awkwardly ratcheted up, and the film’s shift into a mode of crisis is equally jolting without generating much heat. (2:20) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness. (Rapoport)

Dom Hemingway We first meet English safecracker Dom (Jude Law) as he delivers an extremely verbose and flowery ode to his penis, addressing no one in particular, while he’s getting blown in prison. Whether you find this opening a knockout or painfully faux will determine how you react to the rest of Richard Shepard’s new film, because it’s all in that same overwritten, pseudo-shocking, showoff vein, Sprung after 12 years, Dom is reunited with his former henchman Dickie (Richard E. Grant), and the two go to the South of France to collect the reward owed for not ratting out crime kingpin Mr. Fontaine (Demian Bichir). This detour into the high life goes awry, however, sending the duo back to London, where Dom — who admits having “anger issues,” which is putting it mildly — tries to woo a new employer (Jumayn Hunter) and, offsetting his general loutishness with mawkish interludes, to re-ingratiate himself with his long-estranged daughter (Emilia Clarke). Moving into Guy Ritchie terrain with none of the deftness the same writer-director had brought to debunking James Bond territory in 2006’s similarly black-comedic crime tale The Matador, Dom Hemingway might bludgeon some viewers into sharing its air of waggish, self conscious merriment. But like Law’s performance, it labors so effortfully hard after that affect that you’re just as likely to find the whole enterprise overbearing. (1:33) Metreon, Sundance Kabuki. (Harvey)

Draft Day (2:00) 1000 Van Ness, Presidio, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki.

Finding Vivian Maier Much like In the Realms of the Unreal, the 2004 doc about Henry Darger, Finding Vivian Maier explores the lonely life of a gifted artist whose talents were discovered posthumously. In this case, however, the filmmaker — John Maloof, who co-directs with Charlie Siskel — is responsible for Maier’s rise to fame. A practiced flea-market hunter, he picked up a carton of negatives at a 2007 auction; they turned out to be striking examples of early street photography. He was so taken with the work (snapped by a woman so obscure she was un-Google-able) that he began posting images online. Unexpectedly, they became a viral sensation, and Maloof became determined to learn more about the camerawoman. Turns out Vivian Maier was a career nanny in the Chicago area, with plenty of former employers to share their memories. She was an intensely private person who some remembered as delightfully adventurous and others remembered as eccentric, mentally unstable, or even cruel; she was a hoarder who was distrustful of men, and she spoke with a maybe-fake French accent. And she was obsessed with taking photographs that she never showed to anyone; the hundreds of thousands now in Maloof’s collection (along with 8mm and 16mm films) offer the only insight into her creative mind. “She had a great eye, a sense of humor, and a sense of tragedy,” remarks acclaimed photographer Mary Ellen Mark. “But there’s a piece of the puzzle missing.” The film’s central question — why was Maier so secretive about her hobby? — may never be answered. But as the film also suggests, that mystery adds another layer of fascination to her keenly observed photos. (1:23) Clay. (Eddy)

The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden Extensive archival footage and home movies (plus one short, narrative film) enhance this absorbing doc from San Francisco-based Dayna Goldfine and Dan Geller (2005’s Ballets Russes). It tells the tale of a double murder that occurred in the early 1930s on Floreana — the most remote of the already scarcely-populated Galapagos Islands. A top-notch cast (Cate Blanchett, Diane Kruger, Connie Nielsen, Josh Radnour) gives voice to the letters and diary entries of the players in this stranger-than-fiction story, which involved an array of Europeans who’d moved away from civilization in search of utopian simplicity — most intriguingly, a maybe-fake Baroness and her two young lovers — and realized too late that paradise isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Goldfine and Geller add further detail to the historic drama by visiting the present-day Galapagos, speaking with residents about the lingering mystery and offering a glimpse of what life on the isolated islands is like today. (2:00) Embarcadero. (Eddy)

The Grand Budapest Hotel Is this the first Wes Anderson movie to feature a shootout? It’s definitely the first Anderson flick to include a severed head. That’s not to say The Grand Budapest Hotel, “inspired by” the works of Austrian novelist Stefan Zweig, represents too much of a shift for the director — his intricate approach to art direction is still very much in place, as are the deadpan line deliveries and a cast stuffed with Anderson regulars. But there’s a slightly more serious vibe here, a welcome change from 2012’s tooth-achingly twee Moonrise Kingdom. Thank Ralph Fiennes’ performance as liberally perfumed concierge extraordinaire M. Gustave, which mixes a shot of melancholy into the whimsy, and newcomer Tony Revolori as Zero, his loyal lobby boy, who provides gravitas despite only being a teenager. (Being played by F. Murray Abraham as an older adult probably helps in that department.) Hotel‘s early 20th century Europe setting proves an ideal canvas for Anderson’s love of detail — the titular creation rivals Stanley Kubrick’s rendering of the Overlook Hotel — and his supporting cast, as always, looks to be enjoying the hell out of being a part of Anderson’s universe, with Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, and Adrien Brody having particularly oversized fun. Is this the best Wes Anderson movie since 2001’s The Royal Tenenbaums? Yes. (1:40) Balboa, 1000 Van Ness, Presidio, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki, Vogue. (Eddy)

Jodorowsky’s Dune A Chilean émigré to Paris, Alejandro Jodorowsky had avant-garde interests that led him from theater and comic book art to film, making his feature debut with 1968’s Fando y Lis. Undaunted by its poor reception, he created El Topo (1970), a blood-soaked mix of spaghetti western, mysticism, and Buñuellian parabolic grotesquerie that became the very first “midnight movie.” After that success, he was given nearly a million dollars to “do what he wanted” with 1973’s similarly out-there The Holy Mountain, which became a big hit in Europe. French producer Michel Seydoux asked Jodorowsky what he’d like to do next. Dune, he said. In many ways it seemed a perfect match of director and material. Yet Dune would be an enormous undertaking in terms of scale, expense, and technical challenges. What moneymen in their right mind would entrust this flamboyant genius/nut job with it? They wouldn’t, as it turned out. So doc Jodorowsky’s Dune is the story of “the greatest film never made,” one that’s brain-exploding enough in description alone. But there’s more than description to go on here, since in 1975 the director and his collaborators created a beautifully detailed volume of storyboards and other preproduction minutiae they hoped would lure Hollywood studios aboard this space phantasmagoria. From this goldmine of material, as well as input from the surviving participants, Pavich is able to reconstruct not just the film’s making and unmaking, but to an extent the film itself — there are animated storyboard sequences here that offer just a partial yet still breathtaking glimpse of what might have been. (1:30) Embarcadero. (Harvey)

Joe “I know what keeps me alive is restraint,” says Nicolas Cage’s titular character, a hard-drinking, taciturn but honorable semi-loner who supervises a crew of laborers clearing undesirable trees in the Mississippi countryside. That aside, his business is mostly drinking, occasionally getting laid, and staying out of trouble — we glean he’s had more than enough of the latter in his past. Thus it’s against his better judgment that he helps out newly arrived transient teen Gary (the excellent Tye Sheridan, of 2012’s Mud and 2011’s The Tree of Life), who’s struggling to support his bedraggled mother and mute sister. Actually he takes a shine to the kid, and vice versa; the reason for caution is Gary’s father, whom he himself calls a “selfish old drunk.” And that’s a kind description of this vicious, violent, lazy, conscienceless boozehound, who has gotten his pitiful family thrown out of town many times before and no doubt will manage it once again in this new burg, where they’ve found an empty condemned house to squat in. David Gordon Green’s latest is based on a novel by the late Larry Brown, and like that writer’s prose, its considerable skill of execution manages to render serious and grimly palatable a steaming plate load of high white trash melodrama that might otherwise be undigestible. (Strip away the fine performances, staging and atmosphere, and there’s not much difference between Joe and the retro Southern grind house likes of 1969’s Shanty Tramp, 1974’s ‘Gator Bait or 1963’s Scum of the Earth.) Like Mud and 2011’s Killer Joe, this is a rural Gothic neither truly realistic or caricatured to the point of parody, but hanging between those two poles — to an effect that’s impressive and potent, though some may not enjoy wallowing in this particular depressing mire of grotesque nastiness en route to redemption. (1:57) Metreon, Presidio. (Harvey)

The Lego Movie (1:41) Metreon.

The Lunchbox Ila (Nimrat Kaur) is a self-possessed housewife and a great cook, whose husband confuses her for another piece of furniture. She tries to arouse his affections with elaborate lunches she makes and sends through the city’s lunchbox delivery service. Like marriage in India, lunchbox delivery has a failure rate of zero, which is what makes aberrations seem like magical occurrences. So when widow Saajan (Irrfan Khan) receives her adoring food, he humbly receives the magical lunches like a revival of the senses. Once Ila realizes her lunchbox is feeding the wrong man she writes a note and Saajan replies — tersely, like a man who hasn’t held a conversation in a decade — and the impossible circumstances lend their exchanges a romance that challenges her emotional fidelity and his retreat from society. She confides her husband is cheating. He confides his sympathy for men of lower castes. It’s a May/December affair if it’s an affair at all — but the chemistry we expect the actors to have in the same room is what fuels our urge to see it; that’s a rare and haunting dynamic. Newcomer Kaur is perfect as Ila, a beauty unmarked by her rigorous distaff; her soft features and exhausted expression lend a richness to the troubles she can’t share with her similarly stoic mother (Lillete Dubey). Everyone is sacrificing something and poverty seeps into every crack, every life, without exception — their inner lives are their richness. (1:44) Opera Plaza. (Vizcarrondo)

Mr. Peabody and Sherman Mr. P. (voiced by Ty Burrell) is a Nobel Prize-winning genius dog, Sherman (Max Charles) his adopted human son. When the latter attends his first day of school, his extremely precocious knowledge of history attracts jealous interest from bratty classmate Penny (Ariel Winter), with the eventual result that all three end up being transported in Peabody’s WABAC time machine to various fabled moments — involving Marie Antoinette, King Tut, the Trojan Horse, etc. — where Penny invariably gets them in deep trouble. Rob Minkoff’s first all-animation feature since The Lion King 20 years ago is spun off from the same-named segments in Jay Ward’s TV Rocky and Bullwinkle Show some decades earlier. It’s a very busy (sometimes to the brink of clutter), often witty, imaginatively constructed, visually impressive, and for the most part highly enjoyable comic adventure. The only minuses are some perfunctory “It’s about family”-type sentimentality — and scenarist Craig Wright’s determination to draw from history the “lesson” that nearly all women are pains in the ass who create problems they must then be rescued from. (1:30) 1000 Van Ness. (Harvey)

Muppets Most Wanted Building on the success of The Muppets, Jim Henson’s beloved creations return to capitalize on their revitalized (and Disney-owned) fame. This follow-up from Muppets director James Tobin — technically, it’s the seventh sequel to the original 1979 Muppet Movie, as Dr. Bunsen Honeydew points out in one of the film’s many meta moments — improves upon the 2011 film, which had its charms but suffered by concentrating too much on the Jason Segal-Amy Adams romance, not to mention annoying new kid Walter. Here, human co-stars Ricky Gervais, Tina Fey, and others (there are more cameos than you can count) are relegated to supporting roles, with the central conflict revolving around the Muppets’ inability to notice that Constantine, “the world’s most dangerous frog,” has infiltrated their group, sending Kermit to Siberian prison in his place. Constantine and his accomplice (Gervais, whose character’s last name is “Badguy”) use the Muppets’ world tour as a front for their jewel-heist operation; meanwhile, his infatuated warden (Fey) forces Kermit to direct the annual gulag musical. Not helping matters are a bumbling Interpol agent (Ty Burrell) and his CIA counterpart (Sam the American Eagle, natch). Really, all that’s needed is a simple plot, catchy songs, and plenty of room to let the Muppets do their thing — Miss Piggy and Animal are particularly enjoyable here; Walter’s still around, but he’s way more tolerable now that he’s gotten past his “man or muppet” angst — and the film delivers. All the knowing winks to the grown-up fans in the audience are just an appreciated bonus. (1:46) 1000 Van Ness, SF Center. (Eddy)

Noah Darren Aronofsky’s Biblical epic begins with a brief recap of prior Genesis events — creation is detailed a bit more in clever fashion later on — leading up to mankind’s messing up such that God wants to wipe the slate clean and start over. That means getting Noah (Russell Crowe), wife Naameh (Jennifer Connelly), and their three sons and one adopted daughter (Emma Watson) to build an ark that can save them and two of every animal species from the imminent slate-wiping Great Flood. (The rest of humanity, having sinned too much, can just feed the fishes.) They get some help from fallen angels turned into Ray Harryhausen-type giant rock creatures voiced by Nick Nolte and others. There’s an admirable brute force and some startling imagery to this uneven, somber, Iceland-shot tale “inspired” by the Good Book (which, needless to say, has endured more than its share of revisions over the centuries). Purists may quibble over some choices, including the device of turning minor Biblical figure Tubal-Cain (Ray Winstone) into a royal-stowaway villain, and political conservatives have already squawked a bit over Aronofsky’s not-so-subtle message of eco-consciousness, with Noah being bade to “replenish the Earth” that man has hitherto rendered barren. But for the most part this is a respectable, forceful interpretation that should stir useful discussion amongst believers and non believers alike. Its biggest problem is that after the impressively harrowing flood itself, we’re trapped on the ark dealing with the lesser crises of a pregnancy, a discontented middle son (Logan Lerman), and that stowaway’s plotting — ponderous intrigues that might have been leavened if the director had allowed us to hang out with the animals a little, rather than sedating the whole menagerie for the entire voyage. (2:07) 1000 Van Ness, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki. (Harvey)

Nymphomaniac: Volume I Found battered and unconscious in a back alley, Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) is taken in by good Samaritan Seligman (Stellan Skarsgaard), to whom she explains “It’s all my fault — I’m just a bad human being.” But he doesn’t believe there are such things. She seeks to enlighten him by narrating the story of her life so far, from carnally curious childhood to sexually voracious adulthood. Stacy Martin plays her younger self through a guided tour of excesses variously involving Christian Slater and Connie Nielsen as her parents; a buncha guys fucked on a train, on a teenage dare; Uma Thurman as one histrionically scorned woman; and Shai LaBeouf as a first love who’s a cipher either because he’s written that way, or because this particular actor can’t make sense out of him. For all its intended provocation, including some graphic but unsurprisingly (coming from this director) unerotic XXX action, von Trier’s latest is actually less offensive than much of his prior output: He’s regained his sense of humor here, and annoying as its “Look at me, I’m an unpredictable artist” crap can be (notably all the stuff about fly-fishing, cake forks, numerology, etc. that seems randomly drawn from some Great Big Book of Useless Trivia), the film’s episodic progress is divertingly colorful enough. But is Joe going to turn out to be more than a two-dimensional authorial device from a director who’s never exactly sussed women (or liked people in general)? Will Nymphomaniac arrive at some pointed whole greater than the sum of its naughty bits? The answer to both is probably “Nah.” But we won’t know for sure until the two-hour second half arrives (see review below) of a movie that, in fairness, was never really intended to be split up like this. (1:50) Smith Rafael. (Harvey)

Nymphomaniac, Volume II The second half of Lars von Trier’s anecdotal epic begins with Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) recalling the quasi-religious experience of her spontaneous first orgasm at age 12. Then she continues to tell bookish good Samaritan Seligman (Stellan Skarsgard) — who reveals he’s an asexual 60-something virgin — the story of her sexually compulsive life to date. Despite finding domestic stability at last with Jerome (Shia LeBeouf), she proves to have no talent for motherhood, and hits a tormenting period of frigidity eventually relieved only by the brutal ministrations of sadist K (Jamie Bell, burying Billy Elliott for good). She finds a suitable professional outlet for her peculiarly antisocial personality, working as a sometimes ruthless debt collector under the tutelage of L (Willem Dafoe), and he in turn encourages her to develop her own protégé in the form of needy teenager P (Mia Goth). If Vol. I raised the question “Will all this have a point?,” Vol. II provides the answer, and it’s (as expected) “Not really.” Still, there’s no room for boredom in the filmmaker’s most playfully arbitrary, entertaining, and least misanthropic (very relatively speaking) effort since his last four-hour-plus project 20 years ago, TV miniseries The Kingdom. Never mind that von Trier (in one of many moments when he uses Joe or Seligman as his mouthpiece) protests against the tyranny of political correctitude that renders a word like “Negro” unsayable — you’re still free to feel offended when his camera spends more time ogling two African men’s variably erect dicks in one brief scene that it does all the white actors’ cocks combined. But then there’s considerably more graphic content all around in this windup, which ends on a predictable note of cheap, melodramatic irony. But that’s part of the charm of the whole enterprise: Reeling heedlessly from the pedantic to the shocking to the trivial, like a spoiled child it manages to be kinda cute even when it’s deliberately pissing you off. (2:10) Opera Plaza, Smith Rafael. (Harvey)

Oculus Tim (Brenton Thwaites) and Kaylie (Karen Gillan) are grown siblings with a horrible shared past: When they were children, their parents (Rory Cochrane, Katee Sankhoff) moved them all into a nice suburban house, decorating it with, among other things, a 300-year-old mirror. But that antique seemed to have an increasingly disturbing effect on dad, then mom too, to ultimately homicidal, offspring-orphaning effect. Over a decade later, Tim is released from a juvenile mental lockup, ready to live a normal life after years of therapy have cleaned him of the supernatural delusions he think landed him there in the first place. Imagine his dismay when Kaylie announces she has spent the meantime researching aforementioned “evil mirror” — which turns out to have had a very gruesome history of mysteriously connected deaths — and painstakingly re-acquiring it. She means to destroy it so it can never wreak havoc, and has set up an elaborate room of camcorders and other equipment in which to “prove” its malevolence first, with Tim her very reluctant helper. Needless to say, this experiment (which he initially goes along with only in order to debunk the whole thing for good) turns out to be a very, very bad idea. The mirror is clever — demonically clever. It can warp time and perspective so our protagonists don’t know whether what they’re experiencing is real or not. Expanding on his 2006 short film (which was made before his excellent, little-seen 2011 horror feature Absentia), Mike Flanagan’s tense, atmospheric movie isn’t quite as scary as you might wish, partly because the villain (the spirit behind the mirror) isn’t particularly well-imagined in generic look or murky motivation. But it is the rare new horror flick that is genuinely intricate and surprising plot-wise — no small thing in the current landscape of endless remakes and rehashes. (1:44) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness. (Harvey)

On My Way Not for nothing too does the title On My Way evoke Going Places (1974): director Emmanuelle Bercot is less interested in exploring Catherine Deneuve’s at-times-chilled hauteur than roughing up, grounding, and blowing fresh country air through that still intimidatingly gorgeous image. Deneuve’s Bettie lost her way long ago — the former beauty queen, who never rose beyond her Miss Brittany status, is in a state of stagnation, working at her seafood restaurant, having affairs with married men, living with her mother, and still sleeping in her girlhood room. One workday mid-lunch hour, she gets in her car and drives, ignoring all her ordinary responsibilities and disappearing down the wormhole of dive bars and back roads. She seems destined to drift until her enraged, equally lost daughter Muriel (Camille) calls in a favor: give her son Charly (Nemo Schiffman) a ride to his paternal grandfather’s. It’s chance to reconnect and correct course, even after Bettie’s money is spent, her restaurant appears doomed, and the adorable, infuriating Charly acts out. The way is clear, however: what could have been a musty, predictable affair, in the style of so many boomer tales in the movie houses these days, is given a crucial infusion of humanity and life, as Bercot keeps an affectionate eye trained on the unglamorous everyday attractions of a French backwater and Deneuve works that ineffable charm that draws all eyes to her onscreen. Her Bettie may have kicked her cigarette habit long ago, but she’s still smokin’ — in every way. (1:53) Embarcadero. (Chun)

Particle Fever “We are hearing nature talk to us,” a physicist remarks in awe near the end of Particle Fever, Mark Levinson’s intriguing doc about the 2012 discovery of the Higgs boson particle. Earlier, another scientist says, “I’ve never heard of a moment like this in [science] history, where an entire field is hinging on a single event.” The event, of course, is the launch of the Large Hardon Collider, the enormous machine that enabled the discovery. Though some interest in physics is probably necessary to enjoy Particle Fever, extensive knowledge of quarks and such is not, since the film uses elegant animation to refresh the basics for anyone whose eyes glazed over during high-school science. But though he offers plenty of context, Levinson wisely focuses his film on a handful of genial eggheads who are involved in the project, either hands-on at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), or watching from afar as the mighty LHC comes to life. Their excitement brings a welcome warmth to the proceedings — and their “fever” becomes contagious. (1:39) Opera Plaza. (Eddy)

The Raid 2 One need not have seen 2011’s The Raid: Redemption to appreciate this latest collaboration between Welsh director Gareth Evans and Indonesian actor, martial artist, and fight choreographer Iko Uwais — it’s recommended, of course, but the sequel stands alone on its own merits. Overstuffed with gloriously brutal, cleverly choreographed fight scenes, The Raid 2 — sometimes written with the subtitle “Berendal,” which means “thugs” — picks up immediately after the events of the first film. Quick recap of part one: a special-forces team invades an apartment tower controlled by gangsters. Among the cops is idealistic Rama (Uwais). Seemingly bulletproof and fleet of fists and feet, Rama battles his way floor-by-floor, encountering machete-toting heavies and wild-eyed maniacs; he also soon realizes he’s working for a police department that’s as corrupt as the gangster crew. The Raid‘s gritty, unadorned approach resonated with thrillseeking audiences weary of CG overload. A second Raid film was inevitable, especially since Evans — who became interested in Indonesian martial arts, or pencak silat, while working on 2007 doc The Mystic Art of Indonesia — already had its story in mind: Rama goes undercover within a criminal organization, a ploy that necessitates he do a prison stint to gain the trust of a local kingpin. Naturally, not much goes according to plan, and much blood is shed along the way, as multiple power-crazed villains set their sinister plans into motion. With expanded locations and ever-more daring (yet bone-breakingly realistic) fight scenes aplenty — including a brawl inside a moving vehicle, and a muddy, bloody prison-yard riot — The Raid 2 more than delivers. Easily the action film of the year so far, with no contenders likely to topple it in the coming months. (2:19) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Sundance Kabuki. (Eddy)

Rio 2 (1:41) Four Star, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Presidio.

300: Rise of An Empire We pick up the 300 franchise right where director Zack Snyder left off in 2006, with this prequel-sequel, which spins off an as-yet-unreleased Frank Miller graphic novel. In the hands of director Noam Murro, with Snyder still in the house as writer, 300: Rise of an Empire contorts itself, flipping back and forth in time, in an attempt to explain the making of Persian evil prince stereotype Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) —all purring androgyny, fashionable piercings, and Iran-baiting, Bush-era malevolence — before following through on avenging 300‘s romantically outnumbered, chesty Spartans. As told by the angry, mourning Spartan Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey of Game of Thrones), the whole mess apparently began during the Battle of Marathon, when Athenian General Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton) killed Xerxes’s royal father with a well-aimed miracle arrow. That act ushers in Xerxes’s transformation into a “God King” bent on vengeance, aided and encouraged by his equally vengeful, elegantly mega-goth naval commander Artemisia (Eva Green), a Greek-hating Greek who likes to up the perversity quotient by making out with decapitated heads. In case you didn’t get it: know that vengeance is a prime mover for almost all the parties (except perhaps high-minded hottie Themistokles). Very loosely tethered to history and supplied with plenty of shirtless Greeks, taut thighs, wildly splintering ships, and even proto-suicide bombers, Rise skews toward a more naturalistic, less digitally waxy look than 300, as dust motes and fire sparks perpetually telegraph depth of field, shrieking, “See your 3D dollars hard at work!” Also working hard and making all that wrath look diabolically effortless is Green, who as the pitch-black counterpart to Gorga, turns out to be the real hero of the franchise, saving it from being yet another by-the-book sword-and-sandal war-game exercise populated by wholesome-looking, buff, blond jock-soldiers. Green’s feline line readings and languid camp attitude have a way of cutting through the sausage fest of the Greek pec-ing order, even during the Battle of, seriously, Salamis. (1:43) Metreon. (Chun)

Under the Skin At the moment, Scarlett Johansson is playing a superhero in the world’s top blockbuster. Her concurrent role in Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin — the tale of an alien who comes to earth to capture men, but goes rogue once her curiosity about the human world gets the better of her — could not be more different in story or scope. Her character’s camouflage (dark wig, thickly-applied lipstick) was carefully calibrated to make her unrecognizable, since Glazer (2000’s Sexy Beast) filmed the alien’s “pick-up” scenes — in which Johansson’s unnamed character cruises around Glasgow in a nondescript van, prowling for prey — using hidden cameras and real people who had no idea they were interacting with a movie star. The film takes liberties with its source material (Michel Farber’s novel), with “feeding” scenes that are far more abstract than as written in the book, allowing for one of the film’s most striking visual motifs. After the alien seduces a victim, he’s lured into what looks like a run-down house. The setting changes into a dark room that seems to represent an otherworldly void, with composer Mica Levi’s spine-tingling score exponentially enhancing the dread. What happens next? It’s never fully explained, but it doesn’t need to be. When the alien begins to mistakenly believe that her fleshy, temporary form is her own, she abandons her predatory quest — but her ill-advised exploration of humanity leads her into another dark place. A chilling, visceral climax caps one of the most innovative sci-fi movies in recent memory. (1:47) SF Center, Sundance Kabuki. (Eddy)

Le Week-End Director Roger Michell and writer Hanif Kureishi first collaborated two decades ago on The Buddha of Suburbia, when the latter was still in the business of being Britain’s brashest multiculti hipster voice. But in the last 10 years they’ve made a habit of slowing down to sketching portraits of older lives — and providing great roles for the nation’s bottomless well of remarkable veteran actors. Here Lindsay Duncan and Jim Broadbent play a pair of English academics trying to re-create their long-ago honeymoon’s magic on an anniversary weekend in Paris. They love each other, but their relationship is thorny and complicated in ways that time has done nothing to smooth over. This beautifully observed duet goes way beyond the usual adorable-old-coot terrain of such stories on screen; it has charm and humor, but these are unpredictable, fully rounded characters, not comforting caricatures. Briefly turning this into a seriocomedy three-way is Most Valuable Berserker Jeff Goldblum as an old friend encountered by chance. It’s not his story, but damned if he doesn’t just about steal the movie anyway. (1:33) Embarcadero. (Harvey) *

 

Aliens, haunted mirrors, photographic mysteries, and isolated islands: new movies!

0

It’s Friday, which means only one thing: new movies R herrre! Though Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier will probably keep body-slamming all the box-office competition, there are some not-to-be-missed flicks just arriving in theaters, including two fascinating docs and two eerie tales, including the remarkable Under the Skin. Read on! 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kTS4AsJprm4

Cuban Fury Nick Frost, Rashida Jones, and Chris O’Dowd star in this romantic comedy about competitive salsa dancing. (1:37)

Dom Hemingway We first meet English safecracker Dom (Jude Law) as he delivers an extremely verbose and flowery ode to his penis, addressing no one in particular, while he’s getting blown in prison. Whether you find this opening a knockout or painfully faux will determine how you react to the rest of Richard Shepard’s new film, because it’s all in that same overwritten, pseudo-shocking, showoff vein,  Sprung after 12 years, Dom is reunited with his former henchman Dickie (Richard E. Grant), and the two go to the South of France to collect the reward owed for not ratting out crime kingpin Mr. Fontaine (Demian Bichir). This detour into the high life goes awry, however, sending the duo back to London, where Dom — who admits having “anger issues,” which is putting it mildly — tries to woo a new employer (Jumayn Hunter) and, offsetting his general loutishness with mawkish interludes, to re-ingratiate himself with his long-estranged daughter (Emilia Clarke). Moving into Guy Ritchie terrain with none of the deftness the same writer-director had brought to debunking James Bond territory in 2006’s similarly black-comedic crime tale The Matador, Dom Hemingway might bludgeon some viewers into sharing its air of waggish, self conscious merriment. But like Law’s performance, it labors so effortfully hard after that affect that you’re just as likely to find the whole enterprise overbearing. (1:33) (Dennis Harvey)

Draft Day Kevin Costner stars in this comedy-drama set behind the scenes of the NFL. (2:00) 

Finding Vivian Maier Much like In the Realms of the Unreal, the 2004 doc about Henry Darger, Finding Vivian Maier explores the lonely life of a gifted artist whose talents were discovered posthumously. In this case, however, the filmmaker — John Maloof, who co-directs with Charlie Siskel — is responsible for Maier’s rise to fame. A practiced flea-market hunter, he picked up a carton of negatives at a 2007 auction; they turned out to be striking examples of early street photography. He was so taken with the work (snapped by a woman so obscure she was un-Google-able) that he began posting images online. Unexpectedly, they became a viral sensation, and Maloof became determined to learn more about the camerawoman. Turns out Vivian Maier was a career nanny in the Chicago area, with plenty of former employers to share their memories. She was an intensely private person who some remembered as delightfully adventurous and others remembered as eccentric, mentally unstable, or even cruel; she was a hoarder who was distrustful of men, and she spoke with a maybe-fake French accent. And she was obsessed with taking photographs that she never showed to anyone; the hundreds of thousands now in Maloof’s collection (along with 8mm and 16mm films) offer the only insight into her creative mind. “She had a great eye, a sense of humor, and a sense of tragedy,” remarks acclaimed photographer Mary Ellen Mark. “But there’s a piece of the puzzle missing.” The film’s central question — why was Maier so secretive about her hobby? — may never be answered. But as the film also suggests, that mystery adds another layer of fascination to her keenly observed photos. (1:23) (Cheryl Eddy)

The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden Extensive archival footage and home movies (plus one short, narrative film) enhance this absorbing doc from San Francisco-based Dayna Goldfine and Dan Geller (2005’s Ballets Russes). It tells the tale of a double murder that occurred in the early 1930s on Floreana — the most remote of the already scarcely-populated Galapagos Islands. A top-notch cast (Cate Blanchett, Diane Kruger, Connie Nielsen, Josh Radnour) gives voice to the letters and diary entries of the players in this stranger-than-fiction story, which involved an array of Europeans who’d moved away from civilization in search of utopian simplicity — most intriguingly, a maybe-fake Baroness and her two young lovers — and realized too late that paradise isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Goldfine and Geller add further detail to the historic drama by visiting the present-day Galapagos, speaking with residents about the lingering mystery and offering a glimpse of what life on the isolated islands is like today. (2:00) (Cheryl Eddy)

Interior. Leather Bar. James Franco and Travis Mathews’ “docufilm” imagines and recreates footage cut from the 1980 film Cruising. (1:00) Roxie.

Joe “I know what keeps me alive is restraint,” says Nicolas Cage’s titular character, a hard-drinking, taciturn but honorable semi-loner who supervises a crew of laborers clearing undesirable trees in the Mississippi countryside. That aside, his business is mostly drinking, occasionally getting laid, and staying out of trouble — we glean he’s had more than enough of the latter in his past. Thus it’s against his better judgement that he helps out newly arrived transient teen Gary (the excellent Tye Sheridan, of 2012’s Mud and 2011’s The Tree of Life), who’s struggling to support his bedraggled mother and mute sister. Actually he takes a shine to the kid, and vice versa; the reason for caution is Gary’s father, whom he himself calls a “selfish old drunk.” And that’s a kind description of this vicious, violent, lazy, conscienceless boozehound, who has gotten his pitiful family thrown out of town many times before and no doubt will manage it once again in this new burg, where they’ve found an empty condemned house to squat in. David Gordon Green’s latest is based on a novel by the late Larry Brown, and like that writer’s prose, its considerable skill of execution manages to render serious and grimly palatable a steaming plateload of high white trash melodrama that might otherwise be undigestible. (Strip away the fine performances, staging and atmosphere, and there’s not much difference between Joe and the retro Southern grindhouse likes of 1969’s Shanty Tramp, 1974’s ‘Gator Bait or 1963’s Scum of the Earth.) Like Mud and 2011’s Killer Joe, this is a rural Gothic neither truly realistic or caricatured to the point of parody, but hanging between those two poles — to an effect that’s impressive and potent, though some may not enjoy wallowing in this particular depressing mire of grotesque nastiness en route to redemption. (1:57) (Dennis Harvey)

Oculus Tim (Brenton Thwaites) and Kaylie (Karen Gillan) are grown siblings with a horrible shared past: When they were children, their parents (Rory Cochrane, Katee Sankhoff) moved them all into a nice suburban house, decorating it with, among other things, a 300-year-old mirror. But that antique seemed to have an increasingly disturbing effect on dad, then mom too, to ultimately homicidal, offspring-orphaning effect. Over a decade later, Tim is released from a juvenile mental lockup, ready to live a normal life after years of therapy have cleaned him of the supernatural delusions he think landed him there in the first place. Imagine his dismay when Kaylie announces she has spent the meantime researching aforementioned “evil mirror” — which turns out to have had a very gruesome history of mysteriously connected deaths — and painstakingly re-acquiring it. She means to destroy it so it can never wreak havoc, and has set up an elaborate room of camcorders and other equipment in which to “prove” its malevolence first, with Tim her very reluctant helper. Needless to say, this experiment (which he initially goes along with only in order to debunk the whole thing for good) turns out to be a very, very bad idea. The mirror is clever — demonically clever. It can warp time and perspective so our protagonists don’t know whether what they’re experiencing is real or not. Expanding on his 2006 short film (which was made before his excellent, little-seen 2011 horror feature Absentia), Mike Flanagan’s tense, atmospheric movie isn’t quite as scary as you might wish, partly because the villain (the spirit behind the mirror) isn’t particularly well-imagined in generic look or murky motivation. But it is the rare new horror flick that is genuinely intricate and surprising plot-wise — no small thing in the current landscape of endless remakes and rehashes. (1:44) (Dennis Harvey)

Rio 2 More 3D tropical adventures with animated birds Blu (Jesse Eisenberg) and Jewel (Anne Hathaway) and their menagerie of pals, with additional voices by Andy Garcia, Leslie Mann, Bruno Mars, Jamie Foxx, and more. (1:41)

Under the Skin See “The Hunger.” (1:47)

Defense attorneys say Shrimp Boy is innocent; slam feds

Who is Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow? In the 137-page federal complaint detailing charges that led to the high-profile arrest of Sen. Leland Yee, Chow, and 24 others two weeks ago, Chow is described as the powerful “Dragonhead” of an ancient Chinese organized crime syndicate, “overseeing a vast criminal enterprise involved in drugs, guns, prostitution, protection rackets, moving stolen booze and cigarettes, and money laundering,” as we reported at the time.

Not so, famed defense attorney Tony Serra told a crowd of reporters at Pier 5 Law Offices in San Francisco’s North Beach district, where he and fellow attorneys were joined by supporters wearing red tees bearing the slogan “Free Shrimp Boy.”

Attorneys Serra and Curtis Briggs described a five-year federal operation to target Chow and ensnare him in wrongdoing, insisting he had wanted no part in criminal activity. Serra said agents had “stuffed money into his pocket” despite his protests, and noted that his legal team was representing Chow pro bono because he has no money.

Here are a few words from Serra, followed by Briggs.

Eli Crawford, a longtime friend of Chow’s who said he’d worked as an orderly at a Dublin prison when Chow was held in solitary confinement there years ago, described Chow as a spiritual person who had taken a vow to disengage from wrongdoing in the wake of his criminal past.

Chow was initially appointed a federal public defender, but the team of lawyers has stepped in to take over his defense. Serra said he believed they would enter pleas of not guilty on all counts on Tuesday, when a court hearing is scheduled before a federal magistrate. A court date tomorrow (Fri/11) will deal primarily with discovery, he said. In May, the defense attorneys plan to bring a motion for bail.

Asked about Chow’s link to Yee, Serra said he believed there was “no nexus, no relationship whatsoever.” Serra said he doubted if all defendants named in the complaint would proceed to trial, guessing that some would cooperate or take plea deals.

“If we are really going to trial with Yee,” Serra said, he’d have to think carefully about whether to move for a separate trial.

“Sometimes the strategy is, no, I want to be with him – mainly because, one, there’s no nexus, and two, he’s going to go down,” Serra said. “And that gives the jury, maybe a satisfied appetite, you know, for justice.”

Avalos: Should SFPD officers wear body mounted cameras?

The fatal shooting of Alejandro Nieto, a man who possessed a Taser that was mistaken for a firearm who was killed in Bernal Heights Park, produced a backlash of community anger toward the San Francisco Police Department. It was the first thing Sup. John Avalos mentioned when he called for a hearing on equipping officers with body-mounted video cameras at the April 8 Board of Supervisors meeting.

Avalos knew Nieto, and the incident struck close to home. He mentioned another recent incident of police violence at City College of San Francisco in which officers targeted student protesters; video footage from a bystander shows an officer releasing his nightstick, making a fist, and throwing a punch at someone already being restrained.

“These incidents show that there’s a great deal of work we need to do … to build trust between members of the community and the police department,” Avalos said. “These incidents involved people I knew and it almost makes me feel how widespread the problem can be.”

Police body-mounted cameras have been tried in New York, Los Angeles, New Orleans and other places as a way to shore up police accountability and provide a record of officer interactions with targeted suspects, Avalos said, and there is support for the technology both among law enforcement communities and civil liberties watchdog organizations.

“Many police support these cameras because they can help protect police officers against false accusations,” Avalos noted. “Watchdog groups support police body-mounted cameras because they can help reduce incidents of police misconduct. The [American Civil Liberties Union] supports the cameras because they allow the public to monitor the government, instead of the other way around.”

Avalos’ request called for a review of the feasibility of equipping police officers with body cams, taking concerns about cost and privacy into consideration, plus a cost-benefit analysis to show how the cost of the cameras would compare with potential savings from reductions in citizen complaints and use-of-force lawsuits.

SFPD spokesperson Sgt. Danielle Newman noted that the SFPD is already in contract negotiations for a pilot program that would equip 50 plainclothes sergeants with body-mounted cameras. The program would be funded through a federal grant, Newman said, and the department has not yet received the cameras or hashed out policies spelling out how long data would be stored, how often they would be used, or whether officers would be able to switch them on and off at will.

Newman said the pilot program grew out of allegations that undercover officers had stolen property and violated the civil rights of SRO residents during searches of their units, incidents that were initially brought to light by the San Francisco Public Defender and more recently became the subject of a federal indictment.

“When Chief Suhr took over, he was looking at ways to ensure that those things don’t happen again,” Newman explained. The department was under the leadership of former Police Chief George Gascon when the officers now facing charges were caught on film by SRO surveillance cameras.

Despite the planned pilot, Newman said Suhr was less certain about the idea of equipping 1,500 to 2,000 officers with body cameras, as Avalos’ request is geared toward.

“The concern with the chief is that with San Francisco, we haven’t been able to get crime cams put up,” she said, let alone having all officers record all police contact with the public. “That’s something that would need to be ironed out.”

Newman added that there were cost and logistical concerns associated with storage of bulk data generated by the cameras.

Rachel Lederman, an attorney with the National Lawyers Guild who represented Occupy protester Scott Olsen in a police misconduct case that left Olsen with lasting brain injuries and resulted in a $4.5 million settlement, said she was skeptical of body cams as a “quick fix” for police violence.

Oakland police officers are equipped with personal digital recording devices, she noted, but in the incident the left Olsen permanently injured, “there were 11 police officers with less-lethal weapons who were supposed to have PDRDs on – but didn’t.”

Lederman said that based on her experience, the footage that is captured on body cams is kept under lock and key by police, and remains hidden to all but doggedly persistent criminal attorneys. In practice, “journalists and affected people can’t get it without a lawyer,” she said, because police departments tend to withhold the footage with the excuse that it pertains to ongoing investigations.

In order to serve as an effective tool for holding law enforcement accountable, Lederman said, body-cam videos “have to be produced under the Public Records Act.”

Lederman added that the video quality tends to be low, officers can turn them on and off at will, and “they try to use them as evidence against people they are arresting.”

Still, a study in Rialto, California that was undertaken by a group of Cambridge University researchers determined that police use-of-force and complaints against police officers declined dramatically after officers were outfitted with the recording devices.

“The findings suggest more than a 50 percent reduction in the total number of incidents of use-of-force compared to control-conditions, and nearly ten times more citizens’ complaints in the 12-months prior to the experiment,” the authors concluded.

Lederman believes those findings are somewhat misleading, however. “Rialto has 66 police officers,” she pointed out. “It’s not really comparable to San Francisco or Oakland.”

This Week’s Picks: April 9 – 15, 2014

0

WEDNESDAY 9

Haim

The flower children of the 21st century will be playing at the Fillmore tonight and tomorrow night kicking off their North American tour. Haim, an LA-based rock band, consists of three sisters that look like they jumped out of a fashionable Tumblr. An edgy rock sound with breathy vocals and ’80s beats, the band’s debut album Days Are Gone was touted as one of the best rock albums of 2013. The trio has often been compared to Fleetwood Mac — in some circles, the highest of compliments in the music world. Three Stevie Nicks for the price of one!

7pm, $25

The Fillmore

1805 Geary, SF

(415) 346-6000

www.thefillmore.com

 

 

THURSDAY 10

‘Invidious’

Installations are a way of reaching audiences bored with buying a ticket and sitting down for the next two hours. They give the viewer a choice of how she might want to see a work — a sort of slow motion or fast-forwarding button on a TV remote control. Sometimes, however, putting a piece into a specific context makes a lot of sense. Take FACT/SF’s new Invidious, choreographer Charles Slender’s “domestic dance theater piece,” which hits home (if you’ll excuse the language) with issues surrounding the so-called American dream and the price it exacts emotionally, intellectually and financially on all those who still believe in it. What better way than to plant such work in an actual home? (Secret revealed: it’s in the Mission). (Rita Felciano)

Through April 13, 6:30 and 9pm, $40

Exact location in SF revealed after ticket reservation

www.brownpapertickets.com/event/596283

 

Matt Taibbi

Known for calling Goldman Sachs “a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity,” former Rolling Stone contributing editor Matt Taibbi has dedicated his entire career to revealing the slimy underbelly of our country’s key institutions and formative events. Furthering his mission is Taibbi’s new book The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap. In it, he draws a scathing portrait of American injustice, denouncing how the country turned poverty into a crime and wealth into a “get out of jail free” card. Tonight, he’ll speak about the connection between mass incarcerations of the poor and the unpunished crimes of the rich, with guest speaker Clara Jeffrey, co-editor of Mother Jones, joining the conversation. (Laura B. Childs)

6:30pm, $20

Commonwealth Club

595 Market St, SF

(415) 597-6700

www.commonwealthclub.org

 

FRIDAY 11

Future Islands

Future Islands’ frontman Samuel T. Herring is so awesome he’s achieved one of the internet’s highest levels of honor — he’s now a meme. Herring ascended to memedom after Future Islands’ bonkers performance on Letterman last month, at the end of which, Letterman — who feigns interest for a living — expressed genuine excitement about their performance, exclaiming “I’ll take all of that you got!” Watching Herring perform is like witnessing someone doing a rain dance while being exorcised at the same time; if you watched the show without sound you’d likely still enjoy it. The band is touring of their latest synth-punk LP, Singles. (George McIntire)

8pm, $20

The Chapel

777 Valencia, SF

www.thechapelsf.com

 

Harold Ramis Tribute

The world lost a comic genius far too soon when Harold Ramis — writer-director of Caddyshack, National Lampoon’s Vacation, and Groundhog Day, as well as acting in Ghostbusters, among others — passed away in February at the age of 69. Lucky for us, his sweetly irreverent, deceptively smart work lives on, not only on the big screen but in the films of countless younger writers and directors who took their comic cues from him (see: the majority of screwball comedies made since 1990). This two-day tribute starts out with the subtly brilliant Groundhog Day and classic golf send-up Caddyshack on Friday, followed by a triple-feature Saturday with National Lampoon’s Vacation, Stripes, and Animal House. We think Ramis would be pleased, though that’s wholly unnecessary; it’s likely he’s already achieved total consciousness. (Emma Silvers)

7 and 8:55pm, $11

Castro Theatre

429 Castro, SF

www.castrotheatre.com

 

Teen Night: “Visions of an Abolitionist Future”

Hey, let’s build more jails and put everyone who we don’t like in them! That seems to be America’s M.O. at the mo’. The intrepid youth of YBCA’s Young Artists at Work program are looking at the malignant growth of the prison-industrial complex and the moral and economic price of mass incarceration — and theorizing strategies for intervention, change, and liberation. They do this through provocative art, producing video, illustration, sculpture, multimedia installation, and performance (including one stunning dance piece utilizing live, beamed-in choreography performed by prisoners themselves). The YAAW program gathers together youth from high schools around the Bay Area for a year-long artistic inquiry into hot topics: This Teen Night is where you can hear and support the creative, inspiring, and so far free voice of our youth today. (Marke B.)

6pm-10pm, free

YBCA

701 Mission, SF

(415) 978-2700

www.ybca.org

 

 

SATURDAY 12

Willie Nelson

This octogenarian still has a lot to say. With a six-decade career and over 200 albums in his catalog, and more than 200 nights per year spent on the road, Willie Nelson has earned every bit of the retirement he has no interest in taking. Performing with his two wickedly talented sons, Nelson has lost none of his charm and still plays all the hits. Well, not all the hits — that might take all night. For those who’ve never seen Nelson live, don’t miss what might be one of your last chances to see his incredibly tender and heartfelt act. Nelson still cares about a lot of things —farm workers’ rights, the legalization of marijuana, gay rights —and his fans clearly rank toward the top of this list. So fire up a joint and raise it (and pass it) to this living legend tonight. (Haley Zaremba)

With Drive-By Truckers, Shovels and Rope

7pm, $49.50

Greek Theatre

2001 Gayley, Berkeley

(510) 548-3010

www.apeconcerts.com

 

 

Goat

According to members of the band Goat, the group’s origins can be traced back to a remote village in Sweden, and an ongoing collective of different group members over the years, each remaining somewhat anonymous behind masks and costumes, both in photos and during live performances. Goat’s first major release, World Music, came out in Europe in 2012, and Sub Pop Records released the band’s first North American single, “Dreambuilding,” last year; expect a wild mix of ritual drumming, chanting, and a bit of voodoo mythology strewn over dizzying psychedelic rock. (Sean McCourt)

9pm, $20

Slim’s

333 11th St, SF

(415) 255-0333

www.slimspresents.com

 

 

Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival

If your allergies are too much to handle this spring, rejoice in this year’s Cherry Blossom Festival in Japantown. You won’t be a victim of itchy eyes, sneezing, or a red nose during this weekend’s celebration of Japanese culture. From sumo-e ink painting, calligraphy and origami demonstrations to classical and folk performances, indulge in a two weekend-long affair. Traditional Japanese music will fill the air as well as taiko and karaoke concerts. Just in case, pack an extra Claritin for the bonsai and ikebana flower arranging exhibits!

11am-5pm, free

April 12-13, 19-20 (parade is 1pm on April 20)

SF Japantown

(415) 563-2313

www.sfcherryblossom.org

 

SUNDAY 13

 

KUSF’s Rock ‘N’ Swap

For over 25 years, this record swap has promised (and delivered) some of the best hard-to-find vinyl, CDs, posters, and other music paraphernalia that any good audiophile could ask for. Out-of-print jazz records from 1932? The original Annie soundtrack on cassette? Stickers from that punk show you’re too young to have actually been to? Step right up and state your case at this KUSF-organized staple, and don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation — if you have esoteric tastes, this is a pretty good place to make new friends, too. (Emma Silvers)

7am-4pm, $3-$10

McLaren Hall, USF Campus

2130 Fulton, SF

(415) 386-5873

www.usfca.edu/kusf/rock-n-swap

 

MONDAY 14

Toy Dolls

Fun-loving British punk band The Toy Dolls are celebrating 35 years of joyfully madcap songs like “James Bond Lives Down Our Street,” “Yul Brenner Was A Skinhead,” and their biggest hit, a cover of an old English children’s song, “Nellie The Elephant.” Though the band has gone through innumerable lineup changes over the years, they continue to be lead by founding member and singer-guitarist Michael “Olga” Algar, and now perform as a power trio, having toured across the world. The Toy Dolls come to the states this month in support of their latest album, 2012’s cheekily titled The Album After The Last One. (Sean McCourt)

With Swingin’ Utters

8pm, $25-$27

The Regency Ballroom

1300 Van Ness, SF

www.theregencyballroom.com

 

MS MR

Thanks to their 2012 single “Hurricane,” MS MR have exploded into buzz blogs and newsfeeds internationally. Even if you think you you’re not familiar with this nascent New York duo, you are. “Hurricane” was a runway favorite at Fashion Week and on every pop station, while “Bones” was featured in the trailers for Game of Thrones’ third season — you’ve probably even caught yourself humming along to the band’s mega-catchy sound. Comprised of two Vassar alums, one singer-songwriter and Neon Gold founder and one dancer-choreographer, MS MR is a both a dream team of immediately accessible alt-pop and an explosive stage presence. And hey, if Westeros approves, what is there left to discuss? (Zaremba)

With Jagwar Ma

8pm, $25

The Fillmore

1805 Geary, SF

(415) 346-3000

www.thefillmore.com

Theater Listings: April 9 – 15, 2014

0

Stage listings are compiled by Guardian staff. Performance times may change; call venues to confirm. Reviewers are Robert Avila, Rita Felciano, and Nicole Gluckstern. Submit items for the listings at listings@sfbg.com.

THEATER

OPENING

Fences Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller, Mill Valley; www.marintheatre.org. $37-58. Previews Thu/10-Sat/12, 8pm; Sun/13, 7pm. Opens Tue/15, 8pm. Runs Tue and Thu-Sat, 8pm (also April 19, May 3, and May 10, 2pm; April 24, 1pm); Wed, 7:30pm; Sun, 2 and 7pm. Through May 11. Marin Theatre Company performs August Wilson’s Pulitzer- and Tony-winning drama, with an all-star cast of Bay Area talent: Carl Lumbly, Steven Anthony Jones, and Margo Hall.

Smash Dragon Theatre, 2120 Broadway, Redwood City; www.dragonproductions.net. $30. Previews Thu/10, 8pm. Opens Fri/11, 8pm. Runs Thu-Sat, 8pm; Sun, 2pm. Through May 4. Dragon Theatre performs Jeffrey Hatcher’s political comedy.

Tribes Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Roda Theatre, 2015 Addison, Berk; www.berkeleyrep.org. $29-99. Previews Fri/11-Sat/12 and Tue/15, 8pm; Sun/13, 7pm. Opens April 16, 8pm. Runs Tue and Thu-Sat, 8pm (also Sat, 2pm); Wed and Sun, 7pm (also Sun, 2pm). Berkeley Rep performs Nina Raine’s family drama about a young deaf man who comes of age.

ONGOING

Bauer San Francisco Playhouse, 450 Post, SF; www.sfplayhouse.org. Tue-Thu, 7pm; Fri-Sat, 8pm (also Sat, 3pm); Sun/13, 2pm. Through April 19. San Francisco Playhouse presents the world premiere of Lauren Gunderson’s drama about artist Rudolf Bauer.

E-i-E-i-OY! In Bed with the Farmer’s Daughter NOHSpace, 2840 Mariposa, SF; www.vivienstraus.com. $20. Fri-Sat, 8pm. Through May 10. Vivien Straus performs her autobiographical solo show.

Every Five Minutes Magic Theatre, Fort Mason Center, Marina at Laguna, SF; www.magictheatre.org. $20-60. Tue, 7pm; Fri-Sat, 8pm (also Wed/9, 2:30pm); Sun, 2:30pm. Through April 20. Magic Theatre presents the world premiere of Linda McLean’s drama about a man’s homecoming after years behind bars.

Feisty Old Jew Marsh San Francisco Main Stage, 1062 Valencia, SF; www.themarsh.org. $25-100. Sat, 8pm; Sun, 7pm. Extended through May 4. Charlie Varon performs his latest solo show, a fictional comedy about “a 20th century man living in a 21st century city.”

Foodies! The Musical Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter, SF; www.foodiesthemusical.com. $32-34. Fri-Sat, 8pm. Open-ended. AWAT Productions presents Morris Bobrow’s musical comedy revue all about food.

The Habit of Art Z Below Theatre, 470 Florida, SF; www.therhino.org. $15-25. Wed/9-Sat/12, 8pm; Sun/13, 3pm. Theatre Rhinoceros performs a “very British comedy” by History Boys author Alan Bennett.

Hundred Days Z Space, 450 Florida, SF; www.zspace.org. $10-100. Thu/10-Sat/12, 8pm; Sun/13, 7pm. Married musical duo the Bengsons (Abigail and Shaun) provide the real-life inspiration and guiding rock ‘n’ roll heart for this uneven but at times genuinely rousing indie musical drama, a self-referential meta-theater piece relating the story of a young couple in 1940s America who fall madly in love only to discover one of them is terminally ill. As an exploration of love, mortality, and the nature of time, the story of Sarah and Will (doubled by the Bengsons and, in movement sequences and more dramatically detailed scenes, by chorus members Amy Lizardo and Reggie D. White) draws force from the potent musical performances and songwriting of composer-creators Abigail and Shaun Bengson (augmented here by the appealing acting-singing chorus and backup band that also feature El Beh, Melissa Kaitlyn Carter, Geneva Harrison, Kate Kilbane, Jo Lampert, Delane Mason, Joshua Pollock). Playwright Kate E. Ryan’s book, however, proves too straightforward, implausible, and sentimental to feel like an adequate vessel for the music’s exuberant, urgent emotion and lilting, longing introspection. Other trappings of director Anne Kauffman’s elaborate production (including an inspired set design by Kris Stone that echoes the raw industrial shell of the theater; and less-than-inspired choreography by the otherwise endlessly inventive Joe Goode) can add texture at times but also prove either neutral figures or distracting minuses in conveying what truth and heft there is in the material. Ultimately, this still evolving world premiere has a strong musical beat at its core, which has a palpable force of its own, even if it’s yet to settle into the right combination of story and staging. (Avila)

I Never Lie: The Pinocchio Project Phoenix Theatre, 414 Mason, SF; www.99stockproductions.org. $15. Thu/10-Sat/12, 8pm. 99 Stock Productions performs Meredith Eden’s bold fairytale retelling.

Lovebirds Marsh San Francisco Studio, 1062 Valencia, SF; www.themarsh.org. $15-50. Thu/10-Fri/11, 8pm; Sat/12, 8:30pm. Theater artist and comedian Marga Gomez presents the world premiere of her 10th solo show, described as “a rollicking tale of incurable romantics.”

Painting the Clouds With Sunshine Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson, SF; www.42ndStMoon.org. $25-75. Wed-Thu, 7pm; Fri, 8pm; Sat, 6pm (also Sat/12, 1pm); Sun, 3pm. Through April 20. 42nd Street Moon performs a world premiere, a first for the company: Greg MacKellan and Mark D. Kaufmann’s tribute to songs from 1930s movie musicals.

Pearls Over Shanghai Hypnodrome Theatre, 575 10th St, SF; www.thrillpeddlers.com. $30-35. Thu-Sat, 8pm. Through May 31. Thrillpeddlers present the fifth anniversary revival production of its enormously popular take on the 1971 Cockettes musical.

The Scion Marsh San Francisco, 1062 Valencia, SF; www.themarsh.org. $15-60. Thu-Fri, 8pm; Sat, 5pm. Through April 18. In his latest solo show, Brian Copeland (Not a Genuine Black ManThe Waiting Period) explores an infamous crime in his hometown of San Leandro: the 2000 murder of three government meat inspectors by Stuart Alexander, owner of the Santos Linguisa Factory. The story is personal history for Copeland, at least indirectly, as the successful comedian and TV host recounts growing up nearby under the common stricture that “rules are rules,” despite evidence all around that equity, fairness, and justice are in fact deeply skewed by privilege. Developed with director David Ford, the multiple-character monologue (delivered with fitful humor on a bare-bones stage with supportive sound design by David Hines) contrasts Copeland’s own youthful experiences as a target of racial profiling with the way wealthy and white neighbor Stuart Alexander, a serial bully and thug, consistently evaded punishment and even police attention along his path to becoming the “Sausage King,” a mayoral candidate, and a multiple murderer (Alexander died in 2005 at San Quentin). The story takes some meandering turns in making its points, and not all of Copeland’s characterizations are equally compelling. The subject matter is timely enough, however, though ironically it is government that seems to set itself further than ever above the law as much as wealthy individuals or the bogus “legal persons” of the corporate world. The results of such concentrated power are indeed unhealthy, and literally so — Copeland’s grandmother (one of his more persuasive characterizations) harbors a deep distrust of processed food that is nothing if not prescient — but The Scion’s tale of two San Leandrans leaves one hungry for more complexity. (Avila)

She Rode Horses Like the Stock Exchange Thick House, 1695 18th St, SF; www.crowdedfire.org. $15-35. Wed/9-Sat/12, 8pm. Crowded Fire offers a fine West Coast premiere of a clever if less than satisfying satire of the nouveaux riche and pauvre by American playwright Amelia Roper, in which two married couples meet on the grass of their neighborhood park and unravel their tangled, starkly childlike relations and dreams. Amy (a sharp and spirited Zehra Berkman) is a smart and restless woman who knows what she wants and can get it too, but without the slightest idea of how to sit comfortably still and enjoy a sunny Sunday morning. Her husband, Henry (a droll, unfussy, good-natured George Sellner), is clearly the antidote to the corporate jungle Amy works in, an agreeably boyish nurse and nurturer, who alleviates the stress of his own workweek in a children’s cancer ward with a scoop of strawberry-flavored ice cream on a cone. Soon they are sharing their modest picnic blanket with a bounding, slightly older couple, well-pampered housewife Sara (Marilee Talkington, alternately splendid and deflated in a beautifully modulated performance) and bank-owning breadwinner Max (an equally dynamic Kevin Clarke, outwardly suave yet reveling in Ubu-esque paroxysms of infantile yearning). Against a backdrop of post-pastoral suburban ease (succinctly evoked in scenic designer Maya Linke’s dangling mobiles, a lovely abstraction of dappled light and trees), we see the couples first commiserate then trade places, like pirate ships on the high seas of finance capitalism. Yet their viciousness has a gentleness around it too, like children playing pirates. In their jockeying, they seem both utterly willful and beyond their ken, while the triumphs and possibilities of a bygone innocence reassert themselves in unguarded moments like a lost Eden. If anything, the play hits its themes (including this sandbox metaphor) a little too forcefully even for satire, and its fleet 80 minutes get only so far in producing a sense of personal and systemic exhaustion as well as transcendence. The play’s agile humor and director M. Graham Smith’s strong and astute cast make the going a pleasure, however, even if we leave wanting a deeper excavation of that pristine lawn. (Avila)

Shit & Champagne Rebel, 1772 Market, SF; shitandchampagne.eventbrite.com. $25. Fri-Sat, 8pm. Open-ended. D’Arcy Drollinger is Champagne White, bodacious blond innocent with a wicked left hook in this cross-dressing ’70s-style white-sploitation flick, played out live on Rebel’s intimate but action-packed barroom stage. Written by Drollinger and co-directed with Laurie Bushman (with high-flying choreography by John Paolillo, Drollinger, and Matthew Martin), this high-octane camp send-up of a favored formula comes dependably stocked with stock characters and delightfully protracted by a convoluted plot (involving, among other things, a certain street drug that’s triggered an epidemic of poopy pants) — all of it played to the hilt by an excellent cast that includes Martin as Dixie Stampede, an evil corporate dominatrix at the head of some sinister front for world domination called Mal*Wart; Alex Brown as Detective Jack Hammer, rough-hewn cop on the case and ambivalent love interest; Rotimi Agbabiaka as Sergio, gay Puerto Rican impresario and confidante; Steven Lemay as Brandy, high-end calf model and Champagne’s (much) beloved roommate; and Nancy French as Rod, Champagne’s doomed fiancé. Sprawling often literally across two buxom acts, the show maintains admirable consistency: The energy never flags and the brow stays decidedly low. (Avila)

The Speakeasy Undisclosed location (ticket buyers receive a text with directions), SF; www.thespeakeasysf.com. $70 (gambling chips, $5-10 extra; after-hours admission, $10). Thu-Sat, 7:40, 7:50, and 8pm admittance times. Extended through May 24. Boxcar Theater’s most ambitious project to date is also one of the more involved and impressively orchestrated theatrical experiences on any Bay Area stage just now. An immersive time-tripping environmental work, The Speakeasy takes place in an “undisclosed location” (in fact, a wonderfully redesigned version of the company’s Hyde Street theater complex) amid a period-specific cocktail lounge, cabaret, and gambling den inhabited by dozens of Prohibition-era characters and scenarios that unfold around an audience ultimately invited to wander around at will. At one level, this is an invitation to pure dress-up social entertainment. But there are artistic aims here too. Intentionally designed (by co-director and creator Nick A. Olivero with co-director Peter Ruocco) as a fractured super-narrative — in which audiences perceive snatches of overheard stories rather than complete arcs, and can follow those of their own choosing — there’s a way the piece becomes specifically and ever more subtly about time itself. This is most pointedly demonstrated in the opening vignettes in the cocktail lounge, where even the ticking of Joe’s Clock Shop (the “cover” storefront for the illicit 1920s den inside) can be heard underscoring conversations (deeply ironic in historical hindsight) about war, loss, and regained hope for the future. For a San Francisco currently gripped by a kind of historical double-recurrence of the roaring Twenties and dire Thirties at once, The Speakeasy is not a bad place to sit and ponder the simulacra of our elusive moment. (Avila)

“Standing On Ceremony: The Gay Marriage Plays” New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness, SF; www.nctcsf.org. $25-45. Wed-Sat, 8pm; Sun, 2pm. Through April 27. New Conservatory Theatre Center performs short plays about marriage equality by Mo Gaffney, Neil LaBute, Wendy MacLeod, Paul Rudnick, and others.

Top Girls Gough Street Playhouse, 1620 Gough, SF; www.custommade.org. $15-35. Thu/10-Sat/12, 8pm; Sun/13, 7pm. Custom Made Theatre Company performs Caryl Churchill’s celebration of powerful women.

The Two Chairs Bindlestiff Studios, 185 Sixth St, SF; www.performersunderstress.com. $10-30. Thu/10-Sat/12, 8pm; Sun/13, 2pm. In this world premiere by Performers Under Stress of its co-founder Charles Pike’s play, two chairs, per title, come matched with two cameras projecting two angles on two characters — He (Vince Faso, alternating nights with Duane Lawrence) and She (Juliana Egley, alternating nights with Valerie Fachman) — who sit at right angles to one another in a series of terse, vaguely clinical encounters. Introduced and concluded each time with cheeky inter-titles (à la Beckett) and the sound of a buzzer (à la Beckett — pretty much everything here is à la Beckett), their interactions unfold as progressive variations on a theme, freighted with references to the Goldberg Variations and other pretentious class markers (belied somewhat by the characters’ less than wholly sophisticated demeanors). Each mysterious not to say unorthodox session also concludes with a limp slap and the exchange of an envelope, as a banal male heterosexual masochist fantasy is jokily and tediously pursued to the point of He’s final erasure. Directed by PUS’s Scott Baker, the production adds a generational variation too across the alternating casts. But at least with the younger cast (Faso and Egley), the exploration comes across as glib and lifeless, and Pike’s self-conscious regression to an old-school avant-garde style feels too ersatz to be persuasive. (Avila)

Venus in Fur Geary Theater, 415 Geary, SF; www.act-sf.org. $20-120. Wed/9-Sat/12, 8pm (also Sat/12, 2pm); Sun/13, 7pm. American Conservatory Theater performs a new production of David Ives’ 2012 Tony-nominated play.

The World’s Funniest Bubble Show Marsh San Francisco, 1062 Valencia, SF; www.themarsh.org. $8-11. Sun, 11am. Extended through May 25. The popular, kid-friendly show by Louis Pearl (aka “The Amazing Bubble Man”) returns to the Marsh.

BAY AREA

Accidental Death of an Anarchist Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Roda Theatre, 2015 Addison, Berk; www.berkeleyrep.org. $29-99. Tue and Thu-Sat, 8pm (no show April 18; also Sat and April 17, 2pm); Sun, 2 and 7pm. Through April 20. Berkeley Rep presents comic actor Steven Epp in Dario Fo’s explosive political farce, directed by Christopher Bayes.

Arms and the Man Barn Theatre, 30 Sir Francis Drake, Ross; www.rossvalleyplayers.com. $13-26. Thu/10, 7:30pm; Fri/11-Sat/12, 8pm; Sun/13, 2pm. Ross Valley Players perform George Bernard Shaw’s romantic comedy.

The Coast of Utopia Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby, Berk; www.shotgunplayers.org. $20-35 (three-show marathon days, $100-125). Part One: Voyage runs through April 17; Part Two: Shipwreck runs through April 19; Part Three: Salvage runs through April 27. Three-play marathon April 26. Through April 27. Check website for showtime info. Shotgun Players performs Tom Stoppard’s epic The Coast of Utopia trilogy, with all three plays performed in repertory.

East 14th Marsh Berkeley, 2120 Allston, Berk; www.themarsh.org. $20-50. Fri, 8pm; Sat, 8:30pm. Through April 26. Don Reed’s hit autobiographical solo show returns to the Marsh Berkeley.

Geezer Marsh Berkeley, 2120 Allston, Berk; www.themarsh.org. $25-50. Thu, 8pm; Sat, 5pm. Through April 26. Geoff Hoyle moves his hit comedy about aging to the East Bay.

The Hound of the Baskervilles Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro, SF; www.theatreworks.org. $19-73. Tue-Wed, 7:30pm; Thu-Sat, 8pm (also Sat, 2pm); Sun, 2 and 7pm. Through April 27. TheatreWorks performs Stephen Canny and John Nicholson’s comedic send-up of Sherlock Holmes.

Johnny Guitar, the Musical Masquers Playhouse, 105 Park Place, Point Richmond; www.masquers.org. $22. Fri-Sat, 8pm; Sun, 2pm. Through April 26. Masquers Playhouse performs the off-Broadway hit based on the campy Joan Crawford Western.

Sleuth Center REPertory Company, 1601 Civic, Walnut Creek; www.centerrep.org. $33-54. Wed, 7:30pm; Thu-Sat, 8pm (also April 26, 2:30pm); Sun, 2:30pm. Through April 26. Center REPertory Company performs Anthony Shaffer’s classic, Tony-winning thriller.

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee Julia Morgan Theater, 2640 College, Berk; www.berkeleyplayhouse.org. $18-60. Fri, April 24, and May 1, 7pm; Sat, 1 and 6pm; Sun, noon and 5pm. Through May 4. Berkeley Playhouse performs the Tony-winning musical comedy.

Vampire Lesbians of Sodom and Sleeping Beauty or Coma Live Oaks Theater, 1301 Shattuck, Berk; www.viragotheatre.org. $28. Thu-Sat, 8pm; Sun, 2pm. Through April 19. Virago Theatre Company performs Charles Busch’s outrageous double bill.

Wittenberg Aurora Theatre, 2081 Addison, Berk; www.auroratheatre.org. $32-60. Previews Wed/9, 8pm. Opens Thu/10, 8pm. Runs Tue, 7pm; Wed-Sat, 8pm; Sun, 2 and 7pm. Through May 4. Aurora Theatre Company performs David Davalos’ comedy about reason versus faith.

PERFORMANCE/DANCE

BATS Improv Bayfront Theater, B350 Fort Mason Center, SF; www.improv.org. $20. “Super Scene,” Fri, 8pm. Through April 25. “Spring Musical,” Sat, 8pm. Through April 26.

“The Big Gay Comedy Show” Marines’ Memorial Theater, 609 Sutter, SF; www.richmondermet.org. Sun/13, 7:30pm. $35-70. Benefit for the Richmond/Ermet AIDS Foundation with Bruce Vilanch, Marga Gomez, Shann Carr, Ali Mafi, and others.

Caroline Lugo and Carolé Acuña’s Ballet Flamenco Peña Pachamama, 1630 Powell, SF; www.carolinalugo.com. Sat/12, April 19, 30, May 4, 10-11, 17, and 25, 6:15pm. $15-19. Flamenco performance by the mother-daughter dance company, featuring live musicians.

“CubaCaribe Festival of Dance and Music” Dance Mission Theater, 3316 24th St, SF; www.brownpapertickets.com. Fri/11-Sat/12, 8pm; Sun/13, 7pm. $27. “Week One: Moving Forward” with Alafia Dance Ensemble (Haiti), Alayo Dance Company (Afro-Cuban), Cunamacué (Peru), Duniya Dance and Drum Company (West Africa), Las Que Son Son (Cuba), Las Puras (US), and Nicole Klaymoon’s Embodiment Project (African Diaspora).

“Dream Queens Revue” Aunt Charlie’s Lounge, 133 Turk, SF; www.dreamqueensrevue.com. Wed/9, 9:30pm. Free. Drag with Collette LeGrande, Ruby Slippers, Sophilya Leggz, Bobby Ashton, and more.

Feinstein’s at the Nikko 222 Mason, SF; www.feinsteinssf.com. Fri/11, 8pm. $60-75. Joan Collins in “One Night with Joan.”

“Invidious” Private Mission District home, SF; www.brownpapertickets.com. Thu/10-Sun/13, 6:30 and 9pm. $40. Contemporary dance company FACT/SF performs a new, site-specific work.

“The Life You’ll Never Have” Stage Werx Theatre, 446 Valencia, SF; www.foulplaysf.com. Wed/9, 7pm writing party; 8pm performance. $20. The audience crafts each evening’s soap opera-inspired play at this interactive, immersive performance by Exquisite Corpse Theatre.

“Magic at the Rex” Hotel Rex, 562 Sutter, SF; www.magicattherex.com. Sat, 8pm. Ongoing. $25. Magic and mystery with Adam Sachs and mentalist Sebastian Boswell III.

“Mischief” Skylark Bar, 3089 16th St, SF; www.hunnybunnyburlesque.com. Fri/11, 8pm. Free. Burlesque and variety show.

“Mission in Motion” Brava Theater Center, 2781 24th St, SF; www.brava.org. Sun/13, 3pm. $5-10. Mission Academy for the Performing Arts presents a showcase and benefit for Brava youth performing arts programs.

“Mortified” DNA Lounge, 375 11th St, SF; www.getmortified.com. Fri/11, 7:30pm. $21. Also Sat/12, 8pm, $20, Uptown, 1928 Telegraph, Oakl. Fearless storytellers share their most adorably embarrassing childhood writings.

“Rotunda Dance Series” San Francisco City Hall, 1 Carlton B. Goodlett Place, SF; www.dancersgroup.org. Fri/11, noon. Free. This month, the Tiruchitrambalam School of Dance performs classical Indian dance.

“San Francisco Comedy College” Purple Onion at Kells, 530 Jackson, SF; www.purpleonionatkells.com. $5-10. “New Talent Show,” Wed-Thu, 7. Ongoing. “The Cellar Dwellers,” stand-up comedy, Wed-Thu, 8:15pm and Fri-Sat, 7:30pm. Ongoing.

“Shotz: EarthTax” Tides Theatre, 533 Sutter, SF; www.amiosnyc.com. Tue/15, 8pm. $10. Seven plays, five minutes each, created in less than a month, and united under the theme “EarthTax.”

Terminator Too: Judgment Play DNA Lounge, 373 11th St, SF; www.dnalounge.com. May 1, 9pm. $25-50. The creators of Point Break Live! take on James Cameron’s 1991 sci-fi classic, with an audience member picked on the night of the show to embody Schwarzenegger’s iconic role.

“Yuri and Friends presents Thai Rivera” Punch Line Comedy Club, 444 Battery, SF; www.punchlinecomedyclub.com. Tue/15, 8pm. $15. Stand-up comedy.

BAY AREA

AXIS Dance Company Malonga Casquelourd Center for the Arts, 1428 Alice, Oakl; axisdance.brownpapertickets.com. Fri/11-Sat/12, 8pm; Sun/13, 2pm. $10-25. The company performs Yvonne Rainer’s iconic Trio A.

Diablo Ballet Hillbarn Theatre, 1285 E. Hillsdale, Foster City; www.diabloballet.org. Fri/11-Sat/12, 8pm. $45. The company’s 20th season continues with Emotions into Movement.

“IMPACT” Odell Johnson Theater, Laney College, 900 Fallon, Oakl; www.destinyarts.org. Fri/11-Sat/12, 7:30pm (also Sat/12, 2pm). $13-30. Destiny Arts Youth Performance Company celebrates the youth arts and violence prevention organization’s 25th anniversary with this world-premiere show, a mix of dance, theater, spoken word, rap, and song.

“MarshJam Improv Comedy Show” Marsh Berkeley, 2120 Allston, Berk; www.themarsh.org. Fri, 8pm. Ongoing. $10. Improv comedy with local legends and drop-in guests.

“A Month in the Country” Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby, Berk; www.shotgunplayers.org. Tue/15, 7pm. $20. Staged reading of Ivan Turgenev’s play presented by Shotgun Players.

“Stand-Up Sit-Down” La Peña Cultural Center, 3105 Shattuck, Berk; www.lapena.org. Fri/11, 8pm. $15. Comedy and interview show with Karinda Dobbins and Dhaya Lakshminarayanan.

*

 

Film Listings: April 9 – 15, 2014

0

Film listings are edited by Cheryl Eddy. Reviewers are Kimberly Chun, Dennis Harvey, Lynn Rapoport, and Sara Maria Vizcarrondo. For rep house showtimes, see Rep Clock.

OPENING

Cuban Fury Nick Frost, Rashida Jones, and Chris O’Dowd star in this comedy about competitive salsa dancing. (1:37)

Dom Hemingway We first meet English safecracker Dom (Jude Law) as he delivers an extremely verbose and flowery ode to his penis, addressing no one in particular, while he’s getting blown in prison. Whether you find this opening a knockout or painfully faux will determine how you react to the rest of Richard Shepard’s new film, because it’s all in that same overwritten, pseudo-shocking, showoff vein, Sprung after 12 years, Dom is reunited with his former henchman Dickie (Richard E. Grant), and the two go to the South of France to collect the reward owed for not ratting out crime kingpin Mr. Fontaine (Demian Bichir). This detour into the high life goes awry, however, sending the duo back to London, where Dom — who admits having “anger issues,” which is putting it mildly — tries to woo a new employer (Jumayn Hunter) and, offsetting his general loutishness with mawkish interludes, to re-ingratiate himself with his long-estranged daughter (Emilia Clarke). Moving into Guy Ritchie terrain with none of the deftness the same writer-director had brought to debunking James Bond territory in 2006’s similarly black-comedic crime tale The Matador, Dom Hemingway might bludgeon some viewers into sharing its air of waggish, self conscious merriment. But like Law’s performance, it labors so effortfully hard after that affect that you’re just as likely to find the whole enterprise overbearing. (1:33) Elmwood. (Harvey)

Draft Day Kevin Costner stars in this comedy-drama set behind the scenes of the NFL. (2:00) Presidio.

Finding Vivian Maier Much like In the Realms of the Unreal, the 2004 doc about Henry Darger, Finding Vivian Maier explores the lonely life of a gifted artist whose talents were discovered posthumously. In this case, however, the filmmaker — John Maloof, who co-directs with Charlie Siskel — is responsible for Maier’s rise to fame. A practiced flea-market hunter, he picked up a carton of negatives at a 2007 auction; they turned out to be striking examples of early street photography. He was so taken with the work (snapped by a woman so obscure she was un-Google-able) that he began posting images online. Unexpectedly, they became a viral sensation, and Maloof became determined to learn more about the camerawoman. Turns out Vivian Maier was a career nanny in the Chicago area, with plenty of former employers to share their memories. She was an intensely private person who some remembered as delightfully adventurous and others remembered as eccentric, mentally unstable, or even cruel; she was a hoarder who was distrustful of men, and she spoke with a maybe-fake French accent. And she was obsessed with taking photographs that she never showed to anyone; the hundreds of thousands now in Maloof’s collection (along with 8mm and 16mm films) offer the only insight into her creative mind. “She had a great eye, a sense of humor, and a sense of tragedy,” remarks acclaimed photographer Mary Ellen Mark. “But there’s a piece of the puzzle missing.” The film’s central question — why was Maier so secretive about her hobby? — may never be answered. But as the film also suggests, that mystery adds another layer of fascination to her keenly observed photos. (1:23) Clay, Shattuck. (Eddy)

The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden Extensive archival footage and home movies (plus one short, narrative film) enhance this absorbing doc from San Francisco-based Dayna Goldfine and Dan Geller (2005’s Ballets Russes). It tells the tale of a double murder that occurred in the early 1930s on Floreana — the most remote of the already scarcely-populated Galapagos Islands. A top-notch cast (Cate Blanchett, Diane Kruger, Connie Nielsen, Josh Radnour) gives voice to the letters and diary entries of the players in this stranger-than-fiction story, which involved an array of Europeans who’d moved away from civilization in search of utopian simplicity — most intriguingly, a maybe-fake Baroness and her two young lovers — and realized too late that paradise isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Goldfine and Geller add further detail to the historic drama by visiting the present-day Galapagos, speaking with residents about the lingering mystery and offering a glimpse of what life on the isolated islands is like today. (2:00) Embarcadero, Shattuck. (Eddy)

Interior. Leather Bar. James Franco and Travis Mathews’ “docufilm” imagines and recreates footage cut from the 1980 film Cruising. (1:00) Roxie.

Joe “I know what keeps me alive is restraint,” says Nicolas Cage’s titular character, a hard-drinking, taciturn but honorable semi-loner who supervises a crew of laborers clearing undesirable trees in the Mississippi countryside. That aside, his business is mostly drinking, occasionally getting laid, and staying out of trouble — we glean he’s had more than enough of the latter in his past. Thus it’s against his better judgment that he helps out newly arrived transient teen Gary (the excellent Tye Sheridan, of 2012’s Mud and 2011’s The Tree of Life), who’s struggling to support his bedraggled mother and mute sister. Actually he takes a shine to the kid, and vice versa; the reason for caution is Gary’s father, whom he himself calls a “selfish old drunk.” And that’s a kind description of this vicious, violent, lazy, conscienceless boozehound, who has gotten his pitiful family thrown out of town many times before and no doubt will manage it once again in this new burg, where they’ve found an empty condemned house to squat in. David Gordon Green’s latest is based on a novel by the late Larry Brown, and like that writer’s prose, its considerable skill of execution manages to render serious and grimly palatable a steaming plate load of high white trash melodrama that might otherwise be undigestible. (Strip away the fine performances, staging and atmosphere, and there’s not much difference between Joe and the retro Southern grind house likes of 1969’s Shanty Tramp, 1974’s ‘Gator Bait or 1963’s Scum of the Earth.) Like Mud and 2011’s Killer Joe, this is a rural Gothic neither truly realistic or caricatured to the point of parody, but hanging between those two poles — to an effect that’s impressive and potent, though some may not enjoy wallowing in this particular depressing mire of grotesque nastiness en route to redemption. (1:57) (Harvey)

The New Black The Human Rights Watch Film Festival (April 10-27 at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts) kicks off with Yoruba Richen’s look at uneasy tensions between African American Christians and marriage-equality activists. Though Richen is careful to give voice to both sides, The New Black‘s most charismatic figure is Sharon Lettman-Hicks of the National Black Justice Coalition, who’s straight and a churchgoer, but is tirelessly dedicated to LGBT rights both professionally and personally — as in a scene in which a backyard barbecue at her home turns into a friendly but assertive education session for her less open-minded relatives. Elsewhere, we meet an African American church leader who’s against same-sex marriage but isn’t portrayed as a one-note villain; a group of young LGBT political volunteers, many of whom are estranged from intolerant parents; an adorable two-mom family hoping to make their partnership legal; and the gospel singer formerly known as Tonéx, whose decision to come out greatly affected his burgeoning Christian music career. Maryland’s same-sex marriage referendum, decided during the 2012 election, is the film’s focal point, but it also boldly digs into deeper issues, exploring why a community that fought so hard for its own civil rights a generation ago has such trouble supporting the LGBT cause. (1:22) Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. (Eddy)

Oculus Tim (Brenton Thwaites) and Kaylie (Karen Gillan) are grown siblings with a horrible shared past: When they were children, their parents (Rory Cochrane, Katee Sankhoff) moved them all into a nice suburban house, decorating it with, among other things, a 300-year-old mirror. But that antique seemed to have an increasingly disturbing effect on dad, then mom too, to ultimately homicidal, offspring-orphaning effect. Over a decade later, Tim is released from a juvenile mental lockup, ready to live a normal life after years of therapy have cleaned him of the supernatural delusions he think landed him there in the first place. Imagine his dismay when Kaylie announces she has spent the meantime researching aforementioned “evil mirror” — which turns out to have had a very gruesome history of mysteriously connected deaths — and painstakingly re-acquiring it. She means to destroy it so it can never wreak havoc, and has set up an elaborate room of camcorders and other equipment in which to “prove” its malevolence first, with Tim her very reluctant helper. Needless to say, this experiment (which he initially goes along with only in order to debunk the whole thing for good) turns out to be a very, very bad idea. The mirror is clever — demonically clever. It can warp time and perspective so our protagonists don’t know whether what they’re experiencing is real or not. Expanding on his 2006 short film (which was made before his excellent, little-seen 2011 horror feature Absentia), Mike Flanagan’s tense, atmospheric movie isn’t quite as scary as you might wish, partly because the villain (the spirit behind the mirror) isn’t particularly well-imagined in generic look or murky motivation. But it is the rare new horror flick that is genuinely intricate and surprising plot-wise — no small thing in the current landscape of endless remakes and rehashes. (1:44) (Harvey)

Rio 2 More 3D tropical adventures with animated birds Blu (Jesse Eisenberg) and Jewel (Anne Hathaway) and their menagerie of pals, with additional voices by Andy Garcia, Leslie Mann, Bruno Mars, Jamie Foxx, and more. (1:41) Four Star, Presidio.

Under the Skin See “The Hunger.” (1:47)

ONGOING

Afternoon of a Faun: Tanaquil Le Clercq Writer-director Nancy Buirski’s documentary follows the short, brilliant career of a young dancer named Tanaquil Le Clercq, who came up in the New York City ballet world of the 1940s and ’50s. Le Clercq was discovered by George Balanchine, married him (as three other dancers had done before her), sparked a paradigm shift in the ballet world regarding what was considered the quintessential dancer’s body, had numerous ballets set on her by Balanchine and Jerome Robbins, and then, at the peak of her career, at age 27, was stricken by polio and left paralyzed in both legs. The film takes its time moving toward this catastrophe, recounting Le Clercq’s early adult life through interviews with her contemporaries and tracking her professional progress through gorgeous archival footage of her performances. Equally moving archival material are the letters from a longtime correspondence between Le Clercq and Robbins that documented two very different periods of her life: the first, when Robbins was choreographing ballets for her, including Afternoon of a Faun, and professing his love; the second, after her paralysis, when she wrote him a series of poignant communications describing her impressions of her illness and her new, circumscribed world. The film has some trouble holding on to its center — as in life, Balanchine proves a magnetic force, and Afternoon of a Faun feels inexorably drawn to his professional and personal details. We don’t get enough of Le Clercq, which you could say is the tragedy of her story — nobody did. But the letters do provide a sense of someone resourceful and responsive to life’s richness and joys, someone who would get past this crisis and find a way to reshape her life. (1:31) Opera Plaza. (Rapoport)

Bad Words Settling a grudge score whose precise origin remains unclear until late in the game, world-class misanthrope Guy Trilby (Jason Bateman) is celebrating his 40th birthday by competing in a national spelling bee. Yes, spelling bees are generally for children, and so is this one. But Guy has found a legal loophole permitting his participation, and the general hate wending his way from contest staff (Allison Janney, Philip Baker Hall) — let alone the tiger-mom-and-dad parents ready to form a lynch mob — is just icing on the cake where he’s concerned. What’s more, as some sort of majorly underachieving near-genius, he’s in fact well equipped to whup the bejesus out of overachieving eight-year-olds when it comes to saying the right letters out loud. The only people on his side, sorta, are the online journalist (Kathryn Hahn) reporting on his perverse quest, and the insidiously cute Indian American competitor (Rohan Chand) who wants to be besties, or perhaps just to psych him out. (Note: The tyke’s admitted favorite word is “subjugate.”) Written by Andrew Dodge, this comedy in the tradition (a little too obviously) of 2003’s Bad Santa and such provides the always enjoyable Bateman with not only a tailor-made lead role, but a directorial debut as well. He does just fine by both. Yet as nicely crafted and frequently-pretty-funny Bad Words is, at core it’s a rather petty movie — small, derivative, and cynically mean-spirited without the courage of genuine biliousness. It’s at once not-half-bad, and not half as badass as it pretends to be. (1:29) 1000 Van Ness, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki. (Harvey)

Breathe In In Drake Doremus’s lyrical tale of a man in midlife crisis, Guy Pearce plays Keith Reynolds, a high school music teacher living in upstate New York with his wife, Megan (Amy Ryan), and teenage daughter, Lauren (Mackenzie David). Quietly harboring his discontent, Keith spends solitary moments wistfully sifting through glory-days photographs of his former band and memories of the undomesticated life he and Megan led two decades ago in New York City, which the two revisit in a low-toned call-and-response that doesn’t need to erupt into a blistering argument to clarify their incompatible positions. The melancholy calm is disrupted by the arrival of a British exchange student named Sophie (Felicity Jones, who also starred in Doremus’s 2011 film, Like Crazy). Evading a scene of loss and heartbreak at home, 18-year-old Sophie has come to spend a semester at Lauren’s high school, a juxtaposition that presents us with two wildly distinct species of teenager. Lauren is a brittle, popular party girl whom we watch making poor choices with a predatory classmate; Sophie is a soulful, reserved young woman whose prodigious talent at the piano first jars Keith out of his malaise into an uncomfortable awareness. A scene before Sophie’s arrival in which the family plays Jenga and Keith pulls out the wrong piece, toppling the tower, perhaps presses its ominous visual message too hard. Meanwhile, similarities to 2012’s Nobody Walks underscore the argument that this subject matter is an old, tired tale. But for the most part, the intimacy that develops between Keith and Sophie is constructed with delicate restraint, and Doremus and writing partner Ben York Jones have crafted a textured portrait of a man trying to repossess the past. (1:37) Metreon. (Rapoport)

Captain America: The Winter Soldier Marvel’s most wholesome hero returns in this latest film in the Avengers series, and while it doesn’t deviate from the expected formula (it’s not a spoiler to say that yes, the world is saved yet again), it manages to incorporate a surprisingly timely plot about the dangers of government surveillance. Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), hunkiest 95-year-old ever, is still figuring out his place in the 21st century after his post-World War II deep freeze. Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) has him running random rescue missions with the help of Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), but SHIELD is working on a top-secret project that will allow it to predict crimes before they occur. It isn’t long before Cap’s distrust of the weapon — he may be old-fashioned, but he ain’t stupid — uncovers a sinister plot led by a familiar enemy, with Steve’s former BFF Bucky doing its bidding as the science-experiment-turned-assassin Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan). Anthony Mackie, Robert Redford, and series regular Cobie Smulders are fine in supporting roles, and Johansson finally gets more to do than punch and pose, but the likable Evans ably carries the movie — he may not have the charisma of Robert Downey Jr., but he brings wit and depth to a role that would otherwise be defined mainly by biceps and CG-heavy fights. Oh, and you know the drill by now: superfans will want to stick around for two additional scenes tucked into the end credits. (2:16) Balboa, Marina, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Sundance Kabuki. (Eddy)

Cesar Chavez “You always have a choice,” Cesar Chavez (Michael Peña) tells his bullied son when advising him to turn the other cheek. Likewise, actor-turned-director Diego Luna had a choice when it came to tackling his first English-language film; he could have selected a less complicated, sprawling story. So he gets props for that simple act — especially at a time when workers’ rights and union power have been so dramatically eroded — and for his attempts to impact some complicated nuance to Chavez’s fully evident heroism. Painting his moving pictures in dusty earth tones and burnt sunlight with the help of cinematographer Enrique Chediak, Luna vaults straight into Chavez’s work with the grape pickers that would come to join the United Farm Workers — with just a brief voiceover about Chavez’s roots as the native-born son of a farm owner turned worker, post-Depression. Uprooting wife Helen (America Ferrera) and his family and moving to Delano as a sign of activist commitment, Chavez is seemingly quickly drawn into the 1965 strike by the Mexican workers’ sometime rivals: Filipino pickers (see the recent CAAMFest short documentary Delano Manongs for some of their side of the story). From there, the focus hones in on Chavez, speaking out against violence and “chicken shit macho ideals,” hunger striking, and activating unions overseas, though Luna does give voice to cohorts like Dolores Huerta (Rosario Dawson), growers like Bogdanovitch (John Malkovich), and the many nameless strikers — some of whom lost their lives during the astonishingly lengthy, taxing five-year strike. Luna’s win would be a blue-collar epic on par with 1979’s Norma Rae, and on some levels, he succeeds; scanning the faces of the weathered, hopeful extras in crowd scenes, you can’t help but feel the solidarity. The people have the power, as a poet once put it, and tellingly, his choice of Peña, stolidly opaque when charismatic warmth is called for, might be the key weakness here. One suspects the director or his frequent costar Gael García Bernal would make a more riveting Chavez. (1:38) Elmwood, Metreon. (Chun)

Divergent Based on the blockbuster dystopian-future YA novel by Veronica Roth (the first in a trilogy), Divergent is set in a future city-state version of Chicago in which society is divided into five character-based, color-coded factions: Erudite, Amity, Candor, Abnegation, and Dauntless. Like her peers, Beatrice Prior (Shailene Woodley), the film’s Abnegation-born teenage heroine, must choose a permanent faction — with the help of a standardized aptitude test that forgoes penciling in bubbles in favor of virtual reality psychic manipulation. When the test fails to triangulate her sole innate personality trait, she learns that she belongs to a secret, endangered sixth category: Divergent, an astonishing set of people who are not only capable of, say, acts of selflessness but can also produce intelligent thought, or manifest bravery in the face of danger. Forced to hide her aberrant nature in a society whose leaders (Kate Winslet) are prone to statements like “The future belongs to those who know where they belong,” and seemingly bored among Abnegation’s hive of gray cardigan-wearing worker bees, Beatrice chooses Dauntless, a dashing gang of black-clad, alterna-rock music video extras who jump on and off moving trains and live in a warehouse-chic compound whose dining hall recalls the patio at Zeitgeist. Fittingly, a surly, tattooed young man named Four (Theo James) leads Beatrice, now Tris, and her fellow initiates through a harsh proving regimen that, if they fail, will cast them into an impoverished underclass. Director Neil Burger (2006’s The Illusionist, 2011’s Limitless) and the behemoth marketing force behind Divergent are clearly hoping to stir up the kind of madness stoked by the Twilight and Hunger Games series, but while there are bones a-plenty to pick with those franchises, Divergent may have them beat for pure daffiness of premise and diameter of plot holes — and that’s after screenwriters Evan Daugherty and Vanessa Taylor’s major suturing of the source material’s lacunae. The daffiness doesn’t translate into imaginative world-building, and while a couple of scenes convey the visceral thrills of life in Dauntless, the tension between Tris and Four is awkwardly ratcheted up, and the film’s shift into a mode of crisis is equally jolting without generating much heat. (2:20) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Sundance Kabuki. (Rapoport)

Ernest & Celestine Belgian animators Vincent Patar and Stéphane Aubier are best known for the stop-motion shorts series (and priceless 2009 subsequent feature) A Town Called Panic, an anarchic, absurdist, and hilarious creation suitable for all ages. Their latest (co-directed with Benjamin Renner) is … not like that at all. Instead, it’s a sweet, generally guileless children’s cartoon that takes its gentle, watercolor-type visual style from late writer-illustrator Gabrielle Vincent’s same-named books. Celestine (voiced by Pauline Brunner) is an orphaned girl mouse that befriends gruff bear Ernest (the excellent Lambert Wilson), though their improbable kinship invites social disapproval and scrapes with the law. There are some clever satirical touches, but mostly this is a softhearted charmer that will primarily appeal to younger kids. Adults will find it pleasant enough — but don’t expect any Panic-style craziness. (1:20) Elmwood, Opera Plaza. (Harvey)

Non-Stop You don’t want to get between Liam Neeson and his human shield duties. The Taken franchise has restyled the once-gentle acting giant into the type of weather-beaten, all-business action hero that Harrison Ford once had a lock on. Throw in a bit of the flying-while-addled antihero high jinks last seen in Flight (2012) and that pressured, packed-sardine anxiety that we all suffer during long-distance air travel, and we have a somewhat ludicrous but nonetheless entertaining hybrid that may have you believing that those salty snacks and the seat-kicking kids are the least of your troubles. Neeson’s Bill Marks signals the level of his freestyle alcoholism by giving his booze a stir with a toothbrush shortly before putting on his big-boy air marshal pants and boarding his fateful flight. Marks is soon contacted by a psycho who promises, via text, to kill one person at a time on the flight unless $150 million is deposited into a bank account that — surprise — is under the bad-good air marshal’s name. The twists and turns — and questions of who to trust, whether it’s Marks’ vaguely likeable seatmate (Julianne Moore) or his business class flight attendant (Michelle Dockery) — keep the audience on edge and busily guessing, though director Jaume Collet-Serra doesn’t quite dispel all the questions that arise as the diabolical scheme plays out and ultimately taxes believability. The fun is all in the getting there, even if the denouement on the tarmac deflates. (1:50) Four Star. (Chun)

The Grand Budapest Hotel Is this the first Wes Anderson movie to feature a shootout? It’s definitely the first Anderson flick to include a severed head. That’s not to say The Grand Budapest Hotel, “inspired by” the works of Austrian novelist Stefan Zweig, represents too much of a shift for the director — his intricate approach to art direction is still very much in place, as are the deadpan line deliveries and a cast stuffed with Anderson regulars. But there’s a slightly more serious vibe here, a welcome change from 2012’s tooth-achingly twee Moonrise Kingdom. Thank Ralph Fiennes’ performance as liberally perfumed concierge extraordinaire M. Gustave, which mixes a shot of melancholy into the whimsy, and newcomer Tony Revolori as Zero, his loyal lobby boy, who provides gravitas despite only being a teenager. (Being played by F. Murray Abraham as an older adult probably helps in that department.) Hotel‘s early 20th century Europe setting proves an ideal canvas for Anderson’s love of detail — the titular creation rivals Stanley Kubrick’s rendering of the Overlook Hotel — and his supporting cast, as always, looks to be enjoying the hell out of being a part of Anderson’s universe, with Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, and Adrien Brody having particularly oversized fun. Is this the best Wes Anderson movie since 2001’s The Royal Tenenbaums? Yes. (1:40) Balboa, 1000 Van Ness, Presidio, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki, Vogue. (Eddy)

Gravity “Life in space is impossible,” begins Gravity, the latest from Alfonso Cuarón (2006’s Children of Men). Egghead Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is well aware of her precarious situation after a mangled satellite slams into her ship, then proceeds to demolition-derby everything (including the International Space Station) in its path. It’s not long before she’s utterly, terrifyingly alone, and forced to unearth near-superhuman reserves of physical and mental strength to survive. Bullock’s performance would be enough to recommend Gravity, but there’s more to praise, like the film’s tense pacing, spare-yet-layered script (Cuarón co-wrote with his son, Jonás), and spectacular 3D photography — not to mention George Clooney’s warm supporting turn as a career astronaut who loves country music almost as much as he loves telling stories about his misadventures. (1:31) Metreon. (Eddy)

The Great Beauty The latest from Paolo Sorrentino (2008’s Il Divo) arrives as a high-profile contender for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, already annointed a masterpiece in some quarters, and duly announcing itself as such in nearly every grandiose, aesthetically engorged moment. Yes, it seems to say, you are in the presence of this auteur’s masterpiece. But it’s somebody else’s, too. The problem isn’t just that Fellini got there first, but that there’s room for doubt whether Sorrentino’s homage actually builds on or simply imitates its model. La Dolce Vita (1960) and 8 1/2 (1963) are themselves swaying, jerry-built monuments, exhileratingly messy and debatably profound. But nothing quite like them had been seen before, and they did define a time of cultural upheaval — when traditional ways of life were being plowed under by a loud, moneyed, heedless modernity that for a while chose Rome as its global capital. Sorrentino announces his intention to out-Fellini Fellini in an opening sequence so strenuously flamboyant it’s like a never-ending pirouette performed by a prima dancer with a hernia. There’s statuary, a women’s choral ensemble, an on-screen audience applauding the director’s baffled muse Toni Servillo, standing in for Marcello Mastroianni — all this and more in manic tracking shots and frantic intercutting, as if sheer speed alone could supply contemporary relevancy. Eventually The Great Beauty calms down a bit, but still its reason for being remains vague behind the heavy curtain of “style.” (2:22) Opera Plaza. (Harvey)

It Felt Like Love Set on the outer edges of Brooklyn and Queens, writer-director Eliza Hittman’s debut feature tracks the summertime wanderings and missteps of 14-year-old Lila (Gina Piersanti), whose days mainly consist of trailing in the wake of her more sexually experienced and perpetually coupled-off best friend, Chiara (Giovanna Salimeni). The camera repeatedly finds Lila in voyeur mode, as Chiara and her boyfriend, Patrick (Jesse Cordasco), negotiate their physical relationship and redefine the limits of PDA, unfazed by Lila’s silent, watchful presence. It’s clear she wants some part of this, though her motivations are a murky compound of envy, loneliness, and longing for a sense of place among her peers. A brief encounter with an older boy, Sammy (Ronen Rubinstein), whom Chiara knows — more of a sighting, really — provides the tiniest of openings, and Lila forces her way through it with an awkward insistence that is uncomfortable and sometimes painful to witness. Lila lacks Chiara’s fluid verbal and physical vernacular, and her attempts at mimicry in the cause of attracting Sammy’s attention only underline how unready and out of her depth she is. As Lila pushes into his seedy, sleazy world — a typical night is spent getting wasted and watching porn with his friends — their encounters don’t look like they feel like love, though Piersanti poignantly signals her character’s physical desire in the face of Sammy’s bemused ambivalence. Hittman unflinchingly leads her hapless protagonist through scenes that hover uneasily between dark comedy and menace without ever quite landing, and this uncertainty generates an emotional force that isn’t dispelled by the drifting, episodic plot. (1:22) Roxie. (Rapoport)

Jinn (1:37) Metreon.

Jodorowsky’s Dune A Chilean émigré to Paris, Alejandro Jodorowsky had avant-garde interests that led him from theater and comic book art to film, making his feature debut with 1968’s Fando y Lis. Undaunted by its poor reception, he created El Topo (1970), a blood-soaked mix of spaghetti western, mysticism, and Buñuellian parabolic grotesquerie that became the very first “midnight movie.” After that success, he was given nearly a million dollars to “do what he wanted” with 1973’s similarly out-there The Holy Mountain, which became a big hit in Europe. French producer Michel Seydoux asked Jodorowsky what he’d like to do next. Dune, he said. In many ways it seemed a perfect match of director and material. Yet Dune would be an enormous undertaking in terms of scale, expense, and technical challenges. What moneymen in their right mind would entrust this flamboyant genius/nut job with it? They wouldn’t, as it turned out. So doc Jodorowsky’s Dune is the story of “the greatest film never made,” one that’s brain-exploding enough in description alone. But there’s more than description to go on here, since in 1975 the director and his collaborators created a beautifully detailed volume of storyboards and other preproduction minutiae they hoped would lure Hollywood studios aboard this space phantasmagoria. From this goldmine of material, as well as input from the surviving participants, Pavich is able to reconstruct not just the film’s making and unmaking, but to an extent the film itself — there are animated storyboard sequences here that offer just a partial yet still breathtaking glimpse of what might have been. (1:30) Embarcadero. (Harvey)

The Lego Movie (1:41) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness.

The Lunchbox Ila (Nimrat Kaur) is a self-possessed housewife and a great cook, whose husband confuses her for another piece of furniture. She tries to arouse his affections with elaborate lunches she makes and sends through the city’s lunchbox delivery service. Like marriage in India, lunchbox delivery has a failure rate of zero, which is what makes aberrations seem like magical occurrences. So when widow Saajan (Irrfan Khan) receives her adoring food, he humbly receives the magical lunches like a revival of the senses. Once Ila realizes her lunchbox is feeding the wrong man she writes a note and Saajan replies — tersely, like a man who hasn’t held a conversation in a decade — and the impossible circumstances lend their exchanges a romance that challenges her emotional fidelity and his retreat from society. She confides her husband is cheating. He confides his sympathy for men of lower castes. It’s a May/December affair if it’s an affair at all — but the chemistry we expect the actors to have in the same room is what fuels our urge to see it; that’s a rare and haunting dynamic. Newcomer Kaur is perfect as Ila, a beauty unmarked by her rigorous distaff; her soft features and exhausted expression lend a richness to the troubles she can’t share with her similarly stoic mother (Lillete Dubey). Everyone is sacrificing something and poverty seeps into every crack, every life, without exception — their inner lives are their richness. (1:44) Embarcadero. (Vizcarrondo)

Mistaken for Strangers Tom Berninger, brother to the National vocalist Matt Berninger, is the maker of this doc — ostensibly about the band but a really about brotherly love, competition, and creation. It spins off a somewhat genius conceit of brother vs. brother, since the combo is composed of two sets of siblings: twins Aaron and Bryce Dessner on guitars and Scott and Bryan Devendorf on bass and drums respectively. The obvious question — what of singer Matt and his missing broheim? Turns out little bro Tom is one of those rock fans — of metal and not, it seems, the National — more interested in living the life and drinking the brewskis than making the music. So when Matt reaches out to Tom, adrift in their hometown of Cincinnati, to work as a roadie for the outfit, it’s a handout, sure, but also a way for the two to spend time together and bond. A not-quite-realized moviemaker who’s tried to make his own Z-budget scary flicks but never seems to finish much, Tom decides to document, and in the process gently poke fun at, the band (aka his authority-figures-slash-employers), which turns out to be much more interesting than gathering their deli platters and Toblerone. The National’s aesthetic isn’t quite his cup of tea: they prefer to wrap themselves in slinky black suits like Nick Cave’s pickup band, and the soft-spoken Matt tends to perpetually stroll about with a glass of white wine or bubbly in hand when he isn’t bursting into fourth-wall-busting high jinks on stage. Proud of his sib yet also intimidated by the National’s fame and not a little envious of the photo shoots, the Obama meetings, and the like, Tom is all about having fun. But it’s not a case of us vs. them, Tom vs. Matt, he discovers; it’s a matter of connecting with family and oneself. In a Michael Moore-ian sense, the sweet-tempered Mistaken for Strangers is as much, if not more so, about the filmmaker and the journey to make the movie than the supposed subject. (1:15) Roxie. (Chun)

The Monuments Men The phrase “never judge a book by its cover” goes both ways. On paper, The Monuments Men — inspired by the men who recovered art stolen by the Nazis during World War II, and directed by George Clooney, who co-wrote and stars alongside a sparkling ensemble cast (Cate Blanchett, Matt Damon, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Bob Balaban, Hugh “Earl of Grantham” Bonneville, and Bill Fucking Murray) — rules. Onscreen, not so much. After they’re recruited to join the cause, the characters fan out across France and Germany following various leads, a structural choice that results in the film’s number one problem: it can’t settle on a tone. Men can’t decide if it wants to be a sentimental war movie (as in an overlong sequence in which Murray’s character weeps at the sound of his daughter’s recorded voice singing “White Christmas”); a tragic war movie (some of those marquee names die, y’all); a suspenseful war movie (as the men sneak into dangerous territory with Michelangelo on their minds); or a slapstick war comedy (look out for that land mine!) The only consistent element is that the villains are all one-note — and didn’t Inglourious Basterds (2009) teach us that nothing elevates a 21st century-made World War II flick like an eccentric bad guy? There’s one perfectly executed scene, when reluctant partners Balaban and Murray discover a trove of priceless paintings hidden in plain sight. One scene, out of a two-hour movie, that really works. The rest is a stitched-together pile of earnest intentions that suggests a complete lack of coherent vision. Still love you, Clooney, but you can do better — and this incredible true story deserved way better. (1:58) Four Star. (Eddy)

Mr. Peabody and Sherman Mr. P. (voiced by Ty Burrell) is a Nobel Prize-winning genius dog, Sherman (Max Charles) his adopted human son. When the latter attends his first day of school, his extremely precocious knowledge of history attracts jealous interest from bratty classmate Penny (Ariel Winter), with the eventual result that all three end up being transported in Peabody’s WABAC time machine to various fabled moments — involving Marie Antoinette, King Tut, the Trojan Horse, etc. — where Penny invariably gets them in deep trouble. Rob Minkoff’s first all-animation feature since The Lion King 20 years ago is spun off from the same-named segments in Jay Ward’s TV Rocky and Bullwinkle Show some decades earlier. It’s a very busy (sometimes to the brink of clutter), often witty, imaginatively constructed, visually impressive, and for the most part highly enjoyable comic adventure. The only minuses are some perfunctory “It’s about family”-type sentimentality — and scenarist Craig Wright’s determination to draw from history the “lesson” that nearly all women are pains in the ass who create problems they must then be rescued from. (1:30) 1000 Van Ness. (Harvey)

Muppets Most Wanted Building on the success of The Muppets, Jim Henson’s beloved creations return to capitalize on their revitalized (and Disney-owned) fame. This follow-up from Muppets director James Tobin — technically, it’s the seventh sequel to the original 1979 Muppet Movie, as Dr. Bunsen Honeydew points out in one of the film’s many meta moments — improves upon the 2011 film, which had its charms but suffered by concentrating too much on the Jason Segal-Amy Adams romance, not to mention annoying new kid Walter. Here, human co-stars Ricky Gervais, Tina Fey, and others (there are more cameos than you can count) are relegated to supporting roles, with the central conflict revolving around the Muppets’ inability to notice that Constantine, “the world’s most dangerous frog,” has infiltrated their group, sending Kermit to Siberian prison in his place. Constantine and his accomplice (Gervais, whose character’s last name is “Badguy”) use the Muppets’ world tour as a front for their jewel-heist operation; meanwhile, his infatuated warden (Fey) forces Kermit to direct the annual gulag musical. Not helping matters are a bumbling Interpol agent (Ty Burrell) and his CIA counterpart (Sam the American Eagle, natch). Really, all that’s needed is a simple plot, catchy songs, and plenty of room to let the Muppets do their thing — Miss Piggy and Animal are particularly enjoyable here; Walter’s still around, but he’s way more tolerable now that he’s gotten past his “man or muppet” angst — and the film delivers. All the knowing winks to the grown-up fans in the audience are just an appreciated bonus. (1:46) 1000 Van Ness, SF Center. (Eddy)

Need for Speed Speed kills, in quite a different way than it might in Breaking Bad, in Aaron Paul’s big-screen Need for Speed. “Big” nonetheless signals “B” here, in this stunt-filled challenge to the Fast and the Furious franchise, though there’s no shame in that — the drive-in is paved with standouts and stinkers alike. Tobey (Paul) is an ace driver who’s in danger of losing his auto shop, also the hangout for his pals (Scott Mescudi, Rami Malek, Ramon Rodriguez) and young sidekick Pete (Harrison Gilbertson), when archrival Dino (Dominic Cooper) arrives with a historic Mustang in need of restoration. Tragedy strikes, and Tobey must hook up with that fateful auto once more to win a mysterious winner-takes-all race, staged by eccentric, rich racing-fiend Monarch (Michael Keaton). Along for the ride are the (big) eyes and ears for the Mustang’s new owner — gearhead Julia (Imogen Poots). All beside the point, since the racing stunts, including a showy helicopter canyon save, are the real stars of Speed, while the touchstone for stuntman-turned-director Scott Waugh — considering the car and the final SF and Northern California race settings — is, of course, Bullitt (1968), which is given an overt nod in the opening drive-in scene. The overall larky effect, however, tends toward Smokey and the Bandit (1977), especially with Keaton’s camp efforts at Wolfman Jack verbiage-slanging roaring in the background. And despite the efforts of the multicultural gallery of wisecracking side guys, this script-challenged popcorn-er tends to blur what little chemistry these characters have with each other, skip the residual car culture insights of the more specific, more urban Fast series, and leave character development, in particular Tobey’s, in the dust in its haste to get from point A to B. (2:10) Metreon. (Chun)

Noah Darren Aronofsky’s Biblical epic begins with a brief recap of prior Genesis events — creation is detailed a bit more in clever fashion later on — leading up to mankind’s messing up such that God wants to wipe the slate clean and start over. That means getting Noah (Russell Crowe), wife Naameh (Jennifer Connelly), and their three sons and one adopted daughter (Emma Watson) to build an ark that can save them and two of every animal species from the imminent slate-wiping Great Flood. (The rest of humanity, having sinned too much, can just feed the fishes.) They get some help from fallen angels turned into Ray Harryhausen-type giant rock creatures voiced by Nick Nolte and others. There’s an admirable brute force and some startling imagery to this uneven, somber, Iceland-shot tale “inspired” by the Good Book (which, needless to say, has endured more than its share of revisions over the centuries). Purists may quibble over some choices, including the device of turning minor Biblical figure Tubal-Cain (Ray Winstone) into a royal-stowaway villain, and political conservatives have already squawked a bit over Aronofsky’s not-so-subtle message of eco-consciousness, with Noah being bade to “replenish the Earth” that man has hitherto rendered barren. But for the most part this is a respectable, forceful interpretation that should stir useful discussion amongst believers and non believers alike. Its biggest problem is that after the impressively harrowing flood itself, we’re trapped on the ark dealing with the lesser crises of a pregnancy, a discontented middle son (Logan Lerman), and that stowaway’s plotting — ponderous intrigues that might have been leavened if the director had allowed us to hang out with the animals a little, rather than sedating the whole menagerie for the entire voyage. (2:07) Marina, 1000 Van Ness, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki. (Harvey)

Nymphomaniac: Volume I Found battered and unconscious in a back alley, Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) is taken in by good Samaritan Seligman (Stellan Skarsgaard), to whom she explains “It’s all my fault — I’m just a bad human being.” But he doesn’t believe there are such things. She seeks to enlighten him by narrating the story of her life so far, from carnally curious childhood to sexually voracious adulthood. Stacy Martin plays her younger self through a guided tour of excesses variously involving Christian Slater and Connie Nielsen as her parents; a buncha guys fucked on a train, on a teenage dare; Uma Thurman as one histrionically scorned woman; and Shai LaBeouf as a first love who’s a cipher either because he’s written that way, or because this particular actor can’t make sense out of him. For all its intended provocation, including some graphic but unsurprisingly (coming from this director) unerotic XXX action, von Trier’s latest is actually less offensive than much of his prior output: He’s regained his sense of humor here, and annoying as its “Look at me, I’m an unpredictable artist” crap can be (notably all the stuff about fly-fishing, cake forks, numerology, etc. that seems randomly drawn from some Great Big Book of Useless Trivia), the film’s episodic progress is divertingly colorful enough. But is Joe going to turn out to be more than a two-dimensional authorial device from a director who’s never exactly sussed women (or liked people in general)? Will Nymphomaniac arrive at some pointed whole greater than the sum of its naughty bits? The answer to both is probably “Nah.” But we won’t know for sure until the two-hour second half arrives (see review below) of a movie that, in fairness, was never really intended to be split up like this. (1:50) Opera Plaza, Smith Rafael. (Harvey)

Nymphomaniac, Volume II The second half of Lars von Trier’s anecdotal epic begins with Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) recalling the quasi-religious experience of her spontaneous first orgasm at age 12. Then she continues to tell bookish good Samaritan Seligman (Stellan Skarsgard) — who reveals he’s an asexual 60-something virgin — the story of her sexually compulsive life to date. Despite finding domestic stability at last with Jerome (Shia LeBeouf), she proves to have no talent for motherhood, and hits a tormenting period of frigidity eventually relieved only by the brutal ministrations of sadist K (Jamie Bell, burying Billy Elliott for good). She finds a suitable professional outlet for her peculiarly antisocial personality, working as a sometimes ruthless debt collector under the tutelage of L (Willem Dafoe), and he in turn encourages her to develop her own protégé in the form of needy teenager P (Mia Goth). If Vol. I raised the question “Will all this have a point?,” Vol. II provides the answer, and it’s (as expected) “Not really.” Still, there’s no room for boredom in the filmmaker’s most playfully arbitrary, entertaining, and least misanthropic (very relatively speaking) effort since his last four-hour-plus project 20 years ago, TV miniseries The Kingdom. Never mind that von Trier (in one of many moments when he uses Joe or Seligman as his mouthpiece) protests against the tyranny of political correctitude that renders a word like “Negro” unsayable — you’re still free to feel offended when his camera spends more time ogling two African men’s variably erect dicks in one brief scene that it does all the white actors’ cocks combined. But then there’s considerably more graphic content all around in this windup, which ends on a predictable note of cheap, melodramatic irony. But that’s part of the charm of the whole enterprise: Reeling heedlessly from the pedantic to the shocking to the trivial, like a spoiled child it manages to be kinda cute even when it’s deliberately pissing you off. (2:10) Embarcadero, Smith Rafael. (Harvey)

On My Way Not for nothing too does the title On My Way evoke Going Places (1974): director Emmanuelle Bercot is less interested in exploring Catherine Deneuve’s at-times-chilled hauteur than roughing up, grounding, and blowing fresh country air through that still intimidatingly gorgeous image. Deneuve’s Bettie lost her way long ago — the former beauty queen, who never rose beyond her Miss Brittany status, is in a state of stagnation, working at her seafood restaurant, having affairs with married men, living with her mother, and still sleeping in her girlhood room. One workday mid-lunch hour, she gets in her car and drives, ignoring all her ordinary responsibilities and disappearing down the wormhole of dive bars and back roads. She seems destined to drift until her enraged, equally lost daughter Muriel (Camille) calls in a favor: give her son Charly (Nemo Schiffman) a ride to his paternal grandfather’s. It’s chance to reconnect and correct course, even after Bettie’s money is spent, her restaurant appears doomed, and the adorable, infuriating Charly acts out. The way is clear, however: what could have been a musty, predictable affair, in the style of so many boomer tales in the movie houses these days, is given a crucial infusion of humanity and life, as Bercot keeps an affectionate eye trained on the unglamorous everyday attractions of a French backwater and Deneuve works that ineffable charm that draws all eyes to her onscreen. Her Bettie may have kicked her cigarette habit long ago, but she’s still smokin’ — in every way. (1:53) Embarcadero. (Chun)

Particle Fever “We are hearing nature talk to us,” a physicist remarks in awe near the end of Particle Fever, Mark Levinson’s intriguing doc about the 2012 discovery of the Higgs boson particle. Earlier, another scientist says, “I’ve never heard of a moment like this in [science] history, where an entire field is hinging on a single event.” The event, of course, is the launch of the Large Hardon Collider, the enormous machine that enabled the discovery. Though some interest in physics is probably necessary to enjoy Particle Fever, extensive knowledge of quarks and such is not, since the film uses elegant animation to refresh the basics for anyone whose eyes glazed over during high-school science. But though he offers plenty of context, Levinson wisely focuses his film on a handful of genial eggheads who are involved in the project, either hands-on at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), or watching from afar as the mighty LHC comes to life. Their excitement brings a welcome warmth to the proceedings — and their “fever” becomes contagious. (1:39) Opera Plaza. (Eddy)

The Raid 2 One need not have seen 2011’s The Raid: Redemption to appreciate this latest collaboration between Welsh director Gareth Evans and Indonesian actor, martial artist, and fight choreographer Iko Uwais — it’s recommended, of course, but the sequel stands alone on its own merits. Overstuffed with gloriously brutal, cleverly choreographed fight scenes, The Raid 2 — sometimes written with the subtitle “Berendal,” which means “thugs” — picks up immediately after the events of the first film. Quick recap of part one: a special-forces team invades an apartment tower controlled by gangsters. Among the cops is idealistic Rama (Uwais). Seemingly bulletproof and fleet of fists and feet, Rama battles his way floor-by-floor, encountering machete-toting heavies and wild-eyed maniacs; he also soon realizes he’s working for a police department that’s as corrupt as the gangster crew. The Raid‘s gritty, unadorned approach resonated with thrillseeking audiences weary of CG overload. A second Raid film was inevitable, especially since Evans — who became interested in Indonesian martial arts, or pencak silat, while working on 2007 doc The Mystic Art of Indonesia — already had its story in mind: Rama goes undercover within a criminal organization, a ploy that necessitates he do a prison stint to gain the trust of a local kingpin. Naturally, not much goes according to plan, and much blood is shed along the way, as multiple power-crazed villains set their sinister plans into motion. With expanded locations and ever-more daring (yet bone-breakingly realistic) fight scenes aplenty — including a brawl inside a moving vehicle, and a muddy, bloody prison-yard riot — The Raid 2 more than delivers. Easily the action film of the year so far, with no contenders likely to topple it in the coming months. (2:19) Metreon. (Eddy)

Rob the Mob Based on a stranger-than-fiction actual case, this rambunctious crime comedy stars Michael Pitt and Nina Arianda as Tommy and Rosie, a coupla crazy kids in early 1990s Queens — crazy in love, both before and after their strung-out robbery antics win them both a stint in the pen. When Tommy gets out 18 months later, he finds Rosie has managed to stay clean, even getting a legit job as a debt collector for positive-thinking nut and regular employer of strays Dave (a delightful Griffin Dunne). She wants Tommy to do likewise, but the high visibility trial of mob kingpin John Gotti gives him an idea: With the mafia trying to keep an especially low profile at present, why not go around sticking up the neighborhood “social clubs” where wise guys hang out, laden with gold chains and greenbacks but (it’s a rule) unarmed? Whatta they gonna do, call the police? This plan is so reckless it just might work, and indeed it does, for a while. But these endearingly stupid lovebirds can’t be counted on to stay under the radar, magnetizing attention from the press (Ray Romano as a newspaper columnist), the FBI, and of course the “organization” — particularly one “family” led by Big Al (Andy Garcia). Written by Jonathan Fernandez, this first narrative feature from director Raymond DeFitta since his terrific 2009 sleeper hit City Island is less like that screwball fare and more like a scaled down, economically downscaled American Hustle (2013), another brashly comedic period piece inspired by tabloid-worthy fact. Inspiration doesn’t fully hold up to the end, but the film has verve and style to spare, and the performances (also including notable turns from Cathy Moriarty, Frank Whaley, Burt Young, Michael Rispoli, Yul Vazquez and others) are sterling. (1:42) Embarcadero. (Harvey)

Sabotage Puzzle over the bad Photoshop job on the Sabotage poster. The hard-to-make-out Arnold Schwarzenegger in the foreground could be just about any weathered, sinewy body — telling, in gory action effort that wears its grit like a big black sleeve tattoo on its bicep and reads like an attempt at governator reinvention. Yet this blood-drenched twister, front-loaded with acting talent and directed by David Ayer (2012’s End of Watch), can’t quite make up its mind where it stands. Is it a truth-to-life cop drama about a particularly thuggy DEA team, an old-fashioned murder mystery-meets-heist-exercise, or just another crowd-pleasing Pumping Arnie flick? Schwarzenegger is Breacher, the leader of a team of undercover DEA agents who like to caper on the far reaches of bad lieutenant behavior: wild-eyed coke snorting (a scene-chomping Mireille Enos); sorry facial hair (Sam Worthington, as out of his element as the bead at the end of his goatee); unfortunate cornrows (Joe Manganiello); trash-talking (Josh Holloway); and acting like a suspiciously colorless man of color (Terrence Howard). We know these are bad apples from the start — the question is just how bad they are. Also, how fast can the vanilla homicide cops (Olivia Williams, Harold Perrineau) lock them down, as team members are handily, eh, dismembered and begin to turn on each other and Schwarzenegger gets in at least one semi-zinger concerning an opponent with 48 percent body fat? Still, the sutured-on archetypal-Arnie climax comes as a bit of a shock in its broad-stroke comic-book violence, as the superstar pulls rank, sabotages any residual pretense to realism, and dons a cowboy hat to tell his legions of shooting victims, “I’m different!” Get to the choppers, indeed. (1:49) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness. (Chun)

300: Rise of An Empire We pick up the 300 franchise right where director Zack Snyder left off in 2006, with this prequel-sequel, which spins off an as-yet-unreleased Frank Miller graphic novel. In the hands of director Noam Murro, with Snyder still in the house as writer, 300: Rise of an Empire contorts itself, flipping back and forth in time, in an attempt to explain the making of Persian evil prince stereotype Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) —all purring androgyny, fashionable piercings, and Iran-baiting, Bush-era malevolence — before following through on avenging 300‘s romantically outnumbered, chesty Spartans. As told by the angry, mourning Spartan Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey of Game of Thrones), the whole mess apparently began during the Battle of Marathon, when Athenian General Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton) killed Xerxes’s royal father with a well-aimed miracle arrow. That act ushers in Xerxes’s transformation into a “God King” bent on vengeance, aided and encouraged by his equally vengeful, elegantly mega-goth naval commander Artemisia (Eva Green), a Greek-hating Greek who likes to up the perversity quotient by making out with decapitated heads. In case you didn’t get it: know that vengeance is a prime mover for almost all the parties (except perhaps high-minded hottie Themistokles). Very loosely tethered to history and supplied with plenty of shirtless Greeks, taut thighs, wildly splintering ships, and even proto-suicide bombers, Rise skews toward a more naturalistic, less digitally waxy look than 300, as dust motes and fire sparks perpetually telegraph depth of field, shrieking, “See your 3D dollars hard at work!” Also working hard and making all that wrath look diabolically effortless is Green, who as the pitch-black counterpart to Gorga, turns out to be the real hero of the franchise, saving it from being yet another by-the-book sword-and-sandal war-game exercise populated by wholesome-looking, buff, blond jock-soldiers. Green’s feline line readings and languid camp attitude have a way of cutting through the sausage fest of the Greek pec-ing order, even during the Battle of, seriously, Salamis. (1:43) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness. (Chun)

The Unknown Known After winning an Oscar for 2003’s The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamera, Errol Morris revisits the extended-interview documentary format with another Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld. The film delves into Rumsfeld’s lengthy political career — from Congress to the Nixon, Ford, and George W. Bush administrations — drawing insights from the man himself and his extensive archive of memos (“there have to be millions”) on Vietnam, 9/11, Osama bin Laden, the “chain of command,” torture, the Iraq War, etc., as well as archival footage that suggests the glib Rumsfeld’s preferred spin on certain events is not always factually accurate (see: Saddam Hussein and WMDs). Morris participates from behind the camera, lobbing questions that we can hear and therefore gauge Rumsfeld’s immediate reaction to them. (The man is 100 percent unafraid of prolonging an awkward pause.) A gorgeous Danny Elfman score soothes some of the anger you’ll feel digesting Rumsfeld’s rhetoric, but you still may find yourself wanting to shriek at the screen. In other words, another Morris success. (1:42) Elmwood, Presidio. (Eddy)

Le Week-End Director Roger Michell and writer Hanif Kureishi first collaborated two decades ago on The Buddha of Suburbia, when the latter was still in the business of being Britain’s brashest multiculti hipster voice. But in the last 10 years they’ve made a habit of slowing down to sketching portraits of older lives — and providing great roles for the nation’s bottomless well of remarkable veteran actors. Here Lindsay Duncan and Jim Broadbent play a pair of English academics trying to re-create their long-ago honeymoon’s magic on an anniversary weekend in Paris. They love each other, but their relationship is thorny and complicated in ways that time has done nothing to smooth over. This beautifully observed duet goes way beyond the usual adorable-old-coot terrain of such stories on screen; it has charm and humor, but these are unpredictable, fully rounded characters, not comforting caricatures. Briefly turning this into a seriocomedy three-way is Most Valuable Berserker Jeff Goldblum as an old friend encountered by chance. It’s not his story, but damned if he doesn’t just about steal the movie anyway. (1:33) Embarcadero. (Harvey)

The Wind Rises Hayao Miyazaki announced that Oscar nominee The Wind Rises would be his final film before retiring — though he later amended that declaration, as he’s fond of doing, so who knows. At any rate, it’d be a shame if this was the Japanese animation master’s final film before retirement; not only does it lack the whimsy of his signature efforts (2001’s Spirited Away, 1997’s Princess Mononoke), it’s been overshadowed by controversy — not entirely surprising, since it’s about the life of Jiro Horikoshi, who designed war planes (built by slave labor) in World War II-era Japan. Surprisingly, a pacifist message is established early on; as a young boy, his mother tells him, “Fighting is never justified,” and in a dream, Italian engineer Giovanni Caproni assures him “Airplanes are not tools for war.” But that statement doesn’t last long; Caproni visits Jiro in his dreams as his career takes him from Japan to Germany, where he warns the owlish young designer that “aircraft are destined to become tools for slaughter and destruction.” You don’t say. A melodramatic romantic subplot injects itself into all the plane-talk on occasion, but — despite all that political hullabaloo — The Wind Rises is more tedious than anything else. (2:06) Sundance Kabuki. (Eddy) *

 

Privatization of public housing

14

news@sfbg.com

Like so many San Franciscans, Sabrina Carter is getting evicted.

The mother of three says that if she loses her home in the Western Addition, she’ll have nowhere to go. It’s been a tough, four-year battle against her landlord — a St. Louis-based development company called McCormack Baron — and its law firm, Bornstein & Bornstein. That’s the same law firm that gained notoriety for holding an “eviction boot camp” last November to teach landlords how to do Ellis Act evictions and sweep tenants out of rent-controlled housing.

But Carter’s story isn’t your typical Ellis eviction. Plaza East, where she lives, is a public housing project. Public housing residents throughout the country are subject to the “one-strike and you’re out” rule. If residents get one strike — any misdemeanor or felony arrest — they get an eviction notice. In Carter’s case, her 16-year-old was arrested. He was cleared of all charges — but Carter says McCormack Baron still wouldn’t accept her rent payment and wouldn’t respond to her questions.

“I was never informed of my status,” she said.

That is, until her son was arrested again, and Carter found herself going up against Bornstein & Bornstein. She agreed to sign a document stipulating that her eviction would be called off unless her son entered Plaza East property (he did). It was that or homelessness, said Carter, who also has two younger sons.

“They criminalized my son so they could evict my family,” Carter said.

McCormack Baron and Bornstein & Bornstein both declined to comment.

On March 12, Carter and a band of supporters were singing as they ascended City Hall’s grand staircase to Mayor Ed Lee’s office.

“We’re asking the mayor to call this eviction off. Another black family cannot be forced out of this city,” Lisa “Tiny” Gray-Garcia, co-founder of Poor Magazine, said at the protest.

Nearly half of San Francisco’s public housing residents are African American, according to a 2009 census from the city’s African American Out-Migration Task Force. These public housing residents represent a significant portion of San Francisco’s remaining African American population, roughly 65 percent.

Carter’s eviction was postponed, but it raises an important question: Why is a public housing resident facing off with private real estate developers and lawyers in the first place?

 

PUBLIC HOUSING, PRIVATE INTERESTS

Plaza East is one of five San Francisco public housing properties that was privatized under HOPE VI, a federal program that administers grants to demolish and rebuild physically distressed public housing.

The modernized buildings often have fewer public housing units than the ones they replaced, with private developers becoming their managers. San Francisco’s take on HOPE VI, called HOPE SF, is demolishing, rebuilding, and privatizing eight public housing sites with a similar process.

US Department Housing and Urban Development is rolling out a new program to privatize public housing. The San Francisco Housing Authority is one of 340 housing projects in the nation to be chosen for the competitive program. The city is now starting to implement the Rental Assistance Demonstration program. When it’s done, 75 percent of the city’s public housing properties will be privatized.

Under RAD, developers will team up with nonprofits and architectural firms to take over managing public housing from the Housing Authority. RAD is a federal program meant to address a nationwide crisis in public housing funding. Locally, the effort to implement the program has been spurred by the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development.

MOHCD Director Olson Lee has described RAD in a report as “a game-changer for San Francisco’s public-housing residents and for [Mayor] Lee’s re-envisioning plan for public housing.” Later, Lee told us, “We have 10,000 residents in these buildings and they deserve better housing. It’s putting nearly $200 million in repairs into these buildings, which the housing authority doesn’t have. They have $5 million a year to make repairs.”

Funding is sorely needed, and this won’t be enough to address problems like the perpetually broken elevators at the 13-story Clementina Towers senior housing high-rises or SFHA’s $270 million backlog in deferred maintenance costs.

But RAD is more than a new source of cash. It will “transform public housing properties into financially sustainable real estate assets,” as SFHA literature puts it.

RAD changes the type of funding that supports public housing. Nationally, federal dollars for public housing have been drying up since the late ’70s. But a different federal subsidy, the housing choice voucher program that includes Section 8 rent subsidies, has been better funded by Congress.

Under RAD, the majority of the city’s public housing will be sustained through these voucher funds. In the process, the Housing Authority will also hand over responsibility for managing, maintaining, and effectively owning public housing to teams of developers and nonprofits. Technically, the Housing Authority will still own the public housing. But it will transfer the property through 99-year ground leases to limited partnerships established by the developers.

The RAD plan comes on the heels of an era marked by turmoil and mismanagement at the Housing Authority. The agency’s last director, Henry Alvarez, was at the center of a scandal involving alleged racial discrimination. He was fired in April 2013.

In December 2012, HUD declared SFHA “troubled,” the lowest possible classification before being placed under federal receivership. A performance audit of the agency, first submitted in April 2013 by the city’s Budget and Legislative Analyst, determined that “SFHA is expecting to have no remaining cash to pay its bills sometime between May and July of 2013.”

Six of the seven members of the Housing Authority Commission were asked to resign in February 2013, and were replaced with mayoral appointees.

Joyce Armstrong is not a member of this commission, but she sits on the dais with them at meetings, and gives official statements and comments alongside the commissioners. Armstrong is the president of the citywide Public Housing Tenants Association, and she talked about RAD at a March 27 meeting, conveying tenants’ apprehension toward the expansion of private managers in public housing.

“Staff in HOPE VI developments are very condescending,” Armstrong said. “We’re not pleased. We’re being demeaned, beat up on, and talked to in a way I don’t feel is appropriate.”

 

NONPROFITIZATION

When RAD is implemented, it won’t just be development companies interacting with public housing residents. San Francisco’s approach to RAD is unique in that it will rely heavily on nonprofit involvement. Each “development team” that is taking over at public housing projects includes a nonprofit organization. Contracts haven’t been signed yet, but the Housing Authority has announced the teams they’re negotiating with.

“We call it the nonprofitization of public housing,” said Sara Shortt, executive director of the Housing Rights Committee.

The developers are a list of the usual players in San Francisco’s affordable housing market, including the John Stewart Company, Bridge Housing Corporation, and Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation.

Community-based organizations that are involved include the Mission Economic Development Agency, the Japanese American Religious Federation, Ridgepoint Nonprofit Corporation, Glide Community Housing, Bernal Heights Housing Corporation, and the Chinatown Community Development Center.

On March 13, when the Housing Authority Commission announced who would be on these teams, the meeting was packed with concerned members of the public. Two overflow rooms were set up. One group with a strong turnout was SEIU Local 1021, which represents public housing staff.

Alysabeth Alexander, vice president of politics for SEIU 1021, said that 120 workers represented by the union could be laid off as management transfers to development teams, and 80 other unionized jobs are also on the line.

“They’re talking about eliminating 200 middle-class jobs,” Alexander said.

She also noted that SEIU 1021 wasn’t made aware of the possible layoffs — it only found out because of public records requests. (Another downside of privatization is that certain information may no longer be publicly accessible.)

“We’re concerned about these jobs,” Alexander said. “But we’re also concerned about the residents.”

 

RESIDENTS’ RIGHTS

HUD protects some residents’ rights in its 200-page RAD notice. These include the right to return for residents displaced by renovations and other key protections, but rights not covered in the document — some of which were secured under the current system only after lengthy campaigns — are less clear. In particular, rights relating to house rules or screening criteria for new tenants aren’t included.

Negotiations with development teams are just beginning. Lee said tenants’ rights not included in the RAD language would be discussed as part of that process.

“It will be a function of what is best practice,” Lee said.

But developers have already expressed some ideas about public housing policies they want to tweak when they take over. At one point, the city was considering developers’ requests to divide the citywide public housing wait-list into a series of site-specific lists. Lee says that this option is no longer on the table.

But as developers’ interests interact with local, state, and federal tenant regulations, things could get messy. James Grow, deputy director of the National Housing Law Project, says that whatever standard is the most protective of residents’ rights should apply.

Still, Grow said, “There’s going to be inconsistencies and gray areas.”

Grow said that inevitably some residents’ rights will be decided “on a case-by-case basis, in litigations between the tenant and the landlord…They’ll be duking it out in court.”

This will be true nationwide, as each RAD rollout will be different. But at least in San Francisco, “Most of the tenant protections in public housing will remain,” said Shortt. “We are trying to tie up any holes locally to make sure that there is no weakening of rights.”

Grow’s and Shortt’s organizations are also involved in San Francisco’s RAD plan. The National Housing Law Project, along with the Housing Rights Committee and Enterprise Community Partners, have contracts to perform education and outreach to public housing residents and development teams.

 

UNCERTAIN FUTURE

Just how much money will go to RAD is still under negotiation. The RAD funding itself, derived from the voucher program, will surpass the $32 million the city collected last year in HUD operating subsidies. But its big bucks promise is the $180 million in tax credit equity that the privatization model is expected to bring in.

The city will also be contributing money to the program, but how much is unclear.

“The only budget I have right now is the $8 million,” Lee said, money that is going to the development teams for “pre-development.”

Lee added that funding requests would also be considered; those requests could total $30-50 million per year from the city’s housing trust fund, according to Shortt.

To access that $180 million in low-income housing tax credits, development teams will need to create limited partnerships and work with private investors. The city wants to set up an “investor pool,” a central source which would loan to every development team.

It’s a complicated patchwork of money involving many private interests, some of whom don’t have the best reputations.

Jackson Consultancy was named as a potential partner in the application for the development team that will take over management at Westbrook Apartments and Hunters Point East-West. That firm is headed by Keith Jackson, the consultant arrested in a FBI string in late March on charges of murder-for-hire in connection with the scandal that ensnared Sen. Leland Yee and Chinatown crime figure Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow.

Presumably, Jackson is no longer in the running, although the entire transformation is rife with uncertainties.

Residents often feel blindsided when management or rules change at public housing properties. And RAD will be one of the biggest changes in San Francisco’s public housing in at least a decade.

“People are concerned about their homes. When they take over the Housing Authority property, what’s going to happen? They keep telling us that it’s going to stay the same, nothing is going to change,” said Martha Hollins, president of the Plaza East Tenants Association.

Hollins has been part of Carter’s support network in her eviction case.

“They’re always talking about self-sufficient, be self-sufficient,” Hollins said. “How can we be self-sufficient when our children are growing up and being criminalized?”

Public housing has many complex problems that need radical solutions. But some say RAD isn’t the right one. After seeing developers gain from public housing while generational poverty persists within them, Gray-Garcia says that her organization is working with public housing residents to look into ways to give people power over their homes. They are considering suing for equity for public housing residents.

“‘These people can’t manage their own stuff and we need to do it for them.’ It’s that lie, that narrative, that is the excuse to eradicate communities of color,” Gray-Garcia said. “We want to change the conversation.”

SF’s culture of corruption

12

EDITORIAL The extent of the charges in the criminal complaint against Sen. Leland Yee, political consultant Keith Jackson, and others are shocking and sensational: international arms trafficking, drug dealing, money laundering, cavorting with organized crime figures, murder for hire. But the basic allegation that Yee and Jackson practiced a corrupt, transactional kind of politics wasn’t surprising to anyone who knew how they operated.

What’s worse, they were simply a more extreme — and now, thanks to FBI wiretaps and undercover agents, a better documented — example of the political corruption that is endemic to San Francisco and some other high-stakes American cities. The city of St. Francis gets sold out to the highest bidders everyday, by politicians who value wealthy constituents over the vast majority of us who are just trying to get by — and over the interests of city finances and governance.

Part of the problem is inherent in our money-driven political system, in which politicians are constantly hustling for cash from people who want things from them. Politicians deny they take actions with political contributions in mind, but well-heeled capital and labor interests don’t spend millions of dollars on contributions out of the goodness of their hearts. These are business transactions.

We wholeheartedly support the call Senate President Darrell Steinberg made for fundamental political reform during the March 28 vote to suspend Yee and two of his allegedly corrupt colleagues. These cases aren’t aberrations, they are indicative of how power get wielded when it’s based on wealth. That’s the reality that has gotten even uglier since the Citizens United decision equated money with political speech and upped the ante for would-be public servants.

But much of the problem is particular to San Francisco, where cozy relationships between politicians and corporate interests are often feted in plain view. Former Mayor Willie Brown — a lawyer and unregistered lobbyist who won’t reveal his huge corporate client list despite having an influential weekly column in the San Francisco Chronicle — helped install his longtime City Hall functionary Ed Lee into Room 200 to guard against anyone asking too much of the rich and powerful. Yee and Lee represented rival Chinatown economic factions, both wanting to use the power of the Mayor’s Office for their interests.

In his March 22 column, Brown once again repeated a joke he’s used before, that the “e” in email stands for “evidence,” which is really only funny in a sick political culture that celebrates slick rule-breakers. And it was from Brown that Lee learned it was acceptable to brazenly give tax breaks and regulatory passes to the tech companies that his top fundraiser, venture capitalist Ron Conway, are invested in.

Megadeveloper Lennar Urban used its wealth and political connections to take control of San Francisco’s biggest tracts of undeveloped and underdeveloped land, including Hunters and Candlestick points and Treasure Island, paying off community groups and hiring Jackson and other political henchmen to get the job done.

In fact, the FBI complaint says Jackson was working on behalf of that project when he approached accused Chinatown gangster Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow for support, leading to their alleged involvement in a string of wild criminal conspiracies. Meanwhile, Chow was getting public commendations from San Francisco-based politicians including Lee, Yee, Gavin Newsom, Dianne Feinstein, Fiona Ma, and even Tom Ammiano. Chow courted political legitimacy the same way politicians seek cash, and mainstream media outlets were happy to play along.

Throughout his political career, Yee has carried water for Pacific Gas & Electric, perhaps the most corrupting contributor to political campaigns in the city’s history. PG&E’s influence at City Hall had thankfully waned in recent years as a result of overreach and deadly criminal negligence, until Lee and his appointees last year killed CleanPowerSF (see “Challenge Mayor Lee and his lies,” 9/17/13) on a pretext so thin it could only be gift to PG&E.

In many ways, San Francisco hasn’t changed. It’s still the old Barbary Coast, ruled by capitalist thugs and corrupt politicians, only with glossy modern spin created by armies of well-paid political consultants. But we all deserve better.

Yee and Jackson should go to prison if there’s even a slice of truth to the allegations against them. And maybe they’ll cut deals and take other political figures down with them, giving us more of a peek behind the curtain of political power. But it’s up to all of us to break the close ties between economic and political power and begin to restore the democratic power of everyday people.